We’ll get some slight negatives out the way very quickly. The N1 is a sealed design. And in this Cyanogen-from-the-factory edition, its storage is capped at about 12GB free out of the box (of which 2GB is for apps and 10GB for files, media, game resources, and so on), with no microSD expansion. That’s a pretty big restriction, though the hacker in me wants to point out at this stage that the 16GB Cyanogen version and the 32GB ‘Color UI’ version are very easily switched in terms of operating system, once in user hands. In other words, grabbing the 32GB proprietary version (not shown here) and following a couple of simple instructions on your connected desktop, it’s very easy (in theory) to retrofit Cyanogen Mod on the larger capacity hardware. Potentially giving you the best of both worlds. The other niggle is that the sealed  design also doesn’t give access to the phone’s battery, but in fairness the N1’s form is sleek and complete and I can completely see why Oppo didn’t want to compromise and stick on a replaceable back. Moreover, the very size of the N1 means that an enormous battery, over 3600mAh, is located inside, giving the phone excellent longevity on the power front. But the big, blindingly obvious possible objection to the Oppo N1 is the size. Like the Nokia Lumia 1520 and Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3, the N1 towers over the likes of the Galaxy Note II (see the photo below), one of the best known of the early ‘phablets’. In fact, the very (and much disliked) term isn’t applied much to the Note range anymore, so far have mobile expectations changed across the world. But you can’t help apply the ‘p’ word to the N1 and its competitors – there’s simply no way to use these one-handed or, indeed, to keep them in a normal sized pocket. The N1 comes in at 17cm – and weighing 213g, the weight being partly due to the premium aluminium frame and ceramic body. I.e. it’s big and heavy. And yet really rather comfortable to hold, thanks to the narrower-than-expected body and the curved profile that sits nicely in the hand. OK, it’s still a two-handed device to use, but this phablet does its best to feel like a phone. As you can see from the photo above, there’s significant bezel at the top and bottom of the phone – partly for the camera mechanism (of which more later) and partly for the capacitive control keys, but mainly to aid holding in two hands in landscape mode, tablet-style. The N1 is also only available in white, something of a faux pas in the tech world, in that far more of the tech elite/early adopters seem to prefer black or (as Apple puts it) ‘space grey’. Still, it’s early days for Oppo in the phone world – with early success will come money that can be poured back into manufacturing and a wider range of options for consumers. Color UI, on the ‘other’ N1, is perhaps an article, a review, for another day – but most Android fans have had enough of manufacturer skins to last us a lifetime and I was more keen to explore the N1 as a smartphone without any software bloat to get in the way. What is Cyanogen? A third party specialising in custom Android firmware builds – and a new partner of Oppo. As of 2014, Cyanogen is a serious company partnering with serious manufacturers – previously Cyanogen Mod had been all about the hobbyist. You can think of Cyanogen Mod as stock Android, usually pretty up to date (e.g. Cyanogen Mod 10.2 here is based on Android 4.3, Cyanogen Mod 11, coming soon for the N1, will be based on Android 4.4 Kitkat), but with lots of extensions and tweaks and settings that you can delve into if you really want to. Ignore all the stuff under the surface and it’s virtually indistinguishable from stock Jelly Bean or Kitkat. All of which meant that I was very at home here in terms of the N1’s interface. The 1080p screen is used pretty well by Android and its applications and I had no problem with content filling the huge 5.9” IPS display – in terms of clarity on an LCD screen, this is up with the HTC One’s panel and it had quite superb viewing angles. Because of the N1’s size, the volume buttons are sited low on the right side, a position I think works quite well when making phone calls, certainly for me, a right hander. Down the bottom (out of necessity, as you’ll see!) are the 3.5mm headphone socket, microUSB data and charging, and the aperture for a competent loudspeaker, with reasonable volume and good frequency range. Whether listening to podcasts, watching YouTube or taking a speakerphone call, the speaker is usually up to the job. As it is, in fairness, on most of the ‘phablets’, each with more internal volume for a larger component and larger speaker aperture. In addition to its size and the option of Cyanogen firmware from the factory, the other big unique selling point here is the swivelling camera, with the top-of-phone module rotating to face upwards and then, turning further, to face you (and a little bit beyond, so that you’re centred when making a video call/Hangout, for example). Now, I remember rotating cameras from (very) old classics like the Nokia N90 and N93, going back eight and seven years respectively, but I also remember how complex they were mechanically. Oppo has done a great job on making the unit in the N1 feel solid though, there’s just the right amount of resistance to rotation, plus major detents in the back-facing and front ‘video call’ positions. Oppo rate the mechanism at 100,000 rotations – even if this is a little optimistic, it’s likely that the camera swivel will last the lifetime of the device quite easily. Why have a swivelling camera in the first place? Taking high quality ‘selfies’ is the obvious one – but for my money the most useful aspect is that, by rotating the camera module to roughly the halfway position (as needed), you can take photos of people discreetly, i.e. without them being self-aware and putting on their ‘camera faces’. To observers it looks like you’re fiddling with something on your phone, while you’re actually snapping away. Sneaky, eh? No doubt some would put such a system to nefarious purposes, but for most owners it’s simply a good way to get candid shots of people. Or, as Oppo puts it, you can get ‘creative’, shooting everyday things from amazing angles that you wouldn’t have thought of with traditional/fixed camera positioning: Actual photo quality is excellent, right up with the Galaxy S4s and iPhones of this world, with the usual caveat that it all goes to hell in a hand basket once the light levels drop. In fact, things are worse here on the Cyanogen edition of the N1, since the dual LED flash cluster has one standard ‘white’ LED and another ‘warm’, the idea being that the latter is fired when the camera is rotated for ‘selfies’, so as to present flesh tones in a more sympathetic light. Sadly, this second LED doesn’t seem supported (yet) by the official Cyanogen firmware, meaning that it’s not used in any position. So dual LED flash becomes single, and you get half the light. LED flash of any intensity is pretty useless in most low light social situations, of course – regular Android Beat readers will know I’m a big fan of proper Xenon flash on phone cameras – so far only on some Nokias and Samsung’s hybrid device, the Galaxy S4 Zoom. But don’t be too disheartened, since the swivelling camera and candid shot possibilities mean that you can take multiple snaps of people without them getting fed up and, obviously, only use the ones where they didn’t move and which aren’t blurred – see the examples here, for instance. Even though the Camera application here looks identical to Google’s stock/Nexus code, dig into the settings and you’ll find ‘HDR’, ‘Beautify’, ‘Slow Shutter’ and ‘Smart Scene’. The first  takes several shots over the course of a couple of seconds and then combines them, but you’ll need some kind of physical support for a really crisp result. ‘Beautify’ removes blemishes and enhances skin tone, while it’s not entirely clear what ‘Smart Scene’ does – and Oppo isn’t saying. Dare I suggest that if a user isn’t told what an option does then they’re unlikely to ever use it? ‘Slow Shutter’ is interesting in that it  allows ultra-long exposures at night, presumably by reducing ISO to the absolute minimum (to stop over-exposure). As with HDR, you really have to physically mount the N1 somewhere solid for best effect, but results can be spectacular, e.g. with car lights. Video capture is good too, at 1080p as you’d expect from a 2014 smartphone, though there’s nothing fancy like OIS to help out. Still, the swivelling camera helps here too, meaning that you can record yourself (perhaps filming a video diary) and see at every point how you’re framed. Or, again, filming (cough) discreetly – I do hope users don’t misuse this rather handy hardware function! The use of Cyanogen Mod for the Android firmware means, quite deliberately a somewhat barebones set of applications pre-installed. However, this is entirely the point. So many Android phones these days are burdened down with bloatware and duplicates of Google’s stock apps that it’s a very pleasant experience to start with very little and build up gradually, installing just the applications one really, really wants. Admittedly, Cyanogen does include some extras: a local music player, Apollo, plus ‘DSP Manager’ to let you optimise the N1’s audio (both through the speaker and headphones). And both Chrome and Browser, a perennial source of confusion for end users (come on, Google, just standardise on Chrome and have done with it). Oh, and a Torch utility. But that’s your lot and what you fill the N1 with is very much up to you. Ah yes, ‘fill’. That word, perhaps, hints at the showstopping limitation for some. 10GB free in the main user data partition – for everything – is tight. Very tight, for 2014. And no expansion whatsoever. Let’s hope you weren’t planning on adding too much media, installing too many big games or shooting too much 1080p video. Why Oppo doesn’t offer the 32GB version in Cyanogen form is beyond me. But, as hinted earlier, you can always buy the bigger N1 and pull the old ‘switcharoo’. However, any criticisms should be put into context against the Oppo N1’s price. Now, you can’t buy the N1 from a local retailer in most countries, let alone a local network, so we’re talking buying online and buying SIM-free. Bought into the UK from OppoStyle in Europe, it’s under £400, effectively, all in. – which for a device of this size, spec and style is very good (Nokia’s Lumia 1520 phablet at similar spec and with similar pretensions, is over £550). Add in that, unlike most of Samsung’s offerings (e.g. the Note II, the Mega 6.3), the N1 feels Premium, with a capital ‘p’ on purpose, right up with the Nokia, Apple and HTC flagships and I can’t help but give the device a thumbs up, overall. If you can live with the size and capacity, I don’t think you can go far wrong with the Oppo N1.