I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing HTC smartphones long before they became famous. As you’d have known by now, I am a numbers man and numbers haven’t been kind to HTC over the last few quarters. At a time when the whole tech and media community is abuzz with how badly HTC has done in the last year with net revenues dipping to an all time low, HTC has announced their latest flagship – The HTC One. As I noted a few days back, the company has quietly been increasing their R&D firepower and all that hard-work has culminated in the creation of the beautifully designed HTC One. So the questions that crops up in my mind is, is this device truly “The One” to turn around the fortunes of a company slowly being pushed on to a burning platform? Read on…
In more ways than one, The One is an engineering marvel and prescribes to the company’s philosophy of being “Quietly Brilliant”. HTC has managed to craft a device that succeeds in being bold, shiny and unique while managing to retain an aura of a wise and quiet genius. I can think of a number of android devices that can take Zen lessons from The One. This kind of brilliance was previously only displayed by the likes of Apple and Nokia. One can see that HTC has really put in an effort and has outdone itself in the design and engineering department. The device is made out of a block of aluminium carefully crafted to house all the electronic components and is sealed to the glass display with ceramic zero-gap plastic construction. If you’re an Android lover disillusioned by the prospect of upgrading to yet another android phone of poor build quality, look no further than an HTC One. The phone looks amazingly slim and even manages to belie its weight by feeling less heavier than it actually should.
Many people have also likened the build of an HTC One to Apple’s flagship iPhone 5. I beg to differ. Although both phones have chamfered edges, the similarities stop there. Where Apple has gone in with a block of aluminium chamfered and then diamond cut to project just a single edge, the HTC One on closer look actually has two edges on both sides. Whether it does anything to protect the phone from nicks is anybody’s guess but the One is certainly not a copy of the iPhone 5. Secondly, as we all know the zero gap construction of the phone means that there are two aluminium plates melded together with the help of plastic which I think is of the same material as the element contained in the HTC One X. It feels almost ceramic.
The clean rubbery, plastic lines which meld the display to the aluminium body leave way to accommodate a power button at the top, an up and down volume rocker at the right side and a micro-usb charging port at the bottom. There is an annoyance here: The charging port is actually not in the middle but situated in the bottom right corner. This means that I am not able to charge my phone when it sits in my car holder.
Since last year, HTC has decided to do away with removable batteries and swappable micro-sd card trays and that trend continues with the HTC One. To some, this may be a moot point but some may have larger data storage requirements. Please choose your device carefully. There’s no going back after you’ve chosen your storage on the HTC One. The front of the device is covered almost entirely by glass not unlike most smartphones but HTC has managed to cram in two stereo speakers at the top and bottom of the phone. This is the most logical design aspect of the phone and I’m surprised that it has taken someone this long to figure out. The top speaker grill also houses the blinking notification light in yet another clean and unobtrusive implementation. The usual duo of microphone and sensors are also present at the top and bottom respectively.
Moving on to the back of the device, HTC has included a camera which has an unusually large circumference which the world has come to know as “The Ultrapixel Camera”. More on that later. The only other feature is a non-descript noise cancellation pin-hole and the tiny flash. The weight distribution on the HTC One is very even and just holding the phone is an experience in itself. Because the device curves downwards, it feels as though the cold aluminium has melted down to meet the curve of your palm touching all the right places, filling all the right gaps. Occasionally, when my hand is really dry, I worry that the phone will just slide down and hit the pavement. Of course, one cannot fault HTC if this were to happen. A note of caution for buyers of the black variant – Since aluminium is a soft metal and the device is covered by anodized black paint, there are more than a few ways to catch nicks and cuts on your device. Be prepared to cover up the beauty of your phone in ugly, plastic casing. If you couldn’t care less for these minor annoyances and are not worried about the resale value of your phone, go naked. I dare you.
The HTC One’s display simply kicks ass. Viewing angles are phenomenal although I am one of those people who believe that it suffices if my phone’s viewing angle is great when I’m looking straight into it. I don’t want my neighbour to peek into my phone display over my shoulders. I had noted in my review of the HTC One X that the content appears almost as if they were painted on the display. The HTC One has managed to achieve that and then some. Pictures seem to pop out making the display almost 3D like. I will review the Samsung Galaxy S4 shortly and I will give you my honest feedback about its display but for now HTC One is the leader. I know nothing I write here would accurately describe the viewing experience and therefore I request you to pick up a device, make sure that you crank that brightness level to at least 50% or more and take a deep, long look at it. If you don’t fall head over heels in love with the display, a visit to your nearest optician is in order to get your eyes checked. Under sunlight, the display is as usable as an iPhone 5.
I’ve used the HTC One for roughly over the last two weeks and I’ve absolutely had no stutter even with multiple apps running in the background. The lock-screen takes a nanosecond to appear when the phone comes to life, but thats a non-issue for me. The flawless performance of the phone vindicates the power of the Qualcomm APQ8064T Snapdragon processor clocked to 1.7 GHz supplemented by an Adreno 320 GPU. One thing that plays at the back of my mind is how the phone would perform in a few months from now. Well, one would just have to wait and see I guess.
During periods of extended use or while playing games, the phone does run a little hot. Should I be worried?
No review of a HTC device is complete without a discussion on Sense, its Android Skin. HTC was one of the earliest proponents of the Android OS and they were clear even early on that Sense was going to drive their differentiation and integrate HTC’s own services into the Android OS their devices used. That has remained true to date. When I used HTC Hero roughly 4 years ago, Sense was just plain annoying. It became refined in future iterations like the HTC Desire range but it truly came of age in the One X. And HTC hasn’t been resting. They’ve taken Sense 4 and made it even better with Sense 5. Some minor annoyances aside, this is the best Sense Skin yet.
So does that mean Sense 5 is perfect? Not at all. Sense 5 is a beautiful and elegant OS that refuses to bend to your every need. There are times when I felt frustrated but decided to forgive the skin’s shortcomings considering its beautiful design. Examples? In the beginning, I couldn’t work out how to select and share multiple pictures. I’m used to long pressing the picture and then when the checkboxes appear on other pictures, select multiple photos. On the HTC One, you select your sharing options, choose your sharing service and then click on multiple pictures to share. Ditto with deleting images. Drag and drop of apps in to the bottom app draw will only work when the screen is set to view apps. This flummoxed me in the beginning. Another painful example is the app draw not scrolling row by row but 3 or 4 rows at a time, which is completely unnatural. If I find out HTC has had to do these things fearing patent infringement of its competitors, I’ll really be mad on the patent system.
Purely from a colour theme standpoint, Sense 5 is the polar opposite of iOS or even Touchwiz. Where Apple dabbles with blue, black and grey overlays on a pure white canvas and Samsung has a soft corner for transparencies and blue tints, Sense has led its effort primarily with stark and serious blacks but it also throws in a range of bright, accentuated colours which look fresh and seems like a lot of fun. From a design standpoint, Sense has undergone a springclean and uses my favourite Roboto font out and out. Since the skin uses the slimmer version of Roboto, the theme acquires an elegant and spaced out look. I have a feeling HTC may have taken the “spacing out” part of the design a little too seriously as the device comes with 3 by 3 icon rows out of the box that can thankfully be changed without much issue.
Functionally, the device excels. The phone is smooth as butter which may vindicate the effectiveness of Google’s aptly named “Project Butter” or may also be the handiwork of the One’s powerful 1.7 GHz snapdragon quad core processor.
Are you asking me if I forgot about Blinkfeed? No sir. I didn’t. I just don’t think it is worth a deep discussion as it achieves very little for me while chewing up my precious battery. Please don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the concept. It’s just that I would have liked the feature to either be optional or be more feature rich than it is. I am also offended by HTC wanting to shove into my face everytime I unlock on my homescreen(I can relegate it to another screen than my homescreen but I know its there and its working). By feature rich, I mean something like integrating Blinkfeed’s status updates with Google Now and I get updates on my next meeting with traffic delays.
Sense TV belongs to the list of features that are handy, usable and great. It took me roughly 5 minutes to configure Sense TV for my Samsung TV, Foxtel Cable and my Sony Home Theatre. When I plop down on my couch these days, I don’t need to dig into the dark crevices of my couch cushions to find three different remotes. I use my phone to switch on the TV, change source input to the device of my choice and get going. In a perfect world, I’d love like to see Sense TV connect to my Apple TV and PS3 but we don’t live in one and I can’t complain. At the moment, the remote only pulls in TV listings for free to air channels in Australia and I fear for the performance of the device if it tries pulling in listings from 200+ cable channels. No, it doesn’t make sense considering the fact that cable boxes across the world are customized to show local content.
In the past, this one feature had me going back to the iPhone time and again and as a corporate user this is crucial in my job. In my experience, certain Nokia phones had insanely great call quality. HTC manages to bring that element on to its phone with The One. I honestly did not know this when I typed the words above but apparently HTC One uses the same voice processing chips made for Nokia. I roughly make 30 phone calls a day and I average 6-10 minutes on the phone when I make these calls. I am with Telstra which in my opinion is the best(and the most expensive) network in Australia. I have had a few call drops but they were no different to my experience on my iPhone or the Lumia 920. My Note 2 dropped a lot more calls than normal and for that reason, I am not including it in my call quality consideration.
Many people club this under software but in my opinion, the interface that I use to access the phone dialler, contacts and call log is directly proportional to the calling experience on the phone. For that reason, I am clubbing this interface in call quality section of my review. HTC One’s user interface is as intuitive as it can be and they have even cleaned up a lot of clutter from Sense 4. Although the interface itself is fluid in usage, there are still elements that could be improved upon.
Email & Calendar
HTC One borrows a lot of design elements from stock Jelly Bean Android OS and that has resulted in an un-cluttered interface. HTC brings all the goodness of stock android email and calendar in its HTC One.
Camera, Pictures & Video
This is one feature that will be discussed at length across the technology world and with good reason. With its latest flagship, HTC decided to drop out of the megapixel race and pursue something useful and different. Their efforts resulted in “The Ultrapixel Camera” and HTC One is the first device to carry HTC’s newest imaging wizardry. Basically, the camera is a 4 MP shooter but HTC have enlarged the sensor size to 1/3 so the pictures are embedded with 2 micron pixels each time that shutter opens to capture a picture. The advantage is that more light comes in through the shutter and results in good low light imaging. The downside is that when taking pictures in bright light, some pictures appear a little washed out and the amount of noise in some pictures is absolutely horrifying. I am willing to forget this shortcoming considering the fact that HTC will release shortly a software update to somewhat improve the image quality. Plus this doesn’t happen on all pictures. If you capture at least three four pictures with the right autofocus, one of the pictures is bound to come good. In low light, the camera performs admirably well. Like Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC has also thrown in a number of filters which lets you take instagram-like pictures.
Camera Sample Pictures
Instead of taking a series of pictures in burst mode and then selecting the best picture, HTC has also thrown in a feature called Zoe which essentially takes 3 pictures before the picture is taken and also takes a 3 sec video after the camera button is pressed. You can then do a number of things like sequence shots, face corrections from the frames your phone has captured. I’m still mastering the art of Zoe. The difficulty is not is actually executing a Zoe but to work out when to click the picture to create a successful sequence shot in a Zoe.
This is another crucial element in a smartphone. On the first day of my usage of the device, I used it sparingly for about 6 hours(I was at office) and it still had 55% remaining. Then with some casual games, internet surfing, downloading wallpapers and playing around with settings and the camera over the next 4 hours the battery was down to 8%. Once it hit 8% the phone went dead with no use at all in the next 30 minutes. All the above was on 65% brightness. After roughly 2 weeks, the battery lasts me 10-11 hours with 1-1.5 hours of screen time playing games, checking email, browsing the internet, controlling TV, watching streaming videos etc., The phone comes out with a strong battery performance and I’m not too worried about depending on the device for a full day. It also worries me that the phone needs 2 hrs and 45 minutes for a full charge.
When I sat down to write a review the HTC One, words just flowed in spades. Part of the reason is that I thoroughly enjoyed using the device and the other part is that the HTC One is the kind of device that phone manufacturers in the Android ecosystem should aspire to create. No, the device is not perfect but neither is the iPhone, the Galaxy S3 or the hundreds of other devices released in the recent past. In fact, no device will ever be perfect for everyone.
Overall, what do I think about the HTC One? I think HTC has created a bloody good device and I’d like to see “The One” set off a tradition in future HTC devices. I would like to think that HTC is aware of the shortcomings in their device and would endeavour to fix the niggles while upping the ante on product design, build materials, construction and features in future iterations of the HTC One. And as far naming convention goes, I have a word of advice for HTC: Please name your next device “HTC Two”. You don’t know how annoying it is to search for “HTC One” and be presented with hundreds of HTC One X listings on eBay or Google. But I digress. I think the HTC One is the best Android Smartphone that money can buy in the market today.
Let’s see if that changes when I do a detailed review of the Samsung Galaxy S4 LTE version.
If you want to view the full picture gallery of HTC One, CLICK HERE