I must admit, I hadn’t done much reading up on the OnePlus One. I knew the general premise of the device but not much else. It’s not until good friend Dave McCabe (Homeserver Show, Surface Geeks) offered up an invite to purchase the phone (which I promptly and gladly accepted) that I started to really dig into it. The more I read up on not only the phone, but how OnePlus came to be, the more excited I got about getting my hands on it. After using it as my primary device for a week, I thought I would offer up my initial thoughts.
I hate to start off with something as cliche as the box the phone came in, but I think it speaks volumes about the goals and aspirations of a brand new company trying to enter a space that is dominated by the big guys.
The outside shipping box was a nice, classic craft cardboard with a thread sewn into the edge which helps open the box cleanly. The internal packaging contained another box inside of a sleeve. Both the box and sleeve had a very soft, velvety feel to it, clean lines comprised of a bright red against white. Even the accessories, such as the SIM ejection tool, were packaged beautifully. OnePlus even shipped the wall plug separately to keep the phone packaging nice and slim, although it also serves the added flexibility of being able to ship a single package to all regions and simply include the appropriate adapter for it.
The fact that this much attention to detail was given to the packaging, shows how committed OnePlus is to delivering a high-end experience through and through.
One thing I did not expect to be surprised by was the size of the One. Yes, I knew it was a 5.5″ screen, but when I first held it in my hand it seemed so massive. It must be the feeling iPhone users get when they first get a hold of a Nexus 5, Galaxy S5, or similar device. To be honest, it was so big, that it was a bit off putting. I was certain that I would not be able to use such a large phone as a daily driver. Luckily, I don’t wear skinny jeans and am still able to fit it in my pocket, though it’s definitely more noticeable than my Nexus 5 was.
I realize the trend is still moving upwards in regards to screen size, and though I’ve gotten somewhat used to the extra screen real estate, I still struggle to reach the lower left and upper right corners of the screen when trying to navigate one-handed. For me, 5″ is a good size. Large enough to enjoy content on but still manageable enough in one hand. With the Nexus 6 rumored to be coming in at 5.2″, we’ll see if somewhere in between ends up being the sweat spot. For now, I’ve been able to adjust the way I hold the One to be able to do most things with a single hand. Probably a habit I’ll have to continue to get used to as manufacturers continue to make oversized phones.
Obviously, one of the big differentiation for the OnePlus One, is that it uses a Cyanogen build rather than a stock version of Android. Though I’ve known about the nice features that a CyanogenMod can deliver, I’ve never actually ventured into the custom ROM arena since back in the Windows Mobile days. For the most part, Google has been able to deliver what I need through their pure Android devices aka Nexus program. As a result, I ended up reverting to a lot of the stock Android functions over the pre-loaded CM options. That included the default CM theme with custom icons, and switching to on-screen software buttons over the built in capacitive buttons the One comes with. I also didn’t get too much into customizing the notification drawer or many of the power user features that CM offers, but just going through a portion of the options left me impressed at the level of customization the software offers. While I stuck with mostly stock Android options, I can see the appeal that CM has on the custom ROM community. The biggest note I took away from the custom Android build included on the One was the fact that I was able to retain a stock experience so easily. Manufacturers like Samsung and HTC insist on including their proprietary “experience”, leaving users digging for apps and back-end tricks to replicate a stock experience. While the default settings on the One may not be completely stock, getting to that stock look and feel is just a matter of a few options in the settings screen. Within the first couple of minutes, I felt like I was back on my Nexus 5 running stock Android. It would be great to see other manufacturers make it this simple to remove their horrible custom skins.
One of the few custom software features I have been using is the gestures. This allows you to execute certain commands by making certain gestures on your screen, while the screen is off. I’m surprised how quickly I’ve gotten used to waking up the phone by double taping the screen. It was more a novelty thing at first, but it’s actually a very convenient feature. Drawing the “V” to turn on the flashlight (or “Torch”, as it’s call on CM) has definitely come in handy more than a couple of times and is a lot easier than hunting for the flashlight app the way I do on the Nexus.
It’s not perfect though. There have been more than a couple of times that I pull the phone out of my pocket to discover the Torch has been activated somehow. This is not good of course as having that bright dual LED on for an extended period of time can drain the battery. Another slight annoyance caused by the gestures is having music randomly start playing as a result of the pause/play gesture. This one is a little more perturbing since it is a two finger gesture, yet it has happen more than a couple of times. Still, I’ve found the gestures convenient and useful enough that I can live with a few misfired triggers for now.
One of the more frustrating points for me has been the touchscreen. The most prevalent issue for me has been my swipes registering as touches. For example, I can be scrolling through my timeline on the Twitter app, but when I swipe up to see the next set of tweets, I will be taken into the tweet that I swiped up on. Same goes for e-mail, Amazon, or any other item based list/app. It could be me not swiping up fast enough, but I am not swiping any differently than I do on any other device and I have not experience this issue on any other device I own.
Another issue that I’ve encountered with the screen has been a lag between the device waking/unlocking and it accepting input. Often times I’ll wake the screen and swipe to unlock, but the device does not recognize the gesture. This could be related to the swiping issue I just mentioned; however, even after I unlock, it may not immediately recognize that I’ve tapped on an app on the home screen. I’ll unlock, tap on an app immediately after, and nothing happens. I have to tap on the app again for the input to take. I’ve conditioned myself to wait just a half second longer before swiping or tapping again, but with a device as powerful and fast as the One, it should be immediately responsive.
Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, I disabled the capacitive buttons and switched to the on-screen navigation buttons a la stock Android. For the most part, this has worked great and I’ve not had to retrain myself on button location. However, there seems to be a bit of a dead zone just above and just below the on-screen buttons. I have to hit the buttons dead on in order to activate them otherwise nothing will happen. I feel like the buttons on the Nexus are a little more forgiving. This could be just my fingers getting used to different target zones due to the larger screen size, but with the other screen issues I’ve come across, I’ll blame it on software for now.
Wireless Radios/Call Quality
While not too prevalent, I have noticed the Wi-Fi drop a couple of times across different networks. I don’t seems to get speeds as high as I do on the Nexus 5, though with Wi-Fi networks, you never know if the issue is really the Wi-Fi radio or the network itself. What I’m more concerned about is wireless reception and call quality. I don’t seem to be get as strong a signal on the One as I do on the Nexus in certain areas; that goes for both voice and data.
The Nexus 5 does have support for the 1900 LTE band which could explain the data connectivity issues in areas where AWS coverage isn’t available (I’m on T-Mobile), but that wouldn’t explain the lower voice reception. Additionally, I’ve received feedback on multiple occasions that I sound muffled or unclear even when I’m in a strong reception area. I’ve tried using the speaker, handset, as well as a headset and the sound quality on the other end doesn’t seem to improve. Keep in mind, I’m using the One in the same location as I was using the Nexus 5 and I did not experience these call quality issues before. To be fair, I’m still able to hear the other caller just fine, so the issue may not be the radio and rather the speaker/microphone.
The only other wireless radio issue I’ve had has been with the Bluetooth connection. I have the phone setup to automatically connect to my car’s head unit to stream music to it. It connects quickly and works great, but I do experience a skip or two every so often. I haven’t been able to isolate the skips to any specific event, and it’s not frequent enough that it’s a huge issue, but thought it was worth a mention given the other wireless issues I’ve come across.
The highlight and biggest surprise for me on the One has been the battery. It seems everlasting compared to the Nexus 5. After a full charge, I was able to go a full day; that’s from 7 AM to 2 AM, on a single charge. In fact, when I plugged it in, I still had over 20% shown by the indicator. This includes 4-6 hours of conference calls, some light browsing, Twitter and Instagram, and an hour or two of music streaming over Bluetooth. When I tried to push things further, I was able to get nearly two full days of use on one full charge. Access to power is rarely an issue for me, but when I see the phone down to 20% and I’m about to head out for the night, I don’t fret about trying to get a little more juice since I know I have more than enough to last me through the morning.
There’s no denying this thing is a beast. Animations happens smoothly and apps load quickly. The only slowdown I’ve experienced has been related to the touchscreen issues I outlined; nothing a software update couldn’t take care of. The radio issues are a little more troubling and if they persist, they may be enough to divert me back to the Nexus 5. Even if the radio issues weren’t present, I’m also still not fully sold on the size of the One. I’m still trying to get used to the larger screen, especially when it comes to the keyboard and key placement. Were it just a quarter of an inch smaller, I think I could definitely see myself using it long-term. As it stands though, I may stick with it until the next Nexus (which is supposed to be a slightly smaller 5.2″) is released, but likely not much longer than that. Still, for someone that likes a larger sized screen, this is a hard option to beat.