Review: HTC One


HTC has had somewhat of a rough time of late, with Samsung snapping up all the Android sales, Sony starting to look like a real player again, and the all out failure that was the HTC First or Facebook phone. The flagship 4G HTC One is an important device for the company to prove that they have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Apple and Samsung, and it’s a powerhouse.

The Hardware

The full HD screen is a sizeable 4.7″ that goes edge to edge of the device, giving it a 468ppi which puts the iPhone’s “Retina Display” to shame, and in its slimline, curved body, it still fits comfortably in the hand unlike many competitors. The curved back reminds me of holding an iPhone 3GS, which I believed was the most comfortable device to hold until now.

To differentiate themselves from some of their Android competitors, including notably Samsung, HTC have really focused on build quality on the One with its aluminium uni-body chassis oozing class. This is the sort of build quality that you expect from Apple, but where Android phones have generally been found wanting in recent years.

Powering the One is a 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU, with 2GB of RAM, which makes this one of the most powerful devices on the market and you can tell as it snaps through any task or game with no lag at all. You’ve got 32GB of storage to play with, although it is missing an SD card slot for expansion, and it runs the latest Android 4.1.2 Jellybean.

As a piece of hardware, I can’t fault the HTC One – it’s beautiful, well made, and weighs just 143 grams – a weight that just feels “right” in your hand, unlike the Galaxy S3 or iPhone 5, which feel a bit too light, and the Nokia Lumia’s which are a bit on the hefty side. No, the One manages to get that weighting to sit just perfectly in feeling light enough to carry and being solid in your hand.

The battery on the One gives enough juice to last a day of very heavy use or days with light use, and that puts it on a par with the other flagship devices on the market. I’d love to see a phone work for days of heavy use on a single charge, but I think we’ll need a new battery technology to arrive before that happens.

The Sound

The One is another tie-in with Beats Audio, which means that HTC have decided that music matters in a device that is used more as an mp3 player by most people than an actual phone – and they’re right. The Once offers two front-facing speakers which offer a very loud and crisp sound for their size, although still a little lacking in the bass department as you would expect. Through headphones the sound quality is excellent and up there with the leaders in this field such as the iPhone 5 and the Sony Xperia Z.

The Camera

HTC has made a brave move with the camera on the One in not continuing along with the “megapixel race” that has become easy marketing but actually meaningless in recent years. A 13MP camera does not necessarily take better pictures than a 5MP camera – the sensor, the lens, and a lot more come into play. The camera on the One is just 4.1MP, that’s less than 1/3rd of the megapixels in some smartphones today, but the real question is – what do the pictures look like? Stunning. The One may have less pixels, but each pixel is much bigger (HTC are calling them “Ultrapixels”), which let in more light and so produce much clearer images in low light. In well-lit scenes, some other flagship smartphones may just have the edge, but the photos are always clear and good quality, if not always the best. HDR mode works fantastically in making the most of the lower pixel count, and the 1080p video looks crisp and bright.

The Software

I was a little disappointed with the One was with the software. Android Jellybean is a great OS, and having got used to running stock Android on my own devices, that is really what I’m after, not fancy overlays and social integrations. HTC’s Sense UI is a pretty heavy skin for Android, and whilst it looks perfectly good, on various occasions I found myself wishing I could turn it off.

Central to HTC’s new Sense UI is something called “Blinkfeed” which lets you create a personalised feed of your social contacts through Facebook and Twitter, along with feeds from your favourite websites and blogs, and turning it all into a Flipboard-esque product. It works quite well, and certainly looks lovely – but as with other apps that offer similar functionality, I still prefer keeping my social and reading activities separated. Algorithms aren’t great at delivering the news or updates that I actually want, and if you’ve got a pretty active Twitter timeline it can all get a bit confusing. As an app this could be an interesting proposition, but built into the OS it just feels like bloat, and offering a service I would prefer from a variety of apps each working well at their more limited functions.

That isn’t to say that HTC’s Sense UI is without some impressive functions over stock Android. HTC’s software has long been fantastic in matching up your contacts with their social profiles, and the latest version can grab high quality profile pictures from Facebook for your friends – something no other manufacturer can do for some reason.

Even better is how HTC handles Flash with the default browser – you can quickly turn it on and off with the click of a few buttons. Apple devices have no Flash capabilities, and recent Android devices have to sideload Flash to get a semi-working solution. But not the HTC One, on this device they have put the user first and with a wealth of Flash video still around on the web, you can now access all of it without worrying about the battery-drain issues of Flash the rest of the time because you can turn it off. Can everyone else take note please?

The Verdict

HTC has come out with all guns blazing with the One. It is a beautifully designed smartphone with a huge screen but remains comfortable in the hand. It’s 4G ready if you live in a place with a next-generation connection, and run the latest version of Android with a blazingly fast 1.7GHz processor and 2GB of RAM. The Sense UI may not be for everyone, but overall this is a fantastic device that competes very favourably with the best of the best.

Big thanks to Phones4U for giving us the handset to play with.

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