HTC One review

85/100

WhistleOut
19 July 2013

Design

Looking and holding the HTC One, you get the sense that the work this company has put into smartphones over the years has distilled into this device. There's something familiar about the HTC One; something very new at the same time, and little doubt that this is HTC's best phone yet.

It also looks like the phone that everyone has expected Apple to produce for sometime. The colour and feel of its aluminium chassis is exactly like an Apple Macbook Pro, which is very much a compliment. There is exquisite attention to detail here, with the way the edges are tapered and polished and the way the black LCD screen runs from edge to edge.

There is no question that the HTC One is an amazing looking phone, but we don't think it is an incredible feeling phone. The tapered edges still have a corner which sits uncomfortably when the phone is held for use. The weight seems slightly imbalanced, so that we always feel like we're about to drop the handset, which is probably due to the silky, slippery feel of the aluminium.

For all of the criticism leveled at Samsung for its plastic phones, the Galaxy S4 does have better ergonomics. It is also easier to turn on and off -- the power button on the HTC One is so nearly flush with the device that it is hard to find at times.

There are other elements of design that the HTC team are to be applauded for, though. Having two forward-facing speakers in stereo on the front of the phone is a stroke of genius. Likewise, HTC's navigation button placement is clever and unobtrusive, though it will take some getting used to if you're coming from a different smartphone.

Display

There are several elements of the HTC One that are unique to the phone: Beats Audio, the Zoe camera, HTC's Sense UI, but before we get to them, we want to first point you to the real hero of this release. The screen on the HTC One is superb.

HTC uses a 5-inch Super LCD2 panel for the One, and it is a stunner. Colours are fantastic and rich, including black, and with a 1080 x 1920 pixel screen, all text and images look sharp and clear. Next to the also-excellent Samsung Galaxy S4 display, the One is ahead by a nose, with more natural looking colours. Whites on the Samsung look a little yellow, even if other colours are a tad richer to the naked eye.

Sense UI

Key to HTC's success with its HTC range is its unique Sense user interface. This latest version is number 5, but rather than adding to its previous efforts, HTC has wiped the slate clean and started over. Sense 5 is minimal graphically, and condenses many of HTC's good ideas into a leaner-seeming UI.

It isn't really that much leaner in practice, though. There is still all of the personalisation options in the menus, many of which are overkill for most users, and with the addition of BlinkFeed, Sense 5 now has three home screens while most Android phones have two.

BlinkFeed is an interesting addition, though. In essence, it is a news aggregator; a one-stop shop for all of the latest bites of information which are relevant to you. You can plug into social media feeds, your latest photos and a number of well-known news sites categorised by topic.

You can't add your own custom news sources though, HTC vetoes all of the content streamed through BlinkFeed, which does limit its usefulness quite a lot. As a casual content snacking tool, it is fine; a great way to kill time while waiting for a train, but it won't replace an RSS tool like Feedly.

More annoying is that HTC doesn't have quick access controls for features central to everyday phone use. Most of its competitors now have toggles for Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and more, within a swipe of the main homescreen, but with Sense 5 you have to go digging into the menus to find these same options.

Camera

One of the headline features of the HTC One, and perhaps the most difficult to understand, is the camera in the phone. HTC use a lot of jargon in describing the camera and its virtues, referring to the image quality in 'Ultrapixels' and touting a new way to capture photos called 'Zoe Camera'.

Ultrapixels is key to what differentiates this camera from all of its competitors. In a raw pixel count, the One shoots 4-megapixel photos, while most competitors shoot 8-megapixels or more. But HTC says the pixels on its image sensors are bigger than on its competitors, and that these larger (ultra) pixels are better at collecting information (or light).

The Zoe Camera is fair less technical. Basically, this is a camera mode which shoots three-second videos at full photo resolution. This has a number of uses, for example, you can scroll through the video to find the best frame and save it as your favourite. Or, you can use editing tools to remove unwanted elements from the background of a photos, like people walking behind your subject.

If you use the Zoe feature a lot, your image gallery begins to look like a newspaper out of Harry Potter. It comes alive with movement, short bursts of memory, which is really very pleasing. Using Zoe does take extra time as the photographer though, so you may choose prefer speed of shooting over short videos in the long run.

Check out our camera showdown between the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4

Beats Audio

If you have seen adverts for the One, you will have seen the phone's dual front-facing stereo speakers, which are supposed to make your music sound better. In truth, these speakers still sound tinny and are pretty underwhelming, but this isn't the end of the story.

For the first time, HTC has included a dedicated audio processing chip in a phone alongside its Beats Audio software. This chip handles all sounds coming out of the phone, and when paired with a decent pair of headphones, the result is a noticeably better sound. Listening to the same source of audio, even compressed streaming music like Spotify, sounds better on the One than it does on another phone, like the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Performance

The HTC One represents numerous firsts for HTC, so it is fitting that it is also its most powerful phone to date. Packing a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 clocked at 1.7GHz with 2GB RAM, the One is a powerhouse, and unlike the Galaxy S4, this is power you can see.

The everyday performance of the One is first-class. Every element is extremely responsive, including usual performance drains like multitasking. Moving around the phone, switching apps and working in them all occurs without any processing pauses, which is quite an achievement for HTC.

Battery life could be better though -- something we suspect HTC discovered during its internal testing. In the notifications window there is a persistent reminder of a 'power saving' feature that you can't remove or turn-off, which is annoying, but ultimately is a feature you'll probably end up using.

During our tests we saw about 10-12 hours of comfortable use, 14-16 hours if we were conservative. This was enough for us to get home at the end of the day and back to the charger, but it wouldn't take use much heavier than ours for this to become a problem.

Overall

The HTC One is the company's best phone yet, with great performance and a few bonuses for photographers and music lovers. But its not without annoyances too, chiefly that it needs better power management or a bigger battery.

For as much as we like the way this phone looks, we don't think it feels very nice. The aluminium feels cold to touch, and the shape of the handset isn't particularly conducive to staying in your grip.

The upgrade to the HTC Sense UI is very welcome, with its sleek, clean new look and extra functionality. We wish there were easy access shortcuts to key settings, like connectivity, and that BlinkFeed were more customisable, but otherwise this is a great system to get to know.


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