The best smartphones you can buy today don’t come cheap. The iPhone 5S, the HTC One, and the Samsung Galaxy S5 all cost at least $US600 without a contract from your carrier.
But there are a few startups trying to disrupt the model of charging a premium for the best smartphone components and features — big and bright screens, gorgeous designs, and zippy processors.
One of the newest companies is OnePlus, a Chinese startup that has begun shipping a new flagship Android smartphone called the OnePlus One. It has a 5.5-inch screen and some of the best internal components available for smartphones today.
And you can buy it unlocked and contract-free for just $US300, at least half the cost of a comparable iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. I’ve been using the One for a few weeks, and it has quickly become my favourite new phone of the year. That’s not just because it’s a great value, but also because the company doesn’t waste time trying to weigh Android down with unnecessary features like Samsung, HTC, and many others tend to do.
A Better Version Of Android
The OnePlus One is one of the few smartphones available that ship with an operating system called Cyanogen. Cyanogen is an open source mobile OS that takes Android and adds a few minimalistic tweaks that improve the overall user experience. For years, most users were geeks who hacked Cyanogen onto their phones, but Cyanogen is making a push to come preinstalled on high-end hardware like the OnePlus One.
At first glance, it looks just like the standard version of Android that comes with Google’s own line of Nexus smartphones, but there are a lot of nice extras like option to install customised fonts, themes, and sounds.
Unlike what you see from top Android phones from Samsung and HTC, Cyanogen’s minor tweaks actually improve the experience instead of making it more noisy and complicated. The standard apps like the phone dialer, photo gallery, and email are clean and easy to use.
And best of all, Cyanogen provides regular free software updates to its users. Most Android users have to wait several months to get the latest version of the software (if they get it at all), but Cyanogen has a reputation for providing timely updates based on the latest Android releases from Google.
I’m usually frustrated by all the hoops you have to jump through with Android phones. Most are bogged down with so much extra software from the carrier and manufacturer that it’s a frustrating, inconsistent experience. The OnePlus One is much cleaner and more accessible than most other Android devices.
Gorgeous, Powerful Hardware
It’s hard to imagine a phone that looks this good and performs so well only starts at $US300. I used a model with 64 GB of storage, which only costs extra $US49. Considering Apple charges you $US100 for every storage tier, the OnePlus One is an incredible deal.
Unlike many Android phones, the OnePlus One is stiff and durable, not flimsy and plasticky. My only complaint is the 64 GB model has a black felt back cover. It looks good, but feels like you’re rubbing against the surface of a pool table. The white 16 GB comes with a more standard-looking matte plastic shell.
And the screen is gorgeous. At 5.5-inches it’s slightly larger than Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and completely dwarfs the 4-inch display on the iPhone 5S. It’s also just as sharp as those displays, although the overall picture quality isn’t as good as an iPhone or Samsung.
Battery life is great too. A bigger screen means there’s more room for battery, and I was able to get well over a day’s use in a single charge. My iPhone, on the other hand, rarely makes it through half a day.
It’s tough not to like the OnePlus One. For a fraction of the cost of an iPhone, you get a bigger screen, better battery, and superior version of Android. I even like it better than Google’s own powerful budget phone, the Nexus 5.
The OnePlus One isn’t just a great budget phone, it’s a great phone, period.