The Nexus 5 - which has been holding the best quality/price ratio within the top-notch smartphones range – has just been dethroned. The challenger is the OnePlus One, a long-hyped fresh-from-the-oven device with features on par with those found in the flagships of big manufacturers – and, in some cases, eclipsing them.
Although most of its dealmaking features have been leaked in the last few weeks, today was D-Day. The company (OnePlus), a startup founded by former Oppo VP Pete Lau, has officially unveiled its first phone and confirmed most of what’s been rumored.
Beautiful design, outstanding specs, and unbeatable price
The OnePlus One sports a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor (yes, that’s the same CPU in the Galaxy S5′s guts), 3GB RAM (only the Xperia Z2 is on par with that), 5.5-inch 1080 IPS display, 13-megapixel rear cam 4K-recording capable, 5-megapixel front camera, 3100 mAh battery and speakers powered by JBL.
As if that weren’t enough, the One runs a minimalist custom version of CyanogenMod (the most well-known home-cooked version of Android). It’s the first smartphone running CyanogendMod CM11s straight out of the box.
Pretty neat, huh? There’s more.
Despite not being the lightest flagship (162g), it’s actually one of thinnest. Its design is clean and polished. High-end materials and swapable rear cases (wood, kevlar, denim…) complete the equation. Setting apart specs – which again, are impressive – the latter makes the Shenzhen-based company stand out over other Chinese manufacturers, which often fall short on design.
What about the price? You better sit down to read this. Two flavors: 16GB model for $299/£229/€269 and 64GB model for $349/£269/€299. Yes, that’s $50 less than the Nexus 5 for the 16GB flavor. Doesn’t it make you break into a cold sweat?
What’s the catch?
Ok. We understand why Google is commercializing flagships at an unbeatable excellent quality/price ratio. Selling mobile devices isn’t Mountain View’s big business though. All of us owning an Android, downloading apps, browsing the mobile web, and, above all, watching and clicking on ads… that’s what Google wants. It doesn’t matter if they don’t make big money with the devices themselves. The money will end up in their pockets anyway.
It’s a different story with OnePlus. Pete Lau’s company is a start-up only concerned with the handset manufacturing business. In other words: they have to make money with their product. Given those specs and that price, one can only guess think profit margins have been pushed to the limit. That may call into question the future of the company if the OnePlus doesn’t achieve massive, global success.
The release of the One has revealed a couple of interesting facts as well.
First: unlike other Chinese challengers, OnePlus is mainly using the exact same hardware components found in the flagships of the big companies, but at half the price. Since there’s not an indirect long-term interest as in Google’s case, it’s pretty clear now that the giants are reaping insulting profit margins at users’ out-of-pocket expenses.
Second: we shouldn’t forget that, as disruptive as the OnePlus looks, it too is yet another manufacturer taking advantage of the questionable Chinese labor market: cheap workmanship, lack of security, long workdays. Seen that way, OnePlus’ magic doesn’t look so exciting, regardless of its less-greedy approach.