Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

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May 4, 2013 • Reviews

HTC ONE: A Review from Two Continents

HTC ONE

One of us is in the US while the other is in Australia; both of us have been using the HTC ONE for the last bit. With HTC pushing the phone this weekend through special sales promotions, we thought it would be a good time to share some of our thoughts.

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Dan: A couple of weeks ago, I wrote some of my first impressions of the HTC ONE Android Smartphone. My initial impressions have only continued to be positive, and I am more enamored with the device now than when I first gushed about it. At the time, I described the HTC ONE as being as close to jewelry as a smartphone can be. I stand by that statement. I also noted that the look and feel and build of the phone rivals the iPhone 5 and might even exceed it; I stand by that statement as well. In that initial look, I noted that the dual front-facing speakers were like nothing I have ever heard from on a smartphone before; that statement is perhaps close to an understatement. The phone is amazing as a standalone music or video device. My time with the HTC ONE is coming to an end, but Mitchell’s time with his is just beginning.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 005

Mitchell: My HTC ONE journey really began on April 5. My local carrier Telstra sent out an email blasts announcing that HTC ONE pre-orders were now open. Within minutes of that email I had my order in for a gorgeous 32GB Black HTC ONE.

I’ve been using an LG Nexus 4 for over a month and, convinced that I could switch to Android after four generations of iPhone, I was certain that the HTC ONE was going to be my next long-term smartphone, replacing my 64GB iPhone 5.

Finally receiving the HTC ONE this week, I tore into the box immediately, and I was definitely struck but the solidity of this phone. HTC waxes lyrical about the materials and overall build of the HTC ONE, and its not hard to see why. In a sea of plastic, the HTC ONE definitely stands out.

HTC ONE

HTC ONE By the Numbers

Let’s get the specs and other factual stuff out of the way.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 002

The Screen is Gorgeous

  • Android with HTC Sense (They are careful not to list the numbers. If you dig deeply you will see it is “Android OS, v4.1.2 (Jelly Bean), upgradable to v4.2.2 (Jelly Bean)”)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 1.7 GHz quad-core processor
  • 32GB Storage
  • 2GB RAM
  • 4.7″ 1080p Full HD screen with 468PPI
  • HTC BoomSound
  • Dual front speakers
  • Built-in amplifiers
  • Beats Audio
  • HTC UltraPixel Camera
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • 2.1MP front camera
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC

In the box

HTC continues to offer a less-than-exciting unboxing experience. This time out, the ATT version includes:

  • The HTC ONE
  • An AC charger
  • A MicroUSB sync cable
  • A (cheap) 3.5mm headset with microphone
  • A SIM eject tool
  • A Quick Start guide

IMG 1958

HTC ONE Look Feel and Build

Dan: I’ve said my piece regarding the look, feel and build of the ONE. Mitchell has both of the current heavy-weight contenders in the Android smartphone competition, and he can give far more color than me.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 007

Mitchell: I’m lucky enough to have the new Samsung Galaxy S 4 on my desk as well, so I have been comparing the two relentlessly.

Like the iPhone 4, the HTC ONE is a solid, hefty chunk of technology that exudes quality. The black metal looks very slick, and has a reasonable amount of grip despite its smooth texture.

Having carried an iPhone 5 for the last 8 months, the extra heft of the HTC ONE is very noticeable  Some accuse the iPhone 5 of being too light, but I’m not one of them. Even the Samsung Galaxy S 4 feels a lot lighter (143 vs 130 grams), despite a mere 13 g (or 9%) separating the two.

Since I actually OWN the HTC ONE in my possession  I have been quite careful with it, occasionally toting it naked, other times in one of the three cheap-o cases I ordered in eBay weeks ago. So far it has picked up nary a mark, and indications online would suggest it’s better at “wear and tear” than the black iPhone 5. That said, the amount of info on the black HTC ONE is few and far between compared to the silver.

Up against the Samsung Galaxy S 4, the HTC ONE unquestionably feels like the more premium product. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Galaxy S 4 feels slimy as other publications have done, the Galaxy S 4 feels solid without feeling special. On high volume, the S 4’s rear-facing speaker makes the battery cover vibrate, and while the silver band around the edge looks nicer than the equivalent on the Galaxy S III, it’s fake.

The HTC ONE exhibits none of these qualities. My concern is scratching that beautiful aluminium body, since it doesn’t share the GS4’s ability to bounce or flex should rock meet hard place.

Strangely, I have been finding the Samsung Galaxy S 4 to be easier to hold and use in day-to-day situations. Despite being marginally wider (less than 2mm), I feel much less nervous texting one handed.

As for design, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with the HTC ONE in the flesh. The back looks fantastic, with gorgeous symmetrical lines and a subtle curve that catches the light especially nicely on the black model. The front is where it slightly loses its appeal.

The top and bottom speaker grills are glued onto the phone, which is fine (though it seems a bit out of whack with the whole “unibody” line that HTC is selling), but they add significantly to the amount of non-display area on the front of the phone. Compared to the Galaxy S 4, the screen looks surprisingly small due to the rather large black bezels on all four sides of the display.

4.7-inch vs 5-inch is inconsequential, and in fact I prefer the former since it can make-on-break one handedness, but on the HTC One it feels like a wasted opportunity to make the phone just that little bit smaller.

Ditching the third soft key for a non-function HTC logo is a strange decision too. Why couldn’t the HTC button act as “Home”, flanked by back and multitasking keys?

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Mitchell’s Gallery of HTC ONE vs Samsung GALAXY S4 Pictures

Dan: I think I’ve largely said my piece. The HTC ONE is gorgeous and built beautifully; it is as refined as any smart phone on the market, and it feels solid without feeling like a brick. Both visually and from a tactile perspective it is a far more interesting device then the iPhone 5. When compared to the Samsung Galaxy S 4, it is on another planet. One is big and plastic, while the other is metal, glass, and gorgeous. Hands-down if you’re looking for the best phone from an industrial design perspective, this is one of the top contenders if not the knockout winner.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 001 HTE ONE Software and Operating System

Dan: I was an early detractor of Android, but I’ve been softening as of late. The operating system has become increasingly refined, and it is not the dog I once believed it to be. While I prefer iOS to Android, I would certainly be more than happy to use an android handset. The HTC One is most certainly an Android handset. That’s good and bad. On the good side there is the fact that the phone is running Android v4.1.2; it’s polished and works well. Even with HTC Sense skinning the operating system (I happen to like Sense), the phone is plenty zippy. That, of course, is thanks to its speedy processor and healthy amount of RAM. During my use of the device, I never had a slowdown or other issues with it. That’s saying a great deal since that is usually not my experience with Android.

As noted, however, this is truly an Android handset. What that also means is the fact that the phone is shipping with v4.1.2, a version of Android that is already old. And while it says “upgradable to v4.2.2 we haven’t seen best track record for HTC Android handsets getting updated to newer versions of operating system. And even if it does, by the time that happens, v4.2.2 will be outdated.

My rule of thumb is this:

When buying an iOS device, you can figure that you will see at least two full point operating system updates before the device is sunset. With the second update you may not get all of the new features, but you’ll get most of them — and the device will continue to work solidly.

When purchasing an Android handset, you have to go into the acquisition with the mindset that you’ll used the phone with the current operating system for the life of the device. Never, ever assume you will see an update, since you likely will not. Since this phone already has an obsolete version of Android, I’m a bit mixed.

Two things worth noting despite not being unique to this device are Google Now and Google voice recognition. Google Now works incredibly well on the HTC One, and is a phenomenal feature that I am appreciating on all of my devices now that it’s available on iOS as well. My phones and tablets are work devices as much as they are entertainment machines, and Google Now makes them even better from this perspective.

It’s also worth noting that the HTC ONE has excellent microphones and, when combined with Google’s much improved voice to text transcription software they work quite well with terrific although not perfect accuracy. I also love the fact that you can use voice recognition off-line. This is something that isn’t available with iOS or earlier android handsets. Combined, these two features make the HTC One an excellent productivity tool.

And there is one more feature worth mentioning — HTC’s BlinkFeed. This makes the start screen more useful by putting the information you want right in front of you when you first turn on your phone. Many will hate it. I happen to like it, and I am looking forward to seeing this type of information presentation becoming more refined and allowing even more customization.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 011

Mitchell: I think HTC has made an error with the software skin on the HTC ONE.

The HTC ONE uses a 1080p Super LCD 3 panel, which in a word looks PERFECT. Colours are vibrant, brightness is excellent, and outdoors it is very usable. Despite its amazingness, it will never be able to beat AMOLED on black levels.

That is why I’m stunned that HTC has made such liberal use of grey in its Android skin. Not only is it dull and corporate, it is completely unflattering to a display technology that has to compete with the rather eye-pleasing Super AMOLED panel that graces the 5-inch face of the Galaxy S 4. All the grey makes the display feel washed out, an impression that instantly disappears when you make a photo full screen.

Other than that, HTC have gone very minimalist with this latest outing of Android HTC Edition. Where the Samsung Galaxy S 4 is full of (often confusing) options, features and menus, the HTC ONE is remarkably simple, almost bordering on Nexus levels of simplicity.

Setting up an Android novice (or iPhone convert) would be a much simpler task on the HTC ONE than Samsung’s new flagship (or HTC’s previous one, for that matter).

For the tech savvy, however, the Galaxy S 4 is a tour de force, offering a dizzying array of features that dwarf any claims to fame put forward by HTC.

The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. – Lloyd Jones

Samsung has thrown an incredible amount of “stuff” into the GS4, from persistant eye tracking to air gestures, and just enough of it works well and is useful that you can’t dismiss it as mere gimmicks anymore.

But the one area that HTC ONE has scored an indisputable goal is …

HTC ONE Audio Output

Dan: My HTC ONE X has an indication that it carries Beats Audio inside. It’s a step in the right direction, but unless you are using Beats headphones it won’t do you much good. Fast forward a year to the HTC ONE (getting confused by the naming convention HTC is using? Me too), and you now have Beats Audio built in at the OS level, driving two forward facing speakers, and working with any audio device you throw at the phone. The result is the best sounding phone-as-MP3 player ever. I’ll let Mitchell dig more deeply into this, since this was the key feature he first mentioned to me after receiving his phone.

IMG 1967

Mitchell: Aside from the build quality, audio output was the thing that most excited me about the HTC ONE. I spend a lot of time on the road for work, and spend more than my fair share of time in hotel rooms. I often watch videos and listen to music when the day is over and I’m relaxing in my room or tucking into bed, and mre phone speakers (or those on my iPad mini) just sound poor when cranked to levels that would attempt to fill a small room.

The HTC ONE is simply amazing in this regard. Instead of a crappy, tiny mono speaker firing through the battery cover into whatever surface your phone is laying on, the HTC ONE’s dual speakers pump out stereo sound up and into the room.

The first time I piped Avicii and Fall Out Boy through the HTC ONE, I was blown away by the fidelity of the sound. Never has a smartphone sounded this good. Volume levels are excellent, and while the bass won’t rock the world, it’s far more noticeable than your average smartphone speaker. In fact, the HTC ONE would put many laptop speakers to shame, they are that good.

I have to admit to being disappointed that the Beats tech doesn’t work its magic on ringtones. You can set your own music as a ringtone, but it doesn’t sound quite as good as playing it through the stock media player or something like Double Twist.

HTC ONE Camera and Photography Software

Dan: HTC is doing some interesting things with their phones cameras these days. Last year with the HTC ONE X they spent a great deal of time and energy focusing (apologies for the pun) on the camera and some of the software. A year later they’ve done the same thing, but they have moved in a slightly different direction. They stepped off the megapixel bandwagon and are now focusing on the overall experience of the camera and applying what they refer to as UltraPixel. I found it to work rather well, and we have included a gallery of images shot Mitchell took with the camera.

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HTC UltraPixel Camera

  • BSI sensor, Pixel size 2.0 µm, Sensor size 1/3′
  • Dedicated HTC ImageChip
  • F2.0 aperture and 28 mm lens
  • Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)
  • Smart Flash: Five levels of flash automatically set by distance to subject
  • Front Camera: 2.1 MP, 880 wide angle lens with HDR capability
  • 1080p Full HD video recording with HDR Video
  • HTC Zoe with Sequence Shot, Always Smile and Object Removal
  • Gallery with Video Highlights and HTC Share
  • Continuous shooting and VideoPic
  • Slow motion video recording with variable speed playback

Dan: HTC has done some of the same gimmicky stunt stuff that I first saw at the release gathering for the Samsung GALAXY S4. They are packing in features like their new Zoe functionality that look great and offer some eye candy, but these are things that end-users are likely to use on an infrequent basis. Take Zoe for example. It shoots video and stills, and then lets you do some rather neat stuff that … you are NEVER GOING TO DO! Zoe is really quite intriguing, looks great on paper and in videos, but when I actually set out to use it I didn’t find myself all that moved to continue using the functionality. If I’m not going to use it, the mainstream smartphone user is even less likely to do so. I get packing in features, but I think we may have entered into an era where there is “feature creep” when I would instead prefer that companies focus their time, energy and resources on making the basic functionality even better.

That noted, the camera on the HTC ONE certainly holds its own admirably, and you won’t be unhappy with the pictures or video you get from it unless you are expecting the same caliber images that you would get from a standalone camera.

Mitchell: I haven’t spent a huge amount of time taking photos with the HTC ONE, but it doesn’t feel as remarkable as HTC would have us believe. Low light performance is ok, but not the knock-your-socks-off-wow that I was hoping for.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 004 HTC ONE Nitpicking

Dan: The battery life on the HTC ONE is pretty much what you would expect. I haven’t done any systematic battery rundown tests, but I wasn’t expecting to get a full day of use from it, and I didn’t. The HTC ONE joins the ranks of all of the other high-end phones I’ve been using, in requiring an external battery.

Mitchell: Battery life is one of the biggest bug-bears I have with the HTC ONE too. Every time I lit up that amazing display, the battery indicator seemed to start dropping at an alarming rate. The HTC ONE was ok when in standby, but as a pretty heavy user that doesn’t cut it for me. I have no problem with an integrated battery, as long as it can go the distance. The Galaxy S 4 (in my admittedly unscientific testing so far) seems to last a lot longer.

The HTC ONE also takes much longer to charge, which is more pronounced by the middling battery life. The Galaxy S 4 and iPhone 5 are both very happy to take quick top ups that add a noticeable boost in battery percentage. According to Brian Klug over at Anandtech, the HTC ONE doesn’t use Qualcomm’s Quick Charge tech, which may account for the sluggish charging.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary

Should You Buy an HTC ONE?

Dan: With so many excellent smartphone choices currently available the real question is … Should you buy one? I hate this question (and I’m one of the people asking it)! As Mitchell’s and my take on the phone demonstrates, phones are a truly personal decision. From the OS, to the screen size, to the aesthetics, to the specific features a phone offers, it’s really a matter of individual taste and choice. Is this a solid device? Absolutely. Is this the phone for you? Only you can answer that, but I’ll give it a shot.

If you prefer Android, keep reading. If not, stop here and jump to the conclusion.
If you want a phone whose screen size is approaching phablet land, stop reading. While almost too large for my taste, the ONE is significantly smaller than the GALAXY S4.
If you want an Android device that looks great, feels great, is large but not huge, and you are okay with running an OS that is already outdated, then the HTC ONE is a great choice. Were I in the market for an Android phone to use full-time, this would be my current choice.

Mitchell: Technically, I have already have bought the HTC ONE. The question I’m currently asking myself is whether I’m going to keep it, or stray across to the plastic side and make the Galaxy S 4 my go-to. The HTC ONE uses beautiful materials and has amazing speakers, but I think the Galaxy S 4 is able to match or beat it in most other areas. So far, the latter is looking likely. I’ll be posting more thoughts on the Galaxy S 4 in another article.

So there you have it. A silver HTC ONE in the US and a black HTC ONE in Australia. One who wants to be on record that, we’re he required to use Android, this would be the phone for him and the other who is likely ditching the ONE and moving full time to the Samsung GALAXY 4S. I both cases we see the HTC ONE as an excellent phone but not the clear home run winner we wanted, and HTC needed, it to be.

The HTC ONE is available from AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile in the United States.

MSRP:
From AT&T: $199 for 32GB and $299 for 64GB with a two-year contract; $599 for 32GB and $649 for 64GB contract-free
From Sprint: $99.99 for 32GB with a two-year contract; $549 for contract-free
From T-Mobile: $99.99 today for the 32GB model, and $20 per month for 24 months

What We Like:
Dan: Solid build; Good camera; Fast; Amazing audio
Mitchell: Best ever phone speakers; solid metal body

What Needs Improvement:
Dan: Battery life needs help; Already running an obsolete version of Android; Almost too large for my taste; Non-expandable storage
Mitchell: Battery life; slow charging; barely smaller than its 5-inch competition despite smaller display

7 Responses to " HTC ONE: A Review from Two Continents "

  1. haesslich says:

    I suspect the one-handed usage issue is due to the convex shape of the One, plus the extra bezel width on the side. Wile it’s solid, the shape and the size would make it a bit less secure in grip than something more squarish, which is what the S4 is. I guess Samsung realized that the slippery soap-bar style back wasn’t quite as “human-friendly” as it was supposed to be.

    As for the rest of the phone, have either of you had any issues with reception? That’s my big bugbear, as it were, with smartphones, besides the camera and battery life. Those are the things that I’ve found a bit lacking with the Galaxy Nexus and Samsung Galaxy S before them.

    • Mitchell Oke says:

      I haven’t experienced signal issues, though the network I’m on in Australia (Telstra) is very strong and has excellent coverage. Both HSPA+ and 4G data speeds have been good.

    • dancohen says:

      I had no issues with reception other that what I tend to encounter with AT&T on a regular basis.

      • haesslich says:

        Very good. Nice to see HTC didn’t forget that, as LG and Samsung occasionally do. My current N4 is at least better in reception than the GNex, but the camera could be better. Still, OS support is something that can’t be discounted on a smartphone. Apple still gets to do that better, being in charge of things from OS to manufacturer, but the Nexus line is slowly getting there. I say “slowly” because the Galaxy Nexus… isn’t. And HTC has, in the past, been a lot like old Samsung.

        Do either of you think the extra bezel was a vestigial leftover from an earlier phase in the One decelopment, perhaps when they were considering a larger screen? It just seems… odd… that’d anyone would leave that much extra space on the edges for a smartphone that wasn’t a phablet. Especially since one place where Samsung gets slammed is how large their phones are getting, especially in how it affects the grip.

        Also, how’s the battery life? The N4 runs… okay in that respect. About 2%/ hour drain in standby, and an hour’s worth of browsing on wifi brought me down about 15-16%, which translates into roughly 6 or so hours of usage. Not a monster, but beating the GNex or even the N7 tablet in that area.

  2. cgavula says:

    If they are smart, both Samsung and HTC will avoid Android 4.2 until they can figure out how the lag got re-introduced into the OS.(apparently Google Currents is the problem on some devices).

    • haesslich says:

      Can’t say I’ve had lag on the Nexus 4. At least not on 4.2.2.

      HTC’s problem is promising updates that they later retract, and not supporting even CURRENT devices as well as they could. I’m surprised that the One X got any updates at all… and now the One and One X+ are out, expect no more support.

      At least with an iPhone, I knew I’d get software and security updates for at least two iOS revisions. With HTC in the past, I’d be lucky to get a major security update or a fix for crashes. Even Sony is starting to step up to the plate, much less Samsung.

  3. rufuselder says:

    I’m completely in love with the HTC One! It’s not like the new iPhone, that has fallen far behind it’s competitors in terms of user satisfaction (source: ) and innovation. I mean large screens have been around for years! And so has phone cameras that work well in low light. The point is, I’m sticking to HTC/Android :)