This is it. The HTC One, the smartphone the Taiwanese gadget company is hoping can restore it to its former glory, before Samsung’s Galaxy S series ate its lunch. Not to be confused with last year’s One X or One S, the HTC One is a metal beauty running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and toting a full HD screen as well as an all-new type of mobile camera. Does it live up to the hype? We find out.
We always thought that HTC’s One X was cruelly overlooked - its beautiful curved unibody was far better looking than the cheapish Samsung Galaxy S3. HTC’s designers have excelled themselves again this year: the HTC One is gorgeous. A lovingly crafted metal slab almost identical in size to its predecessor, it’s cool to the touch, rock solid, and lies smoothly on a tablet, since the camera doesn’t jut out this time.
Those speaker grilles on the top and bottom hide one of the One’s secret weapons: phenomenal sound quality. We’ve simply never heard anything as loud or full from a mobile before - just try not to inflict your tunes on others on public transport. Then there’s the display: it’s sensational. Like the Sony Xperia Z’s panel, it’s a full HD 1920x1080 number that’s incredibly sharp - but it boasts wider viewing angles too.
The One’s chassis also packs in one more surprise: infra-red so you can boss your TV around. It figured out our Sony TV’s controls instantly, and we were up and about changing channels - we can’t wait to see where HTC takes TV integration in the future.
Android 4.1 itself is blazingly fast, courtesy of a quad-core 1.7GHz processor, and the HTC One chewed through all the latest games. Let’s talk about the “UltraPixel” camera though, as HTC’s tried to do something completely different with it. It’s a mere four megapixel sensor - compare that to the Xperia Z’s 13 - but here’s the twist: all the pixels collecting light inside it are much bigger than ever before. The result is an incredibly fast shutter speed (seriously) and lots of detail in images, even in low light situations where most camera phones fails miserably - we’re looking at you, BlackBerry Z10.
Frankly, the results are superb. The HTC One always delivered (though the low resolution makes zooming difficult), with crisp, noise free shots every bit as good as those from the Xperia Z, if not better. The one downside to this: you won’t be able to blow your snaps up to quite the same size as you would on the Xperia Z - but how often do you really print off your camera snaps anyway?
As cool as the HTC One looks, there are a few design flaws its creators should be kicking themselves over. HTC’s decision to remove one of the standard control buttons (the multi-tasking tab) to make way for its logo below the screen is an odd one that’ll surprise longtime Android users - instead, you double tap the home button to switch apps.
This, you get used to. More frustrating is HTC’s decision to plonk the power/lock button on top of a giant phone once again. Unless you’re an NBA player, you’ll struggle to reach this every time you use the HTC One one-handed. All it would take is HTC to admit that Samsung got it right with the Galaxy S3 by putting it on the side of the phone - instead, you’ll have to stretch, every single day.
As phenomenal, fast and app-packed as Android 4.1 is (Though the HTC One lacks 4.2, you can bet this will be first in line for an update), we’re also not sure HTC’s software improves on Google’s good work. For one, you’ll find HTC’s own browser and keyboard on-board by default, neither of which are very good. You’d do well to switch to Google Chrome and a keyboard like SwiftKey straight away.
The HTC One sports the company’s Sense 5 user interface - and it’s a big break from what came before. The standard homescreen for apps and widgets is to the side, and instead, you get what HTC is calling BlinkFeed, a steady, image heavy stream of news that you can tailor from lots of different websites in every conceivable category.
It’s a nice idea, but in practice, it’s no more helpful than installing a reader like the Pulse news app, Flipboard or Google Currents - especially since you can’t add your own RSS feeds, just publications that have partnered with HTC on it.
The same can be said for HTC’s Zoe social network, er, thing, which lets you share short three second video clips. No, you’re not wrong, Twitter’s six-second video sensation Vine will render this completely obsolete as soon as it hits Android - especially since HTC won’t store the Zoes you film permanently anyway, a decision that reveals a baffling lack of foresight on the company’s part.
Lastly, there’s the battery life: while there’s a bigger 2,300mAh battery inside the One than the charger in last year’s One X (1,800mAh), all those extra pixels it’s powering take their toll: we struggled to make it to 8pm on a charge, with emails flowing in, lots of web surfing and a few YouTube clips. That’s pretty par for the course these days, mind - if you want anything better, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and its giant battery are your only option.