HTC One review
The HTC One is the flagship Android smartphone from HTC. It has a vibrant and clear Full HD screen, quad-core processor offering high-end performance, and an intriguing Ultrapixel camera that promises better shots in low light. Software wise the HTC One runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with HTC Sense - not quite the latest Google OS, but very close to it. So how does the HTC One perform in a market that now includes Apple's new iPhones, the Galaxy Note 3 and the Xperia Z1?
Find out more about this high-end Android smartphone and how it fits in in our HTC One review. Also see our article: 13 best smartphones: The best phone you can buy in 2013?
HTC One review: UK price
SIM free you can pick up the 32GB varient of the HTC One for around £450 inc VAT. That's actually relatively cheap - the Xperia Z1 and Galaxy Note 3 cost just a smidgeon more (and perform a little better, as you'll find out below). It's much cheaper than buying outright an iPhone. Contract deals in which the handset is 'free' start at £27.50 a month and are available from all major operators including EE, Three, Vodafone, O2, Orange and T-Mobile. Again, that's pretty cheap for a top-quality smartphone. PAYG deals start at £449 inc VAT from T-Mobile, Orange, O2, Vodafone and Three.
HTC One review: the best Android phone?
The HTC One is part of a wider push by HTC to make itself known as a serious and stylish player at the top end of the smartphone market. As such you'll note that it has more a premium 'feel' than other great handsets such as the Sony Xperia Z and the Samsung Galaxy S4. That means that out of the box the HTC One looks and feels like something expensive and luxurious. Since the HTC One hit the market, however, we've reviewed several great new handsets including the new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C, the Note 3 and the Xperia Z1. Only the 5S of these has the same metallic finish as the HTC.
But remember that the aluminium from which the HTC One is constructed is both light and strong, but prone to picking up scratches. Like the iPhone 5 and Apple iPhone 5S the HTC One may require a case in order to protect it in pristine condition, and that's not something you could say about the Xperia or Galaxy phones, or other phones such as the Nokia Lumia 925 (and other Windows phones), and the BlackBerry Z10.
What is categorically the case is what we outline in this in-depth HTC One review: this is a great phone. It offers performance, features and build that only a handful of the best smartphones can.
(Stay on this page for our take on the HTC One's performance and build quality. On page two we look at HTC One display, audio and media. Click through to page three to find out about the HTC One camera and page four is where you find our review of the HTC One software and setup.)
HTC One review: Design and build quality
The new HTC One is a beautiful object. HTC says it has the best build quality of any phone on the market. It would. That is of course a subjective claim that cannot be proved or disproved. Let's say only this: in terms of the feel of the materials, and the way they fit together, we can name no smartphone that obviously bests the HTC One. It's like a bigger iPhone 5 with rounded edges, or a non-metallic Sony Xperia Z (without the flappy ports).
It is virtually all metal, aluminium in fact. Indeed the only part of the HTC One's shell that isn't obviously made of lightweight metal is the Gorilla Glass screen and a slim plasticky band that runs around the edge.
Like the iPhone 5 and Xperia Z the HTC One is also light for such a well-put-together device, yet it feels solid. HTC claims the new HTC One weighs 143g. According to the PC Advisor scales it is a much more significant 144g. But what's a gramme between colleagues? The key point is that it is big and solid, but surprisingly light. The iPhone 5 is a much lighter 112g, but the case in which I keep mine adds another 17g - this is a personal opinion, but I want to protect the iPhone, whereas the HTC feels like it could withstand the slings and arrows of life in my pocket unscathed. It's like the BlackBerry Z10 in that respect, only it feels like a much more desirable object. By contrast the Xperia Z1 weighs 170g, and the Note 3 168g. Both these phones are more plastic in construction, of course.
The Sony Xperia Z is probably the closest matched device in terms of size, shape and want-me coolness - that phone is marginally thinner at its widest point: 7.9mm as opposed to the HTC One's 9.45mm. But both weigh almost exactly the same. The Xperia Z1 is 8.7mm and the Note 3 8.3mm. These are both big screen phones, so the HTC One is arguable wider than it ought to be.
Like the Xperia Z1, the HTC One is perfectly balanced. That weight and size isn't a problem - it fits neatly into my trouser pocket. One minor down side is that the display isn't quite edge to edge, although the bezel is far from huge.
We have to point out the all-aluminium back. We wanted to be sceptical after HTC made such claims for the design and build of the new HTC One, but this sheet of brushed metal is the finishing touch on a beautifully put together device. This is a shiny precious thing you will want to have and hold.
There is one caveat, however. As I was testing the HTC One the back got hot to the touch. Not too hot to hold, but enough to make me worry about its long-term health. I was running benchmarks at the time which put enormous strain on the components, but it's not something you like to feel. (We've read reports elsewhere of this phenomenon, so it is an important consideration.)
We continue our new HTC One review with a look at its impressive display, and audio visual playback capabilities.
HTC One review: Performance, specs and benchmarks
We normally start with a smartphone's design and build, but we have to talk about the HTC One's performance, because when first we tested it, the HTC One was the fastest phone we have tested. That is no longer the case, but the HTC has nothing to be ashamed of. Read: HTC One mini vs HTC One comparison review.
Straight out of the box it feels zippy. And there is good reason for that. The HTC One combines a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, quad-core, 1.7GHz processor with 2GB DDR2 RAM. It aced our GeekBench 2 synthetic performance benchmark, turning in an average score of 2721 points. At the time of testing this was a record: to put that into perspective the previous record holder was the Nexus 4 with a speedy 2009 points. The Sony Xperia Z - no slouch itself - scores 1986, and the iPhone 5 1650. None of those phones is slow, so you can see just how fast is the HTC One. Unfortunately it is no longer our record holder, having been superceded by several phones. These include the Note 3 (4057), and the Sony Xperia Z1 (3673). See also: iPhone 5 vs HTC One comparison review.
The good times continue when we tested graphics performance in our GLBenchmark HD framerate benchmark. The new HTC One smashed that test, too, turning in a top quality score of 34fps. That's not quite top of the shop - the iPhone 5 achieved a massive 38fps, and the Nexus 4 39fps. More recently we've seen better scores from the iPhone 5S (53fps), Xperia Z1 (53fps) and the record goes to the Galaxy Note 3 (54fps). What that bewildering array of stats actually means is this: the HTC One is one of a few phones that offer stunning graphics performance, although it has been considerable bettered since it launched.
In terms of storage you will have a choice of 32GB or 64GB. Sadly there is no expandable storage. There's an internal GPS antenna, GLONASS and a digital compass, as well as a gyro sensor, accelerometer, proximity sensor, and ambient light sensor. In terms of connectivity you get a 3.5mm stereo audio jack, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi and a micro-USB 2.0 (5-pin) port with mobile high-definition video link.
The HTC One is a smartphone boasting performance that is in the same class as the best of the rest in all key areas. It's just not the best at anything. See also: Group test: what's the best Android phone?
HTC One review: Audio and media
With a built-in amplifier, Beats Audio and two front-facing speakers the HTC One delivers a big sound with or without headphones. And in the box you get a pair of surprisingly decent in-ear headphones. They are black and red in a style suspiciously like Beats phones, although they are not those. HTC has equipped the HTC One with what it calls studio-quality sound with Beats Audio. In our tests the bundled headphones combined with the HTC One's audio subsystem provided a sound that is clear and well-rounded (we often find Beats branded audio to be over bassy).
In the demonstrations we saw - or heard - at the HTC One launch the dual frontal stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers delivered a decent sound in a reasonably sized room full of people. It's not like having a proper soundbar, but the handset alone will suffice in plenty of social occasions, which is saying something. (What is less socially acceptable is the marketing term HTC has appended to this audio set up: 'BoomSound'. Give me strength.)
The music player software has also been given a revamp. In essence you can see the lyrics while music plays. Which is, you know, nice. We saw this and can confirm that it works as advertised. It's not a deal-breaker for me, but I used to buy my CDs and tapes from Our Price, so it's possible I'm not the desired demographic.
In terms of making calls there's an HDR microphone and what HTC calls 'Sense Voice'. These features should make voice call quality better. We made a couple of calls that sounded good to both sides - but that's the case with all high-end smartphones, isn't it?
One little upgrade we did like the idea of, is the combination of infrared hidden in the power button and HTC Sense that allows you to use your HTC One as a TV remote. This may cause marital break down in homes with multiple HTC phones, of course, but it also offers a kind of EPG for finding programs.
The TV app is fairly simple to set up, simply select which devices you which to control and which manufacturer they are made by. You're then given test buttons until it works. We got it working with a Philips TV but failed with the TalkTalk YouView box.
We like the EPG guide but the other sections promoting what programmes are on are confusion and the on demand section cheekily tries to persuade you to buy films on HTC Watch. It's nothing amazing but handy when you've lost the remote control.
HTC One review: display
The HTC One's 4.7in Super LCD 3 display has the highest pixel density of any phone I have seen, or indeed any smartphone PC Advisor has tested. This Full HD 1080p display crams 468 pixels into every inch. That stat is incredible and almost meaningless. Suffice to say it is sharp.
It's razor sharp - not quite as colourful as the SuperAMOLED displays sported by the top Samsung handsets, but brilliant at rendering details in photos and video even under the stip lights of a room with no natural light. Viewing angles are good - a couple of people could probably watch a movie together at a push. The touchscreen is very responsive, too.
HTC One review: Camera
With the HTC One, HTC makes a bold move to redefine what we should expect from a smartphone camera. It's trying to get away from the megapixels arms race and focus on larger pixels in order to allow for greater light absorbtion. Or, to put it another way, it has only a 4Mp camera at the rear and a 2.1Mp, 88 degree wide angle lens with HDR capability at the front. I'm tipping my hat to HTC for getting away from the ludicrously large sensors now packed into phones. There are many more important parts to a camera than the sensor.
But is it any good? The short answer is yes: this is a decent smartphone camera. The faster sensor means you can quickly capture shots - critical for a smartphone snapper. And there are good options: you can change exposure and contrast, tweak ISO levels and adjust sharpness. There's also an HDR mode, but you don't get the shot-selection modes offered by other high-end phones, however.
Pictures taken were pretty good: occasionally noisy which we didn't expect from a camera with such a low pixel count, but good in low-light conditions. It's not a camera for serious photographers, but it will let you take multiple decent snaps in a timely fashion - even in a dingy bar.
We've included some photo and video below, but it is also worth pointing out that HTC says the camera is best at shooting images that are then viewed on the HTC One's screen.
HTC has added some interesting software features to its camera that seem compelling. Following BoomSound into the Ministry of Silly Names is 'HTC Zoe', which captures an HD video every time you take a photo by grabbing an image 0.6 seconds before you press the shutter button, and then capturing info for three seconds afterwards. The images and videos from a given event are then stitched together on the fly in order to create an up to 30-second video which you can export as a MPEG4. Expect to see a lot of this on Facebook.
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