Friday, August 21, 2015

Tech Report: OnePlus One Smart Phone

The first thing most readers are thinking is, "What the heck is a OnePlus One Smart Phone? I've never heard of it." And justifiably so, I might add. Not very many people have heard of this fantastic piece of technology because the company, OnePlus, is only about two years old and their products (currently five) are not sold by any of the phone carriers, major or minor. While Amazon did have availability for a while, it is not currently available directly from them.

So, what's the big secret? Well, it probably has to do with the OnePlus company slogan - "Never Settle." In other words, don't settle for less when you can get the best. Just to set the record straight, I have never been enthralled by the iPhone. I've never owned one and I don't plan to ever own one. There is nothing wrong with Apple, the company, nor is there anything wrong with the iPhone. I simply don't buy into anything that appears, by my interpretation, to smack of "cult" status. Apple makes excellent products and I actually owned an Apple laptop in another life. My experience is that I could crash the Mac as easily and fast as I could crash a Windows computer.

My son, a respected graphic designer and Web developer with about 20 years under his belt is regularly asked the question - which does he prefer based on his profession. His response, interestingly, and quite independently arrived at, is the same as mine. He's used both systems. Some of his contract clients are all Mac, some are all Windows and some use both. He pushes computers to their limits crunching numbers. He says, he can crash a Mac with the latest OS version fast as he can a Windows computer. His preference is the T400 series Lenovo Think Pads. His rational is that he can own two or three top end Lenovos for the same money he'd pay for one top end Mac. So, he'd rather have the redundancy.

Back To The OnePlus One

The very unique and attractive OnePlus One packaging
upon arrival

Okay, I got my Mac/Windows issue out of the way. The OnePlus One was recommended by my son, who I hold in high regard when it comes to this kind of technology. He's worked for Microsoft on several occasions. He's worked for Amazon and T-Mobile and other tech companies in the Seattle region. He's now in LA doing the same thing. We both had Motorola Atrix and Atrix 2 smart phones and he has had a Samsung S4. At a much earlier time we both had the same Nokia phones. He knew I was looking for a new phone and something that was cutting edge while not breaking the bank. He has been tracking the OnePlus One (he now owns one, too). It was introduced in the late spring of 2014. A person had to apply for an invitation to buy one of the rare new phones and wait until one became available. Yes! I know! It does sound a little "cultish" so, am I reversing what I said before? No! Not really!

So, what's the deal with this phone? First, it's only available in two versions, a white model with 16GB of internal storage and a black model with 64GB of storage. A new model has been introduced in three versions (I believe) the OnePlus 2, but I don't think many people have actually taken delivery on it, yet. Again, in the early introductory phase it's only available by invitation. The OnePlus One is readily available from stock at this time, however, you can only purchase online directly from OnePlus. You may see some listed on Ebay or even on Amazon, however, these appear to be "Gray Market" phones imported from other countries and very likely do not have a U.S. warranty. And, they are actually selling for more than the manufacturer is selling them for directly.

It's A Feature Rich Smart Phone

The open boxes showing the phone and the accessories -
the phone is in the center

There are numerous photos throughout this tech report showing the phone, its packaging and even a couple photos I took using the phone's camera, comparing both the rear camera and the front facing "selfie" camera. So, let me enumerate the main features, the ones that really have impressed me.

Before I list a number of things, it's important to know this is not a small phone. It's actually about the same size as the iPhone 6+ or the Samsung Galaxy S4 Note. It's like a mini tablet and a phone wrapped into one case. I wasn't sure how I'd like the larger size, but I can tell you I'm totally in love with this phone. With a 5.5" very bright and high definition screen, it's been replacing my 7" tablet for many uses. Phones like these are called "phablets" since they are filling two purposes.

So, now a list for you to peruse.

·      16GB or 64GB internal storage (no provision for micro SD card)
·      3GB RAM
·      2.5 GHz quadcore Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
·      1080 x 1920 5.5" 10 finger multi-touch Gorilla Glass 3 display
·      CyanogenMod 12
·      13 mega pixel rear camera with a six element lens (where do they put them) 4128 x 3096 pixels, autofocus and dual-LED flash
·      5 mega pixel front camera, 1080p@30fps video
·      Full HD video, 16:9, 2160p@30fps, 2160p(DCI)@24fps, 1080p@60fps, 720p@120fps, HDR, stereo sound recording
·      Stereo speakers, very good quality and darn loud
·      Stereo microphones - yes, stereo microphones and they sound good
·      Geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, panorama, HDR
·      Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 
·      Wireless data capable including tethering and hotspot capability
·      Micro USB 2.0 port
·      GSM (not CDMA, sorry Verizon and Sprint folks)
·      Bluetooth 4.1
·      Stereo headphone jack with microphone input for headsets
·      NFC
·      Battery life lasts about a day in typical use and is not changeable
·      Operates on Android v4.4.2 (KitKat) and upgradeable to v5.02 (Lollipop)
·      Firmware is upgradeable by software
·      GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS 
·      Sensors - Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
·      Messaging - SMS (threaded view), MMS, Email, IM, Push Email
·      Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
·      MP4/H.264/WMV player
·      MP3/eAAC+/WMA/WAV/FLAC player
·      Document viewer
·      Photo viewer/editor
·      Voice memo/dial/commands

No! There is no FM receiver and no kitchen sink!

The included AC charger and cables
This is an amazing piece of technology. Is it the absolutely end all, be all smart phone. Probably not. But, it sure gives the iPhone, Samsung and the other major smart phone manufacturers a run for the money. This is especially true when I tell you the price a little later in this report.

Of course, you can download or purchase hundreds of thousands of apps from the Play Store. Frankly, I'm both smitten and blown away by this phone. I wrote an article for the blog about two and a half years ago in which I discussed my Motorola Atrix 2, "So Much From So Little," and all it did for me back then. This new OnePlus One makes the Atrix 2 pale in comparison.

Two Non-Negative Negatives

Back of the phone with camera lens and dual
LED flash

Yes! Nothing is perfect. There are two things that have always been important to me with reference to basic features I wanted in any smart phone I would acquire. First, I wanted a changeable battery. I didn't want to be like all the iPhone people I'd see searching for a place to plug their charger in before their phone crapped out. Second, I wanted a micro SD card slot so I could stuff at least a 32GB micro SD card in the phone to expand its memory. The phones I typically found interesting only had 8 or 16GB of onboard storage. The OnePlus One, like iPhones does not have a changeable battery and it does not have a 
Side view showing how thin this phone is - how
do they have room for a 6 element lens?
micro SD slot.

Initially, this was a turn off for me prior to acquiring the phone. Here's the deal. For a mere $15.00, OnePlus sells a matching battery charging pack with enough capacity for three full charges of the phone's internal lithium battery. It's small, compact, lightweight and simple to use and recharge. To date, I've never been concerned about running out of power and I've used the external battery charger pack about two or three times in a couple months.

My fear of needing a micro SD slot has never materialized. I've never filled the internal 
Bottom of phone showing the stereo speakers,
the USB port and one of three microphones

8GB of memory, so now I have 64GB. 
Additionally, with easy access to "cloud 
storage," additional storage is not an issue.

In Use

The phone is great! I use it for a phone, of course, holding the phone, plugging in my ear buds with microphone and with my hands free Bluetooth speakerphone. I can voice dial with it. I can send dictated text messages. I read my Kindle books. I believe the Kindle app was 
The top of the phone showing the 3.5 mm 
earphone jack and the second microphone - 
the third is on the back of the phone
already onboard when I received the phone. 
It's great for gaming, though I'm not a gamer. 
It's easy to take care of email and with a 
Bluetooth keyboard, it's even easier. Surfing the Web is fast and easy. I listen to my Pandora channels and they sound awesome. I listen to podcasts. I watch YouTube videos and even network and cable TV shows. I'll often send the sound to my Philips Bluetooth speaker and have an even better listening/viewing experience. I downloaded a stereo audio recording app and did some test recordings and it sounds great. I can probably even do some voice-over auditions on this phone and deliver really good quality.

I keep my calendar and appointments on the phone. I have Evernote and other planners and reminder apps on the phone. I have a stopwatch with a lap counter that I use to keep track of my daily walking regimen. I also have a pedometer that counts steps, mileage and calories for an entire day and is assisting me in my personal fitness. Of course, it has a GPS app and Google Maps. I also have Skype on the phone for chats and messaging over that service. Gas Buddy and Walmart Overnight Parking apps are at my finger tips.

The light, compact external battery charging pack
And, since my phone is ALWAYS with me, I'm never without a good quality camera or video camcorder to catch those spontaneous, once in a lifetime photos or videos - or in an emergency of some kind I can capture documentation that may be useful after the fact. The camera will even shoot in raw mode. It has full automatic for point and shoot photos, but it is manually controllable. You can set the ISO, the exposure time, the resolution, the quality and you can even take panoramic shots and a burst of photos to capture that one precise frame. You adjust the zoom with a couple fingers on the display either compressing or expanding the zoom ratio. And you can even manually focus. It's very good in low light and has all kinds of presets including sepia, black and white, negative and posterizing.

A photo from the rear 13 MP camera - the 
lighting wasn't good due to a storm that passed
I haven't played around with the video very much, but I have experimented with it in the van. I have a phone mount in a good position to aim the front camera at me for selfie video. I can use this if I want to record some narrative for video on my dash cam to A-B roll for a documentary effect.

Once again, this phone, the OnePlus One smart phone, is eliminating a need for all kinds of devices and expanding its usefulness even more than the Motorola Atrix 2.

The Bottom Line

This was taken with the front 5 MP camera a 
few minutes after the storm had passed and 
the sky had cleared
The phone is not available through any major or minor wireless phone provider as I mentioned at the beginning of this report. However, it comes unlocked to operate on virtually any GSM system, U.S. or international, by simply putting in an appropriate micro-SIM card. So, it's compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile, TracFone, Straight Talk and the other non-tower companies as long as they are on a GSM network like those operated by AT&T and T-Mobile. This will be a turnoff to all the loyal Verizon and Sprint devotees.

Will OnePlus ever make a CDMA version? I can't answer that. Since Verizon and, probably, Sprint are expanding their LTE service, which is basically advanced, full 4G service. This is compatible with the GSM service as I understand it. So, eventually, the OnePlus phones may operate on the networks that have traditionally been tied to the CDMA system. I'm not sure it will be worth the company's time to serve the CDMA segment of the market that will eventually become obsolete.

Now, here is what most people really want to know . . . HOW MUCH?

I have two friends with Apple iPhone 6+ phones with 64GB. Their phones have most of the features of the OnePlus One, but their cameras and camcorders aren't up to the specs of the OnePlus phone. They paid about $850.00 each for unlocked, GSM phones. I know a few people with the Samsung Note 4. The phones are close to comparable and they paid in the range of $600 and up to about $700.00. The OnePlus One is currently available from OnePlus in the 16GB version for $249.00 and the 64GB is $299.00. Those are the correct prices.

To some this may still sound like a lot of money. But, if you consider that this one device can be a wireless phone, a modem, a router, a tablet, a very nice camera, a camcorder and a GPS. You'll spend a lot more buying all those units individually. Plus, you may save money on your phone/wireless data service, too.

Everything I have listed in this report comes with the phone. There are no options other than the two internal storage capacities. The extra, matching charging pack is $14.99. I recommend anyone who buys the phone to get the charging pack. There are a few covers available at very reasonable prices along with some display protectors. This is up to the individual. I guess if your phone will see a lot of abuse it might be worth considering some of these options.

The OnePlus One includes an AC charger and a bright red and white USB cable to connect the phone to the AC charger. The battery pack comes with a short white USB cable to connect the battery pack to the phone. There really isn't much else needed except whatever wireless phone service you choose.

The OnePlus 2, the new Flagship Killer phone, as they call it, since the One was the Flagship phone, is slowly being delivered. I'm not sure there are enough improvements to be worth waiting until you can get an invitation and then can take advantage of the invitation. The new entry level phone is suggested to start at $329 and will have a few beefed up specs, be slightly smaller than the One, include a fingerprint security system and have the capability of dual SIM cards. That means one phone can operate on two different wireless systems. There will be a few other new features. I have no idea how much the top of the line, like my 64GB OnePlus One, will cost in the new series nor how long the wait might be to acquire one.

If you're in the market for a new GSM smart phone, I'd give serious consideration to this phone. This report is from a user's (mine) first hand experience. I hope it's helpful. You can go to the OnePlus Web site at (not .com) for more info.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for the excellent review Ed. I've bookmarked it until the time I get serious about a new phone.

Ed Helvey said...

Glad you found it useful, Richard. You'll find lots of uses for this device in your arsenal.