I Really Hope This Isn't The Trick Up OnePlus's Sleeve

Illustration: OnePlus

CES 2020 starts next week, so naturally, OnePlus is trying to get the hype started early by teasing its soon-to-be-announced concept phone. But so far, the only major thing OnePlus has revealed about the phone is that it has... some tintable glass?

I don’t mean to sound so dejected, electrochromic glass is pretty cool. For the Concept One, OnePlus teamed up with McLaren again, which uses tintable glass for the sunroofs in its expensive hypercars. Electrochromic glass is also the same stuff they use in fancy bathrooms and the like, allowing you to transform a glass window, wall, or door from transparent to opaque with the flip of the switch.

The material works by sending an electrical current through a piece of glass, which causes molecules inside the glass to align in different ways, and depending on that alignment, it determines how much or how little you can see through the glass. The problem for OnePlus is that electrochromic glass has been around for a while, with modern applications being used in windows and on planes for the last 20 years or so. So while cool, the tech isn’t all that new or impressive on its own.

On the Concept One, OnePlus is using electrochromic glass to create an “invisible camera” with a glass cover that turns opaque and hides the phone’s cameras when they’re not in use. And when you do want to snap a pic, the phone sends an electric charge through the glass cover again and magically, its cameras reappear.

For people concerned about the recent smartphone trend of having bigger and more obnoxious camera modules, OnePlus’ invisible camera could be a nice change of pace. Based on OnePlus’ brief teaser, the Concept One seems to have almost a completely flat back, which should make the phone much sleeker than something like the iPhone 11 Pro. It’s a pretty good look.

But my main concern isn’t really about the tech or how it’s used, but about the Concept One itself. My issue is that concepts are supposed to be wild, futuristic devices that push boundaries and strain people’s imaginations. I’m talking about stuff like the Xiaomi Mi Mix Alpha concept with its wrap-around screen or the completely portless Meizu Zero. Stuff that looks and feels incredibly ambitious—devices that might even be frustrating or annoying that might not work in today’s world, but with a little refinement, could turn into something fantastic.

However, based on OnePlus’ single teaser so far, the Concept One seems a bit tame. I mean come on, the word “concept” is in its name, and if OnePlus really doesn’t have any intention of selling this thing anytime soon, there’s very little reason not to shoot for the stars.

But if a company is trying create excitement, I feel like we need a little more than tintable glass. Hopefully, this isn’t the only trick the Concept One is packing, because if not, we might all be in for a slightly more boring week than expected.

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