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OnePlus One: A killer phone from China for Rs 20,000

By Vipul Vivek
October 27, 2014 12:28 IST

 

The plain, simple, minimal user interface that the CyanogenMod custom Android ROM brings to the One is delightful, says Vipul Vivek.

When my friend first told me about OnePlus One about six months ago - much before Xiaomi had blazed a trail in India - I was half asleep.

The name didn't even register. A few days later when I finally Googled it, I was jolted awake, as if Jim Carey had shouted in my ear, "Wake up!" 

The One wasn't available yet but its specifications seemed too good to be true for the price the Chinese start-up OnePlus was asking. As the reviews started coming over the months, it became even more irresistible. 

One problem, however, remained: You could only buy it if you got an invitation; they didn't seem to be in any hurry to enter the open market; and India wasn't yet on their map.

 

So, my efforts to break into the One club began with propitiatory requests to the company for an opportunity to buy the One since they kept ruing there weren't enough to go around to give one for review.

No luck. Next I rang up my software engineer friend in Boston to ask if he knew anyone who had had a chance to buy the One. To my dismay, he hadn't even heard of the phone till then. No wonder the Time magazine review called it the "phone of dreams … you can't get". 

I kept writing to the company about once every quarter. I started entering contests on tech blogs offering the One as a prize. Heck, I even joined a "flaunt it if you've got it" OnePlus One community on Facebook where condescending owners sometimes share or sell invitations. 

 

And then the Xiaomi wave hit India. The Mi3 was only a notch below on a few counts, but it was also about Rs 10,000 cheaper.

A better bargain couldn't have been. My friends started ordering the Mi3, which through flash sales created a much larger effect than its actual sales would otherwise make possible - not unlike the One.

Some won the Xiaomi lottery, others kept on getting registered for the next rounds by virtue of losing earlier ones. I was still undecided. 

 

And then the invitation landed a little more than a month ago. I had it shipped to the Boston friend's. And, finally on the night people in New Delhi were queuing up to get their johnny-come-lately iPhone 6, I was running to the airport to meet my One.

But as the gods would have it, we didn't meet that night and the iPhone crowd gained a day on me. (Selling in 17 countries, including in Europe and the Americas, the One will come to India in December, One Plus Global Director Carl Pei revealed in a recent interview to The Economic Times.) 

Despite the size the One's curved body tapering toward the edges means it's easy to hold and use with one hand. The hard plastic back with the sandpaper texture makes for a good grip and has no risk of smudges.

 

Except for those like iPhone users for whom big screens were a distant future until recently, the One's weight, at the lower end for a phablet, and sleek design make it easy to use. 

The display might not have the AMOLED's richness but it is big, clear, vivid and balanced. The plain, simple, minimal user interface that the CyanogenMod custom Android ROM brings to the One is delightful.

The full high-definition IPS LCD screen has sharp viewing angles, reproduces well balanced colours and has a very high number of pixels an inch, making for clarity that matches quite a few flagship smartphones.

CyanogenMod offers a range of themes, such as one imitating the Android Lollipop operating system, for the interface, most not free, that let you tweak the parameters by categories such as wallpapers, ringtones, colours, notifications, etc.

 

OnePlus Global Communications Manager Bridget Hickey has told Business Standard the Lollipop upgrade would come to the One three months after CyanogenMod receives it. 

The Google search and the many reviews online had piqued my interest in the One that promised a high-end big screen for the price of a mid-range phone.

Reading a book or watching a film - which is mostly what I wanted a big but not cumbersome display for - was smooth and seamless.

Even typing, curling pages on the book reader or adjusting the media parameters did not require that I use both my hands. The power key on the right and the volume keys on the left placed a little above the middle of the edges can be reached comfortably with one hand. 

The Snapdragon 801 series quad-core processor clocking a speed of 2.5GHz along with 3GB RAM will meet all your expectations, even though this is not particularly for gamers.

 

We did not notice any lags, though the phone did reboot once when I opened too many apps in a jiffy. Samsung has launched the Note 4 with the 805 series, but given its price the One is a far superior bargain. 

The One doesn't take an external memory card but comes with options of 16GB ($299) and 64GB ($349) internal storage. The 64GB one that I bought offers about 55GB for use. 

This, however, brings me to the issue that the phone might just get dated even at the price it is asking if it keeps away from the open market for too long. Xiaomi's Mi4 is no less a wunderbar and even its MIUI user interface gives the One's CyanogenMod a tough challenge. 

Both the One's 13MP front camera that uses a Sony lens and the 5MP rear one record in ultra high-definition as well as slow motion. It also offers time lapse and burst mode recording.

The Screencast app lets you record your browsing on the phone, too. The phone's audio - both with and without headphones - is loud and clean, and the AudioFX app lets you tweak settings for your pair over a wide range of music genres and sound effects. 

 

The unremovable battery, however, let me down. I had to charge the pricier though lighter and sleeker Lithium polymer battery the One uses at least twice every day with heavy use. 

OnePlus' Pei said in his ET interview that the One would be priced around Rs 20,000 in India. I paid about Rs 23,000 last month ($349 and $14 US Post shipping cost) for my 64GB version. 

It's better to be late than never even though sudden upheavals in the tech market are also not uncommon - even for those such as OnePlus who aim to be the "2014 killer" that will "never settle". 

If you don't want to wait, then the first flash sale for the One is on Monday and will last only an hour. There's no word yet on when the devices would be shipped, though I didn't face any problem. So hit the OnePlus website as soon as you finish reading this. 

OnePlus One

  • Price: (for delivery in the US) $349 (64GB)/$299 (16GB) + US Post shipping
  • Dimensions: 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm, 162 g
  • OS: Cyanogen 11S based on Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Processor: Snapdragon 801 processor, 2.5GHz quad core
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Memory: 16/64GB internal only
  • Battery: 3,100 mAh Li-po
  • Display: 5.5 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (401 pixels an inch), Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Camera: (rear/front) 13MP Sony Exmor IMX 214/5MP; dual LED flash
Vipul Vivek
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