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The HTC One (M7) and the case for smartphone plateau

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August 25, 2014

Gizmag takes a look back at one of the best phones of 2013 ... and realizes it could also ...

Gizmag takes a look back at one of the best phones of 2013 ... and realizes it could also be one of the best phones of 2014 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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It isn't often that you'll see us revisiting a year-and-a-half-old device. After all, in the world of smartphones, 18 months ago is practically the stone age. But I recently took a break from reviewing the latest and greatest phones to play with a favorite from early last year, the HTC One (M7). The fact that it holds up so well today might say something about the direction in which smartphones are moving.

A few years ago, any 18-month-old smartphone was likely to look and handle like an old clunker next to the latest flagships. If nothing else, performance and camera quality might have been so far behind that they alone were reason enough to go with the newer model.

But my going back to the HTC One (M7) shines a light on just how much smartphone innovation has slowed – if not come to a screeching halt. I'd say late 2012 to early 2013 was the period that smartphones hit peak levels in the most important areas. Display, performance, camera and battery life ... phones like the One M7 marked that as good as most people would ever need threshold. Most of the "innovations" we've seen since then? Well, they're, at best, slightly more convenient. At worst, they're gimmicks cooked up by increasingly desperate marketing departments.

Smartphones are aging better than ever ... and we might need to start getting used to that...

Sure, HTC's 2014 flagship, the HTC One (M8), is a better phone with a bigger screen and a few new tricks up its sleeve. The LG G3 has an insane pixel count, the iPhone 5s lets you unlock it with your fingerprint and the Galaxy S5 can soak in a glass of water without going kaput. Those are all fun features and, if all else were equal ... sure, I'd take most of them.

But is any of that really necessary? Do these extra features really offer much of an improvement over excellent 2013 phones like the One M7? Or are OEMs just trying harder and harder to look like their latest devices make the older ones obsolete?

Even today, the One M7 has everything I need from a high-end smartphone. Zippy performance? Check. Spacious and sharp screen? Yep, the 4.7-in, 1080p display on this puppy still looks terrific. Battery life? It's roughly the same as, if not better than, most high-end phones you can buy today. Its camera could be better, but it's solid enough – and I turn to a DSLR for any serious photography anyway. HTC even helped the device's longevity by keeping it up-to-date with the latest Android and HTC Sense software.

The One M7 is still one of the most stunning mobile devices we've ever seen (Photo: Will S...

Did I mention its design? Even after a year and a half, the One's aluminum unibody construction oozes premium quality. It's one damn sexy smartphone that pulls off the trick that countless other phone-makers have failed at: looking as good as an Apple product, but without looking like an Apple knockoff.

The best thing about buying the One M7 today is that, with a little hunting, you can find it for dirt cheap. US wireless carriers are still asking for way too much, but if you look at eBay or Craigslist, you can find brand new models for under $300 or "like new" models in the $200-250 range.

Is the One M7 really that far behind any of the phones we've seen in the 18 months since i...

Now why, again, would I want to pay over twice that – or perhaps sign a two-year blood oath – to get a newer phone? Just so I can have a monstrous screen, skip entering a passcode or drop my phone in the toilet without any worries? At what point do bigger and more just turn into feature creep and overkill?

Maybe one day we'll get back to a world where this year's smartphones are, once again, dramatically better than last year's. Maybe there is some unforeseen smartphone-maker creativity waiting in the wings that will change all of this. Maybe. Or maybe OEMs know damn well that those days are long gone, and are now pinning their hopes on less travelled roads, like smartwatches.

It's still hard to beat the sleek aluminum unibody construction of the One M7 (Photo: Will...

If the rumor mill has its ducks in a row, then we'll soon see two new iPhones. They'll both have sleek aluminum unibody builds, and one of them will sport a 4.7-in screen. The world will probably go nuts about the iPhone 6 – and, who knows, maybe we will too.

But can it really be that big of an upgrade over this 4.7-in aluminum masterpiece? Can the new owner of Beats Electronics really give us a good reason to pay three times what we'd pay today for this beauty from the last owner of Beats Electronics? Unless the folks in Cupertino have something truly special up their sleeves, that's going to be one tall order.

The HTC One (M7) is still available, and still worth checking out – especially if you can find it for $300 or less without a contract or installment plan.

Product page: HTC

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
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6 Comments

One thing that annoys me about smartphones lately is the complete industry-wide abandonment of the small form factor.

The smallest android phone you can get has a screen about 4"

A few years back, Sony was making very small phones, and coupled with features like USB OTG, these are a game-changing platform for a whole bunch of applications that don't require you to look at a large screen, where small size is actually a real necessary attribute.

Remote / mobile / portable telemetry / telesensing for instance.

Adrien
26th August, 2014 @ 04:49 am PDT

@Adrien

Manufacturers aren't willing to consider that many people just want a small phone that can run a few necessary apps and a replacement for their laptop/desktop PC. So they keep pushing their hype and making what _they_ want you to buy, and consumers are left with very expensive phones that they might only use for voice/sms and maybe read a kindle book or stream some music. All the super-duper powerful stuff is often wasted except for sounding cool when you tell your friends about your new phone.. :-)

I bought an M7 last year after my old G2 died. My M7 will be here until I can't find anyone to replace its (someday) dead battery.

flink
26th August, 2014 @ 06:02 am PDT

Well said! And I'm typing that on an m7 :-). For me, the m7 was the first smart phone I've had that was smaller than the previous one and I thinks it's the perfect size. I think it's better than the m8 in that regard. Like the Motorola star tac of old, they've nailed it and should simply upgrade the internals from now on. The m8 is larger but for no good reason.

Hogey74
27th August, 2014 @ 09:42 am PDT

There's features that this phone doesn't have I would want. Two are like you mentioned: fully ruggedized and with a biometric scanner. Some you haven't mentioned are: externally removable, hot-swappable batteries (like a Motion Computing tablet, for example); a full sized SD card slot behind a little door (like my old Treo or any digital camera); an optical data transceiver for fast private wireless communication with a nearby computer. However, the reality is that I'm still using my n900.

John Banister
27th August, 2014 @ 03:29 pm PDT

Yep my HTC One M7 is still more phone than I need, plus to get a "better" phone I've got to get bigger pockets. I said last year that I never want to own a phone that is physically larger than the m7, and I haven't changed my mind. You can keep your boats, remember when the latest and greatest was smaller not larger than the last model? I want my next phone to be full featured and about the size of the galaxy S2...

Waynesb
28th August, 2014 @ 03:04 am PDT

Great article & well articulated comments. I agree with the sentiment that bigger doesn't always mean better. I think that the oem's feel as if they have to re-invent their tech each year to supercede the previous iteration. The m7 was potentially the best hand held computing device ever made - beautifully symmetrical, pocketable, & perfectly functional...The cpu, gpu, screen, etc... are all MORE than necessary & the performance proves it, imo. Until battery life improves appreciably, the specs have indeed reached a plateau, as have the designs.

The m8, however, has been criticized for being larger than necessary, despite the beautiful build. The removal of ois in place of the 'duo cam' is an example of a company trying to one-up themselves when all they needed to do was simply evolve & improve. I bought the m7 this past spring instead of the m8 & I have absolutely no regrets.

I really hope the m9, nexus 6, etc, etc r NOT 5.5" or larger.

Dave Ferrara
28th August, 2014 @ 06:59 am PDT
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