Name: HTC One
Type: Android Smartphone
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Price as reviewed: £519.99 SIM-free for 32GB model direct from HTC
It’s been a tough few months for HTC, but they’re firing on all cylinders with the superb new HTC One. Find out why it’s the new Android smartphone to beat in our full review!
The HTC One is truly a thing of beauty. With a full aluminium unibody build (displaying no visible joins), it measures 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm, and weighs 143 grams. It’s a solid construction that has a reassuringly weighty presence in the hand. Not that it’s overly heavy; though its weight and depth are both significantly bigger than the 7.6mm, 112g iPhone 5, the curved back design of the HTC One means that even with its large 4.7-inch screen it’s a comfortable smartphone to hold. The use of premium metals also gives it an edge over forthcoming rival the Samsung Galaxy S4, which by comparison is primarily made of plastics.Continuing the minimalist design ethos laid down by last year’s One Series HTC handsets, this year’s One sees the 4.7-inch screen bookended top and bottom by two aluminium strips, housing the HTC One’s BoomSound stereo speaker system and front facing cameras. Flip the phone over and you’ll see these strips wraparound with a white line detail, with the much-vaunted UltraPixel camera sitting near the top, a dark silver HTC logo in the centre and the Beats Audio logo down the bottom.HTC keep buttons and ports on the edge of the One to a minimum; there’s a chrome single-button volume rocker on the left hand side, a deftly hidden SIM-card tray on the right hand side, a microUSB charging port on the bottom and a 3.5mm headphone jack alongside the power button (which doubles up as an IR blaster) on the top. There are no physical buttons beneath the screen on the front either, with HTC dropping the multi-tasking touch-sensitive button from previous smartphone generations in favour of just touch-sensitive “Back” and “Home” buttons, each flanking a small HTC logo in the centre.The HTC One’s screen is breathtaking, a 4.7-inch display with a full HD 1080p resolution for a 468ppi resolution. That’s significantly sharper than the iPhone 5’s 326ppi, and even the forthcoming Galaxy S4’s 5-inch 441ppi screen. In terms of size, it’s spot-on for what we’d want from a larger handset too, avoiding the comical size of the Galaxy S4 and the overly-elongated stretch of the 4.8-inch iPhone 5. It’s a remarkably vibrant, colourful screen, avoiding the muted tones of the Nexus 4 and offering brightness levels high enough for comfortable viewing in strong daylight.Running the show is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor, a quad-core beast clocked at 1.7GHz and backed by 2GB of RAM. It’s a really zippy processor, powering some really impressive software features which we’ll detail a bit later. It also helps with the HTC One’s super-quick boot times; even from a full shutdown the handset powers up again in moments.Both 4G and NFC connectivity are onboard the HTC One (necessities these days if you’re pushing a top-tier phone), alongside standards such as Wi-Fi (802.11 a/ac/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0, GPS with GLONASS and DLNA. Miracast is also supported, as is MHL HDMI.
Storage options come in 32GB and 64GB variants, so no 16GB “entry-level” price point with the HTC One, nor is there any expandable storage beyond Cloud-based apps. Make sure you grab a size you won’t later regret.The HTC One houses a 2300mAh battery, which can’t be removed or swapped out for a back-up. While larger in capacity than its HTC One X predecessor, it still struggles to last out an entire day. If you’re simply pulling down emails and social networking notifications from the web it holds its charge well, but do anything more intensive, like 3D gaming or extensive use of the camera’s Zoe system (more on those in a bit) and it starts to really suffer. It’s far from being a deal breaker, but HTC are still a long way off from an all-day charge, let alone longer. On average use you’ll see a working day out of the HTC One, but keep that charger handy.
Interface, apps and BlinkFeed
Though the HTC One is running Android Jelly Bean 4.1.2, it’s almost unrecognisable thanks to the new Sense 5 overlay baked in. Though Android reskins usually cause eyebrows to raise, we’ve always been fans of the Sense UI, and there’s plenty to make us feel that Sense 5 is HTC’s best effort yet.
Offering a more minimalist interface (one that surprisingly calls to mind the LG Prada phone), you still have all the customisable bells and whistles of stock Android, with four homescreens you can populate with your choice of apps and widgets, which can be grabbed from the Google Play app store. Various lock-screens are available, specialising in everything from email to photo galleries, while long-presses on any homescreen give you the option to customise the experience. The app drawer now scrolls vertically rather than horizontally, while a static line of four app icons sits in a dock across all homescreens. These constant dock items can also be configured to your choosing. Notifications, battery life and connectivity settings can be seen at a glance from a bar along the top of the screen, which can be dragged down to tweak settings and delve deeper into the notifications you’ve been sent. It’s simple, clean, and a joy to use.An additional homescreen is dedicated to BlinkFeed, HTCs striking new content aggregation app that pulls in everything from blog posts and social networking feeds. It sits somewhere between the Flipboard app and Windows Phone’s Live Tiles, squeezing different sized boxes of information, updates and pictures into a vertically scrolling feed. It’s beautifully presented, but we have a few reservations.
Firstly, there’s no option for adding your own tailored sources, only the ones presented by HTC and their partners. While this covers a wide range of categories and interests, we’d still have preferred the option to import our own RSS feeds, like with Flipboard. Secondly, BlinkFeed isn’t very smart; what the content providers push out is what you get, which is a shame as the interface would have been doubly useful if it grew to know your interests over time. We’d also have liked the option to cache a few hours worth of BlinkFeed updates over Wi-Fi for viewing on the go, rather than having to rely on mobile data when out and about. But we’re being a little overly harsh on BlinkFeed; we found ourselves using it very often, and even took the option of switching off the lockscreen to see it immediately when waking up the phone. It’s a strong USP that really sets the HTC One software apart visually from the iPhone and Galaxy lines.
Contacts, Calling and Messaging
HTC have always known how to handle contacts and address books well, and the HTC One continues in that fine tradition. Upon setting up the phone, the HTC One pulls in contact information from not only your Google account and any imported contacts from a previous phone, but also offers the option of grabbing details from social networking pals too. These are then paired with high resolution images from Facebook, instantly and simply populating your phone with all your pals’ and associates’ relevant details and profile pictures. Swiping right to left on a contact card also presents each individual’s associated social networking updates (in a grid style similar to BlinkFeed) as well as any galleries they may have posted online. It’s a comprehensive contacts set up, and again is presented with great care.
Calling is handed equally deftly. For starters, there’s a Smart Dialler, letting you pull up a contact by tapping in their name or number using the T9 predictive text input, a feature that should really be standard on all smartphones these days. And call quality is outstanding too; noise reduction means that the recipient of your call can hear you even in the loudest of environments, whilst the inbuilt amp sensibly dialled up volume levels on our end when ambient noise made it necessary. Signal levels were consistently strong too, with not a single dropped call during testing.
SMS messaging is great on the HTC One thanks to the sizeable, accurate keyboard, that elsewhere intelligently adjusts itself dependant on what details are being inputted. Messages themselves are laid out again in a clean, simple interface, with text messages received boxed in white and justified to the right while messages you’ve sent appear to the left and in grey, all flowing in a conversation style view.Email is handled equally well, with messages on the same subject from the same contact grouped together rather than clogging your inbox up. A favourites folder can be set up to grab emails from VIPs, and a Smart Sync option intelligently pulls down emails only periodically, and when the phone is in use – great if you’ve got contacts who like to email you in the middle of the night and can’t be bothered with hearing mail notifications at ungodly hours.
The Gmail app is also pre-installed, which is a fantastic mobile build of the desktop variant. Gmail users will be totally at home labelling and starring emails and scrolling through long chains of messages from the same recipient. There’s also great search functionality built in, meaning you can easily dive into an inbox brimming with thousands of messages and pull out the one you’re after.
Media Playback and HTC TV
HTC have clearly set the HTC One up as something of a media powerhouse, and it’s something that you’ll be made starkly aware of as soon as you hear the chimes of the HTC One intro screen. Those front-facing BoomSound stereo speakers are LOUD, delivering accurate sound at volume levels you wouldn’t expect from a smartphone thanks to the nifty amp built in. While a sensible person will only use the (potentially annoying) loud speaker in moderation, that amp works wonders for boosting audio of connected headphones too.
The HTC Music app ditched SoundHound integration, but makes up for it with new visuals and lyrics pulled from the GraceNote database (providing your library of songs has accurate information tied to it). It’s a nice feature, particularly if you’ve a penchant for karaoke. Playback controls and album artwork are presented nicely too, and it’s a simple interface for ploughing through even the most vast of song libraries. There’s also Google Music pre-installed, handy if you’re pulling tracks from the cloud often.
Video playback is a mixed bag though, with battery drain a real killer and the default brightness setting low through the HTC Watch service. Audio had a tendency to fall out of sync too. But with a fair few codecs and formats supported (including the ubiquitous AVI), you’ll be fine if you nab another player from the Android store. Once you have, it’s a lovely, large screen to watch videos on. It’s a shame then that the default HTC Watch service proves such a chore.
One particularly interesting addition however is the HTC TV app. It uses the power button as an IR blaster and, once you’ve gone through a set-up process to pair the phone with your TV or home cinema kit, allows you to control playback, change channels and more from the handset. You can also browse a guide to see what’s on the TV, setting up favourites before seeing them presented as large thumbnails when they’re being broadcast. We had no problem syncing the app with a wide range of home cinema kit and broadcast services. HTC have done a really good job of localising the content for the app and attaching appropriate metadata, and it’s one of our favourite features on the phone.
Still Camera, Zoe videos
There’s much that’s been said of the HTC One camera system, and it’s certainly a progressive move by HTC. For starters, it’s “only” a 4MP sensor, but that’s tempered against the fact that each pixel is much larger and lets in far more light, which should result in far more detailed images. Dubbed the “Ultrapixel”, it performs particularly well in low-light scenarios, picking up detail that competing smartphone cameras can only dream of. The smaller 4MP images look stunning on the phone’s screen, but it’s worth noting that you’ll see an increase in noise and a loss in detail when blowing them up on a PC screen. They’re still pleasant to view however, and again the low-light performance really is marvellous. It’s worth noting too that the HTC One shoots in a 16:9 ratio rather than 4.3, which won’t be much of a concern to casual snappers, but is a bit at odds with the “pro” marketing of the phone’s imaging system. Again, it suits the size of the phone screen though.
Loading up and firing pictures incredibly quickly, the HTC One offers all sorts of manual controls, such as ISO levels, as well as a range of scene selections, filters and shooting options running the gamut from Sweep Panorama to HDR.The Zoe shooting features are most interesting however, accessed from a icon tap whilst in the camera mode. It captures 0.6 seconds of HD footage before you press the shutter button, alongside the 3 seconds that follow a still image being captured. These then come to life in the gallery view, adding motion to the normally static scroll of images. Capture a handful of Zoe shots over the course of the day and the HTC One will pull them together automatically in a 30 second highlight reel, adding date and location data if you’ve got geo-tagging enabled. It all looks great, but as you need to see the feature in motion to truly understand it, check out HTC’s launch vid below (Zoe is covered from the 24.15 mark):
You’ve little control over how these videos are presented though and Zoe shots quickly fill up the storage space on the phone. A Zoe Share Server is on offer if you want to offload some of the data to the cloud though, which is a prudent move on HTC’s behalf.
Is Zoe revolutionary? No, but it’s a lot of fun. Is the Ultrapixel camera revolutionary? Not quite, but it’s at least a match for what’s on offer from rivals, and given more time, could evolve into a real selling point for HTC phones. Even now though its performance is commendable.
HTC may be struggling at the moment, but the stars have really aligned with the HTC One. It’s a handset built to high construction standards and brimming with fresh software ideas and imaging innovations. It carries the weight of the company on its shoulders, and has done near everything it possibly could to reverse HTC’s fortunes, resulting in what’s one of, if not the best Android phone on the market at present. Can it withstand the threat of the Samsung Galaxy S4? On sheer build quality, features and spec-sheet numbers we’d say it’s got it trounced. Whether or not HTC can match the marketing might of Samsung to see the phone reach its true sales potential remains to be seen. Either way, we recommend the phone highly; if you’re on the market for a high-end Android phone, this is the one you want.
By Gerald Lynch | March 22nd, 2013