The most dedicated fans in both Apple's
(NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google's
(NASDAQ:GOOG) camps know that special time of year when the two companies release the next models in their official smartphone lines. For Apple, the annual schedule is vastly simpler, with only one release per year -- except for that time in 2011 when the Verizon
(NYSE:VZ) iPhone got its own special announcement and launch date. For Google, while its official Nexus phones are among the many Android devices released each year, the Nexus line guarantees the purest Google experience an Android phone can offer.
But beyond the allure of the stock Android OS, Nexus phones typically don't blow other phones out of the water. Last year's model, the quad-core Nexus 5, didn't exactly skimp on hardware, but its debut didn't mark a whole new level in specs expectation. The unsubsidized price, however -- $349 for the 16GB model, $399 for the 32GB model -- definitely drew attention from consumers seeking a speedy phone for an affordable price.
But this week, the specs and pricing of an upcoming device were unveiled -- and from the looks of things, a small, unassuming start-up has crushed Google's Nexus line in terms of hardware, software, and price.
Developed by OnePlus, the One device redefines what Android users should come to expect from a flagship phone, not only in terms of hardware power -- which is, indeed, very impressive -- but also the "openness" of the OS. And for the price, it simply can't be beat.
Scheduled to debut worldwide in May, the One ships with a 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 3,100 mAh battery -- easily going toe-to-toe with other recent flagships such as the HTC One M8 and Samsung's
(OTCMKTS:SSNLF) Galaxy S5. The 5.5-inch display sports 1080p resolution with 401 pixels per inch, making it even sharper than the iPhone 5S's 326 ppi. The rear- and front-facing camera are also nothing to sneeze at: a 13-megapixel Sony Exmor sensor for basic photos and a 5-megapixel camera for the selfies. The rear-facing camera is equipped to capture 4K video as well as 720p slow-motion video at 120 frames per second, which will make both shutterbugs and amateur videographers very pleased. (Sample photos can be seen here
Hardware features aside, what makes the OnePlus One so remarkable is the Android OS it's running. The One comes out of the box running third-party firmware by CyanogenMod, the leading name in the Android ROM community. Based off of Android 4.4, the CyanogenMod OS takes what we all love from stock Android and adds a few bells and whistles specific for the phone, without compromising the look, feel, and functionality of Google's mobile platform.
As those running a third-party ROM on their Android device are aware, the CyanogenMod community regularly releases tweaks and updates to their software, allowing users to run the very latest features soon after they're released by Google. The developers also manage to extend the update window for some Nexus devices, granting Galaxy Nexus users the latest Android 4.4.2 version long after Google's arbitrary 18 months of guaranteed updates (though the Verizon Galaxy Nexus suffered from delayed or missing upgrades soon after it was released).
So while the Nexus phones are touted as being the very first to be updated with every new Android version, carriers can and continue to stand in the way of timely upgrades. This stands in stark contrast with the OnePlus One, which will have the entire CyanogenMod community presumably tinkering with nightly releases.
Topping off these impressive selling points is the price. When it's released next month, the 16GB version will sell for $299 unsubsidized -- a full $50 cheaper than the more modestly outfitted Nexus 5. The higher-capacity model sails past 32GB of storage and is equipped with 64GB of space, and that version costs only $349.
Although the OnePlus One has yet to go through the many hands-on reviews it will be subjected to in the coming weeks, the device appears to be in the running for the best Android phone released this year. And with the promise of continual updates unhindered by carrier or manufacturer, OnePlus has remarkably schooled Google on what makes a great Nexus device.
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