Eight Years with the OnePlus One

Tags: phones, android, hardware

Eight Years with the OnePlus One

Before the OnePlus One, I was using an LG Optimus 2X. I had a great time with that phone… whilst it lasted. Being the young lad I was in the middle of the mobile gaming boom, I primarily wanted a powerful phone to play games on between classes. However, I overlooked the abysmal 384mb of usable RAM it had and within 3 years it had become so slow that I was unable to answer phone calls before the caller gave up. With my family and friends regularly complaining about me being unreachable, I was forced to look into replacing it sooner than I would have liked.

I always do a great deal of research when making new tech purchases. At the time the One came out, flagships like it only cost around 350 euro and there were a lot to choose from. I knew I wanted as much RAM as possible, after having observed an explosive increase in Android app RAM usage at the time (specifically, this was when Facebook + Messenger were renowned for using more RAM than modern day Chrome). I also wanted 4G, knowing that it would be far more commonplace in a few years and I was already using my full data contract each month. This boiled my choices down to the OnePlus One, the LG Nexus 5, and the Samsung Galaxy S4. The OnePlus had the most RAM (3GB) of them all, and also came in about 50 euros cheaper. The screen was also substantially larger, but this nearly put me off the phone. I had watched one of my friends struggle to pocket his HTC One and had it in my mind that the profile could cause real issues. At the time, I had to think about cramming the OnePlus into my school trousers which I was skeptical would hold the phone at all.

Getting an Invite

Getting a OnePlus One in May of 2014 was not a straight forward task. The invite-only purchase system was still in place and I was the only one among my friends to be on the lookout for one. Most people I told were pessimistic - that this new phone company would flop after a couple of months and I’d be left in the dark with updates, and that the deal was too good to be true. I was more optimistic though, and I couldn’t pass up the phone having read the reviews and specs. I forget exactly how or who gave me an invite, but I did manage to get one and placed my order that summer. I made the smart decision to go for the 64gb/sandstone black model for 300 euro. Even at that time it was easy to guess that a 4k capable camera was going to consume quite a bit of storage. That ended up being more and more useful over time. 2 weeks later, OnePlus dropped the invite system and the phone could be purchased straight from their store, but the price for the Sandstone edition went up 50 euro. I was lucky to get it when I did.

I was nervous unpacking the phone initially. It came in a flat, square cardboard box and the adapter was separately packaged. It was efficient, but it had come all the way from China to my home in Ireland. I was partly worried I didn’t even get a phone, but that was soon put to bed when I split the box apart. It was a great feeling to open that package. Just looking at the thing I knew I had spent my money well. It was way larger in person than I was expecting - the Optimus sat within the screen borders. However it was super light, and the screen looked fantastic when turned on. I had already bought a protective case and hard glass screen protector so I got to work putting those on. During the installation of the screen protector, I didn’t notice that a fibre of dust had landed on the screen. That spec remains to this day.

“Never Settle”… instructions unclear

The OnePlus One really has served me well. On day one, the phone’s performance was fantastic and so was the camera. I remember going to Dublin once and speed testing the 4G, and getting 100mbps. That blew my mind - that I was getting faster download on 4G than I was on most WiFi hot spots of the time. The large 1080p screen is great for watching videos and movies on the many journeys I’ve been on with the phone. The GPS is pretty accurate too and it has helped me navigate around many places. It also ran games well, but the One has witnessed me transition from frequently playing Android games to not at all. Nowadays, I’m not playing any games on my phone and use it solely for communication, videos, maps and searching. My high praise for the phone also served OnePlus well as many of my friends and family would end up buying a OnePlus at some point during these eight years and sticking with it for a long time. I have tried pretty much every OnePlus phone after the One by proxy at some point.

At this point, the phone has been a persistent entity in my life. In eight years I’ve gone through secondary school, university, 4 jobs, half a dozen holidays, the pandemic and thousands of photos. I’ve relied on it for everything from quick searches to holding my credit card details. I’ve had no reason to tinker with it significantly - I ran the stock Cyanogenmod OS until it became so old that Google Pay stopped working, and then I moved to LineageOS which has given the phone a second wind. My thanks to the Lineage team for keeping the phone in a usable state for all these years.

Time is the enemy

I haven’t ever felt that the One has gotten slow to the point of being an issue at any point in its life. The 3GB of RAM and quad core processor certainly helps with that, as well as the lean and optimized LineageOS images too. Physically, it has also done remarkably well. I have dropped it only a handful of times and there are two large cracks in the hard glass screen protector, although the screen is intact. I have completely perished two TPU cases and the phone is mostly exposed in the event of a drop now. I have replaced the OEM charging cable once (with another original cable - I liked them) and at this point the USB port is a bit loose even at the best of times. By some miracle I am still running the original battery too. It just about lasts the day, and will die over 2 or 3 hours of Youtube, or an hour and a half of 1080p/60 recording. It still charges in just 90 minutes and the pandemic shattered any big travel plans so I’ve been fine with charging it daily at home. If the pandemic hadn’t happened I would have bought a new battery by now for sure.

By far the biggest fault the OnePlus has developed is a horizontal dead zone in the touch screen. It is exactly along where pop up dialog buttons appear (ok/cancel/retry/confirm). I have to spin the phone around 180 degrees to click these buttons, then spin it back, which is quite tedious but I’ve gotten well used to it. Also, I have to manually select the mobile band to use depending on whether I’m expecting calls or not. No carrier in Ireland is VoIP/VoLTE provisioned, so if I have the phone set to 4G no one can call me until I set it to 3G explicitly. I think this is because the phone is too slow to roam between bands, and the call ends before it starts ringing. To give up on the phone at this point over these issues feels like quitting a game before you’ve actually lost. It’s like the Toyota Hilux of smart phones at this point. I’m not going to actively attempt to kill it, it’s a fragile old thing, but it really serves me well.

A hard break up

The phone has always raised eyebrows. Initially, the massive 5.5 inch screen stuck out in school more than my dorky hair and glasses. A lot of people would be curious as to what phone it was. “OnePlus? Never heard of them”. It’s funny how much things can change in eight years. Seeing OnePlus booted from the German market is a real kicker but I’m sure people will go out of their way like I did in 2014 to get these phones due to their reputation. Nowadays my OnePlus One sticks out for the opposite reason that it did initially - it looks dated, and people familiar with the brand are always shocked to realize that I’m still using the One, in 2022. My other techy friends are particularly perturbed by it. I’m known for being the family whizz kid and neighborhood Linux guy and to whip out the One is like bringing a Twingo to a car show and saying you’re an F1 driver.

With the issues the One has developed, it might finally be time for me to start looking around for a new phone, hence why I’m writing this blog post now. It’s been a good eight-and-a-bit years, but I think it has earned a nice retirement. I took a glance at the current state of the market and realized my expectations are now incredibly low. It’s like I’m a time traveler looking at future tech. All I really want is a camera more than 16 megapixels, 5G support, and a 1080p or higher screen. It turns out, any phone over 200 euro has at least these specs and most tend to far exceed that. The multi-camera fad is a bit odd to me, I don’t know if I’d ever make use of that. I remember when the original Nokia Lumia was announced and I considered the upgrade, but it was too gimmicky for me to commit to at the time. I’m happy to see Nokia and Motorolla competing in the market again. I trust their build quality as much as I do OnePlus’ at this point. Really though, my heart is in another OnePlus. They still seem to have some great value phones like the Nord 2, or I could consider an old flagship like the 7 Pro. I’ll have to start asking around for some opinions - but I’ll have to do it behind the One’s back.

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