HTC One Review

I am very pleased here at mobilife to get my hands on the new HTC One to review as after reading all about the phone that is promising to pull HTC out of their slump, I was intrigued to see if that was true or not.

First thing to note is the packaging which follows the same style cues as all other manufacturers these days. A slim box, which upon lifting the cover presents the phone in all it’s glory straight away with all the cables and any added goodies hidden under a piece of cardboard the phone sits in. There wasn’t a lot included. A USB cable, socket adapter and headphones which weren’t even Beats Audio ones which would have been a fantastic addition to the Beats Audio technology added into the phone.

HTC One Packaging

HTC One Packaging consisting of the bare essentials

The HTC One has an exceptional build quality. It is crafted from an aluminium unibody which gives an expensive, strong feel to it. The design is great and the speakers top and bottom of the screen really frame it, which is so clear it would please even the most demanding of user’s eyes. The phone was cold to begin with due to the surrounding temperature, however as I started using it, my hands warmed the metal up, as did the battery and I could really feel the heat the battery was putting out. What this does to the actual hardware I’m not aware of, however as a user I didn’t like the fact the phone was getting increasingly hot.

HTC One aluminium unibody

HTC One aluminium unibody

In HTC’s design of the One, there is no menu button, just a back button and a home button. This takes awhile to get used to if you are a Samsung or Sony user though whenever a menu button is needed, the option is present on screen, usually located at the top right of apps. I got used to it, however I would have preferred a physical or in the HTC One’s case, capacitive touch buttons.

The HTC One has a 4.7″ screen of 1080p resolution with a 469ppi (pixel per inch) density and upon turning the phone on you are instantly aware of this excellent quality screen, it is ever so bright and clear that when I swapped back to a different device with a 720p resolution screen it was highly noticeable I was looking at an inferior screen. YouTubers will love the videos when set to HD on YouTube as they are very clear on this screen.

HTC wanted me to update the software straight away mentioning minor tweaks/improvements to HTC Sense. On doing this there was no noticeable change but it is always nice to have the latest firmware.The HTC One runs Sense UI 5.0 which is drastically different to previous iterations of Sense, and this is built on Android Jelly Bean OS v4.1.2 which I was expecting to update to 4.2 (or the latest 4.2.2) with the firmware update HTC were pushing out on startup but didn’t, it really was just minor amendments to the Sense UI.

The menu has a couple of different layouts which I quite liked. Custom groups together (by default) with media apps, Google apps, tools, productivity apps, games etc grouped into their own folders to make it simpler to view. I personally didn’t allow this as it took me ages to work out where an app would be located, other than the obvious Google apps or games of course. My personal choice to view was in alphabetical, however there is a nice layout of most recent, which is also incredibly convenient for those that might not want to add the app to a homescreen, but can just find it on the first page of the menu. You scroll up to view more apps, which I am ashamed to say took me awhile to work out as all other Android phones I’ve used scroll from left to right, not up and down.

HTC One

HTC One Homescreen

HTC BlinkFeed is the big new part of the Sense UI, a live homescreen congregating your social network sites, hints and tips for the phone and news stories. Signing in is all taken care of when you first set the phone up, asking for Facebook login details, Twitter and LinkedIn details. I found this very a “flipboard” style, putting new stories at the top, and flipping through them. This feed is present on the homescreen, though you can have additional screens to add widgets and apps too, like most other Android devices. I’m concerned as to how much data and battery life this function consumes, as there was nothing in the settings to dictate how often it polled the networks for updates, or disabling when screen is off. For all I knew it automatically did this to conserve battery however there was nothing to make this clear at the time.

HTC One’s BlinkFeed

HTC have built a clever live feed for all your social networking, but effectively forgotten to add the level of control over it some users will want. Annoyingly there was not even a function to disable this from a homescreen so if you want rid, tough but you can set your default homescreen to a different one with apps or a widget if you don’t want to look at this stream of social content. After viewing it for mere minutes I felt slightly stalkerish, almost waiting for new updates or tweets to appear. If you have social networking accounts synced, you can post updates, tweets and more directly from here without needing to visit the app, almost rendering the need for a dedicated Facebook or Twitter app pointless.

A really nice addition to Android within HTC’s Sense UI is the Car Mode, which has 5 big controls besides the clock and weather info and is styled on the rest of the Sense user interface. There’s navigation, a dialer, a speak function for voice commands and the music button, as well as a music controller. Annoyingly the music function only works if you have your music stored locally on the device, so for those like myself that have all their music on Google Play Music, even if pinned to the device from there, it doesn’t show as it is not in HTC’s Music app. Frustrating to say the very least.

HTC One Car Mode

HTC One Car Mode

There is an option which I did like, taken from Windows Phone 8, called Kid Mode which is an app that lets you set up a profile for each child, with a photo and birth date listed and allows you to pick which apps they each have access to, if you wanted to only give them access to a couple of games each. The only downside to this I could see is that to begin with you need to sign up via email. There is a similar mode on Android tablets on v4.2.2 Jelly Bean though it’s still not “kid friendly” as they will have access to all of it, unless you manually disable lots of things.

googmusI downloaded Google’s Play Music app from the Play Store to gain access to all my music collection and started testing out a random selection of music to test the front-mounted stereo speakers with BoomSound tech to see if they lived up to the hype and they really did. I was thoroughly impressed with them. The HTC One held up against a variety of music including Swedish death metal and Daft Punk’s latest offering. The speakers were really loud thanks to the Beats Audio technology built into the HTC One. When you turn off that function it is a noticeably lower quality, and gives a quiet sound with a really high treble note and no bass. The HTC One was much louder than my personal Samsung Galaxy Note II and such a better quality. While testing this phone I didn’t like using my own phone to listen to music to the point I have added a Beats Audio ROM (for rooted phones) to my Note II to increase the quality. Does make a marginal difference, however it is only the addition of the software so still face some hardware limitations.

One nice addition to HTC’s Sense UI is the Power Saver Mode which is extremely handy and helps conserve battery life by reducing CPU power, screen brightness, turns off haptic/vibration feedback and puts data connection to sleep when screen is off, whether that be 3G or Wi-Fi. This does help improve the battery performance which at 2,300mAh is certainly not a bad size, but if 3G, Wi-Fi and NFC is constantly on, coupled with the screen’s brightness turned up can drastically affect it.

The HTC One camera is unique. It is the first camera to use photosites that are three times as big as those on 12MP cameras and is the second smartphone ever to feature optical stabilisation, however since the sensor on the HTC One is equally sized to an aforementioned 12MP shooter, it only gets to capture a third of the resolution. There’s a lot of science behind all this but in short the camera is just a 4MP camera which has those “Ultrapixels” meaning although only a third of the amount of a 12MP camera, each pixel is three times as good. I had to put this to the test as I was a little skeptical about this. To me it was just a cost-cutting measure sticking a 4MP camera on the device, with a cleverly worded cop-out written by a Spin Doctor.

The HTC One takes full 1080p videos at 30fps capable of simultaneous HD video shooting and still image capturing, like taking screenshots of your video as you record it. This function worked really well although the settings for video and image capturing are all in one menu which I didn’t find user friendly to say the least. Taking stills is fine, a good simple user interface with a toggle on the side/bottom (depending if you’re holding the phone in portrait or landscape mode) for your settings, changing the effect and quick settings. Leaving it on its auto setting to let the phone do all the hard work seemed okay and when viewing the images taken on the device’s LCD screen they looked great, however when viewing on a PC I downloaded the images to, I found them far too over exposed. More an issue with reds, greens and blues being overly saturated like anything that was a bright colour and anything that had sun shining on it just looked washed out and lost a lot of detail. It was here I wanted to actually have all those pixels, rather than just a third the amount that are “ultra”. I’d have liked to see a more natural colour to the photos, less saturation and over exposure. Everything just looked washed out.

Here are some of the HTC One camera samples I took. Each caption explains a little about my aforementioned comments.

Ever so slight zoom loses clarity

An ever so slight zoom loses clarity and focus, making the grass look flat with a loss of definition

HTC One long distance focus is poor. Is crying out for more pixels

HTC One long distance focus is poor. Is crying out for more pixels. The background looks like a watercolour

HTC One's effects include many, such as sepia, negative and black and white but my favourite is this pixel effect

HTC One’s effects include many, such as sepia, negative and black and white but my favourite is this pixel effect

In the next photo, split into 4 images you can see some of the HTC One’s flaws highlighted. Starting top left and working clockwise, you can see that as soon as light hits the side of the building, all detail is washed out whereas the brickwork facing you is visible. Top right shows the camera can’t handle changes in lighting and it is very difficult to see any definition in the shaded areas. The image with the water and trees, the whole image here is over exposed and you lose such depth in the green on the right hand of the image, whereas the left part closer where it is in the shade hold fine. The fourth photo bottom left shows a good degree of clarity in all the photo, from the very near railing on the right, to the reflection on the water, however yet again the building with the sun bouncing off it loses all clarity and is just far too over exposed. If one was to play with the settings, you can change the exposure setting, but if you are not au faix with these settings, and just want a press and shoot camera, the HTC One will really let you down.

Four images from the HTC One explained above

Four images from the HTC One explained above

HTC Zoe is a nice addition to the camera function on the HTC One. HTC Zoe works by taking 20 full res photos and a 3 second video (1 second before you press the shutter key and 2 seconds after). The animation in the gallery of this is flawless and a damn sight better than on a PC which leaves something to be desired, it is just the 20 still photos and the video. This is something probably best shown than explained, have a look at HTC’s video of it here;

The gallery is great, organising all your images into folders whilst also pulling all your Facebook images into their respective folders, as organised on your Facebook profile, having a folder for Wall photos, Ibiza 2012 or the Kids at London Zoo. All good and well but of course these will only show if you are connected to a data network or Wi-Fi.

The HTC One has brought the best out of HTC. They’re no strangers to stylish designs, and the form factor built out of an aluminium unibody really stands out from all the flimsy plastic devices on the market and fits in well with other HTC devices in their portfolio. Sadly with this phone, HTC are bringing nothing new to the party. A newer iteration of their Sense UI, a sleek design and some camera tweaks isn’t enough of a statement for a phone looking to become a flagship device. Sadly, HTC Zoe and the Ultrapixels in the camera just doesn’t cut it for flagship status. I take nothing away from the phone in general though and there are a lot of excellent features built into it. Should you be the sort of user that likes keeping the pulse on all your social networking then HTC’s BlinkFeed will really suit you, and the ability to post directly from there and onto Facebook and Twitter at the same time saves individually going to their respective apps to post something, or having a Twitter > Facebook link for posts.

The Speaker quality is fantastic thanks to the Beats Audio touch and if having your music on you at all times is an important aspect of a phone, then the HTC must be in the shortlist of phones you consider. Having the ability to tap into your music while in Car Mode, synced to your stereo via Bluetooth to play is great, there are no wires and you control it from your phone. Sadly Google’s Play Music hasn’t been integrated to this feature. The 4.7” Super LCD screen is a beauty to look upon and is such a vivid screen, however I did feel it to be a little “fake” and didn’t represent the true colours I was looking at when taking photos, and much like the screen the photos taken were similar when copied off the device.

The 1.7GHz quad-core processor is powerful and I was never once waiting for anything to load, I didn’t witness any lagginess shuffling between homescreens or menus and the animations were seamless. This is all helped along by Android’s Jelly Bean v4.1.2 OS which GSMArena states is upgradable to v4.2.2 but wasn’t on my device. This may be region specific at this time.

If having a cameraphone is important to you, I would honestly advise to look at other devices as all the hype of the HTC One’s 4MP camera with Ultrapixels isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I felt even the Huawei Ascend P1’s 8MP camera was better than this phone which claims to be “as good as a 12MP camera”.

Thanks to our friends over at (Dialaphone) for supplying the HTC One to us here at mobilife. In summary it’s a great looking phone which is geared towards music and looks uber cool. If you’re looking for a cameraphone, consider a Samsung Galaxy S4 or a Sony Xperia Z. Sadly I don’t think the HTC One is enough to pull HTC out of the pit and back to the top of the smartphone game.

- Graham - @mobilife_graham - follow me, tweet me and get social.

About Graham

My First phone was the Nokia 3210, sometimes when I get fed up of all technology, I wish I could go back to using it, a simpler time. I am currently using the Samsung Galaxy Note II, running CyanogenMod 10.1 on the basis I dislike bloatware and prefer anything that improves performance and battery life. I love all things techy, especially from the phone world. I get obsessed with release dates and rumoured features.! My only real pet peeves are back-pedaling politicians and sucky gadgets, both of which I just feel shouldn't exist in our Li-Ion fueled world. Graham (@mobilife_graham)
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