The HTC One sees the Taiwanese manufacturer seeking to redefine what a smartphone can do, creating a high-spec handset which combines innovative camera functions with a unique, constantly updating homescreen called BlinkFeed to a make a distinctive device.
HTC has also evolved its Sense user interface to create something new and exciting, coupling this with a raft of new camera features that redraw the boundaries of mobile photography. But how does all of this perform as a package, and is it enough to make the HTC One stand out amongst the high-end Android handsets?
- 1.7GHz quad-core processor
- 4.7-inch Full HD display
- 32GB or 64GB internal storage
- 4 megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture
- 1080p video recording
- 9.3mm thick
- 143g weight
- Android Jelly Bean
- 2300mAh battery
- Sense 5.0 user interface with BlinkFeed
Design and Build
HTC consistently makes good looking smartphones and the HTC One is no exception. Featuring an aluminium backplate, the device has a smoothly curved body shape which fits well in the hand. The lack of plastic instantly makes the handset feel more sophisticated and gives it an edge over other high-end Android devices.
The front fascia sees little other than the display taking up space, with the exception of the dual ‘BoomSound’ speakers which offer stereo audio, something which is often lacking from the external speakers of mobile devices.
Physical buttons are kept to a minimum and the lock key and volume rocker are almost completely flush with the bodywork. While this looks very attractive it does make them a little hard to press, especially the lock key on the top of the device. Also, the capacitive home button is mounted to the right of the display’s centre and reaching for it takes a little getting used to.
The HTC One features one of the best displays we’ve seen on a smartphone, with an incredible 468ppi resolution that ensures brilliantly crisp images. The 4.7-inch super LCD 3 screen may not be as bright and dazzling as that of the Sony Xperia Z but still offers a clarity that is pretty much unmatched amongst mobile devices. The display also has a cool hue to it that is very easy on the eye, delivering clarity without being tiring to look at.
Under the Hood
Inside is a quad-core, 1.7GHz CPU with 2GB of RAM, ensuring everything runs very smoothly indeed. Since BlinkFeed, a feature that sees live information pulled right through to the homescreen in a similar fashion to Windows Phone’s Live Tiles (more on this later) is constantly connected to online sources users may be concerned that it could affect the device’s overall performance. Thankfully though, the drain on processing power is kept to a minimum and the chip handles everything effectively, leaving no lag whatsoever.
Featuring a 2300mAh battery, the HTC One is well-equipped to run its functions for a reasonable amount of time but we found that the device won’t last a day of heavy use from one charge. After a working day of web browsing, downloading apps, regular use of BlinkFeed and several hours of streaming music from Soundcloud over a Wi-Fi connection, the handset’s battery was almost into the red and the device would have struggled to make it into the evening without its power being topped up.
Operating System and User Interface
The HTC One runs Android Jelly Bean, as can be expected of a high-end handset nowadays. HTC has also subjected its Sense user interface to a major overhaul and Sense 5.0 puts much focus on pulling feeds through from media sources and social networks, displaying them on the handset’s homescreen. HTC has called this innovation ‘BlinkFeed’.
The new UI is like having newsfeed app Flipboard constantly open, with regular updates appearing in tiles on the homescreen in a way similar to Windows Phone’s Live Tiles. Some big names can be accessed too, such as The Guardian and Reuters, but there is a limit to the sources from which content can be drawn and many smaller publications are not supported. Also, while Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all integrate, Google+ doesn’t, which is slightly bizarre for a device that runs Google’s mobile platform.
However, you can post directly to the networks that are connected, making this perfect for heavy Twitter users who will be able to tweet straight from the homescreen of their device. Content can also be customised to your tastes, and different types of information can be displayed as you see fit. For instance, you can show all your Facebook updates in one go, or choose to view only articles from CNET.
Sense 5.0 also allows users to display different things on the lockscreen, including calendar entries, photos or music player controls. In this sense, it is very much like the Windows Phone Live Tiles interface, and having a constantly rotating photo album on your lockscreen certainly looks impressive.
However, BlinkFeed stops you from putting app icons on the homescreen of your device. While it is possible to switch the default homescreen to another page and fill that up as you would on any other Android device, the benefit of having BlinkFeed there as soon as you unlock the handset is then lost. While icons can be moved to the app tray stationed at the bottom of the display, you may find that some of your favourite apps have to be hidden away further than you’d like.
Sense 5.0 has some further tweaks to the basic Android interface that are unusual, such as a home button which acts differently depending on how you navigate the device. Instead of taking you back to one location (to the BlinkFeed homescreen for example), you’ll be transported back to the screen from which you launched the app that you’re currently in, be that the app menu or one of the homescreens. This isn’t a major problem but it does make navigating around the device a little less fluid.
HTC has what is now quite a long-running collaboration with Beats Audio and unsurprisingly, the sound technology is incorporated into the HTC One as well. Recent Jelly Bean updates for HTC devices have introduced a feature that sees Beats Audio accessed outside of the handset’s music player, now running throughout the whole user interface and across all audio outputs.
This means that third party music apps such as Spotify and Soundcloud can take advantage of the audio improvements, a small but significant touch that improves the overall audio capabilities of the device.
Those stereo speakers we mentioned earlier also increase the handset’s abilities, although their use is limited. The HTC One struggles to produce low frequencies and we don’t imagine these will ever truly replace headphones or external speakers.
Alongside these sound enhancement additions, HTC has included Kid Mode, which works in a similar way to Kid’s Corner on Windows Phone 8 and allows users to tailor the apps and content that can be accessed, making the device suitable for use by children. Everything is presented in a child-friendly, landscape interface, although we found that it is surprisingly easy to deactivate the app and return to the handset’s regular functions.
Camera and Video
HTC’s camera innovations begin with quite a bold move; the HTC One’s camera is only four megapixels. It’s what the firm has done with those megapixels that’s interesting though.
Creating what it has called an UltraPixel camera, HTC has used a bigger sensor that captures more light, resulting in better quality images with less noise and increased low light performance.
Beyond the technical side of things, the Taiwanese firm has also created what it calls ‘HTC Zoe’, a camera function with a name presumably drawn from the old Zoetrope machines. With Zoe, instead of capturing a photo, the camera records a short clip roughly three seconds in length.
Users can then choose a frame from this clip and edit certain parts of it. So for example, say you’re taking a group shot and someone walks into the frame at the wrong moment; you’re able to roll that part of the image back a few seconds to a point where the interloper wasn’t in the way, leaving the rest of the image untouched.
This helps create excellent images, since you can select the best parts captured over a few seconds, rather than having to wait for that perfectly framed moment every time. It’s very much like BlackBerry 10’s Time Shift function, but rather than just focussing on people’s faces, it works across any part of an image.
Editing is easy and a series of menus that run along the bottom on the display offer various image manipulation options, and although it can take some practice to get ideal results, this mostly comes in getting used to taking shots than in the editing stage. However, we did notice that some distortion can occur around objects that have been removed from an image unless the phone is held completely still when captured, although this is a minor gripe
Beyond the Zoe feature, video can be recorded in 1080p at 30fps and an HDR function is included, which will help with awkward lighting conditions. Footage can also be recorded in slow motion and produces some fun effects and can be handy if you’re trying to record something that is full of fast-paced action.
Connectivity and Multimedia
As may be expected of a flagship handset, the HTC One is capable of connecting to the 4G networks that are steadily being introduced to the UK, allowing for faster data transfer speeds.
HTC has also included several features which take advantage of its Media Link technology that allows the device to connect to a television or other device and stream media via DLNA.
The handset is also equipped with NFC for the likes of contactless payments and has a microUSB socket that is also MHL compatible.
Performance and Verdict
HTC has created a fantastic looking handset that, in terms of appearance, is one of the most sophisticated devices currently available. The manufacturer has made some bold moves in trying to set its flagship apart from the pack and overall, it has been successful.
While there are some niggling issues to be had with BlinkFeed, notably the restricted number of sources from which you can stream content, the idea is an innovative one which could appeal to those looking at Windows Phone, although it may turn off some hardcore Android lovers.
The handset’s camera functions are outstanding though, and while that 4 megapixel statistic will be a hard sell, the features HTC has introduced are truly forward-thinking. Besides these two main points, the HTC One is an impressive Android device offering smooth performance and a fantastic display that can rival any other high-end handset.