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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.

At a Glance

OnePlus One

OnePlus

Price: $299

Pros: Big, beautiful screen; screaming processor; great battery life, smart CyanogenMod deployment; unlocked for use with GSM networks, half the price of competing unsubsidized phones

Cons:Unappealing backplate; muted colors from the camera; not compatible with CDMA networks; not available except with invite

Battery life has long been one of my chief complaints with Android devices, especially when it comes to simple idling: I can leave a half-charged phone on my nightstand and wake up to find it dead. Not so the One: Even when I barely touched it for a couple days, it retained most of its charge. And on days when I used it heavily, it survived from morning till night with power to spare. Its 3,100mAh battery can't be removed, but I suspect few users would bother to carry a spare anyway.

Heading into this review, I'd read some reports indicating low call volume on preproduction Ones. My unit had no such problems; callers came through loud and clear, and reported similarly good voice quality at their end. Speakerphone calls were sufficiently loud, but otherwise unremarkable. The embedded pair of speakers also produced decent, if not especially loud, audio for the likes of games and music, though, as with most phones, your grip can end up muffling or redirecting the sound.

Bottom line

What really constitutes a "premium" smartphone nowadays? Is it metal construction? Advanced features like waterproofing and wireless charging? The OnePlus One offers none of those amenities, yet there's no question this is a high-end handset, one packed with a powerful processor, a beautiful screen, tons of storage and a really good Android experience in the form of CyanogenMod.

And that price. The best comparison is the unlocked Google Nexus 5, which starts at $349 for the 16GB model. (It's $399 for 32GB, but there's not even a 64GB version available.) It has a similar processor to the One, but also a smaller screen and battery. On the flipside, it's a prettier phone, at least from the rear, and it delivers unmodded Android, which some users are sure to prefer.

However, the hardcore Android crowd positively reveres CyanogenMod, and with good reason: It's easy on the eyes, full of clever contrivances and endlessly hackable. That it's baked into the One's DNA will be reason enough for the techie crowd to buy in.

For everyone else, there are plenty more reasons. The One instantly joins the ranks of powerhouse Android phones, but sets itself apart with a much lower price. In fact, if it's a phablet you're after, nothing else comes close.

Although right now, the real problem to getting a OnePlus One is -- getting a OnePlus One.

 

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