For 2013, HTC appeared to have learned their lessons regarding the desire to over saturate the market with identikit phones. Announced just last week before MWC, the HTC One is a flagship deserving of its own spotlight and launch. Sporting a new design, the former HTC M7 looks the part of how a flagship should - it is luxurious, beautiful and premium, and it doesn't skim on the specifications. Not to say that the One X wasn't beautiful (it was), but it is nice to see HTC discarding their typical old habits of recycling old ideas.
Special thanks to Three UK for loaning the device. You can pre-order the One from them now.
Before we head into the review, let's get the specs out of the way, shall we?
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 with quad core 1.7 Ghz Krait 300 and Adreno 320 GPU
- 2 GB RAM and 32/64 GB built-in flash storage (no expansion slot)
- 25 GB Dropbox storage for two years
- 4.7" Super LCD3 capacitive touchscreen with 1080 x 1920 resolution (468 pixels per inch density)
- Quad band GSM and 3G, 4G where available
- 42 Mbps DC-HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA, LTE where available
- 4 Megapixel UltraPixel camera with LED flash and 1080p30 HDR video recording, OIS
- 2.1 Megapixel front facing camera with 1080p30 HDR video recording
- Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11a/ac/b/g/n
- GPS receiver with A-GPS, GLONASS
- NFC and micro USB with MHL (HDMI out)
- 2300mAh battery (none user replaceable)
- Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean with HTC Sense 5.0
- 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm, 143 g
- Available in silver or black colour
|468 pixels per inch: eat your heart out Retina|
HTC's choice of using a Super LCD 3 display should be applauded. I am glad to see more manufacturers finally shunning AMOLED technology in light of its power inefficiency when displaying websites, and over-saturated colours. The original HTC One X featured one of the best displays on the market (still is), and Super LCD 3 as its natural upgrade is just as good, if not better. Blacks is as good as it gets on a LCD display, with colour saturation high, but not too unnatural.
Viewing angles are great, with contrast and colour only suffering a bit as you tilt the display. It is fortunate that we have been blessed with good weather lately, so I was able to give the HTC One's display a good testing outdoors. Despite the unusually bright and sunny spring weather, the One's screen was visible in all but direct sunshine. HTC's decision to go 4.7" instead of the industry's new trend of 5"+ is also a great relief as it makes using the phone one-handed just a bit more bearable.
Sony Xperia Z and Nokia Lumia 920. With a weight of 143g, the One isn't terribly light or heavy. It feels very solid and easily pass my 'squeeze the phone tightly' test. Like the HTC Windows Phone 8X, I suspect the One is glued together, possibly making it almost impossible to self service the battery or other parts on your own.
In terms of build quality, the One is solid. The choice to marry anodized aluminium with polycarbonate is certainly an interesting one, with most manufacturers preferring one or the other. We've seen good results in the past, and HTC certainly has a pedigree for designing great looking phones. The HTC One really looks like what a good flagship should - it is original, well build and stunning. Where flagships by other manufacturer fails, the HTC One actually looks and feels like it is worth £500+.
The same front facing camera used on the HTC 8X sits on the top of the display. The 2.1 megapixel camera has an ultra wide angle f/2.0 lens capable of capturing 88 degree angle - a useful feature for video calls between more than two people or self portraits among groups. On the bottom of the display are two Android buttons - the back and home button, with a button-less HTC logo sitting awkwardly between the two. Unfortunately the buttons doesn't appear to be sensitive enough. There is no menu button.
Sandwiched between the display and the back is the polycarbonate shell. HTC's decision not to go full out on aluminum is likely due to improve the phone's wireless signal. After all, plastic is better than metal when it comes to all things phone signal. On the top you will find the power key (again in an unergonomic location), which doubles as an IR blaster. I still I have no idea why anyone would want one. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits alongside it. Audio is powered by Beats Audio, but you ought to be clever enough to know that you should disable that music murdering EQ by now.
HTC's design team has received some criticism in the past for recycling their old product designs for new phones, but it is nice to see HTC designers pushing out some interesting new designs. Like the HTC 8X, the One looks and feels fresh, as any flagships should. With a thickness of 9.3mm, the One thin or thick, and its weight of 143g is well balanced. And despite having a 4.7" display, it is only about a millimeter wider than the 8X, which is equipped with a mere 4.3" display.
HTC One is one of the first smartphone to run on Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 600 system-on-chip (SoC). The 600 features a quad core Krait 300 CPU clocked at 1.7 GHz and Adreno 320 GPU. On paper, it is identical to the previous Snapdragon S4 Pro, but with a faster memory interface, LPDDR3. The part number is APQ8064T, and is fabbed using 28nm technology. Unlike the more radical Snapdragon 800 due out later in the year, the Krait 300 here is designed to scale up to 1.9 GHz. For the One, the SoC is supplemented by 2GB RAM, which should be plenty enough for multi-tasking. The lack of microSD expansion slot will dissuade some buyers, but because the 4MP sensor rarely takes images barely larger than 1.5MB in size, you wouldn't run out of space quicker than say, iPhone 5 or One X users.
All the usual gizmos associated with a 2013 flagship are present, including a built-in GPS and GLONASS receiver, Bluetooth 4.0, Wireless LAN 802.11 a/b/g/n, quad band DC-HSPA, LTE (where available), NFC, HDMI-out via micro USB MHL, accelerometer and gyroscope. It does not appear that the HTC One is equipped with contactless charging. This is unfortunate as the HTC One's Japanese and American cousins, the HTC J Butterfly and Droid DNA, both feature wireless charging. While I would not exactly classify wireless charging as a killer feature, it would be nice to still have it.
pinpointing the improvements that Qualcomm has made to the Krait architecture, as well as their future road map.
Enough specs talk, how well does it run? Well, it is fast, like really really fast. Unlike on previous Android devices, the lag here is minimal. When compared to HTC's previous flagship, the One X, the One is a huge upgrade, thanks to the vast performance increase afforded by the Krait CPU over the the Tegra 3. Where there is a second or so delay with the One X whenever you switch back to homescreen, the One is instantaneous. Is this the promised land of a lag-free Android smartphone? It appears to be.
The new Sense 5 UI is a mixture of old Sense, old Android and Windows Phone's modern design. It will take some getting used to, not because it isn't intuitive, but because it feels and looks oddly out of place. In fact, the only time you will see the Holo theme is likely in a third party app. Sense 5 is also inconsistent, displaying a black background on the app drawer, but switching to white in other parts. It can be a jarring experience. I am also not a fan of the use of gradient effect used on the homescreen and other various UI elements.
The app drawer has also been redesigned with grid size options of 3x4 and 4x5. The same BlinkFeed weather widget and is now a permanent fixture of the app drawer whenever you access it. Folders are also supported within the app drawer. Like the weather widget, the five icon bottom dock is 'always on', only going away when you enter an app. The typical UI introduced with ICS is no where to be seen. Fans of Android's Holo UI will no doubt be disappointed by its lack of presence on the HTC One.
As expected from a display that features 1920x1080 pixels when viewed horizontally, the HTC One is a fabulous web browser. As long as your eyes can cope, there isn't even a need to zoom - it is that sharp. The latest version of Chrome is now stable, fast and accurate enough to dispatch the regular Android browser. Chrome supports a variety of features including Flash, auto-fill, disabling of JavaSript, multiple tabs, auto-paging, pop up blocking and GIF animation.
RAZR MAXX, but it is close. Despite the larger and higher resolution display; and quad core processor, the HTC One easily last through a normal work day. During my first full day with the One, the battery lasted nine hours before I had to fish out my portable charger. This might not sound like a lot, but I took about 300 pictures and 30 minutes of HD videos on the day, in addition to using Twitter and Facebook occasionally, and Foursquare and Instagram frequently, as well as having the GPS turned on and the brightness set to automatic. This was in London, where the congested 3G networks will give your phone a right hammering.
My final 'torture' test consisted of streaming BBC News none-stop via 3G on maximum brightness with the volume set to around 30%. The One lasted around four hours before the phone complained - which is impressive considering its all streamed via 3G, which power consumption is far higher than Wifi. Standby time is even more impressive, with the phone's battery dropping by 5% after seven hours away from the power socket. I have seen phones that lose that much after barely an hour of inactivity (glares at WP8's poor network management).
Of the past ten or so smartphones I have reviewed, only two had replaceable batteries, so it appears that user replaceable batteries is heading towards extinction. Now, I like my batteries to be user replaceable, but HTC did a hell of a good job optimising the device considering the circumstances. Still, I do still wish for this trend by manufacturers to seal batteries into devices to revers, for those rare times when you do need that extra juice, and for easier maintenance.
For £519 sim-free, the One ain't cheap, but what you get is a genuine premium device. Previous flagships always fail to justify themselves as worthy upgrades, but not the One. Almost everything about the One is cutting edge, from the design to its build quality, its fast processor and gorgeous 1080p display. Even the One's UltraPixel camera did not disappoint, and was a joy to use at all times.
With the alleged Samsung Galaxy IV due to be announced next week, and Sony finally kicking up a gear, HTC desperately needs the One to succeed. After all, unlike their conglomerate rivals, they do not have the luxury of other businesses to prop them up. From a technical point of view, the One is pretty much capable of propping up HTC. All they need to do now is market it properly. The One deserves this.
+ Great build quality
+ Gorgeous design
+ Amazing 1080p display
+ Good fast camera
- Sealed battery
- No expansion slot
- HTC Sense 5.0 might not be to everyone's liking
Disclaimer: This review is based on a HTC One running on a pre-release firmware (version 1.26.401.6). I have been told so, after the publication of this review. The new firmware that is due to be released with the retail HTC One will feature some enhancement, among them tweaks to the camera. I will update this review accordingly when the new firmware is released.
If you have any questions regarding the HTC One, feel free to ask via the comments below, or on twitter.