With the 2013 smartphone wars heating up, HTC is revitalising its “One” brand of phones, releasing a device that does away with the model variants, the monikers, and combines every feature you could possibly ever want in a 2013 phone. Is it HTC’s best and brightest phone yet?
For a product series that told the world it would be easy to work out, HTC hasn’t exactly kept its promise. In the original “One” line-up, there were four handsets, each called the “One,” but with a different variation moniker on the end, as well as separate design and specs associated.
HTC’s slightly confusing naming scheme notwithstanding, the 2013 “One” does away with the model variant name and packs in a whole host of features that are sure to get your attention.
Let’s start with the screen, which actually continues what was put in motion with the first HTC One handsets to be released in 2012.
Just like the One X and One XL, the new One features a 4.7 inch display, only this time with a Full HD 1920×1080 resolution, not the HD 1280×720 we saw last year. With a resolution that large in a screen this small, you can expect to find 468 pixels per inch (ppi).
Moving on, there’s the processor, which is a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor, clocked at 1.7GHz and running with four cores (quad core), alongside 2GB RAM and 32GB built-in storage.
Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” is the operating system HTC has gone with, eschewing the very latest version of Android (4.2), but featuring HTC’s latest iteration of its overlay, Sense 5.
Pretty much every connection under the sun has been catered for, with 4G LTE used on the mobile broadband front, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX support, DLNA, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, GPS, Near-Field Communication, Miracast, and even infrared, which is hiding in the power button.
The camera is a little different from other smartphones, with HTC opting to include a four megapixel module on the back that incorporates a slightly bigger sensor, which HTC calls an “Ultrapixel” sensor. Some extra technology is also included to make your photos more animated, as well as offer the ability to change faces, smiles, remove unwanted objects, and merge multiple shots, in a feature HTC calls “Zoe.” Meanwhile, the front facing camera is a 2.1 megapixel model with a wider lens than most.
HTC’s choice of battery is a 2300mAh module, which is not user replaceable, and the phone takes a microSIM which is installed on a tray that can be ejected using one of those pinhole SIM ejector tools.
Like most smartphones, there are very few physical buttons on this device, with only the power button (which is also the infrared port) and a ridged metal volume rocker on the right side.
Two soft buttons sit on the front, acting as “back” and “home,” and there are only two connectors on the body, with a 3.5mm headset jack up top and a microUSB at the very bottom.
Design and performance
HTC’s One has to stand up against some pretty serious competitors this year, and with some already impressive devices out of the gate – and a few arriving shortly – this phone has to be more than just another brick with decent specs.
Eyes on, and the HTC One is certainly more than yet another plastic phone, going ahead with a design that has to be seen – and felt – to be believed.
We’re talking a body made of one piece of aluminium, similar to what HTC did when it launched the Legend several years ago.
Pick it up and you’ll feel a phone that just oozes quality, with combination of glass and metal adorning the front, soft beveled corners, and a slope out the back that fits neatly in the palm of your hands.
Without a doubt, this is one of the comfiest mobile phones we’ve ever felt, and the inclusion of aluminium as a base material makes it a pure delight to hold, as does the seamless design.
In fact, it’s a hardware design deserving of a manufacturer like Apple, except this isn’t Apple, this is HTC.
Then there’s the screen which is just as amazing as the design itself. Hat’s off to HTC with this one, as the company has provided the sharpest screen yet of 2013.
While most companies are talking up Full HD screens with 440 pixels per inch, and Apple is still saying that it has the sharpest screen with its “Retina” resolution, HTC has one-upped everyone with a 4.7 inch Full HD display that shows off an astonishing Retina-blasting 468 pixels per inch.
The screen is also a high-grade In-Plane Switching display that is viewable from every angle and even works well in sunlight.
Turn it on and you’ll see that the attention to detail hasn’t stopped with the design, with a speedy boot time that can be reflected in pretty much anything you do on the phone.
The processor in the One is newer and more powerful than in at least two of its competitors, with HTC choosing the newer Snapdragon 600 processor over the Krait processor used in both the Sony Xperia Z and LG Optimus G, resulting in some of the fastest and smoothest operation across the board.
With this new chip, the HTC One is a dream, offering a benchmark performance that not only doubles its predecessor, but pushes over 5000 points higher than what is offered in available competing devices.
Running multiple apps and multitasking is more than capable in this handset, with the processor offering plenty of speed, too. We had no problems switching between various pieces of software, and nothing struggled.
To put it simply: this thing handles like a dream.
Mobile broadband performance is equally excellent, with 4G LTE connections downloading in the test city of Sydney at a maximum of 60Mbps, though regularly scoring between 30 and 50Mbps daily. Upload speeds sat at around 20Mbps for our entire test, which is par for the course for most 4G smartphones.
And then there’s the battery, which is boasting better life than any other Android flagship we’ve tested this year.
Without switching power saving on, we managed just over a day of life, deciding to charge around 10.30 am the following day, after being switched on for roughly 30 hours, and doing the regular gamut of web surfing, texting, making phone calls, social networking, and listening to music.
Throw the power saving mode on and two days are possible, though your vibrating haptic feedback does switch off when this mode goes on.
Mega– no, sorry, Ultrapixels
One of the features being pushed hard in this handset is the camera, and while every other flagship Android smartphone to come out this year is brandishing some form of 13 megapixel camera, HTC is using a four megapixel sensor that boasts a slightly larger sensor than what is normally used in mobile phones.
With a bigger sensor comes the ability to draw in more information, and that should make the quality of the images better again, so HTC’s argument of sensor size versus megapixels re-ignites the megapixel myth. HTC calls this technology “Ultrapixels,” and together with a low aperture (f/2.0) and dedicated image signal processor, should achieve some decent images.
To test this properly, we felt obliged to compare the camera against something that’s out there right now, so we opted to use the LG Optimus G and its 13 megapixel camera, which rated highly for us recently.
In the tests we made, some of which we printed out to see if the quality was comparable, we found that the HTC Ultrapixel sensor provided more accurate colours and better detail, but not necessarily the same depth moving back into the image thanks to the lack of megapixels.
Online, this isn’t likely to be a big deal, but if you need to print the images out, you will see a difference between four megapixels and 13.
Typical camera modes are included, with normal shooting, HDR, panorama, while a simple swipe with your finger from the top of the screen to the bottom will switch to the front-facing camera, which also features a timer before a selfie is fired.
Then there’s another camera mode that is a little different. It’s called HTC Zoe, and while the name is a little silly, the concept is that you’re essentially shooting tiny videos and twenty images at the same time, with quick edits possible to produce different photos.
For instance, let’s say you want to take a photo of friends, but you don’t think that everyone will smile. Simply take a photo using Zoe by touching the camera mode on the left side of the shooting screen and you’ll record a three second video and 20 photos, with some nifty options for retouching afterward.
If you were right and not everyone smiled when you pressed the shutter, you’ll be able to go into the retouch mode of HTC Zoe to play with “Always Smile,” a setting that detects faces and loads in several frames for each of those faces, allowing you to select each one and alter the picture to make everyone smile.
Or if there was someone in the background that you didn’t want there, like someone who walked into frame. You can remove them using the “Object Removal” mode, which picks up on moving elements and allows you to get rid of them, replacing them with a different frame.
After editing in any of these options, and there are a few more we haven’t touched on, you can export an image by clicking save, which will save a frame, usually combining one of the 20 images and exporting a new four megapixel image.
It’s a neat function, because you can do some cool processing inside the phone, though not everything will be detected by the object removal system, and likewise the face editing features don’t always work the way you expect them to.
There is also the issue of whether or not anyone will use these features.
On the one hand, it sounds like a cool idea to be able to change people and their positions in order to make a perfect photo, but we’d hazard a guess that most people will just take the photo and want to upload it to their desire social network, omitting any real reason to edit the images, or just cropping to get the desired shot.
Outside of HTC’s demo content, which was on our review handset, we struggled to find ways to make the HTC Zoe retouch modes look as excellent as the images we had been supplied.
There is one side of HTC’s new imaging system that we really like, though.
It doesn’t have a name, but it does have a cool function, and that is, after you’ve taken some photos and videos, it will bundle everything randomly into a neat video to share with your friends. You can change the order of these by selecting shuffle, and even change the look the video has with one of six presets, but this feature makes it very easy to share a night or a weekend with people in thirty seconds.
There are some bugs, and we found it only works when browsing photos using the “events” dropdown, and not by album or folder, but when it does appear, it is still very cool.
Blink and you’ll miss the feed
One of the more prominent parts of HTC’s new handset experience under Sense 5, the latest iteration of the Android overlay, is a homescreen that you can’t remove called “BlinkFeed.”
This is a screen that endeavours to loosen the stranglehold on news-reading apps you might already be using, such as Flipboard and Pulse, which pull in various news and RSS services from your online world and turn them into a glossy style of reading.
We mentioned Flipboard not just because the concepts are similar, but because the look of BlinkFeed has more than a passing resemblance to Flipboard, with rectangular blocks that open up to show the story you press.
News and topic services can be added to BlinkFeed, but these are quite limited.
In fact, in Australia, your selection of sources can include AAP, NYFP, news.com.au, Lifehacker, Bang Showbiz, HitFix, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Kotaku, Tech Radar, and a few other sites we’ve never heard of.
Interestingly, there is no possible way (at least at the time of publishing) to add your own websites and news feeds to the system, meaning if you like reading a dose of GadgetGuy on your phone or maybe even a news source like ABC News, you can’t use BlinkFeed for this.
We did a little more looking into this and found that the whole BlinkFeed system appears to be managed from a different location, and even noticed that occasionally the news feeds were delayed on the weekend, with no “new” news coming in, even though the website had been updated.
You don’t just have to rely on news sources, though, as you can send your Twitter account, Facebook, LinkedIn, and calendar information to the rectangles that make up the BlinkFeed screen, with these often working better than the limited news service selection HTC has provided.
Also of note is that BlinkFeed will always be the left-most screen in your homescreen list. It doesn’t have to be your main homescreen, but it will always be there.
But wait, there’s more!
It would be doing HTC a disservice not to mention everything else packed in here, such as the slight changes to HTC’s Android overlay that make the main menu easy to read with a smaller grid (3×4), or for those people that like more icons, there’s a larger one too (4×5).
The inclusion of Beats Audio technology is still relevant, and HTC has doubled the speakers by throwing up two on the front of the device, both of which help to make this handset a portable audio factory, producing loads of sound, whether you’re jamming to tunes or switching the loudspeaker on during a phone call.
Used with headphones, the Beats sound has a little more “oomph,” which is more than just a heavier hitting bass, as the mids and highs are also affected.
We wish you could tweak the equaliser in Beats, compared with HTC’s switch of just “on” and “off,” but it does make you feel like you’re listening to a decent sound-space, and it works across any time you’re listening to audio, not just HTC’s music app, including Pandora, Google Play Music, and even YouTube.
HTC has also improved its “Watch” video selection service, and now instead of merely having ten titles to choose from, there is a growing supply of titles you can rent and buy, in case the video section on Google Play doesn’t satisfy your needs.
A dedicated “car” mode shows big icons and a custom display which makes everything bigger and easier to read, including how to pick destinations in a GPS, music, and pretty much any app you normally use, helping anyone driving thanks to some good software design.
The on-screen keyboard is one of the better version we’ve come across, and with an improved version of HTC’s Swype-like “Path” trace-typing solution, writing quickly works a treat. It’s still not as good as what we’ve experienced in SwiftKey Flow, and it doesn’t always throw spaces in when it should, but we like it all the same.
And there’s even a TV remote control inside the phone, with the power button acting as both the hardware on-off switch for the HTC One and an infrared transmitter, which explains the colour of the button.
Provided you use a TV, home theatre system, or cable box at home, you can use the One as a remote, even going so far as to download an electronic program guide (EPG) with posters to each show.
Need to remember to watch something? Select the poster, check out the episodes that are coming up, and quickly throw a reminder into your calendar. It’s that simple.
If it sounds like we’re throwing praise all over this handset, it’s not far off, but there are aspects to the HTC One that could still do with some work.
HTC may have an edge when it comes to design, but there’s an area we disagree with, and that’s the soft buttons at the bottom on the front. While we applaud HTC for finally getting rid of that useless multitasking button, now the HTC logo sits in the centre, with the back button on the left and the home button on the right.
We’re probably not the only ones to think this, but this whole button placement feels silly. You want to press the centre to go home. Every single phone on the market has a home button near the centre, and forcing you to press just to the right of this is odd, and doesn’t feel right at all.
It probably doesn’t help that the soft buttons edge a little too close to the bottom of the touchscreen, and you may find that when clicking the back or the home button, you’re actually pressing something on-screen, especially if you have broader fingertips.
Another design flaw is the power button up top, which is a little difficult to get used to. While the iPhone has had this location for a while, on a big screen device like the HTC One, the top left is hard to get to, especially if you have smaller hands. We’re a little more into placing this on the side of the device like on the LG Optimus G, Samsung Galaxy S3, and Sony Xperia Z.
There’s also the problem of fixed memory. Like the HTC One X and XL from last year, you cannot upgrade the storage amount inside this handset. Sure, 32GB is no amount to sneeze at, but you only have about 25GB of that to work with.
We’re used to the iPhone offering us fixed sizes, and we’re pretty sure Apple won’t be budging on that policy any time soon, but we’re still not huge fans of fixed limits in storage on Android devices, especially when there are competing devices out there with microSD slots alongside storage sizes ranging from 16 and 32GB.
Without a doubt, this is HTC’s best smartphone yet, packing in so many features that will actually make you feel like you’re paying for a phone that has been crafted with a lot of thought.
From its excellent design to abundance of features, as well as it being a 4G device with battery life that makes it for more than a day, it’s hard not to be impressed with HTC’s achievement here.
It’s not perfect – nothing ever is – but it’s an easy recommendation, provided you’re willing to forgive a camera that probably should have a little more output resolution.