Why the OnePlus Smartphones Rival Apple’s Offerings

Earlier this month, Apple announced the iPhone SE, a 4-inch iPhone similar in design to the 2013 iPhone 5S but with specifications similar to the iPhone 6S line. The company is positioning this phone as a device for those who prefer the smaller phones of yesteryear, as well as those who are price-conscious.

This two-tiered, flagship vs. budget phone strategy sounds strikingly similar to that of Chinese manufacturer OnePlus, a company whose designs wowed tech enthusiasts in 2014 with their “flagship killer,” the OnePlus One. Even today, the OnePlus One makes for a great all-around smartphone, and with recent updates to its software, pushes smartphone capabilities even farther.

The Software

OnePlus hasn’t rested on their laurels; in early 2015 they announced the OnePlus 2which sold 30,000 units in a matter of 64 seconds, and the OnePlus X—to many a surprise—in late July. Both devices offer premium industrial design with perhaps the best iteration of the often-tampered-with-in-the-worst-possible-way Android operating system.

Named OxygenOS, the OnePlus team optimizes the raw Android code into a fast and useful version of Lollipop, containing a slew of great features such as Dark Mode (great for nighttime reading), granular app permissions, enhanced MAXX audio, ambient display for notifications, enhanced gestures, and SwiftKey (easily the best Android keyboard) installed by default.

The Shelf—OxygenOS’ only extraneous interface tweak—provides glance-friendly access to your most important information, which is obtained as the operating system gets to know your habits. Say, for example, that you call your spouse every day after work. The Shelf will have that contact ready for you around that particular time each day, predicting that you will make that call. The Shelf will also generate GPS assumptions; if you are located at or near work and typically go home at a certain time, the phone will bring up Google Maps and provide you with an indication of your commuting time to get home.

The Hardware

The OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X have similar but distinct industrial designs. Both forego the typical Android OEM nonsense of logos positioned on the front with a sleek and meticulously-crafted aluminum and magnesium frame. Coupled with stainless steel accents and Corning’s Gorilla® Glass, the device features a wonderful sandstone texture on the back. Even better, the back can be swapped out with materials such as bamboo, rosewood, and black apricot. For a larger 5.5-inch device, the OnePlus 2 feels amazing in the hands.

The OnePlus X possesses a similar metal frame to the OnePlus 2, composed of a beautiful brushed anodized aluminum with chamfered edges. Holding the ultra-thin device in your hands, it feels as solid as marble and yet light, thanks to its spritely build. With an iridescent black finish and sharp, beveled edges that catch the light at each turn, the Ceramic finish seems as multi-faceted as a gemstone.

In addition to the carefully crafted design and luxurious materials, the hardware features of both devices are plentiful. KHACHILIFE’s creator, Ramsin Khachi, and I tested both phones. We especially love the Dual SIM capability. We agree that, for those who travel or have two wireless accounts to maintain, having an alternative SIM card permanently in the phone and being able to easily switch between the two, simplifies an often annoying process. The MicroSD expandable memory in the OnePlus X is also an incredibly valuable feature. Once mounted, storage can increase an extra 128GB, providing you with a whopping 144GB to store your content.

In the past, Apple was unmatched for its attention to detail in industrial design. Now we are seeing companies committed to building exceptionally well-crafted devices that possess a unique and equally intriguing design language, with killer features to boot.

The Price

One feature that is almost always a prime concern for customers is that of pricing. A 16GB iPhone 6S (4.7-inch screen) retails for $899 CAD off contract, with the newly launched, budget-conscious iPhone SE starting at $579 CAD. To many, that amount is prohibitive and excessive, especially when other smartphones are offered for much less. The OnePlus 2, with 64Gb of storage, starts at just $449 CAD. The OnePlus X, a delightful 5-inch smartphone that is undeniably stunning in its appearance, retails for just $329 CAD.

We’ve known for quite some time that Apple does not play the cheap pricing game. They may reconsider their pricing strategy, however, when more customers take wind of such great alternatives.

Now Widespread Availability

The one caveat of the OnePlus series has been its limited availability; devices were once available only to those who were invited to purchase them. Customers would have to visit their site, create an account, and request an invite. Most invites would take upwards of 2–3 months before being filled, forcing most customers to seek elsewhere for their smartphone purchase. Recently, however, OnePlus has effectively removed the invite system and now any customer is able to purchase either of the devices instantly from their website and some limited in-store retailers.

For the first time in a long time, worthy competition has germinated in the face of Apple, making the increasingly mature smartphone market as a whole that much sweeter.

James March
James March is an interdisciplinary designer and educator who creates all forms of printed and digital matter, including identities, user experiences, front-end interfaces, custom lettering and interactive installations. Technology is a critical component of March’s academic and professional pursuits. His education includes a Master of Design from York University, a Master of Science in Experimental Psychology and a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Psychology from Memorial University. Over the past eight years March has taught interactivity design, typography, statistics and health psychology and has been a speaker and visiting critic at conferences and institutions in Canada, the USA and the United Kingdom. March is currently a full-time professor at Sheridan College in Oakville, Canada.

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