Greg Morris

Designer, Pretend Photographer, Dad

OnePlus One: A Real World Review

Since moving across to use Android I have spent the whole time trying to find the perfect device. Many have come and satisfied me for a short while, but there is always a compromise somewhere. Whether it be poor battery life, poor camera, or poor software, the reasons are many. The next in this line is the marmite device, the OnePlus One.

Love it or hate it, you can’t avoid talk of the OPO. If it’s not a vocal few voicing opinions on the marketing, it’s the many more begging for an invite to buy the phone. Even after ordering the phone it still divides people. My experience on a daily basis goes from “wow is that the OnePlus One? How did you get one!” to “what on earth is that phone” in equal amounts.

Unboxing Is An Experience

Be prepared for the whole experience of the phone that start from the shipping box. Pulling the exposed tab reveals the best packaging I have ever experienced. Even the unboxing felt like a special event, reserved for those worthy enough to gain an invite to even buy the phone.

So much was this experience I had to put together an initial hands on with the phone as it felt so good unboxing and just feeling the phone. The build quality of the phone trumps any plastic put out by the majority of manufacturer. It falls short of the level of the HTC One M8, but these two ‘ones’ are top of the tree in build.

What OnePlus have done is spent the money on the device in some strange areas. Considering the key ring Sim-ejector tool, the amazing quality USB lead and the deluxe packaging. Then put these against the two adaptors I have to use just to plug it into the wall. Leaves a few questions of the importance placed on usually unimportant areas, but the areas that do matter do not disappoint.

Hands On

I said it in the initial hands on this phone is big in the hand. The square corners make it slightly uncomfortable to start with. That’s assuming you adopt the usual pinkie underneath grip that most people do. After a week of use the backing of the sandstone black handset has lost some of its gritty feel but none of the grip, now resembling a feel similar to rough felt. Making it feel great to the touch, strong and reassuringly sturdy.

Dominating the front of the phone is the 5.5 inch screen. I said this phone was big didn’t I? The Screen produces colours that are bright and vivid, if a little on the warm side. Not to mention the level of tweaking options available will make any user happy. Combining this with the sound from the twin speakers, everything from a full movie to a quick YouTube clip is engrossing. Even if the sound is blasted sideways and not forwards which you get from the Sony Z2 and HTC One M8.

Spec Sheet War

Is it possible to see any stutter from devices anymore? Modern powerhouses of processors make light of easy tasks. The OPO is no exception, the Snapdragon 801 doesn’t even break a sweat to keep usage fluid and response. With gaming and extensive tasks bringing out the best in the chip.

Even the most graphic and process intensive activity is a breeze. Combine this with 3GB of ram for all your multitasking pleasures. One advantage of such a large handset is space to fill with battery power. So even a day of heavy use will be no issue for the 3100mah battery. Getting in excess of 6 hours screen on. Of course your millage may vary.

The only let-down is the screen is not a responsive as I would like. Spending a good ten minutes working out if it was my imagination or just that anything after the latency on the M8 feels like a step backwards. Leaving the on screen navigation keys sometimes a little under responsive.

Push The Button

If you choose to make use of the full screen real estate and switch to the capacitive buttons be prepared for them to disappoint. Being the wrong way around and also extremely poorly backlit. A non-issue once you get used to them. Which may take a while as after all they are the wrong way around!

Whereas the power and volume buttons are in the perfect position on such a large phone. Right in the middle of either side. They are good quality buttons with a reassuring click when pressed. However they are a little too far recessed into the phone. Making it slightly hard, and almost impossible when using a case.

It’s a little disappointing they didn’t to add a camera shutter key, if only to take up a bit more room on the side of the phone. This is where the quick launch gestures come in handy right? Well we will get to that soon enough.

Snap Happy

Android Phones have always appeared to lag behind both the iPhone and Windows phone devices. Only until the current generation have we seen those that really compete on this level. OPO reviews have shown some great staged photos that appear to be taken by a high quality camera. In reality the ability of Sony’s Exmor IMX214 13-megapixel shooter is left lacking more than it should.

In anything other than perfect light it sometimes takes a couple of shots to get a great finished article. Which is normal when comparable to anything other than a Lumia at the moment. The CMOS sensor includes a great f/2.0 aperture, so in low light when it really matters the ability is good. Let down by poor software processing however. Leaving some photos noisy and washed out.

Next Camera

What pulls everything back together is the ‘Next Camera’ that comes stock on the OPO. The CM team has really worked on this to really show their ability. The capture rate is nothing short of incredible. Meaning I can fire off shots in amazing speed. Giving the HTC M8 a good run for its money you rarely missed the shot you want.

When shooting there are several filters to choose from with a swipe of the finger before shooting. These give the impression of pleasing the Instagram generation. What this does do is reduce the time to enter HDR mode to half the time of other apps. When using HDR expect the processed shots to be over exposed and sometimes unnatural. Giving results that appear to be from someone learning to Photoshop. There are two included in the gallery above.

Francois the audio and camera developer at Cyanogen has also shown that there are big improvements coming for the OPO, including RAW support. So there is a benefit to having constant development by CM. However some of the other software leaves a little to be desired.

Cyanogen Misses The Mark

This is one area that has been left lacking. I have very rarely used Cyanogen before the OPO. Although the amount of users that speak highly of the ROM developer goliath is outstanding. Even on a Nexus device there appear to be bugs and unfortunately the OPO version CM11s is no different.

Nothing had been detrimentally wrong. However software features that don’t work on an end user device is unacceptable. Software fixes for a pretty big bug with the Wi-Fi toggle when using a theme has still not been applied to the ‘flagship killer’, despite being available for weeks in other software.

As soon as you turn the device on I would turn the wake up gestures and double tap to wake off. Otherwise you risk turning on the torch or unlocking the phone in your pocket. I don’t think this version of CM11s would even class as a milestone build. A fix is coming so we have been told.

I realise that at the moment the OPO is aimed at those more ‘tech savvy’ than the average consumer. That’s a very good job because a normal consumer would not put up with CM11s as it is today. If OnePlus ever want to move forward they need to seriously consider doing so without Cyanogen on board. Or stepping their game up dramatically before they even consider releasing a general consumer handset.

A Tweaker’s Dream

What CM11s does bring to the table is an almost endless array of personalisation tweaks and modifications. Far too many to go into detail here but expect favourites like customisable navigation bar, quick settings, and shortcut gestures. Meaning you can select as many or as few as you like.

What is amazing for customisation is Cyanogen’s new theme manager. The ability to change everything from boot animations and icons, to full on themes that change almost every pixel of Android. With hundreds of themes available straight from the Playstore. Want it to look like Android L, no problem. Even themes to implement LG or Touchwiz design if that’s your thing.

Cyanogen also bring along their security options to the OPO. The phone is not rooted out the box, so using banking apps and the like are not an issue. The stock kernel has bene patched to a much secure level than most devices available today. And with Whisper SMS you can encrypt your text messages with ease.


Removing the software bugs I am in love with this device. The build quality and battery life are truly a wonder to behold. Using it will be enjoyable, once you are used to the size of the handset.

Whilst the screen is not pushing the pixels of the G3, it is bright and vivid. Combined with great sound from the speakers makes for great media consumption. The camera software is great combined with a good sensor. Which will only get better.

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