Hands On Review Of The New HTC One

Written by Tym Yee & Andrew Williams Trusted Reviews     08/04/2013 | 14:04 | Category name i.e.REVIEWS

It's undeniable that over the past few months a lack of innovation and a somewhat disappointing range of flagship phones from the HTC camp has seen Samsung rise to the top of Droid Mountain to claim the title of King of Android. But determined to reclaim the crown, HTC is hoping to change all this with the new HTC One - a seriously impressive Android device.

Hands On Review Of The New HTC One
Sporting a metal-topped body, amazing screen and dynamic camera, we predict the HTC One will be one of the bigger hits of 2013.

HTC One - Design
One thing HTC has been pretty good at over the last few phone generations is in experimenting with different phone constructions. We've seen mobiles made of plastic, ceramic and metal - often within the same range.

The HTC One opts for a mix of aluminium and white plastic. It's a plastic-metal sandwich. Viewed from the side, it's pretty clear that the meat of the phone's body is matt finish plastic, with plates of aluminium covering the front and back. 

These aluminium plates give the phone the cool, hard feel that you get with an iPhone 5. If anything, though, the HTC One is ergonomically superior. Its rear is smoothly curved to hug your hand and its edges are bevelled to remove any sharp bits. Although its look may be a little severe, the feel of it is anything but. 

Although cleverly and carefully designed, it falls a way short of real beauty. There are just a few too many visual bits vying for attention to have the simplicity factor of the prettiest phones. 

The HTC One's roll-call of attention grabbing elements is fairly long. We have the dual front speaker grilles, the oversized camera housing, the concentric circles texture of the volume rocker, and the high-contrast look of the front camera, light sensor and power button up top. 

The HTC One is a looker, we won't deny, and a phone that's easy to recognise in the ever-expanding sea of mobiles, but it is a tiny bit busy, visually. 

Build quality is excellent, though. The seams between the HTC One's plastic and aluminium layers are tight aside from a tiny gap on the top edge of our review sample, and there's none of the flex you'd see in a plastic-bodied phone.

The cost is that the innards of the HTC One are inaccessible unless you get out your Dremel and saw the thing in half. You have no access to the battery here, and there is no memory card slot, which you do get with the Sony Xperia Z. The phone also lacks that handset's waterproofing, although this means you don't have to deal with any irritating rubber-sealed flaps - used in ruggedised phones to keep water out of sockets.

The HTC One's body also won't appreciate rough treatment much. Aluminium feels great on the fingers, but it's a relatively soft metal and really won't appreciate being slung into a pocket with loose change and your car keys - it will get scratched. The white plastic is also a terrible dirt magnet - it'll be fine one minute and covered in dark smudges the next. Unless your personal hygiene is much better than ours, of course. 

Like any phone this size, one of the trickiest bits to get used to is how large the screen is. It's smaller than some - at 4.7 inches across when many new phones rock 5-inch displays - but reaching to the opposite end of the screen with a thumb is a real stretch. For right-handers, the power button also requires a stretch.

It's one to add to the growing list of first-world problems - having a phone so big you need two hands to operate it. 

However, the HTC One disappears into pockets easily enough, thanks to its fairly slim body. Its ergonomic curves ensure it's not aggressively thin at 9.3mm thick, but we'd rather have a comfy phone than one whose figurative ribs poke through into your palm.

The HTC Phone's two soft touch nav keys are easy enough to operate one-handed too, handling "back" and "Home" functions. They're lit-up with swish-looking cool blue light when operated.

HTC One - Connectivity
With no removable backplate and no memory card slot, the HTC One keeps its on-body features simple and spare. Offset from the centre of the phone's bottom edge is the microUSB slot, which is used not only to charge the battery and transfer data, but can also transmit video and audio to an HDMI-equipped TV. This is because it's MHL-compliant, giving it similar skills to a microHDMI connection. The required cable isn't supplied with the phone, mind.

The only other connector socket you get with the HTC One is the obligatory 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge.

Much like an iPhone 4S or a Nokia Lumia 720, the HTC One has a discreet microSIM tray that needs to be popped-out with the help of a paperclip - or the tool HTC supplies in the box. 

Wireless connectivity is far more comprehensive than the old fashioned wired kind. Connections like GPS, HSPA and Bluetooth go without saying, and the HTC One also features NFC and - most interesting of the lot - an IR blaster. This is integrated into the power button up top, which helps to explain why it's translucent black rather than more congruent matt white plastic. We'll cover exactly what this is capable of when we talk about Sense TV later.

The HTC One uses Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, with the brand new HTC Sense 5 UI laid on top. Sense has been around since 2009, and this is the biggest update the interface has seen in quite some time. 

The look of Sense has been completely redesigned, to make it seem slicker, more serious and more grown-up than the old version. Heading-up this re-design are the monochrome clock widget and BlinkFeed, which make up the HTC One's default home screen.

HTC has also changed the look of the apps menu. Now, the stark monochrome clock widget features at the top of the screen, and the app icons are given plenty of space to luxuriate, with just three packed into each row. 

However, you can switch this to the standard 4 x 4 icon layout if you prefer a more traditional look. Getting rid of BlinkFeed and the standard clock widget need a little more effort. 

You can't delete them as you would do to a standard Android widget you wanted to dump. What you can do is create a new homescreen and make that your default - the one the HTC One skips to when you press the Home button. 

Long-standing HTC Sense fans will be glad to hear that while the HTC Flip clock widget of old has now been usurped, it's still there within the phone's widget locker. With a few minutes of fiddling, you can get HTC Sense 5 looking a lot like the HTC Sense of previous generations.

HTC One - BlinkFeed
However, we think not everyong will want to retreat to the past because HTC Sense 5 does look pretty snazzy. And the star of the show BlinkFeed is worth checking out.

BlinkFeed is a quick and easy way to consume the latest digital morsels from social networks and popular RSS feeds - it's a vertically-scrolling update reel that arranges news stories, Tweets and Facebook updates as variously-sized tiles. 

The visual style of BlinkFeed sits somewhere between that of Windows Phone 8 and Flipboard, which is a popular newsreader app that performs a similar news-aggregating function. We found that BlinkFeed was more useful as a new source than as a social networking tool, because it's not particularly space-efficient and changes the way you consume social data in a manner that takes a bit of getting used too.

Rather than employing a smoothly-scrolling feed, the HTC One's BlinkFeed arranges content into pages, forcing your eyes down the phone screen's length rather than letting your eyes stay lazy and let your thumb do the legwork. Consequently, while BlinkFeed looks pretty great, we found it felt slightly awkward and overblown as a way to relay tweets. 

You can select the kind of data it displays directly from the HTC One's homescreen and, as we've already discussed, you can relegate it to a backroom, if not banish it entirely from your phone.

Another neat interface tweak of HTC Sense 5 is Kid Mode. This is an app that creates a kid-friendly zone where you can pick and choose which apps are accessible. 

Rather than simple creating a cut-down version of the standard HTC One Sense environment, Kid Mode has a completely different feel - one that treats the phone more like a teeny tablet than a mobile. For one, it switches to landscape screen mode, which is naturally more friendly for those kid-sized hands with a phone this size. 

It arranges your approved apps and kiddie video clips from the web along a conveyor belt, and also offers tabs that give access to a simple drawing app, digital storybooks, video messages and stored favourites. The story book section is particularly interesting, as it lets parents record their own readings of stories using the HTC One's front-facing camera. 

With kids' TV style cheesy voice prompts and a cartoony style, Kid Mode is clearly only suitable for younger kids, but then every sapling over the age of 10 seems to own a phone more expensive than most people's first cars these days. Sigh.

The inclusion of Kid Mode isn't entirely altruistic, though. To unlock its full functionality you need to start paying a few dollars a month. 

HTC One - Apps and Games
Given the fairly dramatic visual makeover HTC Sense 5 gives Android, HTC doesn't actually try that hard to bung-in too many HTC apps. 

HTC staples like the HTC flashlight and Weather are there, but are nestled into folders within the apps menu so are refreshingly easy to ignore. The only ones given the honour of a place on the apps menu proper are Sense TV, Kid Mode and the in-car UI. 

The Car app provides an ultra-simplified interface that's designed to be easy to use while you're on the road. It uses oversized square icons for obvious features like Google Navigation, the dialler and voice control - and naturally the HTC Sense 5 clock widget sits up top to let you know the time and weather. You can also add extra jumbo links to any app you fancy including.

HTC One - Sense TV, Browsing, Keyboard and Audio
HTC One - HTC Watch and Sense TV
One of the flagship features of HTC Sense 5 is Sense TV. This makes use of the HTC One's IR blaster, which sits on its top edge, to let you control your TV from your phone, and check out what's going to be on TV.

Much like any advanced Universal remote, the HTC One's Sense TV asks you to tell it the brands of your various lounge devices. However, you'll need the devices actually to hand to "teach" the phone its commands, or will have to try a wide range of possible control commands to identify the right one. It's not quite as advanced as, for example, the Logitech Harmony range, which is dying a rather rapid death thanks to things like Sense TV.

Sense TV also supplies EPG information for most of the UK's popular broadcast TV services, including Freeview, Freesat, Virgin Media and Sky. It's frankly a great idea, although we feel that it's a feature that's likely to be ignored by many. 

HTC's doesn't miss capitalising on Sense TV either, incorporating On Demand content from its own video store HTC Watch. This is a portal, through its own app on the HTC One, that lets you rent and buy movies. It's very similar to Google Play Movies with prices set around ?3.49 for a rental and ?10 for a purchase. 

Like several of HTC's own apps, it's nestled within a folder by default as is therefore blissfully easy to ignore. 

HTC One - Keyboard and Browsing
One HTC feature you can't ignore so easily is the HTC keyboard. With a 4.7-inch screen to fill out, the HTC Sense keyboard has plenty of room to make keys well-spaced enough for solid accuracy. Gesture typing is supported too - letting you drag a path between letters rather than tapping on them individually. 

Our issue with the Sense keyboard is that it doesn't look very good. Next to the stylish keyboard of the Windows Phone 8-running HTC 8X, it's positively drab. Of course, a keyboard is largely a functional thing, even if you do spend an inordinate amount of time looking at it. 

Switching to gesture-based input, we found typing in web addresses on the HTC One quick and reliable. 

The screen is the star of the browser show, though. The extremely high pixel density keeps text looking sharp even when you're zoomed-out, and the large 4.7-inch screen is easily large enough to make full desktop versions of websites look great, rather than just mobile sites.

HTC One - Performance
We've covered a fair amount on what the HTC looks and feels like, but not a great deal on how it runs. The HTC One has a quad-core 1.7 GHz Krait 300 CPU with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 320 CPU.

It's likely to be outclassed by the Samsung Galaxy S4, but otherwise this is one of the fastest Android phones available. And despite using a custom user interface, we didn't notice any significant slow-down in the Android OS. Using Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, it benefits from the Project Butter speed optimisations, and these ensure the phone is about as slick as phones come. 

We loaded the phone up with a bunch of third-party apps and performance didn't appear to be affected. 

HTC One - Video and Audio
HTC put a lot of effort into upping the HTC One's TV cred, with HTC Watch and Sense TV. However, it otherwise doesn't make any particularly fancy moves with its video player and audio apps. The only video player for your personal videos is Google's own and, rather confusingly, there are two music player apps - Google's and HTC's.

Both are perfectly usable, with HTC's featuring a slightly simpler, plainer interface. Like any self-respecting Android UI, HTC Sense offers playback controls in the notifications bar and the lock screen while music is playing. 

The big news for audio, though, is that it features a Beats Audio processing mode. It does the internal speakers a few favours, as we'll discuss later, but when using a good pair of headphones, we prefer the sound with it switched off. 

Beats mode is an aural exciter of sorts that uses EQ and DSP trickery to try and increase bass excitement and widen the sound stage a little. It does make music sound a little exuberant, but can cause bass bloating in headphones that are already a little on the bassy side. Whether you'll prefer it to the standard mode depends on your own cans and you personal taste. However, we do wish there was some control over the Beats mode's processing - it's just on or off in the HTC One.

For those with hard-to-drive headphones, Beats mode will come in handy to boost the volume a little, but we were happy with the volume levels without Beat engaged. There's no extra noise introduced through the headphone output and it provides similar output levels to a dedicated MP3 player. 

We'd be happy to use the HTC One as a music player, although any real music fans will be severely put off by the non-expandable memory. 32GB isn't nearly enough for music obsessives. 

The HTC One also has an FM radio, which as ever uses the headphone cable as an antenna, and comes with the popular SoundHound and 7digital apps pre-installed. HTC doesn't get any points for including these, though, as they're free downloads. 

What HTC doesn't include is a decent third-party or HTC-made video player. The hidden-away Personal Videos section of the Google Play Movies app can handle some of your own video files, including 1080p MKVs. However, it failed to play around 50 per cent of our test files and the performance with some clips was baffling poor. Our guess is that GPU optimisation hasn't been fully implemented.

HTC One - Internal Speakers
HTC is clearly keen to big-up the HTC One's speakers. Not only is the phone loaded up with DSP to improve audio performance, the speaker grilles have become a proud part of its hardware design. See those dots in the front aluminium plating? Those are grilles for its stereo drivers.

Using stereo speakers makes the HTC One much more satisfying to use as a mobile games and video player, assuming you're not going to be using headphones. They can provide a decent stereo image when held directly in front of your face. Top volume and overall audio quality of the internal speakers is well above average too. 

Although we're not big Beats believers, the Beats DSP mode does wonders for the speakers' sound, cutting out the harshness and filling in the bottom end. They really don't sound too good with Beats turned off, with harsh-sounding mids and an emaciated low end. The HTC One can't relay real bass, of course, but for mobile phone speakers these are pretty beefy-sounding. We might almost assume HTC borked the non-Beats audio to show off the mode, but we're trying desperately not to be so cynical.

With some content they will start to distort a little at maximum volume, though, so there's an argument that HTC could have managed the speakers' output a little better.

HTC One - Camera
The camera of the HTC One is one of the most interesting phone cameras of recent years. However, tell the average bloke on the street its specs, and they probably won't be that impressed. 

It has a 4-megapixel sensor, which sounds awful compared with the 13-megapixel phones that'll come out soon. However, the HTC One camera is a bit special.

It can only fit in four million camera sensor pixels because they're much larger than average, letting them take in more light in the same exposure time as other phone cameras. The HTC One's camera pixels are 2.0 micrometers large, where some 13-megapixel sensor pixels are just 1.1 micrometers across. HTC calls this UltraPixel technology, although these pixels are only "ultra" sized by smartphone standards. 

The larger pixels give the HTC One much better low light performance than most phone cameras - we found it was comparable to the Nokia Lumia 920, which uses optical image stabilisation to increase exposure times for the same effect.

The HTC One also has a high-quality F/2.0 lens, which further helps matters and is significantly faster than the iPhone 5's F/2.4 lens. 

In use, we found that the HTC One's performance was impressive in low-light conditions, and that its flash provided an even and fairly natural-looking spread for even better low-light versatility. However, the lower resolution of the sensor becomes quite apparent in good lighting conditions. 

The HTC One can't produce the same sort of detail-filled shots as the high-end smartphone competition, and its relatively noisy. Next to an iPhone 5, which has a comparatively straightforward sensor, the HTC One's daylight shots feature a relatively poor level of detail. It's only in poor lighting that the HTC claims an easy victory.

The HTC One also has a tendency to overexpose brighter areas in photos, especially if it is trying to compensate for dodgy lighting.

Its camera app offers a solid array of features, including HDR and panorama. And it's capable of recording video in HDR, with either locked focus or continual/touch focusing during shooting. It uses stabilisation when shooting video too, which helps mitigate for the juddering of shaking hands or moving bodies. 

Ultimately, the HTC One camera hardware is a slight disappointment, but it is very versatile.

HTC One - Zoe
The headline camera software feature is something known as Zoe. It's a distinct shooting mode that captures a short video clip and a still at the end. 

These video clips are then used in the HTC One's image gallery, making it seem much more "alive" than the plain old camera roll gallery. It's a feature that has gained a lot of attention, but we found that using it felt a mite awkward. 

The issue is that shooting in Zoe mode doesn't feel like standard shooting as, unlike some compact cameras that shoot video covertly, it makes it feel like you're shooting short video clips rather than stills. The immediacy of that shutter click is lost, which is a shame. To counter this, the HTC One would have to shoot video constantly in the background whenever the camera app is running and simply harvest the second or so before the shutter press. 

Zoe is a neat idea, but like the UltraPixel tech, it feels like it needs a generational update or two before it yields the results it should be capable of.

The social potential of Zoe is particularly impressive, as you can share the stitched-together clips online with the help of an easy-to-share web link. However, we simply felt much more comfortable when shooting in "normal" mode, and we think a lot of people will feel the same way.

HTC One - Call Quality
Isn't it odd that making phone calls are so low down the list of people's priorities in a phone? Thankfully, the HTC One offers perfectly fine audio quality, with a decent earpiece speaker that offers clear sound with a forthright mid-range that takes on ambient noise with relative ease.

There are also dual microphones on the HTC One, letting it use active noise cancellation to cut out some noise from the phone signal.

HTC One - Battery Life
One of the biggest drawbacks of the new technology in the HTC One is that the 1080p screen is a pretty serious battery drain. HTC has tried to combat this with a 2,300mAh battery - 500mAh larger than the battery of the HTC One X. 

Battery performance isn't great, though. We set the backlight to automatically change its level based on ambient light and the battery drained down within a day. The only way to get this phone to last two full days will be to severely restrict its wireless connectivity when it's not needed - switching off mobile internet when you're not browsing. 

HTC One - Value
The HTC One looks and feels every bit the top-end phone. Its body is carefully and cleverly designed, and while many may not appreciate the lack of expandable memory, the feel of the device benefits from the lack of a removable backplate. 

Not every part of the phone is a roaring success. Its camera is only a moderate success, falling short of the detailing higher pixel count phones manage in good lighting. And battery life is depressingly mediocre. However, HTC has succeeded in making a more attention-grabbing, iconic phone than it has done in years. 

The HTC One might be the most desirable phone available right now. Its metal-backed body feels fantastic in the hand, its screen is superb, performance is great and Sense 5 offers some interesting new features that you can choose to side-step if you prefer old-style Sense. The UltraPixel camera is a mite disappointing given the ballyhoo made at its launch, but it proves that HTC is one of just a few mobile companies trying something truly interesting.

Scores In Detail
Camera Quality  
8/10  Design  
9/10  Features  
9/10  Performance  
9/10  Screen Quality  
9/10  Usability  
8/10  Value

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Pros & Cons


Excellent build and ergonomics Fab screen Sense 5 is visually slick Great performance


Non-expandable memory Mediocre battery life Keyboard needs a visual refresh