CNET review of the HTC One

As a former HTC owner I was very interested in this phone and its design. I loved my HTC phone, and I had never even heard of them before I owned it. (that was scary) So I thought I would share this HTC One review with you. While I think the Samsung Galaxy S4 still holds the crown for best Android phone, this might be a good less expensive option, and it is definitely beautiful. Read below to find out what the CNET editors had to say about it, and stop by a local phone distributer to play with it yourself before ultimately buying one yourself.

The good: The HTC One flaunts a stunning metal design, powerful quad-core processor, and a beautiful 4.7-inch 1080p screen. It runs Android Jelly Bean, takes great pictures, and has a feature-packed camera app.

The bad: Sealed case design means no SD expansion slot or user replaceable battery. The BlinkFeed software can’t be completely removed. The phone isn’t available on Verizon.

The bottom line: A few quibbles notwithstanding, the powerhouse HTC One is a beautifully crafted, near-ideal smartphone.

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.

HTC definitely brought its A-game, and it needs to to defeat its arch-rival, the Samsung Galaxy S4. Like all other smartphones though, the One isn’t perfect — it lacks an SD card slot for extra storage expansion as well as 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 nonremovable BlinkFeed news reader isn’t particularly welcome.

Quibbles aside, though, the HTC One should be at or near the top of the list for anyone looking for a phone on Sprint, T-Mobile, or AT&T — where it’s going head-to-head with the Samsung Galaxy S4. Yes, it’s a game of inches between both of those big-screen Android superphones (read our story to see how they stack up, feature for feature). But I can easily say the HTC One is the fastest, most beautiful phone I’ve ever used, and it will sway anyone looking for a worthy alternative to the Samsung.

Editors’ note, April 26, 2013: This review has been updated to reflect the release of the Galaxy S4.

1-2 of 11
Scroll LeftScroll Right

Pricing and availability The HTC One will be sold by three of the four major U.S. cellular providers. (It’s rumored — but not confirmed — to be coming to Verizon later this year as well.) Here’s how it stacks up on each carrier (prices shown are with a two-year contract):

AT&T HTC One (32GB, $199.99; 64GB, $299.99): 4G LTE; simultaneous voice and data; black and silver color options

Sprint HTC One (32GB, $199.99): 4G LTE; black and silver color options

T-Mobile HTC One (32GB, $99.99 down plus $20 per month for 24 months): 4G LTE

HTC One Developer Edition (64GB, $649): 4G LTE; unlocked SIM and bootloader

We used the silver 32GB version of both AT&T’s and Sprint’s HTC One for our review, as well as an unlocked international model.

Design 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 and generates 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 Droid DNA (5-inch, 440ppi). The same goes for the Samsung Galaxy S4, which uses a larger 5-inch OLED screen (441ppi).

 

The HTC One’s design is thin, metallic, and striking.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

I can certainly verify that the One’s display has plenty of impact with vibrant colors, wide viewing angles, and plenty of brightness. Details also look extremely crisp, which makes me eager to stack the One’s display against that of the Galaxy S4. I suspect that Samsung’s latest monster will offer higher contrast and brighter colors, but the jury is still out until I place both handsets side by side.

HTC also makes a big deal about the One’s all-aluminum 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 I manhandled appears to be plastic, it is, in fact, metal.

HTC OneThe HTC One has an all-aluminum frame.

(Credit: HTC)

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 me 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.

In fact I found that I could rely on the One’s speakers in a pinch when my portable Bluetooth speakers weren’t handy. While nowhere near as loud as say, a Jawbone Jambox or Jabra Solemate, the phone provides enough audio oomph for small groups in quiet rooms.

Above the display sit a 2.1MP front-facing camera and a notification light. Below are just two capacitive Android buttons, while a 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 theater 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 The HTC One has all the power of modern Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean at its disposal. It may not be the freshest Jelly Bean flavor available, 4.2, but you do get all the tight integration with Google’s wide range of software and services that modern Android phones enjoy. These include Gmail, e-mail, Google+ social networking, Google Talk, Google Drive, and so on, plus access to over 700,000 apps for download through the Google Play store.

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 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 Web sites (including CNET). 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.

Another annoyance I ran into is that BlinkFeed pulls content from a stable of vetted sources. While that’s fine for casual news viewing, you’ll probably run into roadblocks trying to tweak it to display more-targeted outlets.

the HTC uses a cleaner, tighter Sense UI.

(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

I admit that I like 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.

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.

BlinkFeed is front and center on the HTC One.

(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

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. 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.

Set up HTC remote to control TVs and home theater gear.

(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

I have to say, this feature comes in handy more than I would have originally thought. After going through the simple, if rather lengthy, setup process, which asks you to lay out the TV channels you receive in detail, I was able to control my home theater set effectively. That means switching channels via my cable box, adjusting volume on my Onkyo receiver, plus opening the guide to sift through available programs.

What’s also pretty slick is how I can tap icons of shows I have marked as my favorites to immediately begin watching them if they are currently on.

View what’s on TV now right from the HTC One.

(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

Other useful apps software tools you’ll find on the HTC One include a task list maker, plus a voice recorder (something many phones lack), as well as Kid Mode. Kid Mode locks the handset up tight, along with all your apps and services, and only lets tykes access a special kiddie view complete with age appropriate games and distractions.

Handling media duties are typical Android apps such as Play Music, Play Movies, plus HTC Watch, which offers HTC’s own selection of video and TV content to rent or buy. The free Tune-In app (a personal favorite) streams Internet radio, but the phone also has an FM tuner. I like HTC’s homegrown music player, too; it’s intuitive and easy to use, plus it has a slick visualization function if you’re into that sort of thing.

Sprint just couldn’t resist adding its own smattering of bloatware to the HTC One. SprintZone rolls up access to your Sprint account and its own software, video, and music storefront in one location. A separate Sprint TV & Movie app hawks live programming from the likes of Fox News, Disney, and ABC along with video from partners such as Crackle and mFlix. Sorry, but I’ll pass.

AT&T also throws in a sizable chunk of its branded software. These include AT&T DriveMode to put the kibosh on texts while driving, AT&T FamilyMap to keep tabs on loved ones, and AT&T Navigator for GPS directions, just to name a few. Thankfully they’re all tucked away in a folder, both in the app tray and on the home screen by default.

 

It’s hard to ignore the HTC One’s metallic design.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

 

Core hardware 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, fresh off of Qualcomm’s factory floor. It’s the first device I know of to officially feature the new silicon. Because of that, I’m sure a lot of smartphone addicts out there will be itching to get their hands all over this gadget.

The HTC One will also ship in two memory configurations, a stock 32GB (internal storage) model and a tricked-out 64GB version. Both devices, though, will feature a full 2GB complement of RAM. Keep in mind, though, that Sprint will only sell a 32GB version. The One features wireless radios for Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11 a/b/c/g/n Wi-Fi, plus NFC connectivity, too.

Performance Quick benchmark tests confirmed the HTC One’s processing power. My Sprint HTC One unit turned in an impressive Linpack score of 696.97 MFLOPs (multithread) which the phone completed in a short 0.24 second. Additionally, the device managed an astronomically high Quadrant score of 12,194. Both results are the fastest I’ve ever measured on an Android smartphone and prove the One is more than a match for the HTC Droid DNA (401.6 Linpack, 8,165 Quadrant).

Anecdotal use backed up my 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.

Call quality I tested the Sprint HTC One on Sprint’s CDMA network and AT&T’s GSM network in New York. On my test calls, I enjoyed relatively clean audio quality with very little distortion. Callers described my voice as clear if a little flat, and could easily understand the words I spoke. They did notice a slight crackle at the beginning of sentences and could certainly tell I called from a cellular connection. Voice quality over an AT&T connection was virtually identical, if slightly better. Callers couldn’t detect any crackling, though they did say my voice had a flat quality.

ie8 fix

On my end voices came through loudly but also had a hint of robotic flatness. Callers, however, said the speakerphone handled audio well and transmitted what I said clearly. Despite the HTC One’s large speakers, though, I was surprised that the speakerphone didn’t produce an impressive amount of volume.

HTC One (Sprint) call quality sample Listen now:
HTC One (AT&T) call quality sample Listen now:

Data speeds While the Sprint HTC One is compatible with the carrier’s 4G LTE network, the its fast data service is only available in a handful of locations. Sadly, New York — where I tested the phone — isn’t yet one of them. As a result I clocked slow data throughput speeds that were pokey even for 3G. Average downloads came in at just 0.45Mbps and upload speeds at a similar 0.46Mbps.

 

Data speeds over AT&T 4G LTE were swift.

(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

 

Data speeds improved greatly when I tested the AT&T version of the HTC One over AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Performance was dramatically faster. I logged downloads at an average blistering clip of 24.6Mbps while uploads topped out at an impressive 12.6Mbps.

Battery life An embedded 2,300mAh battery serves as the One’s power source, which I admit doesn’t sound like much on paper, especially compared with phones with ultra-high-capacity batteries such as the Motorola Droid Razr HD Maxx (3,300mAh). Of course the HTC Droid DNA managed a long 8 hours and 43 minutes on the CNET Labs video battery drain test with a smaller 2,020mAh battery.

In terms of longevity, though, the HTC One didn’t disappoint. The phone beat out the Droid DNA on the same test, lasting a full 9 hours and 37 minutes when subjected to the official CNET Labs video battery drain benchmark.

Camera The HTC One continues the company’s strong focus on phone camera capabilities. The new One handset features an updated ImageSense system and new ImageChip 2 hardware, along with a revamped light sensor. Called the Ultrapixel Sensor, it technically is able to capture a resolution of just 4 megapixels. Still, HTC says, the actual size of the sensor is larger and the pixels it creates are much more detailed. HTC claims that the end result is a camera able to capture 300 percent more light than competing camera phones.

With the phone in hand, I can confirm that its camera is extremely fast, capturing shots almost instantly.

 

Colors were accurate in still-life shots. Click to see larger image.

(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

 

Color was also accurate in both my indoor still-life shots, if a bit dark. Outdoors in strong sunlight I did notice some heavy-handed image processing, which tended to blur background details, especially with complex forms such as the branches of trees and other foliage. Also, while the HTC One could take images quickly in dark environs, thanks to onboard hardware image stabilization, the ISO was bumped up so high that color noise became rampant.

 

In sunlight, colors were bright but details were heavily processed. Click to see full image.

(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

In low light, color noise became a problem.Click to view full image.

(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

 

How does the One’s camera compare to the competition? My colleague Jacqueline Seng included the HTC One in a four-way smartphone camera shootout with the Nokia Lumia 920, iPhone 5, and Samsung Galaxy S3. (We plan on doing another head-to-head shootout once the Galaxy S4 is released and will update this section accordingly.)

I do like that the camera can record a short 3-second video, what HTC has labeled the Zoe (inspired by 19th-century Zoetrope movie machines). The idea is for users to shoot these brief clips, similar to the Vine app for iOS, and share them with friends and loved ones via a special camera mode within the HTC One’s camera app.

My favorite camera feature is that the HTC One will automatically stitch together highlight reels based on all the video, pictures, and Zoes you’ve snapped each day. Each highlight film is set to canned HTC music, which I admit isn’t that bad, and you have the option to save them as MP4 files locally or share them via Facebook or e-mail. Frankly, it’s a cool little tool to keep family in the loop about the kids’ latest shenanigans or present a polished spin to daily activities.

The HTC One’s cute kid filming prowess

New York through the HTC One’s eyes

Which carrier? Even in this Galaxy S4-dominated world, there’s no doubt in my mind that the HTC One is one of the best Android options on Sprint. Ironically, though, that may be the weakest carrier on which to get the One, thanks to Sprint’s poor 3G infrastructure and scarce 4G LTE access.

I suggest One fans go with AT&T if blazing 4G is what you crave. At the moment, AT&T’s 4G LTE network is a known quantity and it actually exists, including major metro areas such as New York and San Francisco.

Go for a T-Mobile HTC One if the carrier’s no-contract plans and lower prices appeal to you. And while T-Mobile’s LTE network has barely gotten off the ground, its 3.5G HSPA+ speeds approach real 4G in quickness.

Not committed to any carrier just yet? Perhaps the special HTC One Developer Edition is your number. While its steep $649 unsubsidized price might be hard to swallow, the fact that the device features an unlocked SIM Card slot and bootloader made for tweaking is tempting. Built to work on U.S. carriers, HTC says the phone supports GSM, CDMA, and LTE signals plus is available now for preorder.

 

The power key doubles as an IR blaster.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Conclusion With the One, HTC has created a premium phone that’s fast and thin, and which flaunts a drop-dead gorgeous design. In my experience, the phone’s screen and its camera largely live up to the hype, though the camera’s low-light performance is a bit oversold.

 

I was surprised, however, by how much fun I found the phone’s Highlight video function to be. Sure, shooting Zoe videos is limited because it uses a proprietary file format. The Highlight movies, on the other hand, are convertible and much easier to share. It also resulted in me capturing one of my best phone videos ever, but new parents are a subjective bunch.

BlinkFeed may be nice to some but a pain to others.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Opinions on manufacturer-specific Android skins vary, with the general consensus being that deviating from Google’s stock Android interface usually causes more harm than good. While it’s as subjective as anything else, I liked the new, more subtle Sense UI found on the One. The BlinkFeed feature, meanwhile, may be exciting for Android newbies but isn’t extremely useful for smartphone veterans — and it’s annoying that you can’t uninstall it.

If you can get past the few drawbacks, the HTC One is without a doubt worth buying. However, with the Samsung Galaxy S4 finally here and competing head-to-head with the One on T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T, Android lovers have a tough decision on their hands.

Immediately, there’s one clear difference between the two phones. For the same $200, the AT&T and Sprint versions of the HTC One will net you 32GB of storage, while the $200 GS4 has half as much (16GB). On T-Mobile, it’s an even more amazing deal: the 32GB HTC One can be had for $100 up front (plus $20 per month for 24 months on the carrier’s new no-contract plan).

That said, the HTC One’s lack of an SD card slot and removable battery is sure to stick in the craw of some smartphone shoppers, and the image quality of the One’s camera isn’t best in class. If those are deal breakers, you’ll want to opt for the Galaxy S4 instead.

Ultimately, I feel the Galaxy S4 ekes out the thinnest sliver of a victory over its nemesis. (Here’s a full play-by-play of the epic battle.) But it all comes down to priorities. The HTC One’s physical and interface design, as well as its bang for the buck, trump the GS4. It remains one of the best phones we’ve ever laid our hands on. And that’s why it earns an enthusiastic Editors’ Choice Award and a warm and fuzzy spot in my heart.

Comments are closed.