Mini-Review: OnePlus One

I’ve been a smartphone user for over 8 years using a small variety of phones:

  • Various Blackberries over a period of 3 years
    • 8700c
    • Pearl 8100
    • Curve 8300
    • Storm 9500
  • Various Android phones over a period of 3 years
    • HTC Hero
    • Samsung Moment
    • HTC EVO
    • Samsung Galaxy SII
  • An iPhone 4s for just under 2 years
  • A Samsung Galaxy S4 for about 1 year

The Blackberries were all through my employer from that period, and as an IT admin I also had a fair amount of hands-on access with several other models. For me, Blackberry was the ultimate messaging and communications device: excellent keyboard, granular control of alerting, very good navigation (particularly with the wheel), and long battery life (never less than 3 full days of use and most typically around 5 days, and I would get a lot of messages per days. Thousands). What ultimately pushed me away from Blackberry was the poor web browsing experience and, most critically, the poor integration with Exchange if you weren’t using a Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES): I switched to Android shortly after leaving my IT position to go work at a VAR who had no BES in their environment.

My first few Android phones were ok, but ultimately disappointing: poor keyboards (whether virtual or physical) and bad battery life (less than a business day of usage w/o recharging, with a fairly small volume of messages) spoiled an otherwise powerful experience. By the time I got my EVO, though, Android had improved significantly & the user experience was very good – except, still, for the battery life which I overcame with an extended battery. After killing my EVO accidentally, I got the Galaxy SII which worked even more smoothly, and with more than 24hrs of battery life per charge.

I probably would have kept the SII until it died, but I changed jobs and my new employer provided me with an iPhone 4s. Having heard so many good things about the iPhone, and always interested in playing with new toys, I went ahead & began using it as my primary phone.  That….was a bad decision. While the battery life was better than my SII (averaging about 36hrs between required charges), the user experience was not: the screen felt tiny, the UI seemed constricted and claustrophobic, and the OS and apps seemed more unstable than Android and Android apps. Even worse from an application perspective: every app I liked under Android was difficult to replace under iOS – either the app didn’t appear to exist at all, the app didn’t work as well or as completely as under Android, or the app for iOS cost significantly more (usually while still being of lower quality). For me, every day with iOS was pure frustration.

So even before leaving that employer I wound up switching back to running Android for myself while keeping the iPhone around just for work. Since I had had such a good experience with the SII, I decided to go with the S4 this time around, and it was a good decision. Everything I remembered liking about Android had gotten better, the camera was the best I’d had, and the battery life, formerly the biggest weakness for Android, was now on par with the iPhone or better. Life was good.

Except for my carrier. About 6 months after relocating down to RTP, our mobile carrier went through an “upgrade” process on the local towers. For us, this entailed unannounced downtime (about 24-36hrs of zero service at home when the nearest tower got upgraded) and significant amounts of new dead zones throughout the area. Everywhere we went we would have apparently strong signal, but would still suddenly lose any voice or data access for up to a mile at a stretch. On a normal 25 minute commute I went from near-perfect reception to at least 3 dead zones per trip. Not good.

So we needed to switch carriers, and if we’re doing that we might as well get new phones. (Yes, I like my toys.) I was seriously considering holding out for the upcoming Nexus 6, but then began hearing people talk about the OnePlus One. The specs, especially for the price, were simply amazing: 64G of storage, 3G of RAM, quad-core CPU, 1920×1080 LCD, Gorilla Glass 3, etc. All for $349 completely unlocked, and running Cyanogen rather than a more proprietary version of Android?  Sold!

I won’t bore you with all of the unboxing and setup trivia, but I will include a gallery so that you can see how it arrived, the quality of even the packaging, and the attention to some of the smallest details. I’ll even give the packaging the “Apple-quality” designation (regardless of the ultimate quality of an Apple product, the packaging is almost always flawless).

I’ve been using it now for a little more than 2 months and I’ve been very, very happy with it. No, it’s not perfect but it’s quite good.

  • The battery life is the best I’ve had for a smartphone since Blackberry. I still get a *lot* of messages, and use the phone a lot more in general than I used to, but 24hrs is the minimum the phone will last, with an average of probably 36hrs (I have had the charge last for over 48hrs on several occasions) . If I’m not actively using it, the battery lasts even longer: overnight it’s used as little as 1% of battery (though typically it’s a bit higher than that). Standby time used to be the biggest thing in iOS’ favor for battery life, but the One holds up really well.
  • It’s been very fast and responsive, even with a fair number of running applications.
  • The screen is gorgeous, and big enough at 6″ to be a mini-tablet (I hate the term “phablet”). It’s been a big contributor to my increased daily interaction with my phone.
  • Updates to the phone have come out fairly quickly and consistently (currently running Android 4.4.4 and have been a for a couple weeks).
  • The camera is very good. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the camera on my S4, but it’s in my top 2.
  • The build quality is really quite nice. It feels solid and substantial without being too heavy. My S4 (and S2) felt light & thin, but somewhat cheap given their plastic feel. The One feels and looks like much higher quality.
  •  The accessories are also top-notch. I added the Flip Cover and it was very easy to put on, looks & feels good, and offers great protection. Shortly after getting it I managed to drop my phone – hard – on concrete and it survived fine with just some minor scuff marks on the case.

The only quibble I can really find with the One is that the size is a little large to feel perfect to me. I’ve got fairly large hands, and I can use the One comfortably, but I have to admit that my wife’s Nexus 5 just feels better in my hand. I find myself using the One with about one-and-a-half hands rather than just a single hand – more like a tablet than a phone. Even so, I’m glad I went with the One and would still pick it if I had it to do over.

It’s my favorite phone to date while having also been the cheapest (not counting carrier subsidies) to acquire. That’s a damn good combination. Highly recommended.

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