Review: HTC One

An outstanding smartphone for the masses and discerning users alike (May 12th, 2013)

MacNN Rating:

ratingratingratingratingrating

Product Manufacturer: HTC

Price: $575 (32GB) unlocked

The Good

  • Outstanding, high-res display
  • Stunning design
  • High-quality build
  • Excellent performance

The Bad

  • Camera performance
  • Average battery life
  • Runs slightly older version of Android
  • No microSD expansion

It is hard to overstate just how critically important the HTC One is to the Taiwanese company's fortunes. Despite its alarming decline in market share, HTC has taken a gamble with the One. It has opted for high-quality materials, which eat into its profit margin, while it has made a bold, but risky move with its switch to the 4-megapixel UltraPixel camera instead of joining the smartphone camera megapixel arms race. So how does the HTC One stack up?


Design and construction

The HTC One uses aluminum in much of its construction that creates a gapless appearance and unified appearance. There is also a seam of what appears to be polycarbonate that runs around the side of the case, which is there to help with cellular reception. Overall, though, there is little question that is one of the best quality finishes of any mobile device on the market. It is a stunning design and one that has received well-deserved praise commentators around the globe. Its curved rear aluminum panel also helps it sit very comfortably in the hand.



The sides of the HTC One also have a camber, sloping inwards from the rear to the front of the device, which also helps with user comfort. Helping to take to completely remove any harshness that might come with using an aluminum body, HTC has also added a chamfer to the front and rear edges of the device giving it a shiny edge as we have previously seen on the iPhone 5. That does not mean that the One's design is derivative. It has its own unique appearance and is head and shoulders above the Galaxy S4 for fit and finish.



The only negative that comes with its choice materials and finish is that the combination of aluminum along with the size of the Gorilla Glass 2 pane covering the display bumps up the weight of the HTC One to 143 grams. For a device with a display this size, however, it remains acceptable. The Galaxy S4 is noticeably lighter at 130 grams, despite carrying a large 5-inch display. However, it is made from much more flimsy plastic, while the HTC One feels reassuringly solid.



Display

The HTC One is also distinguished by its 4.7-inch Super LCD3 display, which has a Full HD 1080p resolution. Although this is the same resolution as the 5-inch 1080p displays found in some of its competition like the Galaxy S4 and the Sony Xperia Z, its pixel density of 468ppi is the most of these. As good as it looks though, it is not visibly sharper than the Retina display in the iPhone 5, with its once benchmark pixel density of 326ppi. It is nonetheless extremely impressive and looks beautiful in any scenario.



Color accuracy is excellent and does not have the slightly oversaturated appearance of colors on the Galaxy S4 display. Its viewing angles are also flawless with its brightness dropping off only slightly from any angle that you might view it. Colors do not shift either, making for what is probably the best viewing experience on any smartphone. Websites look crisp, with excellent brightness and contrast, movies look rich and attractive, while games really pop.



It is definitely a match for the Retina display on the iPhone 5 in every way, while its larger dimensions an advantage over that device making it better for watching movies in particular. Its relatively thin design, which is 9.3mm at its thickest point but thinner at its edges, also makes it quite navigable with one hand. For overall viewing quality and its higher refresh rates, it is a better display than the Super AMOLED panel on the Galaxy S 4, though Samsung is closing the gap with its OLED advances.



Camera

The camera on the HTC One is one of the more interesting gambles that HTC has taken with the device. The Samsung Galaxy S4 has adopted a 13-megapixel CMOS sensor like Sony Xperia Z, while Apple continued with an 8-megapixel sensor for the iPhone 5, which continues to be considered one of the best cameras on a smartphone. Instead of increasing the megapixel count on the HTC One, or indeed retaining the 8-megapixel sensor found on the HTC One X from 2012, HTC has incorporated a 4-megapixel sensor on the One.



As anyone who knows a little about cameras understands, megapixels are certainly not everything when it comes to creating quality photos. The size of the sensor, its sensitivity, the size of the aperture, the quality of the optics, the image processor and the software all combine to impact on the quality of a photo. Conversely, the higher the megapixel count, typically the greater the levels of detail are captured by a device. A downside of this is that the size of the image file also increases. In the photos below, the HTC One performs best in low-light situations.

HTC One indoor low-light shot



Galaxy S4 indoor low-light shot



iPhone 5 indoor low-light shot



HTC has increased the aperture on the One to F2.0, which it says allows 300 percent more light to reach the sensor. The pixels on its sensor are also larger, as is the sensor itself, which helps to offset the reduced number of megapixels to some extent. HTC feels that for the vast majority of users, this is a better combination in a world where people are sharing images directly to the Internet or storing electronically, rather than having them printed let alone enlarged.

HTC One outdoor shot



Galaxy S4 outdoor shot



iPhone 5 outdoor shot



In practice, the results produced by the camera on the HTC One probably will be quite suitable for most people in most circumstances. However, it is an area where the device stumbles somewhat compared to the competition, as the photo comparisons highlight. The UltraPixel camera on the One produces noticeably more image noise than the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S 4, while its is also limited in level of fine detail it is capable of reproducing. The UltraPixel camera is good; it is just not a match for the Galaxy S4 and the iPhone 5 for all round performance, as the cropped shots below emphasize.

HTC One crop



Galaxy S4 crop



iPhone 5 crop



To help spice up the photographic experience on the One, HTC has also included a couple of interesting and handy software-based camera functions to the device. HTC Zoe (short for Zoetrope) is a camera mode that takes Vine-like 7 second movie clips of a scene to create what is more like a gif or moving photograph. These are good fun and work really well in the automated slideshows of albums mixing movie clips with still images and music in the Events view.

Audio

If the UltraPixel camera is slightly underwhelming, the same cannot be said for the front-facing stereo speakers on the One. If you like using your device for casual audio listening, there is simply no better device on the market for this. The speakers are powered by Beats Audio amplification, which produce the richest, loudest, but clearest audio we have ever heard from a smartphone. BoomSound is one marketing slogan that we can forgive after listening to audio and watching movies on the device. It is simply outstanding and better than we had thought possible from speakers with such small enclosures.



Audio lovers will also appreciate the Beats Audio sound built-into the HTC One. It is also the best implementation of Beats Audio we have yet heard from an HTC device and make for a great listening experience with a quality pair of headphones. As was previously the case, purists also have the option of switching off the Beats Audio profile, though in the case of the rock music we listened to, we found that it definitely sounded better on than off. Supported audio formats out of the box include .aac, .amr, .ogg, .m4a, .mid, .mp3, .wav, .wma (Windows Media Audio 9).



Making calls on the HTC One is also a pleasure. Putting calls on the speakerphone mode is a true joy compare with what it can be like listening to calls on other devices. People on the other end of the line sound crystal clear and it is very easy to hold a conversation this way demonstrating that HTC was absolutely correct to move the speakers on the device from the bottom or rear (like the Galaxy S4) to the front. HTC also uses active-noise cancellation built into a tiny port on the rear of the device to help make calls clearer in busy or noisy areas when listening to calls through the regular earpiece. We found the system to work effectively as well.



Performance

Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S4, which is shipping with Android 4.2.2 'Jelly Bean,' the HTC One is shipping with Android 4.1.2 'Jelly Bean.' The US version of the Galaxy S4 shares the same processor as the HTC One in the form the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, which is up to 40 percent faster than the superseded Snapdragon S4. However, the version of chip in the Galaxy S4 is clocked at 1.9GHz against 1.7GHz in the HTC One. It is also paired with an Adreno 320 GPU that, although fast, is outperformed by the PowerVR GPUs found in the Apple A6 chipsets.

The benchmarks that we ran in our Galaxy S 4 review shows that it outperforms the HTC One, which is naturally what one would expect, given its higher clock speeds. While the HTC One scored 2852 points in the Geekbench test, the Galaxy S4 with the faster Snapdragon 600 scored 3238. Both these phones with their quad-core chips are close to twice as fast as the dual-core iPhone 5 A6 chip.



The new Futuremark 3DMark benchmark shows that the HTC One scores 6755, which is actually slightly higher than the result we achieved for the Galaxy S4 in the same Ice Storm Extreme test. The Galaxy S4 scored 6651, although there is not much to separate the two devices from a graphics perspective as they run the same GPU cores. Casual gamers will certainly find plenty to enjoy with the graphics performance of the HTC One as it is currently among the frontrunners.



The pure performance benchmarks show that the HTC One is no slouch when it comes to processor and graphics performance. In practice, although the Galaxy S4 has the faster CPU, the HTC One currently delivers a much slicker experience. We feel that this can be put down to the amount of bloatware that Samsung has installed on the Galaxy S4, which includes numerous feature enhancements layered over the top of Google's Android. This has resulted in slowdowns and lags that surface surprisingly frequently on that device, but do not materialize on the HTC One.

HTC has built-in a 2300mAh battery into the One. In real world use, we found that during testing under heavy use that it held its charge for the best part of the day. By the evening however, we felt inclined to plug it in for a charge. Under lighter use, however, we feel confident that the One will get through the day at a stretch. It's a decent battery, but is lower in capacity than the removable battery found in the Galaxy S4, which is juiced with 2600mAh. That said, the Galaxy S4 has to power a larger, slightly more power hungry AMOLED display.

Further, support for 4G cellular networks, 802.11ac, HDMI and Stereo FM radio makes it a very well-rounded performance package.

Software

HTC's Sense 5 overlay is much lighter by comparison, and consequently it runs as slickly as the latest version of Android runs on our Nexus 4, even though it is an older build. However, HTC probably opted to stick with the older OS as it likely conducted most of the testing of the handset on this version ahead of its launch. This means that it has shipped a device that is very stable and is very reliable, while giving it a chance to prepare an update to the next version in the near future. However, it does also consign it to be being behind the OS curve, especially with Google I/O just around the corner with the promise of a new version of Android in tow.



The combination of HTC Sense 5 with the Snapdragon 600 is a very potent combination. For the most part, HTC's software touches make for an intuitive user experience. Though users of plain vanilla Android 4.2.2 'Jelly Bean' will need to do a couple of Google searches to work out how to change the default apps in the device's dock, along with how to add widgets to the home screen and change the grid view in the app drawer from the default 3x4 configuration for ease viewing to a more familiar 4x5 arrangement.



Multitasking performance is slick, once you learn that it requires a double-tap of the home button to initiate. From there it is simple to see apps running with thumbnails arranged in a full screen grid, which shows more at a glance than the stock Android implementation. These can be swiped off with an upward flicking gesture. Web browsing is fast and fluent, games run beautifully and videos look great on it. The combination of hardware and software is compelling.



One of the other software features that HTC has added to the One is BlinkFeed, which is a live home screen that connects to a wide range popular social and news feeds including Facebook, Twitter, Associated Press, The Huffington Post and ESPN. By default this is placed on the device's home screen, although users still have the option of setting a user-defined homescreen. This will consign BlinkFeed to another screen, making it accessible with a swipe to the left or the right. Users can't uninstall it however, although we can't see why anyone would want to turn if off. Refreshing the content is carried out manually, which will spare users concerned about data overages.



One of the HTC One's really useful value-added functions is its ability to double as a remote control for your television using through an app it calls Sense TV. The power button at the top of the device is also an IR blaster and can be used to control all the popular TV brands including cable boxes. We found it very easy to set up and pair with our LG Smart TV, while built in TV show suggestions and access to live TV guides are really handy. It's not an essential function to have in a smartphone, but it works very well and is just one more reason to really like the device.



Forced to choose between Samsung's TouchWiz or HTC's Sense interface, we would pick HTC's interface, which seems cleaner and less cluttered than Samsung's. However, ultimately, that is a matter of personal preference, but it is something that helps us lean towards an overall preference for the HTC One.

Final thoughts

The HTC One is an outstanding smartphone that has very few obvious flaws. It combines a gorgeous design with a very slick operating system. It is probably slightly tall for its 4.7-inch display - the Google Nexus 4 with its 4.7-inch display is a bit more compact in this regard. However, HTC has put this extra height to very good use packing in the best speakers on a smartphone to date. If you want a smartphone that you can use to play music in a dorm or small room, you need look no further.

Its design and build quality is excellent and is absolutely on par with the best, including the iPhone 5. It could also be argued that it is a better-looking device than the iPhone 5, underscoring just what a great job HTC has done with the One. The Samsung Galaxy S4 makes better use of its large display by packing it into a very compact body, but it is not in the same ballpark as the HTC One for looks or in its choice of materials - it feels like using a household white goods product next to the look and feel of the HTC one.

Although we still prefer stock Android over the Sense 5 UI, some of HTC's customizations are genuinely useful and add to the user experience. It also shows no signs of obvious lag and is very responsive to user input, unlike the Galaxy S4, which surprisingly still stumbles in this regard. The HTC One display is also simply outstanding, although the 5-inch display on the Galaxy S4 does have a greater impact when viewed side-by-side. But, when scrolling through a website, the AMOLED display of the Galaxy S4 produces a noticeable ghosting effect with its colors that is just not present in the Super LCD3 display in the HTC One.

The only significant let down with the HTC One is its UltraPixel camera. It does offer users some advantages in reducing photo file sizes, while offering excellent low light performance. But on the whole, it is not as well-rounded as the cameras on the Galaxy S4 and the iPhone 5. While this might give some users pause, the vast majority of users won't find that it is an issue. It won't, however, properly replace a decent point-and-shoot camera, which is what some users are looking for.

Overall, the HTC One is a great smartphone and deserves serious consideration by those in the market for a new device.

by Sanjiv Sathiah


POST TOOLS:
toggle

Network Headlines

toggle

Most Popular

MacNN Sponsor

Recent Reviews

IDrive cloud backup and sync service

There are a lot of cloud services out there, and nearly all of them can be used for backing up key files and folders. A few dedicated ...

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth headphones

Looking for a pair of headphones that can do everything a user requires is a task that can take some study. Trying to decide on in-ear ...

MaxUpgrades 512GB Retina MacBook Pro SSD

Apple's Retina line of MacBook Pro notebooks have been impressive, right from their debut in 2012. Thinner than the previous model, t ...

toggle

Most Commented