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The HTC One is the latest HTC flagship smartphone announced just before MWC at a press conference in NYC. Simply put, the One is one of the most beautiful smartphone introduced in 2013, and it packs serious performance as well. In a market dominated by Samsung and Apple, we hope that this will allow the Taiwanese manufacturer to come back in the game of high end phones. The successor of the HTC One X released last year, the HTC One brings a number of innovations to the table.

On the hardware side, one of the most significant new features are the Ultrapixel camera sensor which captures more light than regular sensors, the HTC BoomSound and its dual frontal stereo speakers and a great 4.7” 1080p display. On the software side, the HTC one features the new Sense 5 with BlinkFeed, Sense TV and the Zoe Camera.

In the complete review, you will find out if the HTC One will hold up against its major competitor.

Context

We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my smartphone(s): I typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all. I tested the HTC One unit while on a business trip in Paris, so I checked the Google maps very often, especially to calculate public transportation availability and timing.

On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (<20), but I rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where we’re coming from…

Product Design

The HTC One is one of the most beautiful smartphones on the market. Contrary to what some people from the industry said before it was released, it does not look like an iPhone at all. I am pleased to see that HTC removed the bump for the camera module on the back and chose to provide a sleek backside. The build quality is impressive and very different in terms of materials from previous models developed by the manufacturer.

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Design-wise, the only downside is the large size of the HTC logo printed in the middle of the rear side, which we feel the manufacturer should get some inspiration from the Nokia 920 or the Sony Xperia Z and their subtle branding. Hubert does not like that much the white lines that span across the back, although  I personally find them to be subtle and elegant. Additionally, they bring a final touch of uniqueness to the HTC One which the company also needed to place the location for the antennas (non metallic material).

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On the front side, you will find the two speakers placed on the brushed aluminum stripes at the top and at the bottom of the display, which allows for stereo sound. The HTC logo is printed in silver between the capacitive soft keys below the screen, the back button is on the left and the home button on the right. HTC decided to provide only two capacitive keys and got rid of the menu capacitive key, which is now replaced by a digital icon at the top of the display in each application. At first it was a little disturbing, since I am used to the traditional 3-buttons setup from my Note2, but it was fast to learn how to use the system commands.

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The backside is made of brushed aluminum and subtly curved to fit perfectly in the palm of the hand. The material is smooth, making the device even more comfortable to hold. At the top and the bottom, two white stripes run across the slightly curvy surface, and some people (like Hubert) feel that it breaks the visual harmony of the sleek chassis. At the top, the camera lense is flat and for once does not make a bump like in the previous HTC flagship smartphones. The LED is located on the left side. The HTC logo is printed with a slight relief in the middleand at the bottom you will find the Beats Audio logo.

A matte, white plastic frame runs around the edges, where you will find the power button at the top. The power button also acts as an infrared transmitter and receiver to transform your phone into a remote control for the TV. The audio jack is also located at the top, on the right.

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The USB connector is located on the bottom side, on the right. The SIM tray is located at the top of the left side. The elegant volume rocker, which is almost invisible, is located on the right side, slightly off the center to allow either the thumb or the index (depending on the hand you hold it with) to perfectly land on it.

Honestly we were very surprised to see HTC release such a beauty, being used to the matte plastic chassis of its flagship lineup.

Display

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1080p has become the new standard in screen resolution since the announcement of a new generation of Smartphones at CES. HTC was the first manufacturer to launch a phone with a 1080p display with the introduction of the Droid DNA . The HTC One display is gorgeous as it delivers crisp and well contrasted images. Additionally, it provides great viewing angles and better performance in direct sunlight when compared to devices with Super AMOLED displays such as the Galaxy Note 2.

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Very good viewing angle!

Software – HTC Sense 5

On February 19th, HTC unveiled its new custom software for Android smartphones with the HTC One. Overall, I find this version of HTC Sense makes a lot of sense and I particularly appreciate the visual enhancements it provides to the regular Android OS while keeping it efficient.

Besides the switch to two soft keys (back and home) instead of the previous menu, home, back buttons, the new key features of HTC Sense 5 are BlinkFeed, Sense TV, and Zoe Camera. The menu button is replaced by a menu icon placed at the top of the system screens.

 

BlinkFeed

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Left: BlinkFeed home screen, Center: second screen accessible with scroll down, Right: third screen

BlinkFeed totally changes the look of the regular Android home screen by pushing news and social networks feeds in a Windows Phone 8-like visual style. The news feed is developed in collaboration with Mobiles Republic, a well-known news aggregator, and users can add news sources and social networks from the BlinkFeed settings. When I signed in the preloaded Facebook application, my feed automatically showed up in BlinkFeed. The unit came with Twitter pre-loaded as well but I did not sign in in this one. In the European unit I had, you could select the feeds from Facebook, Fllickr, LinkedIn, Twitter Zoe Share – the photo app from HTC, and your calendar updates.

To access the BlinkFeed menu, you have to swipe over the top of the first picture on the home screen, there you can access the settings to add more feeds, search the content or highlight a story or an update.

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Left: lock screen, Center: Home screen with BlinkFeed, Right: second home screen with your favorite apps > swiping to the right

By scrolling to the right side, you can access the second home screen with the app shortcuts you placed there. You browse the older stories and updates by scrolling down. (see screen shots below)

As a matter of fact, I really enjoyed the visual appearance of BlinkFeed on my home screen and the opportunity to discover some interesting updates and news in between meetings while riding the subway, an activity I would do less if I had to click on various apps to check those feeds. It is frankly more agreeable to look at a phone full of nice pictures rather than staring at icons and widgets.

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When you click on the app icon from the bottom center of the home screen you access the apps screens

The general look and feel of the home screen and the secondary screen that gives access to the apps is very sleek and minimalistic, which fits well the elegant design of the chassis.


Sense TV

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The power button is also an IR blaster

The power button acts also as a IR receiver to enable the HTC One as a remote control. Unfortunately, I was not able to test this feature since I was not really in the presence of a TV that much during the time I had the device. The Sense TV application gives access to a database of compatible TVs and to an interactive TV guide, but I did not really have the opportunity to try this either. We will update this review when we get a US unit.

Zoe Camera

Zoe camera gives the ability to take 20 photos and a 3-second video simultaneously, which allows to include animated pictures in your photo gallery. Additionally, the HTC software can collect all of your still images and your video clips and put them together in an animated slide show with a soundtrack. With Zoe Share, you can upload the photos on the HTC cloud service and share them.

Apps

Email and Calendar

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I spend most of my time on email and calendar while I am travelling for business, so I highly appreciate when those apps are nicely designed. When it comes to visual excellence, my favorite email and calendar apps are the Windows Phone ones, but the slightly updated email and calendar app design by HTC comes at the top of my list. The integration of the weather data inside the calendar is a great idea, while in Europe travelling across several countries with different climate,  I was eager to know the temperature and the sky status, something I do not really do in San Francisco.

It is also good to note that you will get a LED notification each time an email or a message comes in.

Maps

I tested the HTC One during my trip in Europe and I used the map application several times a day to go to my meetings in Paris, especially its public transit feature.

When the 3.5 G connectivity was strong, the application was very responsive and i was impressed by the efficiency of the public transportation feature as it was highly accurate time-wise and provided several options with their respective duration.

The map application on the HTC One provided a similar performance than on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, it is needless to say that i did not even bother to compare with the iPhone 5. So, I guess that we have to thank the Android Operating System and Google for this.

Skype

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The HTC One features a wide-angle front camera that allows to include two people in a video conversation. When we tried to call from the HTC One located in Paris to a PC in San Francisco, the application performed well over Wifi and the video quality on both side was good.

Camera with UltraPixel technology (very good)

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HTC put a lot of effort in the camera module and the camera application. UltraPixel is one of the most important new features launched by HTC with the One. Rather than increasing the pixel count, which does not make any sense at some point since most people do not print photos taken with their phones in large size, HTC increased the size of the pixels on the 1/3’ sensor so each they can capture more light. According to HTC, the UltraPixel camera offers the largest pixel size on a smartphone : “the 2.0 micrometer UltraPixel has effectively twice the surface area of the typical 1.4 micrometer pixel found on 8MP solutions from leading competitors and far larger than the 1.1 micrometer pixel on 13MP sensor.”

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Effects directly accessible on the camera screen

In a market driven by the pixel count, it is a risky bet to release a smartphone with “only” a 4 MP camera. Unlike what a lot of people think, resolution has nothing to do with image quality, it becomes useful when you need to print the pictures at large sizes, which would be a valid reason for high pixel count. A 4 MP image has a sufficient resolution to be perfectly displayed on a HDTV with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels – the HTC One delivers 2688×1520 pictures.

The camera user interface is great, all the icons are small and placed directly on top of the image, and not on a black band, unlike other android devices including the Galaxy Note 2. The Xperia Z started this trend by placing the camera icons on a semi-transparent band, although the camera icons in the Sony device are larger than in the HTC. The result is great: the image gets a maximum amount of real estate in the screen, which makes this camera application more agreeable to use (see picture above).

In addition, when shooting with the display in direct sunlight, the image is more visible on the HTC One (IPS) display than on the (Super AMOLED) screen of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

Just like the iPhone 5, it is possible to get a different exposure by touching the image on a different area, depending on which area – bright or dark – you want to get the more details. This feature is not available in the Galaxy Note 2.

Directly from the camera application screen, you have access to the effects filters by clicking on the nicely designed colored icon located at the bottom right of the display.

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Test in very low light lighting conditions, the Nokia Lumia 920 delivers the best results, and the HTC One is really good as well

During the week I carried the HTC One, I shot a few pictures under different lighting conditions and I compared it against other high-smartphones such as the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.
For the  low light test, I added the Nokia Lumia 920 to the equation, since it delivers the best performance when shooting in the dark. The HTC One delivers really good results, especially in low light. See a few samples below, please note that the photos on this page cannot be displayed at their original resolution, visit our Flickr page to see all the original images.

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Regular lighting

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Above, photo shot with the Nokia Lumia 920
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Above, photo shot with the HTC One

Entertainment (very good)

Audio (excellent)
One of the key feature of the HTC One is the HTC BoomSound that includes dual frontal stereo speakers powered by built-in amplifiers. The audio quality is great and the sound is very powerful. Most smartphones do not have front facing speakers, which is a drawback when it comes to audio performance.  

Video Playback (very good)

The video playback experience is great, thanks to the gorgeous 1080p display and the great audio quality. I have shot a video to show you how it looks like in the real world, see it below.

Battery (good)

Regular usage (very good)

I used the HTC One as my primary phone for a week while in Paris, where I was using Google Maps with the GPS on a lot to calculate the timing of all my itineraries. The day I collected the battery data, I used the maps a lot, snapped a few photos and checked emails, foursquare and Facebook regularly. The power dropped by 86% in twelves hours, which means the HTC One would last roughly for 14 hours on one charge with regular usage on a 3.5G network.

Intensive Use (good)

To test intense battery use, we streamed a Youtube video on wifi for 60 minutes with the display set at 100% and the 3.5G data on. The battery depleted by 19% which is good for a smartphone with a regular capacity battery. Smartphones with large batteries, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 or the Optimus G Pro, drop by 13% while playing a video for an hour (display at 50%).

Charging time (average – could be better)

In two hours the battery went from 19% to 58%, meaning that you only get 40% of charge during that timeframe, so it would take roughly 5 hours to have the HTC One fully charged. In comparison, other smartphones charge faster, for instance, the Xperia Z is fully charged in only 2 hours (2,330 mAh capacity).

Performance

Antutu is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance (try it for yourself).

 htc one antutu benchmark

Given that it is equipped with the latest Snapdragon S600, the HTC One ranks high up there with the LG Optimus G Pro (Snapdragon S600). Curiously, during our tests, the Sony XPERIA Z did better than expected despite using an older Snapdragon S4 Pro chip. We suspected that it was due to a faster storage system, but with a single unit on hand, it was not possible to gather more data.

GLBenchmark 2.5, offscreen 1080p: this test has been designed to “stress” the graphics processor (GPU) by running a game-like demo which features a fight between various characters in many different environments (indoors, outdoors…). Run this benchmark on your device.

 htc one glbenchmark benchmark

In terms of graphics and gaming, you can expect the S600 to be a top-performance smartphone when compared to what’s on the market today. It tops a score of 30FPS at the GLBenchmark 2.5 offscreen test, which shows that it can run modern mobile games with ease.

GeekBench 2: Geekbench tends to focus on synthetic floating point calculation performance rather than multi-core scalability. This is a good measure for general computing and generating accurate physics in games. 

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Finally, our unit of the HTC One scored less than anticipated, with only a score of 1926. We don’t think that this is what it should be, but that’s what we’ve got. In red, we’re pointing out what we estimate the score should be, but we will have to get a second unit to correlate those numbers – so take this with a grain of salt. The early units may not completely represent what the HTC One is supposed to be.

“Perceived performance”: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?

In terms of perceived performance, things are quite fast, and the responsiveness of the HTC One is above reproach thus far. Things are fluid and snappy, and overall, it is a pleasure to use from a performance standpoint.

Conclusion (very good)

The HTC One is one of the most elegant smartphone I have recently held in my hand. In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a less appealing look and feel. Since we have not fully reviewed the Galaxy S4, we cannot tell how it compares to the HTC One on the performance side. The specifications are comparable except for the camera pixel count, however the UltraPixel sensor might deliver better low-light performance (we have to check).

The One does not disappoint on the performance side either, it delivers among the best measured performance found on the market to date, while providing a good battery longevity.

The camera application is really interesting and the low light performance is great, it delivers better results that the Galaxy Note 2 camera and only the Nokia Lumia outperforms it in very dark environment (see the Angry birds can pictures).

The HTC One is an amazing mobile entertainment device, thanks to its gorgeous display and its dual stereo speakers located on the front.

On the battery life side, the HTC One performed very well, lasting 14 hours with regular usage on a single charge. The 1080p display will use more juice than smartphones with lower resolution, but note that the test was not conducted on a 4G LTE network, since only 3.5G networks are available with our carrier in Paris.

On the software side, I personally love the new BlinkFeed feature that pushes content on the home screen and makes it visually more attractive than on other Android devices.

Overall product rating: 9/10
Filed in Cellphones >Reviews . Tags: Android, HTC, HTC One (M7), mobile, review and Smartphone.
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