HTC have set the pace, can the competition keep up?
Today HTC isn’t the most successful device manufacturer in the business, this we know. For years they’ve been struggling to keep up with competition whilst watching their market share slowly decline. It has been saddening to watch company at the forefront of mobile technology, with devices such as the HTC HD2 (one of the most versatile devices to hit the market being able to run Windows Mobile, Windows Phone, Android, Firefox OS, Meego and more) and some of the first Android Developer and Nexus phones such as the HTC G1 and Nexus One, fall so far behind competitors like Samsung and Apple.
HTC were once a dominant force in Android devices, could this fallen giant have turned their luck around with the HTC One? I think so.
The HTC One is visually stunning. Built from a single piece of aluminium it achieves a completely gapless design that immediately screams “quality”. The One is light, feels solid and fits perfectly in the hand for easy one-handed operation – something that’s increasingly difficult to achieve with newer devices on the market.
The One boasts a 4.7” 1080p display offering crisp, bright images under various lighting conditions. Underneath you’ll find a somewhat unconventional two capacitive buttons – Home and Back – separated by the HTC logo. They have chosen to omit the menu and recent apps keys, though the latter can be achieved by double-tapping the Home button. It’s odd but manageable.
Under the hood is a Quadcore, 1.7GHz processor and 2GB RAM. It has a respectable non-removable 2300mAh battery and a 4MP “ultra pixel” rear camera which, despite what you may think, produces very decent quality images under most lighting conditions. You have the choice between 32 and 64GB of internal storage which is – as is increasingly commonplace with today’s phones – not expandable.
One of the best features of the phone is the dual front-facing stereo speakers. The sound produced is nothing short of incredible for a smartphone. Clear, loud and suitably bassy. You could easily be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a television or radio. These speakers sit comfortably behind the beautifully drilled aluminium speaker grille (part of the unibody design) and are enhanced by HTC’s integration of beats audio.
With all of the above, the One’s battery lasts well under heavy use. Starting from fully charged, the One outlasted my Nexus 4 by over 3 hours under similar usage. It’s completely unscientific, but there’s a noticeable difference in battery life between the two, heavily favouring the One.
The specifications reinforce the One’s flagship status and sit on par with the best of the competition.
Before getting the One, I read a lot of good things about HTC’s updated Sense environment. I’ve never been a fan of Sense. Beyond their Nexus device I have refused to buy HTC simply on the basis that Sense is an awful, awful collection of applications that bloat and slow down a device – effectively ruining it straight out of the box. I wasn’t alone with this opinion and combined with their odd attitude towards development (making it difficult to unlock the bootloader , for example) I believe they only really have themselves to blame for their loss of market share up to this point.
That said, the One is different. Sense is there, but it’s not overwhelming. Their BlinkFeed implementation is excellent, and the theming isn’t detrimental to the device. Everything is very snappy with no noticeable lag under any circumstance so far.
With BlinkFeed, I feel I don’t need to leave the homescreen to get the information I want. Sure, HTC seem to want to cram facebook down your throat at any opportunity if you allow it, but BlinkFeed is more than just a facebook/social stream – it’s a personalised view of news and information you want to see. My only issue with the One’s launcher is the default app drawer layout – you’re given a 3×4 layout which is simply silly for the size of the device. It’s easy enough to change it to 4×5, but that really shouldn’t need to be done.
For those who aren’t overly impressed by HTC’s attempt at Sense, they’ve made it quite easy to unlock the bootloader, and even ship a developer edition with the bootloader already unlocked. CyanogenMod has released official nightlies for the device, so there’s simply no need to feel locked into the Sense environment at all. HTC have definitely done it right this time, unlocking the bootloader has previously been a burden on some older devices, and for others it was not possible at all.
At the time of this review, the One is behind on Android updates. This is hardly new for HTC who have a very poor history of keeping devices updated. Thankfully though, they appear to be working hard to get 4.2 to their flagship as quickly as possible, potentially already in the next few weeks, bringing features such as expandable (actionable) notifications and quick settings and even potentially photospheres – a highly touted feature of 4.2.
One of my favourite features already part of the One’s camera is “Zoe”. With every snap, you’ll get a 3 second clip of the moment you’re capturing plus several still images. Using Zoe you can choose the best frame, combine frames as sequence shots, and merge frames to make amazing photos. Once you’ve taken enough, you’ll also notice videos created of a particular date or location (if GPS tagging is enabled). It’s very gimmicky, but I think it’s awesome.
Finally, unlike its rivals (Hi, Samsung!) the stock keyboard is really nice to use. Stock keyboards are typically a little hit and miss, including Android’s own stock keyboard. I tend to switch as soon as possible to Thumb Keyboard but with the One, I didn’t feel the urgency to do so.
Of the devices available on the market today, the HTC One is hands-down the best looking. It’s an excellent performer and the sound quality both through the stereo speakers and the headphones is excellent.
While some of the features are gimmicky, and there are a few small bugs here and there (to be addressed with updates, I’d imagine) it’s a really decent effort by HTC and could spell an about-turn on the adoption of their devices in the future.
Well done HTC, I’m impressed.