HTC One Review
The mobile industry is moving at a breakneck pace with no signs of slowing down. However, with all these new advances, many well-established companies are struggling to keep up. The most notable recently has been Research in Motion, now re-branded as Blackberry. Before the advent of the iPhone, a Blackberry was the device to own, similar to how iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S line of devices are today. Unfortunately, Blackberry is not alone this year in the loser’s bracket. HTC has never quite been a household name, but us Sprint subscribers have seen many of their devices featured on store shelves. I have owned many of their devices, starting with the HTC Touch and just about every EVO device that has come out over the years. It is hard not to look at their newest HTC One and wonder if this is it for the company. With their numbers dwindling, the HTC One needs all the help it can get.
Given the device’s “age” at this point, you probably already know about the design of the One. HTC shot for the high-end smartphone market with this device and they more-or-less succeeded. Personal preferences aside, there is no denying the premium feel of the One. Smooth, curved aluminum around the back makes this device extremely comfortable to hold in the hand. I am particularly glad that they went with a 4.7” display, like last year’s One X (the EVO 4G LTE on Sprint), albeit with a full HD resolution rather than 720p. HTC’s screens have always been top notch and the legacy continues with the One.
The front of the device is also quite notable as the glass of the display stretches from the left edge all the way to the right edge. It makes the screen seem larger than it really is and makes for a very clean look. Along the bottom are your two navigation softkeys – Back and Home with an obligatory HTC logo in the middle. It is an odd choice to have gone with Back and Home, particularly since some developers have yet to integrate a Menu option in their apps causing that annoying Menu software key to pop up at times. There are certain “shortcuts” with these buttons to activate Google Now and access Recent Apps, but it may take a few days to really get used to the layout.
The glass is sandwiched between two speaker grills – your earpiece up top and a speaker on the bottom for your Boomsound effect. Ignoring the marketing behind it all, these stereo speakers are something that have been missing on so many devices in the past. While HTC was one of the first to encourage flipping your phone over during speakerphone calls, we now use our devices for media consumption more than phone calls. HTC made these forward facing speakers which allows for much greater volume as the sound, obviously, is coming at you rather than away from you. It seems very simple, but manufacturers have never really taken action on it. If you are the type to cup your hand around the back speaker to try to hear something on your phone, these “Boomsound” speakers will surely be a selling point.
The top of the device is where you will find your Power Button. This Power Button sits to the left, which is rather unfortunate. Samsung did it right the first time on the Galaxy S (Epic 4g on Sprint) with the power button on the side. While this button is not quite as annoying to press as a top-mounted power button on a larger device (i.e. Verizon’s DROID DNA), I would have preferred it at the very least on the right so my finger does not have to stretch quite as far (of course, this preference comes from a right-handed user). A nifty thing that HTC (and other manufacturers like Samsung and Sony) has done is integrate an IR Blaster into the Power Button so you are able to use the universal remote app in Sense 5 to control your compatible devices. It is a creative implementation and while I think it is faster/easier to use a dedicated remote control, it is a welcomed addition.
The left and right edges contain your standard volume rocker and SIM card tray - nothing terribly notable.
Another bullet point for the HTC One is the camera on the back. Without going into the nitty-gritty, HTC is trying to dispel the idea that more megapixels means a better camera. While this is true, it certainly is not doing the HTC One’s 4MP Ultrapixel camera any favors. Try as you might, consumers look for big numbers while shopping around, and the One’s camera may just be the thing that makes someone select a different device. That being said, the HTC One’s camera is very good. It definitely is not the best option for pixel-peepers, but for casual shots for documenting a funny moment or sharing on Facebook, it does the job very well. Some images may be more muted than you may want, but something like that can be corrected with various apps if needed. This does not excuse the camera for poor straight-out-of-camera images, but at least it is manageable.
The Ultrapixel branding simply means that you will be able to capture images in much darker scenes than competing cameras. I have often missed shots in the evening due to the lag that my phone has when trying to pop a flash and having a camera that performs quickly in low light is a relief. I admit that while I do not need the 13 megapixels of many other cameras, I sometimes feel like the shots could be crisper or more detailed with a higher resolution camera. I hope that if HTC gets the chance that they will keep their Ultrapixel sensor and add more resolution. That has the potential to be great.
HTC introduced us to Sense 5 at the unveiling of the One. Like iOS and TouchWiz, many were hoping for a totally revamped interface. HTC’s custom UI was a welcome addition back in Windows Mobile days, but when Android rolled around, Sense has been the target of much criticism. Ranging from battery draining to simply unusable, many people find fault with HTC’s interface. I am not a fan of Samsung’s TouchWiz, but I must say – TouchWiz is a lot easier to navigate than Sense 5. That is not to say that Sense 5 is unusable, no, it just has a slightly higher learning curve when coming from Sense 4 or 4+. You must figure out where some of these settings are or what they look like now as HTC has flattened the interface with new icons and menus. Despite this, I still believe that Sense is totally usable for the average person. Sense 4 and 4+ were equally as usable for me on the HTC EVO 4G LTE, and Sense 5 brings a fresh look to the old UI with its minimalist design language.
One major downside to Sense 5 for me is Blinkfeed. Straight out of the box, your initial homescreen is filled with news feeds from Blinkfeed (of course, after setting it up). This is useful for those who visit various news sites throughout the day and want to keep up with stories, but for people who do not care for that, you cannot truly get rid of Blinkfeed. HTC Sense has always had custom widgets that can be very helpful, but unfortunately Blinkfeed is not a mere widget. You can move Blinkfeed to another panel of your homescreen, though, so that you can have a more standard homescreen.
It seems like much of the One’s selling points are related to the camera. While not a hardware feature, HTC created another social networking program – Zoe. HTC seems to like creating proprietary features (such as Themes and App Store) which eventually get shut down. While I predict a similar fate for HTC’s Zoe sharing, it is a nice option available when taking pictures. The largest benefit is being able to record a short movie when a picture perfect moment presents itself and then scrubbing through the video to find the perfect moment. Whether that is a point where everyone is smiling or finding the best action shot, Zoe allows for shots that are otherwise difficult to grab. Beyond that, Zoe seems to simply be a me-too feature trying to attract Vine users. It is not useless, but it is also not a “system-seller”.
Just like last year’s EVO 4G LTE, HTC matches Samsung’s flagship almost spec for spec where it counts – processor and RAM. You get Qualcomm’s current generation Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor at 1.7GHz with 2GB of RAM. Last year’s Snapdragon S4 dual-cores paired with 1GB of RAM ran incredibly smoothly and that just means that the HTC One runs even better. It may be because of a revamped Sense UI, but the device runs without any notable hiccups. The only slowdowns I have issue with are the transitions that are merely there for eye-candy. Aside from raw performance, the new CPU also improves your battery endurance, despite being a quad-core processor. That is not to say the HTC One has amazing battery life – you only get 2300mAh built into the phone. But it also is not horrible. When it comes down to it, the HTC One has very good battery life which lasts me around a day to a day and a half, but depending on your usage on any particular day, you may or may not have to charge in the middle of the day.
The devices we are presented with this year seem to be much more differentiated than the phones last year. Even though brains are essentially the same, the HTC One and Samsung’s Galaxy S4 seem to be two totally different beasts. It will come down to what you value in your phone. Both are very excellent choices if you are looking for an Android device. I will not compare it with an iPhone 5, as that was a 2012 device, but it remains a solid option as well. But when it comes to Android, are you a power user who needs the expandability of the Galaxy S4, or are you more of a casual user who values the design and feel of the device? Once you consider which group you fall into, then the choice should be clear.
The HTC One’s premium hardware coupled with top-notch performance results in a device worthy to compete toe-to-toe with Apple and Samsung’s greatest. Sense 5 is a nice change from Sense 4+ released last year and new software features to take advantage of HTC’s Ultrapixel camera means users will be able to take the pictures they were hoping to get in almost any situation.
Power users may require stronger battery life or a replaceable battery, along with more storage. While well performing in low-light, the camera could benefit from high resolution. For those Android purists, Sense 5 may not be as “minimalistic” (read: non-existent) as they would like.