OnePlus One

Coming around on a week since getting our hands on a OnePlus One, we've been deep in the forums answering your questions about the latest CyanogenMod device. We're seven pages into the discussion right now, and while there have been a lot of unique questions, some of the same big questions are being asked.

In order to give some deeper thoughts on each of the big questions, we've rounded them up and condensed down to eight big questions, covering a lot of the curiosity around the OnePlus One. Narrowing things down also lets us give a more in-depth answer to each, which means we can get a better explanation of how we feel on each subject. Read long with us and check out the top questions about the OnePlus One, and our answers.

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What carriers will the One work on?

OnePlus One SIM slot

According to the spec sheets and backed up by my testing, the OnePlus One will work on both AT&T and T-Mobile here in the U.S. (that includes their MVNOs, too) — sorry, no Sprint or Verizon. Now things get a little fuzzy in terms of LTE bands when you step outside of the U.S., so I'll refer you to the exact specs, where you can compare the bands in the device to the bands your carrier uses:

  • GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz
  • HSPA: Bands: 1/2/4/5/8
  • LTE: Bands: 1/3/4/7/17/38/40

Performance on both AT&T and T-Mobile has been relatively comparable in terms of speeds and connectivity to the Nexus 5 and Galaxy S5, which I'm also currently using, though the radios seem to be holding a slightly weaker signal than other devices. Based on readings from the "about phone" screen, the OnePlus One held an LTE connection at 5 to 10dBm lower than other phones on both carriers — for example my Nexus 5 would have a -95dBm signal, the One would have -105dBm. It's not a huge deal, but it's big enough of an "issue" that the One will drop down to HSPA+ in low signal zones faster than other phones. Not the end of the world, but something to keep in mind.

How has battery life on the OnePlus One been?

OnePlus One Battery

With a 3100mAh battery under the back cover, the expectations have been set pretty high for battery life on the OnePlus One. We can never give much in terms of absolutes when it comes to battery life on any phone we review, but we can give some anecdotal evidence of what we're seeing. Through my first week using the phone on a daily basis, I'm relatively pleased with the longevity of the One. Especially since the latest software update (we're still on pre-production software, mind you), battery life has been above what I've gotten out of other recent flagships.

I make it through a full day of use (~15 hours), with all of my accounts syncing and "screen on" time over three hours per day and rarely hit the 25 percent mark when I go to plug it in when I go to sleep. That's plenty good in my book — and I never once left the house worried about whether my battery was going to tank while I was out. Even with heavy photo taking, podcast listening or music streaming. Battery life will vary drastically based on how you use your phone, but without any special tactics I was able to get above-average battery life (for my use) out of the One.

How are you liking the cameras?

OnePlus One camera interface

On paper the OnePlus One has all of the right specs on the camera front — 13MP Sony sensor, six lenses and a newly redesigned CM camera app. In practice, this isn't looking to be the next awe-inspiring camera, but it is quite good. Capture time in "Auto" mode is very fast, and HDR isn't far behind it. You have lots of great controls for manual exposures, filters and tweaks, though most will simply go with the "point and shoot" method, and the One does a good job with that. White balance tends to be a bit on the cool side by default, but each camera always has its own tendencies on that front.

I found HDR mode to often make scenes a little too bright and apply a really heavy HDR look, which can be a bit jarring if you were looking for a more natural-looking picture. It does provide seriously bright and color-rich photos, though, which is ultimately the goal of HDR. Auto mode provides good light and relatively low noise provided you're smart with your touch-to-focus point and have a steady hand. This camera doesn't have OIS (Optical Image Stabilization), though, which is a downside when it comes to getting pictures in really low light and reducing the grain created by high ISOs and over-processing after the fact.

Here are two camera samples (of many that I've taken so far). The first in HDR mode during the day, and the second in Auto in low light:

OnePlus One camera sample (HDR) OnePlus One camera sample (Auto)

Frustratingly, the camera interface still does one of the most annoying things for a photographer — it shows a 16:9 aspect ratio viewfinder for 4:3 pictures. Just like many Nexus devices of years past, the picture you see in the viewfinder is different from the picture you eventually capture, and that's just downright annoying. Luckily it's a simple software fix, but it's a fix that has yet to be implemented.

Overall I have a lot more testing to do — including video recording, which is supported up to 4K resolution — but I can say that the OnePlus One is performing above my expectations in the camera department. It provides a lot of light in shots of all kinds, does a good job (if maybe too good) with HDR and has a camera interface that's easy to use and get great shots with.

What is the One's build quality like, and how does it feel in your hand?

OnePlus One

The One is built extremely well by any standard, and is absolutely a cut above your average $300 off-contract device in terms of materials and finishes. It's an understated design overall with just a bit of flair in the form of shiny silver accents around the bezel of the phone, and I can appreciate the simplicity of the One overall. There's no weird materials at play here or gimmicky designs — it's just a nice looking phone. The back cover is technically removable (I say "technically" because it really does not like to come off easily), but it doesn't at all hinder the solid feel of the phone.

It's hard to complain about a single piece of the One's industrial design, aside from its generally massive size. All of this talk about it being a 5.5-inch phone fit into a 5-inch phone body really didn't come to fruition, and it's decidedly a step above your average 5-inch handset. It completely dwarfs the Nexus 5 and even the Galaxy S5, putting itself more in the range of the Galaxy Note 3 and larger devices. This is not a one-hand friendly device, even for my large hands, and even with using on-screen buttons I don't always feel comfortable reaching around the interface without a second hand close by for support. Using a keyboard with voice or swiping input is a savior in one-handed situations.

Everyone has different use cases and expectations of what they'll do with their phone so I can't say how the OnePlus One will fit into your life (and hand), but the biggest thing to recognize here is that the phone is big, and it feels big. Just know what you're getting in to.

How do you manage on-screen vs. capacitive keys?

OnePlus One buttons

Part of the "never settle" design of the One is having the choice between capacitive and on-screen buttons, and it's actually quite easy to switch between the two and find which one you prefer. You can simply choose which set of buttons you want to use on the fly from the settings, and in typical CyanogenMod fashion you can customize everything about either set you choose. If you go on-screen, you can change the position of the buttons and add/remove ones you dont want, and if you go the capacitive route you can choose what each button does for a single or long-press.

I've firmly settled on the on-screen buttons, and I think that'll be the best choice for most people. Because the One is so tall (and wide) you won't mind giving up that small portion of screen for the navigation bar, and having the buttons further up on the phone make them much easier to reach than getting your thumb all the way down to the bottom bezel to hit the capacitive keys.

Unfortunately there is a compromise at play here with the button choice. First off, the capacitive buttons are physically labeled as menu, home and back, so no matter what you choose them to be in the software, there's no changing that that darn menu button is still there. If you choose to go with the on-screen buttons, those capacitive keys are still visible. Although it's really hard to see them without tilting the phone at just the right angle, the OCD folks among us (myself included) will be bothered by their existence. Further, when you turn those capacitive keys off the entire bottom bezel loses its capacitive connection with the phone, meaning the bottom edge of the screen is particularly deaf to your touches of the on-screen button. It feels as though the touch targets for the on-screen buttons are smaller, and indeed when compared to the Nexus 5 you have to move a much larger portion of your finger onto the screen to get a touch to register.

What's the OnePlus One's screen like, particularly outdoors?

OnePlus One screen

The One's 5.5-inch 1080p panel is pretty great, and is right on par with other leading LCD's out there today. It offers all of the top features you want out of a modern display, including accurate colors, high pixel density and good touch response. My only problem with the display is it's just a touch darker at full brightness than other leading displays out there, which can hurt it outdoors in the daytime. The auto brightness levels can be manually adjusted to stay extra bright, which is nice and helps negate some of those issues — but at full brightness it's just good enough to get the job done, not make you forget that you're looking at an LCD in the sun.

What about speaker quality?

OnePlus One speakers

OnePlus makes a big deal about the phone having "stereo" speakers. I can confirm that those speaker grilles aren't just for looks, and there are indeed two speakers on the bottom of the phone. I do have an issue with calling two speakers a mere 2-inches apart "stereo," though. The speakers are relatively loud for the occasional speaker phone call or short YouTube video, but these aren't going to let you rock out to music at your next party, and you will always prefer using headphones for any real long-term listening.

What are you liking about CyanogenMod, and what still needs work?

OnePlus One themes

I'll be the first to say I haven't been intimately familiar with CyanogenMod since around version 9 (and early versions of 10), and using CM 11S on the OnePlus One has reminded me why it's so popular. Having it come pre-loaded on a phone completely removes the barrier of hacking it onto there myself, and I feel right at home on CM the same way I do on "stock" Android on my Nexus 5.

The big thing CM is pushing is the ability to customize anything and everything about the OS, but I still think that it goes a bit overboard with those customizations by default. Not having used CM in a while, I was utterly confused as a new user why some things were the way they were. It took a lot of jumping into the settings to turn off features rather than turn them on the way I like it. It reminded me a lot of turning on a Galaxy S5 and disabling TouchWiz features I have no use for — the only difference here being that when I turn them off, they are 100 percent off and out of the way, not nagging me to use them again.

As I noted in the camera section I think that experience needs a little bit of work, but I think CyanogenMod has done a great job on the new Gallery experience and theme engine. My One is still running pre-production software and doesn't have everything tightened down perfectly, but I haven't had a single crash, reboot or bug in the latest software build. There are still wrinkles to iron out, I assure you, but I can't pass too much judgment there until phones are shipping to real customers.

We know we can't answer every question in a single post, so be sure to hop into the forums and ask us a specific question about the OnePlus One, if you have one!