I probably tested and reviewed at least 20 different smartphones this year.
It’s been over seven years since the iPhone first launched, so by now most of the competition has caught up. There aren’t many differences between most high-end Android phones these days. And Google’s big overhaul of Android called Lollipop is just as good as iOS in many respects.
If you want a smartphone, you’ll be fine with any of the top five or six devices in my list of the best phones you can buy.
But one phone really stuck out to me this year. It’s called the OnePlus One.
OnePlus is a Chinese startup that makes Android smartphones. Right now, it only makes the One, but it will have more models next year.
The One is an incredible device. It has a sharp, 5.5-inch display, excellent build quality, the latest and greatest internal hardware. It runs a modification of Android called Cyanogen that doesn’t bog the phone down with too many extra features and apps like many other Android phones.
Even more impressive, all of that only costs $US350 unlocked. No contracts. No dealing with carriers. Nothing. You just buy the phone and pop in a SIM card. It’s also about half the cost of a Samsung Galaxy S5, which can’t do much more than the One. If you had the choice, which would you buy?
The only downside: Stock is limited, and you usually can’t buy a One without an invitation from the company or a current owner.
And it’s that invitation-only model that has built up a lot of demand for the One. OnePlus does very little traditional marketing. It’s all social media and word of mouth, which helps keep the cost of the device low. When I wrote my review this summer, my email inbox, LinkedIn message inbox, and Twitter mentions were flooded with requests for an invitation. (No, I don’t have an invitation, so please don’t email me for one.)
I think phones like the One and the Mi4 by Xiaomi — another Chinese startup that makes really nice phones and sells them at rock-bottom prices — mark a significant change in the smartphone industry. You no longer have to pay $US650 or $US700 to get the best experience. Prices will continue to drop and people who couldn’t afford a phone before will be able to get online for the first time very soon.
It’s also part of the reason why Samsung, which is still the largest smartphone vendor in the world, saw its profits drop 60% last quarter. People are buying the cheaper Android phones instead of Samsung’s Galaxy phones now. Xiaomi also sells more phones than Apple does in China.
For now, Apple is immune to the trend. The iPhone offers a unique experience you can’t get on Android devices, and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are selling like gangbusters.
I expect to see a lot more devices like the OnePlus One in 2015. At the same time, it’s going to be a big challenge for Samsung, HTC, and other premium Android phone makers to make their phones stand out with new software and services so they can reverse their fortunes.
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