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OnePlus One deep-dive review: Unbeatable value for Android geeks

Rick Broida | July 8, 2014
With a starting price of just $299, the unlocked, Cyanogen-powered OnePlus One Android phone beats the bigger brands at their own game.

The power button gets a little lost along the right edge, as it's located roughly two-fifths of the way down from the top and is practically flush with the bezel. Your index finger may light on it when you grip the phone in your left hand, but I still found myself searching for the power button much of the time. On the opposite edge, the volume rocker is similarly slim and hard to locate by touch.

Speaking of hard to find, the One includes three capacitive buttons below the screen. But they're small and non-standard in layout, with the Back button on the right and Menu on the left. Worse still, they're nearly impossible to see owing to barely-there backlighting. I could find no setting for making them brighter. Thankfully, you can toggle an onscreen navigation bar that gives you the "correct" layout and bigger, brighter buttons -- but it does eat into your screen estate a bit.

(There's an ironic upside to this: The three capacitive buttons make the phone a bit easier to operate one-handed, though anyone buying a model with a 5.5-in. display should recognize the inherent difficulties of that proposition.)

The One's other design elements are unremarkable, including a headphone jack on the top edge, a micro-USB port flanked by speakers on the bottom and a camera lens embedded into the upper rear. There's also a multicolor LED, used for notifications, to the left of the earpiece.

Features

On paper, this phone dresses to impress. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor powers CyanogenMod 11S, a distribution of Android 4.4 that offers more customization options out of the box than you get from vanilla Android. It's also stocked with 3GB of DDR3 RAM and, oddly, your choice of 16GB of storage ($299) or 64GB ($349). There's no 32GB option, nor is there a micro SD slot. For most users, the choice is obvious: Spend the extra $50.

The phone offers Bluetooth 4.0, dual-band Wi-Fi and NFC.

The IPS LCD screen is a behemoth, of course, but razor-sharp at 1920 x 1080 pixels and 401 pixels per inch. Screen quality can be a subjective thing, but I found the colors vibrant and pleasing, especially in games like Asphalt 8, and was especially impressed by how visible the display remained under bright sunlight (so long as you crank the brightness to maximum).

However, viewed alongside an iPhone 5s with the Kindle app running on both, it's clear which screen delivers brighter whites. Would you find the One's slightly yellow-tinged display disappointing in day-to-day use? I didn't, and I read a lot of stuff on the Web. Just be aware it's not the whitest LCD out there.

 

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