As HTC's new flagship smartphone, the HTC One is packed to the rafters with top-notch components and technologies, including some of the latest processing gear from Qualcomm. In addition to being state of the art, the successor to 2012's HTC One X is lovingly crafted from premium metals, leaving no doubt that the Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer has put a considerable amount of blood, sweat and tears into this handset.
Like all other smartphones, the One isn't perfect — it lacks both an SD card slot for extra storage expansion and a removable battery. The camera isn't quite as revolutionary as advertised. Android purists may not love HTC's Sense UI skin, and the One's non-removable BlinkFeed news reader isn't particularly welcome.
That said, we can easily say that the HTC One is one of the fastest, most beautiful phones we've ever used. Between it and the Samsung Galaxy S4, anyone looking for a state of the art smartphone this year will have some tough decisions to make.
Pricing and availability
Optus: AU$3 monthly handset repayment on the AU$60 consumer plan. The plan includes AU$650 worth of calls, 1.5GB of data and unlimited SMS. The total cost over 24 months is AU$1512.
Telstra: AU$10 per month repayments on the AU$60 per month plan. The plan includes AU$600 worth of calls and MMS, unlimited SMS and 1GB of data. The total cost is AU$1680 over 24 months.
Virgin: AU$3 repayments each month on the AU$59 a month plan. The plan includes AU$700 of call credit, 3GB of data, and unlimited mobile calls and texts to other Virgin customers each month. The total cost over 24 months will be AU$1488.
Vodafone: AU$5 upfront on the AU$60 plan. The plan includes AU$700 value for standard and international calls and MMS, and 1.5GB of data. The total cost over 24 months is AU$1650.
It can be bought outright at Telstra stores for AU$768, and Telstra will be the first to offer it in black. Harvey Norman is also selling it unlocked and outright — its price is currently a "pre-order special" for AU$698, although it was out of stock at the time of writing.
For this review, we had an unlocked HTC One running on the Telstra 4G network. Remember, if you want to use the HTC on an LTE/4G network, Vodafone will not have its service up and running until June of 2013.
Rectangular, flat and extremely thin, the HTC One is practically all screen. Its 4.7-inch (1080p) LCD display uses what the company calls SoLux technology for improved picture quality, generating 468 pixels per inch (ppi). This, says HTC, helps the One's screen boast the most impressive viewing experience of any phone it has ever created. Since the display is slightly smaller at the same resolution, the One's screen has a denser pixel count than the Samsung Galaxy S4, which uses a larger 5-inch OLED screen (441ppi).
The One's display has plenty of impact, with vibrant colours, wide viewing angles and plenty of brightness. It's a tough call to stack it against the Galaxy S4, but we'd have to say that the S4 has slightly higher contrast and brighter colours, but it's a tight call.
HTC also makes a big deal about the One's all-aluminium chassis, describing it as using a zero-gap unibody design. Indeed, available in black and silver, the handset feels sturdy, has reassuring heft and its smooth, metallic skin exudes high-end craftsmanship. HTC also took pains to point out that while the thin, white trim encircling the silver model we manhandled appears to be plastic, it is, in fact, metal.
The HTC One sports an aluminium unibody frame.
In another interesting twist, dual speakers (one on each side of the screen) act in unison to deliver a more lively audio experience for watching movies or listening to music. Paired with an onboard amplifier and Beats technology, HTC has given the system the rather unfortunate name BoomSound. It reminds us of the kind of cheesy trademark Philips used to plaster all over its old boom boxes.
That said, the One's speakers do pack a hefty punch, producing rich audio with a satisfying helping of bass. The phone's audio system has wide stereo separation as well, plus a surprising amount of volume.
Above the display sits a 2.1MP front-facing camera and a notification light. Below are just two capacitive Android buttons, while the headphone jack and volume button are up top. What's really interesting is how the power button also doubles as an IR blaster to control home theatre equipment. A volume rocker is placed on the right side, and a SIM card slot holds court on the left. On the bottom edge sits the phone's micro-USB port. Around back is the 4MP main camera and LED flash, which also uses HTC's "ultrapixel" sensor.
Software, UI and features
Layered on top of Android is yet another version of HTC's Sense UI. As is typical for this sort of added interface, the latest version of Sense offers more enhancements that you may or may not find useful.
The first is something HTC calls the BlinkFeed, a main home screen consisting of dynamic tiles that display content from a wide variety of news outlets, blogs and websites (including CNET Australia). If you're familiar with popular news aggregators such as Flipboard and Pulse, then you get the idea.
There are drawbacks to BlinkFeed that you should be aware of, most notably that you can't turn the feature off, at least not entirely. By default, the BlinkFeed screen is set as the phone's primary home screen. You can, however, select any of the HTC One's home screens as its starting point.
We quite liked the revamped Sense user interface. Besides BlinkFeed, the skin has a cleaner look, with icons that are less crowded across and within the app tray. Also odd is that, unlike in stock Android Jelly Bean, the app tray doesn't side scroll; it scrolls vertically. The scrolling motion also jumps through icons by the page, not smoothly at a set rate, which takes getting used to.
The IR blaster adds universal remote functions.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Also gone is HTC's iconic weather clock widget, which has graced its phones since way back in the days of Windows Mobile. You will still find information for time and weather forecasts at the top of the home screen, but displayed in a much more low-key fashion. An icon here and on the lock screen displays current conditions by taking the shape of a sun, clouds and so on. It will even blink at you with eye-catching animations, such as falling rain or snow.
Confirming that the line between tablets and smartphones is blurring more every day, the HTC One also features an IR blaster on its top edge, much like the Galaxy S4. When used with the HTC Sense TV app and HTC remote software, users can control their TVs with the phone while keeping tabs on local programs.
We have to say, this feature is more useful than we would have thought. After going through the simple, if rather lengthy set-up process, which asks you to lay out the TV channels you receive in detail, we were able to control a home theatre set effectively. What's also pretty slick is how you tap icons of shows you have marked as favourites to immediately begin watching them if they are currently on. In all honestly, it's a very similar experience to that of the S4.
A flagship smartphone wouldn't be worth its salt if it wasn't backed up by a bevy of screaming components. You'll be glad to know that the HTC One doesn't disappoint. Beating inside the heart of this regal machine is a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, pretty much the same, again, as the Galaxy S4.
The HTC One will also ship in two memory configurations, a stock 32GB model and a tricked-out 64GB version. Both devices, though, will feature a full 2GB complement of RAM. To the best of our knowledge, only the 32GB model is available in Australia. The official HTC word is that the 64GB is available in "some APAC markets", but it's not clear which ones. It's worth noting that this is still double the storage of the S4, although that phone has a microSD slot. The One features wireless radios for Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11b/g/n and even ac Wi-Fi, plus NFC connectivity, too.
Speed test results.
(Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNETAustralia)
Quick benchmark tests confirmed the HTC One's processing power. Our HTC One unit turned in an impressive Linpack score of 688.435 MFLOPs (multithread), which the phone completed in a short 0.24 second. Additionally, the device managed a very high Quadrant score of 12,194, right behind the Galaxy S4.
Anecdotal use backed up our impression that the HTC One is a seriously nimble machine. The device smoothly flipped through menu screens, launched apps and fired up web pages with no hiccups or stutters to speak of.
Boot up time from complete shutdown was a remarkably quick 12 seconds, while it was less than 2 for the camera app to be up and running.
As said before, we tested the HTC One on Telstra's 4G network in the Sydney CBD area. We found call quality to be clear, although some people said that we came across a little flat.
On our end, voices came through loudly, but also had a hint of robotic flatness. Callers, however, said that the speakerphone handled audio well and transmitted what we said clearly. Despite the HTC One's large speakers, though, the speakerphone didn't produce an impressive amount of volume.
Data speeds were solid, maxing out around 23Mbps on the download and averaging between 15-20Mbps for uploads.
An embedded 2300mAh battery serves as the One's power source, which doesn't sound like much on paper, especially compared with phones that have ultra-high-capacity batteries.
In terms of longevity, though, the HTC One didn't disappoint, easily managing a day of fairly strenuous use. We'd say that the battery life felt a little better than the S4, but it's much of a muchness, to be honest.
We got CNET Australia's resident camera expert, Lexy Savvides, to put the HTC One through its paces. These are her findings:
Much has already been written about HTC's "ultrapixel" technology, one of the key selling points for the One's camera. If you're not already across the technology at play, HTC has chosen to cram fewer pixels on the phone's sensor than many other competing smartphones on the market. This offers a few advantages, namely that image quality should be better than that from other smartphones because the photosites are physically larger. In conjunction with the f/2.0 image stabilised lens, it should theoretically deliver superior photos, especially in low-light conditions. But does it actually offer much perceivable difference over competing smartphone cameras?
In short, the answer really depends on what sort of user you are. While photographers will appreciate the lower megapixel rating, casual smartphone snappers probably won't understand why they don't have as much resolution to play with when it comes to cropping images or zooming in. Then again, the typical smartphone user will just be sharing photos either on the screen itself, or via email and social media, which requires a downscale anyway.
Night time shots with the HTC One.
(Credit: Lexy Savvides/CNET Australia)
In general use, the camera module on the One produces better images in low-light situations than the average smartphone (we tested it alongside the Galaxy S3, though you can also check out these comparisons by our sister-site CNET Asia). Shooting at night is tricky for many point-and-shoots, let alone smartphones, but the One is able to deliver a cleaner image with less noise than the competition. The lens is reasonably sharp and can resolve plenty of detail, though the right-hand side of the frame regularly exhibits some distortion.
In regular outdoor situations, the default colour profile on standard settings used by the One is a little subdued. Automatic white balance is on the conservative side, opting to push for a cooler rating than the Galaxy S3. Like the purple flare problems that plagued the iPhone 5, the One also has plenty of lens flare issues on offer, particularly when the light source is coming in from the top left side of the frame. The flare is, however, not coloured, and just exhibits itself as an overall ghosting effect thanks to the light cast.
Overall, the One produces very good images for a smartphone, but its ultrapixel technology may only make an impression on the most fervent pixel peepers out there. Others might just be left wondering why their camera only sports a 4-megapixel sensor as opposed to the 8, 10 or 12-megapixel models on other smartphones and compacts.
As we said before beginning this marathon review, anyone wanting for a clean way to decide between the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 is in for a rough ride: this is a very close race.
Without a doubt, this is a truly beautifully designed phone. The aluminium frame is stunning and feels great in the hand; and the user interface is clean and crisp.
The lack of expandable memory will annoy some, as will the non-removable battery. While services such as Dropbox remain an option — and HTC is once again giving away 25GB of storage on the service — it still requires using part of your precious data allowance to access it.
In terms of power, the HTC One is more than enough for any user. While people worried about processor speeds might point to the S4's 1.9GHz count versus the 1.7GHz on the One, the fact is, only benchmarking tools are ever likely to even register this difference. It simply won't matter for day to day use.
In the end, we can happily recommend the HTC One as one of the top tier Android phones on the market today.