‘Flagship Killer’ – Just one small two-worded phrase that one company had in mind when they got into the Smartphone game. Which company is that, you may ask? It’s OnePlus.
OnePlus are a company, for all intents and purposes, that had one goal in mind when it came to bowling out the competition — and that was to undercut the smartphone behemoths, with the intention of producing a flagship-like device for half the price of an actual flagship. It’s a philosophy not many companies had back in 2014, with flagships sticking at the forefront of their minds. That’s not to say pure concentration on a specific product line is a bad thing, because it isn’t. In 2014, you couldn’t get a decent enough smartphone for half the price of a flagship — it was just unheard of. OnePlus – which is a company created by ex-Oppo President Pete Lau – found an untapped market that would almost guarantee sales with the right amount of marketing and one killer punchline to soar them away. Which – coincidentally – is where the ‘2014 Flagship Killer’ moniker was born.
OnePlus One: Foundations of Change
In April 2014, the OnePlus One was born. No events were held unveiling the device, nor were there any pre-anticipated hype for the device due to minimal leaking. The only thing that OnePlus did was release a statement on their website and embedded a small video introducing the world to the killer of all 2014 flagships. A lot of people were skeptical at first, with many people around the technology neighbourhood anticipating the device to flop due to not enough marketing and ‘getting their name out there’ so to speak. Of course, the Chinese company proved everybody wrong, when the device spoke more volumes than words could ever describe, with the OnePlus One and its downright staggeringly good specifications for the money, alongside some beautiful and inspiring hardware design to accompany it. The best thing about the device over anything was the fact that it was just $349 for the 64GB version with a ’sandstone black’ finish. What did $349 buy you? Here are the specs:
5.5-inch display (1920×1080, 401PPI)
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
3100mAh battery capacity
Gorilla Glass 3
Android 4.4.2 (now upgradeable to 6.0.1 Marshmallow)
13-megapixel back camera
16/64GB storage options
Now, let’s take a look at the ‘current’ Samsung device at the time, which was the golfball textured Galaxy S5 which had a price-point upwards of $500:
5.1-inch Super AMOLED display (1920×1080, 432PPI)
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
MicroSD card support up to 128GB
16MP back camera
2800mAh battery capacity
Gorilla Glass 3
Android 4.4.2 (Upgradeable to Android 6.0 Marshmallow)
Comparing the specs from an outside looking in perspective at the time was an astounding thing to behold. The fact that OnePlus could undercut companies such as Samsung, LG and HTC with like-for-like the same specifications and arguably better hardware design had quite a lot of tech enthusiasts clamouring for a feel of the device.
The biggest difference between the Galaxy S5 and the OnePlus One? Availability. One thing that a lot of people found dumbfounding about the launch of the OnePlus One was its availability and the overall process of buying the device. OnePlus launched the ‘invite-only’ scheme on the same day the device was unveiled, where you had to sign up to a mailing list and wait in line for your turn to buy the device. The downfall of this, of course, was the fact that OnePlus were selling more devices than they could make even when they were policing how many devices they could sell. OnePlus’ good press stance came firmly to a halt a full two days after its launch of the One, but one thing to turn the tables once again were the favourable reviews of the device. Below are a few links to reviews from the bigger technology review websites:
The OnePlus One is not a perfect phone, but it competes with phones twice the price without serious caveats beyond limited 4G support. And for that reason, it’s one of 2014’s best phones. – Trusted Reviews
Where did this come from? Samsung, HTC, Sony, and even Google will be asking the very same question of the OnePlus One, we suspect.
The way it takes on the very cream of the Android crop whilst charging less than half the price makes it a bargain of near Motorola Moto G proportions. – Techradar
The generalised gist of these reviews was that the device held its own and then some against its direct competitor, the Galaxy S5, at half the price. Not only did it have astonishingly good looks and played the part from an aesthetics point of view, but the performance had the Galaxy S5 beat in almost every department thanks to the Cyanogen OS software.
But, of course, the fact of the matter is that the device wasn’t readily available unless you were prepared to jump through a myriad of hoops and enter competitions to buy one. It wasn’t until a couple of months later that OnePlus made the decision to make the device widely available without an invite to purchase.
In terms of sales for the device, sources state that the OnePlus One sold upwards of a million units to close out 2014, with a total revenue of $300 million made. Not bad for an introductory device for a brand new company, huh?
OnePlus Three: Flagships Be Damned
I skipped over the OnePlus Two mainly because it did more of the same in terms of direction comparing it to the OnePlus One. It had beefy specs, a new OS in tow which was built in-house and a similar price point, holding onto the flagship killing stigma.
OnePlus are one of those companies that set a nuclear explosion off right in the middle of the smartphone market where nothing much was going on. They changed the way manufacturers think, ultimately forcing them to change strategy to somehow halt the stampede of sales slowly dwindling away from them due to one underdog’s tale. If you go from late 2014 to the present day, a lot of devices that seem to be loosely based on the OnePlus’ philosophy of getting more power for your paycheck have crept out of the shadows — Motorola being the prime example, with the 2nd generation of Moto G devices being launched with beefier specs, bigger screens and exponentially better attention to detail when it comes to hardware design. Chinese manufacturers such as Xiaomi and Huawei have been stepping up their game with the recently launched Xiaomi Mi5; specced up to the nines to go toe-to-toe with the Galaxy S7, HTC M10 and LG G5 for just shy of half the price with bigger storage options.
They changed the way manufacturers think, ultimately forcing them to change strategy to somehow halt the stampede of sales slowly dwindling away from them due to one underdog’s tale.
Another company that set social media and Kickstarter trawlers alike on fire was the NextBit Robin. A device with a unique ‘smart storage’ feature where the majority of your data is stored in the cloud instead of cramming it into your device’s onboard storage. The device launched with a Snapdragon 808 chip, a 5.2-inch display, and a 2680mAh battery. The price of the NextBit right now is $400, with a deal ongoing in the US which means you can pick one up for just $300.
I’m not saying OnePlus changed the smartphone landscape and turned it on its head, but I’m a firm believer that they helped push the inevitable forward by a big margin.
With smartphones stagnating to some degree with no clear sign of this ‘slow’ phase speeding up a touch, OnePlus are somebody to look out for just for the sheer fact that they effectively invented killing flagships for the sake of cost, and that could spur on some wanted competition and add them back into the fray.
My guess would be that the OnePlus Three will follow suit from the OnePlus One & Two, with specs matching the likes of the Galaxy S7/Edge and HTC 10, but for half the price. As long as they get the launch right with no invite system to be seen, they could be onto yet another winner.