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?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.