The flagship killer. That’s how OnePlus - a fresh Chinese start-up that’s suddenly sprung out of nowhere - is pitching its debut 21,999 smartphone.

And boy, does it live up to that pitch.

Charging onto the smartphone scene under an ambitious ‘Never Settle’ banner, OnePlus has made a genuinely brilliant, genuinely disruptive device with a huge 5.5in screen, among the best processing power currently available and kickass battery life. All for less than the price of a Nexus 5.

The sheer, almost-unbelievable value of the OnePlus One is impossible to resist. Pick up this smartphone just once and you will want to own one.

But there’s the rub: owning one right now is very tricky thanks to an invite-only ordering process. So just how far should you go to get yourself on the list?

Believe it

Just to be clear, the OnePlus One lives up to the hype in almost every single way. It really does beat the Nexus at its own game and will be giving the sweats to all of those oh-so pricey flagship phones from the accepted Big Boys. But no device is absolutely flawless, so let’s get the few issues out of the way at the start.

It’s not waterproof like the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z3, and there’s no expandable microSD storage. But consider that it's a 64GB version of the phone you're getting.

A few other minor niggles aside (skip to our camera section, for one) that really is it. In terms of design, screen, performance and battery life you simply can’t get better than this for anywhere near 30,000.

As powerful as an LG G3

A device this cheap just shouldn’t be able to cram in components this powerful. We’ve seen 720p screens and high-end software features trickle down but not the fastest silicon on the planet. More importantly, it doesn’t disappoint in use.

The power in question comes from a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor - yep, the same one that runs the LG G3 and Galaxy S5 - plus 3GB of RAM. Everything is fast. The only app that we’ve seen take a second or two to load is the Gallery app, but then that is in beta (and is already flaming lovely).  

After 10 days with the OnePlus One we had only one minor crash when changing lockscreens - we say crash, we mean the phone went berserk for ten seconds until we pressed the power button. Don’t worry though, it’s wonderfully smooth day to day and that’s enough for us to forgive it one blemish. Seriously, if this smartphone were twice the price, we’d be cooing over its performance. As it is, we go into full-on gawp mode every time we remember how much it costs.

The benchmarks back up real life. On AnTuTu the OnePlus holds its head high with an LG-slaying score of 36380, one of the highest we’ve seen and on a level with the HTC One (M8). Geekbench 3 gives it a very respectable score of 2275 and it does well on SunSpider’s JavaScript benchmark with 942ms. To cut a long story short, there’s been no compromise on power.

More megapixels than a HTC One (M8)*

This is a half-win for the OnePlus.

For daytime snaps, the OnePlus’ 13MP camera is reliably great. The f/2.0 lens makes for bright shots and colours are natural and appealing, even if they’re a tad washed out next to the best. There’s plenty of detail captured, the zoom is usable and macro pics can look stunning. Autofocus is reasonably fast and won’t have you tutting too much - although it can’t keep up with a G3 or Galaxy S5.

CyanogenMod’s camera app has made it simple to change modes - just swipe down in the viewfinder screen to switch to HDR, Night Mode or other presets, which you can customise for easy access. For this trick alone it’s become one of our favourite camera apps. In fact, the main problem we’ve had while out snapping is that the lens is seriously close to the edge of the phone in landscape, so there have been a few giant fingers in frame.


Indoors, the OnePlus One does a so-so job but, without resorting to its LED flash, it just doesn’t have the low-light capabilities of a HTC One (M8) or LG. OnePlus says it features ‘Image Stabilisation Technology’ software but it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, sadly. Don’t even bother outdoors at night. Let’s not forget, the Nexus 5 is no stunner in low light, and every other budget phone is even further behind that benchmark. But on a device that’s so impressive it’s a shame to come out with slightly fuzzy snaps of your mates over dinner. It’s not terrible but it’s one area where it stills pay to, you know, pay.

A nice bonus is that the OnePlus can shoot pretty smooth Full HD and 4K video - though give its slow-mo a miss - and stills and video taken with the 5MP front camera are bright and detailed, too. Overall, the OnePlus’ camera capabilities are the one area it doesn’t quite match the big money flagships, but it performs better than both the Nexus and standard mid-range efforts.

*We know the HTC uses UltraPixels but you get the idea.

Slicker UI than a Samsung Galaxy Note 3

We love what CyanogenMod has done to Android. What’s CyanogenMod? Essentially it’s a tinkered-with version of Android that sticks closely enough to the vanilla experience to get pre-installed Google apps and frequent updates. The OnePlus is following the lead of the Oppo N1 here in making this version of Android legit.

Based on Android 4.4, CyanogenMod 11’s like stock Android on steroids - if you like to tweak your status bar, lockscreen, notifications pulldown, navigation buttons, sounds or just about anything else on your device, this is the smartphone for you. Of course that means that beginners might be a bit overwhelmed by options. There’s plenty to switch off from the get-go, as you would with an overstuffed TouchWiz on a Note 3, say, but ultimately it’s the clean, fluid stock Android experience with more customisation. Aside from CM’s signature hexagons, it looks very similar to stock, too - before you start mucking about with themes, fonts and icons that is. Settings includes a Personalisation section for gestures, lockscreens and the like, and in ‘Buttons’ you can flit between hardware and onscreen navigation buttons.

Interested in more than just design tweaks? Then dig into ‘Profiles’ - a feature we’ve seen on some Motorola devices but is again taken to the next level in CyanogenMod. Here you can automate Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, data, ring volumes and notifications for home, work, night, car settings. It works brilliantly and, of course, there’s more to play with here than even power users can dream of.

One thing that’s missing is a split screen feature to run two apps in windows - as seen on the LG G3 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. So OnePlus isn’t squeezing every last drop out of that 5.5in screen, but don’t forget - features such as this are still a bit of a luxury. As is a stylus, which the OnePlus also does without.

We still have a soft spot for HTC’s Sense UI but CyanogenMod proves that it’s grown-up, stable and plenty slick enough. It does what the vast majority of absolute giants fail to do - improves Android.

Longer Battery Life than an Oppo Find 7

The OnePlus One is a rare thing: a big, cheap smartphone with an awesome battery life.

With a 3100mAh battery (that’s almost as big as the Galaxy Note 3’s) the One’s stamina really impresses. With any big-screened phone, nevermind a cut-price one, battery life is a worry, but here it’s really not a problem with a damn impressive 10 hours 20 minutes in our 720p video rundown test (Wi-Fi on, half brightness). And side-by-side with the almost identical but 2K-screened Oppo Find 7, the OnePlus drops 9% an hour on average versus the Oppo’s rather worrying 18%.

The battery isn’t swappable, there’s no VOOC fast charging (as on the Oppo) and neither is there a built-in power saving mode. True, the last one is a small nuisance, but none of it takes away from the joy of getting a day of use out of an otherwise fantastic 5.5in smartphone.

A side note - OnePlus has lavished its microUSB cable with attention. We can’t believe we’re saying this but it looks proper gorgeous in an orangey-red and white. Not only does it stand out in a sea of black and white cables, it’s been flattened to avoid tangling, too. Good work.

Can't get a OnePlus One? Try the Oppo Find 7a

Throughout this review, we've been comparing the OnePlus One to Oppo's flagship, the 2K-screened Oppo Find 7. 

But its little brother, the Find 7a is the closest you can get to a OnePlus One in design, spec and price. The best bit? It's on sale now. 

We prefer CyanogenMod to Oppo's own ColorOS, sure, but that's being picky. These are two extremely similar phones. And the Find 7a is the one you can buy right now, easily.

OnePlus One Verdict

Hype confirmed. Disruption commencing.

To get one of the best smartphones on the planet, you don’t need 50,000. You just need a OnePlus One invite.

OnePlus tells us that as production ramps up, more invites will be sent out (to buyers and on forums) and a good, old-fashioned pre-order system set up. Letting gadget fans buy the device the proper way means the One could well be the flagship killer that was promised. On supreme value alone, it deserves it.

If OnePlus decides to make a smaller smartphone in 2015, it might even put a few tech giants out of business. For now, the OnePlus One might be too big for some.

But it really does have ‘it’ - that combination of good design, reliable performance and value for money. The Nexus 5 has it, so does the smaller Moto G. But now the OnePlus One has surpassed both and takes its place as the king of the budget flagships. It’s perfect for early adopters, spec worshippers, tinkerers and anyone willing to take a gamble on an unknown - but utterly brilliant - gadget. 

READ MORE: Stuff's top ten list of the best smartphones on the planet

Stuff says... 

OnePlus One review

Specs, style and stonking good value. Watch out, smartphone world - the OnePlus One is coming for you
Good Stuff 
Dirt cheap for the specs
Excellent build
Powerful but frugal
Big Full HD screen
Bad Stuff 
Weak low-light photography
No microSD expansion
Getting into phablet territory