OnePlus X – first weekend review

OnePlus XHaving been lucky enough to be on the first round of invites for the new OnePlus X, I thought I’d share my thoughts on a handset and purchase process that many will see as being non-mainstream.

The invite system

I’ve seen much vitriol aimed at OnePlus’ invite system, so they’ve either fixed it or I was lucky.  The X is the first phone of theirs I’ve shown interest in – I registered the day it was announced – and I received my invite to order on day one.

That’s not to say that the whole process was without drama.  When clicking through from my invite to make my purchase, I didn’t realise that I had to sign up for the site again, having already registered on the invite system.  Then, for some reason I was logged in to the US site (rather than the UK one) and was repeatedly told that the handset wasn’t available in my country.  Minor hurdles in the great scheme of things.

One other minor grumble was that accessories such as cases and screen protectors weren’t available when the phone launched, meaning that the I would have to place a second order and pay a second delivery charge.

The phone was dispatched and arrived swiftly and safely.  I tracked it from China to Kent via a link on my OnePlus account.

In the box

The budget price of the phone (£209 with delivery) doesn’t mean that OnePlus have scrimped on the packaging.  It might not excite an Apple fan, but those of us who have bought (some considerably more expensive) Android handsets from the likes of Sony, HTC and Samsung will note the effort OnePlus have put into making this first stage of the X experience a touch more luxurious than the norm.

All the usual stuff is present, but the charging cable stands out – red and flat instead of usual bland black ones.  There was a screen protector fitted to the handset, which will prevent any accidental damage whilst waiting for the one I have since ordered to arrive.  And most surprisingly, there was also a case in the pack.  Not a great one, but it meant that I could immediately start using the phone rather than having to wait for a case to be delivered.

A thing of beauty

Looking at the spec sheet of this first X phone, it’s clear that OnePlus have tried to strike a balance between build quality, price and performance.  Just as Sony have challenged the perception of the smaller form factor by producing compact versions of their top-of-the-range handsets, here OnePlus are challenging the idea that a low-cost device need to feel and look cheap.

Sacrifices have been made undoubtedly, but this phone really does raise the bar in terms of the level of finish that Android users can demand from manufacturers.  I hope we don’t see a glut of Android-powered iPhone clones, but I do hope that we start to see build quality move up a few notches.  Why should Apple fan boys have all the fun?  Android users want sexy devices too.

One thing I love about the OnePlus X that I haven’t seen much mention of elsewhere, is that there’s no manufacturer logo on the front of the phone.  Again, this is something you don’t see much on Android devices outside Google’s own Nexus line.  Not a big issue, you might think, but I get enough advertising material rammed down my throat when using my phone without having a brand logo there in my face even when the battery’s dead.

In short, the phone looks and feels great.  It has a weight to it which says “quality components” and is manufactured from glass and metal.  No plastic or metal plating here.  Did you read those reviews stating that it’s a “fingerprint magnet”?  Well, they’re right.  But if you’re likely to be using a case, who cares?

Size matters

I’ve always preferred a smaller phone.  I first experienced Android through the original HTC Desire and I’ve never wanted a phone approaching the size of a paperback book.  The best thing the iPhone had going for it was the fact that Apple had resisted the move into enormous screens. But then with the sixth generation, that all changed.

Luckily for Android users, Sony saved the day with the Compact line. First the Z1 and then Z3 also appeared in the smaller format and for me, they proved a great blend of performance and pocket-ability.  But there’s no other choice.  I liked the look of the early Moto X, but by the time they became available in the UK they’d grown too.

This phone is bigger than the Z3 Compact.  That’s a fact.  It’s a centimetre or so taller and a little wider.  But it’s slimmer.  The pay off is – of course – the bigger screen.  One handed operation is a little tougher, but reading feels a lot more natural on the bigger screen and it was much easier following the grand prix on iPlayer (although the larger screen didn’t make the race any more exciting!).

I’ve seen some reviewers having a pop at the screen.  But this isn’t a flagship phone and when judging the screen you have to do so using that context.  It’s good.  Unless you are downgrading (in a big way) to the OnePlus X, you’re unlikely to have a problem.

In use

The OnePlus X runs OxygenOS, the Chinese manufacturer’s own take on Android.  It’s based on Lollipop 5.1.1 and is pretty close to the stock version you’d see on a Nexus.  It has a couple of nice touches to help customise the look, but none of the sort of bloatware you might associate with Android skins from the likes of Samsung or HTC.  There are a few Google apps and SwiftKey pre-installed, which is great.  But they’re not removable, so whilst they might be better apps than you’d find pre-installed elsewhere, if you don’t want to use them, they’re still taking up precious space on your phone.

After a bit of a play I installed Nova and recreated what I had on my previous handset.

It’s been quite a smooth experience over these first 48 hours or so, with no major issues.  Aside from the first boot.  The phone hangs during set-up after connecting to wi-fi.  A quick look online revealed that to be a known issue with a known work-around, but it hardly inspires confidence when you first switch the thing on.

Lollipop also comes with the you’ve-got-an-SD-card-but-we’re-not-going-to-let-you-use-it-like-you-want-to feature that appears to get cleared up in Marshmallow.  This was a bit of a pain, as I’d been using Marshmallow on my Z3 Compact as part of Sony’s new concept software programme and was getting used to seeing one big volume of available memory.

My biggest bugbear is the battery, but the Z3 Compact battery was outstanding on Marshmallow and might not be a fair comparison.  I’ve installed an app called Doze now, which is based on the Android feature of the same name in Marshmallow and have instantly seen an improvement.

What’s not to like?

For me, the phone is a really good package.  But there are a few things missing.  The lack of NFC will mean no Android Pay fun when that eventually makes its way over to the UK.  There’s no fingerprint scanner, which is something we’re starting to see a lot more of ahead of the major manufacturers’ move into Marshmallow.  There’s also no 5GHz wi-fi in there.

These aren’t really issues for me.  The battery and memory could be.  Time will tell.

For now, as far as I’m concerned, this is a cracking device.  It deserves to shift a lot of units and I hope the bigger manufacturers take note that we Android users like stylish handsets just as much as Apple fans.

Learner driver in a thirties zone

creative commons licensed (BY-ND) flickr photo shared by CJS*64 A man with a camera

I had my first driving lessons this week.

At the age of 37.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long.

When all the kids at school were learning to drive, my attitude was always that I’d not be able to buy a car if I learnt, so there was no point. Besides, neither of my parents drove, so it wasn’t really a big deal.

The thought that taking lessons would be inconsequential if I couldn’t afford my own wheels pervaded through university and my early working life. Then commuting became the norm. I’ve always lived close to public transport – in two homes I’ve enjoyed the mixed blessing of having a bus stop on my door step, while another had clear line of sight to a railway terminus. And with most of my travel to places other than work being made much more enjoyable with a bottle of ale in hand, driving has always looked like an expensive hobby.

Throughout all these years I received strange looks from people when they discovered that I couldn’t drive. Some wondered if there was some deep-seated reason, like a tragic road accident that prevented me from wanting to get behind the wheel. Others – most notably girlfriends’ fathers – treated me with a sense of suspicion, assuming me as some sort of lesser man due to a lack of motoring prowess. But it never really bothered me.

Until now.

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