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HTC One Review – the New King of Android Phones?

Published by on Apr 29th, 2013, 24 Comments

HTC One.Still003

It is no secret that HTC has been in some trouble in recent years, and their recent phones have been dwarfed in sales compared to companies like Samsung. The fact of the matter is that HTC does not have the marketing muscle of companies like Samsung and Apple, but their previous HTC One X was still amazing (and our favourite Android phone of 2012).

And here we have HTC’s latest flagship, this time around simply called the “One”. So does it have what it takes to become the best Android phone on the market?

Body

The HTC One is the best feeling phone I have held in years. It is as simple as that. While it is indeed big, it is still quite comfortable to use. It is basically reaching the limits of what you might say is a comfortable phone to use, and I suspect most people will use it with two hands. Despite its rounded back, it never feels slippery in your hand due to a few well placed ridges (the previous One X felt particularly slippery).

I have always been bothered by phones that just simply don’t feel like high end devices. The HTC One is a perfect example of what a flagship phone should feel like. The front and back is made of aluminium, and it really feels like a real upmarket phone. It has chamferred edges which contrast well with the matte steel finish. (There is also apparently a black version arriving soon.)

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The front is dominated by the big 4.7 inch display, and is flanked by two speaker grills. When the phone is in landscape mode, the speakers blast stereo sound towards you, instead of being muffled by your hands (simple idea right?). Inside the speaker grills you will find indicators that light up. These speakers are easily the loudest we have ever heard from any smartphone. HTC brands this sound as “BoomSound”. We don’t know if it has anything to do with their Beats partnership, but the sound is amazing.

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Connectivity wise you find only one MicroUSB connection on the bottom, and a headphone jack at the top. The power button is placed on the top, but actually houses an infrared blaster which can be used to control your AV equipment. Unfortunately there is no support for that in SA yet.

On the front you will find two soft touch buttons. One Home button on the right, and a back button on the left. HTC’s  insistence on buttons on the front might frustrate some people, but combined with Sense it works well enough.

Screen:

Just like its predecessor, the One has an amazing screen. Instead of using AMOLED like Samsung, HTC sticks to SuperLCD panels, which might not have the same “pop” and incredible contrast of OLED, but does give much more accurate colours.

The screen is a Full HD (that’s 1920 by 1080 pixels) display which somehow manages to fit in a 4.7 inch size. That means it carries a density of 468 pixels per inch. Read that again – 468 pixels! I simply could not discern single pixels on the display, and my eye sight is still good.

I tried out The Dark Knight in Full HD, and needless to say it looks incredible. This pixel density looks especially good in apps which use fine text. Something like Google Now looked very good at this pixel density.

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We have not played with the new Galaxy S4 for an extended period yet (we were at the launch on the 25th of April so got a quick run through), but the HTC One simply has the best display we have seen on any phone yet.

Software:

Overall I am not a fan of skins on Android, but HTC Sense 5.0 is actually a very well put together interface. HTC has done away with a lot of the 3D looking gradients, and replaced it with flat interfaces that are a lot more consistent with current Android interfaces.

HTC does offer a few enhancements over standard Android though. Blinkfeed is a new stream of news and social updates that becomes the new default screen on unlocking the device. While it does look nice in a Flipboard kind of way, I quickly removed it from the default view.

HTC is especially smart when it comes to setting up the phone. On powering up the phone for the first time, it gives you the option to quickly set up the phone from any web connected PC. Simply enter the displayed URL on any web browser, and quickly enter all the account details you use. So, if you have multiple online accounts and email addresses (and who does not), you have the option of quickly entering it in from a PC. Small thing, but it cut down setup time to a few minutes.

Another first setup feature I really appreciated was the ability to transfer your information from your old phone – and it doesn’t only have to be an Android phone. It has transfer skills for Nokia, BlackBerry, iPhone etc. Another small thing, but it shows HTC really cares about its users.

HTC’s history of supplying software updates has been less than stellar. But in the two weeks we had the One, we got two large updates already sent to the phone. Time will tell whether it will continue in future. The One’s kernel source code has been made public by HTC, so expect stock Android installs for the One soon. Good on HTC to enable this for the tinkerers…

Inside

Spec wise the One arrives with a quad core 1.7 GHz Qualcomm processor and 2GB RAM. This means it was pretty brisk with everything we threw at it. But, you do get the feeling most apps are not quite ready to harness this kind of processing power.

Games looked especially good, but we did some dropped frames in Real Racing 3. We have a feeling it has something to do with that massive resolution it has to drive.

HTC One.Still001

The One arrives with a big ol’ 2300MAh battery, which is nothing to sneeze at. During heavy use we had a tough time getting it to last a full day. But the great thing about Android is that you can tinker quite easily with background processes and per account sync, so we just played around. The notification drawer also has a very prominent “Power Save Mode” which worked well.

Many Samsung fans will point out that the One has a built in battery, and the Galaxy S4 has a removable battery. I have yet to meet someone who carries around extra internal batteries for their smartphone, so I am not bothered by this detail.

Camera

I have to applaud HTC for sidestepping the megapixel race and sticking an “Ultrapixel” camera in the HTC One. The camera is capped at 4MP of resolution, but the actual photosites are larger, meaning more light can be let in. This means that photos in near darkness look better than any other phone we have seen. Only the Nokia Lumia 920 comes close. Daylight photos look pretty average though. Overall we think the “ultrapixel” move is something we support. But dim witted spec junkies might gloss over the larger photosites aspect. Their loss.

Zoe is the new camera software that allows you to shoot Vine like few second videos. HTC markets this as a more memorable way of recording events, which I have to agree with. But part of this feature is the ability to quickly select the best shot from a short video. This means capturing that split second moment is a lot easier.

And one small detail – HTC has done away with the silly camera “bump” which was found on the One X. This time it is neatly recessed into that beautiful casing.

Video Review:

Rating – 9.5 / 10

This is the first time I have used an Android phone that actually felt like a premium product. Well done to HTC for finally paying attention to this level of design detail.

Overall there is little to find fault with when it comes to the One. HTC Sense might irritate some Android purists, but they are surely in the minority. Those types of users will surely stick to the Google Nexus 4, which you will have a tough time finding in SA. The overall level of polish and attention to detail with the HTC One is simply head and shoulders above its nearest competitors.

Highly recommended. This is simply the best Android phone ever made. Bring it on, Samsung.

Comments

  • Theunis Jansen van Rensburg

    I want One.

  • http://twitter.com/Andy_Gilder Andy Gilder

    Any ideas on whether we can preorder from any of the carriers? have tried Vodacom but had no response and Cell C simply says ” sometime in June, we think.”

  • http://www.gennath.za.net/ JC (Gennath)

    Great review. I was all S4 all the way, but a review like this can’t help but sway me a bit more towards HTC. My current phone is an HTC Sensation, and apart from it needing a more memory and processing power, I’ve been very happy with it. Maybe I’ll stick to HTC after all, as the One solves the issues I mentioned.

  • kyle

    HTC is one of the most underrated smartphone brands around. I have a Desire S and its simply awesome. Don’t get why everyone goes on about Samsung being the best without giving HTC a try

  • http://www.facebook.com/thuto.motimedi1 Thuto Motimedi

    QUIETLY BRILLIANT….GOT AN HTC DESIRE N ITS WAY WAY BETTER THAN SAMSUNG….COOL STUFF…

  • http://twitter.com/JaunGuan Jaun Lombard

    Good phone…but good luck with service and updates!

  • Henry Van Der Fartenburp

    So over all the Apple-like hype that Samsung seems to get these days. Their phones are overpriced flimsy plastic devices which seem to just add to the Android fragmentation issue. This HTC phone looks pretty interesting, but until it’s been proven in the field I’ll stick with my Nexus 4 – It’s built quality is top class and it’s first with the system updates. Yeah, it’s a mission getting one in SA, but it runs rings around pretty much everything.

  • tom mason

    I have had this phone since last Thursday and I can tell you that is nothing short of amazing.

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    Nexus 4 still stays the best phone for Android purists, yes.

  • Theunis Jansen van Rensburg

    I’m hoping the One changes that. As you mentioned, the updates did come quickly already. If that is the case, the next Nexus will have to be brilliant!

  • Henry Van Der Fartenburp

    I wouldn’t consider myself a “purist”, more of a tinkerer. I have tried many different distros of Android, including some of the modded ROMS such as MIUI and Cyanogenmod on a few different phones. As interesting as they were, the whole concept of custom bootloaders and such automatically closes the modded ROMS off to most users. In SA we only see the tip of the iceberg in the Android ecosystem with Xiaomi and Meizu also being totally unknown here. In SA it’s Samsung or GTFO as far as Android goes, with the rest of the market being diluted by all of those cheap and nasty “me-too” devices. Hopefully the HTC One will help change that, but what we really need is for the Nexus range to be available on the SA Play store directly from Google at their relative prices. Problem is that the carriers who essentially rule the scene here would never allow that seeing as the Nexus 4 sells for $299 (R2600) and totally murders equivalent phones for 3 times that price.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1646736252 Jacques Steffen

    Pity HTC has no support system in South Africa – if your handset gives troubles, you are completely in the dark. Also, they are dead last when it comes to updates!
    HTC One or no Htc One – sorry HTC, it’s time for me to move on.

  • Theunis Jansen van Rensburg

    Amen brother. Regarding the carriers, all we need is an online store to import the devices for reasonable prices. The unlocked (international) versions will suffice on any of the carriers.

  • Henry Van Der Fartenburp

    You can get it on Kalahari, but they charge R6999 for it. Expansys also has it for a similar price. There are a bunch of folks selling them on Gumtree, but it’s russian roulette. Best option is to get a buddy to bring one in from overseas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/johan.burke Chris P. Bacon

    Not to mention they are bloody expensive … on contract they are easily R100 more per month than the equivalent Galaxy (comparing One X with S3 end of last year) … over a 24 month period that is actually quite a bit of moolah!

    The Desire range were absolutely spectacular and made me a fan for life, just a pity about the atrocious local support. Needless to say I have moved on and not looking back (much)

  • http://twitter.com/nicolevonvon Nicole von St Ange

    I have also been trying to find out. Vodacom told me 1 June. Cell C said they don’t stock HTC but will get back to me.

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    Massive stock shortages apparently. We have it on good authority for late May.

  • http://twitter.com/neo_acheron neo_acheron

    I imported an HTC One from the UK myself, and it is worth the hype… Delivers everywhere and then some. A shame that the only ads I see in all the network stores, is for the S4… Bigger marketing budget seem to bring in the sales, duh… No one cares about the product, why would they? Those ads are friggin awesome, so the phone should be as well.

    As for the people who complain about updates, do you see a Galaxy S2 or LG or Motorola with the latest Android software? Heck, even Apple stops releasing updates for their phones after it hit the second generation down. HTC has released all the source code for the Android kernel and the drivers, which allows anyone to update and compile Android specifically for the HTC One. Just leave it to the experts to bring us the latest and greatest of Android to our awesome phones!

  • free_2_the_dom

    I have been waiting for this phone for a while now. I can understand why the SP’s have not marketed this phone that much, they won’t do it unless they are guaranteed sales! Quite sad that this phone has been delayed ehre in SA. I will wait it out some more till June, otherwise I might get the iPhone 5

  • ZZ

    It seems the HTC One is the one, the swinging factor will be after sales service, updates etc. and availabilty. If not flip the coin between Sony Z and SG4.

  • http://twitter.com/JaunGuan Jaun Lombard

    Well yes…my S2 actually is running Jelly Bean…same version as your HTC and Its Touchwiz was updated to include multiwindow…something your HTC cant do…

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    Can you honestly say you use Multiwindow?

  • Theunis Jansen van Rensburg

    My thoughts exactly.

  • http://twitter.com/JaunGuan Jaun Lombard

    Yes actually I do! I also just answered neo’s comment to show he doesn’t actually know what he is saying! I love the HTC and the speakers. I watch series on my phone so will love to have multiwindow and the front speakers of the HTC! Both phones got something I want…sad day!

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