Gadgets for humans

OnePlus One is a powerhouse Android smartphone running CyanogenMod, starts from $299


OnePlus, the startup founded by former Oppo executive Pete Lau, today unveiled its first flagship smartphone. Simply called the One, it offers top-tier components at a price even lower than Google’s high-value Nexus 5.

As promised, the Android handset runs on a 2.5 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM and a 3,100 mAh battery. Those specs are comparable to, or occasionally better than, this year’s batch of Android flagships, including the HTC One (M8), Sony Xperia Z2 and Samsung Galaxy S5.

The device looks attractive too, with a thin bezel around the edge and a larger chin for its home, back and menu capacitive buttons. OnePlus has opted for a 5.5-inch 1080p display, which comes in at 401 pixels-per-inch (ppi). The volume rocker and power button are positioned on the left and right-hand edge of the smartphone, a little over halfway up, to ensure users can reach them easily without adjusting their natural grip.

While not a bold design, the OnePlus One has an attractive look. The edges are rounded nicely and a minimal amount of branding has been added to the back. The dual-speaker grill on the bottom is almost identical to the Nexus 5.

Last year, Oppo partnered with CyanogenMod to build a version of its N1 smartphone with the community-driven Android ROM pre-installed. OnePlus is taking a similar approach with the One, pre-loading an exclusive version called CyanogenMod 11S. It’s based on Android 4.4 – the latest version of Google’s mobile OS – and features spartan square app icons. OnePlus says there are “no limits” to customizing the One and the stock CyanogenMod design will be offered through its theme engine and store.

In the lead up to its official unveiling, OnePlus has heavily promoted the camera in its first smartphone. The startup has opted for a 13-megapixel Sony Exmor sensor on the back, coupled with a 5-megapixel version on the front. Three competition winners were given a prototype unit to experiment with earlier this month, and some sample shots can be found on the company’s forums. The rear-facing camera can also shoot 4K video and 720p slow-motion video at 120 fps, which is fast becoming the industry standard for smartphones.

It’s already a compelling proposition on paper, but OnePlus is hoping the price of the One will make it a home run. The 16GB model will be available in ‘Silk White’ for $299/€269, while a 64GB variant in ‘Sandstone Black’ will sell for $349/€299. Both options are dramatically cheaper than the current crop of Android flagships and even trump the lower-specced Nexus 5.

It supports LTE and will be available initially in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the UK and the US, although the startup refrained from giving a firm release date. On April 25, however, it’ll offer the first 100 as part of a competition called ‘Smash’.

Examining the spec sheet, it’s difficult to pinpoint where, if anywhere, OnePlus has compromised with the One. If the build quality is sound and the software experience is on par with other high-end Android smartphones, the OnePlus One could be a tempting option.

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Published April 23, 2014 — 08:00 UTC