HTC One: Seven Months Later

By Kia Gargahi


When it comes to major Android smartphones, there are only so many that can be named off the top of the average consumer’s head. With its Robert Downey Jr. advertising campaign, the HTC One has become as embedded in the general public’s mind as Samsung’s Galaxy lineup. Even though this is the case, keep in mind that these flagships launched in Q1 of 2013, and we are now well into Q3 of 2013; other Android devices such as the LG G2, Sony Xperia Z1, and Nexus 5 have come to the market. But today, we look at how our coveted HTC One fares in the competitive smart phone market.

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What isn’t there to say about the design of the HTC One? When this phone was announced in the middle of Q1 of 2013, it was highly acclaimed for its aluminum, gap-free unibody design, and critics everywhere claimed that this was the first Android phone that competed with the legendary iPhone in terms of design. Gone were the days of cheap plastic and present are the aluminum, gap-free designs of the future. Its dimensions come in at 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 millimeters (5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 inches) and weighs about 5 ounces or 143 grams.

Yes, it is without a doubt aesthetically pleasing, but that’s not all that there is to say about the design of this phone. It has, for example, an infrared blaster incorporated into the lock button (see picture below). While HTC may not be the first company to do so, it certainly has started the trend (the LG G2 features a similar IR blaster). Interestingly, HTC has chosen to place only two capacitive buttons on the front of the device: a home button to the right and a back button to the left (the menu button can be configured to show up as a short hold on the home button or as a three-dot menu at the bottom of the screen where applicable).

What’s the catch? This device comes with no expandable memory or removable battery, but as a result, it comes with 32 GB of standard storage, upgradeable to 64 GB in the developer edition (that’ll cost you $100 more). But that isn’t what you should be focusing on (yes, I’m annoyed by the shortcomings, too). The fact of the matter is that the BoomSound front-facing speakers are innovative and the aluminum looks great. The speakers, while not the loudest that you’ll find in your run-of-the-mill smartphone, provide the greatest audio quality in a smartphone that the world has ever seen.

Finally, the design is bar none, rivaling that of the iPhone 5S. It can easily be used with one hand and, while the awkward lock button on the left and the two-button layout might be hard to get used to at first, these setbacks hardly undermine the sheer beauty of the phone.

The HTC One features a 4.7-inch 1080 x 1920 pixel display at 468 ppi dubbed “super LCD.” Even now, this has the highest pixel density of any smartphone in the market. While pixel density doesn’t necessarily translate into great display quality, in this case, it certainly does. The LCD-display technology that HTC has incorporated into its flagship is phenomenal, arguably the best smartphone display in the market bar the iPhone’s retina display.

There are fantastic viewing angles with the HTC One, and there should exist no issue when viewing media with a group of friends circled around the captivating display and great-sounding speakers. Compared to the Galaxy S4’s “super AMOLED” display, blacks appear more dark purple but colors are more true to life; there is a bit of oversaturation on the Galaxy S4 (and AMOLED displays in general). The display is also arguably better than the Nexus 5’s (washed-out colors) and on par with the LG G2’s. The device copes relatively well in sunlight, coming nowhere near, however, the Kindle’s paper-white display technology.

To sum up, the screen is still one of the best available on the market, and the 4.7-inch size seems ideal to compensate for the extra inch or so the BoomSound speakers add in overall length.

The HTC One’s camera has been subject to criticism ever since its inception. The UltraPixel Camera has been regarded as a step backward by many because of its relatively low megapixel count (4, to be exact). HTC has been betting on the fact that increasing the average pixel size to a relatively large 2 micrometers (compared to the 0.5 or so micrometers of others) would compensate for its rather low megapixel count. Manufacturers scoffed as HTC seemingly dropped out of the megapixel race (see Lumia 1020).

While I don’t have samples ready to show (there are plenty available online), there are many pros and cons about the camera and its accompanied software. Let’s start with the positive, shall we? The camera is a killer in low-light performance, topping anyone’s list for best performance in these conditions. (I’m always asked to take pictures in low light). Furthermore, the camera produces some amazing close-up and landscape pictures (setting on auto will do just fine). The accompanying Zoe is a plu,s too, recording a three-second clip that can be converted into a GIF (so that’s how you make those!). Video taking is nice, capable of shooting in full HD and having the same benefits as the camera all around. The editing software that’s built into the phone proves useful as well, along with the camera settings. Although I may be making an overall positive case for the device’s camera, there are also some major problems.

Have you ever tried zooming in for photo editing taken by the One? Yeah, don’t. The low megapixel count DOES have its bad points, of course. Zooming will release a blur of colors and grains that really don’t look all that bad from far. This is essentially the illusion that the phone has been riding on: “Please look at photos from either a small screen or from far to avoid quality complaints.” There is also the issue of no physical shutter button. While on other devices such as the Galaxy S4 there is a dedicated camera button or the improvised camera button of the iPhone (volume up key), there is no such option on the HTC One. While I personally have rooted and customized my phone to allow for such a hardware tweak, the average user won’t know the meaning of what I just said. (Right?) Regardless, the camera also fails at times to perform even mediocre under bright conditions. There exists a purple tint at the edge of the photo under either bright or very dark conditions (see sample below).

While the photo above may look like it’s been modified under an Instagram filter, it hasn’t been.

With a 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 from yesteryear and 2 GB of RAM, the HTC One is running on slightly old tech. With the LG G2 Nexus 5 running Snapdragon 800, the HTC One may start to show its true age in this category. While the RAM count might not have changed in half a year, the updated processor definitely has advantages over its little brother.

Nothing against the S600 — the processor still runs fantastically in the HTC One. Battery life is better than the Nexus 5’s and slightly worse than the LG G2’s (about eight-10 hours of use depending on how you’re using the phone). You won’t notice any lag from the processor, as 5.0 is not as demanding as other modified versions of Android. Oddly, mobile data seems to come off as slow at times, resulting most likely from the interference from the same aluminum that looks so darn good. Multitasking seems a breeze; it isn’t rare to have 16 apps open and not notice a slowdown. This being said, the processor shows its shortcomings next to a S800-equipped device.

The HTC One’s processor can cause the phone to slightly heat up at times and can be irritating. Furthermore, the S800 just seems to perform tasks more quickly than the S600, as is expected with a major update to the chip line. Battery life is noticeably better on handsets rocking the S800 (have I mentioned the LG G2 enough?), and it would be advisable in this day and age to purchase a device with one of those bad boys.

Summary

Pros

Cons

+ Beautiful aluminum casing

+ Exquisite low-light camera performance

+ Seamless multi-tasking performance

+ Fantastic screen; great screen size

+ Good battery life

+ BoomSound, Zoe, IR blaster, BlinkFeed

- Poor camera performance in general

- Newer devices will outperform the HTC one

- No SD card slot or removable battery

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