8.7
Tech  |  Reviews

HTC One

May 2, 2013  |  10:00am
HTC One

Available on: AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint
OS: Android

For HTC, the One simplifies both design and process.

The Taiwanese manufacturer hasn’t been known for its premium design in the past. Its successes in the smartphone market have been primarily fueled by its midrange and low-end devices, many of which were carrier-specific and hindered by a bloated user interface. Whether it was the One X in 2012 or the Sensation XL in 2011, HTC’s flagship smartphones have been unable to compete with the gargantuan marketing budgets of Samsung or the unbreakable consumer perception associated with Apple.

Regardless of whether it’s an act of desperation or of inspiration, the One is HTC turning a new leaf. HTC would have you forget about the entire line of “One” devices released in 2012.

This is The One.

HARDWARE: The best display you’ve ever seen and the most well-constructed Android phone you’ve ever held

In a market littered with black, featureless slabs, the HTC One’s silver aluminum body stands out. The front of the One resembles the back of the iPhone 5 with its strips of color on the top and bottom and the thin black bezel on the sides of the display. After marveling at the industrial design of the One’s body, you’ll want to try out the front-facing speaker grills on the phone’s top and bottom. Not only do they add nuance to the look, the One’s speakers sound exceptional. Powered by built-in amplifiers and BeatsAudio, the output can handle a wide spectrum of sound and is surprisingly loud and clear.

On the backside, the One’s curved shell fits like a glove in the palm of your hand. It even feels robust compared to the plastic and glass used by the likes of LG and Samsung. While not overly heavy, the phone weighs at an average 5 ounces, which makes it slightly heavier than the Galaxy S III and iPhone 5, but not nearly as heavy as something like the Lumia 920 or the similar-sized LG Optimus G.

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The HTC One has a gorgeous 1080p 4.7” display with a record-setting 468ppi (pixels per inch). In other words, you won’t find a more awe-inspiring display on a smartphone today. Full HD videos look incredible, as do photos and websites. You won’t find any of the color, saturation and viewing angle problems that have plagued phones such as the Sony Xperia Z or even the Nexus 4. With its large screen and higher ppi, the One outdoes even the Galaxy S III and iPhone 5 and will no doubt hold up spectacularly against the 2013 models of those handsets.

When I held the HTC One in my hand for the first time, I knew right away HTC nailed it with its hardware. The height and width of the body, along with the display are right on the money. HTC did an impressive job in the balance of providing a bigger display for extra screen real estate with the fact that most people would like their phone to fit in their pocket. Almost everything about the look and feel of the One just screams “premium.”

SOFTWARE: A toned down Android skin, but it’s still Sense

On the software side of things, the HTC One features the next evolution of the HTC GUI, Sense 5, over Android 4.1.2. For the most part, it seems like HTC has listened to customer feedback and pulled back the reins of its historically intrusive Android skin. Sense 5 lets Android speak and show through a bit more (quite a bit more than anything Samsung, Sony, or LG has put out) and features a simplified, more stock-like experience. Some of the hokey animations have been cut out, the organization of apps in the app tray have been decluttered, and even multitasking is more efficient. This is as close to a stock Android experience as Sense has ever been – and in some ways that’s what makes it a bit frustrating.

Sense debuted at a time when Android desperately needed software skins to fill in the holes. Back in 2009, revolutionary UI paradigms like Sense turned the Android into more of a user-facing interface. They helped shape Android into what it is today.

But fast forward a few years and you’ve got a bunch of Android skins out there that only get in the way of what might be the best mobile operating system on the market. In Sense 5, I can’t help but wish that features like Google Talk and Google Now were displayed more prominently (and that the One had the most updated version of Android). Furthermore, some of Sense’s more in-your-face features like the Flipboard-esque BlinkFeed media aggregator cannot even be removed from your home screen for whatever reason.

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Bloatware is still a pretty big problem here. Features like BlinkFeed are admirable for their attemps to do something different with the home screen, but some of the basic apps here still lack the design logic and simplicity they need. Whether it’s the People app or even some of the basic settings, Sense 5 still could use a thick coat of design polish to get it up to standard. Even with some of the HTC apps like aren’t half bad (such as the Mail app, which includes a unified inbox), the messiness of having both Google and HTC versions pre-installed on the phone is still totally confusing. When you have multiple app stores, mail clients and internet browsers, it’s just not clear what HTC wants you to do with its phone when you boot it up for the first time.

It gets even worse when you add in AT&T or Sprint bloatware that crowds your app drawer with even more hollow lookalike apps. What’s worse is that the AT&T nonsense can’t even be uninstalled! HTC’s dependency on carriers in this way still cripples the device and holds it back from feeling truly premium and being built with the user in mind. When it comes down to it, you’ll have to spend a good half hour rearranging your home screen, adjusting BlinkFeed settings, uninstalling apps and organizing folders before you get to a point where you aren’t digging through the mess all the time to find the stuff you need.

Despite all that, one thing is for sure: the HTC One won’t skip a beat, bloatware and all. With its quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon clocking in at 1.7GHz, everything in Sense 5 is snappy and responsive. BlinkFeed loads incredibly fast, as do most of the apps (including the fantastic camera app). There’s no question that HTC One is a powerhouse of a smartphone and should be able to handle whatever games, videos and apps you throw its way.

The HTC One represents a new generation of Android phones whose high production values should scare the major players in the smartphone market. It’s still yet to be seen whether The One will catch on with consumers—especially with the Galaxy S IV’s imminent release right around the corner. The HTC One will not only keep the power players on their toes, but hopefully pick up a large share of disenchanted Samsung and Apple refugees as well – and if that’s you, you won’t be disappointed.

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