The OnePlus One: A New Hope for Android Modders

"No, there is another..."

So I guess no one caught my enigmatic reference to the OnePlus One in the replies to yesterday’s post? Fine, I’ll spell it out for you. 😛

For Android modders seeking a sub-$500 device to hack on, your go-to choice in 2014 is no longer a Nexus, but the OnePlus One. It’s the only other device I know of that ships SIM-unlocked and with an unlockable bootloader as well. If I’m wrong on this please let me know so I can investigate further.

In my opinion an Android device is only as good as the homebrew firmware that’s available for it. Because of the OPO’s scarcity third-party ROMs have been about as hard to find. I’m happy to report that this is no longer the case!

Here’s a quick list of available ROMs for the OnePlus One, via XDA. I’ve only included the “big names”—that is, the ones I’ve come across in the three years that I’ve been flashing devices. Some of them are currently in beta or even experimental builds, but all of them seem to be in active development:

AOKP
LiquidSmooth
Mahdi
MIUI v5
Omni (4.4.3)
PAC ROM
ParanoidAndroid
SlimKat
Team Gummy
Ubuntu (!)

Or, if you prefer, you could always just stick with CyanogenMod 11S, the firmware that OnePlus One ships with. Unlike most manufacturer’s ROMs—or stock Android, even—CM gives you control of your personal data with its best-in-class permissions manager, Privacy Guard:

OnePlus One Privacy Guard

Even with Privacy Guard already in place I will always recommend root, and here’s where the OPO’s unlockable bootloader comes into play: After unlocking it with the proper tools and a simple terminal command:

fastboot-oem-unlock

… You can now flash a SuperSU.zip and truly own your technology, banishing ads forever with AdAway and taking control of your app data with TitaniumBackup. There are other benefits to root access, but these are the two that immediately come to mind.

I’m still waiting for a future where all mobile devices are commoditized black boxes on which the user can install their smartphone OS of choice. In the Android world we’re getting pretty close, thanks in no small part to a clever group of Android hackers and their ever more clever exploits. But if it was a true blank slate that you sought, a mobile terminal willing to cede control almost right out of the box, a Nexus was your only choice. Until now.

The OnePlus One is our new hope.