OnePlus One: Hands-on preview

It's promising, that's for sure. The new OnePlus One smartphone has been bubbling through social media for a few weeks now, helped by a slow drip of official details and the buzz behind its cult CyanogenMod 11S Android operating system. With specs similar to the Samsung Galaxy S5, and a price pitched at just £229, the OnePlus One could shock the entire Android market.

I've spent a few days with an early prototype and I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm optimistic because it's a beautiful device with an excellent processor, a clean interface and smooth performance. However, I'm cautious because my prototype was so riddled with bugs and incomplete features that it was impossible to judge how the OnePlus One will work in the real world.

First, the hands-on

The OnePlus One is a big phone, almost 3in wide, with a 5.5in, 1080p IPS LCD screen. It's significantly longer and wider than the Galaxy S5, never mind the Nexus 5; although it's thin enough at 8.9mm, it's a palm-stretcher. The phone comes in white and black, and the back is a smooth, matte polycarbonate that feels a little richer than Samsung's plastics. In general, it feels like a quality, high-end device, similar in a lot of ways to the Nexus 5.

Hit the power button and you see the time, weather, and charging status. Poke through the interface and you'll notice that this isn't quite stock Android, but neither is it a skin you've seen on a major manufacturer's phone before. Icons, in the typical 4 x 5 grid, are quite large. A few new apps have been added: GalleryNext replaces the standard Gallery, collecting images by date and location; there's also a file manager and a theme manager.

Ah yes, the themes. One of CyanogenMod's big selling points is that it's easy to replace the UI elements: Icons, fonts, wallpapers, and colours. The theme store doesn't currently have much in it, but it looks like it might after launch.

Other features you don't find everywhere include a "privacy guard" which lets you block apps from accessing your personal data, and an OK-Google-Now-style voice wakeup command.

I can't say much about the phone's performance, because it was obvious the software was extremely incomplete. The headphone jack didn't work. Call quality was poor. Photos taken with the 13-megapixel main camera were nice and sharp, even with the 4x digital zoom active; in low light, images got grainy and a bit blurry. The 5-megapixel front camera is impressive, but washed out in bright light. Don't pay attention to any of this: OnePlus said it's working on all of these issues and promised to fix them in the final model. Wait for reviews of the final phone.

But let me get back to that price: £229 for a 16GB unit (there's no expandable storage) and £269 for 64GB. Holy smokes – that's quite a value proposition.

What's inside

The OnePlus One sports the same 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor as we saw in the Samsung Galaxy S5, and guess what? It benchmarks about the same, and it had no problem playing high-end games like Asphalt 8.

There's 3GB of RAM inside, as well as that 16 or 64GB of storage and a large 3100mAh battery to power the big 5.5in screen. (We couldn't test battery life, as this early unit wasn't optimised). As I said above, there's a 13-megapixel Sony Exmor camera on the back and a 5-megapixel camera on the front. The main camera does 4K recording, while the front camera does 720p. The front camera seemed to be stuck at 24 fps indoors, but that might be fixed in firmware.

So, as I said before – I'm cautiously optimistic. OnePlus is a brand new phone maker with zero track record, although it was founded by a guy from Oppo, which is known for quality electronics. If OnePlus can build sufficient units, keep product quality up, and squash all the bugs, this phone could be a real game changer.

I look forward to properly testing out the OnePlus One before long – it's due to hit the UK and US tomorrow.