Review: OnePlus One Android Phone

I agonize over my technology decisions, often to a point that other people, including free software people, tease me about it. Is my distribution of choice free enough? Is it secure? Is my privacy protected so that I choose exactly what I want to share?

My current Android ROM of choice is OmniROM, and I’ve been quite happy with it. I do have issues with the limited number of phones that are officially supported, but it was my choice of ROM that drove me to buy an HTC One (m7).

I like the HTC. My main complaint is with the horrible battery life, and the phone is somewhat old having been replaced by the m8 which I don’t believe is supported by OmniROM. I’ve been frustrated in that it seems I have to choose between freedom and cool gear.

But maybe that isn’t the case anymore.

My friend Ronny first brought the OnePlus One (OPO) to my attention, and recently, through one of my Ingress friends Audrey, I was able to get an invite to purchase the new OnePlus One handset. While not supported officially by OmniROM as of yet, it is one of the new phones to ship with Cyanogenmod, and since OmniROM is a fork it should be compatible. Plus, it is very similar to the phones from Oppo which are supported by OmniROM, so perhaps support will come when the OPO becomes more widely available.

The first thing I realized when I opened the box is that this handset is a monster. It boasts a 5.5 inch screen at 1920×1080 pixels (full HD) which makes it the same as the new iPhone 6 Plus (401 ppi). It has a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of DD3 RAM at 1866MHz which makes it fast. I bought the 64GB version (quite a jump from my HTC One’s 16GB) and the 3100mAh battery lasts all day and then some. I thought the size would worry me, but I quickly got use to it. I can even read magazines on it which may cause me to travel less with my Nexus 7, and as my eyes age I’m finding the OPO’s screen to be much to my liking.

The phone arrived two days after I ordered it via USPS in two separate boxes. There was a thin square one holding the phone

and underneath it a USB cable and a SIM tray removal tool. To remove the OPO SIM you need a longer tool than the standard Apple one, so I’ll have to be sure to carry it with me. In a separate small box was a wall charger.

There was zero paper and no earbuds of any sort, but I would rate the packaging equal to that of other premium products like those from Apple.

Even though it has pretty much the same size screen as the iPhone 6 Plus, the phone itself is slightly smaller and lighter, although thicker (the iPhone is wicked thin – you are almost worried you’ll bend it). The back of the “Sandstone Black” model is coated with a rough textured finish that makes the phone feel solid in your hand and I haven’t come close to dropping it.

Another improvement over the HTC is the camera. The OPO comes with a 13MB Sony Exmor IMX 214 with six physical lenses. It can shoot 4K video (including slow motion) or 720p video at 120fps. It takes nice pictures.

But you could have read that on the website. How does it fare in real life?

I was concerned with the fact it ran Cyanogenmod. When they announced they were going to take on investment to license their code to handset makers, they handled their community poorly (which resulted in the OmniROM fork) and I was worried that the OPO would be “less free”. I was happy to find out that it was very open. Unlocking the phone was the same as with Nexus devices, simple hook it up to your computer and run “fastboot oem unlock”. While I despised the “flat” icon theme that shipped with the device, it took about two taps to change it back. If I wanted a theme that looked like Windows 8 I would have bought an iPhone.

All my usual options were there. I disabled the Google search bar, increased the icon layout grid size and otherwise customized the phone exactly how I wanted it. I rooted the device and used Helium to restore my application settings and the whole conversion took less than an hour.

I did have to make a change to allow the phone to work with my Linux Mint Desktop. The system wouldn’t recognize it when I plugged it in, and I had to edit “/lib/udev/rules.d/69-libmtp.rules” to include the following two lines:

# Added for OPO
ATTR{idVendor}=="05c6", ATTR{idProduct}=="6764", SYMLINK+="libmtp-%k", MODE="660", GROUP="audio", ENV{ID_MTP_DEVICE}="1", ENV{ID_MEDIA_PLAYER}="1", TAG+="uaccess"
ATTR{idVendor}=="05c6", ATTR{idProduct}=="6765", SYMLINK+="libmtp-%k", MODE="660", GROUP="audio", ENV{ID_MTP_DEVICE}="1", ENV{ID_MEDIA_PLAYER}="1", TAG+="uaccess"

After that it was a breeze. Note: that on one system I had to reboot to get it to recognize the phone, but I don’t think I did on the first one. Strange.

There are a few shortcomings. It took me several tries to get it to pair with my Motorola T505 bluetooth speaker, but once paired it seems to connect reliably. The voice recognition sucks like most Android phones. I don’t use Google Now but I shouldn’t have to send information off to a remote server to voice dial a call. I do miss that from my iPhone days when the original (non-Siri) voice dialer rarely made a mistake. Voice dialing on the OPO is usable, though, and there is a rumour that there will be an “OK OnePlus” voice activation feature like on the Moto X but it isn’t there now. No microSD slot, but with 64GB of internal flash memory that is less of an issue and fewer and fewer phones offer that. I also just tested this little dongle I have for accessing microSD cards via the USB port and it worked just fine.

I’m sticking with the stock ROM for now to see what Cyanogenmod will do in the future, but I know that I have the ability to put on my own Recovery and ROM should I so choose. At the moment they are in the “not evil” column, but I was a little worried about their Gallery app. I noticed a new Galley app account on my phone that looked like it was going to sync my pictures somewhere. Some research suggests that it is disabled when autobackup is off, but it would still like a little more transparency about random, non-removable accounts on my phone.

All in all I’ve been very happy with the OnePlus One and I’m eager to see where they take it. I am especially enamored of the the price. At US$349, the black 64GB version is the same price as a 16GB Nexus 5 and half the price of the iPhone 6 Plus. Probably the best bang for the buck in the Android world at the moment, if not phones in general.

UPDATE: After using this device for several months, I can say it is the best smartphone I’ve ever owned, and that list includes two iPhones (the 3GS and 4), three Nexus phones (4, 5 and 6) and the HTC One (m7).

While not perfect, the phone is very feature rich and the software is stable. Occasionally it will become unresponsive and I’ll need to reboot, but there is a soft reboot option that performs this action in about 20 seconds.

It is also rugged. I had been playing Ingress in Chicago and we stopped to eat. Because I’d been using the phone heavily all day, I had it tethered to an external battery. When I got up from the table to get some napkins, I forgot that the phone was connected by a USB cable to the charger in my pocket and it flew off the table to land on the tile floor of the restaurant. Since it was loud I didn’t realize what I’d done until I’d dragged the thing over ten feet.

Not a scratch.

Barrel Aging Drinks

No OpenNMS content, but since at least one of my three readers is into home brewing I thought this might be of interest. While I love the chemistry behind home brewing, my waistline could never survive it.

I travel a lot for my job, which means I’m lucky enough to eat and drink in nice restaurants (the downside is that I’ve had more than my share of meals purchased from convenience stores as well – the joys of travel). One thing I’ve seen over the last year or so is a resurgence in the art of the cocktail.

I’m not talking about a rum and Coke or a seven and seven. I’m talking about drinks that take time to prepare, like most of the cocktail menu a the bluezoo restaurant in Orlando. Some good friends of mine introduced me to that place, and the General Manager there has been kind enough to share with me some of the recipes, usually involving infusions, shrubs and/or foams.

One thing they do at bluezoo is barrel age cocktails to create a much richer, complex flavor. I’ve always been interested in trying that, so when I read an article by David Lebovitz about a barrel aged Vieux CarrĂ© I decided it was time.

I contacted my friend at bluezoo who sent me to Thousand Oaks Barrel Co., and I dutifully ordered a 2L oak barrel for this project.

The barrel is oak that’s charred on the inside, and while the barrel itself seems well built, I’m not happy with the little spigot. You have to assemble it yourself, but even though I was very careful, the handle came off. I’ve attempted to glue it back on, but I might end up using pliers to turn it. A little disappointing since otherwise it looks pretty cute.

In any case, I was now ready to assemble my Vieux CarrĂ©. I had my Canadian Club (per the recipe), a decent Cognac and the only Sweet Vermouth I could find in Pittsboro. I also had the required Peychaud’s bitters via Amazon.

Since it was a 2L barrel, I decided to go with 600ml of each spirit and a teaspoon and a half of bitters. Once done I placed it out of the way on the bar.

Now all I have to do is wait 6-8 weeks. I believe I’ll need to decant the drink once it is done as too much aging is not a good thing, but I plan to experiment a bit with it.

Juniper SRX240 Unboxing

Since the Apple fanboys seem to like unboxing their gear, I thought it would be fun to do the same with a new Juniper SRX240 I just bought (from Redapt – our equipment vendor of choice).

Due to my previously detailed issues with Centurylink, we are working with Time Warner to get a dedicated fiber circuit to the building. While the 10Mbps down will (in theory) be the same as what we had with the DSL line, it’s the 10Mbps up that I’m looking forward to the most.

Currently, we use a Cisco 800 series router to terminate the DSL line, and I needed something else for the new circuit. I’ve soured on Cisco in the last few years (due more to issues with their hiring practices than anything to do with their product) and I’ve grown real fond of Juniper gear, not the least because they are a customer (I buy my pizza at Papa Johns, I book travel on Travelocity, and I shop at Sears in part because I like being a customer of my customers).

Anyway, it looked like the SRX240 would be both more than sufficient for what I needed and it comes with lots of cool features.

I liked the minimalist packaging. The router came in a plastic bag held in the box with lightweight, molded plastic spacers – no “peanuts”. There was another bag with some documentation and a console cable, and the only other thing in the box was a power cable.

The router itself is rather lightweight. It’s 1U in height and about half the depth of a standard rack.

Since the circuit won’t be in for a couple of weeks there isn’t much configuration to do at the moment, but I was able to get the management interface configured from the command line which gives me access to the web-based user interface.

I tend to be a command line person, but when learning new gear having a webUI will be helpful.

Paulo, a Juniper employee who happened to be in our office when this arrived, showed me a neat trick with the CLI.

When you make a change to any router configuration, you usually have to “commit” it in order for it to be applied. This can be a bit scary, especially if you are remote or if you depend on the router for network access. One mistake and you might end up in the car.

JunOS has a feature called “commit confirmed”. This will commit your changes, but only for ten minutes unless you issue a normal “commit”. Thus if you screwed something up, ten minutes later the changes will be rolled back.

Pretty cool.

Yes, I Hate Freedom – the iPhone 4

Last fall I bought an iPhone 3GS. It was a hard decision, but one I haven’t really regretted. Note that I don’t make many phone calls, so I was mainly interested in having a 3G iPod Touch, but I did have the requirement of having a GSM phone since I travel overseas a lot.

Last week, as you know unless you have been living under a rock, Apple introduced the iPhone 4. It was enough of a redesign that it triggered my “don’t by Rev 1 products from Apple” rule, so I was in no real hurry to get one. But then my wife, who is a runner, kept borrowing my iPhone for the MotionX GPS app to track her progress so I got permission to spend the extra money and get the iPhone 4 so she could have my old one.

After a week of playing with it, I have to say I’m pretty happy. The biggest weakness of the iPhone 3Gs (at least the way I use it) was the camera, and the new iPhone camera is much, much improved.

Of course a lot a press has been devoted to the “retina screen” and it is beautiful. I wear contacts that I take out every night, and one of the first things I do when I get up in the morning is pick up my phone to check e-mail. I have to bring it close to my face to see it, and it is almost impossible to make out the individual pixels. Think about it – the iPhone 4 is 640 pixels wide and the pictures I post on this blog I crop to 450 pixels.

I have also noticed much improved battery life. The iPhone 3Gs wasn’t bad and it would last me about a day of heavy use, but the iPhone 4 seems to go about twice as long.

However, the only real “wow” feature has been FaceTime. I was chatting with OGP member Mike Huot and it worked amazingly well. In fact, I think the audio quality over FaceTime was equal to or not better than what I get over AT&T with a normal phone call (FaceTime is Wi-Fi only). Another cool feature is that you can switch between the front and the back cameras by tapping an icon in the lower right side which means you can show your caller what you are looking at without having to rotate the phone.

On the downside, much has been made about the attenuation of the signal when the device is being held. Unlike the other iPhones, the iPhone 4 is surrounded by a metal band that is also used by the antenna. I can tell you that the problem is quite real. While this may be hard to believe, I have never had a call drop from the office, and the first call I received on the new phone dropped within the first 10 seconds. Of course I was gripping in my left hand, which is apparently a no-no.

I think it is pretty easy to figure out how Apple missed this. In all of the real word tests the phones were in cases to hide the fact that they were new. This probably helped the signal and the fact that in Silicon Valley AT&T drops calls often, so the testers probably didn’t notice. In any case, I ordered my $30 rubber band which should help. I’ll know more when it arrives next week.

I’m not unhappy with my purchase as the camera improvements mean I can leave my point and shoot at home now, but barring the fact that my wife wanted my old phone I would not have bought at this time. Always, always wait for Rev 2 if you can help it.

Of course, programming on the iPhone can be painful. I usually spend 45 minutes just sorting out my certificates, although the new Xcode makes it a little easier. I only use it to play with the new OpenNMS iPhone app, but it is considerably harder than anything I’ve done on Linux.

I do have a little bit of guilt about buying such a closed product, but my reasons for buying my original iPhone still stand. However, I saw on MacRumors that there is a new project called “marble” which may actually become Xcode 4, and it got me to thinking. Since Apple now owns it’s own chip company, it could use Xcode to be the only way to compile on it (although Ben tells me that it would be much harder than that to lock it down). Then Apple could move all of their Macs to that chip and seriously lock down those as they have the iPhone/iPod/iPad. Thus OS XI or whatever would be as closed a platform as we’ve ever seen (well, at least on that scale).

A long shot I know, but scary.

So you might be asking “why in the world did you buy another iPhone, you freedom hatin’ conformist?” In part it is because I don’t view it as a development platform like I do a standard computer. I don’t need to have access to the code in my microwave or my car, for example. And I am seriously hoping that Android is able to catch up. I think it will, eventually, but that it will take time. Apple has a larger market cap than Microsoft, so they have a lot of money to throw at the product, and it is hard for a free, distributed community to compete with that as quickly.

But with enough time and interest, all commercial software becomes a commodity.