Thursday, 27 November 2014

Oneplus One Review in some depth


I really don't know if this is a genuine Oneplus advert, I wouldn't put it past them


My OPO landed two days ago and in this short period has been scrutinised. I come into this review with a healthy insight into Android devices. I have enjoyed the stock Android experience with a Nexus 4 (no longer my N4) and Nexus 7. I've dabbled with the Nexus 5, played around with other Android devices and also tinkered with iPhones.

There will be sections of this review that most of you have read pretty much everywhere. They are the essential, but essentially dull observations that a review would be incomplete without. I shall mark them thusly, so you can skip them... In fact I'll get on with the review right now, starting with some dull remarks......

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The OPO comes in beautiful packaging. I received a non-descript bag containing two boxes (charger and phone). The phone is contained inside a beautiful box which is stored inside a curious cardboard box. Beneath the phone in a secret compartment is a funky micro-usb and a cool looking SIM ejection tool that is contained inside a rubber keyring. Both these are still inside the box, although you will need the SIM ejection tool as the hole to punch the SIM tray open is deeper than the standard.

The phone has a plastic covering which is easy to remove. It all looks very pro and distinctly expensive.

It is a 64gb handset with 3gb of RAM, the CPU is a Snapdragon 801 and the GPU an Adreno 330, the ppi pixel density is 401 with a screen resolution of 1080x1920 pixels. And the punchline ..... it costs £274, delivered to your door (or £229 for the 16gb). The main problem has been getting hold of one, as you need an invite. I can explain more about that process another time.

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Picking up the device I was astonished at its weight, or lack thereof. The OPO is thin, thinner than I expected even after watching dozens of videos pre-order. It feels almost empty. It had the unfortunate effect of rendering my Nexus 4 suddenly bulky and heavy in the way old technology often appears. It's larger than my N4, I don't know the respective weights but it felt similar to the sensation when you lift a carbon road bike .... you don't expect it to be so light.

And the size is interesting. My daughter saw the phone and the first thing she said was "oh my god dad, your phone is so massive" before she skipped off to take another selfy. My son saw it and didn't mention the screen once but was clearly impressed. His only negative remark was that the scrolling through apps was "too fast", I'm not sure what he was getting at there. It clearly is a large phone but you wouldn't look at this and think "phablet". It's possibly the largest size a phone can be without suffering the ignomy of that dubious moniker.

Furry Bootay!

So it's big and it's thin and light. It's got a furry bootay, which feels great! It's almost organic, akin to the shaven nostrils of a pony, without the gusts of breath every few seconds, and the snot, so it's better than a pony. But, and I'm not talking about the bootay specifically, the whole phone feels distinctly unsafe to hold. I've ordered a (very cool) case for it and I literally can't wait to wrap the OPO in a more sturdy body. It feels naked, and that isn't always a good thing.

Booting up the OPO is kinda quick and unceremonious. I can't even remember what happens now it's on. I've rebooted several times to try themes so perhaps it's changed a few times. It's certainly not a long time, hey, you won't be disappointed by the boot time, let's move on.

The OS, Cyanogen, is fantastic. I was vaguely surprised to see that developer options are off by default, and the repeated tapping is required to activate, but that's because I've always suckled from the stock Android teat and I expected this OS to be crazy radical. I thought I'd see buttons for overclocking and options in Settings for Matrix style green digital effects. I thought this OS would be g33ky in short. However it's actually a really sensible riff on the Kitkat theme. Options are more varied because this phone can do a lot of stuff, but there is absolutely no bloatware. It feels like an expanded Kitkat universe where the integrity of Android is maintained. It's a safe place to load up into and I felt instantly relieved.

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The screen is 5.5 inches bordered by a 1cm bezel up top and a larger bezel at the base. The lower bezel contains some hardware navigation keys which can be disabled in favour of the screen nav keys. I went to screen nav straight away as I'm a creature of habit. The notification light sits to the top of the device and speakers unleash sound underneath at the base of the phone, rather than out of its ass, which the Nexus 4 used to do. No-one likes that.

The headphone jack is on the right of the phone at the top. I've just been for a bike ride and listened to an audiobook about psychopaths whilst riding (What's the most deadly kind of road? A Cyclepath! Sorry... that's punishment for reading the dull stuff). I noticed two things straight away; the phone fits perfectly into my jacket pocket and the headphone jack is well placed.

The micro USB connector is on the base of the phone in between the two (not stereo) speakers.

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How fast is this phone? Well I would say that it feels instantaneous when whipping around the different screens. It responds like a kitten looking in a mirror, it's crazy fast. However, it's also dumb like a kitten at times. You can get this phone to wake by doing several things; and it's implemented some of these so well that I no longer use the power button to activate the screen. You can wake the phone by running a verbal "Ok Google". But this rarely works. I've stopped doing it to showcase the feature as it always lets me down. But the double tap feature rocks. Seriously, this may not be original to the One but it's made the feature sublimely useful. I didn't realise until just last night that you can also turn the phone off by tapping the very top of the screen.

The power button is only used to reboot the phone now. And that is a good job, because the power and the volume rocker buttons are pretty lame. They sit close to the shell of the phone and the volume particularly is hard to operate. You won't intuitively turn volume up or down, your brain will assign several million cells to finding it, and the positioning your fingers so that you press directly into the phone. They're not wobbly or loose, but they feel weak, like they should be treated with care. I wouldn't recommend mashing the side buttons on your OPO under any circumstances.

Another gripe that relates to build quality would be the speakers. Well, that is until I played some music just now.... I shall explain. That audiobook about sociopaths is quite interesting so I was listening to it around the house before I went for the bike ride. Whilst playing the book out loud I noticed that the treble would occasionally rattle the speakers in their housing. I thought I'd best duplicate this issue before describing it to you guys, so I put some music on just now. The music played beautifully. Not like a SONOS sound system, let's be realistic. These are phone speakers, they're not going to fill Wembley or replace your living room speakers. They're adequately good, unless you're listening to the occasional audiobook. I would put this down to build quality as the treble did seem to rattle as if the speakers weren't solidly fitted in. Once upon a time I was truly excited about the prospect of owning a Nexus 6, which is another story. However, short version is that it's too expensive. The main feature I was unrealistically thrilled to own were the stereo speakers. Well, I don't hear any reviews about people being reduced to tears of joy over the N6 speakers .... THEY'RE PHONE SPEAKERS GET OVER YOURSELF RICH!

Battery life is great. I've not actually been able to test this properly yet, but already I'm travelling without life support. My ancient N4 was never far from power. I would travel with a battery pack, used a Qi charger at work, had a micro SIM charger in my bedroom and on my computer. This phone however doesn't scream for juice every minute of the day. I won't lie to you, I'm a fairly heavy user. It's why I think purchasing the Nexus 7 was a good idea .... I can rest the OPO from time to time. For instance I'm currently typing this on my N7 (I've got back into bed after that bike ride). A phone that lasts from waking to the end of the day is an Epic drop in my opinion. I believe that this will do just that. I might just get it a purple case to befit its stature. 

It's just gone midday and I pulled the phone off it's electric juice bottle at 0900hrs. I rode for about an hour listening to an audiobook and listened to it on speakers for about 20 minutes before that. I've done a few "ok google" searches and a couple of random searches. It's on 94%.

However! Oneplus you are forgiven your omission on this occasion.  However! Don't ever make another phone without Qi charging capabilities. Don't you know that even in this day and age, Qi chargers can practically get you laid? In the office I work, placing my N4 on its charger pad was like pulling out a wand and making tea with it (and I don't just mean using it to stir). The astonishment quickly fades into blank looks and acceptance, but deep down they who bore witness know you're slightly magic and should be held in higher esteem. C'mon Oneplus, you are doing your customers a disservice, make the OPT Qi compatible.

Themes are perhaps one of the biggest draws of Cyanogen. Contained within the phone are two themes out of the box, but with some searching on the play store (just type "CM11") dozens can be found, many of which are free. Some cost, and that could turn out to be an expensive hobby, chasing down the perfect theme. I recommend youtube searches for top themes. I've currently got mine set up with circular icons using "Numix circle" mixed into the default theme. Goddam it looks good. I could go on, but this review is turning into my life's work.

Pick a theme, any theme, just watch how much you spend
 The camera can be split into two parts, the hardware and the software. Unlike the iPhone and the Nexus6 and many other Flagship cameras, this doesn't have optical image stabilisation. This means you'll have to stop drinking excessively or use a tripod before taking photos in low light. I've come from an exceptionally average camera, this one is surreal. In good light I feel I could keep zooming into photos like Dekkard does in Blackrunner. Looking at the software for these lenses on Youtube I was under the impression that some features would be gimmicky. It's not the case, the camera app is well thought out and I found the night mode really allowed a lot of light into the shot. Yes, the image was noisy and clarity was leached from the image, but not nearly as badly as I was expecting. I do intend to take "the perfect photo" with this phone, if I manage it I shall share with you guys. It's certainly capable of taking that elusive perfect picture.

Faithful colour reproduction, plenty of pixels. A nice shooter in the daytime, and good in low light if you have a tripod.
I made the phone faster yesterday by switching from Dalvik to ART within Developer options. There is a long-winded warning which would normally send me scurrying back to my safe-haven, but Cyanogen had impressed me so much I felt secure enough to switch to this experimental runtime. To be clear, Lollipop runs ART by default. I had ART running on my N4 and it assisted the battery slightly. ART appears to be implemented well, although I'm sure that some people will have conflicts with their phone setups. I wouldn't recommend getting it unless you're prepared for problems.
I've only had ART on the phone since last night but I sense that battery may have been improved and the performance is definitely faster, which is saying something.

I almost forgot to mention this, and in fairness it is the most important feature in any phone. The call quality! Mine is a disappointment. I am aware that it's software and I do expect it to improve, but right now I'm struggling to get a call which sounds right. Most of the time I get lots of extra background noise that isn't very clear but washes around whilst I'm trying to talk. I sound different, weird, according to most people I call. They sound odd. It was better this morning and I'm told it's down to a lot of factors, including which service provider you use, the handset configuration. I'm wandering out of my depth here, but I hope to see an improvement PDQ.

Conclusion.

Would I do this all again? Would I sell my precious belongings on eBay in order to get the money to buy a OPO? Would I sit in the forums for a couple of days before figuring out how to get an invite? Would I wait for an invite again?

Of course I would. This phone is amazing! I don't care too much about the slightly rattly treble, or the substandard call quality. A phone is so much more than a phone nowadays. This is a device right on the bleeding edge of technology, at half the price of most similar devices. Yes there are a few compromises, but Oneplus have done so much right. They're created a gorgeous looking phone, if a few ponies lose their noses for the sake of a fuzzy cover, so be it. They've used clever design decisions to present the tech in a premium package and it works. The phone feels premium.

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"But Rich!" I hear from the back of the room... "What of the yellow banding? The random crashes? What about the dodgy headphone jack? The other problems I keep reading about on the forums?"
Let me tell you about the yellow banding. There is no yellow banding on this phone. I expect that many of the issues experienced by the pioneer consumers who picked this phone up when Oneplus were barely out of nappies were teething problems. I wouldn't say my phone is perfect, my biggest issue would be the call quality (which I suspect is software and can be fixed in time). But the major gripes and the truly worrying issues that plagued the phone months ago are far fewer today. CyanogenMod 11.0 feels solid. It has crashed whilst using the camera app, but I'm so used to my Nexus crashing in Google's camera app I almost expected it to happen. There have been occasional hiccups, but I've spent the last two days installing many apps, changing themes and putting it through its paces. It's handled itself well.

And lastly, does my flashlight turn on in my pocket? Am I recording scooter rides with my significant other (Erica Griffin rocks)? Nope, they appear to have fixed the magical gesture based shortcuts by telling the phone to run proximity checks before booting up the apps. In other words, if it's in your pocket then it will detect it's in your pocket and won't start up the flashlight, or the camera.

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Thank you for making it through to the end of this review. After receiving my invite I promised to review the OPO, by way of keeping involved in the community. I'll stay around the forums to see what's new with my phone and what's fixed and broken this month :)

Regards,

Rich Elliott (proud new owner of the Oneplus One).

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