Phone

HTC One Review: Beautiful Innovation

After reviewing so many smartphones over the years, HTC One is the first device that makes me enjoy sharing my images and videos. If HTC One can make a person like me who shares only about 3 photos a week to post dozens over the past 7 days, imagine what it could do to the social-happy ones out there. HTC One makes it fun to capture and share your life’s images without breaking your mobile data plan.

HTC One Specs:

  • 4.7-inch Full HD 1080×1920 pixels
  • 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Spapdragon 600
  • 2GHz RAM, 32/64GB user memory
  • 4MP UltraPixel F2.0 28mm rear camera
  • 2.1MP 88-degree front camera
  • Dual front facing stereo speakers with amplifier 
  • 2300mAh non-removable battery
  • 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm
  • 143g
  • Android Jellybean 4.1.2
  • Supports LTE (4G)
  • Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, DLNA, NFC, aGPS, GLONASS, MHL, USB-OTG
  • Uses micro SIM card
  • No external microSD card slot

HTC One offers a top benchmark score of 11955 with Quadrant, an amazingly 60% higher than Sony Xperia Z. I know different benchmark apps offer different scores, but this is just a guide to demonstrate the immense power the HTC One offers. Indeed, we take for granted how all the  HTC One apps are executed in a snap, and it certainly can’t do it without an efficient processor.

Design
HTC One design is one of the major talking points. Its manufacturing process of fusing the aluminium and plastic parts without gaps requires 200 minutes. The plastic areas are critical to allow wireless signals to be transmitted, something that most of us consumers took for granted. To add to the challenge, the HTC One’s rear face is curved to fit nicely on our hands. Thanks to HTC engineering, the HTC One is both beautiful and functional. The silver colour is recommended as it looks more striking, while the black colour will be preferred for users who prefer the understated, though fingerprint marks appear more visible on the metal surface.

Display
HTC One has a full-HD 4.7-inch display, offering the highest pixel-per-inch among the major competitors. The display produces natural-looking colours without over-saturation. It has excellent wide viewing angle without loss of contrast.

I compared the display with Samsung Galaxy S3 (“Natural” color mode), and HTC One appears brighter with better colour details.

Easy Phone Migration
It is a lot easier to migrate from your old Android phone to HTC One. This app provide step-by-step instructions to copy your phone contacts, settings, messages, bookmarks, etc. to your new HTC One, using Wi-Fi Direct protocol to connect and deliver fast data transfer speed. Transferring from iPhone is also possible using HTC Sync Manager which runs on your computer.

4MP UltraPixel Camera
HTC has taken a very bold step to reduce the pixel count of the camera on their flagship product. To compensate the lower pixel count, HTC claims that the camera captures more details in low light situations.

Here are some real life comparison shots with Samsung Galaxy S3.

HTC One is able to capture better low-light images in Auto mode. For S3, I would need to manually enable the Night mode before achieve the same results. The auto white balance for both phones vary depending on the scenes: for warm indoor lighting, HTC One handles better, while for outdoor lighting, the S3 can achieve more accurate white balance.

Thanks to the uncluttered camera app which starts up within a second, capturing both still and moving images is straightforward. 2 separate still and video camera shutter buttons lets you easily trigger either shooting modes quickly. Press and hold the still image will enable the continuous shooting mode up to 20 images. A dedicated effects icon allows you to select fun effects without going through the hassle of searching in the menu. Slide the finger across the screen to switch camera front-to-back.

Multiples of continuous shot allows me to pick my favourite lightning images
over Singapore Marina Bay skyline.

As much as I would like to believe HTC’s marketing for their UltraPixel camera, the lower pixel count does not deliver dramatic improvements for low light shots. Without pixel-peeping, the images are above average for a phone with good colour and contrast details, though nowhere near compact camera quality. But I come to my conclusion that there is one important reason for reducing pixel count: to implement innovative features that work more efficiently with smaller file sizes.

And that feature is feature is Zoe.

HTC Zoe
What is Zoe? It brings your photo gallery to life. When you shoot with Zoe, you capture 20 consecutive still images and a 3-second video at the same time. With Zoe, you can then perform magic on your post-editing process, like making sure group shots are perfect by swapping faces with different images, or removing unwanted moving objects.

This feature alone is nothing fantastic, not until you use the next feature: Video Highlights. HTC One instinctively picks your still images and Zoe and creates a 30-second video clip, synchronised with pre-canned music and effects. Zoe knows which images to use by selecting those from the same location.

To top it all up, HTC lets you easily share your individual images and highlights on HTC Share portal for free. Each set of event highlights and images reside in a unique URL which is available for 180 days.

I really love Zoe, and for all camera lovers out there, this is an excellent way to share your images to family and friends. Even if I don’t post online, I could also generate the Video Highlights for every event I attended and store it as a daily archive of my life snippets.

Stereo Speakers
For decades, we have learned to accept that our smartphones produce mono sounds from a single speaker, either at the back or at the sides. HTC finally breaks out from the mould in 2 aspects: one, they put the speakers to the front; two, there are 2 speakers producing stereo audio. It changes the experience: video clips now sound clearer and with better stereo effects. While in the past we tend to increase the volume to compensate the muffled speakers behind the phone, HTC One ringtones sound loud and clear when placed on the surface.

To let you enjoy the music experience, HTC One’s music app retrieves the song lyrics via LyricFind and flashes the lyrics on-cue, with GraceNote providing the album art. And as the app plays on the background, you can control the tracks in the notification dropdown menu.

It would be even better if the stereo speakers can swap the left-right audio channels based on the phone orientation: for now, the top speaker plays left channel while the lower speaker plays the right channel. And if oriented at portrait mode, the speakers should play in mono. Just a suggestion to delight the user.

HTC BlinkFeed 
To think that BlinkFeed is just like Flipboard is an understatement. BlinkFeed also populates in-phone content like calendar events and TV programmes. Experienced users might not find it as customisable or user friendly as third party apps, but to a new user, BlinkFeed is an excellent way to receive news as it integrates to the home screen. It is good for lazy people like myself who doesn’t like to keep opening news apps throughout the day.

Sense TV
HTC One is one of the first smartphones that includes an infra-red transmitter. The included TV app works well. The process of the app identifying the correct home TV and Cable box remote commands is easy, as long as you use the common product brands. And once done, channel surfing becomes so much more fun. I can browse the channel synopses on the HTC One, tap on the thumbnail, and the HTC One beams the remote commands to change the channel. I can also set reminders for TV programmes.

Note though, that you should point the HTC One towards the cable set-top box before you select the channel. If not, the HTC One remote might not beam the complete set of IR commands to the devices, for instance, if your cable TV channels are 3 digits.

Not All Is Perfect
For every product, there are always features (or lack of) that irks the user. For HTC One, there is just one. The Power Button is located at the top left corner which is not easy to reach for left-handers like me. And the fact that the button is flushed against the corners means the finger can’t feel the button. I find myself missing it and pressing next to it at times. Same can be said for the volume rockers.

Another minor irk would be the redesigned HTC Sense 5.0 user interface. Its has a different way of managing your icons unfamiliar to even seasoned Android users. Plus the fact that there are only 2 touch-sensitive buttons (recent apps button is activated by double-tapping the Home button), any new HTC One user should visit the Tips and Help app regularly to learn how to use many of the features. Once I got past the initial hurdle, the rest is easy. And for iPhone users and Android users who prefer the iPhone way of displaying all apps, HTC One’s app drawer view can be set as a permanent home screen.

HTC One Moves My Memories
If you love capturing memories on photos and video, then HTC One will delight you immensely. I know the camera pixel count will be a major hurdle to many, but frankly, many of us do not need that many pixels since our images are mainly used for online sharing. A high-pixel image will end up resized before you upload to social websites. Worse, if you do not resize, it will take a long time and data bandwidth to upload the full-resolution images. HTC is taking a gamble here, but I’m for it. I am one who would rather sacrifice pixel count for a more efficient image-capturing and image-sharing solution. Putting that in perspective, the HTC One is the smartphone of choice for social sharing lovers, while image-critics should stick to their megapixel pursuit.

This review is also published on XinMSN and StarHub Community Portal.

(edit 23 Apr 2013 1.45pm: the on-cue lyrics is provided by LyricFind while GraceNote provides the album art.)

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