I only had three days to test the HTC One before I had to return it to HTC. But that time turned out to be more than enough for me to realize that it’s the best Android phone currently out there. In fact, the HTC One is exactly what the Android platform needed- a superbly designed handset with a gorgeous UI that is fast and fluid. Add to that a camera that is better than iPhone 5 and speakers that sound like nothing you’ve heard from a phone and you have, what I feel, not only the best Android phone but possibly the best mobile phone currently available. So if all you wanted to find out from this review was if the HTC One is for you, well, I’ve just saved you a few minutes of your life- go ahead and pre-order One right now. For the rest of us, read on.
The HTC One I received came in a small pizza box sized packaging and the unboxing video below shows you what was included although considering that this was not a retail model, there might be a few changes compared to what you will be able to pick up from a store or your telco.
What you will immediately notice about the HTC One is the construction quality of the device. It is superb and probably one of the finest I’ve seen on a mobile phone- this coming from someone that uses the iPhone 5 and has a Lumia 920. HTC has managed to create the entire back from Aluminium which generally causes reception issues, however, using smartly defined lines of plastic with a “zero gap” process, the HTC One manages to work without issues. I had it connected to du’s 4G/LTE network with no noticeably reception issues and signal strength was as good as any other LTE phone I’ve tested.
The curved back sits beautifully in your hand and at 143g, the device feels very solid although just a tad bit heavy. To keep the smooth lines flowing, HTC has kept that volume keys and the power button in the same line as the chassis and not protruding which, you might think makes them harder to locate and press but with a different feel to these buttons, they are easy to find and press. Besides the power key and volume keys, you have a micro USB port with MHL capabilities on the bottom and a 3.5mm audio jack on the top along with a micro-sim tray that pops out from the left side. The power button also acts as an IR blaster for HTC’s TV app but no channels or networks from the Middle Eastern countries are included in the app for now. I’ve been told to expect something in the next few months though.
Like most slabs, almost the entire front area of the HTC One is taken by a large piece of glass with two metal strips on either side. HTC equips these metal pieces with speakers that are labelled as BoomSound- and boy are they loud. On the top strip you also have a front camera and light sensor while a very visible notification LED sits behind the grill of the speaker. The back of the phone features the new four Ultrapixel camera along with a flash.
Below the screen have two capacitive buttons for home and back although for some weird reason, HTC chose to keep the home button on the right instead of centering it. My thumb naturally gravitates towards the center for the most basic function but all that’s present here is an HTC logo that doesn’t do anything. Ideally, the home button should have been located in the center with a menu key on the right. You can access the app-switcher by double tapping the home button while simply keeping it pressed brings up Google Now.
Besides looking gorgeous, the HTC One has all that it takes to compete against the high-end smartphones of today. The following table compare the specs with Samsung’s recently announced Galaxy S4 and the recently released Sony Xperia Z.
With such high-end specs, the performance of HTC One does not disappoint. The lag that is generally associated with Android is just not present here- yes, you do run into the occasional hiccup or two but that happens on every device I’ve tested including the iPhone 5 and the BlackBerry Z10. I ran Geekbench and Sunspider benchmarks on the HTC One and both turned out to be the fastest I’ve tested for any Android phone. The SunSpider test completed in 1045.6ms while the following graphs shows results from Geekbench.
Powering up the HTC One shows you another brilliant aspect of the device- the screen is simply gorgeous with a full HD resolution in a 4.7” size giving it a very high PPI of 469. I wasn’t wow-ed by the resolution in the same way I was with the iPhone’s retina display simply because the Sony Xperia Z with that same resolution had landed in our office a few days earlier. Had that not happened, I would have been equally amazed by the screen on the HTC One- it is surely better in quality than the Sony Xperia Z in viewing angles as well as usage under a bright sunlight with much better readability.
HTC has also updated their Sense UI to v5 which, compared to the flamboyant versions of the past, is a much more subtle and this works really well. I generally prefer the stock look of Android but I must say that with the tweaks that HTC has added, my Nexus 4 is looking a bit boring. For example, the contacts application on HTC works really well with aggregating and linking your contacts across different networks- it’s a bit like how the new BlackBerry Z10 works. One of my pet peeves with Google is the low-res contact photos in your GMail account and HTC has solved this by masking low-res pictures in a dotted effect that not only hides the poor quality but actually looks pretty cool. For your contacts with Google+ profiles and high-res pictures, the good quality images show up without this effect.
HTC One 2
One of the biggest features of Sense 5.0 is the BlinkFeed that pulls stories in a very flipboard kind of interface straight on your home screen. I liked the BlinkFeed and although it’s not customizable to add info from your sources, you can link your twitter account which could then pull data from sources you like to follow. You can also select categories you are interested in such as Business, Tech or Entertainment and pull a feeds from the partners HTC has signed up for those categories. I generally use twitter to stay up to date with news that I’m mostly interested in so BlinkFeed turned out to be a nice feature for all things non-essential but good to know. For those that aren’t too interested in BlinkFeed, you can move it to one of the other panels and have a more icons/widgets based home screen if you prefer- although there is no way to disable it from your home panels for now.
HTC One 3
Coming to the camera, the HTC One proved to be one of the best cameras I’ve tested on a mobile phone. It has a resolution of four “Ultrapixels”, but don’t let that number four fool you as you get better shots on the HTC One than most 13 megapixel cameras I’ve tested. Instead of counting the number of pixels, HTC is counting on the size and quality of these pixels which are about 300% bigger than your traditional megapixel. This allows the HTC One to provide a better quality shot- especially in low-light conditions. I tested the HTC One against the iPhone 5, the Sony Xperia Z as well as the Lumia 920 and it easily bested the iPhone and the Xperia Z. Here are some sample shots from the HTC One but come back later this week for a comparison with the phones we’ve mentioned above.
Besides the quality of photos, HTC has built in a very cool feature called Zoe that takes a few seconds of videos along with your pictures. Basically it’s a very fast burst rate shot but at full quality. The shots are tied together for a moving picture- if you’ve seen Harry Potter, you will know what I mean.
Another feature of the HTC One worth mentioning is the BoomSound. The speakers on the HTC One are LOUD- the loudest I’ve tested on any phone. I cranked up some songs in our office and everyone was shocked over the volume levels coming out of a phone. It was almost as though you had an external speaker connected. While the volume levels are high, the bass is a bit lacking on the HTC One so don’t expect it to take over your Libratone speaker but for a mobile phone, you’d be hard pressed to find something louder.
Wrapping things up, I really only had the HTC One for two full days to test the battery out. The first day was moderate usage and I had no issues getting to the end with some battery to spare. The usage involved taking some sample pictures and videos, calling, having GMail push email throughout the day as well as listening to some music. However, for most part of the day, I was indoors and connected to a WiFi network. The second day was much heavy in terms of usage as I was out and about the entire day at an event. On this day, I was connected through LTE the entire time, used the HTC One as a WiFi- hotspot for about ten minutes, took a lot of pictures and videos, had GMail pushing in and made quite a few calls. By 10PM, the HTC One’s battery was almost gone which is actually quite impressive. I’ve carried the iPhone 5 with me to such events before and have been luck to get past 8PM whereas my colleague’s Samsung Galaxy S3 was at the same level as the HTC One by the end of the day- and he was neither connected to LTE/4G.
If you’ve made it to the end of the review, you can tell that I really liked the HTC One. While Android has had some good phones, the level of premium attached to the iPhone has somewhat eluded it. The HTC One brings that to Android. It’s a phone that you feel like taking great care of- very much like you’d take care of an expensive watch. But along with that premium feel, you are also getting a product that performs faster than any phone currently available and with a camera that won’t make you miss your point and shoot. HTC has wisely chosen the name for their flagship product. It truly is The One.