With the exception of the Google Nexus line of devices, it is nearly impossible to find a flagship phone that isn't tied down by "software bloat", which many manufacturers implement to differentiate themselves from competitors. Sometimes, such software benefits users, but sometimes, it doesn't.
Oppo once attempted to change all that with the Oppo N1 Cyanogenmod Edition, which offers users an experience faithful to that of stock Android. The Oppo N1, however, did not catch on.
This year, OnePlus, a company founded late last year, attempted a similar feat by unveiling the OnePlus One. It promises to deliver a stock Android experience on a high-end device (it's a 5.5-inch phablet powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor) while empowering users to tweak and maximise the utility and power of the mobile phone - all for an incredibly low price of US$349 (S$460), excluding shipping charges and taxes.
At the time of writing this review, the only way to get your hands on this phone is via an invite to purchase it, either from OnePlus or from a peer.
Even though it does not ship directly to Singapore, interest for this phone has been very strong here.
DESIGN AND BUILD
The backplate of the phone is black, but with a fine-sandpaper-like texture to it. Holding the phone yields a feel that is quite unlike anything else from the competition - in a good way.
The OnePlus One also feels light for a phablet. At 162g, it's lighter than the iPhone 6 Plus (172g) and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (176g). At 8.9mm thick, the OnePlus One is slim enough to provide comfortable handling of the device without concerns of it snapping under daily wear and tear.
There's no microSD card slot to expand its internal storage. Fortunately, the phone has 64GB of internal storage space to make up for that shortcoming. The phone uses a micro-SIM card and supports Singapore's LTE bands.
The OnePlus One sports a 5.5-inch LTPS LCD display with full HD (1920 x 1200 pixels) resolution. This yields a pixel density of 401 pixels per inch, definitely above "retina-class", which is fast becoming the standard for most flagship phones these days.
The OnePlus One's speakers are placed at the bottom edge of the phone. Sound output is audible, though not as loud as other flagship phones.
The OnePlus One uses a modified version of the Android OS - Cyanogenmod 11S - which aims to give power users more options and control, while still staying close to the stock Android user experience.
The whole interface looks and feels very clean. Without any manufacturer's user interface overlay interfering with the stock Android user experience, the whole interface also runs buttery smooth. There is no noticeable lag, and transitions between apps or pages are very smooth. It is the equivalent of using a Nexus 5 device.
Among its many customisable features, power users can set highly advanced options for various actions. For instance, by enabling the "kill app back button" option, you can kill an app, like a rogue one, by just long-pressing the back button.
You're likely to face apps that request way too much access to your personal data. Cyanogenmod 11S comes with Privacy Guard, whereby users can select which apps they want to protect their data against.
Cyanogenmod also comes with a built-in theme manager for those interested to customise the appearance of the phone's user interface.
The actual use of the phone is smooth, and is better than most other competing devices where responsiveness is concerned. In fact, the device has enough processing power to handle screen recording while playing a graphics-intensive game at the same time, without significantly affecting the game performance.
The OnePlus One comes with a 13-megapixel Sony-Exmor f/2.0 back-facing camera. For daytime photos, quality is excellent. Even when the photo is digitally zoomed, it does not suffer from massive quality degradation.
Even in low-light conditions, the camera can still take good- quality photos with an appropriate shutter speed.
The 4.8-megapixel front camera has average performance as it's unable to cope with low-light conditions. But many phones don't have good front-facing cameras anyway.
Using our standard battery test for mobile phones, the OnePlus One's battery life lasted over eight hours and is comparable to that of most flagship phones.
Perks aside, availability is one of the phone's limitations. To get a OnePlus One, you will need to obtain an invite to purchase the phone. Then, you will need to ship the phone to a forwarder's address in the United States before you can ship the phone to Singapore.
Total costs, including freight, shipping as well as goods and services tax, comes up to about S$550.
You can also get the OnePlus One from online retailers like Lazada, where it costs about as much as it would if you were to buy it directly from OnePlus.
So, is the exclusivity worth the effort? It's debatable. For the OnePlus One, you'll have to overlook the lack of warranty and really want a true power-user device without too much rooting hassles.
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