HTC One hands on review
Last week this rather swish package landed on my desk. The HTC One is a smartphone with a big job. It lands in the same arena as the iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 925 and its Android cousins the Sony Xperia Z and all-conquering Samsung Galaxy S4. Has it got the chops to keep its head-up amongst such established company? Read on, gadgety faithful, read on.
So, what does the HTC One have to do? Well, basically it’ll need to be as fast as the Google Nexus 4, as classy as the Sony Xperia Z and boast the same kind of feature set as the Samsung Galaxy S4 – and that’s just to compete with the other Androids out there.
You’d then have to wrap that up in a Full HD package which will be light in your hand but also be robust enough to deal with constant use and the odd tumble thanks to its iPhone-taunting build quality. No pressure then.
Size and build
Well, the iPhone 5 should start quaking in its shell as, in terms of build quality, the HTC One is almost flawless.
The HTC One brings unibody metal construction to an entirely new level. A precision machined aluminium body is seamlessly joined to the rest of the phone using a technique which leaves no gaps, and I mean none at all.
HTC manages this by starting with a solid piece of aluminium which gets lovingly milled. Plastic then gets injected into the chassis between cuts during machining for the antenna bands and side of the case, which also gets machined. The result is HTC’s “zero-gap” construction which – as the name implies – really has no gaps between the aluminium and polymer at all.
It’s the kind of manufacturing that only the likes of Apple could previously lay claim to, and the HTC One really is the first Android device which reaches the level of construction quality previously owned almost entirely by the iPhone.
It’s certainly on a par with Apple’s own standards and, dare I say it, perhaps better in some respects.
All that lovely metal will obviously make the One a tad heavier than its peers then? Well, at 143g it’s not the lightest smartphone out there with the BlackBerry Z10 and the Galaxy S4 flicking through the size 0 racks. That doesn’t mean to say that the HTC should be embarrassed as it still maintains this season’s beach body and those extra grams never become noticeable apart from giving the feeling of a tight, taught and sturdy body. This is then carried across its 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm dimensions which put it as being just slightly thicker than the iPhone 5 but the curved back makes it more comfortable to hold, in my opinion.
The back of the HTC One is one continuous, gently curved, bead-blasted piece of aluminium, with the exception of the thin plastic bands which insulate the top and bottom antennas from each other.
The camera aperture sits near the top of the One and has a third small plastic band attaching it to the primary one. It turns out this is a critical feature to enable NFC, whose active area is the loop antenna formed by the ring around the camera.
Industrial design and antenna design are often in direct, almost absolute opposition when it comes to mobile devices, and with the HTC One a huge part of the story is how such a design is possible without falling prey to unintended conflicts – anyone remember the iPhone 4’s antenna-gate?
An obvious benefit to aluminum construction is that there is no flex in the HTC One. You do feel like you are holding a premium device.
There’s a tiny notch in the top plastic band of the HTC One, which is the aperture for the secondary microphone. At the bottom just to the right of the microUSB port is the primary microphone. The bands are again an important part of the design which enable antenna diversity.
The HTC One is ringed with a plastic band between two aluminum chamfered edges. The band isn’t glossy or shiny plastic, but rather a textured, rigid feeling material which also seems to have been sand blasted or bead blasted, and also gets machined as part of the case.
It’s in this plastic lip around the edge that all the ports and buttons lie. On the left side there’s the microSIM tray, and on the right side the single piece volume rocker. At the bottom, off center, is the microUSB port and primary microphone. Up top, the One houses the headphone jack which just cuts into the aluminium whilst, on the opposite side is the power/standby button, which cleverly doubles as an infrared port which can transmit and receive for controlling a TV or entertainment system.
There are two aluminium sections on the face of the One which sandwich the display. These two speaker grilles are a tight grid of laser cut holes, behind which sit two speakers for stereo sound. Up top on the right is the 88 degree wide field of view front facing 2.1-megapixel camera, and on the left side is the ambient light and proximity sensor. The notification LED is also hidden behind the grille.
The One comes powered by Android 4.1.2 but, thanks to HTC’s latest version of its Sense UI, you’d be hard pushed to recognise it as being such. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed HTC’s user interface, and this latest version proves to be a cleaner experience that manages to offer less hassle than even the neat version of Jelly Bean.
The most notable addition to Sense is BlinkFeed, a news aggregator that can be customised using your social networks and by adding a number of compatible news sources. In principle it’s a brilliant idea but I think that there’s still room for improvement on the customisability front. It has the potential to rival Flipboard – it just needs an extra push.
After a while, instead of it being a useful thing, it started taunting me with what could of been – and, as you can’t get rid of it via settings, I downloaded Nova Loader as a way of removing it from the homescreen.
The HTC One comes with a 4.7-inch 1080p Full HD Super LCD3 screen which packs a remarkable 468ppi.
The screen pushes out dazzling levels of contrast and colour reproduction and while we know the current trend is to go bigger with screens and, as a result, phones, I’d say that HTC has absolutely nailed it with this 4.7-inch offering — it’s close enough to 5 to not seem small, but not shove it in to the absurdly huge camp.
That level of resolution definitely exceeds my visual acuity, and it really stands up to close inspection.
When it comes to viewing angles, they’re excellent indoors and will match just about every phone outdoors. There’s hardly any gap between surface and display with the One at all which certainly helps.
The HTC One includes a dynamic contrast function and goes nice and bright. Whack on a YouTube vid or flick through Flickr and you’ll see what I am talking about.
The HTC One sports a 4MP Ultrapixel camera. Yes you saw that correctly.
4-megapixles and Ultrapixel.
With the One, HTC has taken an incredibly daring direction for the camera. In fact, the camera in the One could be the most interesting and ambitious feature of all – even more so than its lovely unibody aluminium construction. The short list of features on the HTC One camera that make it unique are an F/2.0 system with larger than the norm 2.0 micron pixels, optical image stabilisation (OIS), and a new revision of imagechip.
Thinking caps on, everyone – here’s the science bit.
All camera sensors are broken up into tiny photosites. Each photosite then translates into one pixel so while the HTC One has less of these than most of its rivals, it’s actually still taking up the same amount of physical space because the photosites are much bigger. This means it can collect a lot more light and then in turn produce much better looking photos. Got that? Good 🙂
For years now, smartphone manufacturers have been moving to smaller and smaller pixels to increase the resolution of their cameras. It’s the camera megapixel race all over again, but in smartphones.
In the case of the 13 MP cameras which are becoming commonplace today, you could be faced with an image that might not even be sharp outside in bright daylight if the optical system can’t resolve a high enough spatial frequency for the sensor. Hence the push for HDR this year in just about every mode (photos, videos, and panorama).
With the One camera, HTC has gone the other way entirely and they’ve branded this the ‘UltraPixel sensor’. The important thing to think about is that the pixels are 4 square microns (2.0 x 2.0 micron) compared to usual 1.21 square microns (1.1 x 1.1 micron) and thus have just over 3x the area.
The result of all this tech-talk is improved low light sensitivity and dynamic range at the expense of spatial resolution. At 1/3-inch sensor size, use of 2.0 micron pixels translates to 4.0 MP of resolution.
The question now should be how much resolution is really necessary given the lack of people looking to print or enlarge their phone snaps? There’s also a case to be made for storage requirements which are lighter and so on.
The benefits from having more sensor sensitivity include having no need to fire the blinding flash in a restaurant or at a party, shorter exposure times with less blurring, quicker follow up shots, more accurate preview, and so on.
The difficulty is that HTC has to now fight the megapixel myth head on. They will have to educate consumers that the low MP doesn’t not mean a huge step back in time.
While the Ultrapixel and low MP number might prove a tad confusing for buyers, once they’ve used the camera they will be able to see how good it is in its ability to capture low light images with outstanding colour reproduction. I would go as far to say that the Nokia 808 PureView should be keeping an eye on it.
Along with the Ultrapixel camera is HTC Zoe, a new feature which takes 20 images whilst also recording a short three second video clip. The advantage of this is that not only do you have a short clip (known as a ‘Zoe’ – nope, I don’t know why) for social networks but you can also drag through the video and pick a picture if you’d rather just send a still.
It’s unlikely that you’re going to be using the Zoe mode every day, but that’s not to say it’s not any good. It works really well – but if you’re going to send a video it’ll probably be longer than three seconds and if you wanted to take a picture you’d probably either do it separately or find an app that lets you take a picture while you’re recording.
Perhaps that’s just me though.
Under the hood you’ll find a 1.7GHz quad-core processor along with 2GB of RAM, which makes the HTC One an extremely potent machine and one of the fastest smartphones out there.
This gives it seamless navigation with no lag whatsoever when gaming, playing video or even through heavy multi-tasking.
I did notice that the One did get quite hot when downloading large apps from Google Play or when playing a high-resolution game. I guess that this should be kind of expected when shoving heft processors in a small place without fans and I reckon this is something we’ll see more of for the while.
This is one of the slickest 4g mobile phones I’ve tested.
While HTC hasn’t provided an official battery life for the HTC One and looking around the interwebs can see that some thought that it’s woefully bad whilst others describe it as the same as any other flagship mobile.
In my experience, it’s actually not bad at all.
If you’re going to spend your day mainly texting, tweeting and browsing then you’ll get a comfortable day’s usage with the One finally beginning to flag by late evening.
If you’re going to be YouTubing, gaming and Facebooking on your commute and during the day, then probably best to have a cable with you.
The HTC One is an incredibly ambitious phone. HTC has packed it with innovative new features – front facing stereo speakers, an all metal unibody construction with unique antenna design, display just short of 5.0-inches, and of course the 4.0 megapixel camera with OIS and comparatively huge 2.0 micron pixels. The result is a phone that stands out for all the right reasons.
I’ve been using the One pretty much nonstop since getting it and more people have asked me what it is and if they can have a look than you’d ever get with the now ubiquitous Galaxy and iPhones out there.
More importantly, they’ve all given a nod of approval and remarked at how quick and smooth it is. Also, the build quality really is phenomenal, and for the first time there’s a phone that rivals Apple in the battle of the build.
I think it’s going to be difficult to go back to my iPhone 4’s speakers. These on the One have truly spoiled me.
The Sense 5 user interface has the latest fashion of being a flatter UI with classier contemporary iconography and typography choices throughout.
I’m a big fan of the HTC One and am actually looking to purchase one instead of the iPhone. I have transferred my iTunes over to Google and have notes on the best tarrifs and price I can expect for my iPhone 4.
The HTC One has precisely the kind of specifications I’d want from a device with a classy, original design, good emphasis on sound, camera and screen coupled with that all metal construction with actively tuned antennas, all pushed along with a quad-core chip.
What’s not to like? The colour? Well, as well as the black and white versions, Phones 4u will be getting the new Glamour Red version you see here as an exclusive from mid-July.