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A beautiful, Full HD Android phone from China

Powered by CyanogenMod, this quad-core Android smartphone will be available for just $299 around the world in 16 countries, including the US and UK.

The smartphone business in China can be extremely competitive, and while you might have heard of brands such as Xiaomi, Huawei or Oppo, the OnePlus name is probably new. Comprised mostly of former Oppo employees, the company has just announced a new handset in Beijing: the OnePlus One.

As cheesy as the name sounds (and confusing, if you were to start referring it as just the One), this 5.5-inch quad-core smartphone is actually pretty good. I've been using an early model that's very similar to the final product, bar some slight cosmetic alterations, and I must say I'm impressed.

Strangely though, I found the OnePlus One very familiar -- looking through my pictures of the Oppo Find 7, it's really similar, although the layout and placement of the volume jack differ. I checked with OnePlus, who told me the phone is being made at Oppo's facilities. While the One and Find 7 look very similar, they do differ in their button layouts.

The Full HD 1,920x1,080-pixel display is bright and vibrant, and I found it to be usable even under bright sunlight at noon. Weighing at 160g, the handset felt light despite its size.

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Interestingly, the One runs on Cyanogen, the fan-favorite Android mod. Aloysius Low/CNET

Like the Find 7, the OnePlus One sports a slightly curved top and bottom. The power button is located on the right side, while the volume rockers are located on the left. I'm told that the rockers will be longer in the final retail version -- right now, they're a bit hard to hit. Located above that is the micro-SIM card slot.

Instead of having the screen cover the entire front of the phone, the glass ends just slightly before the edges at the top and bottom. This exposes the silvery plastic below it and I'm not exactly fond of this design. It does catch the eye, but I have a feeling dirt's likely to accumulate at the edges and it feels strange to touch due to having two edges instead of just one.

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The screen stops just a bit short of the edges, which is unusual. Aloysius Low/CNET

The OnePlus One has a soft-touch plastic rear, and it feels great in the hand. The curved edges mean nothing sharp digs into your palm when you're holding it, and the phone feels balanced and not the least bit unwieldy.

The rear cover is removable -- OnePlus intends to sell different covers in the future. Unfortunately, the 3,100mAh battery isn't removable and there's no micro-SD card slot located underneath. This means you have to choose between getting the 16GB model or the 64GB version.

Software

The OnePlus One runs CyanogenMod 11S, which is based on Android KitKat 4.4. It's very similar to stock Android, but with a few modifications. These include an expanded desktop mode, the ability to use gestures to turn on the camera or the LED light when the display is turned off. Other interesting tweaks include a voice-activated wakeup, and themes that let you customise how the UI looks.

If you're thinking of switching from a Samsung or Apple smartphone, rest assured you won't feel lost, as the UI is very simple to use (similar to stock Android) and the tweaks you can access make the experience even better.

Unlike some phones from China, the OnePlus One will come with Google Play, and you'll find all the Google apps pre-installed, including Gmail and Maps.

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The OnePlus One comes with Google Play services installed, so you needn't waste time downloading Chrome. Aloysius Low/CNET

Hardware

In the short time I spent with the OnePlus One, I was very impressed with its performance. Partly this is because CyanogenMod is free of bloatware, but the main reason is the hardware this phone is packing.

Powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5GHz, the OnePlus One runs beautifully smooth. It has 3GB of RAM, and either 16GB or 64GB of storage. It comes with LTE support for following bands: 1, 3, 4, 7, 17, 38, and 40, so it'll work on some (but not all) US and UK networks, and most in Europe. This is on top of the usual quad-band 3G support. NFC, Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi are all onboard too.

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The smartphone packs a 13-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash. Aloysius Low/CNET

The smartphone has a 13-megapixel camera with a Sony Exmor IMX 214 sensor. The shutter's really fast, but image quality seems to be pretty mediocre, with some detectable noise in the pictures taken in the bright outdoors. Bear in mind the handset isn't the final retail version -- I'll wait for a proper review unit before fully evaluating the performance of the camera. In the meantime, feel free to feast your eyeballs on some sample shots I took with the phone.

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Aloysius Low/CNET
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Aloysius Low/CNET

Pricing and availability

OnePlus promises the One will launch in May in 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the UK and the US. The smartphone will be sold online, but will be shipped from regional warehouses located in North America, Europe and Asia. The 16GB version will retail for $299 (£178, €216) while the 64GB model will go for $349 (£207, €252).

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