A New Cellphone Challenges the Giants

By Xavier Lopez

With the release of the Galaxy S6 in April, the cellphone wars rage on. For the past few years, Samsung and Apple have been the top phone sellers in the United States, dominating the competition from other companies. But this season a new contender has entered the marketplace.

In December 2013, OnePlus, a small Chinese start-up, was created to cater to a trend in Chinese markets over the past few years. The goal was to create an affordable phone with all the qualities of the more expensive, mainstream smartphones, such as iPhones or Samsung Galaxies. The OnePlus phone is less expensive than those from the mainstream companies, claims to have all of their features, and also has the ability to work with any phone network, depending on which SIM card the buyer installs.

“The existence of so many mobile phone vendors in the China market is caused by huge demand and diversified requirements of its domestic market, which provides lots of market opportunities” Roger Sheng and CK Lu, analysts at Gartner, a Connecticut-based technology research company, wrote in a 2014 study, “Competitive Landscapes: Smartphone OEMs, China.”

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The OnePlus phone, the product of a start-up, is designed to disrupt the cellphone landscape.

In July 2014, OnePlus released its first smartphone, the OnePlus One. Prices start at $299 for a 16 gigabyte model and $350 for 32 GB, about half as much as comparable Apple and Samsung phones.

There originally was a catch, however. In order to be allowed to buy the One, you had to be invited.

OnePlus sent out invitations to people that allow them to buy the phone, and with each invitation come three invitations that can be sent to friends. In February, OnePlus added another twist: Every Tuesday at 1 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, the company allowed anyone, with or without an invitation, to buy the OnePlus One, but only for 24 hours.

Then, on April 23, 2015, exactly one year after the company announced the phone, it said goodbye to invitations, and started selling the phone to anyone. For a while, they were really hard to obtain.

The OnePlus One is a hot topic in chatrooms; the OnePlus Company found a way to market its product to the people who would enjoy it the most by not marketing it at all.

“I sought out the forums, I heard about the phone so I figured I’d register to see what was going on. I got my invite July 9 and I got my three shareable invites on July 23, and they were quickly snapped up by my friends who, like me, wanted a great, inexpensive phone” said a man who would identify himself only as Sean, a part- time university student and a member of a popular social networking site Reddit. Sean, an early owner of the phone, said in an email exchange that he had heard about it through some friends and, because of the many features it promised, he was wanted one even before it had been released.

The back of the OnePlus cellphone, which has been popularized through users' word of mouth.
The back of the OnePlus cellphone, which has been popularized through users’ word of mouth.

One of the OnePlus phone’s main attractions is how customizable it is, , something users have raved about. “The device is completely customizable. From the boot-up animation, to the way the status bar looks, feels, and moves,” said Jake Johnson, a OnePlus owner from South Dakota. The potential for customizations is what makes the self-proclaimed “flagship killer” a popular choice.

It’s most customizable feature is its operating system, Cyanogenmod, often called CM, an open-source firmware based on the Android mobile operating system. When a phone is released, using Android firmware, it comes with a locked set of functions and themes that are displayed when it comes out the box. Cyanogenmod allows the phone user to open up the different features and options, locked in Android phones, enabling the user to play around with the different settings.

“Android, in general, is much more customizable than any other mobile operating system, but the fact that the One is running Cyanogenmod, makes it so much more customizable,” said Karolis Pocious, an IT application support specialist from Toronto. He said he usually added installed CM anyway, “so to have the phone run CM out of the box is great.”

By installing the software, the user could have a Galaxy phone that runs in the same way as a different Android phone, making the phones interchangeable.

Since its release in 2014, the OnePlus has included two operating systems, Cyanogenmod 11S and Oxygen OS, giving users a choice. A new version of CM, 12.1, was introduced in April 2015, allowing the phone to run apps including Skype, Outlook and Microsoft Office.

“It has an awesome camera; the picture quality is absolutely amazing, both on the backwards and frontal camera,” said Sam Woldringh, a high school student from the Netherlands. “The internal storage of 64 GB is quite roomy and comfortable. I’ve only used about 7 GB on it so far, so there’s a whole library of information left pretty much. But the biggest pro of this phone, in my opinion, is its battery life. I use it as my daily driver, and when I get home from school, it still has at least 70 percent left. Never need I worry whether or not I have enough juice left.”

OnePlus has sold more than a million phones, most of them outside the United States. Since it is not region- or carrier-locked, it can be used with any phone company in the world that offers a 4G plan.