Samsung and HTC just announced their new flagship phones, and Apple is expected to drop the iPhone 6 sometime soon. Chinese upstart OnePlus is hoping to give all those devices a run for their money — literally.

The new OnePlus One was announced Wednesday, featuring bleeding edge specs that include a 1080p 5.5 inch screen, a 2.5 Ghz Snapdragon 801 processor, 3 GB of RAM, global LTE support, a 13-megapixel Sony Exmor camera and a huge lithium polymer battery.

But the best feature, by far, is the $299 off-contract price tag. That’s roughly half what the competition charges, and for an ostensibly premium phone. OnePlus has adopted the motto “never settle.” Whether or not the phone delivers remains to be seen, but an early hands-on by Engadget reports positive first impressions.

Another neat feature is that the international version of the phone ships with CyanogenMod by default. That’s by far the most popular modded version of Google’s Android operating system, with a focus on speed and enhanced features. For example, CyanogenMod users have access to encrypted text messages, a definite improvement over the stock Android experience.

Unfortunately, OnePlus is using a bizarre invite-only system to sell the phone. Exactly how you get one is a bit of a mystery, but it involves signing up for the company’s newsletter. Here’s a blurb from the press announcement:

The first 100 OnePlus Ones will be available through the OnePlus Phone Smash, starting April 25th. OnePlus fans can go to to apply to smash their current phone in exchange for a OnePlus One. 100 lucky applicants will get the very first 100 OnePlus Ones for just $1 as well as the ability to invite their friends to buy the OnePlus One.

Obviously that’s a marketing gimmick, but that’s how the company hopes to keep the cost of the phone low. Samsung and Apple each spend countless millions to promote their wares, a cost that is ultimately passed on to the consumer.

For jetsetters, phone geeks and off-contract shoppers, this is one to keep an eye on.

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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