9.3SCORE 101

HTC One Review

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It may come across as soundbite-y, but it’s the truth: what HTC has achieved with the One would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago. The accomplishment is even more noteworthy for being from a company seemingly on the brink of corporate destitution, in a make-it-or-break-it scenario with its declining market share.

The only other company to date that’s been able to create smartphones with such attention to detail, using precision tools to create an unbroken shell, begins with an “A” and has been derided lately for its lack of innovation. HTC has picked up that slack, creating the smartphone to beat in early 2013. But with Samsung on the verge of releasing its most feature-filled device to date, can the Taiwanese upstart make a dent in the market it once owned so handily? Let’s take a look.

Specs

- Android 4.1.2 with Sense 5.0
- 4.7-inch 1920×1080 pixel SuperLCD3 display
- 1.7Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor
- 2GB RAM / 32GB internal storage
- 2300 mAh battery (non-removable)
- 4MP “UltraPixel” camera / 2MP wide-angle front camera
- 1080p video shooting / Zoe Share
- 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm
- 140 grams
- HSPA+ (3G) 850/1900/2100 Mhz, LTE (4G) 700/1700/2100 Mhz

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Design

Holding the HTC One is, at first, done with a degree of tenuousness. Its solid aluminum heft is smooth, almost slippery, and its elongated frame is unlike any you’ve seen before. Every facet of the phone’s design, from its rounded back to the sloping metal edges, feels deliberate, gifting it with an industrial artfulness that no HTC device — even the gorgeous One S —  had yet obtained.

The front of the phone, with its identical set of micro-drilled speaker holes and usually-placed capacitive navigation buttons, is immediately recognizable in its uniqueness, and that’s without turning the screen on. There are few interruptions around the side of the device, too: the microSIM slot is removed with a pin (included in the box) and the microUSB port, on the bottom, faces the “wrong” way to its LG and Samsung counterparts; the 3.5mm headphone jack on top is placed, in a subtle nod to off-centre symmetry, identically on top of the phone as the USB port is below it. The power button, edging the top left of the phone, acts as an IR blaster for the One’s Peel-powered television software.

On the back you find the Ultrapixel camera and LED flash, hemmed in by seamless white lines of polycarbonate, which act as antenna conduits for a phone that would otherwise cause signal attenuation from all its metal.

To say the HTC One is designed well, and cleanly, is an understatement. It is gorgeous, both for its numerous subtle touches and its grand reimagining of what an Android smartphone can look like. The Taiwanese manufacturer has proven its design mettle before, most recently with the Windows Phone 8X, but the One is something special, something utterly fearless. Not only does the phone feel wonderful in the hand but it feels as though it could withstand a bit of violence. Fashioned from a single piece of aluminum — the two metal fronds that border the display are the only independent joints — the One feels entirely secure. Indeed, compared to the creaky legacy of its plastic peers, the phone feels practically indestructible. Surely that isn’t the case, as metal dents and glass shatters, but after weeks of daily use the One looks practically new.

It’s also worth noting that the phone feels thinner than its 9.3mm thanks to a curved back that “dips” into your hand. Rounded edges and a relatively small bezel help retain a feeling of compactness despite its relatively large size. While the One doesn’t feel massive, it pushes the boundary of one-handed use and readjustment may cause it to slip from the hands, so be careful (or buy a case).

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Display

As I said in the Sony Xperia ZL review, the bump to 1080p from 720p is not as drastic as going from WVGA to HD, but there is no discounting the absolutely stunning colours, contrast and viewing angles of the HTC One’s Super LCD3 screen.

Subjectively, colours are extremely vibrant and black levels are deep and rich. Maximum brightness isn’t as high as on the HTC One X, making it slightly more difficult to see in direct sunlight than its predecessor, but the One makes up for it in its stunning clarity and well-balanced palette.

Considering it was only 33 months ago we were introduced to the term “retina display,” a number purported to be the pixel density at which humans can no longer tell apart individual pixels, the HTC One feels remarkably iterative. But in that evolution we see an improvement not only in the number of pixels on the screen, but more importantly the benchmarks — brightness, contrast, balance, accuracy  — that improve the user experience. At 468 pixels per inch, the HTC One obliterates that nominal limit set by Apple in 2010, and its touch responsiveness is nothing short of perfect.

HTC’s dominance in the LCD space will be tested more than ever this year. Whereas the PenTile-addled Galaxy S3 was clearly inferior to the HTC One X’s Super LCD2 display, the Galaxy S4′s 1080p Super AMOLED part is more accurately balanced than its predecessor, while retaining the perfect contrast that Samsung is famous for. The HTC One boasts a zero-gap panel, though, which makes the screen appear just below the glass. Its this paper-like thinness that gives the One its remarkable vividness.

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Performance

We’ll have to wait for the Samsung Galaxy S4 to say for certain, but right now the HTC One is the fastest Android phone on the market. I’ve been keenly aware of noting how much faster it feels than devices like the Nexus 4 or Xperia ZL, and outside benchmark results (which speak for themselves), HTC has clearly optimized Android 4.1.2 as much as humanly (or machinely) possible.

I’ve said before that Android has come to a point where, aside from a few errant apps that are poorly-coded or don’t take advantage of hardware acceleration, most phones feel performant enough. The HTC One, on the other hand, feels Formula One fast, with apps loading and resuming in fractions of seconds.

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The most important factor in determining the One’s superiority over the competition, aside from the quantitative benchmark results, is how fluid everything feels in real-world use. HTC has pared down Sense, its version of Android, to a fine dagger point, and while there are certainly outstanding issues in terms of design, as well as some vexing usability choices (more on that in the next section), it is the most fluid and enjoyable skin I’ve used to date.

 

Inside the HTC One is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC, which includes four Krait cores at 1.7Ghz, an Adreno 320 GPU clocked higher than the one found in the Nexus 4 and Xperia ZL, 2GB of DDR2 RAM and 32GB of non-removable internal storage. HTC has graciously partitioned the storage correctly, making all of it available to both apps and media. The lack of a microSD card will certainly vex some users, but in keeping with HTC’s mantra of simplicity not having to deal with external media, from a file system perspective, is glorious. The device can be used with a USB-OTG cable to access portable hard drives if the need arises.

Despite the 1080p native resolution, the Adreno 320 GPU never struggles to keep up with 3D games, and both the native browser (which supports Flash) and Chrome render pages very quickly. The phone also proved to be quite stable; to date I haven’t had issues with apps force closing or running poorly.

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Software

The HTC One runs Android 4.1.2 with Sense 5.0, bringing a host of new features to an-derided software experience. Improvements to Android, despite running nearly year-old software, goes far deeper than just a new launcher, though that’s where we’ll start.

Even before you interact with the launcher, HTC has dramatically improved the first-run experience. It’s clear the company is welcoming defectors from other camps, especially those coming from iPhones and Galaxy’s; there are wizards meant to make the transition from such devices, including the transfer of contacts and media files, easier for users new to Android. It’s touches like this that make me wish HTC had more market penetration than it does. Though you can go the traditional route and enter your Google credentials, if you choose to log into your HTC Account (which was either created when setting up your last HTC phone or from a previous install) you have the option of restoring contacts, icon placement and apps. If you choose to back up your files and settings to an HTC account, HTC will use a small amount of your free 25GB of Dropbox storage to store important files and settings.

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You can also use HTCSense.com to perform all of the necessary set-up and customization procedures, from selecting BlinkFeed content to downloading recommended apps, sound profiles and more. With touches like these peppered through the operating system, HTC is forgiven from burdening — and I mean that in the gentlest possible way — its flagship smartphone with nine month-old software.

Once inside the machine, you’d be excused for not realizing you’re using an Android device at all. BlinkFeed is the introduction to an image-heavy, content-focused Android workflow. An infinite vertical list of story, sourced from Twitter, Facebook and various RSS feeds, lends the One a sense of drowsy appness, as the service is but a glorified app. While interesting, and certainly unique, BlinkFeed fails to replace the app launcher but merely pushes it to the side. As a result, I’d encourage all One users to hold down on the home screen and set the second panel as the default, relegating BlinkFeed to a once-in-a-while destination, rather than a starting point.

BlinkFeed feels a lot like where smartphones are going, and for that reason should be a lot more useful than it is. But I realized quickly that it does nothing better than glancing quickly at Twitter, Facebook and Flipboard separately, and though it’s a consummate consolidator, my own workflow of entering and exiting individual apps feels far more natural. At the same time, I can see BlinkFeed being tremendously useful to new smartphone users, many of whom who couldn’t give a jot for apps.

HTC’s app drawer is also quite unique, replacing the stock Android experience with something at once instructive and vexing. With a 4×3 grid of icons by default, arranged in a custom assortment — with folder support, no less — the sight feels rather sparse. But you’ll soon discover, once it is filled up, that the drawer is meant to replace, not accompany, the Android home screen experience, as HTC wants you to focus your attention on BlinkFeed and, to a lesser extent, widgets. In the custom app drawer view, you can rearrange apps and place them into folders — there are a few prearranged for you — and apps that are added to the four-icon dock disappear from the list entirely. But a leopard can’t change its spots, and I couldn’t easily adjust to this new way of launching apps, so I changed the grid to an alphabetical 5×4 list and bumped up the number of home screens.
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The Taiwanese company’s elimination of a capacitive multitasking button was, too, a bold design choice, but it has caused a few problems. For instance, to access the multitasking menu you now double-tap on the home button. To activate search you hold it down. Because there is no capacitive menu button, it’s assumed that developers will integrate one into their apps, but that promise has not yet been realized across the Android ecosystem. As a result, some apps will insert a virtual menu button at the bottom of the screen, Facebook most notably among them, causing the keyboard to reposition above it and taking up much-needed space on the screen. More importantly, its presence is disruptive and unsightly, and in removing the multitasking button HTC has eliminated the only alternative way to utilize a button that many Android apps still rely on. Unfortunately.

The rest of Sense is free of such mess, and feels stately, clean and in many ways superior to the now-cluttered mess that is Samsung’s TouchWiz. Granted, it’s not worlds better than any competitor, and I still far prefer stock Android, but it’ll do. More troubling is, based on how many underlying changes HTC has made to Android as a whole, it may be a long time until we see Android 4.2 on here, and by the time it comes a new version may be available to the Nexus 4. While sharing the code with year-old Nexus devices may appear to be a death knell, the HTC One still provides the vast majority of so-called “essential” core features like expandable notifications and Google Now. It also doesn’t feel slower than the Nexus 4 despite Google’s latest software gracing the LG-built handset. The issue is that Samsung is releasing the Galaxy S4 with Android 4.2.2, along with its lock screen widgets and other improvements.

The best thing I can say about Sense 5.0 is that it looks good, runs well and stays out of its own way. There is nothing egregious about its changes, and many of the first party apps like the People app, Calendar, Browser and others, are tastefully built upon the stock Android experience. The lock screen, in its minimalism, looks better than that of the Nexus 4 and the notification shade isn’t littered with ugly shortcut icons.

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Camera

Reasonably intelligent people have been tripped off by less dubious claims, but when HTC debuted the “Ultrapixel” camera with the One we knew, along with the company’s executives and marketing team, that education would be the most difficult part. See, we’ve been tricked to believe that higher numbers are inherently better – four cores are faster than two; more megapixels equate to better photos. This is, of course, bogus — or at least the answer is far more nuanced than it would appear.

The HTC One has a 4MP camera sensor with a maximum resolution of 2688×1520. Its photos are, therefore, half the physical size, both in resolution and, ultimately, marketing prowess, as devices like the iPhone 5, and certainly nowhere near the 13MP monsters of the Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia ZL.

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But HTC knows a great deal about imaging, and there is a good reason for the apparent backtrack. The Ultrapixel sensor boasts individual pixels of 2 microns which, compared to the 1.1 micron pixels on devices like the Galaxy S4, equates to 300% more light entering the sensor in a given photo. The resulting photos contain less detail when blown up to gargantuan sizes but are far less prone to distortion, noise and aberrations than the equivalent 8 or 13MP camera shooter.

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But a brave move like that couldn’t be backed up without a few more proverbial tricks up sleeves, and HTC is up to the task. Along with a more light-sensitive sensor, the company has added optical image stabilization to its rear camera, much like the mechanism found inside the Nokia Lumia 920, along with a wide-angle front-facing camera, excellent dual-membrane stereo microphones and astoundingly clear 1080p video.

Let’s start with photos themselves: this is the best low-light camera you can buy. It’s better than the Lumia 920 and leagues ahead of the iPhone 5. It’s so good, in fact, that I feel confident leaving at home my usual party companion, the Canon S95 point-and-shoot, because the One actually takes better photos in poor lighting conditions.

The HTC One also takes sharp, relatively detailed shots in situations with ample light, certainly as good as those found on the average high-end smartphone. The lack of resolution does dull the end result somewhat, especially when blown up to full size, but HTC is confident (as am I) that its phones are used more for rapid sharing of photos to Facebook, Twitter and the like than used as full-sized camera replacements.

The resulting smaller file sizes also allow for one of the most unique features to hit a smartphone this year: Zoe. Short for Zoetrope, the feature, when enabled, takes short bursts of video in addition to several photos. When viewed in the Gallery application, they appear as tiny vignettes of your daily life – think the front pages of newspapers in Harry Potter.

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Zoes also facilitate another of HTC’s brilliant sharing ideas: automatic movie creation. The One is smart enough to consolidate all the photos, videos and Zoes you’ve taken over the course of a day (or, if you want, longer) into a 30-second movie clip, replete with custom music, film filters and a title. These Highlight Videos can be shared to an accompanying social network (they’re MP4 files, rendered on the fly) or to HTC’s Zoe Share portal. You can see one I created from a few still photos and videos for this review.

The core camera app is also extremely user-friendly and fully customizable. While the default settings should be sufficient for most people, you can edit white balance, sensitivity, brightness, contrast, saturation and more, if you’re into tweaking. The f/2.0 lens can do some amazing things, and with an equivalent focal length of 28mm, and a 16:9 default frame, there is an epicness to photos you don’t find on other devices.

Macro shooting, too, is quite good, though it occasionally has trouble focusing at close distances, especially when there is little contrast to differentiate the fore and rear subjects.

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To add to the epicness are HDR modes, both in photos and video, and a sweep panorama mode, both of which are par for the course these days in high-end Android devices. HTC’s implementation of HDR is subtle and effective, and since the shutter is already so quick it takes three shots in quicker succession than many devices take one. Panorama mode, too, is easy to master and the results are quite lovely.

Transitioning to video, the HTC One excels in that department, too. Whereas the optical image stabilization works well for taking still shots while on the go, it really comes into its own when shooting video. Results are stupefying in their clarity, arguably better than the incumbent champion, the Lumia 920. The phone can also shoot 720p video at 60fps and VGA video at 120fps, used with an optional slow-motion algorithm that is a lot of fun to play with. HD videos are shot at 20Mbps using the excellent .h264 codec, and are stored as .MP4 files. Optical image stabilization doesn’t seem to be as effective as on the Lumia 920, but the extra clarity makes up for it. Audio capture is superior, too, and 1080p video is smooth and judder-free.

Despite lacking a dedicated camera button, the HTC One outshines most of the competition in the imaging experience. While daylight photos lack the detail of an 8- or 13MP sensor, it stands up to devices like the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4 in that regard while utterly trouncing them in low-light situations.

HTC’s Gallery app is a joy to use, making it easy to upload photos and video to Facebook, Flickr and other social networks – it even integrates friends’ photos from the two within the app, if desired – and Zoe is a stunningly simple feature that takes advantage of the 4MP sensor’s smaller file sizes to promote a truly mobile imaging culture.

If there’s one criticism to lob at HTC, it’s in its lack of foresight into Zoe’s interaction with apps like Dropbox, Google+ and other image backup services. To ensure true cross-platform compatibility, Zoes are saved as dozens of near-identical photos (with “-ZOE” at the end of each filename) that join together to be short snippets of video (and really, that’s all videos are). The problem is that while HTC’s Gallery app parses the combination without issue, Dropbox and Google+ see Zoes as long strings of photos and don’t discriminate when uploading them. This seriously disrupts your photo workflow by adding hundreds of junk photos to your list that must be manually deleted. There doesn’t seem to be a way to prevent this from happening, so my suggestion, until HTC addresses the issue, would be to disable all photo auto-upload services.

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Battery Life

The HTC One has a non-removable 2300mAh battery rated for around 17 hours of talk time and 20 days of standby. While that sounds pretty remarkable on paper, the key to all-day battery life from the HTC One, while possible, takes a bit of tweaking.

First let’s talk about whether or not the HTC One has decent battery life. The short answer is yes, it will most likely last you through the day ’til well past supper time. I rarely had an issue obtaining 15-18 hours of uptime from a single charge, and that’s with minimal tweaking. Certainly, turning off background updates from BlinkFeed helped somewhat, but the key to a long-lasting relationship with the gorgeous aluminum device in front of you is letting its superb Sleep Mode do its thing.

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Sleep Mode, as per HTC’s description, “automatically turns off data connection during long periods of inactivity.” This means that unlike Power Saver mode, the data connection is only severed after not using the phone for an extended period, and though that number isn’t specified, I rarely found it to impede my day-to-day usage of the phone.

Even with Sleep Mode turned off, the HTC One lasted well over 10 hours while connected to a LTE network and 12-15 when connected to HSPA+. Add a couple more hours to that tally if the majority of your day is spent on WiFi, and you’ve got yourself a workhorse.

The aforementioned Power Saver mode is available any time from the notification bar and has four settings: CPU Power, Display, Vibration and Data Connection. Power Saver itself is automatically enabled when your phone falls below 15% battery life, but it can either be turned off entirely, or individual tenets can merely be disabled.

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CPU Power clocks the SoC lower, much like the LG Optimus G boasts an Eco Mode. Due to the asynchronous nature of each Krait core, they’re capable of running independently, but with CPU Power checked off each one maxes out at 1.1Ghz rather than the default 1.7Ghz. Most functions of the device will not be drastically hindered by keeping this setting enabled all the time, but game frame rates and app loading times may dip slightly.

Display is another setting I’d recommend turning on full-time, as it lowers maximum screen brightness. One knock against the One is its tendency to set automatic brightness too high; while the screen is far more navigable in direct sunlight as a result, it hampers battery life when indoors. Merely enabling the Display portion of Power Saver lowers the maximum brightness a tad.

Data Connection does what is advertised: it disables the network connection whenever the screen is off. Unlike Stamina Mode found on the Sony Xperia ZL, HTC did not include a whitelist for this setting, making it far less useful than it otherwise could have been. Emails, IMs and push notifications are all suppressed until the screen is turned on, but the flipside is potentially huge battery savings.

Speaking to battery life, the inherent power-sipping nature of the 28nm Snapdragon 600 processor means that only one core is active unless the other three are required; so too does the baseband chip suck less power than on previous generations. I was initially worried about the HTC One’s relatively small internal battery, but my fears were assuaged after using it liberally for several weeks.

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Speaker Quality

There’s a lot of good here, and some bad, but let’s start positive, shall we? The so-called BoomSound speakers – two small enclosures behind a pair of micro-drilled grills – is astoundingly good. Like the One’s low-light camera performance, there isn’t another device on the market that can touch this device’s external speakers. They won’t fuel a dance party but they’ll certainly fill up a room.

More importantly, the speakers don’t clip or distort nearly as easily as the average Android smartphone. Indeed, it’s actually pleasant to listen to the One for more than a few minutes; music, especially content that doesn’t too heavily rely on low frequencies, for that part is still lacking on the One, sounds really warm and inviting.

And while most calls sound wonderful, both from the headpiece and external speakers, there were many occasions while using the HTC One that my recipients couldn’t hear me at all. A few times I chalked it up to a true bad connection, as those still happen occasionally, but for the most part it’s an easily-blocked microphone. Holding the phone consciously with my right thumb laid vertically along the right side of the device with my index along the back and middle/ring fingers loosely gripping the left side – in other words, like most people hold their phones – there was no issue. But even the slightest deviation from this position, even with the microphone not covered, it was difficult for my recipients to hear me.

This happened more than enough times to make it an aberration, especially since the remaining calls were so clear. It also goes to show that even a seemingly-sound industrial design contains a few bad choices along the way.

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Connectivity

The HTC One is available on Rogers, Bell, Virgin and TELUS with the same 3G and LTE bands. This is important to mention as a few upcoming phones are taking advantage of Rogers’ 2600Mhz LTE network.

I was able to hit speeds as high as 60Mbps on Rogers and 30Mbps on Virgin (which shares Bell’s network), which is not necessarily an indication of the former being faster but of the network having better service in my neighbourhood. The average upload speeds were between 6 and 30Mbps, again based on time of day or area.

More impressive (for their relative strength rather than sheer numbers) were the 3G speeds obtained on each network. With a less-strained DC-HSPA+ network, I was easily able to reach downlink speeds above 12Mbps on both Rogers and Virgin, though uplink speeds did not exceed 3Mbps on either one.

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Similarly impressive were the One’s WiFi speeds, as the device support the new wireless-ac spec up to 1300Mbps. Because I have one of the new Linksys EA6500 routers with compatibility for the new standard, network requests absolutely scream on the HTC One. It also supports NFC for one-touch connectivity to any number of terminals or accessories, and there is Miracast support for wireless screen mirroring with the HTC Media Link.

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The included IR blaster is also of note, as the included TV software allows you to program and control your entire home theatre system, from your television to receiver to cable box, with your phone. The software is as simple to set up as humanly possible – one tap per component – and you’re set. While it would be nice to have Apple TV control, it’s likely an impossible request.

And, to top it all off, the One has 32GB of internal storage, a number that should become the new standard for flagship devices in the industry. Given that the phone is $50 cheaper, at launch, than the 16GB Galaxy S4, it’s a veritably modern and future-safe smartphone.

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A few more notes

- The phone takes quite a while to charge: between three and four hours depending on the cable and into what input it is plugged.

- The power and volume buttons are recessed just a bit too much for my liking.

- The microUSB input is pointed – deliberately or otherwise – in the opposite direction to most consumer docks and external chargers. While annoying, it’s certainly not a big deal.

- Beats Audio, despite being prominently featured on the back of the device, is still largely a marketing gimmick combined with a dynamic range-squashing equalizer. Best keep it off.

- Many of HTC’s first party apps such as Tasks, Car Mode, Flashlight, Weather and FM Radio, are holdovers from previous versions of Sense, but they’ve been spruced up and flattened here, and are still, along with Sony, among the industry’s best.

- The phone occasionally gets hot — uncomfortably so — on the back plate where the battery is located. While it only happened a handful of times while using the device, its metal construction is more prone to this than glass or plastic.

- The device has an unlockable bootloader through HTC’s Dev portal, though there are no custom ROMs currently available.

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Conclusion

The HTC One is currently the best smartphone on the market. It’s not perfect, and nor is the Android app ecosystem, but the combination of stunning design, prodigiously fast hardware, superbly-implemented software and keen focus on what’s important to the average customer makes it the best choice for most consumers.

There’s no question of whether the One is important to HTC, not just to its future share price but its philosophical hunt for relevance in this brutal smartphone industry. The company’s previous quest for redemption resulted in the One X, One S and One V, to this day the most capable cross-market Android play in recent memory. And that still wasn’t enough. It must be immensely discouraging for a relatively small company like HTC to be building some of the best technology,not just the best smartphones, in the world and be soundly passed over by the vast majority of the buying public.

The HTC One is without a doubt the most well-built and well-designed Android smartphone to date and it could still sell in fewer numbers than a mid-range Samsung Galaxy. This isn’t a repudiation of either company, nor am I baselessly rooting for the little guy; Samsung creates amazing products and deserves to be on top, but so does HTC. It’s concerning that possibly years from now there won’t be a company like HTC building beautiful devices like the One.

Coming back to the One itself, HTC made some vexing design choices, the invocation of a virtual menu button among them, but even when they fail they’re often brave and without comparison in the industry. The HTC One has the best screen, the coolest use of imaging and the highest-quality materials outside of Apple’s iPhone 5, and is well worth your consideration, if not your hard-earned money.

What Works

- Gorgeous 4.7-inch screen is unmatched in clarity, viewing angles and density

- Android 4.1.2 feels fresh and new in Sense 5.0

- The phone feels really fast, demonstrably more so than even the last generation’s best-in-class

- The Ultrapixel camera is perfect for most situations and is evenly-matched in most others

- HTC’s choice of materials feels like a challenge well met

- Amazing sound for a pair of phone speakers

- Surprisingly good battery life

What Needs Work

- The virtual menu button still crops up in too many apps, disrupting an otherwise-flawless software experience

- The included keyboard, while good, is nowhere near as accurate or easy to use as SwiftKey, Swype or any number of third-party keyboards

- Automatic brightness is set too high

- Calls are occasionally disrupted by a poorly-placed bottom microphone

- May be too tall for some users

- Battery is not removable and no expandable storage

- Backing gets hot after extended use

Final Score

OVERALL

9.3OVERALL SCORE

The HTC One is without a doubt the most well-built and well-designed Android smartphone to date, and though HTC made some vexing design choices, the invocation of a virtual menu button among them even when they fail they’re often brave and without comparison in the industry. The HTC One has the best screen, the coolest use of imaging and the highest-quality materials outside of Apple’s iPhone 5, and is well worth your consideration, if not your hard-earned money.

DETAILED BREAKDOWN

9.5
Design
8.8
Software
9.7
Display
8.9
Performance
9.8
Build Quality
8
Camera Quality
8.5
Connectivity
7.5
Battery Life
  • Jay

    Absolutely gorgeous phone, but locked bootloader=no-go. So disappointed.

    • robertottawa

      Go to htcdev website. HTC guides you to unlock it.

    • chris

      Giving the average user an unlocked bootloader is a bad idea.

    • Tai Nguyen

      yeah it just dones’ tmake sense to me either. i don’t even root my s3. i assum 99% of users don’t root their phone either. why this is such a big deal is beyond me.

    • S2556

      many people do root. I will not buy a phone that can not obtain root. I bought the S3 for that reason. you can do so much more with root access. I applaud HTC for providing an easy method to disable the locked bootloader. If they keep this up I will consider them next year when I upgrade. It was a shame discounting the HTC One X because of this reason.

    • trert

      When i used the sub routine protocol on the main boot sequence, you would be astounded by the perpetual code algorithms I’ve investigated! Routine De-fragmentation of the hard sub dialysis proves the best method, but don’t count on mass reflux reworking anytime soon!! LOL!!!!

    • S2556

      Lol that too

    • gameoholik

      Voting you down for your failure to read. The bootloader is unlockable at your behest.

      READ and stop regurgitating crap you read someone else post about an HTC phone years ago.

    • Zed

      To be fair, you’re both wrong and you’re both right. The bootloader, yes, it is unlocked. But if the previous One phones (S and X) are of any indication, it’s not S-Off. Only a couple of months ago, that was achieved by some loophole. And while having the bootloader unlocked is sufficient for installing ROMs, it still limits the stuff of features ROMs can add if you’re not S-Off, at best making ROMs installation more complicated.

    • mjolnirxz

      nobody seemed to have that problem with samsung though? while it is true that in the past htc phones can be s-off (to install Ubuntu for eg) sammy never even had that afaik

    • Tai Nguyen

      maybe he is another student hired by samsung to troll every review site and try to post sh1t to put the htc one down. everyone who has a brain know the htc one is the best smartphone and the iphone5 or galaxy s4 is sloppy second or sloppy third. there is no if and or but.

    • Tai Nguyen

      maybe he is another student hired by samsung to troll every review site and try to post sh1t to put the htc one down. everyone who has a brain know the htc one is the best smartphone and the iphone5 or galaxy s4 is sloppy second or sloppy third. there is no if and or but.

    • trert

      I’m voting you down for your failure to be hip and cool. Your behest to evaluate my chicken steak sauce perpetually reverberating around your catastrophic analogies are reluctantly absurd in the highest regard.

    • Tai Nguyen

      i think it was a typo. you can unlock it.

  • Savbers

    ITS HERE, HTC ONE REVIEW. I ‘Gasmed a ‘lil. Not gonna lie.

    Anyhow, I want this phone… but I feel guilty having an only 4-month old Motorola. :P (with waay better battery life btw)

    Now HTC needs to advertise the living **** out of this phone. Really, make me feel like my Motorola isn’t good enough so that I can buy an HTC. Otherwise, I’m probably gonna save my money and that’s not good for anyone.

  • Accophox

    The sad thing is that it’s that HTC sucks at courting the developer community. “Features” like S-ON and a locked bootloader make me cringe. It may be a good… even great phone for normal users. But for people like me – this isn’t the phone you’re looking for. Move along. :(

    • MSined

      What non-Nexus phone is good for users like you?

    • Accophox

      If the rumors about what’s coming up in Motorola’s pipeline are true, I could go back to that. As “dated” and clunky as Motorola designs are, I’m still a fan of how they feel in my hand. I like the software on my Nexus 4. But the hardware? I don’t like that it’s got panes of glass on both the front and back. And the thing gets too warm when taxed.

    • Me OpenId

      any other Android not made by HTC

  • MrMarvelous

    One hell of a review but we still want a tangible number out of 10. Go.

    • gameoholik

      No we don’t. The detail in the review matters. Stupid numbers just give the fanboys ammunition to fight with. Make them read and they won’t bother.

  • TomsDisqusted

    I have the Nexus 4 and I don’t miss the menu button. (I’m more concerned about the lack of a multi-tasking button.)

    Also, I don’t see it’s use of 4.1 to be too big a problem. Google released 4.2 too early – it wasn’t ready and only became ready with the recent release of 4.2.2. So, the way I see it, 4.1 was pretty much the most recent version that HTC could have launched the One with.

  • HtChamsung

    everyones going to get the S4 because of all of its features. This has nothing in terms of consumer wow factor (besides the build quality).

    • Joe

      And that’s why samsung got caught for hiring students to slam the htc one…

    • Me OpenId

      you obviously have no clue of what you are talking about. HTC is doing the same thing, Samsung just got caught, that the only difference.

    • Tai Nguyen

      are you a student hired by sammy? sound like it.

    • mjolnirxz

      Innocent until proven guilty, that’s our judicial system. Whether HTC is actually doing it or not I do not know, but I dont think so; they have nowhere near the amount of spare change Samsung has.

    • Derek Pulla

      Joe’s comment is naive and ignorant.

    • Tai Nguyen

      no it is true as reported by many reviewers site. samsung got caught cheating.

    • Tai Nguyen

      yawn, another student hired by samsung to post false information. the htc one sh1t on the s4 in every categories. you can’t tell the differences between ta 1.7GHz and 1.9Ghz snapdragon 600 CPU, but you sure can tell the different in build quality, material quality, look, beautiful sense UI, ultrapixel low light camera, boomsound speaker, zoe, blinkfeed……….look at the other side….s4, plastic, sh1t low light camera, ugly touchwiz, gimmicky features only teenagers would think it is cool.

    • Darth Paton

      The S4 is merely an overhyped phone with a so so build and a crapload of near useless features. Thanks, but HTC wins this round.

  • jo

    Actually, there are several roms already available for the international one and have been proven to be compatible with the Att variant which should be the same as the Canadian one.

  • Zed

    Biggest pain I have is the position of the power button. Simply hate it. Besides that, as long as the battery works for me, seems like a beast.

    • Mia

      Does it only affect lefties? Or….?

  • Evayo

    4mp camera? Guess I’ll get the GS4

    • Zed

      Lol. You know what? You should

    • mjolnirxz

      your comment just shows how ignorant you are in regards to camera optics; mp count is not everything to picture quality.

    • Evayo

      When the size of your photos matter it does, you ignorant f$#%

    • robertottawa

      What about clarity and quality? I never really had to print a billboard.

    • Derek Pulla

      Too bad the s4 camera destroys the htc one shooter in every head to head test then right?

    • mjolnirxz

      Except it doesn’t. While the One is at an disadvantage in outdoors/well lit scenarios due to the inherent smaller mp count, it outshines every other smartphone camera (save for the 920) in indoors and low light situations. I highly recommend you google a bit more reviews (AT comes to mind) regarding camera optics if the smartphone camera matters that much to you.

    • Avalain

      I really recommend the Anandtech review. He really gets down into the gritty details.

    • Tai Nguyen

      don’t see it. oversatured day light pic, yes. sharper, no.
      low light, the htc one destroy the s4.
      shutter spead, the htc one destroy the s4.
      field of view, the htc one destroy the s4.
      front camera with wide angle lense, htc one destroy the s4
      zoe, htc one destroy all s4 gimmicky camera features.

    • Avalain

      When the size of your photos actually matters you should be using an SLR. Don’t use your cell phone camera for pictures you need to make posters out of.

    • Tai Nguyen

      what you gonna do with 13MB size photo? print 4×6 and post on instagram? LOLOLOLOL

    • Evayo

      It’s funny how you’re all still commenting on this O_o. Gotta love the fan boys

    • Tai Nguyen

      wow the ignorant troll.

  • Monji

    What’s with the pink spot in the middle of the camera pictures?

  • P C

    “But even the slightest deviation from this position, even with the microphone not covered, it was difficult for my recipients to hear me.”

    This is a pretty big issue, no?

    • Me OpenId

      it is a major issue, but I guess they got a free phone so …

  • Me OpenId

    This phone is no match for the S4. Is it the end for HTC ?

    • Stephen

      yep

    • Tai Nguyen

      we shall see. hahaha so far i know nobody buying s4 except those that has zero taste and fell from samsung marketing hype.

  • zms-235@hotmail.com

    So Canada isn’t getting the black version? :(

  • Jk

    HTC 1 or S4???

    • mjolnirxz

      One for the build and camera imo

    • zms-235@hotmail.com

      One because it’s the ONE!

    • Stephen

      S4 for features, removable battery, expandable memory, bigger battery, bigger screen, smaller phone, no gimmicky Beats and a much better reliability rating.

      HTC if you want your phone broken within a year because of poor quality control

    • mjolnirxz

      Removable battery and SD-card expansion depends on the usage model, and opinions on whether it is a pro or con is debatable. I quite like the unibody design, which with a removable battery is not possible, and I dont mind carrying the battery bar. Since JB apps can no longer be installed on external storage, just something to keep in mind. AMOLED and LCD screens have their ups and downs too, so again its up to the preference of the user, but a slightly smaller screen could spell better single charge battery life. Beats is just a software sound profile and can be disabled; there are many better sound enhancing apps on the Play Store. However, the One has a dedicated sound amp. Wheres the hard proof for QC issues? I have used the Hero, Desire, Nexus 1, Sensation, and I never had to use my warranty.

    • Derek Pulla

      It is over for htc. Pump the phone all you want, it will not sell anything close to the s4

    • Dimitri

      I wonder how many trolls from Samsung come here & troll us. Do you guys get paid a lot of money for posting all this? Did Shamesung send you a cheque or cash?

    • Tai Nguyen

      clearly you are a student hired by samsung to troll this site. i can tell this right away. LOL just get outta here troll.

    • Derek Pulla

      You come across as an uneducated fool. Perhaps get a better grasp of the English language before hurling insults like an attention-starved child.

  • mjolnirxz

    One S has the AWS band by default, but I dont think the HTC one has AWS HSPA, only AWS LTE.

  • Mythos88

    It’s HTC’s best for sure but you got one thing wrong.

    “Let’s start with photos themselves: this is the best low-light camera you can buy. It’s better than the Lumia 920 and leagues ahead of the iPhone 5″
    I have read the results of several shootouts between the Lumia 920 and the HTC One and hte Lumia 920 handily won every one.

    • Tai Nguyen

      no it didn’t. where you read that? the htc one can produce on par sharpness in low light as the 920 (proven by anandtech review, go read it for your reference, but the color is more real. the 920 colors are way off. not only that, the htc one take picture way faster than the 920 in low light situation. what this means in the real world is say you take picture of someone moving, your daughter, or you have shaky hand, chance is 90% of time the shot you took with the 920 is going to suck. what htc one does is consistency and that is a big deal.

    • Avalain

      I just wanted to add that that the preview on the One in low light is also better than the Lumia (as in, the screen will actually show something before you shoot). Of course, this does nothing for the actual picture but it does make it easier to take the picture in the first place.

    • mjolnirxz

      I would say they are on par with each other, trading blows at different scenarios. There are more in-depth reviews if you google

  • Chris

    nice review, so pumped to pick this up tomorrow – funny you had problem with the mic placement, i didn’t hear that issue raised in the umpteenth other reviews I’ve read but good to know all the same (and I’m left handed :)

  • grantdude

    I want one so bad.

  • Derek Pulla

    The s4 camera slaughters the htc 1. Go to gsmarena where you can see 11 page reviews on both phones. Software, screen, camera, benchmarks, the s4 dominates the htc one. Htc has the better build quality, but that is it. This phone is doa.

    • Stephen

      Don’t tell the HTC nerds that, their bandwagon needs all it can get

    • Tai Nguyen

      just wow. doa, yeah that is why samsung hired student to troll and post negative review about the htc one. also samsung is internal worry about build quality of the next note 3. go read it troll.

      gsmarena, you believe the bs they post there? just look at the s4 night shot (claimed as no flash) and tell me that blue hint is not a shot with flash on. totally fake.

    • Derek Pulla

      The guy with 10 posts or more in this article calls me a troll hahaha. Now gsmarena are liars and apparently working for Samsung? Hilarious. Their review with real facts say it all. Lets see who sells what.

  • Avalain

    No. No it doesn’t. I’m really sad right now….half tempted to leave Wind for this :(.

  • Mr. Miyagi

    Wow… I just logged in to down vote your comment…

    • Stephen

      Weird, I just logged in to vote it up.

  • eberkund

    If only it had a microSD card slot, 32gb isn’t enough for me :(

    • Tai Nguyen

      get the 64GB then.

    • Avalain

      If only the 64GB was available in Canada. Not that I care, since 32gb is fine for me.

  • Tai Nguyen

    deal breaker? then the s4 is not for you either. test showed the s4 suck in web browsing battery test and the htc one last 25% longer in web browsing battery test. infact the HTC one even trump the note 2 and every other smartphone out there in this very important test. guess what most people do with their phone data, they browse the web. don’t believe me, check phonearena or gsmarena battery test. LOL

    why go through hassle of turn off your phone, take off the cover, replace battery (then you have the problem of charging two batteries) where you can just buy an external battery pack and have it always on and even more juice. replacable battery is just marketing bs from samsung and it simply brainwash people into buying their sh1t phone. I currenly own s3 and I never replace my battery. s3 battery get suck dry so fast each time i browse the web. if I have to guess, the s4 is goinig to suck in web browsing battery again and that’s why they need replaceable battery.

    don’t even get start on sd card. i never use it on my s3 either. what’s the point of sd card when you can’t install app on it. also 32GB htc one is cheaper than s4 16GB, internal storage is faster than sd card. so sounds like htc one is huge advantage here if you really know what you talking about instead of falling for those samsung marketing tactic. I admit i did fall for it when i bought my s3. never again.

  • SY C

    In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful phones that I’ve seen. HTC has always taken a different approach in their hardware and, for better or for worse, I’ve always enjoyed that. What worries me about this phone is its susceptibility to dents. I don’t even want to imagine dropping this phone without a case (and I really wouldn’t want to use a case on this phone, I would want to enjoy its unadulterated beauty!). At least with a plastic phone, you don’t have to worry about dents and most body parts are relatively easy to replace. Once you dent this phone, it’s forever (or until you buy a new phone a year later, haha). First world problems, I guess :)

  • Tai Nguyen

    damn yeah, i wish HTC offer this with mobilicity and wind. would be a huge win for HTC if they do this.

  • jamaalism

    Most beautiful? Maybe if you have amnesia.

    Its elegant, no doubt, but not more beautiful than the Nokia 8800, iphone 4, and several other handsets of yore

  • Patrick

    @google-4fe009d213810b5d5ae64dfc89c0640f:disqus You’re clearly in favour of the HTC One. Fair enough, but there’s no need to berate everyone who disagrees with you. While I’m not here to discredit you for liking the One, you come across as biased and arrogant. Your method of calling anyone who disagrees with you a “hired samsung student” then pumping up HTC really raises some questions about your maturity.

    You claim that there’s no noticeable difference between the Snapdragon 600 clocked at 1.7Ghz and at 1.9Ghz. Synthetic benchmarks done by GSMArena show the Samsung Galaxy S4 beating the HTC One in almost all tests (Vellamo being the exception). Heck, even the LG Optimus G Pro beat the One in a few areas. Of course, remember that these are synthetic benchmarks and aren’t an indication of real world performance. I can say with confidence that you haven’t had hands-on experience with either device let alone both simultaneously for comparison.

    Yes, features like OIS for video capture and low-light camera performance are impressive. The still camera performance in good lighting is debatable however. I applaud HTC for doing something truly innovative but there are certainly drawbacks. The picture on the street corner that MobileSyrup posted is pretty awful and once again I reference the comparison on GSMArena. While it’s true that casual users will likely use their smartphones to post on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, to say that bigger photos are useless is quite ignorant. “Good enough” isn’t the motto of tech enthusiasts. Megapixel count, as many know, is a poor indicator of camera quality (I’m looking at you Sony). The truth of the matter is higher megapixel count has the potential for sharper images and greater clarity. Hopefully one day we’ll see HTC release a 13MP ultrapixel camera with OIS. I’m sure it would blow everything out of the water the way that the Nokia Pureview 808 did.

    I would say battery life is on par and since I do far more web browsing than calling, the extra 1 hour provided by the HTC One is much preferred. I was blown away by the amazing build quality of the One (I held a demo in store today) and, like Daniel from MobileSyrup, would be sad to see quality like this go in favour of Samsung’s usual cheap plastic. Once again, I haven’t seen the S4 yet so I’m only guessing. My 2-year old aluminum Macbook has taken a beating but still looks relatively new. From what I can discern from Anandtech’s review of the One, the build quality is even better. Speaker and call quality is expected to be quite good but I’m a little alarmed by the issues Daniel brought up. On-board and expandable memory comes down to preference and nowadays people are turning more to cloud-storage. 32GB plus 25GB Dropbox might do it for some. If Google brings back apps2sd in Key Lime Pie, some might turn to expandable storage.

    I’ve been in the market for a new phone for quite a while now. Admittedly I’ve been a long-time Sony fanboy but after the disastrous Xperia X10 and the imperfect Z/ZL lineup I’m ready to jump ship. Sony definitely got the ergonomics right with the ZL. The compact size, textured backing, and intelligently located power button are spot-on. The HTC One is damn sturdy and shows design innovation but the on-top power button combined with the slippery backing hurts the ergonomics. The S4 seems to be the powerhouse but the build quality will likely be questionable. There are trade-offs with every phone. Whichever phone has the best trade-offs is the best phone for you, not everyone.

  • Chade Salame

    Hey guys!
    So this phone is pretty amazing, I checked it out at one of the stores yesterday and WOW. The two things that immediately stood out was the stunning display (sooo crisp) and the beautiful aluminum body (it feels like an expensive device). So anyways, I’m stuck between the HTC One and the Galaxy S4. Currently I’m with iPhone but decided I want to change things up. Which one do you guys think I should go for? Should I wait out for the S4?

    Another thing, my friend is with Rogers while I am with Telus. He’s in the same boat as me and is probably going to go with the S4 so I asked him how much do you have to pay? He told me that he can just renew his contract (he just renewed it a year ago) and get the phone for however much it is on a three year contract (this is with Rogers). So given that, I was completely shocked. Does Rogers actually allow that? To upgrade your existing three contract without any penalty or extension of your current contract?

    With Telus, the only thing I can do is 1) buy out my contract, 2) pay off my “phone balance” and start a new three year, or 3) just buying out the phone.

    Long story short, my friend can pay anywhere from $150-$200 (depending on the phone) and he’ll have a new device and a new three year contract, whereas I will be paying about $150-$200 plus my “device balance” (which is about $300 right now).

    Does this make sense? Thanks for the input guys

  • Sérgio Santos

    great review!

  • stupid screen

    Didn’t even drop the phone and the screen cracked.. :( whats up with this.. Seriously .. So upset.

    Love the phone but the screen is crap.

  • Rob C

    Whether or not it will work on Wind/Mobilicity depends (according to their Sites) on you having “AWS, with bands 1700/2100″ supported in Hardware and enabled in Firmware (and, of course, not locked by any running Software).

    To ensure proper operation on every Band you want (with your Carrier) it is best to buy it from the Carrier you want it to work on. Switch Carriers to save money.

    I’ve seen 4 different HTC One Phones for sale in Canada (and they were all 32GB and silver colored). You need to buy from the Carrier that has the Phone with the Frequencies you want (now and in the future); and that is (probably) “AWS, with bands 1700/2100″ for LTE.

    There will be better Modems in a few months that will go twice as fast. You must always wait forever to get the ‘newest everything’, and then have nothing.

    I’m happy with my HTC One but there is talk of the S4′s prices dropping to beat it instead of being so much more expensive. We’ll see where the prices stabilize in a week or two.

  • Vclt

    Anyone having any issues with the home or back button not working all the time?

  • cr872190

    just ordered from telus. no indication of how long it would take to ship or deliver. is this normal????

  • Dimitri

    You can contact the carrier you are in which the warranty & send it in for anew battery. Very simple if you are in warranty. After warranty then its different. There must be a way to get into the phone to change the battery. I guess you need to take the screen out & all to do it.

  • Lloyd Cordero

    Seriously. The review is not a big relevance as to which is better than the other. Hence HTC or Samsung. Both are great devices great software great built, ill give the built to HTC. It really cones down to preference people. S4 or one ?.. for me a device that will suit my needs. Do you really buy a thing that will not or meet what you need? See it depends. Asks your selves what makes the one unique fro. The s4?. And what makes me, you or who ever unique that this device will suit to what we want and, or need when we use it. Its p to you. We can all analyzing these two power house devices all we want , it’ll just be a never ending story. Trust me. This is done so we can make a decision which one a consumer will have. Ultimate question and debate is within you. What is it going to be? S4? Or the one that has your name on it?..====

  • David

    Having the One after having the expandability of the S1, S2 and changeable battery, this really doesn’t make a difference in my opinion. I have yet to buy replacement batteries, and for the cost I’d rather replace my phone altogether instead of buying the battery.

    The expandable storage is a downer, but I’ll adapt. Instead of out of the box problems of my past Samsung’s, this thing feels like its complete. Its a ephemeral quality that’s rare but when you experience it, you realize what you’ve been missing.

  • John Von Mac

    S4′s features are so overwhelming so I decided to go with this phone. Love the design and specs!

  • michael raymond

    Super grate phone …best ever made…but gets hot to quick for my liking and should come with beats head phones lol

  • jason froats

    if this was on verizon I would get it!!!!

  • Mischaelle Keeling

    What about security?

  • Megan Duncan

    I just wanted to know if you can change the font on the new HTC one because I have the HTC one x and I can’t change the font on it

  • Greg

    Have had mine for almost 2 months and i’m McLovin’ it so far

  • Kabir Askari

    A good review, but poor benchmarks as compared to S4 and LG G2 and Z ultra, but does these banchmarks effect the real world performance , I mean how slow can it be ?

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