HTC really, really needs the One to be a success. Their flagship One X of last year was nice on paper, but was plagued by a sub-par camera and software lag, not to mention lackluster and insufficient marketing. The new HTC One is truly different, though, even as the Galaxy S 4 is on its way out. The combination of new lofty camera claims, hardware that is undeniably beautiful and unique, and innovative features like BoomSound gets us excited about HTC’s future and their chance at getting back to financial health. Read on for our full review of the HTC One!
Video Review · Specs · Hardware · Comparisons · Sense 5 · Camera · Performance/Battery Life · Conclusion · Scored for Me
Disclosure to the reader: we tested the HTC One for 11 days.
The HTC One has Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.7GHz CPU backed up by 2GB of RAM (1.5GB of which is available to the user). Storage options come in at either 32 or 64GB (the 32GB model has 26GB user-accessible), and there is no way to expand storage. For wireless radios we have WiFi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, FM radio, aGPS, and NFC. The battery is 2300mAh and is non-removable. The glorious Super-LCD 3 display is 4.7″ at 1080p 1920×1080 resolution, granting it a density of 468PPI. We’re reviewing the international model which has support for UMTS 850/900/1800/1900. The One is available in black and silver.
Here she is. The HTC One looks truly different. The front glass panel is very resistant to smudges and fingerprints. The glass is flanked by the dual stereo amplified speakers (HTC calls it “BoomSound”), which are not only much louder than what’s on other phones, but more clear.
Here at the top we have the proximity sensor, the earpiece (which of course doubles as an external speaker), and the 2.1MP wide-angle front-facing camera. There’s also a notification LED behind the speaker grill which can blink either green or amber.
We were originally upset with HTC’s choice to include just two buttons. But after using the phone, it’s really not that big of a deal once you get used to it. It does seems strange, though, that the Home button isn’t centered. A tap and hold of the home button will bring up Google Now, and a double tap will bring up the multitask UI.
The spec sheet reveals that the One is a bit over 9mm thick, but only if you’re measuring the slope around the back. Like the Droid DNA (and many other phones these days), the edges of the One are what you feel in the hand…and those edges are a razor-thin 4mm.
The volume rocker has some nice detailing on it…kind of like an etched circular pattern.
The all-aluminum backing of the phone feels cool to the touch when you pick it up. That also means that it gets warm after a lot of use. The backing here is amazingly resistant to fingerprints and smudges.
The oversized lens contains HTC’s Ultrapixel camera, which is (for all intents and purposes) a 4MP sensor. More on the camera later in the review.
To lend some elegance to an otherwise brawny looking design, the HTC One, like the iPhone 5, has chamfered edges on the front and back. They catch the light nicely. You can also see here that the One does have some plastic: sandwiched between the top and bottom aluminum layer is a strip of white plastic.
On the bottom we have the off-center microUSB charging port and microphone hole. There’s another microphone on the back to help with noise cancellation and video recording.
Up top we have the power/standby button placed on the left (which is different for HTC). It contains an IR blaster, which we’ll talk about later. Also up here is the headphone jack.
The screen on the HTC One is incredible. It has fantastic contrast, excellent viewing angles, unbelievable clarity (at 468PPI, no wonder!), and the color accuracy is as good as, if not better than the iPhone 5. It’s a stunner.
For the pixel-obsessed, here’s a comparison of how the pixels look. Even at this very close distance, it’s quite difficult to see individual pixels on the HTC One. That’s what 468PPI will do!
HTC Sense 5
The problem with Sense before version 5 was that it detracted from the Android experience. It added unnecessary textures and reflections to icons and UI elements that didn’t need such complexity; it swapped the otherwise-adequate multitask UI for one that was 3D and slow; it was often slow and just cumbersome.
I set up HTC TV with my Samsung television, my Bose sound, and my Verizon FiOS cable box. It worked just fine to control the my television (power/volume, source, etc), but the other devices are hidden from sight because I use a universal remote to control everything else via RF.
The software could be a lot better. When you start the software for the first time, it asks you what shows you like and where you live, then asks about your components. Then it suggests shows for you…pressing on the shows image will take you to the right channel…but only sometimes. A lot of the time it would take me to the right SD channel, not HD. You can’t program the software to do macros (turn on TV, change source to HDMI 2, turn on receiver), which would be amazing. So, we think with some better software, HTC TV could be a real neat addition.
Granted, the One does do a valiant job at capturing an image in low-light. In fact, sometimes the One can see more light in a scene than our own eyes. It reminds us of the Lumia 920.
The images above are all taken in 2688×1520, or 4 megapixels. HTC claims that megapixels don’t matter, and that’s true, but only after a certain point. At 4MP, you cannot zoom in much because there’s not enough image data. If you were to view a photo on the Nexus 10 (which has a 2560×1600 display), you’re already at maximum resolution; again, you can’t zoom in. Megapixels do matter.
What gets us about the One’s camera is that, like with the One X, it’s been endlessly over-hyped by HTC. And so when we see shots like the above, expecting much better, we are sorely disappointed. It’s possible that with a software update, some of these issues can be fixed, but perhaps the Ultrapixel camera is just not ready for the limelight.
Zoe: When taking a still photo, you can check off the Zoe button, which will take a 6 second video, comprised of around 20 images. Why would you want that? Well, it’s an interesting way to capture memories, especially when you go back into the HTC One’s photo gallery and you see these Zoes animate. It’s a really neat way to relive an experience. Another cool part of Zoe is that you can scrub through all 20 images to find just the right image. This is helpful if someone closes their eyes by accident. The problem with Zoe is that if you have automatic upload turned on in the Dropbox app, you’ll get 20 images cluttering your feed every time you take a Zoe. HTC is working on a fix.
In day-to-day performance, the HTC One provides a lag-free, fast experience no matter what you’re doing. Whether you’re bouncing between apps, opening a folder, playing a game, typing an email, or browsing the web, the HTC One operates at a consistent and rapid pace. It’s very satisfying to use because it always keeps up, and that’s something we seldom get to say about a phone we review.
Here’s a look at how the HTC One performs in the benchmarks.
Geekbench 2: 2851
Battery life on the HTC One is no worse or no better than other flagships like the iPhone 5, Galaxy S III, or Lumia 920. With moderate to heavy use, you’ll get through a 12-14 hour day without needing a charge. If you’ll be out for a late night, you’ll definitely want to charge the phone, or else you might run out of power. The Qualcomm 600 chipset has Quick Charge 2.0 which is supposed to charge devices very quickly. The One must have this disabled because charging time from 0% to 100% is around two hours, which is average.
The One has a battery saver option that lives in your notification shade and cannot be removed. What’s interesting about battery saver is that it has very little perceptible impact on the experience….screen brightness is still adequate (though a bit dimmer), email stays updated, and the device doesn’t slow down (though we imagine that battery saver might underclock the CPU because benchmarks show worse results with battery saver on). So why not leave battery saver on at all times? We tried that and got 10-15% better battery life, so that might be a reasonable thing to do.
We tested the international version of the HTC One (we’ll have reviews for carrier-specific models) over AT&T HSPA+ and clocked down/up speeds of around 6/2Mbps.
WiFi performance was a bit above average in terms of range. Here at the office, other devices like the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III go down to one bar of WiFi reception if we walk down the hall to the elevator; the HTC One had two bars at the same spot.
- + Build quality is amazing
- + Design is unique, phone is well-weighted
- + BoomSound changes the way you use the phone
- + Display is unbelievably good
- + Snappy performance no matter what
- + Wide-angle front-facing camera is helpful with group shots
- + Silver version if very fingerprint resistant; always looks new
- + Sense 5 is minimal, useful, and beautiful
- + Camera low-light performance is great
- – Camera only takes 4MP shots, has inadequate color saturation and sharpness
- – Off-center Home button can be annoying
- – Phone is quite tall, difficult to use with one hand
- – BlinkFeed, HTC TV needs more options to be useful
You can buy the HTC One unlocked from a European retailer such as Clove for around $650. In the near future, the One should be available in LTE models across all four US carriers.
The HTC One deserves the highest score we’ve ever given a device. It’s just that good. It’s incredibly well built, well thought-out (down to ergonomics, fit and finish, and even many little software features that are unexpected and delightful), and satisfying to use no matter what you’re doing and how hard you’re pushing it. We were rough on the camera, but the truth is that it’s good…just not great (once again HTC has over-promised and under-delivered). For many, 4MP is enough, and while the images aren’t as sharp and saturated as we’d like, many will find the fantastic low-light performance to compensate for the other issues.
Of course, the Galaxy S 4 is on its way out. We can’t fully comment on how the One compares to it until we get one in for review. And compare them we shall! Until then, the HTC One just cannot be beat. Bravo, HTC.