HTC launched its new premium flagship phone, dubbed the HTC One, at a massive worldwide event on February 19th. With its unique timeline interface, powerful feature-packed camera, impressive speakers and built-in TV compatibility, the HTC One looks to be a serious contender to the likes of Sony’s Xperia Z smartphone when it lands on March 15, and one that’s likely to impress media lovers, social photographers and anyone who likes to keep their finger on the pulse.
HTC graciously gave us the chance to play with the HTC One ahead of its official launch, so read on for our full thoughts...
The HTC One rocks a full-metal body in either a black or silver finish (we checked out the silver model), and it’s a remarkably solid phone that should take some serious punishment. Pressing down hard on the 4.7-inch screen caused only the tiniest bit of distortion, and it’s made of Gorilla Glass to lower the risk of scratches ruining your shiny new toy. It also feels great in the hand, thanks to its narrow design and curved rear. Compared with the HTC One X, for instance, it’s a little narrower (although also slightly elongated) and a bit thinner too at just 9mm. The camera lens doesn’t jut out as it did on the One X, so that helps to keep it slender.
From the front, the One is still unmistakeably an HTC phone even though the design has changed from earlier handsets. The screen stretches close to the left and right edges with a silver border top and bottom. A long speaker has been built into both silver borders, and there’s also room for touch-sensitive back and home buttons either side of the HTC logo, as well as a front-facing camera up top.
In terms of ports and physical buttons, HTC has kept things to a minimum even though you can’t prise the One open. The black power button sits on top beside the 3.5mm audio jack, while the volume buttons are combined into a single rocker on the right edge. The USB port is on bottom as normal, while the SIM card slot sits on the left side. There’s no memory card slot but the HTC One packs either 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, depending on which model you buy.
HTC showed off its new Sense 5.0 interface on the HTC One, which sits on top of Android 4.12 and offers a new experience for users. The biggest change is the new ‘BlinkFeed’ home page, which acts as a chronological collection of everything you want, from the latest news and sports headlines to your mates’ social media scribblings. BlinkFeed’s look and layout reminds us of Flipboard. Your items are arranged as randomly-sized picture tiles with text overlays, such as a headline for instance. You can flick through them to see older updates, or tap one to bring up more information.
As you’d expect, BlinkFeed is completely customisable so you only see what you want to. HTC is hoping to have 1,500 news feeds to choose from, including the likes of ITN, Sky News, The Independent etc. and you can also see updates from apps and services (including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn). You’ll also get calendar reminders at the start of each day, so you know what on earth you’re supposed to be doing.
BlinkFeed obviously needs an internet connection to update, and it doesn’t cache the full information you get when you tap on a tile, so tube users will need to hook into Wi-Fi or simply make do with staring at the pretty photos. If you don’t like BlinkFeed, you can also replace it with a standard Android homepage.
HTC One Specs
That slim 9mm body houses a quad-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 series processor and 2GB of RAM, and we didn’t see a single stutter as we played around. Even more impressive is the beautifully crisp 4.7-inch LCD screen, which packs in an impressive 468 pixels-per-inch (PPI). That far exceeds what the likes of Apple’s iPhone 5 manages, and photos and video certainly look amazing.
You get a 2.1MP front-facing camera which boasts the same wide-angle lens of the Windows Phone 8X by HTC, and the same countdown feature for capturing group shots with yourself included. As for the main rear-facing camera, that’s a 4MP effort...
A question of megapixels
You’ll probably think that 4MP camera bit was a typo (“hang on, surely that should be 14MP, right?), but it’s actually an incredibly bold (and perhaps foolhardy – only time will tell) move by HTC. We’ve mentioned before in camera features that the megapixel rating is actually only a small part of a camera’s competence. The underlying technology makes a big difference to photo quality, and even the glass used plays an important part.
HTC has scaled back from 8MP on the original One X to just 4MP here, but that still provides a sharp enough photo to view on your telly or print out without graininess or other negative effects. The real cleverness comes with HTC’s Ultrapixel technology, which ensures the lens captures as much light as possible. The end result is impressively detailed photos, even in low light conditions. In fact, the HTC One’s camera proved very capable at taking shots in the dingy basement where we’d gathered, thanks also in part to the f2.0 aperture lens and dual-axis optical image stabilisation (which counters hand tremors to prevent motion blur).
HTC reckons its tech is comparable to Nokia’s PureView camera, found on the Lumia 920, but without the same bulk issues. From our brief play, it looks like they may be right. The question is, will consumers be swayed by a 4MP camera compared to a 13MP effort from rival manufacturers when faced with both options in the store?
Say hello to Zoe
HTC is also hoping to change the way you use your phone’s camera, with the new Zoe mode. The whole idea is ‘not missing the moment’ – so the camera will actually start to cache images before you press the shutter button, and store them from both before and after you push it. Therefore, even if you’re slow off the mark to capture a funny or exciting moment, the camera will still make sure you have it stored.
The HTC One X allowed you to take a snap at the same time as shooting video, but the HTC One’s Zoe mode actually combines them both, shooting a brief three-second clip as well as taking 30 photos automatically. You can skim through and edit these photos with an incredible number of options, including some beautifying features such as face slimming and skin smoothing (perfect for those flattering Facebook profile pics). You can even blow up your eyes into freaky enormous Manga efforts. There’s also a clever face tweaker similar to the BlackBerry Z10’s Time Shift mode, which rewinds people’s faces back in time to a moment where they weren’t blinking or gurning.
The HTC One will combine your Zoe clips and photos into a montage automatically, so you can quickly create a montage of your day and upload it to social media sites. It’s an interesting idea and the collection of three-second clips gives a fast-paced music video feel to your memories, giving an engaging overview of a place you visited or a special time. It’s one of those things you’ll either fall in love with or never even use.
One and only?
HTC has always concentrated on sound quality in its smartphones, and the HTC One once again rocks Beats Audio to boost your lesser-sounding tracks. However, the big news is the two front-facing speakers, which put out a surprisingly powerful sound (amusingly labelled ‘Boom! Sound’ by HTC). We sampled a quick blast of music and it was easily loud enough to fill the reasonably-sized room, without any real loss in quality.
Pretty much anyone with a smartphone will regularly mess around with it in front of the telly, keeping one eye on their emails and the other on Bargain Hunt. HTC knows this, so it’s included an infra red remote control app that’s well integrated into Android. You get full controls plus a built-in TV guide that shows you what shows are on right now. You can tap a show to bring it up on your telly, and the One sticks it into your notification bar so you can quickly access it again if you flick over. You even get reminders in your BlinkFeed about your favourite shows, so you don’t miss them accidentally.
HTC One UK release date and pricing
HTC announced that every UK operator and retailer will be stocking the HTC One, so it should be easy to pick up on March 15th when it hits stores. Pricing will be ‘comparable to the One X’ so expect the 32GB model to cost over £400 on launch, with the 64GB model coming in at around £500.
We’ll bring you a full review of the HTC One very soon, so keep checking back!