How has HTC's latest flagship fared after two months in the hands of an AC editor?
It’s been just over two months since I first got my hands on the HTC One -- first, a pre-production demo unit, then a final European retail model. For most of that time, HTC’s impressive 2013 flagship has been my daily driver -- the phone I use every day, and take with me just about everywhere I go. In that time it’s seen plenty of normal use, and ten days or so of not-so-normal use in New York City for our Galaxy S4 and #TM13 coverage
But the HTC One was in short supply when it first launched in Europe and it’s only recently hit the U.S. market, so we’re in a bit of a unique position to have used the phone for this long. With that in mind, now seems like the right moment to reflect on our time with the device.
Just as we did for the Nexus 4 in January, it’s time for our long-term, two-month retrospective feature on the HTC One. We’ve already brought you a full review of the phone, and a casual review of the Sprint version, of course. So consider this article a chance for us to share the kind of details that don’t come to light in the course of our normal review process, and an opportunity to let you know what to expect in the months ahead if you pick up an HTC One today.
Check past the break to learn how the HTC One has coped with 61 days in the hands of an Android Central editor.
The aluminum unibody is beautiful and sturdy, but not indestructible
Take a glance through our review and you’ll see that the HTC One’s build quality in general -- and its metal chassis in particular -- were among our favorite things about the device. The brushed aluminum looks fantastic, feels great in the hand and leaves you in no doubt that you’re holding a premium product. It’s the antithesis of most of the plastic slabs that make their way across our desks.
And my HTC One is mostly pristine after two months of regular use. Mostly.
No material is indestructible, and aluminum will scratch and dent if presented with the opportunity. So if you examine my handset very closely you’ll see it’s picked up a few scrapes here and there. The first two occurred relatively early on, and I have no idea what caused them. There are a couple of indentations around the top speaker -- one between two of the speaker holes, another further down. An advantage of having tiny dents here is that they’re almost impossible to see -- in fact, I didn’t even spot the second one until I took a macro shot of the area for this article.
There’s also a slight ding in the side of the left side of the injected plastic trim -- the origin of that one is a mystery, too. (The phone hasn’t been dropped at all.) On the other hand, the trim itself hasn’t picked up any dirt or discoloration. Some slight wearing can be seen around the chamfers on the top and bottom of the device, too. These details are difficult to pick out, even on camera, but they’re there. Had I been using the black HTC One, chances are they'd stand out a good deal more.
Bottom line -- a metal phone can pick up signs of wear just like a plastic or glass gadget, so you’ll want to take care of it, as you would any other device. The HTC One sure looks better than most phones out there, but it’s not guaranteed to wear any better. (In fact, Samsung's Galaxy S3 probably fared better than the HTC One during the couple of months that I was using it last year.)
As an aside, if you do manage to put any serious dents in the corners of the HTC One, there’s one unique option open to you, as our own Phil Nickinson discovered. You can simply file down the affected area to make it less noticeable. (Do so at your own risk, of course.)
I’ve learned to live with HTC’s wonky button setup
I was no fan of HTC’s unorthodox two-button setup when I reviewed the HTC One, but I’ve quickly learned to live with it. Holding the phone in my right hand, both are easy to reach, and double-tapping to jump to the task switcher was a fairly simple adjustment to make. Would I prefer a multi-tasking button? Yes, and that’s the reason I still feel somewhat quicker multi-tasking on a phone like the Nexus 4.
I’ve never had to worry about storage space
The European HTC One I’ve been using comes with 32GB of storage. In some markets, there’s a 64GB version available. Coming from an 8GB Nexus 4, it’s refreshing for storage space to simply not be an issue. There’s 25GB and change available, and I’ve never had to ration my storage use in any way.
By contrast, the internal storage on my 16GB Galaxy S4, which has 9GB or so remaining for media, apps and other stuff, is already half full. That’s with music, photos and videos siphoned off onto a 32GB microSD card.
BoomSound has spoiled me
As we pointed out in our review, the One’s front-facing ‘BoomSound’ speakers are loud. Really loud. Sometimes too loud for regular notifications and ringtones. So we should mention that as of the 1.29 update, the lower volume levels for regular bleeps and bloops seems to have gotten quieter. That’s a good thing. (And don’t worry, things are just as bombastic at the higher volume levels.)
Combined with the official flip cover, which turns into a kickstand, the front speakers really comes into their own for portable music, movie and TV playback. Other phones’ speakers are plenty loud, but none offer the clarity and bass of HTC’s BoomSound.
It’s still the fastest Android phone around, and that’s down to the software
We’ve got to the stage where there are a few Snapdragon 600-powered phones on the market, and not all of them are as quick as the HTC One. The Galaxy S4, for example, falls victim to occasional bouts of lag, as we mentioned in our review. That would seem to suggest that the HTC One is so responsive because of the manufacturer’s software efforts.
Speaking of which, HTC Sense 5 is my new favorite Android “skin.” It’s as fast and as beautiful as vanilla Android, and it does a whole lot more than Google's base OS. I’m a big fan of HTC’s Calendar and Tasks apps, the latter being one of the only built-in apps on any Android phone that properly syncs with Google Tasks. Zoes and video highlights are also stand-out features.
I can take or leave HTC BlinkFeed, the phone's unique home screen reader. It’s a nice little distraction to have, and it works well with the services it hooks into. But while I’ll occasionally use it on the HTC One, it’s not something I miss when I switch to another phone. (And then there's some stuff you just don't want on your home screen.)
A few other things about Sense continue to bug me. After taking a screenshot there’s no way to immediately share them through Android sharing intents. There’s little consistency to the way sharing intents behave between apps -- in HTC apps you’ll get a completely different sharing menu. And I still think the way the dock is considered part of the app drawer is completely insane and counter-intuitive, as is the default 3x3 grid in the app drawer. There’s room for improvement, as always.
A great camera for regular people, if not enthusiasts
The HTC One’s ‘Ultrapixel’ camera has been the subject of much discussion, not least in our forums, comparison articles and our review, where we concluded that it falls short of the promised revolution in image quality. The recent 1.29 update introduced some camera tweaks, improving HDR performance and adjusting exposure settings for improved dynamic range. And yet we still have a few nits to pick when it comes to the HTC One’s camera.
Its low megapixel count -- just 4MP -- means certain areas of daylight images are affected by visible artefacts. This, it seems, is due to HTC’s noise reduction and sharpening algorithms. When you only have four megapixels to work with, it’s easier for noise reduction and sharpening to produce these kinds of aberrations. That’s one of the reasons why the Galaxy S4’s 13-megapixel camera runs rings around the HTC One in daylight.
We’re not saying daylight images on the HTC One look terrible. Most of the time you’ll get decent-looking photos, but the competition has a much higher ceiling for image quality.
Now the other side of that equation. In low light, the HTC One annihilates every other Android smartphone camera out there, including the GS4. That’s part of what makes it a great camera for real people -- smartphone photographers who want clear, good-looking photos in all conditions, but not necessarily works of art they can display at full size on a 30-inch monitor.
What about Zoes, Zoe Share, Highlights and the mess of other gallery options?
The interplay between Zoes -- the little three-second video/photo hybrid things -- Zoe Share -- online sharing for images and/or videos and/or Zoes -- and Highlights -- videos made up of photos, videos and Zoes that can then be shared via Zoe Share -- can be slightly confusing. And we’re not alone in getting things a little muddled up. But after a couple of months with the HTC One, Highlights and Zoes are among my favorite Sense 5 features.
Take my recent jaunt to New York City to spearhead our GS4 coverage and spy on our editors recording #TM13. The gallery app dutifully prepared little highlight reels of each day, and sharing these was as simple as tapping an icon and using an Android sharing intent.
However, the method for manually creating these “events” is still a little cumbersome. For example, if you want one big event and one highlight reel for a week-long event, that’s way more work than it should be, and involves waiting while the phone juggles a bunch of files around on its internal storage. It's not a particularly elegant way to manage your memories.
But is it still the best Android phone you can buy?
For me, yes. I prefer HTC’s hardware and software to anything else out there right now. I can live with an older version of Android and a quirky 4-megapixel camera in exchange for superlative build quality, fast performance and well-designed software.
The HTC One’s main rival is the Galaxy S4, a device we recently reviewed. That’s a fine phone too, with plenty going for it -- a bigger screen, lighter weight, better camera, a bunch of unique features -- and Samsung’s going to sell a ton of them in the months ahead.
But in my opinion HTC has the better phone this year, and I’d recommend it just as much after two months as I did after one week.
Fellow HTC One owners, how've you been finding the handset? Let us know in the comments!