Chances are you’re eyeing up the Galaxy S5, LG G3, iPhones 5s or HTC One (M8). All very good, very capable devices, and we should be so lucky to own them. But with an average price of $200 on a two-year contract, and hundreds more off, getting the latest technology is never cheap. So what’s a phone aficionado to do? Luckily there are some excellent alternatives out there; the unsung heroes of the mobile world—and, no, you don’t have to settle for a handset with specs from 2005.
Thanks to devices such as the Nexus 5 and OnePlus One, there’s never been a better time to jump into the liberating world of off-contract living. Maybe in six months you’ll want to jump to AT&T or, better yet, you’ll want to see what life is like on the UnCarrier. With an off-contract device, you have the freedom to do so as you please. Never has there been so many inexpensive options. A 16GB Nexus 5 is just $349. A 16GB OnePlus One, meanwhile, starts at $299.
The Nexus 5, for example, will ensure you get the very latest in Android updates. Nexus 5 owners can actually start enjoying the virtues of Android L long before the final version is available later this fall. The OnePlus One, meanwhile, runs a terrific custom version of CyanogenMod, CyanogenMod 11S, which offers great customization options and one of the most fluid mobile experiences around. Software-wise, the two are pretty much on par.
From a design standpoint, we’re actually a bit conflicted. On the one hand, we prefer the more compact body of the Nexus 5 which, as the name gives away, sports a 5-inch display. However, we prefer the OnePlus One’s more durable build, particularly the Sandstone Black; you can also replace the rear shell of the One to a different material, including wood, denim, and kevlar. The Nexus 5 offers no such options, though you can choose between red, white and black.
Even though the OnePlus One does sport beefier specs, you’re really not going to notice any significant difference in performance over the Nexus 5. Though, being as the Nexus 5 is nearing the end of its life cycle, the OnePlus One is just a tad more future proof; it can easily hold up to most of today’s big flagship devices, and in some instances even one-up them. Put it this way: Nexus 5 buyers won’t complain that their device is slow, though there’s something special about the way that CyanogenMod 11S runs on a phone with 3GB of RAM.
The camera is where we see the biggest separation. On paper they’re really not all that far apart, but real world use shows that the OnePlus One does produce superior quality, and the fact that you can record 4K UHD video will likely get potential buyers into a tizzy. The Nexus 5’s camera has improved significantly over the last several months through software updates, so we definitely appreciate the work Google has put in. But it can’t quite match the quality of the OnePlus One, especially in low-light situations. You won’t be disappointed with either, but you do get a better experience with the OnePlus One overall.
We go much more in-depth in the video above, so check it out to see which one comes out on top. This is one of those fights where you really can’t go wrong with either device. They’re both cheap, they both offer a wonderful software experience, and the designs are top notch. If we had to choose, however, we’d go with the OnePlus One. Not only does it have a better camera, but it’s cheaper and it has specs that are a bit more future-proof.
Of course, the hard part is actually finding the OnePlus One. If you get an invite, you can pick up the 16GB version for $299, while the 64GB version starts at $349. The Nexus 5, meanwhile, starts at $349 for the 16GB version, while the 32GB iteration is $399.