Until now, Android phones haven’t been much to look at.
It’s a common stereotype that Android devices are only made for those who don’t care about design or build quality, just getting a phone for as cheap as possible.
The stereotype is only perpetuated by the fact that most Android manufacturers continue to make their stuff out of cheap, ugly plastic.
HTC isn’t buying into that trend with its newest flagship smartphone, the HTC One, which is made from all metal and glass with some durable plastic accents. It’s bigger and arguably more beautiful than the iPhone 5.
You’ll want one as soon as you see it.
HTC may be losing when it comes to brand recognition –– all you hear about are Apple and Samsung these days –– but it continues to make some of the best mobile devices you can buy. It feels like no one cares about poor HTC, but the One perfectly exemplifies why they should.
The HTC One goes on sale on April 19 on Sprint and AT&T starting at $199.99. T-Mobile customers can get it for $99.99 plus regular monthly payments for two years.
Hardware And Design
Let me gush about the design a bit more.
It’s easy enough for Android phones to distinguish themselves from the iPhone with a bunch of software extras and customisation options, but this is the first time I’ve held and Android phone that I thought was just as solid and beautiful as anything Apple makes without being a blatant copy.
The HTC One has a 4.7-inch HD display, meaning you can watch full HD video content. (There are only a handful of devices that can do that, and the iPhone isn’t one of them.) The screen’s resolution is also incredibly sharp, so text and images look like they’re printed on the display. There’s no pixelation at all.
But the phone’s aluminium body is the best part. The One’s frame tapers to about 4 mm at its thinnest edge, and it has a pleasant curved back that makes the phone easy to hold. It’s also deceptively light (143 grams), yet plenty durable. The phone has some plastic trimming, but it’s a durable polycarbonate plastic that looks great and feels right at home enveloped in all that metal.
The screen is bordered by two stereo speakers that sound incredible; they’re louder and clearer than any other phone speakers I’ve used. (Most phones only have one speaker.) It’s especially useful when watching videos or listening to music, although most people will probably end up using headphones for that kind of stuff. Like many HTC phones, the One also has Beats Audio integration, a feature you can turn on in the phone’s settings. But all it really does is make the audio louder; it doesn’t improve sound quality at all.
The One has a special camera that HTC calls an “Ultrapixel” camera. Unlike most smartphone cameras, the One’s Ultrapixel camera creates larger than normal pixels when taking an image, theoretically giving you a sharper picture and better low-light performance. It works. The photos I took with the HTC One were much clearer than the ones taken in the same environment with my iPhone 5, especially if there wasn’t a lot of lighting.
Battery life is on par with most smartphones. You’ll likely be able to get through a day of normal use. But it does get really hot when playing games or watching videos. You won’t roast your hand, but it’s definitely noticeable.
As for the network, I used the Sprint version of the HTC One. Compared to AT&T and Verizon, Sprint has a tiny 4G LTE network, which the fastest kind of data connection available. But Sprint LTE is completely absent in New York City where I did my testing. Sprint has another type of 4G that’s a little slower, but my test unit couldn’t connect to that. I spent most of the time stuck on 3G, which was a huge pain. It’s also especially embarrassing for a top-tier device like the HTC One. (To be fair, this is Sprint’s fault, not HTC’s. I’ve heard the One works fine on T-Mobile and AT&T.)
Software And Other Features
At its core, the HTC One is still a basic Android phone. But like most manufacturers, HTC tweaked the operating system and added its own “skin” called Sense that has a slightly different design plus other features not found in Google’s basic version of Android.
The most apparent change in Sense is what HTC calls Blinkfeed, a new default home screen that pulls in photos and stories from your Facebook and Twitter connections and a variety of news sources like ESPN, AP, Reuters, and Business Insider. Blinkfeed looks a lot like the popular news app Flipboard, and it shows you separate tiles for each story. It’s a nice feature to have built into your phone.
But as cool as Blinkfeed is, I didn’t like that HTC makes it your default home screen. Like most people, I use my phone for a lot more than just grazing through content shared on Facebook and Twitter and prefer to jump straight into my favourite apps instead. HTC makes you swipe over to your regular home screen to get all that. (Yes, you can store a few apps in the One’s “dock” that will show up even while looking at Blinkfeed, but it’s still limiting.)
I have a feeling most people will end up doing what I did and make the regular home screen their default.
HTC also added some special tricks to the camera software. It has built-in filters sort of like the ones you’ll find on Instagram. It also has a new feature called Zoe that takes a short video clip and lets you select one frame to share on Facebook, email, and pretty much any other service. Zoe is like a mix of Twitter’s video-sharing app Vine with a little Instagram thrown in.
The One can also serve as a universal remote for your TV thanks to an infrared blaster at the top of the device. The phone comes with a television app that pulls in data from your cable or satellite provider and lets you know what shows are on. You just have to tap a show and the channel will change. HTC uses a service called Peel to help recommend shows that you may want to watch. The setup only takes a minute and worked well, but I didn’t find much practical use for it. I still prefer to use my phone for other stuff like checking Twitter while watching TV.
Despite all those extras, the HTC One is still your typical Android phone. It runs a version of Android called Jelly Bean, which gives you access to Google Now, a voice-powered assistant that’s better than Siri on the iPhone. Google Now makes a much better search tool than Siri, and it can intelligently remind you of stuff you care about like when to leave the office for your next meeting or when your favourite sports team is playing.
You also get access to the Google Play store where Google sells its digital apps, movies, music, books, and periodicals. Google Play’s selection is about as good as the selection in Apple’s App Store for iPhones and iPads, but just know developers tend to make the newest apps and big updates for the iPhone first.
Should You Buy It?
If you’re ready to buy a new phone soon, you have a tough decision ahead of you. Samsung is about to launch the anticipated Galaxy S4, and a new iPhone is reportedly coming late this summer.
The HTC One is easily the most beautiful Android phone ever created, and has all the other bells and whistles you’ll need. You should buy it.