Our friends at Wireless Vision hooked us up with the HTC One (T-Mobile) and I’ve been putting it through its paces for the last few weeks. In Part One, I did a camera comparison between the One and the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5. In Part Two, I gave you 5 Tips and Tricks (including how to take a screenshot). Now, it’s time for the full review.
Overview and Specs
The HTC One is the flagship phone (and soon to be complete series, including a “Max” and “Mini” version) for HTC this year, after seeing its sales decline and lag far behind rivals Apple and Samsung. It’s indeed a cornerstone to their big comeback strategy. The One is machined from a single piece of aluminium and the end result is a gorgeous unibody design. I’m a huge fan of unibody devices, because they provide better strength and durability. Some may complain about the lack of of a removable battery or expandable storage as a result of no removable back cover, but it’s hardly a deal breaker.
HTC went the opposite direction of most manufacturers these days with the camera system on the new One, opting for a 4MP “Ultrapixel” camera instead of an 8MP+ shooter. The Ultrapixel concept is simple: fewer pixels in the image sensor, but each pixel is larger, allowing the camera to capture more light. This makes it particularly great for low-light shots without having to rely on the flash.
As for specs, the new One is no slouch. It packs a quad-core 1.7ghz Snapdragon 600 CPU, 2GB of RAM, all the 3G and 4G bands you could ever want for traveling worldwide, a solid 4.7-inch 1920 x 1080 LCD display (468 ppi), and an impressive set of front-facing stereo speakers called BoomSound, powered by HTC’s partnership with Beats by Dre. As you’d expect, it has all the usual high-end components under the hood: 802.11a/b/g/n and AC WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, DLNA, and an infrared blaster, which allow you to use the phone as a remote control for all your home theater components.
Industrial Design / Exterior
The new HTC One feels great in your hand, due in part to the convex curvature of the back of the phone. It has polished chamfered edges around the screen, not unlike the iPhone 5. Instead of locating the speakers on the back of the phone like most, HTC opted to put them on the front of the phone, one on top and one below the screen. At first glance, it looks a bit odd to see the speaker grills on the front. That oddity disappears though the first time you crank up the volume on your favorite tunes and the sound blasts back towards your face, instead of away from you. No more using your hands as a cup to reflect the sound back towards you.
If you’re switching to the One from an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy device, it may take you a bit to get used to the location of the Power (sleep/wake) button. It’s on the top left corner of the phone, as opposed to the the top right (iPhone) or right edge (Galaxy). The Volume Up / Down controls are also inverted from the other two, which you’ll find on the right side of the phone. The Power button also doubles as the IR blaster when you’re using the phone as a remote.
I can’t overstate the impressive design and high-quality feel of the HTC One. It’s easily on par with the top-quality industrial design of the iPhone 5, which many use as the standard.
While many top Android phones seem focused on breaking the 5-inch mark (or larger), the HTC One is content at 4.7-inches. It’s a good size. Since it uses capacative touch buttons navigation (Home and Back), that frees up a bit of screen real estate you might otherwise sacrifice like with the new Motorola Moto X, for example. The display is LCD technology, which isn’t exactly state of the art at this point, and some may complain about the lack of vibrancy in the colors it produces. From my experience, the whites are a bit yellow and the blacks are a bit grey, but only slightly. It’s something you wouldn’t notice unless you’re looking for it. Just a slight bump in contrast would likely fix it.
You’ll immediately notice the colors are more true to actual form, instead of leaning heavy on saturation (as with all of Samsung’s AMOLED displays). It’s razor sharp, boasting a 468ppi pixel density, beating out the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4. I might add, though, pixel density numbers over 300ppi are indiscernible to the human eye, so unless you get out a microscope, you aren’t going to notice a difference between the three aforementioned phones.
All in all, the display on the HTC One leaves little to be desired. It’s a great size, allowing you to easily use it with one hand, it produces accurate colors and tones, and it’s crystal clear. They’ve all but eliminated any gap between the cover glass and the actual display, making it feel as if you’re actually touching the objects on the screen. Well done, HTC.
The HTC One shreds any task you throw at it with blazing fast speed. Whether you’re browsing with multiple tabs in Chrome, streaming high-def video, or playing a graphics-intensive first-person shooter game from the Play Store, you’ll be hard pressed to see this phone ever come up for air. Even though the Snapdragon 600 chipset under the hood packs four cores, monitoring the CPU shows only two of the four cores at work. That helps save battery and leaves some of that horsepower for background processes and system tasks.
Just like any computer, the CPU and GPU aren’t the only components that control speed. The HTC One packs 2GB of DDR2 RAM, which makes it a breeze to jump from one app to another when you’re multitasking. If you leave an app for a while, you’re able to return to it instantaneously and pick up right where you left off. The hardware gets most of the credit here, but Android has made enormous progress in memory use and system resource management. Both the hardware and software work well together to give you a blazing fast experience.
When HTC first announced that the one would come with a 4MP “Ultrapixel” camera, I’ll be the first to admit, I was skeptical. I have a good amount of photography background, so I know a high-quality picture isn’t just about the number of megapixels you can cram into the sensor. In fact, the larger the pixels, the better. Apple did this with the iPhone, which is often regarded as one of the best smartphone cameras on the market. HTC took a page from that book and went even more extreme; the backside-illuminated sensor packs 4 million pixels that are 2.0 µm (microns) each. The pixels on the Galaxy S4, on the other hand, are only 1.12 µm. These numbers alone may not mean much to you, but the results are absolutely noticeable.
If you’re using the camera on your phone to upload photos to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Instagram, you’ll never have any complaints about the lower number of pixels on the HTC One. The only time you’ll need something with more than 4MP is if you’re wanting to make physical prints of a photo larger than a 5×7 (at 300 dpi).
One more noteworthy feature about the HTC One camera hardware: it’s one of the few phones on the market to have Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). Many have Digital Image Stabilization, but that pales in comparison. OIS uses the device’s gyroscope and accelerometer to give you better stability when snapping handheld shots. From my experience with the One, it works quite well and produces noticeably sharper images.
As for camera software: HTC has added several camera features, the most useful (and promoted) of which is HTC Zoe, which contains several features. All Smiles, for example, lets you scroll back in time on individual faces to find the specific instant where the person was smiling. You can make these adjustments on up to 20 faces in a single photo, rolling back time on each one by a different amount until you have the perfect photo.
If someone photobombs you and your friends, you can use Object Removal to erase them from the photo. Zoe will (in the background) use the same time-shifting functionality it does with All Smiles in order to replace the background as it should be, so it’s as if the person or object was never there to begin with.
Additionally, Zoe will let you create sequenced action shots and overlay individual frames onto the same photo, which creates a unique effect (see below). I had trouble getting this feature to work as advertised, but that could just be an operator error on my part.
There are a few other software features included with Zoe, like Hollywood Effects, Slow Motion playback and Video Highlights, which I didn’t spend much time with. Personally, I don’t like spending a lot of time editing a photo, because I’m not trying to create blockbuster-style movies, just fun homemade movies.
Sense 5.0 and BlinkFeed
HTC went all out with a redesign of Sense, its “skin” for Android, and introduced Sense 5.0 with the new One series. The most notable and abrupt change from previous versions is the BlinkFeed home screen layer, which aggregates news and updates from your social networks all in one stream. Depending on how well you like to stay constantly connected, you’ll either love this feature or you won’t. I haven’t been able to find much about how BlinkFeed aggregates the new and social updates and chooses what to display, because they aren’t in perfect chronological order and it pulls from various different sources that you configure based on your interests and the social networks you’re on.
If you aren’t a fan of BlinkFeed, there’s good and bad news. The good: HTC lets you set BlinkFeed as an alternate home screen so when you press the Home button or power on your phone, it’s off to the side and not front and center. The bad news: without rooting your phone and flashing a custom ROM, there is no way to completely remove it. If you aren’t a fan, my advice would be to configure BlinkFeed to update as infrequently as possible and set it as a home screen you won’t ever see. It’s entirely about personal preference here, and I’m glad HTC at least gives a few options on this.
The rest of Sense 5.0 is solid. I appreciate a few of the added features they’ve included on top of stock Android 4.2, including configurable lock screen shortcuts. If you need to get the camera app open quickly, it can easily be activated with a single swipe from the lock screen, even without entering your PIN or unlock code.
With the new One, HTC has shown that it’s still very much alive and doing everything it can to fight its way back into the pockets of customers around the world. The One is a solid contender you could put up against any phone on the market right now. As with everything in this industry, you’ll make a decision about purchasing it based much on personal preferences. There is no right or wrong answer. The One packs a big punch in a slim and sleek package and is easily the kind of device you can leave home with and feel prepared for whatever comes your way.
Huge thanks to Wireless Vision for hooking us up with a review unit!
5 Tips and Tricks for the HTC One
Camera Test: HTC One vs. Galaxy S4 vs. iPhone 5
Unboxed: Hands On with the HTC One
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