Note: This review is for 2013's HTC One M7. If you want to know about 2014's model, check out our full HTC One M8 review!
It’s 2013 and that means that flagships are going Full HD, with Sony Xperia Z first out the gate, it’s now the turn of HTC with their new Android top dog; the HTC One. The new handset sets the standard for the company’s handsets going forward into 2013, with a host of new features, some completely fresh to the industry as a whole.
In particular HTC have spent time honing the multimedia experience the One offers, with a brand new version of Sense, innovative camera technology and unique audio enhancements, so without further ado, let’s go in for a closer look.
HTC One: Design
Although the HTC One may not be conventionally beautiful, the care and attention to detail in the design is of the highest order. Everything feels considered, everything carries both beauty and function and with elements such as that specially milled curved metal back, the feel in the hand is excellent. The smooth finish means that it’s not the grippiest of handsets, but the sheer edges counter this shortcoming.
Unlike last year’s One X and One S handsets, the lines of the HTC One don’t flow quite so naturally, with an array of panels and split lines breaking up an otherwise smooth consistent overall form. The front features a 4.7-inch touchscreen with back and home capacitive keys either side of HTC’s logo, doing away with the multitasking button of the older One Series (the app switching can now be activated by double tapping the home button). The screen is then capped both top and bottom with a set of dual-front facing stereo speakers as well as a 2.1-megapixel front facing camera.
The edges of the phone swap metal finish for what appears to be polycarbonate with the microSIM tray on the left side, carefully textured volume rocker on the right, offset micro USB port on the bottom and headphone jack on top. The top of the One also features a power/lock key which doubles as an IR blaster, used for the HTC One’s TV remote app.
Aside from the aforementioned split lines, the One's back features HTC’s logo, the Beats Audio marque and an LED flash next to the all-new 4.3-UltraPixel camera.
HTC One: Screen
We’ve been excited about going eyes-on with the HTC One’s 4.7-inch display which as a result of its Full HD (1920x1080) resolution, totes one of the highest pixel densities around (468.7ppi to be exact). In the flesh it is something special, the Super LCD 3 technology means that colours and contrast are clear cut and vivid with blacks looking better than ever (the best for an LCD at the very least) and viewing angles win out over the similarly high resolution Sony Xperia Z. With such tightly packed pixels we also guarantee that no matter how good your eyesight may be, trying to distinguish one pixel from the next with the naked eye is an impossibility.
With the progression towards 5-inch displays or bigger no longer being reserved to ‘phablets’ we approved of HTC’s decision to reign in the overall size of the display to 4.7-inches when their leading rivals; the Xperia Z and Galaxy S4 feature (or are expected to feature) 5 and 4.99-inch displays respectively.
HTC One: Performance
Much like last year’s HTC One X+, the HTC One opts for a quad-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz, however in place of the Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset in the One X+ sits a brand new Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 series chip which boasts better performance and power efficiency. There’s also 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage (24GB of which is user accessible), 3G, 4G, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and as was highlighted earlier, an IR sensor.
All of these premium components work together to offer up a veritable swiss army knife of features, with the user experience consistently fast, advanced features like HDR photography and slow motion video on offer, not to mention battery life that will see you through a day. On that subject, as we’ve seen countless times before, battery life takes a noticeable hit when employing the 4G radio, so LTE should be used sparingly, but for the most part, we were pleased with the battery/performance ratio brought on by the HTC One.
Opening and switching between apps was smooth and quick, 3D games ran without problems and thanks to the TV app onboard, operation of devices via IR was a cinch.
HTC One: OS
The HTC One is the first of the company’s phones to sport Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean out-the-box, but more significant than that is the new version of Sense on offer: HTC Sense 5. Having seen the evolution of the company’s Android overlay and indeed the experience provided by many of their rivals, HTC Sense 5 is the best alternative user experience on the market to date, not simply through being feature rich, but as a result of HTC’s design team having clearly trimmed the fat on the existing experience making everything feel tighter, faster and more intuitive.
From a cosmetic standpoint, new font choices and icon designs elicit a clear vector art style which fits the HTC One’s personality, but it’s the new hardware and software features which really interest us. BlinkFeed has been the most talked about addition, replacing the default homescreen with a Flipboard-esq feed aggregator designed to display relevant content from a user’s social networks and local content along with popular news topics all in one place. For some this new feed option won’t suit as the main homescreen of the device, but it’s easy to hide.
Speaking of homescreens, the system for adding and removing them and the widgets which can run upon them is significantly simpler, whilst HTC have returned to a vertical scrolling design for the app drawer based on user feedback, with a tap-to-top feature when tapping the notifications bar. We keep coming back to the IR blaster, but when used in conjunction with the in built TV app, the ability to quickly learn the key remote controls for all manner of technology in our home reminds us that not only is IR still relevant, it’s inclusion on such sophisticated hardware gives it greater use and flexibility than we’ve seen for years.
HTC One: Camera
We had to look objectively at the 4.3-UltraPixel camera as a result of the sheer wealth of additional functionality on offer. For starters HTC coined the term ‘UltraPixel’ as a means to help define the camera technology at work on the HTC One. The sensor may only feature a value of 4.3 million pixels, but each pixel is physically larger than the conventional sensors used on other smartphones. HTC say that this allows in more light per-pixel, improving low light performance dramatically (by up to 300% in HTC’s opinion).
In actuality the 4.3-ultrapixel resolution still produces shots the same size as any 4.3-megapixel camera, but the quality of the images is significantly better. Colours were very accurate and contrast well balanced, with an HDR mode expanding the dynamic range even further (although results could be a little hit and miss when movement was involved), the large lens on the One’s back allows in more light as well and the resultant images weren’t oversharpened or noisy.
Where the camera really comes into its own is features. We were blown away by the amount of options on offer with the HTC One’s camera interface. As well as the aforementioned HDR mode, there was a sweep panorama function and night mode, along with a wealth of scene settings designed for portrait photos, text and more. HTC also included a number of filters to distort or colour an image in real-time.
ZOE photos are a much talked about feature on the HTC One, allowing the user to capture five photos before they even press the shutter, record a short video clip on the shutter press and an additional 15 shots after pressing the shutter. As well as never missing a moment, these sequences can be edited on the fly by the HTC One as part of the Gallery app’s new Highlight function. Editing tools post hitting the shutter on ZOE photos include things like Sequence Shot which congregates the captured images into a time lapse image and a ton of tweaks for things like softening skin and removing red eye.
The last key aspect of the One’s camera is its Full HD video, which has the same great colour reproduction and contrast balance as the stills in addition to being able to capture content at 60fps or in slow motion, although resolution takes a noticable drop in these addtional modes.
It’s clear that we can’t cover all the aspects of the camera in one go, but it is a huge part of the HTC One’s user experience and worth considering for those shutterbugs looking for a new flagship handset in their lives.
HTC One: Verdict
The heat may be on for HTC but the One certainly helps ease off the pressure. Incredible hardware in a light, stylish package with one of the best user experiences around lands the HTC One in high regard.
HTC haven't been afraid to try some new things with the One; the camera technology is compelling, the additional features are distinctive and Sense 5 is incredible. Although the design of both the software and hardware may not be to everyone's tastes, this handset has the chops to cater to a wide range of user types.
If you’re looking for a great all-rounder with a particular emphasis on camera functionality, the One won’t do you wrong, we just hope HTC will be able to keep up with the demand this handset will no doubt garner.