HTC has revealed its next big smartphone hope, the HTC One. It’s been a rough couple of months for HTC, following disappointing earnings calls despite the critical acclaim showered on the original HTC One series phones from last year. Can the simply-named HTC One turn the company’s fortunes around? We went hands on with the new Android smartphone at a preview event in London yesterday. Here are our initial thoughts, ahead of a full review in the coming weeks.
DesignThe HTC One, at first glance, sits somewhere between the iPhone 5 and BlackBerry Z10 in terms of industrial design. Packing in a stunning 4.7-inch 1080p display (468ppi), it ditches the polycarbonate body of the HTC One X in favour of a fully aluminium build, using a new manufacturing process that not only negates “death grip” issues in all-metal phones, but also allows for a seamless unibody build. It’s a tidy handset, comfortable in the hand thanks to its curved back, lightweight 143g build and thin profile, being only 4mm at its thinnest point and 9mm at its thickest.Under the hood sits a speedy 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor, backed by 2GB of RAM, with the phone shipping in 32GB and 64GB storage sizes. There’s no microSD expansion, but 25GB of free Dropbox cloud storage for two years is also part of the package. Both 4G and NFC capabilities are also included.A headphone jack sits on the top edge, alongside a power button sitting flush with the chassis that also doubles up as an IR pointer for controlling TVs, DVD players and other living room electronics. Two speakers sit on the front of the phone above and below the screen, with a chrome volume rocker on the right hand side. Only two capacitive touch buttons sit below the screen, one for back controls and one for home, ditching the “recent apps” buttons of last year’s One series.Though having a premium feel, the HTC One lacks the character of the HTC One X, which had almost 2001: A Space Odyssey stylings. Perhaps this more restrained design will have more universal appeal, but there is a slightly cookie-cutter feel to its build.
HTC Sense 5 and Blink Feed
One of the most obvious new additions popped into the HTC One is its Blink Feed. This is the default, immutable home screen that you’ll always be presented with when hitting the home button or firing up the phone for the first time. It’s basically a vertically-scrolling content aggregation feed, pulling in news and articles from sources you define, as well as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Calendar notifications. It’s not dissimilar to Flipboard, updating itself whenever you’re within range of a Wi-Fi zone with fresh content, or over 3G if you chose to allow it to do so. In a nice touch, Blink Feed will pop important, upcoming events (such as your next meeting) at the top of the feed, meaning you never lose sight of what’s coming up next.Swipe out of the Blink Feed and you’re presented with HTC’s more traditional, if newly-tweaked, HTC Sense 5 re-skinning of Android and the apps grid. Double tapping the home button brings up an active apps grid rather than the multitasking pane of the last iteration of Sense, while long-pressing the home button fires up Google Now. Small changes, like the ability to create folder within the apps tray, are also welcome. Overall, Sense 5 has a more minimalist feel to it than previous versions.
Beats audio has been one of HTC’s core marketing pushes in recent times, and looking to court that music-loving market even more is the new BoomSound speaker system. Essentially, this refers to the front-facing stereo speakers mentioned earlier. HTC have cut what they claim is the largest speaker chamber of any smartphone behind the speakers, as well as popping in an improved amp for what they believe is the best loudspeaker experience from a mobile. In practice, that’s a little difficult to discern right now. Indeed, the loudspeakers sounded great, but not significantly less tinny than any other smartphone speaker system we’d head.
When listening to songs, you’ll also have the option to pull in lyrics synced in real time with the music playing from the cloud, a feature that’s sure to delight karaoke lovers.
HTC have also put some thought into improving call quality with dual diaphragm mics and a clever noise cancellation system. As well as the higher-quality mics, the phone monitors ambient sound and adjusts the volume of the call so you can better hear the caller, while also tuning the frequencies of your voice sent back to the caller to deliver as much clarity as possible.
Ultrapixel Camera and Zoe shooting
HTC’s One X camera was superb, with its nifty burst shooting, tap-to-focus and quality HDR mode. The HTC One looks to go one better (pun intended) with the introduction of what HTC call “Ultrapixels”. In HTC’s mind, it’s not about chasing a higher megapixel count, but about the quality of those pixels. Or to be specific, their size; the HTC One camera captures shots using an Ultrapixel sensor, with ultrapixels being larger than standard pixels and allowing 200% more light into the sensor. This should result in better low-light performance and crisper shots, and our experience with the camera suggested this may be more than mere marketing spiel. Shots boasted beautiful colours and bold contrast levels.
The other big camera feature is the Zoe shooting mode, which can be seen as an extension of burst shooting modes. An option sitting within the regular camera menu, it captures not only a high-resolution still, but also capturing video from before and after the shutter press. It’s a great little feature, made all the more useful by the way the phone quickly churns out Zoe highlight reels, ready to be shared with friends online or exported as MPEG 4 videos. Watching your in-phone gallery come to life with not only stills but short videos too is like watching the paintings from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts castle.As well as the exciting new features, 1080p video recording and HDR photography are all also included. All in, HTC seem to have delivered on the pre-launch hype that surrounded the camera system.Initial Verdict
All in, HTC have what appears to be a winner on their hands. From the refinements in industrial design and software to the inclusion of Blink Feed and innovative camera features, there’s some top drawer stuff going on here. The problem may well prove to be timing – HTC are looking to launch the HTC One at some point in March, hitting stores at roughly the same time as Samsung are expected to unveil the Galaxy S4. Though it looks as though it can hold its own, without seeing whats on offer from Samsung it’s too early yet to say if HTC can sway the Android masses who have migrated from their stable to Samsung’s. Check back soon for our full, definitive verdict on the handset.
By Gerald Lynch | February 20th, 2013