HTC returns with a sleek aluminum design, re-imagined software and a bold new camera experience

We’re all out of poetic ways to describe HTC’s current situation. A frustrating 2012 saw some of the year’s best mobile hardware being met with declining sales and market presence for the Taiwanese manufacturer. Once the leader of the Android pack,  HTC is increasingly seen as an also-ran.

That, in part, was down to the confused marketing strategy around last year’s HTC One series. The One X and One S were soon joined by Ones V, VX, XL, XT, XC, SU, SV, SC, and X+, further diluting the value of an already watery brand.

In 2013, however, there is only one One. The new HTC One is, as the name suggests, the singular focus of HTC’s high-end efforts. The company’s best build quality, software, screen and optics are to be brought to bear in a “kitchen sink” product that aims to leave no holds barred.

It’s also a device that seeks to achieve differentiation at every point on the spec sheet. As other smartphones are increasingly faceless, monolithic black slabs, HTC sandwiches its screen between two bassy front-facing speakers. BoomSound. As competitors crank out 13-megapixel shooters, HTC bucks the trend with a much lower megapixel count, but larger pixels and improved optics. UltraPixels. Add to that a new way to shoot and share images and video. Zoe Share. Plus, a new home screen experience that brings the world to you. BlinkFeed.

And let’s not forget how rare it is to come across a decent aluminum smartphone these days.

If HTC is to recover, it’ll be through a combination of intelligent marketing and great products. We can’t review the former, but you can bet we’re going to get stuck into the latter. In fact, we’ll do it right after the break, in our definitive review of the new HTC One.

The Good

Stunning design, and some of the best build quality we’ve seen in an Android smartphone. Near-perfect screen with excellent colors and viewing angles. Incredibly speedy performance, completely lag-free interface and an attractive, streamlined Sense UI. Excellent audio quality from the front speakers (and bundled earbuds). The “UltraPixel” camera performs really well in low light ... 

The Bad

… but the the overall camera experience doesn't quite live up to HTC’s hype. Certain features like “Video Highlights” could be better implemented. The wonky button setup takes some getting used to. BlinkFeed is useful but underdeveloped.


The HTC One is an exquisite piece of design and engineering. From the hardware to the software, HTC’s new handset incorporates some of the very best design work in the industry. If there’s something to be disappointed about, it might be the much-vaunted “UltraPixel” camera. Which is not to say it’s bad per se -- in fact, it’s pretty good. But it’s a long way off being the silver bullet to cure all your mobile photography woes, and though its low-light performance is fantastic, it still lags behind the competition in some other areas.

In spite of this, is it HTC’s best phone yet? Without question. And on balance, is it the best Android phone you can buy? For the moment, absolutely.

Inside this review

More info

HTC One unboxing video​

More: HTC One video walkthrough

HTC One hardware review

There’s a certain futility about merely describing a device like the HTC One. We could fill paragraphs talking about each little nuance of its gorgeous brushed metal chassis, but to really understand and appreciate this phone you need to hold it in your hand. Neither renders nor photographs do it justice. What we’re trying to say here is that the HTC One is a very pretty piece of technology indeed.

The basic profile of the HTC One is a lot like the Droid DNA or its international cousin, the J Butterfly, but the feel is strikingly different. HTC’s recent history of polycarbonate designs makes way for a welcome return to the aluminum unibodies of old. This curved aluminum block is HTC’s most precisely-crafted phone yet. Reflective, diamond-cut chamfers adorn the edges of the casing, and the back has a subtle, ergonomic curve to it. (On the inside, HTC sandwiches the battery between the screen and PCB to achieve this look.) In the hand, it’s light yet substantial, and the feel of the brushed aluminum leaves you in no doubt that you’re holding a premium product.


An injected matte plastic trim can be found around the edge and back of the HTC One, and this houses part of the phone’s antenna assembly (on an all-metal phone, it’s got to go somewhere). It also breaks up the exposed metal areas quite nicely -- on the silver version we’re reviewing it’s white; on the black version it’s black. It houses the microSIM tray on the left edge, and on the right side it’s punctuated by a metal volume rocker. Up top is the power button, and there’s a good reason for its being there -- it also doubles as an IR blaster for the Sense TV app.


Thankfully, there’s no protruding One X-style camera hump this time around -- in fact, the camera is slightly recessed into the chassis itself. This way it doesn’t interfere with the flow of the curved back -- however, the lens may be more vulnerable to scratches when the the device is laid flat.

On the front sits a SuperLCD 3 panel at 1920x1080 resolution, and this has to be one of the best-looking screens we’ve ever seen. It uses the same display tech as the Droid DNA, but HTC’s condensed this 1080p panel into a 4.7-inch space, making it sharper than ever, at 468 pixels per inch. Its colors are bright and vivid without being overblown, and there’s no discoloration or wash-out when viewing at oblique angles. Being a modern LCD, the HTC One’s screen is expectedly excellent in outdoor performance.

The flattened business end of the HTC One is also home to its two front-facing speakers, forming part of HTC’s “BoomSound” system. This combination of larger speakers, more advanced membranes and Beats Audio results in the loudest and bassiest sound experience we’ve heard on any smartphone, without sacrificing clarity. For music and video content, that’s great. But on anything but the lowest volume setting, it’s almost too loud for regular notifications and ringtones. Powering on the HTC One for the first time, you’re assaulted by the full force of BoomSound in HTC jingle form. And the first phone call you receive on the device will be equally terrifying if it strikes you unprepared.

More: Hear a comparison of BoomSound against the Galaxy Note 2, Nexus 4 and HTC One X.

On the subject of audio, we should also mention the bundled HTC earphones. They’re not Beats-branded, but they’re about as good as the urBeats in-ear cans offered with some HTC handsets last year, and a significant step up from the truly awful HTC earbuds included with earlier devices. Kudos to HTC for not skimping in this area.


Beneath the screen is the one seriously questionable design decision we almost don't have to point out -- HTC’s unique button setup. Unlike about every other Android phone on the planet, you’re limited to just a back and home key on the HTC One. No multitasking key, no menu key. To jump to the task-switcher, you have to double-tap the home button. Want Google Now? Long-press the home key. We adjusted to the new button setup pretty quickly, but it's one nasty holdover from HTC’s 2012 phones. Moreover, it takes the home button out of the easiest part of the phone to reach -- the center.

Apps that require the menu key -- including the bundled Twitter application -- reclaim a lower portion of the screen to make way for a virtual menu button. The dreaded black bar. Whether HTC or app developers are to blame is debatable, but regardless it’s an ugly way of handling legacy apps, and one that detracts from the otherwise slick software experience.

On the inside, the HTC One’s hardware credentials mirror its impressive exterior. It’s running the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU -- a quad-core chip at 1.7GHz -- with 2GB of RAM and 32 or 64GB of storage. Qualcomm’s new chip is about as fast as it gets in the Android space right now, and that was reflected in our daily use of the HTC One, which has been a completely lag-free experience with no slow-down and lightning-fast app loading times.


We’re using the European model here in the UK, which packs 32GB of internal storage; other territories, including some Asian countries, will get a 64GB option. Storage is arranged in a single partition for both apps and media, and the HTC One connects to PCs and Macs via MTP connection, in line with Google’s guidelines. There’s no removable storage option -- unless you count HTC Sense’s ability to connect USB thumb drives -- but with a minimum of 32GB on-board, we’re not going to make too much fuss over this.

The version we’ve got also supports European 4G LTE frequencies -- 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2600MHz -- which are the main three in use in the UK and mainland Europe. In addition, you’ve got quad-band HSPA at speeds of up to 42Mbps. The HTC One is also one of the first phones to boast 802.11ac Wifi compatibility, so that’s an added bonus for owners of the latest super-fast Wifi routers. Both Wifi and Bluetooth capabilities work as expected.


And yes, it makes phone calls, too. HTC’s touting new software tweaks called “VoiceSense,” which automatically cranks up the call volume in loud environments. VoiceSense joins an array of other voice call features, including the ability to ring louder when the phone’s in a bag or pocket, and Sense’s automatic quieting of the ringer when the phone is picked up.

So all the requisite boxes are checked for a high-end Android smartphone in 2013. But as we’ll discover throughout this review, design is where the HTC One truly shines. As much as we’ve praised phones like the Nexus 4 in the past year -- and admired devices like the Windows Phone 8X from afar -- the HTC One is on another plane when it comes to build quality. That’s not hyperbole. With its latest handset, HTC leads everyone bar Apple in this area.

HTC One specs

HTC One software, UI and apps

The HTC One runs the new HTC Sense 5 atop Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. That means you’re not quite running the latest version of Android, but on a non-stock phone there’s not a whole lot of user-facing stuff to miss.

In the latest version of its user interface, HTC has completely reinvented Sense, giving it its biggest makeover ever. The iconic flip clock has gone, swapped out for a new home screen dynamic based on the “BlinkFeed” news feed. And Sense’s cartoonish icons and menus are out, replaced by sleeker, more geometric graphics. A new, condensed Roboto-based font  is used in the menus and many of HTC’s apps, and this looks great on the HTC One’s super-high resolution screen.

Home screens

Sense 5 has also lost an awful lot of its visual noise, and that’s a good thing. The excessive embossing around the edge of buttons and menus is no more, instead you get clean lines and a curved gradient towards the notification shade. Further evidence of this design shift can be found in the new HTC wallpaper gallery, which is stocked with classy, minimalist backgrounds not a million miles away from Android’s own “Holo” design language.

It’s also fast as all hell. Sure, that’s helped out by the speedy Snapdragon 600 CPU and Android 4.1’s “Project Butter” performance tweaks and the 2GB of RAM, but HTC also deserves credit for making Sense 5 an entirely lag-free experience. Seriously. Not once did this thing stutter or stall.

BlinkFeed and the new launcher d​ynamic

Similar to Flipboard, BlinkFeed lies at the heart of Sense 5’s home screen experience. It’s a flowing grid of social updates, news feeds, calendar appointments, task list entries, TV schedules and upcoming deals. It’s also customizable, to a degree, though you’re limited in the ways in which you can add new stuff. News, for example, has to be selected from a list of built-in sources (HTC says there’s more than 1,400). On the social site, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are supported, but not Google+. You can't currently add your own feeds. You can, however, add your favorite Android Central and Mobile Nations news. So there's that.

App drawer

For serious news junkies (and bloggers), BlinkFeed isn’t going to replace your RSS reader, nor is it meant to.  BlinkFeed is clearly designed for "normal" people -- civilian smartphone users. It’s a supposed to be a quick, easy way to “snack” on information.

How well it works for you will depend on how well its curated list of integrated services fits with your social and news habits. We suspect most smartphone users will find some use for it, even if it doesn’t become their default home screen. 

This is HTC’s first iteration of BlinkFeed, and it’s very good for a first shot at this sort of thing. But its usefulness is hampered by its closed nature, and we’d like to see it opened up in the same way DashClock Widget is. That’d let the development community pick up where HTC left off and add even more capabilities into this flagship feature. With some more customizations, BlinkFeed could be a real asset for power users.

There’s also no way to turn it off entirely -- though you don't have to use BlinkFeed if you don't want to. Swipe to the right and you’ve got a standard Android home screen arrangement -- a four-by-four grid of icons and a selection of surprisingly stylish Sense widgets with which to customize it. Up to five home screens can be added, and you can set any one as the default home screen.

The app drawer has been redesigned too. It’s a lot more customizable, which is good because the default arrangement isn’t particularly easy to navigate. HTC seems to expect many users to hop between BlinkFeed and the app drawer without using much of the traditional home, and so the app drawer can be re-arranged into folders. That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it means you’ve got more hoops to jump through if you want to create app shortcuts on a home screen page. The process of moving stuff in and out of the app dock is a more convoluted than it needs to be.

More: BlinkFeed: Inside the HTC One's home screen reader

Task Switching

As we mentioned, you can access the task switcher on the HTC One by double-tapping the home key. This brings up a grid of the nine most recently used apps. That places a hard limit on the number of apps you can switch between, but we figure nine is probably enough for most people. You can see all nine immediately without scrolling, which is good. However, the lack of app icons on this page means it can take a little longer to spot the app you’re after. A good many of them look the same -- black text on a white background.

Like the old Sense task-switcher, you flick a card up to get rid of the app. Thankfully, we didn't notice any of the multi-tasking issues that some folks reported on devices like the One X.

We’re not sure whether we prefer it to the stock Android task-switcher, but it’s an improvement on the old Sense 4 implementation to be sure.

Task switcher

Get Started

First introduced in Sense 4+, HTC’s “Get Started” web service lets you take the first steps towards setting up your new device on your computer, before you even purchase it. Pre-loaded apps. There’s a limit to how much you’re able to set up in advance -- Google accounts, for example, are out of the question. But allowing new users to set up their own wallpapers, ringtones, ​BlinkFeed services and a few common apps should go a long way towards making the smartphone setup process less painful.

Settings are saved to your HTC account, then, once you’ve signed into the HTC One with that same account, all your customizations are pulled down from HTC’s servers.

Music, Gallery and Beats Audio

Music app Music app

As the branding on the back of the phone will remind you, the HTC One comes with Beats Audio software enhancements, and these can be enabled or disabled via the main settings menu. It’s possible we’re imagining this, but the Beats enhancements on the HTC One don’t seem to quite as overblown and excessively bassy as they’ve been in the past. Regardless, the effect is still noticeable -- there’s a welcome boost in volume and bass that’s clear whether you’re using headphones or the excellent front-facing BoomSound speakers.

The new HTC Sense music app is relatively spartan when it comes to visuals, but it’s just as full-featured as as ever. The music app comes with access to the Gracenote lyrics database, and these lyrics pop up on-screen when you enable the new visualizer effects. Similarly, artist images and album art are pulled down from Gracenote when you download or transfer a new album across to the HTC One. And there’s full DLNA support music app, too.

Naturally, DLNA support is also baked into the Gallery app. In addition to showing you your own photos -- and showing you animated previews of each event if you’ve been using Zoe mode. And as is becoming increasingly common, the Gallery apps hooks into Facebook, Flickr and LinkedIn to populate itself with photos from friends, too.

We’ll have more on the Gallery app in the camera section of this review.

TV and Movies

TV app

The HTC One is one of the many new Android devices shipping with an integrated IR blaster, allowing it to control TVs, sound systems and cable boxes. The phone’s TV capabilities are rooted in the Sense TV app, which is based on Peel. The setup procedure is pretty simple. Starting with your TV off, you’ll be asked to confirm a few details about your location and equipment branding, before calibrating the remote to work with your TV and assorted boxes.

IR remote appThe TV app shows you a grid of shows that are currently on, with a blue bar beneath indicating how long they’ve been running for. Tapping the show will trigger the TV app keys in the appropriate channel number. It’s a neat alternative to the traditional TV guide layout we’re all familiar with. What’s also useful is the ability to tell the TV app your favorite shows and have messages pop up in BlinkFeed when they’re showing. When you're using the TV app, you'll also get a notification widget allowing you easy access to the universal remote.

HTC Watch, the company’s own streaming service is also present, and the selection of movies and TV content available has been slowly expanding over the past year or so. We’re not sure you’ll find anything there that’s not on Netflix or Google Play, but having another source of streaming content certainly doesn’t hurt.

While other built-in apps include DLNA support, wireless streaming from the Watch app is reserved for HTC’s own Media Link HD peripheral.

HTC Sync Manager​

HTC’s own synchronization app is available for HTC One owners, and there’s a Mac and PC version that’ll help you transfer music

The latest version of the app seems to be a marked improvement on earlier builds. HTC Sync no longer chokes on larger music libraries, and it’s relatively easy to import albums or playlists from third-party players like iTunes.

Contacts and calendar appointments can be synced too if you’re still using PC-centric clients for these.

Other bits​

  • As before, the HTC Sense contacts app can draw in contacts from multiple sources, including Google accounts, Twitter, Facebook and Skype and unify them into a single location. It also has the ability to import high-resolution photos from social networks too, which is nice.
  • To expand notifications in Sense, you’ll need to pinch horizontally rather than dragging down. Unfortunately that’s not a particularly obvious gesture, nor is it easy to perform.
  • The data usage control panel -- the bar chart showing mobile data consumption -- is hidden Settings > Wireless and Networks > More > Usage in Sense 5. That’s a shame, as it’s one of Android’s most useful features.
  • HTC's stock keyboard is fast and responsive, and we were able to type pretty quickly on it thanks to its accurate auto-correction. If you're a fan of swipe-style keyboards, the "trace" option can be enabled in the keyboard settings.
  • There’s a variety of lock screen templates available, just like earlier versions of Sense. The Weather lock screen, with its assortment of 3D animations, has been culled, however.

HTC Sense HTC Sense HTC Sense HTC Sense HTC Sense

Considered alongside all HTC’s earlier software suites, Sense 5 is easily the fastest, the best designed and the easiest to use. If you weren’t a fan of Sense’s tendency towards 3D animations and pompous visual flair in the past, then you’ll welcome the refined look HTC’s brought to the table on the HTC One. Sense 5 also stacks up pretty well against vanilla Android. There’s still more going on in Sense, and it’s nowhere near as minimalist as what you’ll find on a Nexus, but it’s just as quick and just as stylish.

HTC One battery life

HTC One batteryThe HTC One is fitted with a 2300 mAh internal battery, which in numbers alone is about average for a high-end Android smartphone. There’s no way inside that aluminum unibody, so as you might’ve guessed, the battery is not removable.

We found the phone’s battery performance to be decent, but not outstanding. It’d easily last us a full day, just as the Sony Xperia Z and LG Nexus 4 have in the past. Some of that will depend on network connectivity, of course.

With moderate to heavy usage patterns consisting of browsing and social networking over LTE, HSPA and Wifi, music playback, photography and video recording, we clocked just under 14 hours of use before reaching the warning level of fifteen percent. With more conservative use, mostly restricted to Wifi, we reached the end of the day with around 30 percent left after 18 or so hours on battery. With all day spent on Wifi, we reached around 50 percent in the same timespan. We used the HTC One on DC-HSDPA on Three UK and LTE on EE, and we didn’t notice any significant additional battery drain when using 4G data services as opposed to good old HSPA. (That’s in line with other modern 4G devices we’ve reviewed, including the Xperia Z and Galaxy S3 LTE.)

Battery life Battery life

HTC Sense doesn’t allow users to measure screen-on time directly -- or battery used by the screen -- but we suspect that gorgeous 1080p display is a responsible for much of the phone’s battery consumption, particularly outside where auto-brightness cranks the backlight all the way up. In fact, on its automatic setting, the screen was consistently brighter than most other Android phones. So there might be some battery savings to be made by manually controlling this setting.


Another predictable battery-guzzler is the “UltraPixel” camera and associated software set. Though straight-up still shots didn’t seem to drain our battery too badly, video recording and Zoe shots took a greater toll. Because of the way Zoe shots work -- recording 20 separate JPEGs and one MP4 video file, having any automatic upload services enabled (e.g. Dropbox) will further cut into your battery life. (To say nothing of mucking up your folder with dozens and dozens of images.)

HTC includes a prominent Power Saver widget in the notification shade at all times, allowing users to switch to a low-power mode to conserve power. Power Saver mode can slow the CPU, dim the display or shut off the data connection when the screen’s off. This is similar to the “Stamina Mode” found on the Sony Xperia Z, though there’s no whitelist to allow apps through the bar on background data. In any case, we’d avoid using this unless we were limping along with very little juice remaining, which is why we’d welcome the ability to remove the widget from the notification area.

To summarize, we were more than happy with the battery performance of the HTC One. Its battery life was a marked improvement over both the (international) One X and One X+, which failed to impress us in this area. But if you’re coming from a phone with really great battery life or greater battery capacity -- or expecting super-long battery life from HTC’s latest -- you may come away disappointed.

HTC One 'UltraPixel' camera review

HTC One camera

As HTC is keen to tell anyone who’ll ask, the HTC One’s rear shooter is no ordinary smartphone camera. Eschewing the traditional megapixel race, the phone includes a 4-megapixel “UltraPixel” camera with much larger pixels -- 2 microns -- on the sensor itself. This, together with the f/2.0 aperture lens, is designed to make the device suited to low-light and indoor photography, where HTC believes smartphone photography goes on.

As well as an impressive set of optics, the HTC One includes a second-generation ImageSense chip. The successor to the chip that debuted in the One X last year is responsible for the HTC One’s fast capture speeds and general image-crunching duties.

So how do all those technical specs and buzzwords translate into real-world performance? It’s a mixed bag.

Camera app

The HTC One records still images at 2688x1520 resolution at 16:9 aspect ratio -- that’s the maximum resolution, and as such if you want to shoot in 4:3, the phone does so by chopping off the sides of the image. That means you get the full benefit of the camera’s wide-angle lens in widescreen shots, and a narrower view in 4:3 mode. Just like last year’s One X, the HTC One is incredibly quick to capture shots, and there’s a burst shooting mode that can be activated by long-pressing the shutter key.

The main camera view is made up of the photo and video shutter keys, zoom controls, filter options, a flash control and the Zoe toggle key (more on that later.) All other settings are accessed via a slightly cumbersome list of options, some of which are expandable. And as the HTC One doesn’t automatically flip into macro mode or backlight mode as required, you’ll have to deal with this menu more often than you might like. (That’s a point in favor of competitors like Sony, which has an excellent “Superior Auto” mode to switch between relevant scene settings.)

100 percent crop

HTC’s grand plan with its “UltraPixel” sensor is that the reduction in overall megapixels should be made up for by the overall increase in image quality. That’s true in many images, and especially noticeable in night photography, but it’s by no means the case across the board.

Let’s start off with strengths -- the HTC One is probably the best low-light smartphone camera we’ve tested. Indoors or at night, the benefits of the “UltraPixel” sensor and f/2.0 lens are clear to see. HTC’s camera produces sharper, clearer low-light images than other Android competitors. Even shots from Sony’s Xperia Z, which has pretty good low-light performance, appear a blurry, noisy mess by comparison.

Similarly, the HTC One is an excellent macro performer -- though you’ll need to enable macro mode manually under “Scenes.” The same goes for HDR mode, which can produce some stunning landscape shots when used correctly.

In daylight, though, things get a bit more complicated. In conditions where there’s plenty of light to go around, the HTC One’s low megapixel count becomes a bottleneck.

100 percent crop

Generally speaking, the HTC One is able to capture shots that look good when viewed on a laptop, tablet, monitor or TV with all the downsampling that that involves. But when blown up to full 4MP size it’s clear to see there’s some quite aggressive noise reduction and sharpening going on. Telltale signs like graininess and artifacting around dark areas in daylight images (e.g. branches of trees) demonstrate that even with this new sensor tech, photographic aberrations persist in full-sized images. That’s not true of every image, but it’s something you’ll notice if you inspect your photos close-up.

The HTC One’s dynamic range is pretty narrow, and the camera struggles in outdoor scenes with dark and very bright areas. This is aggravated further by the phone’s inability to automatically toggle into backlight mode where necessary. If you’re shooting landscapes or anything with bright sky in the background, this can quickly become a major bugbear, as you’re forced to navigate the sprawling camera menu and select either Backlight or HDR mode. To HTC’s credit, though, its HDR mode is among the best out there -- extremely quick and ghost-free, and capable of producing seriously impressive images.

HTC probably isn’t aiming this camera at people who’ll use their smartphone photos at full resolution. In fact, we wouldn’t even include ourselves in that group. If you share images to the web, chances are the image you end up seeing will be 1- to 2-megapixels anyway. But we can’t help feeling that the UltraPixel camera just doesn’t live up to all of the pre-release hype. In the right conditions it’s impressive for sure, but it’s not the holy grail of smartphone photography.

Nor is it the savior of smartphone video recording, even with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) onboard. The HTC One’s video performance is generally decent -- and footage shot at 1080p looks good most of the time -- but there are too many niggling issues for our liking. The camera’s comparatively poor dynamic range takes a heavy toll on daylight footage in some instances, resulting in stuttering as it attempts to adjust to the changes in light level. There is an HDR video mode -- a feature we’ve seen before on the Sony Xperia Z -- though this falls victim to the same occasional frame rate reductions.

We are, of course, picking nits here. The phone’s video performance isn’t universally bad by any means, as you‘ll see in our sample reel. But we can’t avoid the fact that we’ve seen better daylight performance from the competition. The HTC One does excel in low light video, delivering near-unmatched clarity in night-time footage. It’s just a shame this isn’t the case across the board.

On the front-facing camera side, HTC brings to bear a 2-megapixel shooter with a BSI sensor and a wide angle lens. This means you can fit more people in each shot, and it holds up pretty well in low light too.

Zoes, Highlights and sharing

The HTC One debuts a new type of photo in HTC Zoe. Zoe mode, enabled by tapping the Zoe icon in the camera app, records 19 or 20 still frames at 4MP and three seconds of 1080p video at the same time, resulting in a “slice” of time being recorded rather than a single frame. At a practical level, this can help you catch time-sensitive shots, as each Zoe records five frames before the shutter is pressed, and 15 afterwards. And it’s also fun to view Vine-like snapshots of each photo.

But another main reason to shoot in Zoe mode is the phone’s automatic video highlight capability. The gallery app automatically arranges photos into events based on location and date, and the HTC One conjures up 30-second highlight reels for these events -- complete with background music and filters -- based on Zoes, videos and stills. Video highlights are generated on-the-fly, and there’s no way to disable this feature, though you can ignore it by viewing photos in a traditional folder arrangement.

Highlights Highlights

In each event, pictures, videos or Zoes can be tagged as “Highlights,” which is supposed to tell the app to use them in the reel. This feature wasn’t working correctly in the firmware version we were using, though, and the gallery app continued to pick out shots at random for highlight reels. HTC says it’s aware of this bug and is working on a fix.

Videos, stills, Zoes and highlights can be shared through HTC’s (somewhat confusingly-named) Zoe Share service, which is essentially a web-based sharing system tweaked to handle the HTC One’s unique imaging output. Using Zoe Share on the HTC One is quick and easy -- a few taps to select the content you want to upload, and you’re done. Zoe Share then gives you a URL you can share using Android sharing intents via email, social networks and so on.

The interplay between Zoes, Highlights and Zoe Share is probably the most unique and interesting part of HTC’s new photographic equation. The implementation isn’t quite perfect, but we can see how these features will be both enjoyable and useful to most smartphone photographers.

More: HTC One: Zoes and video highlights

In summary, HTC’s UltraPixel experiment shows promise, but on the HTC One it isn’t a resounding success. Nevertheless, at the very least we’d call the HTC One’s camera satisfactory, and there’s no denying that it excels in certain areas. What’s more, features like Zoes, highlights and Zoe Share are examples of real innovation in mobile imaging.

The bottom line


To pull itself back from the brink, HTC knows it has to produce something special, and the HTC One is exactly that. It’s an exquisite piece of design and engineering -- from the hardware to the software, HTC’s new handset incorporates some of the very finest design work in the industry. It’s the best-looking, best-feeling phone we’ve used -- nothing beats the feel of HTC’s curved brushed aluminum chassis. The new Sense has been pared back, sped up and redesigned in ways that make it a huge improvement on earlier iterations.

The majority of HTC’s “buzzword” features also deliver. The BoomSound speakers offer unparalleled bass and clarity for smartphone speakers. Sense TV is a really useful app for dual-screen viewing. BlinkFeed isn’t perfect, but the implementation is good for a “version 1.0” feature.


We’re not overly keen on HTC’s two-button setup, though we’ve learned to live with it over the past week. On a related note, we’d still like the on-screen menu bar that occasionally pops up to die in a fire, though not all the blame for this crime against user experience design lies with HTC.

If there’s something to be disappointed about, it might be the much-vaunted “UltraPixel” camera. Which is not to say it’s bad per se -- in fact, it’s pretty good. But it’s a long way off being the silver bullet to cure all your mobile photography woes, and though its low-light performance is fantastic, it lags behind the competition in some other areas.

In spite of this, is it HTC’s best phone yet? Without question. And on balance, is it the best Android phone you can buy? For the moment, absolutely.