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Review: HTC One (M7)

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May 6, 2013

Gizmag reviews one of the top smartphones of 2013, the HTC One

Gizmag reviews one of the top smartphones of 2013, the HTC One

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When you’re facing adversity, what do you do? Do you act out of fear and desperation? Throw everything against the wall and hope something sticks? Or do you use it as an opportunity to refocus, and soar to new heights? HTC chose the latter. The result is the One, probably the boldest Android phone ever made. But is it also the best Android phone ever made? Or even – gasp – the best smartphone ever made? Read on, as we review the HTC One.

Back against the wall

HTC dug itself into quite the hole

You might have heard about HTC hitting some hard times. The company dug itself into quite the hole. Too many phones that don’t offer anything unique will do that to you. So will relying too much on Beats Audio and gimmicks like 3D.

So HTC was at a crossroads. With revenues and profits collapsing, it decided to go all in. It put all its chips in the quality pot. After all, that’s what put HTC on the map in the first place. Dance with the one that brought you.

Stunning design

This is one stunning phone

The fruit of that seed just might be the most beautiful smartphone ever made. Yes, I think it’s more stunning than any of Apple’s iPhones. If the MacBook Pro with Retina Display were a smartphone, it would be the HTC One.

In fact, the One feels like the iPhone that Apple could have made ... if it was willing to break down its highly-profitable formula and start from scratch. Adversity can give you an advantage over your sitting-pretty opponents. You’re less afraid of taking risks. HTC grabbed that bull by the horns.

In case the pictures don’t speak for themselves, we’re looking at an aluminum unibody-esque design. Stereo speakers sit above and below the 4.7-inch screen. Capacitive home and back buttons also live below the screen. Edges are smooth and polished. Everything is precise, unified, and elegant.

This thing belongs in a museum.

In hand

See, not too big

So the One looks great, but how does it feel in hand? I don’t think it’s quite as comfortable to hold as the Galaxy S4, but it’s not too far off its lead. The One is a bit heavier (by 10 percent), but the phone’s smooth aluminum chassis is still a pleasure to hold.

Things like “how it feels in hand” are, of course, extremely subjective. If this is important to you, just hit up a store with display models and decide for yourself.

Mesmerizing display

The display has 1920 x 1080 (1080p) resolution –  an absurd 468 pixels per inch

The One’s display is one of the best – and quite possibly the best – on the market. It’s an absolutely stunning 4.7 inches of pixel-perfect glory.

On a technical level, we’re looking at 1080p (1920 x 1080) resolution, spread out over 4.7 inches. That’s an absurd 468 pixels per inch (PPI). The screen uses IPS tech, so colors are more accurate and realistic. It’s a different experience from the Galaxy S4’s ultra-vibrant Super AMOLED display. The GS4 hits you in the face with mesmerizing color. The One waits for you to come to it.

Apple likes to boast that the iPhone’s “Retina Display” is the best in its class. Not anymore. To me, the displays of the One and the Galaxy S4 (and possibly a few others) easily outshine it.

Everything you do on a smartphone centers around the screen. A display can make or break a device. In this case, it’s just one of several elements that HTC hit out of the park.

Invisible performance

The One is 9.3 mm thick

The HTC One doesn’t feel like it’s trying to show you how fast it is. It doesn’t clobber you over the head with fancy animations or other bells and whistles. It just delivers. It’s the epitome of responsiveness. You forget about performance, because it’s never an issue. Addition by subtraction.

On a technical level, we’re looking at a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor clocked at 1.7GHz, along with 2 GB of RAM. In terms of benchmarks, it’s nipping at the heels of the quad-core version of the Galaxy S4. But the HTC One moves a bit faster in regular use. There isn't as much software bloat weighing it down. Performance just isn’t remotely an issue on the One.

This is normally where reviewers go into miniscule, geeky detail about app load times, gaming frames-per-second, and web browser speed tests. We could do that.

... but why? Performance isn’t a concern. Period. You task it to do something, and it responds. Instantly. What more do you need to know?

Making Sense of Android

BlinkFeed is like a permanent Flipboard widget on your homescreen

The One, of course, runs Android. We’re looking at 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, which isn’t the latest version. That’s an area where Samsung got a leg up, as the Galaxy S4 does run Google’s latest. But 4.2 Jelly Bean was a minor upgrade over 4.1 Jelly Bean, so this probably won’t be a deal-breaker.

More obvious is the HTC Sense overlay. Its look and feel are trademark HTC: sophisticated, professional, understated. Contrast this with Samsung’s TouchWiz, which is more playful and in your face. TouchWiz is splashy and colorful; Sense is precise, leaning more on elegant grays and blacks.

One of the biggest new software features is BlinkFeed. It’s basically a Flipboard clone that lives as a permanent widget on your homescreen. It does what you’d expect it to: delivers visually appealing news and social feeds, tailored to your interests.

But I’m not a huge BlinkFeed fan. For starters, I regularly use Flipboard, and don’t need a new version. If I want that kind of thing on my homescreen, Flipboard has widgets too.

But my biggest complaint about BlinkFeed is that you can’t remove it from your homescreen. You can ignore it, and even switch to a different default screen ... but BlinkFeed never completely goes away.

It’s a well-made feature. It blends with the Sense UI, and could be a great source of info for you. But even well-made features are better when you can choose whether to see them or not.

Boom!

The One's dual front-facing speakers have 'BoomSound'

Smartphone makers quickly learned the importance of feature branding. It isn’t a high resolution display, it’s “Retina.” It isn’t a stylus, it’s an “S Pen.” So here the HTC One’s stereo speakers have “BoomSound.”

Fortunately, this isn’t just empty marketing. These suckers are loud and full. I can safely say that they’re the best speakers of any smartphone or tablet I’ve ever used. I compared it to the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, which has unusually good speakers (also stereo) for a tablet. The One sounded much crisper, and was far superior on the bass end of things.

You probably won’t base your buying decision on this. You’re still better off buying a Bluetooth speaker, and beaming your music there. But good speakers are a nice bonus nonetheless – especially when it comes to watching movies and playing games.

UltraPixels, baby

The One's camera only has 5 megapixels, but they're 'UltraPixels'

With its camera, HTC is daring you to think outside of the box. See, when it comes to buying tech products, customers like easy-to-digest metrics. How many cores are in the processor? How many gigs of RAM? These things make it easier to compare devices.

In the camera department, product makers and customers have fallen in love with megapixels. Camera resolution is important, but it’s been blown way out of proportion. Once you hit a certain threshold of resolution, other factors – like sensors, lenses, and pixel size – become at least as important.

So HTC pulled back on the megapixels in the One’s rear camera (it only has 4 MP). It focused instead on the size of the pixels. These bigger pixels also have a catchy HTC brand name: UltraPixels.

The idea is that by squeezing in less pixels, the larger pixels that are there can let in more light, and capture wider varieties of color – even in low light.

Unedited (but downscaled for the web) sample shot from the One's rear camera

In my tests (like the sample above), the One’s camera wasn’t significantly better than other (excellent) high-end smartphones like the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5 under regular conditions. HTC’s claims about superior low-lighting images did add up ... at least when the lighting got really bad. The Galaxy S4 fared the best in standard indoor lighting. The more light we took away, though, the better the One fared.

Overall, the shots I took on the One were (roughly) in the same league as those from the GS4 and iPhone 5. And considering that those phones have 13 MP and 8 MP cameras, respectively, HTC did something right with its mere 4 MP. And for the crappiest of lighting conditions, its shots should look much better than its rivals.

Battery?

The One is over 137 mm tall (roughly the same as the Galaxy S4)

In my tests, battery life was great. It only lost between 5-10 percentage points per hour, with little to moderate use. So unless you spend entire days playing 3D games and watching Netflix, you’re easily looking at a full day on a single charge.

It’s possible that your battery life will actually be better than mine. I tested a unit from Sprint, which has lousy coverage in my area. Weak and spotty service can put a hurt on a battery, so with better coverage your uptimes could potentially go from great to outstanding.

Wrap-up

The One (center) next to the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4

When Gizmag reviewed the Galaxy S4, I described it as “just about the perfect smartphone.” And I’d say exactly the same thing about the HTC One. Having two smartphones this good pop up at around the same time is something truly special. It’s the smartphone geek’s version of Lennon and McCartney, Magic and Bird.

But it also makes for a really tough decision. If I had to choose right now, I’d probably lean ever-so-slightly towards the One. I prefer Sense over TouchWiz, and also give the One’s display quality and performance the slight edge. I might also give HTC an extra boost because they need my business much more than Samsung does.

But these are just my preferences. The pendulum could just as easily swing towards the GS4's bigger screen, lighter build, and wacky bag of software goodies. In fact, but I’d be wary of anyone who claims that one of these phones is far superior to the other. We all have our preferences, but I think both both phones are as good as it gets right now.

It speaks volumes to how far Android has come. In years past, there was a sense that Android phones pushed the envelope more than the iPhone, but they also had some crippling flaws. They were first to LTE, but had miserable battery life. Faster processors, but still not as buttery-smooth as iOS. Bigger screens, but not as sharp as Apple’s Retina Display.

Now all of those concerns are null and void. In my opinion, both the Galaxy S4 and HTC One are now a full step ahead of the iPhone 5. In fairness to Apple, these phones shipped seven months later – so they should be.

But if the rumors about an iPhone 5S with an unchanged screen and chassis are true, then Apple could risk falling way behind. Huge phones like these two no longer feel huge. They just make the iPhone look small.

Any time you talk about "the best," you're really talking about the best for you ... or maybe the best for the majority of people. Either way, it can't be universal. However, I can’t imagine anyone who has used the HTC One having many complaints about it. It’s as heroic an effort you could ask for – from a company that desperately needed something like that.

Even if you ultimately decide on the Galaxy S4 (or another phone), you'd be doing yourself a disservice to not even consider the HTC One. To me, it's easily one of the two best smartphones ever made ... and you wouldn't be crazy for calling it the best smartphone ever made.

For more on the big smartphone dilemma of 2013, check out our in-depth comparison of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

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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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16 Comments

Low light performance is my pet issue because mostly everything else about phones is pretty good. I long for the day I can take photos of people in average lighting with my camera phone and have them not be blurry.

I have an S4 on pre-order (still only choice on Verizon) but I am happy to see HTC bring such a solid phone to the market. They might not be able to turn their company around with one phone but they are definitely on the track to success.

I was sort of rooting on their UltraPixel Camera to best the S4 in low light so we can start putting this silly megapixel war behind us and focusing on things that really matter to camera performance. Not that it isn't good or the science behind the idea is flawed but I suspect doing it with suppliers who have perfected the status quo is a little like sailing against the wind.

Daishi
3rd May, 2013 @ 05:51 pm PDT

I had the one for three days. Switched over from apple land. It looked great, performed great, sounded great. There was one major problem i couldn't get past though. I am a project manager for a commercial contractor and keep my phone in my pocket all day. On the first day the phone pocket called my wife 4 times a couple of customers and my boss 7 so I decided to turn on the lock feature. I figured that would fix the issue. The second day it decided to pocket call 911 11 times. There is an emergency call button on the lock screen, which you cannot turn off. The third day I traded it in for an Iphone 5. I liked the phone and was sold on the features but pocket calls have never been an issue with my Iphone. Good try HTC but Im with apple now indefinitely.

Shelby Turner
3rd May, 2013 @ 09:10 pm PDT

A nice change from fanatic reviews of any one company...all three of these phones are amazing, they all have something that we can say is a strength and a weakness, but it's so slight a difference that we can choose a high end smart phone based simply on preferred OS, and carrier...

This is a period of refinement in software, as hardware has peaked in currently available technology, we're probably looking at two years or so before hardware advances that are groundbreaking enough to be impressive change the landscape of smart phones again. Things like better battery technology, reduced power draws for components, and improved camera tech, are the next revolution in hardware design...and we're a good distance from that yet. In fact, these phones are so good i can only see improved batteries and improved power management of some components as worthy hardware upgrade...the small screen of a phone can only go so far before a full size display becomes necessary.

John Hemingway Parkes
4th May, 2013 @ 08:38 am PDT

Well pretty is all very well, but it would be great to see a phone manufacturer think about the day-to-day user experience rather than how the phone looks when you unwrap it when brand new.

So how about now concentrating on giving us useful stuff like:

1.Contact-less charging

2. Pass a 1 metre drop-test without damage

3. Waterproofing (or decent water resistance at least)

4. And, HTC (yes YOU HTC) restoring the SD Card slot (you only removed it to protect your ability to sell miserly memory upgrades at inflated prices).

My Galaxy S3 is OK (with a nice cheap memory extension installed) but has been killed once by moisture and is protected by a silicone condom case otherwise it wouldn't survive a month of real-world use.

Booleanboy
6th May, 2013 @ 06:07 am PDT

Heard HTC is about to go bankrupt... Don't feel comfortable putting my miney in an ailing company especually if the S4 is superior to the one in as many areas as you have mentioned.

Jean Yang
6th May, 2013 @ 06:38 am PDT

" However, I can’t imagine anyone who has used the HTC One having many complaints about it." Why should there be "ANY" and it's not saying much "if" you don't have or exercise an imagination. Not being aware of it's short comings with the little bit of time you had to use it does not help potential buyers who will discover them after the fact over the extended days and weeks of use you did not have. May I direct your attention to Shelby Turner's comment, posted 3rd May, 2013 @ 09:10 pm PDT. I suppose no one could imagine any phone making 11 unintentional calls on day one and unintentionally calling 911, 11 times on day two. Apparently the only to prevent accidental 911 calls is to suffer others. That is not acceptable. The biggest problem I see is corporations in every industry insisting that any product they produce, as designed and released, has to be fixed in cement. I dream of the day some forward thinking company adapts a business plan where their new product will be able to have it's shortcomings correct directly through up firmware changes to the existing product and not having to look for another product that is no different when it comes to random shortcomings that are inevitable and always present themselves with every "perfect new phone". That as I see it is the only way to achieve the perfect product. Perfect for the actual owners and not just for review writers. Does any phone need a panic button that can't be turned off should the owner not want it or if it becomes a MAJOR design flaw? Will the HTC One manufactures provide those that have an issue with that feature or any number of annoying design features to be discovered, be able to have them corrected (via a simple firmware change) without moving to the competition or wait until the next "perfect phone" to be released? Judging from past history I suspect not.

That being said, that makes this new release, as perfect as you claim it is, no different than all the same old, frozen in time, less than perfect predecessors . This reality only makes the customers, who are paying for all this, constantly seeking the holy grail of phones and falling short of that goal.

offthegrid
6th May, 2013 @ 08:40 am PDT

yup i like it coz its futuristic, but you cant have it calling people while its in your pocket

Dave Hargraves
6th May, 2013 @ 10:42 am PDT

Your article reads like you are trying hard to think of something new to say about smart phones. You said "What more do you need to know?"

Well, how about reception? How does reception in fringe areas compare to the Galaxy or iPhone?

You also don't mention if the new HTC has a microSD slot like the Galaxy does. I take it from others comments that it doesn't but it IS a deal breaker for many people so I can't see why your review ignores this.

Richard Chesher
6th May, 2013 @ 01:07 pm PDT

Eventually, some wise phone manufacturer is going to offer the Liquipel waterproofing from the factory.

making glass tough enough to withstand a 1-meter fall onto a hard surface is a tall order.

Scotty, we'll give you all the whales you want if you'll tell us how to make transparent aluminum- better yet, transparent case-hardened steel.

William H Lanteigne
6th May, 2013 @ 01:10 pm PDT

"Dance with the one that brought you." I absolutely love that categorical phrase, Will. Never heard it before and can think of all kinds of situations where it will apply. :-)

DonGateley
6th May, 2013 @ 01:14 pm PDT

I have had this phone for a week and a half and it has never dialed anyone accidentally. I was an avid iPhone fan and still own everything else made by apple, but this phone blows the iPhone 5 away. I had the 4, 4s, and 5 the day they each came out.

Andy Booher
6th May, 2013 @ 01:23 pm PDT

I've had my HTC One for about 3 weeks now and LOVE the battery life, picture quality (I disagree with GizMag about low-light vs the S4, I've tested it myself and see The One having the advantage), sound system, etc. I'm a former Motorola-only customer so Sense took some getting used to. I haven't had any cases of 'butt-dialing' like Shelby Turner. I don't see how it's possible to ghost dial when the screen is turned off. I don't keep my phone locked. The Blinkfeed is annoying if you don't use it but if you're into sports/newsfeeds, it would be a gem of a feature to you. I get about a day and a half of battery off of one charge and I use my phone all day with music and social networking. The power save feature isn't even necessary but does a lot to add to the battery life if you're in the yellow and need a few more hours of life.

I'm now waiting to see if all those lovely features of the S4 are going to actually become popular or if they'll just sit on the phone as novelty and be forgotten by time the next Galaxy is introduced.

Jamel OneScorpio Wooten
6th May, 2013 @ 04:28 pm PDT

Great review - nice to read some informed opinion and not just a long list of specs, which you can easily get from any other web site. I also loved the "dance with the one that brought you" - classic quote and so applicable to life and business.

I agree with Booleanboy too - phones need to address more real life issues now that fighting over pixels and processer speeds. As we see, the camera war is probably over, settling around the 4 to 12 MP mark; I remember saying years ago that when a phone camera was good enough to print decent sized images, it would be good enough. Beyond this you need the optics that only bigger housings like SLR can provide.

Back to real life - waterproof and drop proof would be great. And less bling for longer battery life. My phone is a lifestyle tool, I use GPS a lot in sport, and having a device that could last 8 hours plus while on full tracking GPS would be awesome, especially if I could get it wet at the same time. Sony is most of the way there.

Big up to HTC for bravely choosing quality in this daunting race - hope it pays off for them. I would like to see more comment on the dialling issue and the fact you can't remove BlinkFeed; isn't the whole point of Android that YOU control the experience?

I have had iPhones for years now, and have never found a reason to change - they work, the way I need, all the time.

However, with Steve no longer at the helm, comments like an unchanged iPhone 5S have a very disturbing ring to them. Kind of like a death knell.

Chris Hornby
6th May, 2013 @ 11:09 pm PDT

I'd buy one if the phone ran WP8. Without a doubt.

Luis Manuel Balsinhas
7th May, 2013 @ 03:46 am PDT

http://www.howstuffworks.com/transparent-aluminum-armor.htm

@ William H Lanteigne

Already exists. Why it's not being offered is that it costs more than gorilla glass, and it might not work with capacitive touchscreens.

We COULD make an indestructible phone. But you wont see one for sale anytime soon. It would cut profits across the board for phone makers. You might actually chose to keep an indestructible phone instead of buying the new one every six months.

Valkyrie Mcgill
8th May, 2013 @ 03:25 am PDT

@ Shelby Turner,

A simple way to end the accidental calling is to download an app called Call Confirm, which uses a popup dialogue to confirm that you want to make the call before dialing. An exception can be selected for when bluetooth is on.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.nanabit.callconfirm&hl=en

Einstein
8th May, 2013 @ 06:24 pm PDT
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