Can the HTC One earn its place among the Android elite?
HTC’s recent decline has almost been as rapid as its ascent to the upper echelons of the smartphone market. It has surrendered its position as the third largest phone manufacturer in the world and comparisons are being drawn with the likes of Nokia and BlackBerry.
There was an expectation that HTC would simply fade away, but like the aforementioned companies, it has chosen to fight back and has produced a smartphone that suggests it may be putting all of its eggs in one basket.
It is selling hard. Anyone watching the UEFA Champions League football in recent weeks could not have helped but notice the HTC One digital advertising hoardings on the side of the pitch, viewable to millions of people across the world.
HTC’s faith is not misplaced as the HTC One is one of the most impressive Android handsets ever released. Even if turns out not to be enough to save the Taiwanese manufacturer, at least it will go out with a bang.
First things first, the HTC One is ridiculously good looking. It’s the first smartphone with a full aluminium unibody and the premium feel afforded by the metal casing is a far cry from some other smartphones.
It has the curved back that has become a signature of more recent HTC handsets and houses a sizeable 4.7-inch display. This may have been considered phablet territory a year ago, but the value of the additional screen real estate is obvious when watching movies or playing games. Indeed, the screen is one of the best around, with superb picture quality.
Inevitably, this means that the HTC One is a considerable size, but at just 9.33mm thick, it’s not too harsh on the pocket.
Blink and you’ll miss it
It’s perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing smartphone on the market, but there’s no need to think it’s shallow when you consider what’s underneath. It’s powered by a 1.7 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM, specifications that make performing almost all tasks very speedy.
The HTC One ships with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean along with the now familiar HTC Sense customisations. However these are far less intrusive than in previous HTC handsets.
The most obvious alteration is the introduction of BlinkFeed, a home screen content aggregator that bears more than a close resemblance to Flipboard, a similar application available for iOS and Android.
BlinkFeed displays stories from a selection of approved news sources, Facebook and Twitter accounts and applications like calendar in the form of tiles. Most of the information is particularly relevant and is no different from opening a dedicated app, but it’s nowhere near as dominating as something like Facebook Home.
At first there appears to be little need for BlinkFeed, and it can quickly be removed with a swipe of the screen, but it’s an example of how this iteration of HTC Sense is more useful. Notifications and navigation are similarly user-friendly, while the lock screen shows useful information and quick access to key applications like messaging and camera.
Sights and sounds
As ever, a Google account is necessary to make the most of the features on Android. Google applications like Mail and Calendar come pre-installed, and you’ll need a Google account to download apps from the Google Play marketplace.
The HTC One’s large display lends itself well to viewing full web pages in the Google Chrome web browser, while typing emails and messages is made easier. There are various media applications available to users, which can be stored on either the 32GB or 64GB of storage.
Curiously, this cannot be expanded via a microSD card slot, something that has often been touted as one of the biggest advantages of Android handsets over Apple iPhones.
One potential killer feature for music fans is the presence of two front-facing BoomSound speakers. Located above and below the screen, they are still not quite a replacement for a dedicated Hi-Fi system but they are as far removed as possible from the tinny sound offered by other phones’ speakers.
Combined with in-built Beats Audio, the thought of an HTC One falling into the hands of someone who likes to blast their music on public transport is a worrying prospect.
Just about every component of the HTC One is top of the range – so why did HTC include a mere four megapixel camera? HTC claims that the megapixel deficiency is irrelevant thanks to its ultrapixel technology, but the reality is rather different.
We tested it on a sunny day in London and although the pictures look better than a bog-standard four megapixel camera, the results were disappointing, especially when viewed on a computer. HTC has been talking up the imaging capabilities, and there are some neat features like continuous shoot, but it’s a weakness that could have been avoided.
It puts it at a disadvantage against rival Android smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z, which both have 13 megapixel cameras. This is a shame because the HTC One is more than capable of becoming the flagship Android device.
The kitchen sink
The camera might be a deal-breaker for the image-conscious user, but for everyone else such concerns are easily erased when you consider just how good a smartphone the HTC One is. Camera aside, everything about the hardware is impressive, especially the sound and screen, while changes to the software are genuinely useful.
With so much power and media-orientation, battery life is a problem, but moderate use should permit at least a day between charges and the HTC One is hardly unique among smartphones in that regard. The other downside, as we said, is the omission of a MicroSD card.
HTC’s recent troubles have been well documented, while its recent efforts have been impressive on paper rather than in practice. However, with its future apparently in jeopardy, it has come up with the goods.
By marrying impressive specifications, a user friendly interface and premium materials, the HTC One comes highly recommended.
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