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Friday, April 26, 2013

HTC One Reviews

The HTC One is in good company, going toe-to-toe with the other Android flagships that have been introduced so far this year, including the Sony Xperia Z, the LG Optimus G Pro, and, of course, theSamsung Galaxy S IV. The device, which will go for $200 with a new two-year contract, will be available on April 19 on Sprint and AT&T, with the T-Mobile launch coming soon after (it's a bit of a strike against the handset that it won't be released on Verizon, at least initially).

We won't bother trying to keep you in suspense over whether or not the One is a good smartphone, because with all the buzz that's been going around, you probably already know that it is. So let's cut to the chase and get down to the specifics.
: This review is for the U.S. Version of the HTC One. For our review of the international version,

Build and Design

Quite a bit of noise has been made about the design and aesthetics of the One, and with good reason. The unibody casing is made from aluminum, giving the device both a quality feel and a cool, futuristic look. The metallic body also fights fingerprints and smudges well, which is more than can be said for many other smartphones with shiny plastic finishes (or, in the case of the Sony Xperia Z, glass).

The phone has some heft to it, but not enough to make it feel uncomfortable in the user's hand. With a weight of 143 grams and a thickness of only 9.3 mm, it's still, in the grand scheme of things, a sleek phone. It has a nice shape to it too, as the back also has a slight curve to it, allowing the One to be cradled comfortably in the palm.

The ergonomics aren't perfect, however, as the One is a little too wide and too long. Being overwhelmed by the phone's size is to be expected given its 4.7-inch display, but we occasionally found ourselves struggling to reach from top to bottom or from one side of the phone to the other.

It was especially difficult to access the notifications menu, which requires you to pull down from the very top edge of the screen to see it, and push up from the very bottom to put it away, no exceptions. Reaching both extremes with one's thumb on a phone this large is uncomfortable; in some cases, we would have to slide the phone further up in our hand when we needed to swipe the menu away, just to avoid curling our thumb at such an uncomfortable angle. We took issue with this, given that accessing notifications is a relatively common task. Being inconvenienced by the phone's somewhat unwieldy size on a regular basis was not appealing.


The full HD display (1920 x 180) of the One blew us away. As we mentioned in our review of the international version of the One, it has an unprecedented pixel density of 469 ppi given that the only other full HD smartphones on the market today sport 5-inch displays; with the same resolution on a smaller screen, the density is greater on the One. While the difference may be difficult to discern with the naked eye, there's no questioning that it looks incredibly sharp.

The sheen from the Gorilla Glass 2 coating on the display is also a welcome feature, as is the remarkably wide viewing angle. In fact, just about everything we typically check for when evaluating displays passed muster and then some: color saturation was great, the contrast was sharp, and the brightness -- when cranked up as high as it can go -- is enough to make your eyes water.

Other Buttons and Ports

The power/standby switch of the One is situated on the left side of the top edge and, in a clever design choice, doubles as the smartphone's IR blaster. Though we don't mind the placement of the button itself, we do wish that it was raised a little more as it can be difficult to press at times. The only other feature on the top edge is the 3.5mm headphone jack.

On the right side, there is the stylish, lightly textured volume rocker, while the micro USB charging port (with MHL) is on the bottom edge. That just leaves the SIM card slot, which is found on the upper left side of the phone and requires a pin to pop open.

As part of HTC's "BoomSound" feature, the One also has dual front-facing speakers, which are located above and below the screen. Directly above the bottom speaker are the phone's capacitive navigation buttons. It's worth noting that there are only two, back and home, with HTC forgoing the menu button. Above the screen, directly to the right of the top speaker, is the phone's 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera.


Though a big part of HTC's imaging hype for the One surrounded Zoe, we would venture to say that the more impressive part is the actual hardware. Again, the reality is that much of what makes Zoe unique ultimately boils down to a series of gimmicky features that you're unlikely to use all that often despite how cool it is.

Meanwhile, the rear facing camera is much more likely to come in handy considering how well it works in low-light situations. Thanks to HTC's "Ultrapixel" technology, pictures featuring poorly lit environments come out much clearer and with far less noise than those taken by other smartphone cameras. The idea is that the larger the pixel, the more light they can capture, and the Ultrapixel camera on the One features 2.0 micrometer pixels, letting in 300% more light than the average 13-megapixel smartphone camera, or so HTC claims.

But while HTC hawks the Ultrapixel technology by maintaining that megapixels aren't everything -- and it's true, they're not -- they are something. And considering how the resolution of the One's camera is a modest 4 megapixels (obviously something HTC is going out of its way to not advertise, despite how much it claims that resolution isn't important), the crispness of the pictures it takes is somewhat lacking.

Battery Life

Considering everything the One has going for it (the large, high-res display, LTE, enhanced sound, BlinkFeed, etc.) you would think that it would be a battery-draining monster. Surprisingly, it's not. It may not offer the best battery life on the market today, but it's more than respectable.

We attempted to make our unit as energy-inefficient as possible by cranking up the display to maximum brightness, having BlinkFeed automatically update (even using data when Wi-Fi wasn't available), and keeping all of our push notifications on for email, Facebook, etc. Combined with regular usage -- admittedly, no texts, but a couple of phone calls and plenty of web browsing including some video streaming -- we were still able to squeeze just shy of two days out of a single charge.


The One is powered by a quad-core Snapdragon processor that clocks in at 1.7 GHz and is an absolute beast. Videos, games, and apps all ran exceptionally well, and we never ran into any sort of slowdown or lag. And despite how much there is to Sense 5 -- what with BlinkFeed, the modified UI, etc. -- the processor managed to keep the heavy modifications to the OS in check; there was never any noticeable dip in performance.

While a hiccup-free user experience is generally commonplace for all but the most poorly-equipped phones, it was especially impressive when using some of the phone's more hardware-intensive software, like HTC Zoe (the company's new imaging software). The photo editing and some of the capture modes would have surely put strain on a weaker processor, but the One's chip handled the tasks with aplomb.

In terms of hard numbers, Quadrant benchmarks put the One in the top three phones on the market today, alongside the Sony Xperia Z and the LG Optimus G Pro, which we mentioned in our international review. Benchmarks may not be terribly important, as these numbers aren't as indicative of performance as real life usage, but it still gives you an idea of how powerful it really is.

Also, here's hoping that all you storage junkies out there are AT&T subscribers, as the 64 GB version of the One will be exclusive to the carrier. Other networks will only be offering 16 GB and 32 GB versions of the phone.


The One is the first smartphone from HTC to run the new version of the company's UI, Sense 5. As such, there are some minor changes to the handset's Android 4.1.2 OS, like the ability to launch apps directly from the lock screen by dragging them from the toolbar and dropping them on the home screen. The grid size on the app screen can also be sized to either 3 x 4 or 4 x 5, and it has a different look to it with a tool bar with the settings, time, weather, etc. listed above the apps (also found above the BlinkFeed page). There were some preloaded apps on our unit as well, though most of it was throwaway content from Sprint. HTC did include universal remote/TV guide software, however, to accompany the One's IR blaster. After going through a quick and easy setup, we found that it worked quite well on both cable boxes and TVs.

Though Sense 5 generally means minor (and in many cases, aesthetic) changes to the handset's Android 4.1.2 OS, there are a couple of major additions, the first of which is BlinkFeed. HTC hyped up BlinkFeed considerably, and while it works well, it isn't entirely original. It seems childish of HTC to pretend that this is an original idea and doesn't scream "tiles" from the Windows Phone UI, in terms of both concept and aesthetic.

The page consists of an assortment of randomly sized tiles that display information from various websites and apps, all of which update regularly. Sound familiar? That's because it is. Admittedly, it is nice that once one of the tiles is tapped, the user can see the entire story without having to visit the actual webpage, and can then scroll from one story to the next by swiping left or right. But even that concept borrows heavily from Flipboard.

It may shamelessly ape other ideas, but BlinkFeed is definitely still a welcome addition to Sense. It offers a wealth of information at a glance, it's quick, and it can be set to update automatically over either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and data. That being said, there were occasionally some issues with the feed updating on the fly using a data connection; we often had to manually refresh because it wouldn't do it itself.

There are some other drawbacks to BlinkFeed, like the fact that it cannot be disabled, effectively ensuring that it takes up one of your home screens. Also, the selection of sources that can connect to the service is limited. Granted, most of what you'll likely need is there, including AP, Reuters, ESPN, and various tech sites (though we couldn't help but notice a severe lack of TechnologyGuide websites...). And in terms of apps, most of the useful ones are at your disposal too -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, TV, etc. -- but they're limited nonetheless.

The one other major addition to Sense 5 is the imaging software, HTC Zoe. Most of what makes Zoe unique revolves around the editing software, which has features like automatically generated highlight reels, the ability to remove people from photos, and the ability to compile elements from multiple shots into a single photo (e.g. creating a picture where everyone is smiling and nobody has their eyes closed). Zoe can also capture small clips of video before and after a photo is taken, which is useful for the highlight reel feature and just about nothing else.

And therein lies the rub with Zoe: most of its more "innovative" features are actually just gimmicky and are unlikely to come in handy for most people. Also, the handful of features that actually are useful are becoming more commonplace and popping up on flagship handsets; being able to selectively remove elements from photos, for example, can also be done on the Galaxy S IV. Zoe is fine, but given that the few useful aspects of it can also be found on other phones, it's hardly a selling point.


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