If you're in the market for a new smartphone in the next few weeks, the HTC One will be just one of several massively impressive hero devices released by major brands - and you'll have a really fun decision on your hands. Here at the tail end of Winter in the year 2013 we've entered an age of quad-core mobile processors, wireless connectivity so diverse it'll make your head spin, and cameras on smartphones made much more powerful than your average point-and-shoot. So here we've got the HTC One, the best new hope for the company to revive the once (and perhaps future) glory they've cultivated in the Android universe. The HTC One may very well be your ticket to today's greatest smartphone package of all.
NOTE: Right here at the start it should be made clear that this review is not the end of our hands-on coverage with the HTC One - on the contrary: we want to provide you with every bit of information you, the reader, could possibly want on the device. Please feel free to ask any questions you might have and be sure to request every single kind of test run you'd like us to perform - we're here for you!
The HTC One is not the most massive device on the block - it's no Butterfly (more on this in the display section) - but it's also not the so-called Apple palm-sized "ideal" that so many swear by. Instead you've got a smartphone that'll feel substantial in your hand without requiring that you use your other hands' fingers to control it. You'll want to use two hands with the HTC One, but unless you're particularly petite, you won't absolutely need to.
It will be interesting to see how the accessory industry handles the HTC One for cases and device protection. HTC has already stepped forward with a set of odds and ends including some rather snappy looking stands and stand-up cases. Third party accessory creation will depend entirely on the first wave of impact of the HTC One on the market.
Right this minute, the HTC One is a beast - and though it may not look at first to be all that unique from afar, it is certainly beautiful up close and personal. HTC has pushed together a device that's as initially impressive as the HTC One X seemed to be inside a package that's perfected in metal. Your hands and eyes will be happy to experience the HTC One - and your ears will be blown away by the speakers - more on that with "BoomSound" in the Hardware Design section below.
With this device you'll find what HTC wants to present as their single greatest creation - CNC-centric manufacturing, metal where possible, plastic around the edges in all the right places, and an overall "one-ness", if you will. This device looks like Apple could have made it - place it next to your MacBook Pro and you'll instantly see how aluminum makes for a rather striking look, just as much as it feels high-quality.
The top of this device has a power button that doubles as an IR-blaster for controlling your TV set up on the left - it will take some getting used to, having worked with more Android devices in the past with the same button up in the right than the opposite in the past several years. The upper right has a headphone jack as well - enhanced by Beats audio and sounding just as fantastic through the included pair of earbuds as any smartphone we've yet experienced.
The right of the device has a metal volume button with a circular-ridged face that reminds one of the Motorola DROID RAZR family from these past few months - it's not an unwelcome addition to the HTC family, mind you, and it feels right at home with the aluminum body on the front and back of this machine. On the left of the device you'll find a tiny hole next to a pop-out SIM card tray - this is also becoming quite the common hardware feature across the board in the smartphone universe.
Down at the bottom you've got a microUSB port that's off-center - pushed to the right a bit for reasons we're not quite sure of at this point in time. Surely HTC will reveal their reasons sooner than later. For now we can assume that it's over there to keep one of two microphone holes company.
On the back you've got a single massive lens for the camera we've heard so very much about over the past few weeks. Here we've got the first implementation of what's called "Ultrapixel" technology right alongside a single LED flash. The lens circle is attached to one of two horizontal connecting lines of plastic that run through the back of the machine, up and to the right you'll also find a second of two microphone holes. The center back of this device has the HTC logo set in plastic for a rather top-quality feel whenever you're handling the device.
Beats rests at the bottom back of this machine in red and white, printed near the FCC and CE information along with the model number. Happily you'll find that this device's speakers are not back-facing as so many smartphones through our mobile history have been. Instead you'll turn to the front and - wham! There they are.
The front of this device takes the cake with a single pane of reinforced glass containing one of the most fantastic displays yet available on any type of device. With the HTC One you've got a display that's not just sharp - it's undeniably brilliant as well. We'll continue on with the display talk elsewhere in this review, mind you; don't want to get too lost in the brightness and the deepness of the blacks and all that right here and now.
Below the display you'll find two buttons - though it appears to have three. The HTC logo up front does not act as a button, it being a printed mark between the home and back buttons ready for Android-controlling action. The home button is set to the right, the back button to the left, and the center rendered useless. It does look pretty, but it's clear HTC is leaning towards a reality with no buttons at all in the future. Here we're being trained not to rely on the setup we're so used to.
Up top you've got a forward-facing camera that's mightily set to the right, a couple of sensors set to the left, and two forward-facing speakers acting like heroes up above and below. They're not up and down, mind you, they're at the top and bottom, facing forward as they very well should be. With these speakers you'll be blasting your face off whenever you're experiencing media, especially with the second audio brand the device offers: BoomSound.
Like Beats, HTC presents BoomSound as a brand that should be all means be associated with high quality through and execution in the audio department. Indeed we have found the sound to be right up and nearly over-the-top with excellence. It's not quite enough to be used as your own personal boombox at a party in your dorm, but it's certainly loud enough to blow away the competition. The only device we've heard with nearly this excellent a device-only sound experience has been the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 - another device with forward-facing speakers. That's really where they belong, after all.
With the HTC One's display you're working 1080 x 1920 pixels across 4.7-inches of LCD. It's the sharpest HTC device you'll find today at 468 PPI, just above the second-most dense display made by the manufacturer with the same 1080 x 1920 across 5-inches, that equaling out to be 440 PPI. For those of you upgrading from the HTC Rezound or HTC One X, you'll find that with 342 PPI and 312 PPI respectively, they just do not reach the eye-cracking greatness of this new generation.
Fun fact: the HTC One's display is now the most dense phone screen on the market, taking the place of both the HTC DROID DNA (aka the HTC J Butterfly), that being the 440 PPI listed above - the same former-top-place winning density belonged to the Sony Xperia Z, with the BlackBerry Z10 coming in right behind it with 355 PPI (and the HTC Rezound after that, mind you.) HTC One's display is easily the most impressive we've seen on a smartphone yet.
With the DROID DNA and the HTC One taking the lead in this department, we've found ourselves again wondering how it is that HTC is having trouble selling smartphones. With the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 backing this beast up as well, it's a real one-two punch without a doubt - three if you count the BoomSound speakers, four for the feel of the aluminum, and on and on.
I'd say User Experience, but most of you out there thinking about purchasing this device know good and well what Android is all about. And if you've ever used an HTC device before, you know what it can mean to use HTC's "Sense" modifications to Android, too. This device comes with HTC's newest in Sense 5, and with it the most unique software vision HTC has ever released.
With a new set of font choices, icons, and design decisions in general, the designers working with HTC team of Sense developers have done the best job they've ever done on an HTC device. This machine sends a message not only to HTC's competition in the hardware business, but to Google as well: you're not the only ones that can make Android feel fabulous.
Above you'll have a friendly look at HTC Sense 5.0 in a real general way. You'll see how HTC's new implementation of what they call BlinkFeed shows up first as its own home screen. You'll also see how you get the opportunity to work with your own more traditional Android home screens too, complete with widgets and app icons to your liking. Below you'll find a demonstration of BlinkFeed in all its multi-app feeding glory.
Once you've seen the basic layout of Sense 5.0 you'll find that much of the app implementation is, in general, the same as it's been with the most recent HTC devices. The updates here are largely in the ties between apps and their connections with such feature innovations at HTC Zoe - more on this in the camera section below. Then there's the TV app made specifically for the IR-blaster atop the phone. Have a peek at a hands-on peek at the TV app here:
Then, after that, you'll find that HTC has presented here an overall experience that's swift, entertaining, and ready to be as unique as it is a welcome change to the dominantly Google-centric Android present in most smartphones and tablets today. It's not as if HTC has dismissed Google's contribution entirely - this is Android, after all.
As for the rest of the top contenders out there today, the aims are all over the place at the moment. Samsung continues to allow TouchWiz to work with a universally pleasing nature theme as once again seen on the Galaxy Note 8.0 late last month at Mobile World Congress 2013 - it still works, and they've not needed to make many tweaks over the past year and a half. LG keeps up the skeuomorphism present in elements like doorways appearing when you want to toss an app away and, while it's not our favorite of the big four, it keeps ringing true in the LG Optimus G Pro. Motorola has been transitioning from the squared-off look of "Blur" we used to find a turn-off to a much more obviously Google-influenced nearly-Vanilla Android we see today with the RAZR HD series - and it's slick.
In the end, the trend in these largest of companies is the same: a realization that it only takes a little unique flavoring to make the Android software drink sweet - Google's base OS is well-played enough as it is. HTC's ends up being at once an extremely daring push for uniqueness and a user experience based on what works - Google's Android.
With the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor under the hood and Google's modern implementation of "Butter" smoothness with Jelly Bean, you'll have never before experienced as swift and clean a smart device. HTC is a big gun when it comes to a top-tier smartphone experience, and they've made it clear with the HTC One that they mean business. HTC intends this device to be the most well-received smartphone in history, and you can tell that they've put in the work to make that reaction a reality.
Above you'll see a collection of benchmarks that outline how undeniably next-level the HTC One really is. Until the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 or the NVIDIA Tegra 4 hit the market, the HTC One and the Snapdragon 600 will be the topmost contender on the market - until we see the Tegra 3 overclocked in the right way, that is, perhaps, inside a smartphone of similar size - we shall see!
Photography and Videography
With the HTC One we're seeing the first implementation of Ultrapixel technology. The ultra-tight packing of pixels pushed by HTC here for the first time appears to have come out with fantastic results. Learn all you need to know about HTC's Ultrapixels then have a peek at the collection of examples we've got here.
First you'll see three examples of top-quality photos taken with the device's back-facing camera. Remember that this device is 4 megapixels (aka 4 Ultrapixels) strong, while the front-facing camera is 2.1 megapixels / Ultrapixels strong. Next you'll see three examples of HDR photos taken at the same top quality right out of the box.
Next you'll see a panorama shot - click for a larger version of this image to see the quality.
With the HTC One you'll see the first push for HTC's own Zoe feature. With this you'll be taking an interesting combination of photos and video, the end result being a piece of media you'll be able to see in HTC-made devices (here in the HTC One and in devices in the future) as well as on the HTC Zoe Share site - you'll see an example of this in the comic-themed Zoe Share site we've got right here, made just for this review.
Finally you'll see an example of the 1080p video recording taken from the back-facing camera. The video quality is next-level and undeniably beastly just as the still shots have been. It's important to note that some of the earliest reviews and hands-on experiences you'll have seen out there in internet land have had non-final software unless specifically mentioned - if you're seeing any relatively terrible shots out there, beware: some too-early builds were sent, but we (and most everyone else) do have market ready software and hardware. And it's hot.
Release Schedule and Cost
At this very moment, we're still not sure when you're going to be able to pick this device up in the United States. While it's safe to assume we'll find the device costing between $199.99 and $249.99 on-contract here in the USA with a 2-year contract attached, we won't know until we know, so to speak. The version of the device we've got here is the "international" model, so we're working with HSPA connectivity and, if you live in the UK, you'll likely be seeing this device by the end of the month, if not sooner.
The price of this device will likely have little effect on the end sales unless said cost is drastically different from the competition. When you're talking about devices that cost several hundred dollars on-contract in the USA, the average knows they're paying massive amounts of cash for data over the course of their time with the device, the initial several bills they're dropping just pale in comparison. If you're going to buy a smartphone for a couple hundred dollars, you'll be glad you chose the one device HTC has placed their full force behind.
Choosing the HTC One: it's a done deal
If you're the type of person that needs to know which device currently available on the market is best for you, you'll be glad to know that - if the HTC One were released today - it'd be the clear winner. While there's no escaping the idea that the HTC One and Samsung's next-generation hero will be going head-to-head in the market for your pocketbook soon, until we see them both head-to-head, there's no knowing.
That said, if you're judging the market as it stands right here, right this second, there's a distinct possibility that you'll find no more satisfying a smartphone experience than the HTC One. Rolling out with one of the top most potentially powerful mobile processors on the planet - if not THE most powerful mobile processor on the market today - the HTC One is king.