HTC One Review

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It’s only mid March of 2013 and so far we’ve seen some compelling smartphone offerings from the likes of  Sony, LG, and more recently, Samsung. But on February 19th, HTC unveiled its latest flagship smartphone, the One, and it’s one hell of a device.

Oozing with style and power from every port, the HTC One is simply one of the most beautiful devices we’ve ever seen, which is something that we said about the One X. The spec list runs long on the One, giving it a deadly combination of beauty and brawn, but is that enough? In this review, we’ll try to see if what HTC has been working on all this time has finally paid off.

The Good
  • The design and in-hand feel is unrivaled on the HTC One
  • The Ultrapixel camera provides some great photos and Zoe is awesome!
  • The new BoomSound speakers are the best I've ever heard on a phone
The Bad
  • Some new software tweaks are unnecessary
  • You dont have to use Blinkfeed if you don't want to, but you're still stuck with it on the home panels.

Hardware

While the design that we'll get into later is a feast for the eyes, the hardware on the HTC One is a feast for the geek's heart.

Rocking a 4.7 inch 1080p HD Super LCD 3 display that's ultra crisp and clear, the screen on the HTC One is one of the best we've ever come across in a smartphone. You'll find a slightly higher PPI on the device as well, as most of the competition's devices have 5+ inch displays. The screen is taller than many 4.7 inch handset we've come across, which helps the device fit in the hand better. This was a smart decision on HTC's part.

Above the display, you'll be treated to the expected assortment of sensors and other features you'd expect here. This includes the proximity and ambient light sensors, 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera, notification LED (that I really wish wasn't limited to green/red/amber) and the ear piece that's baked right into one of the two speakers found on the front of the device.

Coming in at 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm, the One is a bit taller than the Nexus 4, and you wouldn't know it's a bit thicker by holding it next to the latest Nexus handset. The Nexus 4 is also a hair wider than the One (68.2mm vs 68.7). I for one love how tall the One is. Not only does the width of the device feel great in the hand, but the height makes it feel like you have more to hold onto.

Below the screen is where you'll find two capacitive buttons for back and home, with HTC's logo sitting in between them. The decision to remove the multitasking button wasn't a good idea in my opinion. The decision to include capacitive buttons at all wasn't a good idea in my opinion. Some may find on-screen buttons an unnecessary waste of screen space, but we're not dealing with 3.2 inch displays anymore. Never once have I thought my Nexus 4's display was too small because of the on-screen buttons.

Only recently have we begun to see bigger names move to using on-screen navigation on its smartphones, like Motorola and Sony, and it's a trend I'd like to see continue. Accessing Google Now should be as easy as when the dedicated search button was a part of the standard Android navigation buttons. To go to your recent apps on the One, you double tap the home button, where you hold down on the home button to access Google Now. No, it's not hard to get to Google Now or recent applications, but I've never been a fan of doubling up on buttons. Still, it's obviously not going to be that big of an issue to most people.

The speakers on the top and bottom of the face provide some beautiful contrast to the solid black screen on the HTC One. Similarities to other devices be damned, HTC's implementation has a reason to exist, which provides a stellar sound experience. The speakers are crisp, clear, and much louder than what you'd find on many other handsets today. I've been taken aback a couple of times when I watch a video or listen to music on the One. The BoomSound speakers on this handset are damn good. I'm hardly an audiophile of any kind, but HTC might have just spoiled me with this handset.

HTC kept the sides of the One as minimal as possible. The bottom houses only the Micro US port/MHL and HDR microphone for calls, the right side is where you'll find the volume rocker, and the left side gives you an area to access the micro SIM card. The top of the device is where you'll find the 3.5mm head phone jack and power/lock button. This button is also where the IR blaster is, allowing you to use the phone to control your TV.

The back of the HTC One is clean and simple. Comprised of aluminum, only broken by small white lines accenting the top and bottom, the back of the One is very easy on the eyes. Of course, this is also where you'll find the new UltraPixel Camera and LED Flash. You'll find HTC's logo right in the middle, along with a Beasts Audio logo at the bottom.

Inside, the HTC One is just as nice as everything on the outside. You won't be in short supply of processing power thanks to the quad-core Snapdragon 600 CPU and 2GB of RAM. You'll also be treated to the now-expected Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, etc. If you're a geek like me, then you'll also be happy to see that the HTC One also supportsWiFi 802.11 AC, which will allow you to achieve some insane speeds if your wireless router supports it.

 

Design

HTC has long been known for making some of the most drool-worthy phone designs in the industry, and the One shows that the company can continue to out-design itself. The HTC One is freaking beautiful, and feels as sturdy as any handset could possibly be.

As I mentioned before, the decision to make the screen taller rather than wider was a great decision on HTC's part. It fits snugly into your hand, and gives a wonderfully weighty in-hand feel. It doesn't feel like it's going to break if you drop it, even if it would produce some scuffs on the metal case. The edges of the device are cut in a way that light will catch easily, which is a nice aesthetic touch, and also helps the pleasing in-hand feel.

There's a lot to like about the HTC One on the design front. It's very eye-catching and is sure to turn heads. And that's all without the phone being turned on at all. This is a beautiful design that is in the top of its class.

Software

HTC has been working on many enhancements within its custom user interface, and there's quite a bit different in Sense 5.

Blinkfeed

When you first unlock the HTC One, you'll be greeted by Blinkfeed, which is unlike any homescreen experience you've probably ever seen on the Android OS. Blinkfeed is a social media and news aggregator that will keep you up to date with your Twitter and Facebook feeds, and gives you thousands of publications to choose from. Luckily, you can refine Blinkfeed down to either one publication or one social network, allowing you to have a dedicated Facebook stream only, etc.

While it isn't without some Flipboard similarities, Blinkfeed is very nice. I was a bit apprehensive to use it, but I enjoy it very much now. It's a great way to catch up with the day when you first wake up, or just when you have some time to kill. For those who aren't in love with Blinkfeed, or just don't want to be greeted with news upon unlocking the device, you can choose a standard Android panel as your homescreen. Once you do that, you can choose when you want to catch up on the news you'd like to, without it being forced on you.

I use Blinkfeed similarly to how I user my Twitter widget on other handsets I've owned, so a quick swipe to the left is what I naturally tend to do to keep up with news. Blinkfeed may not be for everyone, but you don't need to use it if it's not your cup of tea. However, it's grown on me a lot and I'm a big fan of Blinkfeed.

Blinkfeed aside, the rest of Sense 5 has also undergone a dramatic change, and for the better. You'll now find a more stock Android look and feel to the homescreen layout, with the expected HTC flare. HTC has chosen to limit the amount of home panels to just four now, not including the Blinkfeed panel.

The app drawer has also seen quite a few tweaks. The default grid size for your apps is now 3x4, which not only will make it take longer for you to swipe through your apps, but the layout also has a lot of dead space around it. It doesn't look all that great. Luckily, you can change the grid size to a 4x5 layout, which will likely be more satisfying for the user.

HTC TV

When dealing with smartphones nearing 5 inches in screen size, it's been customary of manufacturers to place the power/lock button on the side of the device. While the HTC One X also had its lock button on the top of the handset, the One's power button has a real reason to be there. The IR blaster is built into the power button, so you can use the One to control your TV via HTC TV.

HTC TV is a Peel-based app that will show you what's currently airing and what's upcoming on TV and more. The setup is rather simple if the remote code works. In my case, my Dish Network box wasn't recognized by HTC TV. If that happens, you'll need to get your regular remote, and point the IR blasters in front of each other to assign the remote keys manually -- a 30 step process. It's a bit of a pain, but it works, so I'm certainly not complaining too much.

From there, you change channels, volume, set DVR recordings, and much more right from your One. It's pretty great.

Overall, the software tweaks in Sense 5 are more than welcomed. Another cool tweak in Sense 5 is the Gallery application. You can sift through your Zoes, or just look through your photos via a standard gallery, but that's not all. HTC took it a step further and added a section for your friend's photos from Facebook. If you've logged into Facebook via Blinkfeed, you can see photos from your friend's feeds, which makes the Gallery ever-changing. It's a nice touch.

While HTC has been attempting to tone Sense down to look closer to the stock Android experience, it had always been hard for me to want to retire my Nexus completely. This time around, HTC struck a fine balance of customization that doesn't completely take away from the overall Android experience, all while being wholly HTC.

 

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Camera

Outside of the beautiful, powerful hardware and nifty software tweaks, the camera on the HTC One is a showstopper. HTC's UltraPixel camera utilizes larger pixels, which allow up to 300% more light in comparison to what you'd find on existing smartphones today. The camera itself and dedicated ImageSense 2 chip aren't the only things to love about the camera experience on the HTC One. HTC also introduced Zoe with the One, which is a new way to view your photos. More on that later.

Simply put, the photos come out great with the HTC One. Given that the actual camera on the One is 4 megapixels, photos can become slightly noisy when zoomed in all the way. Still, this likely won't be an issue to most, unless you're looking to print out the photos. The UltraPixel camera's photos are perfect for sharing online via email, social networks, etc., which is more than likely what you'll be doing anyway.

As far as the guts of the camera go, you'll find an impressive sheet of specs. The HTC One's UltraPixel camera rocks a F2.0 aperture and 28 mm lens, Optical Image Stabilization, and a Smart LED Flash with five levels of brightness. Of course, you'll also be treated to a wealth of tweaks within the camera software with filters, ISO settings, HDR, panorama, night mode, scenes, and much more. Best of all, most of the settings and features also extend to the 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera.

Zoe

When you activate Zoe, the camera will take a few seconds of video before and after the picture is taken. When you have taken a few Zoes and photos, a Zoe Highlights video will be created for you, without any work on your part. You take the photos and Zoe can do it thing. And what a thing it is.

The Highlights video is an auto-edited and mixed 30 second video of your photos and Zoes, complete with music and filters to go with it. At the moment, you can't add your own music, but you can choose from 7 different tracks, which vary from elegant to loud and energetic.

From there, you can pass your Zoe along with Zoe Share, YouTube, Facebook, etc. It's simple to do and definitely something we have't seen on a phone before. Unfortunately, I personally wouldn't be surprised to see a Zoe ripoff become available in the Google Play Store shortly after the One is released (if something similar isn't available yet). In any case, Zoe is something to be admired and will only get better over time.

Check out the Highlight Video, camera samples, and HD Video test below!

 

 

 

 

 

It's easy to see that the camera on the HTC One does its job very well, but it's not perfect. Since we are dealing with a 4 megapixel camera here, you will notice that  zooming will create quite a bit of noise in the photo. As we mentioned before, the main mode of sharing on smartphones is via MMS, email, and social networks, and the HTC One performs admirably when it comes to this form of sharing.

The UltraPixel camera on the HTC One has it all, and we wouldn't expect anything less.

 

 

Call Quality And Battery Life

Call quality on the HTC One was a nice experience. Thanks to the HDR mic at the bottom and noise cancelling microphone on the back of the handset, the call quality seemed better than most handsets that claim to have similar features. Calls were clear, with no distortion whatsoever.

Battery life on the HTC One is a bit of a mixed bag. After 11 hours of moderate use, I was down to 15% left on my battery. This was also with the Battery Saver mode off, and I'll be sure to update my findings when I've put that feature to the test. Battery Saver mode automatically enables itself when the phone hits 14%.

Overall, the battery life is a bit disappointing. Still, it will get you through the day for the most part. The 1080p display is likely the main reason for the battery drain, and toning down such a nice screen just to keep it going through the day is a bit sad. The 2300 mAh battery does its best, but we do wish HTC squeezed in a little more juice into the One.

 

The Final Take

Just saying that the HTC One is the company's best handset to date doesn't do the device justice. This is a handset that you want in your hands at all times, even if you're not using it. The One begs to be held.

This is possibly the most solid phone I've ever touched. The premium materials combined with the ultra sleek design rivals anything on the market today, easily. But it's not just the in-hand feel that makes the HTC One a great handset, as just about everything else on the device is top notch. From the awesome BoomSound speakers to the latest Sense 5, the HTC One mostly hits all high marks in my book. Even the personal quirks I have with this phone aren't enough to keep this from being my daily driver.

We got some hands-on time with the HTC One in February, which left us very impressed. Still, that wasn't enough to experience what HTC has been working on. After using this handset for the past week and a half or so, the One hasn't ceased to amaze me. I have a total crush on this phone.

There's so much good going on with the HTC One, it would be a mistake not to consider if you're looking to purchase a new smartphone soon. Instead of a handful of features you'll never use in a phone, the HTC One provides the reason to buy it when you first pick it up. There may be a lot of competition that provide a similar set of specifications, but the One is a 'One" of a kind phone. It's beautiful inside and out, and uniquely HTC.

At the end of the day, the HTC One is more than deserving of its name.

 

 

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  • DANILOBORICUA

    The new HTC ONE smartphone is the best I’ve seen in the market today. It’s beautiful with elegant design well. And most impresses me is what is inside, a whole beast! This will be my next smartphone. Bye, bye S4!

  • David Brymer

    well said DANILOBORICUA ive just 10 days to wait till us in the uk get it yayyyyyyyyy not that im counting ; ] ………………on another note i sold my one x for the s3 few months ago …….biggest mistake ive ever made, its very unlikely ill ever buy samsung again unless they change there design and materials. loved ur review best 1 ive read, cheers

    • http://twitter.com/Blissy79 Dan

      10 days? I have mine already and I’m in the UK. It’s a thing of beauty. The only downside that I have seen so far is that’s it’s practically impossible to see the screen in sunlight… good job it rains 96% of the time in the UK :)

  • M00S3

    Thank you for a good review, it seems that other review sites have reviewed this phone with large grains of salt almost like they are uncomfortable with liking an android device that isn’t Samsung, other reviews felt like they said it was good but slammed the cons as hard as they could, this review I felt was extremely on the level, thank you

  • Kindl

    Looks like HTC has a winner! I’m getting the One.

  • matt grisham

    thanks for the indepth review!!!! lover and loyalist of htc baby!!!!!

  • TopG

    I was excited about getting the HTC One till I tasted a pill of HTC’s customer service. All they had to do was fix the weak battery of my HTC One S after 7 months of use. Still waiting. It has been an absolute shamble. Definitely avoid HTC by all means

  • http://www.facebook.com/derrick.mcgalliard Derrick McGalliard

    it was a good review, but i dislike how the dude said the battery was disappointing but will get you through a full day, as far as im concern i only need a device to last a full day, and charge it at night, plus its 2013, who don’t keep a charger in their car and one in there house. Just had to say that, but yea decent review. HTC all day baby

  • Marlon Milligan

    Excellent review!

  • TomasHunter

    Thanks for posting your review on the HTC One, Blake. I am leaving town on a business trip for DISH at the end of the month, and I was thinking about upgrading my phone before I leave. The new screen and front facing speakers will be awesome for all the streaming I do while traveling. My favorite app is DISH Anywhere; it streams all of my live TV channels and DVR recordings to my phone. It is a great way for me to watch my Colorado Rockies play, even when I am stuck out of town.

  • The Directory

    Great Phone i’am going to buy me this “One”

  • Eric

    Great review! The HTC One has an excellent design and the material choice is what got me hooked. I’m almost always near an outlet so the battery life isn’t that much of a concern for me. Besides, there are plenty of small portable chargers out in the market. Prior to switching to the iPhone 5 I was a pure Samsung guy. However, after the GS3 I got tired of the plastic feel. It’s not that I hate a plastic phone, heck HTC made some good looking ones, but Samsung makes it look cheap with their shiny coats and thin battery covers. Can’t wait to get back to Android once the One is available!

  • Julian

    beauty and brawn*

  • Ritesh Bhagwati

    HTC ONE all the way! Ever since S4 launched, I became much more sure of where to put my money in.

  • Ronaldo

    HTC ONE é melhor do que o SANSUNG S4 no designe, no material aplicado (alumínio) e na funcionabilidade.

  • LeoVainio

    I hate it when people say other phones have 5″ screens. For f*cks sake it doesn’t count as 5 inches (Xperia Z for example) if it’s got the 3 software buttons ON-SCREEN. If that real estate is taken by those then it’s roughly 4.7″ just like the HTC One or other phones.

    • Olyguy

      Ditto – also the One is the only phone I know of that let’s you have a full screen option that gets rid of the annoying status bar when you are outside of the home page.

  • http://rootandroid.net/ Anuroop Anilkumar

    Thanks for this excellent review!! HTC has managed to provide a good built quality for the device without compromising it’s aesthetics…

  • Nikhil @ MobileJury.com

    I liked the HTC TV application of this phone a lot. Also the best part is that the phone also has a lot of things including the cooling down of the phone.

  • Olyguy

    Great phone after going through several Androids (HTC Thunderbolt, Incredible, Moto Razr Maxx, Galaxy S3, Note 2) and iPhone 5 I think I finally found the near perfect phone that I will be hanging onto for more than 6 months. Ditto to everyone’s comments. One additional comment is that I can get a day and half of battery life easily by disabling a lot of the apps that I do not need and drain precious battery juice. Just go into your app setting. Unlike some of my previous Android phones these apps stay disabled until you enable them again.

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