Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The HTC One: 1 Year Later


During the year 2012, mobile phone manufacturer HTC was going through some tough times. They had a few good smartphones released, but nothing overly impressive. They were attempting to release too many phones and they weren't focusing on just one solid device. The HTC One X was a nice phone but it didn't hit a home run. HTC Droid Incredible LTE was also nice, but again, not a home run. In order to end their streak of pop up fly balls, HTC needed to bring a different device to the plate. One that was solid. One that was sexy. One that just worked and one that was easy to use. What they hit us with was unexpected. In March 2013 they unleashed the HTC One.

That was one year ago this month. In this review, we are going to look back at the Verizon HTC One and decide if HTC brought a home run hitter to the plate like they needed to in order get back some much needed respect in the game.

As of April this year, the HTC One would have been out for a whole year. Taking a look back on this device, I continue to ask myself, could I still recommend this phone to my friends? Is it worth it at one year old, and let's face it that is a long time in tech years. 

The Hardware
The release of the HTC One was a welcomed surprise. It looks beautiful. On the outside, it has a full aluminum backside. Curved to fit which ever hand you choose to hold it in. The HTC logo is nicely embossed in the center of the aluminum, subtle yet also bold. Also, along the back of the device is a 4 UltraPixel camera which can record in 1080p HD quality and has optical image stabilization, which helps us with those shaky hands while we are snapping pics.


Along the right side of the phone are the volume buttons. They lay flat against the side, and have a distinct texture so you can find it by touch and is properly placed, not too high and not too low. Along the top you will find the power button on the left and the headphone jack off center to the right side. Admittedly the power button on the top left is quite awkward for a right handed person to get to. It feels out of reach and overall out of place. The power button also doubles as an infrared blaster so the phone can double as a TV and satellite/cable remote control. The sim card tray is along the left side of the device and the only thing on the bottom is the micro USB port, note that it is upside down and to the right side of the bottom.

The front of the device is a 4.7 inch HD display, a 2MP camera in the top right, two capacitive buttons, one for "back" and one for "home", and an HTC logo in the center of those two buttons. Arguably, that particular logo placement was a poor choice. They removed perfect button real estate and put an unnecessary logo.
Tech Geek Tip: Capacitive buttons are considered hardware buttons but they react to a slight touch. As opposed to resistive buttons which have to be depressed. There are also on-screen buttons which are no longer considered hardware buttons simply because, as the name suggests, they are icons on the screen. Some argue on-screen buttons are a waste of screen real estate, while others feel the benefit out way that fact because the on-screen buttons can disappear when they are not needed for interaction with an application.

The HTC One is trimmed with a white plastic which wraps around all four sides and across the back near the top. The aluminum that meets the white plastic along the edge is smooth without a sharp edge which makes it easy on the palm when gripped with one hand.

The Geek Part
The specifications for the HTC One are:
  • 4.7 inch screen
  • LCD 1080p Full HD Display
  • SnapDragon 600 quad core 1.7 GHz processor
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 32GB of storage capacity
  • No SD Card slot for expandable storage
  • 4G LTE (of course)
  • 2300 mAh non-removal battery
  • Out of the box on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, updated within an hour to Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat
Updated to latest version of Android 90 days after the release of Kit Kat.
The 4.7" LCD 1080p Full HD display is very beautiful. After using this phone for a week and a half, there is a noticeable difference in the 720p Amoled display in my Moto X. I feel confident that after a few days of using the X again, I will no longer be able to see the difference. I'm just saying that to make myself feel better about my own phone.

The camera is a bit hard to explain. HTC did something custom and a bit unusual this time around. Instead of a typical MP (megapixel) rated camera on the back, they provided an UltraPixel Camera. The guys over at Gizmodo do a good job explaining the differences. What it boils down to is its a 4MP sensor but the pixels are larger. Whether UltraPixel is just a new marketing word or not, the proof does stand out. These shots are from the rear facing UltraPixel camera of the HTC One.


The front camera, however, which is 2.1 MP, is a completely different story. The front cameras on a lot of smartphones are low MP but still decent quality for pictures. I can't say the same for this one. The pictures out of the front facing camera are grainy at best and there is no low light picture taking love from it like its big brother in the back of the phone.


The battery inside the HTC One is a non-removable 2300 mAh (milliampere-hourone. I used this phone during my demo period as my only device. I am a medium to heavy user where as I am checking emails, social media, browsing the internet and playing games hourly, (not all of them) every day. On average I was able to get 12 and a half hours of battery life per day. It pretty much lasted me from 8AM to around 8 or 9PM. Being that I go to bed around 10:30 or 11PM, I would have liked to have been able to squeeze just a few more hours out of that battery. Typically, I keep a charger in my car and plug the phones in while I drive, but I didn't do that for this demonstration as to not interfere with the tests.

5 days of normal usage averaged to get 12.5 hours of battery life per day

I wanted to leave the best for last when describing the hardware of this phone: the speakers. HTC paired with Beats audio for this phone and a few others, this was the first of that partnership. They decided to put the speakers in the front of the device as opposed to the normal locations in the back or bottom. And I must say, Bravo HTC! These speakers are magnificent. They sound amazing. They are calling the technology BoomSound. I know, it sounds like a 3 year old describing the sound a tank makes, but it is working for them. On the front of the phone there are two speakers, one across the top and one across the bottom. The speaker grills are nicely drilled with what seems to be pin point precision in the aluminum face. Being that the speakers are in the front, the sound is pristine and genuine. Not muffled because you have to cup your hand around the speaker like those phones with a speaker on the back. You are almost immersed in the sound when paying games or watching video.


The Software
Like most all Android phone manufactures, HTC puts their own little spin on the look and feel of the user interface. More specifically, the icons, colors and how you interact with the phone over all. On the HTC One, they introduced a newer version of their skin, they call it "Sense" and the version is 5.0. When they updated the phone to Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, Sense was also updated to Sense 5.5. None the less, Sense adds a flavor to Android that is respectably lite, and not as intrusive as Samsung's Touchwiz which takes up almost half of the phone's memory. 

In addition to Sense 5.5, HTC introduced BlinkFeed, which is a social media widget. BlinkFeed resides on the main homescreen. It shows window-esque updates from your social accounts such as Twitter, FaceBook, Istagram and what not. You can also tell it your favorite channels and then BlinkFeed will tell you when your favorite shows are coming on. It will also act as a RSS feed reader. If you have some favorite websites or blogs (like this one :) that you like to keep up with you can add those links to the BlinkFeed widget so you see those updates in there as well. 

BlinkFeed on the HTC One
BlinkFeed is definitely a different take on viewing social media. You scroll through vertically but in pages at a time, much like the rest of the Sense interface. Being that it is set as your main home screen, and I didn't want it there, I searched for a way to change the default screen or even remove BlinkFeed. Luckily, in the home screen settings, you can do both. I like BlinkFeed, I just didn't want it to be my main home screen. Others who like to soak up some social media, will probably love BlinkFeed as an all in one location.

There are some other small changes HTC chose to put into the Sense user interface, of the launcher if you will. For example, the app drawer only shows apps. There are no tabs across the top of the app drawer to see widgets too. You must long press on an empty space on a home screen to get to widgets or add new apps to a home screen. You can, however, arrange your app drawer in a custom fashion, not just the default alphabetical order. You can also add folders in the app drawer itself as well as on the home screens.

You will not find many proprietary apps on the HTC One. They do their own email client, browser, phone, and contacts apps. They also have an app to program your TV for the IR blaster on top of the phone. But that's about it. Nothing like LG or Samsung are known to do. And I like that. Those tend to really bog down the phone, make it run slower, and take up plenty more space then they need to. Which doesn't leave as much memory for apps and music as you think you're buying.



Pros
The 1080p HD screen is simply beautiful! I found it hard to quit looking at it. Everything popped more. Images, websites, apps I use on other phones. It gave it a much deeper look and feel. The BoomSound is great. Hearing the music playing through those speakers for the first time shocked me. It shocked my wife too. The call quality because of those speakers is awesome as well. The camera is nice. It takes decent shots in both regular lighting and low lighting scenarios. I don't expect a lot from a phone's camera, but this one met all my minimum expectations. The aluminum chassis and overall feel of the phone is very nice. Because of the curved back, it fits well in one hand and the palm cups the phone safely. The battery life was pretty good. As I said before, I could probably stretch a few more hours out of it by charging it as a drove to and from work.

Cons
The aluminum back gets noticeably warm with simple activities such as browsing the web after only a few minutes. The placement of the power button is very odd and too far out of the way. Sliding the phone down further in my hand to reach it with one hand was the only way to get to the power button. It usually became a two handed job to lock the phone so that I didn't drop it. Also, I ended up pushing the volume down button many times with the palm of my right hand as I stretched my finger to the far top left corner of the phone. With the HTC logo between the back and home buttons on the bottom, all apps with a "settings" menu took up another 1/3 of an inch of screen with the full black bar going across the middle. That's one benefit to onscreen buttons. The menu button, or others, can be placed just to the side of the other buttons which will not take up an extra screen.



Overall Impressions
The original question was did HTC hit a home run with the release of the HTC One. I believe that when HTC stepped up, watched that fastball fly over the plate, swung, hit it deep and just barely got it over the top of the wall. The pros listed got the extra few feet it needed so that it didn't just hit the top of the wall or go foul. The cons aren't horrible for daily life. Easily manageable. I believe the HTC One which was released last year at this time is still a good phone to pick up. Bigger hands or being left handed to reach the power button would be a plus. You could also download an app which just turns the screen off and locks it for you. Now that I think about it, Active Notifications from the Moto X would be a nice addition to this phone (or any phone for that matter).

As the end of this review draws near, HTC has scheduled the unveiling of their follow up to the HTC One. They are going to call it "The All New HTC One". That's right. The event will take place on March 25, 2014 in New York City. If you are in a budget pinch and need a good phone for a good price, The HTC One will work great for you, after the release of the newer version when they drop the price. But I also believe it would be well worth the wait to see what will be unveiled in the new device before you make that final purchase.

Do you own an HTC One? How has it held up for you over the past year? Will you be looking forward to buying the All New HTC One in a few months? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

HTC One Gallery
 

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