OnePlus One review -- 1 month initial thoughts

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This was actually supposed to be published in September, but I forgot to push to my blog ._.
Since this time, a new software update is out which should fix a lot of the bugs I mention below, but I will do another review about that after I update my phone. But I will publish exactly what I wrote after 1 month of use. Pre-orders for the public will be opened pretty soon so I thought it would be pretty informative for people considering.

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So as some of you guys know, I've been using the OnePlus One as my main phone for the last few weeks, ever since I left my internship at Facebook. Thought I'd do a recap of my first impressions after using it for a prolonged time to help people decide whether they want one when preorders open to public in October from the POV of a normal consumer.

Firstly I'd like to preface this with some background about my personal biases. I am reviewing this phone while in North America, where a lot of phones are on a CDMA network, where the phone is bound to a particular carrier. However, as someone who travels relatively frequently, I would never consider buying a phone which is not unlocked. I would also never purchase a phone on a contract, because I don't like being bound to using something for X number of months, since it limits my flexibility when something better comes out or if something goes wrong within those X months.

My smartphone history (relevant for comparisons I will draw):
2012, iPhone 4
2013 June, LG Nexus 4
2013 November, Samsung Galaxy S4
2014 August, Oneplus One

I first heard about the Oneplus One from my friend Luke Chang who was working at Samsung's startup accelerator in Palo Alto at the beginning of the summer. It was rumoured to have a 2 second boot time and crazy specs, as well as being shipped with stock CyanogenMod, for a very affordable price. So, when I received an invite for the Oneplus One in late July, I wanted to get one just to play around with it. I hadn't decided whether I wanted to use it as an everyday phone yet, since there wasn't that much information around about it yet, and my S4 was still functioning just fine. But anyway, I bit the bullet and threw in the order for a 64GB Sandstone Black model.

My phone arrived 3 days later which was impressively fast. The packaging was very striking and nice, with the red/white theme present through the entire package and accessories. My favorite part of the package was the sim card release pin, which looks like an adorable smiley face. :3

The packaging!

Going onto the phone though, the back was surprising in that its texture was not smooth but rough. I'm not sure what material it's made of, but I guess it's to go along with the Sandstone theme of the name. It's a bit like sandpaper but not as hard or gritty; at first I wasn't a fan but after using it I've grown to like it a lot. It means you don't have to worry about fingerprints or scratches as much as you do on lacquer surfaces, which is nice. I have had some problems with small particles becoming stuck between the grit pieces tho, but that's probably because i should stop putting the phone on the table when I'm eating. It also makes the phone more grippy, which probably prevents droppages.

^ rough surface! (sourced from google images)


I have been using the phone without a back cover or screen protector and there have been no noticeable scratches on the screen or backside so far, though I also haven't had any bad drops (yet) (fingers crossed) (I should really just order a case now).

The biggest problem I have with this phone is its size. At a huge 5.5 inches, the screen is not small enough for my right hand to reach all the way across it if I'm just carrying it with one hand. This means that I can't swype for messaging since my thumb doesn't reach the 'a' key on the other side of a standard keyboard. Luckily, Swiftkey provides a compact version shifted to the right which has been really helpful, but Swiftkey is not a free app (though I had already been using the Pro version on my S4 anyway). Might be alleviated if you have bigger hands than me. Fortunately, though the phone is big, it is at least super thin, so in terms of weight it isn't too significant of a change, and it's not super bulky at least in 1 dimension (tho since i'm a girl it still sticks out significantly from most pockets).


^with an iphone 5 to compare (google images)

Another problem which is a known bug and which OnePlus is actively trying to fix is the ghost tapping bug, where if you are using taps for typing (ie. not swype), which is how I type with two hands, if you tap too quickly, the screen registers some random ghost taps and you end up with gibberish on your screen or unintended behaviour. This caused some major worries on my way to Vancouver, when Kevin thought something that happened to me because of Swiftkey's autocorrect, where the words that came out from ghost taps were correctly spelled and the sentence was technically grammatically correct, but made no sense. I actually think the problem has improved since then with the new firmware update, but the problem is still not 100% gone.

In terms of positives, my favorite thing about the phone is its battery. To compare -- on LTE data, my S4 dropped from 100% to 50% in 1.5 hours (let's not even talk about the Nexus 4, which before rooting went from 100 to 0 in 2 hours). While I was travelling, I didn't want to leave my phone plugged to the wall overnight so i'd frequently charge my phone for 1 or 2 hours a day and hope that it lasted, and by the end of the day my battery would have dropped like 30-40% only with moderate use. I'm sure that if I heavily used my phone, it would have dropped more, but I'm confident I can get through a whole day on 100% charge. This is due to its 3100 mAh battery, which holds more charge than the S4 (2600 mAh). Furthermore, the phone comes with a 2A charger, so it charges super fast. Probably can do a full charge in under 3 hours. This is a huge plus for someone who is out a lot and doesn't want their phone to die on them halfway through the day, and the charger is small and fast enough that you could just plug it into the wall for a bit and you'll have enough juice to go for a while. Ofc, batteries deteriorate so who knows how long this will last.

^ sorry what? 74% battery after 8 hours?
(this screenshot is was taken today, after 2 months of daily use)

Overheating has also been less of a problem as compared to the S4. This may be a result of not having a case on the phone, but qualitatively I've felt that the temperatures the One reaches, though not cool all of the time, are at least only moderately warm as opposed to scorching, even during a charge.

In terms of photography, it's kinda ridiculous -- the One has a 5MP front-facing camera (to compare, the iPhone 4 has a 5MP BACKfacing camera), and a 13MP back-facing camera (same as the S4). It has a widest aperture of f2.0 which is pretty damn good, so the low light photos are not as noisy as I would expect at all. Sharpness is also on point, due to 6 pieces of physical glass making up the back lens. The focusing does get a little weak in low light, especially when trying to focus at infinity, but I think this can be fixed with software. It also has dual LED flash, but I haven't actually used the flash for photos yet, so I'm not sure how it behaves in practice. The torch is really bright though! I also really like the inbuilt HDR mode, the results are generally pretty good, see below.

Some HDR comparisons, Auto vs HDR:
 







And here are some low light pictures:


So the fireworks is pretty grainy, but heck, it was pretty dark that night haha.

If we wanna get into technical specs, I guess it's worth noting that the One comes with 3GB DDR3 RAM (S4 has 2GB, iPhone 5S 1GB). This seems rather ridiculous but I'll admit there has been pretty much zero lag on anything I've tried to do on this phone. Of course, apps have still crashed but it's unclear whether the crashes were memory-related. I know nothing about CPU so I'm not gonna bother trying to make much sense of it, but it's Quad Core 2.5GHz for anyone who understands more hardware jargon than me.

Another neat thing about the One from my personal experience is that it supports gestures on sleep mode, so if the screen is black, I can easily turn on the torch app with just drawing a 'v' shape on the screen. an 'o' opens the camera (though it has stopped working of late), and two lines 'l l' cause the music to pause. It's a small thing and kind of finnicky at times, but I was able to navigate around in the dark easily because of the torch shortcut in particular. A double tap on the screen also unsleeps the phone. Though, this is a double edged feature, it caused many false wakeups when I had a simple swipe unlock on my phone, so I had to add a pin pattern lock to counter the screen sensitivity (but hey, probably a good thing that it increases security?).

Another weird thing I've found is that I frequently try to hold the phone upside down when the screen's off, causing me to look for a button to wake it up which is not where I expect it to be. For some reason my brain just registers that it should go that way. It might be because the speaker on the top looks more like the input microphone to talk into, but I'm not really sure why I do this. The front camera should give it away but my brain is just silly.

In terms of the buttons, they are very subtle on the edges of the phone. It can be hard to turn on the screen with the button because it's so flush against the side of the phone (ditto with volume buttons). Another thing is the SIM card release hole is not standard -- I tried to use the pin that came with the iPhone/S4 and it wasn't long enough to pop the release. Which means, you either have to use the pin the phone came with or a paperclip. Not sure why they did this, but it's something I've had to deal with.

Stock Cyanogen is nice because it's super customizable -- I had been using Holo Launcher on my S4 because I didn't like TouchWiz and it allowed me to choose how many rows/columns I could fit on my screen and how big to make my text. The One allows me to do the same thing without the extra app straight out of the box, which I really appreciated. This is the first time I've used Cyanogen on Android (I had my Nexus 4 on Paranoid Android after root) and I decided I like it a lot.

More on this if other people are interested after I upgrade to the new software! But these were my thoughts after the first month. :)