The budget hardware race is alive and well for Android

A key to Google Inc.'s (GOOG) rise to global smartphone hegemony has been an abundance of affordable handsets with premium hardware specifications.  So far the lion's share of those handsets have come courtesy of Google's branded Nexus line, which taps various partner OEMs such as Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935) and LG Electronics, Inc. (KRX:066570)(KRX:066575).

Today China's OnePlus, launched its One smartphone (1+1, get it?), which offers the first serious competition to the Nexus 5 in the mid-range Android market.  In most areas the OnePlus One beats the aging Nexus 5, which was launched at the end of Oct. 2013.  The bad news, though, is that the OnePlus One won't land worldwide until mid-May.

OnePlus One

By then, the Nexus 5 may get a price cut -- or we may see a hardware refresh of the Nexus line even.  But at present OnePlus One clearly has a slightly superior hardware spec.
OnePlus One

The phone carries CyanogenMod 11S, which is based on Android v4.4 KitKat.  Engadget previewed the device and describes the replacement firmware's additions to stock Android, writing:

CyanogenMod alone comes with goodies like SMS encryption, themes, app privacy guard, audio equalizer, file manager, enhanced camera app and more. With CM11S for the OnePlus One, you also get screen-off gesture controls (circle for camera, "V" for flashlight and gestures for music playback; as featured on the Oppo N1), option to toggle between capacitive Android buttons and on-screen buttons, voice wakeup (activates Google Now by default) and a card-style lock screen. These all sound pretty nice, but we'll have to see how well they fare in the final firmware.

While the phoine is a bit bulkier than the Nexus 5, some will likely prefer its design style.  It trades the Nexus 5's monotone plastic frame for an anodized faux-metal rim and a swappable backplate (similar to the Moto X).

OnePlus One
OnePlus's One packs basically the same CPU as the Nexus 5,
but with a slightly higher clock speed (Snapdragon 801).

One area where the OnePlus One will likely beat the Nexus 5 is in sound.  It packs triple noise-cancelling microphones for superb call quality (beating even the likes of Apple, Inc. (AAPL)) and also packs stereo speakers (similar to HTC Corp.'s (TPE:2498) One series smartphones).

Pete Lau -- a former Oppo Electronics VP, is the brains behind OnePlus.

OnePlus One
Pete Lau, CEO and founder of OnePlus [Image Source: Engadget]

He founded the firm last year, and quickly gained attention for his company's mantra/promise -- "never settle".   While customers will have to be the judge of whether it lived up to that assurance, the initial results are looking impressive. Now the question is how well his young firm can navigate the supply chain.

He sounds confident enough, though, telling Engadget:

You can use all sorts of marketing tactics, but when you're back to making a product, you must take users' actual needs into consideration.  They are the ones who will actually use it, so they know best. You can exaggerate when you're selling a product, but when the buyers use it and are left disappointed, they'll still complain, right?

Therefore products should go back to basics: the users must feel good when using our products. If the users want something, we'll do it.

We'll have to wait for full reviews to draw conclusions about some of the phone's features, and obviously the inclusion of CyanogenMod versus a "pure" Android install will draw mixed reactions. But overall you have to hand it to OnePlus for "undercutting the Nexus 5" as many reviewers put it.

Even if Google puts out a better Nexus, OnePlus will be watching and waiting, refining its next model (1+2?).  And that's happy news for Android buyers, and smartphone buyers in general who want an unlocked device at a budget price.

The countries with availability at launch will be Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the UK, and the US.  According to AnandTech, this month will actually see some sales based on an invitation scheme.  We'll have to wait until midway through this quarter (Q2 2014/May) for general sales to open up in the 16 target nations.

To sign up for the invitation-based scheme, visit OnePlus's "Smash" page.  OnePlus is offering early buyers discounts -- in some cases offering the OnePlus One for as little as $1 USD (!!).  But we're guessing that's a pretty limited quantity deal, so sign up now, if you're interested.

Source: Engadget

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