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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.

Camera: Hardware

The OnePlus One’s camera, like the rest of its hardware, belies this phone’s low price. With a 13 MP Sony sensor, f/2.0 lens, dual LED flash, and 4K video capabilities, the One’s camera is equivalent, at least on paper, to other top smartphones. However, a phone’s post-processing software also plays an important role in the quality of the final image. Does the One’s software match the caliber of its hardware?

(*while the iPhone 6 sensor can go up to ISO 2000, testing shows that on the iPhone 6 Plus ISO is limited to a max of 500)

Looking at the chart above you can see that the One’s camera compares quite favorably to its competition. It uses the new Sony 13 MP IMX214 sensor that has a comparable pixel size to most of its Android competition, including the LG G3 and Galaxy S5, which means it should have comparable low light performance. Only the HTC One (M8) and iPhone 6 Plus boast bigger pixel sizes. The new Sony IMX214 sensor features SME (Spatially Multiplexed Exposure) HDR technology, which means the sensor is able to capture HDR video at 4K 30 fps and 1080p 60 fps. The sensor also has enhanced noise reduction and improved low light performance.

The One’s lens has an aperture of f/2.0, one of the widest found on any current smartphone, which should further enhance low light images by allowing more light to enter the sensor. The maximum ISO that you can manually set on the One is ISO 1600. In automatic mode, the sensor is capable of capturing at even higher ISOs. While we weren’t able to determine the highest ISO it is capable of, we did shoot images at up to ISO 4500.

Along with the aforementioned improved HDR capabilities, the One also has a 6-element lens, minimizing distortion that can be caused by having such a low aperture lens. With the most recent software update, the One is now capable of shooting in the RAW format, which we will discuss in more detail below.

Other than the HDR improvements from the sensor, 6-element lens, and RAW capabilities, the One’s camera does not have any additional features. It doesn’t use any techniques to improve focusing, such as the phase detection focus of the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6 Plus. It also doesn’t have Optical Image Stabilization, which in our opinion is a big omission. OIS is found on the LG G3, iPhone 6 Plus, and Note 4, and improves both low light still capture performance and video capture quality. And while the One does have a dual LED flash, both LEDs are the same color, unlike the ‘True Tone’ LEDs found in the iPhone 6, whose different color LEDs produce a more natural looking flash light.

On the video side of things, OnePlus does not hold anything back and maximizes the capabilities of both the IMX214 sensor and the Snapdragon 801’s ISP. The One supports more video resolutions than any smartphone we’ve looked at and is the first smartphone that can record 4K video in the wider 24 fps DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) format. It can also record in regular 30fps UHD 4K, 1080p, 720p, 480p, and a variety of even lower resolutions. Unlike many competing smartphones, the OnePlus One is not limited to capturing only five minutes of 4K video. Although, if you were to record some long 4K clips, you can consume the One’s base 16 GB of non-expandable storage pretty quickly.

One bizarre omission is 1080p 60fps recording; the one records standard 1080p video at 30 fps and only slow motion at 60 fps. With YouTube now supporting 1080p 60 fps, let’s hope OnePlus adds a regular 60 fps 1080p video mode in the next update.

While there’s much to like about the One’s camera, its physical position on the phone is a pain point. The problem is that the lens is too close to the top edge, which makes it very easy to cover the lens by accident when holding the phone in landscape with two hands.

As for the front-facing camera, the One does have one of the highest resolutions of any smartphone at 5 MP. It also has a wide f/2.0 aperture and 80° wide lens that should improve the quality of group selfies taken in low light.

Overall the One’s camera hardware and features are comparable to other high-end phones with only a few omissions, likely to reduce cost. Now let’s see if the One’s software can unlock the hardware’s full potential.