OnePlus One hands-on: Customize the Cyanogen uber-phone to your heart's desire

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After months of speculation and painfully slow teasing, we finally got some hands-on time with the much ballyhooed OnePlus One, the CyanogenMod-powered Android smartphone. This spec-packed uber-phone is currently available by invitation only, so this hands-on might be the closest you get to the OnePlus One for a while.

Below are my initial impressions of the purported “Nexus-killer.” For a full list of specs and features, check out our earlier coverage here.

Lighter—and thinner—than other phones

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The OnePlus One.

The minute I picked up the OnePlus One, I really like what I saw: a thin, polycarbonate chassis; a vibrant, almost edge-to-edge high-resolution display; and a fluid, customizable interface. It’s a beautiful device, though it slightly resembles a flattened-out version of the LG-manufactured Nexus 5.

And while the OnePlus One was surprisingly light to hold—at least compared to some of the latest flagship handsets I’ve been wielding—it was still a bit wide. Regardless, I can see the phone picking up traction with users just for its thinness alone.

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It’s so thin and light. 

The OnePlus One adopts the same hardware button convention as other stock Android phones: a power button on the right and a volume rocker on the left. The capacitive navigational buttons are also fully customizable from the Settings menu. You can even define specific behaviors for gestures like a double-tap on the screen or a short press of the menu button.

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The OnePlus One’s version of Cyanogen lets you customize what the hardware buttons do. Neat!

’Customize everything’

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The OnePlus One’s Themes settings page.

Cyanogen’s ethos is that you should be able to customize everything, and this proves out, emphatically, with the OnePlus One. It runs a custom version of CyanogenMod 11 tweaked to run optimally on the One’s hardware, and features some very extensive theming capabilities.

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Pick a theme, any theme.

By default, the One model we used had three available themes, including the Android default Holo theme and Cyanogen’s OneMod. The custom icon packs looked a lot like ones we’ve seen crop up before in the Google Play store, and the idea of being able to simply flip a switch to use them sounds much more enticing than having to dig for them elsewhere.

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You don’t have to stick to a theme’s ringtones if you don’t want to. 

Cyanogen said it planned for deeper integration than just icon packs, so each theme comes packed with different boot animations, fonts, icon, wallpapers, lock screens, and ringtones. As an added bonus, you can mix and match parts of the different themes as you see fit.

A camera for the masses

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The OnePlus One features a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera powered by a Sony Exmor processor. 

Cyanogen intended to deliver a camera interface that’s easy for anyone to use one-handed. It’s debatable whether the OnePlus One sticks to that original promise, as the phone is so large. But I digress.

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The OnePlus One’s facial recognition abilities recognized our own Blake Stimac. 

The camera interface is simple and minimalist, just like stock Android’s, except that it doesn’t require you to do that annoying “swipe-up-and-up-and-away” motion to adjust camera settings. It also does live facial recognition, which worked remarkably well even in the preview. There’s also live filter support, which was also really impressive. I like the idea of seeing what my final, filtered shot will look like before I even snap a photo. 

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Scroll through varying filters and watch the preview window update in real time. 

Cyanogen and OnePlus don’t seem too concerned about getting the masses to jump ship to their tweaked Android handset, and that’s too bad. The customization options are easy to use, and would appeal to even the most novice smartphone users. OnePlus would do well to up-sell its themeing capabilities to the less technological savvy, while also touting hardware spec and more granular software customization options for the hardcore Android-loving masses.

We’ll do a thorough review of the handset and put it through its paces once it becomes available. Stay tuned. 

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