Quality, well-built Android smartphones are hard to come by. Fortunately, HTC stepped in to add a real solution to this problem with the HTC One (Amazon), available for many carriers around the world ($199~ on-contract in the US). Not only that, but the thing looks great, with ergonomics in mind. How well does it work, though?
Note: For this review, I’ll be focusing on the Sprint version. Its main difference between the rest is that it doesn’t have an official update to Android 4.2.2, but is rather, still, on Android 4.1.2.
The HTC One is no slouch when it comes to performance, so in terms of specifications, it’s about as good as it currently gets.
- Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU @ 1.7GHz
- 2GB DDR2 RAM
- 32GB & 64GB capacities (no expandable storage)
- 2300mAh battery
- 4.7-inch 1080×1920 display (468 DPI)
- 4MP rear-facing “UltraPixel” camera, 1080p30 video recording
- 2.1MP front-facing camera
- Android 4.1.2 w/HTC Sense 5
Design & Hardware
The design of the HTC One is really where HTC wanted to differentiate themselves, moving away from the traditional plastic smartphone that most Android users are used to. The One features a full-metal body with a “zero gap” construction, with “tapered edges that offer a slim but satisfying grip.” This makes the One quite comfortable to hold with one hand. Speaking of one-handed operation, it’s actually not too difficult, however those with smaller hands might have a tough time. Compared to the Galaxy S4, it’s just a tad bit smaller in all areas, making it easier to hold.
Seeing that the phone has a full-metal body and a “zero gap” construction, the build quality is absolutely fantastic, with the phone feeling completely solid and well-built. Should you take care of your devices, you’ll be very happy with how well it was made and by how well it feels. I would personally get a case, since you’ll never know what would happen, should the phone be “accidentally” dropped onto the ground.
On a similar note, the weight of the phone is 143 grams. To me, the phone isn’t too heavy, but not too light either. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a bit of weight in the phone, as it makes yourself grip the phone a little better.
The design of the phone is fantastic, and is definitely quite the looker. On the front, you’ll find the 4.7-inch display, dual front-facing speakers (more on that in a bit), some sensors, the front-facing camera, and a few touch-based navigation buttons towards the bottom. Along the right side if the volume rocker, while the top has the 3.5mm headset jack and the power button, which doubles as an IR blaster for controlling a TV, for example. My only complaint about the power button is that there isn’t much in terms of travel, so you aren’t actually pushing the button down to much. Also, as this is the only way to turn the display on, it’s sometimes awkward to have to reach all the way for this button just to check for notifications, for example. At the bottom of the phone, you’ll find the USB port. You’ll find the micro-SIM slot on the left side of the phone.
On the back of the phone is the beautiful metal backing, 4MP rear-facing camera with an LED flash, and some branding.
To sum-up the build quality and design, it’s absolutely fantastic, and is by far the best looking (and operating!) Android smartphone that’s currently available.
While the display is slightly smaller than the Galaxy S4’s, the pixel density is noticeably higher, as the resolution of both displays is the same. This results in incredibly sharp text and images. Since you’ll be looking at this display quite a bit, you might often think to yourself how nice it actually is, even when outdoors in direct sunlight, as the display is actually useable, unlike with the Galaxy S4. Viewing angles are top-notch, and color saturation is as good as it should be. Sometimes, it’s almost as though there is a printed photo just sitting there on the screen. It’s really that good.
Speaker, Network, and Call Quality
One of the more stand-out features of the HTC One is its dual, front-facing, stereo speakers, dubbed “BoomSound” by HTC. HTC claims that this delivers sharper, richer and louder audio, and there really isn’t anything to dispute in this area. The speakers really are fantastic, sounding like nothing you’ve ever heard from a smartphone before. It makes you want to listen to audio through the speakers, rather than through headphones, which simply isn’t possible on any other smartphone.
Of note is the “Beats Audio” software integration. With it off, audio will be louder, but won’t sound nearly as good as with this feature on. With it on, however, audio will sound absolutely fantastic, almost providing you with a surround-sound-like experience that will make you want to use the speakers over dedicated headphones or a speaker system. The stock music player is the best I’ve used on any smartphone, and more on that is mentioned below in the Software & Features section.
Network performance and call quality will greatly vary, depending on your particular network provider. This particular HTC One is made for Sprint, and in San Antonio, TX, Sprint’s 4G LTE network isn’t anything to write home about, not the fault of the phone. Call quality, though, is just fine.
Software & Features
HTC Sense version 5, running on top of Android 4.1.2/4.2.2, is the best iteration of their Android overlay yet, being less intrusive than ever before. With it comes more user-friendly menu and more attractive designs. One major feature of Sense 5 is called BlinkFeed, bringing you a Flipboard-like pane to your homescreen filled with relevant weather information, news, and more. Unfortunately, this can’t be disabled, however you can make it a secondary page, so that hitting the home button won’t go to this. To be honest, I didn’t test this feature out at all, as it just wasn’t for me, and I imagine that others will be in the same situation. However, should you choose to use it, you’ll probably find it convenient and nice to have, rather than relying on third-party applications.
Another feature is the infrared blaster that’s built right into the power button. This allows you to control entertainment devices, such as a television, cable/satellite box, Blu-ray player, and more. The included app that controls those devices also features a TV guide and ways to find new or relevant shows that are currently being shown on TV through your television provider.
I spent a lot of time testing the BoomSound speakers with the stock music application. Of any Android device I’ve used, the stock music app is fantastic and easy to use. Unique to HTC’s app is something called the “Music Channel,” taking you to a visualizer to make listening to your music more fun. As an added bonus, Music Channel will often show lyrics for song on your display, similar to how Shazam’s LyricPlay works.
With some manufacturers going a bit too far with their Android overlays, including LG and more notably Samsung, HTC’s implementation really isn’t too bothersome. Visually, it maintains much of the Android experience. If you’d rather go with pure Android, plenty of custom ROMs are available, but if you’d rather take the more simple, direct route, HTC offers the One as a Google Edition smartphone, giving you a SIM-free, contract-free, stock Android smartphone. It’ll run you the full price of $599, though, but to many, they go the expensive route.
I’ve been quite impressed with the One’s performance. Applications load quickly, animations are smooth and snappy, and everything just works like a high-end smartphone in 2013 should. There really isn’t much else to say here.
Battery life is about average with other smartphones. I’ve never liked providing users with actual numbers, as several factors can make these vary for others, such as carrier signal strength, brightness, and much more. I’ll put it this way: the phone can easily get you through the day when using automatic brightness, leaving location services enabled, and using Wi-Fi where appropriate. Some of the activities included taking photos, uploading them over Sprint’s 4G LTE network, playing some games, checking email often, and listening to music using the front-facing BoomSound speakers.
Unfortunately, since there’s no back cover on the One, the battery isn’t removable. However, you can always purchase external battery packs or even battery cases to get you even more battery life.
When the One was first announced, I was disappointed to hear that the actual megapixel count on the rear-facing camera was just 4. This means that photos won’t look as good when zoomed in, as the actual size of the image is much smaller than on other smartphones (13MP on the Galaxy S4, 8MP on the iPhone 5, just to name a few). However, the actual photo quality is absolutely fantastic, especially in low-light situations, where the just-mentioned devices can’t even compare. You can find more technical information about the camera here. You’ll find some great sample shots and analysis from AnandTech here and here. The video recording experience is also a bit above that of the One’s competitors.
In today’s world, there are many smartphones to pick from, making a decision even harder for many consumers. I’ve used a number of smartphones, but was never as satisfied with others as I was with the HTC One. It’s simply a fun, fantastically-built smartphone with today’s latest and greatest in both hardware and software. Its worldwide availability and attention to detail make it the go-to Android phone that’s currently available. It’ll be interesting to see what HTC’s next move will be.