The OnePlus One might be the best spiritual successor to the Nexus 5

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The new Motorola made Nexus 6 is one powerful smartphone, there can be little doubt about that. For many Android users, it is the epitome of what a current flagship Android smartphone should look like, just what Google intended. The hardware is high quality and powerful, the software is updated and effective, and nearly everything has been improved compared to the previous Nexus device. However, one thing has changed compared to the last couple of Nexus devices: the price. While it may simply be more expensive to make the Nexus 6 than the Nexus 5, this changes the buying decision for many Android users, and may indicate a change in the Nexus line going forward.

First, a bit of a look back. The first Nexus device, manufactured by HTC, was the high-priced high-quality Nexus One. There was no attempt at this point to change any pricing structures in the smartphone market, as the Nexus One sold for around $530 off contract. What Google did do is sell the device unlocked for any GSM carrier from its own online store, a move that many thought could threaten the traditional smartphone sales model which ties consumers to a contract in exchange for less sticker shock. Sadly, though, the freedom from a contract was not enough incentive for all except the most dedicated Google Android fans, and the Nexus One was not a high volume product despite also being sold on contract at the more traditional prices.

The Nexus S was something more of the same. It was sold in Best Buy and by several carriers, and as a result the unlocked price remained high. As before, consumers could also opt to purchase the phone from one of several carriers at a subsidized price, or pay the full price, once again about $530. Also not extremely successful, the Nexus S was more common in carrier stores, and enjoyed some of the popularity of the Galaxy S it was based upon. Still, the Nexus phones were essentially being sold as a regular smartphones, just with faster updates from Google. Sure, it was available without contract from Google, but very few people were interested in paying full price for the smartphone.

The Galaxy Nexus is where things began to change. Verizon was the main carrier for the Samsung-made smartphone, selling the LTE version of the phone at a steep $300 on contract. Soon enough, though, Verizon and especially Google aggressively lowered the price. Suddenly, the Nexus line had a new appeal: not only was a Nexus phone quality hardware that was going to get updates directly from Google, it was also a compelling value option.

Now, instead of being a phone sold like most other smartphones and bought on contract that was just going to get updates from Goggle, the Galaxy Nexus was high-end hardware that could be purchased at a reasonable price outside of the carrier system, and easily used on a prepaid plan to lower costs even more. This change is what made the Nexus line particularly interesting, and the trend continued with the Nexus 4 starting at $299 and the Nexus 5 being sold for $349.

For budget conscious Android enthusiasts such as myself, this was an important shift. Google added to the existing benefits of the Nexus line, quality hardware and quick updates, the significant bonus of a low price and easy (at least in the US) availability. Without the need for carrier subsidies or a large amount of cash, Android developers, tinkerers, and fans alike could get the latest hardware and software from Google.

I thought that the way the last few Nexus devices were sold was great: Google was doing what it could to sell more Android phones, help the consumer, and perhaps even change the smartphone market. At the same time, consumers and Android enthusiasts especially benefited from the availability of great hardware and software at a cheap price. For whatever reason, however, that game plan has changed with the Nexus 6. Perhaps the Nexus 6 is just that much more expensive to make, perhaps the extremely cheap Nexus devices were only a temporary measure to increase the popularity of Android and the Nexus line, and perhaps Google just didn’t feel that the cheap Nexus devices were accomplishing its goals.

Either way, despite all that history, the important point is that the budget Android option that many have come to expect is no longer the latest Nexus device. For the past few years, I’ve gotten used to simply buying the next Nexus devices as it is released, a trend that was finally broken by the Nexus 6’s high price. The question becomes, then, what is the best current option for the Android enthusiast who is looking for high-quality hardware, stock or nearly stock software, and quick updates?

Admittedly, I didn’t even consider the OnePlus One a serious option before the release of the Nexus 6, partially because of the numerous egregious failures of the company’s PR department, as well as the prospect of the Nexus 6.  The $650 price of the Nexus suddenly changed the perspective, giving the OnePlus One at least a $300 advantage over the Nexus smartphone.

There is no arguing that the OnePlus One is superior to the Nexus 6 in terms of either hardware or software. It simply isn’t. What the OnePlus One is, however, is a device with high quality hardware that is still superior to the previous Nexus device, shipped with nearly stock CyanogenMod (which some would consider superior to stock Android), the promise of quick updates, and most importantly a starting price of $350. (Though the OnePlus website indicates that the price starts at $299, the 16GB version is not being manufactured and as such is not currently available.)

There is also no doubt that with OnePlus being a new and small company, purchasing from them is certainly more risky than purchasing from the likes of Google, and that doesn’t even address the company’s extremely questionable advertising techniques and invite system.

Even so, for Android enthusiasts looking for a successor to the Nexus 5 without spending at least $650, the OnePlus may just be the best answer. The company has its flaws, but looking just at the hardware, the OnePlus manages to be an upgrade over the Nexus 5 with similar pricing, nearly stock CyanogenMod, and OnePlus finally appears to be increasing production. In fact, tomorrow, Monday the 17th, the preorder system will go live once again, allowing consumers to purchase the device for delivery in the near future.

During the last open preorder window, I decided to go ahead and pull the trigger on a 64GB OnePlus One. Despite a preorder prediction of 4-6 weeks until delivery, the OnePlus arrived at my door exactly two weeks from the order date. Though it is certainly not perfect, it will be interesting to see how the smartphone compares to the Nexus 5 as an upgrade, and whether the savings of $300 over the Nexus 6 was worth it.

Google, it would seem, has decided to “[sell] the Nexus 6 in a way most people are used to buying it,” with the apparent goal of mass market success. This, of course, leaves those enthusiasts in search of a cheap, quality, and unlocked Android smartphone without the product line that has been the best such option for the past few years. I wouldn’t be surprised if many consumers simply hang on to the Nexus 5 as a result, but for those who are looking for a worthy successor, the answer may just be the OnePlus One. 

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Aaron Orquia

Aaron Orquia is an associate editor at Pocketables. He has been using Android and Linux since he bought his first computer years ago, and his interest in technology, software, and tweaking both to work just right has only grown stronger since then. His current gadgets include a OnePlus One, a Pebble smartwatch, and an Acer C720 Chromebook.

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