OnePlus Concept One first impressions: The future of phones is exciting

The OnePlus Concept One is one of those few examples when the design serves both aesthetics as well as functions. The invisible camera has the potential to improve mobile photography by a massive margin.

OnePlus Concept One


  • The OnePlus Concept One has been shown in India as part of the Concept One tour.
  • OnePlus uses an electrochromic glass that can hide the rear cameras in favour of a better design.
  • The Concept One uses leather finished in the fiery Papaya Orange found on McLaren cars.
For more than a decade now, our phones are getting bigger, more powerful and more capable than ever. Most of the new stuff we see comes across as an incremental update over the existing one. You will slight better cameras or slightly more processing power or slightly better battery life. The 'slightly more' update only seems goof if you are a hardcore tech enthusiast. Those days are behind us when a phone was made to arouse 'oohs' and 'aaahs' instead of showing which company can top the DxOMark or AnTuTu charts.
That's not the case with OnePlus. The Shenzhen-based smartphone maker has been playing with different materials to make phones that are more than just specifications. Remember the OnePlus 5T Star Wars edition, or the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition? These might be obsolete today but as a piece of art, these phones still grab hold of your eyeballs once they are out of their protective cases.
OnePlus still wants to emphasize on craftsmanship as phones become mightier and hence, the Concept One was conceived. Unveiled at the CES 2020, the Concept One was OnePlus' idea of an alternate future for smartphones. As part of the Concept One tour, OnePlus recently showed us the concept device in India and I was among the few lucky ones to interact with the Concept One.
OnePlus won't be selling the Concept One anywhere as it is only a concept device that shows what can be possible with smartphone designs in the next few years. Given that it might cost more than my worth, OnePlus had a few units of the phone on display in the OnePlus Experience Store in Delhi and only gave me an hour to play with it.
What's it like? Have a read.

OnePlus Concept One: What is it about?

Before the CES 2020, OnePlus said that it wants to bring out new concept devices every year, showing technologies that could shape the future of smartphones. For its first year, OnePlus wanted to show a technology it borrowed from a McLaren supercar for showing an alternate design for its smartphones. The device, called the Concept One, showcases the electrochromic glass technology and its application in a smartphone. Not only does the technology give the designers freedom to do whatever they want to, it also lets photographers gain more capability while using the camera.

How's the Concept One special?

The reason why this Papaya Orange smartphone exists is because of the narrow strip of the black glass at the back. More specifically, it's the strip of glass where you usually see the cameras on other phones.
OnePlus Creative Director Xi Zeng was taking a tour of the McLaren facility in Woking, England when he was drawn by the McLaren 720S Spider supercar. Zeng checked out the car's sunroof that used a special electrochromic glass to vary the levels of tint electronically. This way, the car could still have a glass roof but it could change the amount of sunlight coming in the cabin with just the press of a button.

OnePlus Concept One with rear cameras hidden.

OnePlus Concept One with rear cameras exposed.
Zeng wanted to use this technology on a phone and hence, a small team at OnePlus started working on getting the technology suited for use in smartphones. After spending a lot of time on development, OnePlus was finally able to adapt the glass for use in its smartphone. A narrow strip of electrochromic glass sits on top of the rear cameras and with one tap, it could hide the cameras and make them appear again when required.
Hence, the Concept One has a strip of glass running along its spine, with the top half of it being covered by the electrochromic strip. Rest of the rear panel is covered in premium leather, with exquisite stitching running along the glass strip. Since the technology comes from McLaren, the phone had to be painted in McLaren colours. Hence, the Concept One gets the same Papaya Orange colours as well as the McLaren logo on top of the rear cameras. For a McLaren fan like me, this is bliss.

Rest of the phone is essentially similar to the OnePlus 7T Pro and there's a very good reason behind it - the OnePlus Concept One is a tricked out OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition. The metallic frame is finished in gold to up the ante of the Concept One phone. The front of the phone is dominated by the same 6.67-inch Quad HD+ AMOLED display with the 90Hz refresh rate.

How does the Concept One feel in hand?

Leather makes everything feel premium and the Concept One benefits from that. The premium Papaya Orange leather with the stitching feels luxurious in the hands. Given that the phone is based on the OnePlus 7T Pro, the leather helps with more grip instead of the slippery and heavier glass, without making the phone bulky. Maybe OnePlus should offer an option to equip your phone with leather or the popular sandstone material instead of the same old glass. The design layout makes the phone look it is in action without being over the top.

The electrochromic glass looks fancy and if you love clean designs like me, then you will love the effect this piece of glass has on the phone's design. When the camera is not in use, the rear of the phone is all black-orange matter. The black glass strip remains uniformly black and that helps it achieve a balanced design. That said, under bright light, you can figure out where the camera lenses are placed.
When you switch on the camera app, the glass changes the tint to transparent and the lenses appear at the back. The transition from translucent to 'transparent enough' happens within 0.7 seconds, which is the same time it takes for the camera app to load. I launched and closed the camera in succession multiple times like an idiot to see whether it fails but those OnePlus boys have got it all sorted - the damn thing performed as expected every single time!

The rear cameras are the same as the setup on the OnePlus 7T Pro and you get the same quality images. The addition of the electrochromic glass does add an ND filter to the cameras. ND Filters are used in DSLR cameras to help capture better images where lighting is too bright. On the Concept One, you need to go to the Pro mode and tap on the ND8 button to enable the filter. The glass reduces the transparency and you can see a change in exposure on the viewfinder. Be default, you will see a bluish tint and you will need to tinker with the other settings to get the photo the way you wanted. The ND filter isn't variable and hence, the use case might be limited for now. However, a feature like this can make life easier for professional mobile photographers.

First impressions

The OnePlus Concept One is all about the electrochromic glass and if that alone has got you excited, then the Concept One has done its job. OnePlus won't be using this technology on a commercial phone for now as the technology is extremely expensive to manufacture on a mass scale. However, in a few years, you might see OnePlus using the glass to come up with pretty phone designs. Even in its current state, I would buy the OnePlus Concept One for its design, although the leatherback needs to make way for either a plastic panel with sandstone texture.
Most importantly, the OnePlus Concept One shows the design path OnePlus might choose for its future smartphones. The Concept One makes the smartphone look elegant and in a sea of phones with those ugly camera bumps sticking out of all expensive phones, the camera-less design is bliss to my eyes.

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