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HTC One: hands-on with HTC's phone to rule them all

HTC One: hands-on with HTC's phone to rule them all


Can new software and updated design pull HTC back into the game?

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Gallery Photo: HTC One hands-on photos
Gallery Photo: HTC One hands-on photos

At long last, and after a number of leaks, HTC has finally revealed its new One smartphone. The One is the company's latest flagship device, and it is designed to replace the multiple models that HTC released last year with a singular vision. HTC is putting all of its effort behind a single high-end device this year (hence the simple 'One' name), as opposed to its previous attempt to multiple devices with different characteristics. We got to spend a brief amount of time with the new phone and have come away mostly impressed and somewhat perplexed.

The One itself features a familiar look for anyone that has seen the company's Droid DNA or J Butterfly phones. But instead of having a soft-touch plastic body, the One features an all aluminum design that is not unlike the iPhone 5 (the aluminum chassis isn't the only comparison to the iPhone 5 that a person could make with the One, but it is the most obvious). The matte finish of the aluminum offers a nice touch and gives the phone some texture — to say that it has the exact opposite feeling of the glossy plastics used by Samsung would not be incorrect. The aluminum also offers a heft and solid feel that lends an aura of quality to the mix. Unlike the iPhone, the One has a curved back which makes it fairly comfortable to hold. Unfortunately, on the white and silver model that we got to look at, the plastic trim (the white parts) looked as if they were getting dirty already, a problem that was quite prevalent with the white version of the One X.

The One has one of the most pixel-dense displays we've ever seen

In terms of size, the One is similar to last year's One X, but in our brief time with it, we found it to be less ergonomic than last year's model. The sharper edges make the phone more difficult to handle in one hand than the more rounded design of the One X, and the One doesn't have the rounded edges along its display that encourage swiping across the screen (instead it has very iPhone 5-like chamfered edges). But as for the display itself, that is quite a stunner. The One X had one of the best — if not the absolute best — smartphone displays last year, and the new 4.7-inch, 1080p screen on the One seems to be even better. At 468ppi, it's one of the most pixel-dense displays we have ever seen, and suffice to say, we couldn't see any discernable pixels on it. Viewing angles are excellent, as is color reproduction, and the panel doesn't suffer from any of the issues we've seen with PenTile AMOLED screens.

HTC One hands-on photos


HTC is making a big deal about the One's new UltraPixel camera — a unique 4-megapixel camera that according to the company, features larger pixels than anything else on the market. Ideally, this produces better low-light photos than any other smartphones, though we didn't really see anything that blew our minds in our short demo (we'll be sure to put the camera through its paces in our complete review of the One). The camera also features the ability to create Zoe clips, a new file format for short video clips built by HTC. The Zoes are captured from about one second before you hit the shutter key and three seconds after, and can then be uploaded and shared with others.

Better low-light images and short movie clips are what UltraPixels are all about

Other unique features of the One's hardware include two front-facing stereo speakers that flank the top and bottom of the display and an IR blaster integrated into the power button located on top of the phone. The speakers were quite loud for the short amount of time that we could test them, and they are a smart solution to the muffled sound that many rear mounted speakers exhibit. HTC couldn't resist giving the speakers and their dedicated amplifier a new marketing name, so expect to hear a lot about "BoomSound" in the promotional materials for the One. Though we would have preferred to have the power button on the side of the phone for easier reach with our thumbs, the IR transmitter is a neat addition that lets you control your entertainment center with HTC's new Sense TV software.

This is still very much a Sense experience

Speaking of software, the One also debuts HTC's new version of Sense, or "New Sense" as the company likes to say (the rest of us will probably just call it Sense 5). New Sense offers a even more pared-down and flattened interface and design aesthetic compared to Sense 4, with flatter icons, extensive use of the Android-native Roboto font, and more Holo-style stock apps. But even with all of the updates and cleaned up design, this is still very much a Sense experience, and HTC is not going for a "stock" Android feel at all.

The most dramatic change in New Sense is the new default homescreen, which HTC is calling BlinkFeed. BlinkFeed looks like Flipboard and does a similar thing as Flipboard — it sucks in updates from RSS feeds and social networks and presents them in a pretty, image heavy timeline of sorts. HTC says that this is designed to give users a quick dose of information whenever they have a few minutes to kill. We're not completely sold on it, but fortunately you can set a more traditional homescreen as your default if you're not into the BlinkFeed experience. And though the iconic HTC flip clock widget is not used by default, the company has included it with the available widgets, so users can recreate that old Sense feel if they want.

HTC One press photos


Multitasking and Google Now are buried under double taps and long presses

Oddly enough, HTC felt that the three capacitive buttons that it used on its 2012 Android phones were one too many, and it has pared it down to just two for the One (one on each side of the HTC logo below the display). The button that got the axe is the multitasking key, which HTC believes is not used by most Android customers. We tend to disagree on how important the dedicated multitasking key is (as would most of our readers, we imagine), but HTC has now buried the function behind a double-tap of the home key. Similarly hidden is Google Now, which requires you to long press on the home button. It's an strange experience and we're not so sure how it makes anything easier for users in day to day practice, but we'll reserve final judgement for when we have spent more time with the device.

If there is one thing that we can take away from the New Sense experience, it's that it's fast. The One is powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz and paired with 2GB of RAM. The interface was fast and fluid in our experience, and though we didn't get to fully benchmark and stress test the One, we don't think that there will be many performance complaints with it.

HTC will be launching the One globally beginning in March, including with AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile in the US (sorry Verizon users, no One for you). We'll be looking forward to spending more time with it and the various decisions that HTC has made in its software and design when we give it the full review treatment. We'll have more pictures coming soon, so stay tuned!

Dieter Bohn, Ross Miller, and Vlad Savov contributed to this report.

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