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OnePlus One Review

The OnePlus One has an off-contract price starting at only $299, but don’t call this smartphone cheap. Hiding behind the OnePlus One’s 5.5-inch HD screen is some high-end hardware.

OnePlus One Software Tour

The OnePlus One is the first phone to use CyanogenMod (CM) exclusively (the Oppo N1 offered CyanogenMod as an option alongside ColorOS). Specifically, it uses CyanogenMod 11s, a slightly tweaked version of the standard CM 11 ROM.

Built on Android 4.4.4 KitKat, CyanogenMod 11s includes access to Google’s Play Store and comes preinstalled with the usual Google Apps, so the One provides the full Google experience out of the box. The big difference between CM and the different flavors of Android other OEMs offer is freedom.

Customization

CM offers the flexibility to customize the interface’s appearance in several ways, including its comprehensive support for themes. There’s a wide variety of theme packs available, which include both static and dynamic wallpapers, custom icons, color choices, boot animations, and more. All of these visual tweaks are accessible either through the Settings menu or the Design Gallery app, which isn’t included in regular CM 11. The default “Hexo” theme is also exclusive to CM 11s.

CyanogenMod 11s Theme options and examples

Trebuchet, CM’s custom launcher, gives the user a great deal of control over the home screen, including the ability to change the number of home screens and the number of rows and columns available. There’s also an option for hiding icon labels, but icons in the App Drawer can’t be rearranged or grouped into folders.

CyanogenMod 11s personalization (left) and home screen settings (right)

Beauty is only skin deep, but not CM’s customizability. The layout of items in the status bar and the quick settings ribbon or grid can be rearranged. Physical buttons can be remapped or provide additional functionality. For example, enabling keyboard cursor control allows the text cursor to be controlled by the volume buttons when the keyboard is onscreen. Even the onscreen navigation bar can be modified with new buttons or just reordered. With CM, if you can see it, you can probably change it.

Custom button settings (left) and navigation bar modifications (right)

Unique to the OnePlus One and CM 11s is the ability to choose between using either the capacitive physical buttons below the screen, or disabling them and using "soft buttons" on the screen itself.

Features

CM 11 provides several enhancements to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) build, like an interactive status bar; tapping the date opens the Calendar app. Another cool feature, a carryover from the Oppo N1, is the ability to use gestures to control some aspects of the phone while the screen is off. For example, double-tapping the screen turns the phone on, while drawing a "V" activates the LED's on the back to act as a flashlight. The Camera app is quickly accessed by drawing a circle. Music playback can also be controlled with the screen off by swiping down with two fingers to play or pause the current song and drawing less-than or greater-than symbols to skips tracks.

In actual use I found that while the gestures worked most of the time, it wasn't always consistent and often required the gesture to be repeated before it would work. Another drawback is that it’s not currently possible to create your own custom gestures.

The OnePlus One comes with AudioFX, which replaces the DSP Manager app that comes with CM 11. In addition to having a nicer interface, it adds a plethora of equalizer presets and other sound quality settings for getting the most out of your speakers or headphones.

App Drawer (left) showing preinstalled apps and AudioFX app (right)

CyanogenMod’s Profiles are context-aware groups of settings and preferences. For example, you can create a “Silent” profile that turns off the phone ringer and audio alerts, which is automatically triggered when your office’s Wi-Fi network is detected. Profiles can be created for any number of environments or situations, like home, car, school, or work. They can be activated manually by long pressing the power button, or triggered automatically when in range of a specified Wi-Fi or Bluetooth network, NFC tag, or by a time-sensitive alarm. Additional triggers can be added via third-party apps.

Status bar modifications (left) and Profile activation screen (right)

CyanogenMod also adds some useful security tools like a built-in OpenVPN client and Privacy Guard, which provides granular control over permissions on a per-application basis. It also includes system-wide integration of WhisperPush, an open source solution for encrypting SMS messages. For this to work however, both parties must be using the open source TextSecure app (available for iOS and Android). If both parties aren’t using TextSecure, the app defaults back to normal, unencrypted messaging.

It’s worth noting that CM 11s on the OnePlus One does not support the performance options—like CPU overclocking—that are included in regular CM 11. In fact, the One comes unrooted with a locked bootloader from OnePlus. However, there are instructions on the OnePlus website for unlocking the bootloader and rooting the phone for the experienced Android user. The Android developer options are still accessible by tapping on the software build number in the Settings menu seven times.

CyanogenMod 11s exposes numerous developer options and information.

With its extensive customizability, useful feature set, and overall clean and uncluttered interface, CyanogenMod’s popularity within the Android community is understandable. It also makes a good OS choice for the OnePlus One. CM 11s gives OnePlus a fully functional and unique Android OS experience without the cost of developing their own customized ROM. CyanogenMod has also guaranteed supporting the OnePlus One and CM 11s for two years.