Words On Wednesday

2015-05-20 OnePlus One

OnePlus One Setup

My new phone came in the mail and I’ve been like a kid in a candy store.

At 1:12 pm on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, I sat at my desk with a package containing my new Silk White 16GB OnePlus One. The next hour or so would consist of me unboxing everything, applying the case and screen protector, and all that good stuff that accompanies a new phone. Please be aware, the next few paragraphs will be written as a sort of real-time commentary on the process, composed as I perform the actions.

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Within the plain white USPS envelope are 4 boxes, 3 of which have the signature white and red color scheme that OnePlus is known for. Since the biggest box is most likely the phone, I’ll open the other 3 first. These red and white boxes are neat, in that it’s basically a hollowed out white frame, with a smaller red box slipped inside. I open the shortest and fattest case to find the AC adapter for the charger. Stark white with the OnePlus logo in red, very simple. I like it, kinda reminds me of Apple accessories. I may not like Apple as a company, but their products do look nice. The thinnest box (more of a sleeve than a box) contains the screen protector. Applying those is like defusing a bomb, but it has to be done. The final box, roughly the size of a phone, is obviously the first party case. I’ve heard some negative opinions of it here and there, but OnePlus was having a sale on accessories. I figured worst case scenario is I don’t like it, and I’m out like 10 bucks.

Onto the larger cardboard box. It’s very plain with only some basic info printed on the corners. There is a small OnePlus logo attached to a string, allowing me to pull it and rip through the cardboard. Inside, a red and white box much like the others is cozily nestled. I unsheath the red box and gently fold it open. The phone sits within a cut out, a small strip of plastic beneath it to aid in removing the device. I pull the device out and power it on. For a moment, I ponder setting the phone up now and applying the screen protector later, but the protective film is annoyingly opaque. Instead, I power the device off and apply the screen protector with the finesse of a gorilla performing brain surgery. I’ll spare you the details, but it involves a lot of stress and cursing under my breath.

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Before going any further, I remove the SIM card from my Moto G and place it in the tray of the OnePlus One. There is a SIM key and USB Cable included beneath the white cradle that originally held the phone. Once the SIM card is securely deposited, I power the device on. With a quick vibration, the screen illuminates and quickly boots. At the next screen, I am greeted with “Welcome to CyanogenMod.” I selected United States English. I skip through the WiFi selection menu, since I am at work and our WiFi is password protected. I also skip through setting up Google and CyanogenMod accounts, as I’ll soon be unlocking the phone. On and on I skim through menus. I turn CyanogenMod’s theme off, as I prefer the look of stock Android. “Setup is complete. Congratulations! Your phone is ready to rumble.” Aww yeah. Finish.

This phone is so slick. The display is absolutely stunning, so bright and crisp. To my slight frustration, the screen dim time is very short. I’ll be increasing that after I unlock it. A quick screen cap of the fresh home screen and onto the hardware. Despite being a 5.5” phone, it doesn’t feel massive in my hand. I can reach most of the screen one handed, though the notification bar is a bit of a stretch. When I first heard that the screen is slightly raised above the the body of the device, I was concerned it might feel or look weird. On the contrary, it’s hardly noticeable. The bezel is quite small on the sides, but moderately thick on the top and bottom. I don’t believe this will be an issue in general use. The capacitive buttons are reversed of what I’m accustomed to, with multitask on the left and back on the right. If I recall correctly, their function can be customized, so I might just swap them back. Sure, it’ll confuse anyone who uses my phone when they try to bring up recently used apps or navigate back, but I don’t care. Working on a nearly silent programming floor, I regretfully can’t test out the speakers right now. I will, however, be pumping those up after work.

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One final time before attaching the case, I feel across the smooth back cover of the One. I’ve heard it’s made with cashew or something, but it is insanely smooth. I really like the look of the cover, so I’ve opted for the clear case. Upon snapping the case into position, all fears of it fitting loose like I’ve heard in reviews are immediately assuaged. It may not be quite as snug as the Moto G case I bought for my wife, but I like it. No flex when I’m holding it, and it doesn’t obstruct the aesthetic of the phone.

OnePlus One Bacon Root Toolkit

I load up WugFresh’s Bacon Root Toolkit on my work PC. On the phone, I turn on developer options and activate Android debugging. When trying to connect the phone via USB, I notice that the port is flipped from that of my Nexus 4 and Moto G. Strange, but I’ll definitely get used to it. Good lord, that USB port is snug. Windows begins to install the device, which I’m informed may take several minutes. During the wait, I open up the Cookout Tray that’s been calling my name. A big double burger, out west style with cheese, fries, and a cajun chicken wrap. Call me a fatty, I don’t even care. After making a few changes, I’m instructed to reboot my computer.

For the past few minutes, I’ve restarted my desktop several times, restarted my phone several more, dealt with some driver headaches and finally got everything set up properly. Through this process, I learned 2 things I should’ve already known. First, always check the phone screen to make sure you aren’t being prompted for anything. If something still isn’t working, restart your PC. With these two tips, everything else is pretty much self explanatory and the toolkit does it all for you. I pressed the Unlock button on BRT and everything worked perfectly. I skipped through the setup process again and enabled USB debugging. Upon pressing the Root button, I am informed that Modified Boot.img is not present and needs to be downloaded.

OnePlus One Dependency Downloader

A quick Google search for “modified_boot_bacon_cm_11.0_XNPH44S.img” yields a download link from android file host. Great. I’m glad there is a download link, but I’m not so happy that the site is blocked here at work. Time to employ the workaround I used to get BRT on my work PC in the first place…

  1. Copy the file download link and paste it into a draft in my Gmail.
  2. Use Chrome Remote Desktop on my phone (at least I do now have a working phone) to connect to my Home PC.
  3. On my Home PC, open my Gmail and click the link in my drafts. This downloads the file.
  4. Still on my Home PC, load up Google Drive and upload the file.
  5. On my Work PC, download the file from Drive.

And we’re good. Hash check worked properly. I press the Root button again, turn on airplane mode, and begin the process. A few update messages pop up to explain what is happening with the device. Once that’s finished, I open SuperSU to check root access, Open BusyBox Installer and get all that installation stuff working, and we’re good to go. My OnePlus One is unlocked and rooted.

At the recommendation of BRT, I made a Nandroid backup upon finishing. I’m backing up everything available, not compressing the backup file, and I am generating checksums. Figured it’s best to do it all according to defaults and as thorough as possible, so that I’ve got a definite return point if I mess anything up. I’ll also be copying this update to my Google Drive as well as my external hard drive, just to make sure I’ve got backups of my backup.

Once the backup is finished, I load the Advanced Utilities menu of BRT and select the option to Flash a zip. Luckily, I’ve already stored the OxygenOS zip file onto my computer. Though I’ve just made a backup, I decide to make another within the zip flashing process. One can never be too prepared, methinks. Besides, I’m in no hurry. It’s only been… oh, wow, it’s almost 4pm. Two hours and 45 minutes, no biggie.

After struggling for 20 minutes to install the OxygenOS zip, I realized I was trying to flash what I had downloaded straight from OnePlus. I was supposed to extract that folder in order to get oxygen_1.0.0_flashable.zip (the actual ROM). Having now extracted the first zip folder, I’m attempting to flash OxygenOS again. A side note for my patient readers, Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Johnny B. Goode is fantastic.

And with the OxygenOS boot animation, it looks like I was successful. I get the obligatory “Android is upgrading” message while the device installs apps. A YouTube video on how to install OxygenOS mentioned that it won’t get OTA updates, and that made me sad. I like that notification of a new update to install and all the goodies that come along with it. However, the process is made far easier with all the tools at my disposal.

To anyone considering unlocking and rooting your Android device, please be aware of how complicated this process is. I was using a tool designed specifically for this and still have a few issues here and there. Obviously, for any device that isn’t supported by a WugFresh tool, it’s going to be far more difficult to manage. Furthermore, this process voids the manufacturer warrantee in almost all cases. This operation is not for the faint of heart, it is not for technology novices, it is not for someone who is completely fine with how their device operates right out of the box. Though there is quite a bit of user support through forums online, you incur quite a bit of risk by trying this. Having an unlocked device with root access does have benefits, but it isn’t worth the risk of bricking for many.

OnePlus One Review

Disclaimer: Please note, I’m coming to the OPO from a Moto G 2014. The gradient from such a low end device to such a premium device is almost shocking. If I appear to be falling all over myself for this phone, it’s because I’ve gotten used to mediocre specs for the past few months.

Hardware

The actual hardware of the OPO looks and feels great.

From the front, it reminds me of the shine and sleek curves of a new sports car. One of the most unique facets of the OPO, the raised glass of the display, is honestly not as jarring as I originally thought it would be. On the top and bottom bezels, there is a slight lip between the glass and the edge of the phone. As for the sides, it basically just slopes off naturally toward the back. Between the glass and back cover, there is a chrome trim(maybe it’s shiny plastic or aluminum, I can’t really tell). The shimmer looks great, and really accentuates what would otherwise be a fairly unassuming device.

Along the bottom bezel, the hardware keys are nearly invisible when not illuminated. Perfect for those who would prefer to just use software keys. The keys are ordered: Menu, Home, Back. For Samsung users (read “the vast majority of Android users”), this is natural. Being used to Nexus and near stock Android for several years not, I had to adjust. Fortunately, it didn’t take long. I’ve noticed it also helps to have the back button on the right side, since the phone is so big. Pressing back far more often than multitask, it’s a much more natural and easy movement for my thumb to press the closest corner. At the top of the device are the front camera, notification LED, ambient light sensor, and speaker grate. All dark in color and with a speaker that lays perfectly flush with the glass, they blend into the rest of of the phone in the best way possible.

Having bought the 16GB Silk White version, I will not be covering the Sandstone Black version. The rear of the device is simplistic and mostly unadorned. Supposedly, it’s made of some cashew-based substance. Either way, it feels unbelievably soft. Not especially slick or grippy, I regret that I am so clumsy and must cover the phone with a case. Just beneath the top edge, the 13MP camera and flash rest in a vertical rectangle. To the right of the camera is the rear microphone, an almost invisible pinprick (and likely even harder to see on the 64GB version, due to the dark color). Slightly below the flash is the OnePlus logo, printed in some sort of reflective black ink. Not quite a mirror sheen, but it does have a shimmer in the right light at the right angle. The bottom inch or so of the device has manufacture information in a pale grey color. Visible, but not obvious. Your eye is drawn far more to the logo and camera.

With a curved back, the device feels paper thin. On the right edge of the phone, the black power button rests against the stark white back cover, making it obvious to find but not aesthetically unappealing. Immediately across on the left, the volume rocker is similarly present but doesn’t detract from the look of the phone. Just above the volume key is the SIM tray, which requires the SIM key that ships with the device. The top of the device holds a microphone on the left side and auxiliary output on the right. To emphasize the thinness of the device along the edges, the auxiliary jack barely fits between the chrome trim and the back of the device. At the bottom of the phone, the Micro USB port is surrounded by another microphone and dual speakers.

Overall, it feels very good in the hand. With a display of 5.5” and some bezel on top of that, it’s a whole lot of phone. Even still, it fits well in my hand. The power button and hardware keys are easily accessible. It has enough heft to feel solid, but not unnecessarily heavy. The black and white look very dynamic, but with almost like a yin and yang simplicity. Despite the mid-range price tag, the OPO looks like a top of the line flagships and feels very nice.

Display

Though I’m by no means a professional, I think the display looks amazing. I can’t pick out the “inky blacks” or “pure whites” that other reviewers mention about phone screens, but it works for what I need. Videos are very crisp with no ghosting that I can see. When the brightness is pumped all the way it, the screen still looks fine in broad daylight. Automatic brightness adjusting seems kinda wonky at times, shifting from light to dark with no apparent change in the ambient lighting around me. I’m led to believe this may be more of a software issue than hardware, however. So far, it only seems to be a problem in medium to low-light conditions, it always bumps up when I walk into the sun. Honestly, I would probably trade off for a slightly less pixel dense screen in order to squeeze out a little more battery life, but it looks fantastic.

Software – OxygenOS

With my vendetta against CyanogenMod, it was obvious that I wanted to try out OxygenOS. I’m a huge fan of stock AOSP, and I already use most of the Google apps. I don’t need the ultra deep customization of CM, and it seemed extremely unreliable even in the stable channel when I had it on my Nexus 4.

So far, I’m really enjoying OxygenOS. Material Design and Android 5.0 Lollipop features are implemented really well. There are a few minor tweaks that open up customization, but nowhere near the plethora of options available in CM. One in particular I love is the ability to change the battery indicator and display a percentage. I’m bent on showing battery percentage to the point that some call obsession, but it’s something simple that I feel like should be simple to include. The setting was hard to find (you actually have to press the battery indicator on the battery settings screen, I didn’t know that was a button), but it gives you the option of an icon, a circle, a percentage, or hidden completely (WHO DOES THAT??).

Other than small stuff here and there, OxygenOS is nearly impossible to distinguish from AOSP. It’s really stable, I haven’t encountered any bugs yet, and it’s super lightweight. With hardware this powerful, there’s no lag or stuttering to mention. Google Now is available to the left of the home screen, but it oddly doesn’t load when swiping up from the home button (maybe a setting I haven’t found yet?). This isn’t an issue since that’s how I normally access Google Now anyway, but it was something I thought AOSP still included.

Performance

With such a minimal Android skin and hardware that’s still high end, everything on this phone is screaming fast. The processor can take seemingly everything you throw at it. Having 3GB of RAM, multitasking poses no issue. Music playback sounds great, since the bottom speakers can blast impressive volume while maintaining really good quality (especially for phone speakers).

Maybe it’s just because I’m coming from such a cheap phone. Maybe it’s because I haven’t yet bogged down the phone with apps, data, etc. Either way, the OPO appears to be an extremely impressive piece of machinery.

Battery

The battery on the OPO is huge at 3100 mAh, so it lasts extremely long. On the other hand, that’s a lot of battery to charge as well. In the time I’ve had the phone, it seems like the charger from OnePlus is the most efficient at charging it. Plugged into the stock charger at night when I’m not using the device, it filled up in just shy of 2 hours.

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Using the charger that shipped with my Moto G, the OPO took much longer to charge. I got to work at 8:00 on Thursday and plugged the phone in at 25% battery remaining. It stayed on charge until a meeting at 11. I put it back on charge when I returned from lunch around 1pm. It stayed on charge until I got off work at 5pm. Despite being on charge for 7 of 9 hours, it only got up to roughly 80% battery. I initially blamed this on the phone charging slowly, but it seems like it was a problem with the charger instead.

Over the past few days, I’m getting roughly a full day of use on a charge. This is with moderate to heavy use, and over 3 hours of screen-on time. My Saturday trip to the beach drained it a little faster, but that’s with GPS navigation the whole 3 hour trip down and music playing both there and back. When we left the beach at roughly 7pm, I still had around 25% left. With that much of a workload and for as long as it did last, I can’t complain.

Call Quality

Much lower on my priority scale since I rarely make voice calls, call quality is still important to some people. Front speaker volume goes pretty high, and voices came through clear. I didn’t hear any complaints from people I spoke to, either. Someone who makes more calls and cares more about call quality would be better equipped to make a firm opinion on it.

Camera

Normally, I don’t care a ton about the camera on a phone. It’s used for snapshots and selfies. If I’m going to do legitimate photography, I’m busting out the DSLR. Even still, the camera is part of a device that many people care a lot about. I would therefore be amiss in not discussing it.

Though megapixel count isn’t everything, 13MP is going to give you some good pixel density and goes a long way in producing clear images. The shutter speed is absurd, way faster than my Moto G. High Dynamic Range images require maybe a second (probably less), and non-HDR photos take almost instantly. I haven’t done much test photography in a closed environment, but all the shots I’ve taken so far look good. Even when zoomed in, pictures come out clear. I don’t think it has any sort of Optical Image Stabilization built into the hardware (not sure about makeshift software OIS), but I’ve got a decently steady hand.

Cloudy example without HDR, followed by the same subject with HDR:

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Broad daylight example with HDR on:

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Conclusion

The OnePlus One is a fantastic device, and holds its own against even the latest and greatest of flagship devices. When you factor in price, value can’t be beat. Easily the best option in the $300-$400 range. Having used plenty of lower end devices and done my research on higher end devices, the OPO hits a perfect balance of quality and cost.

I would fully advise anyone looking at purchasing a budget device to consider the OPO. Even if it’s slightly above your price range, it may be worth saving up to get. On the other end, someone looking at buying a high end phone should consider saving a few hundred bucks off flagships from the most popular companies. Now that the invite system shenanigans are gone and it’s extremely easy to order either version of the One, there’s no time like the present to buy one. This is a premium device at a budget price, a flagship killer for sure.

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