HTC One: First Look

Written by Edward Chester     01/03/2013 | 06:52 | Category: INDUSTRY

HTC has taken the wraps of their new One flagship, a Full HD monolith with dual speakers and...a 4MP camera? A first look gives us an indication if the company has cracked the formula for smartphone royalty.

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HTC One - Camera

Kicking off with the most headline grabbing feature of this phone, its new camera marks a potential watershed moment for mobile phone cameras. Instead of simply cramming in more pixels, HTC has followed the logic applied to high-end 'proper' cameras and used a sensor with fewer but larger pixels. The result is that there's a greater chance of any given pixel detecting some light, which in turn improves low-light image quality - all the better for snapshots in the pub.

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In particular it has pixels that are 2.0µm (microns) across which compares to 1.1µm for most phone camera sensors. When considered in terms of area that's 4.0µm2 compared to 1.21µm2. To put this further into perspective, the impressive Fujifilm X10 compact camera has 2.2µm pixels while the class leading Nokia Lumia 920 has 1.4µm pixels.

It's not all about pixel size, though, as HTC has 'done a Nokia' and given the camera optical image stabilisation. This is where the lens and sensor are mounted on a couple of tiny motors that move the camera to compensate (at up to 2000Hz) for small movements caused by your hand shaking. The result is the camera can keep its shutter open for longer - to let more light in - without the picture becoming blurry.

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It's a technique the Nokia Lumia 920 proved can work very well, boosting the low light abilities of that camera far beyond anything seen before on a phone. One downside of the Nokia 920 was that it constantly tried to use the stabilisation, making the camera take a long-exposure shot when you didn't necessarily want it to, resulting in blurry shots due to the subject of your photo moving. So far we've seen less evidence of this on the HTC One though.

The third string to the HTC One camera's bow is that its lens is f/2.0. This is the same as the Nokia Lumia 920 but notably 'faster' than the iPhone 5 (f/2.4) and Samsung Galaxy S3 (f/2.6), again meaning that, all else being equal, the One will be able to pick up more light, making for better low-light image quality.

Testing all this fancy tech, its advantages are immediately obvious with dimly-lit scenes shown much brighter and with far less grainy image noise than most competitors. That said, it's still clear that this is 'just' a phone with it still struggling to really pull out every little detail in dark scenes. We'll of course be giving this a thorough test when we do our full review.

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HTC is also touting its dedicated Image Signal Processor chip which allows the HTC One to record High Dynamic Range (HDR), 1080p video at up to 60fps. It will also automatically remove ghosting from HDR images and allows for recording full-resolution stills while recording video, which brings us to the last key feature of the HTC One's camera: Zoe.


Zoe is the name for HTC's new video/image format that rather coincidentally is very similar to Vine, the newly launched 6 second video app by the same folk that made Twitter. To record a Zoe you simply select the mode from the slider and tap the button, whereupon it will start recording video and taking stills every few fractions of a second. It also pre-records video before you hit go, giving you a few seconds buffer to ensure you don't miss the moment.

Once recorded the phone then automatically 'remixes' the footage into a video photos music edit. If you're not happy with the result you can simply tap 'remix' to be presented with another version, or you can choose from up to 6 themes.

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It's an intriguing idea and one that, frankly, we need a little more time with before judging but it's certainly nice to see something genuinely different.

So that's enough about the camera, now let's see what else the HTC One can do.

HTC One - Screen

While the HTC One's camera is certainly the standout feature, it still has plenty of other top notch features, including its screen. While being only the same size as the HTC One X, it now packs in 1080 x 1920 (1080p) pixels making for a ridiculously sharp 468pixels per inch (ppi). The IPS LCD panel also boasts superb viewing angles, contrast and colours, making for an absolutely fabulous all round experience. Sure, some of us may want an even bigger screen but we think that staying a bit smaller is sensible.

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HTC One - Audio - HTC BoomSound

One of the key ways in which the superb screen of the HTC One really comes into its own is when watching video or playing games, and it's also in just such a scenario where great audio becomes a big bonus. As such, the HTC One's third big hitter makes a lot of sense to us; the HTC One has stereo speakers.

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Positioned above and below the screen when held in portrait mode the symmetrical speaker grilles project proper stereo audio when holding the phone in landscape, and what a difference it makes to the experience. Audio has much more depth, and the simple fact you don't end up muffling the audio by your hand covering the speaker is a big bonus.

It's not just audio playback that should be better than the rest. HTC has also gone to town on the microphone, to make the most of video recording. As well as positioning the second microphone on the back next to the camera (so it's pointing in the same direction as the camera - just like on the iPhone 5) it also uses a dual-membrane microphone that allows the microphone to record both quiet and very loud noises (i.e. loud rock concerts) without the audio distorting.

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HTC One - IR remote

Perhaps the most left-field feature of the HTC One is an infrared transmitter, which rather cleverly doubles as the power button on the top edge. This can be used in conjunction with an in-built app - which also acts as a TV guide - to turn the phone into a universal remote control. It should be just a couple of clicks to set the phone to copy your TV's remote control or, if needs be, the app can be manually programmed as well.

The overall idea isn't a brand new one with some accessories (Griffin Beacon) and tablets (Sony Tablet S) already including the feature, but this is the first time we've seen it on a phone.

HTC One - Specs

We've touched upon the four standout features of the HTC One but there's plenty more to it than just that lot.

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Under the bonnet is a 1.7GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor backed up with 2GB and a choice of either 32GB of 64GB of storage. There's no microSD slot or removable battery but with a 64GB option storage shouldn't be an issue. Meanwhile the battery is a 2300mAh unit, which although not rivalling the ~3000mAh units in the largest phones should be enough to easily keep this phone going for more than a day. Elsewhere there's full 4G support and a 2.1MP front facing camera with a particularly wide-angle lens for easier self-portraits. All told, it's a pretty comprehensive selection and it's all wrapped up in a rather snazzy chassis.

HTC One - Design

The HTC One is in many ways a classic HTC design with aluminium and matt plastics used to create a premium feel. But the company certainly hasn't rested on its laurels.

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But, let's get this out the way straight away: there's definitely something of the iPhone 5 about the HTC One. It's available in black anodised aluminium and black plastic or plain aluminium and white plastic. It has symmetrical bezels on its front with otherwise straight sides and rounded corners. It even has the same bevelled edges. And it incorporates its antennae into its hewn-from-solid-metal back.

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But, there's definitely enough here that the HTC One feels far from a copycat device. For a start it sports a curved rather than flat back, which immediately makes it feel more comfortable in the hand. Plus, of course, it's bigger and the top and bottom bezels are actually metal rather than the pigmented glass of the iPhone 5.

However, despite looking the part there's something just a little lacking about the HTC One's design. First and foremost, it doesn't quite have the fit and finish you might at first expect, with a few seams being just a bit wider than we'd like. Then there's the volume rocker which bizarrely is mounted flush with the side of the phone, making it rather difficult to press. It's still a very nice device - probably second only to the iPhone 5 for overall wow factor - but doesn't quite set a new standard.

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One thing HTC has managed to do is shrink most of the dimensions of the phone when compared to the HTC One X. It's slimmer (9mm), narrower (68.2mm) and has no bump for its camera, though is in fact a smidgen taller (137.4mm). At 143g, it's pretty much smack bang in the middle when it comes to weight.

An odd consequence of this slimming down is that the touch buttons below the screen - yes, it still has buttons rather than using onscreen navigation - have been set to either side of the HTC logo, and there's only two of them. The Back and Home buttons perform double duty with a double tap of the Home key bringing up the app switcher and a prolonged hold bringing up the Search. It's a combination that works rather well in our experience so far.

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We do have one major concern regarding the design, though, which is all that aluminium. It's not that we suspect signal strength will be a problem nor that it's heavy or slippery, no it's simply that aluminium isn't actually all that hardwearing a material. As the iPhone 5 has recently proved and even HTC's own One S also demonstrated, aluminium can dent and scratch quite easily. In fact some of the demo samples we've seen already have a few noticeable nicks in them. By no means is it a deal breaker but we'll be keeping a close eye on this in our full review.

HTC One - Interface - HTC Sense 5 and Android 4.1

HTC has completely revamped its Sense UI for the HTC One. Gone are the classic weather widget and many of the other styling and layout tweaks. Instead, the much cleaner interface is now dominated by what HTC calls BlinkFeed.

BlinkFeed is a long scrolling timeline of content that's pulled in from RSS feeds and such like and presented in a randomised thumbnailed fashion. The idea is that it's a one stop shop for browsing your and the world's latest goings on. As HTC sees it, this provides something to fill those 'elevator moments' where you just have a few seconds or minutes to kill and don't necessarily have internet access or time to read a whole article.

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It's an interesting idea and the content is presented in a very appealing way with large picture thumbnails overlaid with the headline. But because the articles aren't cached in any way it really is only the briefest of idle moments that will be filled if you don't have access to an internet connection.

To really work, the app needs to do some sort of clever caching and content reordering like with apps such as Pocket.

Swipe to the left from BlinkFeed - which incidentally is fullscreen and cannot be resized like a normal widget - and you get the rest of the normal homescreens onto which you can place normal apps and widgets.

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Initial Verdict

So far we're we're pretty blown away by the HTC One. Its combination of features is class leading and its design a cut above. In fact there are very few alternatives, ever, that we can think of that have demonstrated quite such a tight focus not simply on shoving in features for the sake of it but providing the best overall experience. That said, HTC hasn't quite aced it from what we've seen so far. It's all very nit-picky stuff but nonetheless there is definitely still some room for improvement. What is for sure, though, is that we can't wait to get one in for a full review.

To read the original review, click here