When it comes down to Android, we have two huge manufacturers duking it out to create the Android king of 2013. HTC brought out their flagship phone for 2013, the HTC One, to lots of applause. But Samsung came back swinging with their offering of the Galaxy S4. I’ve had the chance for the past couple of weeks to spend some quality time with the HTC One and now I’ve developed my thoughts enough to write up my full review on it.
Let me just start by saying this, the HTC One is the best phone that I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. I’ve never encountered a phone that matches this level of perfection. Not even the Galaxy S4 is at this level. It fulfills every need that I have and goes far beyond the call of duty. The hardware is the best in the biz’ and the software is some of the greatest that I’ve encountered. The phone is as close to perfect as a phone can be and works flawlessly, every time. It’s the best experience that Android has offered so far, both for the power user and for the consumer.
This is where the One is a pearl in a sea of cheaply-made Android phones. Gone is cheap, slimy plastic and in is an all aluminum unibody design. I was rather torn on whether or not I would like this design choice before I tried the One but as soon as I picked it up, I knew that I was in love. The phone feels absolutely perfect in your hand as it nestles into your palm and exudes a feeling of premium quality. At first glance, you can see that the entire design has been very carefully thought-out and crafted. The placement of the speakers and the slight curvature of the back of the phone are marvelous additions that other manufacturers need to take heed of.
While we’re on the topic of the speakers, they deserve a special mention of their own. Dual front-facing speakers pump out the most powerful sound of any phone on the market. It’s so loud that several times I was actually wondering why my laptop was making such loud sounds before I realized that it was the phone. That’s saying something if a phone can actually compete with an HP Envy 15 that has six speakers. Not only was the sound extremely loud, it was also quite crisp for phone speakers. There was still a bit of shrill tinniness at high volumes as well as some distortion but it was much better than any other phone. And in regards to sound, music through headphones sounds beautiful on this device. What used to be a lame equalizer preset has now morphed into what Beats should be; tight, clean bass and clear highs create an orchestra inside of your head. As far as headphone sound quality goes on phones, you won’t find any better than the One.
I haven’t mentioned the screen though. You won’t find a better one than this one. The 4.7″ size is perfect, not too big or small. The 1080p resolution makes everything crystal clear and you can’t see any of the pixels while the Super LCD3 technology provides natural colors that are more stunning than what you see in real life. The colors are deep and perfectly saturated while blacks are extremely dark for an LCD display. Whites are spot-on and extremely bright without any sort of ugly discoloration and tinting. And I must note, the viewing angles on the One are mind-blowing. You can tilt to extreme angles without discoloration or loss of what’s on your screen.
I do have to add in a little comment about the capacitative buttons though. The placement is odd with a back button and home button flanking a useless HTC logo. That’s easy to get used to though. What’s not so great is that the buttons aren’t very responsive. You often have to press a couple of times for it to register your tap. I did download an update from Sprint today that’s supposed to help with this but I haven’t had long to test it. There does seem to be a lot of improvement though so hopefully this problem is easily solved.
In the hardware department, I’m delighted to announce that the HTC One lives up to all the hype surrounding it. HTC did a magnificent job of paying attention to detail and creating a device that simply oozes with quality. If you want a phone with good hardware, the One should easily be your first choice. It’s the first Android phone that really competes with the iPhone when it comes to design and that’s an accomplishment that certainly deserves an award.
Sense 5 came as both a pleasant surprise and a wonderful refresher after spending too much time with TouchWiz. Past versions of Sense have been a mess with overdone animations and massive amounts of bloatware. Sense 5 finally drew the reins in and took control of the wild horse that Sense used to be. The excessive additions were pared down and the skin became much lighter as a whole as well as following some of Android’s Holo design scheme.
Sense 5 is quite probably the most beautiful and refined skin for Android that I’ve seen to date. The animations have become much more subtle and the darker color scheme helps to provide an extremely classy feel. It follows the Holo design standards better than many with action bars and everything. Not only does it look great, it also performs at the speed of a Blue Angel. The pre-loaded apps by HTC are incredibly smooth and are more functional than apps designed by the other manufacturers. Such as the Mail app which works flawlessly. Or the Messages app that’s as smooth as smooth can be.
Another nifty feature is that the One has an IR blaster built into the power button. This means that you can use it to control your TV and home theater system. The setup process is a bit lengthy as it takes about fifteen minutes to get it all set up but trust me, it’s worth every second. After I did that, I was able to fully control my TV, DVR, and speaker system with the One. It’s an incredibly useful feature although I couldn’t get it to work with my Blu-Ray player for some reason. Nonetheless, it’s perfect for when you can’t find the remote or you’re like myself and have five different remotes that all have their own individual uses. You can also see what’s on TV straight from your phone and it will give you personalized suggestions for TV shows that it thinks you like.
I don’t have any major gripes with the software. In fact, the only things that ever bothered me were very minor. For one, there are no quick settings in the notification shade which wasn’t really a big deal as I could quickly jump into settings and activate airplane mode whenever I needed to. Another thing that seemed really ridiculous was that you can’t exit the app drawer with the back button. That’s right, you can only use the home button. I have no idea why it was designed this way but it was one of the stupidest things ever for someone who almost always uses their back button.
Besides those very minor complaints about the software, it was flawless. The personalization and beautiful design of Sense is still there but it’s been toned down and made both easier to use as well as being a better performer. HTC did a killer job at making Sense 5 into a beautiful software skin and it matches great software to fantastic hardware.
Under the hood of the One lies a beast of a processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600. Partnered with 2GB RAM, this intense duo flies through any task that you could throw at it. The One provided the smoothest experience that I’ve ever found on an Android phone. Not once did I encounter any bit of slow-down or lag and apps performed flawlessly. Even processor-intensive games performed wonderfully and they look absolutely gorgeous on the screen. Quadrant Standard scores were predictably astronomical, ranging from anywhere between 12,000 and 13,000. When it comes to performance, the One confidently takes on anything that you throw at it and gives you the best experience that you’ll find on any Android device.
Fueling the One is a 2,300mAh battery that’s quite capable of getting you through the day. And easily at that. With a normal day of moderate usage, it’s easy to have 45-50% by the time that you go to bed. With power saving mode on, things get even better. A day of moderate usage usually leaves me at 60-65% by the end of the day. That’s with texting, social media, e-mailing, web browsing, and a whole lot of music streaming. Not once did I ever manage to get the battery under 20% and that’s with pretty heavy usage. I highly recommend that you use the power saving mode on the One as it significantly increases battery life and makes almost no difference at all to the performance and usage of the device. If you’re looking for a device with good battery life but don’t want a RAZR MAXX or Note II, the One should fit the bill quite nicely.
This is one of the biggest stand-out features of the One, the camera. Like other high-end phones, I’d sit here and tell you the megapixel count except for one little problem. This is the Ultrapixel camera. Designed for better performance, the Ultrapixel camera makes each pixel three times larger to allow in three times as much light. The trade-off is that each photo is only 4-megapixels in size so you’ll want to watch out when cropping photos. Such as when uploading to Instagram, you can get some jagged edges with certain things with the large crop that’s used for Instagram.
But when it comes to the performance of the camera, it doesn’t get much better than this. The Ultrapixel camera excels in low-light situations as well as providing extremely beautiful macro shots. The bokeh of the camera is the best that I’ve ever seen out of a smartphone and that’s mostly due to the 28mm f/2.0 lens that the device is fitted with. It also has optical image stabilization to help keep your shots steady even when the shutter is open longer. Some of the shots that are produced are absolutely stunning.
The camera also has some nifty features that are built in such as Zoe. What Zoe does is to take three seconds of video that contains twenty pictures for you to choose from. I found it to be quite a nifty feature for quick moments where you otherwise may have missed a shot. Fair warning though, a Zoe takes up a whole lot of storage space so you may not want to upload many of them. The Ultrapixel camera is capable of recording 1080p video at 30fps and 720p at 60fps so you should be all set to go there. A whole set of filters and special effects are included within the camera though I didn’t find any of them to be particularly great. Within the gallery you have some editing tools as well as some very nice options for slideshows of your pictures that include music and animations already. Below, I’ve included some shots that the HTC One has taken if you want to take a look.
The HTC One that I had the opportunity to test was a Sprint model so that’s what I based the network portion of the review on. Unfortunately, Sprint’s LTE network wasn’t consistently available in my area to do a comprehensive look at it. On the upside, I was able to connect to LTE a couple of times as they were testing and performed a few speed tests. Do take these with a grain of salt however, as they were only testing. I hit a high of 19.55Mbps on the download and 10.68Mbps on the upload. On average, I got anywhere from 8-16Mbps on the download and 3-8Mbps on the upload. While those speeds aren’t quite as fast as Verizon or AT&T, they’re not shabby at all and are a vast improvement over Sprint’s 3G network.
Speaking of their 3G network, it was surprisingly better than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, it was still slow but in many cases, Verizon actually had a slower 3G network. With Sprint, I usually saw speeds between .5-1.25Mbps on the download with .25-.65Mbps on the upload. These weren’t fantastic but for CDMA 3G they were decent. As far as coverage goes, it was fairly disappointing. Even in the midst of the city, I often found myself with one or two bars of signal or even roaming. In fact, the majority of my use on Sprint’s network happened while I was roaming due to their lack of coverage. I will note though, that Sprint actually had great coverage along the interstate, even when I was literally in the middle of nowhere, sometimes even catching LTE out there. Unless you live in an area with LTE though, it’s hard to recommend Sprint’s network.
The HTC One is a great phone, we all know that. The real question is, how does it stand up to its rival, the Samsung Galaxy S4? After testing out the device for a few weeks, I can say in all honesty that I think that it’s quite possibly better than the S4. I haven’t used an S4 for the same amount of time so I can’t say for certain but if not better than, it’s certainly right on par with it. The HTC One is a hell of a phone that manages to check every box that needs to be checked for a great phone.
The One has the hardware to perform as well as draw attention from admirers around you. It also has the software, chock full of useful features and excellent to use for both techies and consumers. Everything about the phone screams that it’s a quality device and it lives up to every bit of hype that surrounded it. Simply spending some extensive time with the One has convinced me not to go and buy a Galaxy S4 because I’d rather wait for a higher-quality device now. I can easily recommend the One to anyone and I wouldn’t have a twinge of regret about it. Everything is so perfect with it that it should satiate anybody’s desire for a great phone. HTC hit it out of the park with the One and that’s why I believe that it’s a better phone than the Galaxy S4.