The HTC One is the best smartphone I have ever used (review)

The HTC One is the best smartphone I have ever used (review)

Summary: HTC needed to knock it out of the ballpark with a new phone and get it onto all major US carriers. They have done both with the HTC One, so now it is up to marketing to help it succeed.

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The HTC One is the best smartphone I have ever used (review)

Stunning, elegant, innovative, mind-blowing, gorgeous, loud, beautiful, and fun are just some of the adjectives I could use to describe the HTC One. I have tested hundreds of phones over the years and in my opinion the HTC One is the best-designed phone I have ever used.

It has now been over a week since I received the HTC One and I have been using it every day for several hours a day. I posted an initial hands-on along with several posts and videos about specific experiences and this review brings everything together. It's not a perfect phone, you can read below for areas that need some work, but it's dang close and the amazing design overwhelms other areas.

Two days was not enough time to thoroughly test and write a full review and I recommend you take some of those early reviews with a grain of salt. For example, the battery performed like any other typical high-end smartphone and was able to go just about a full day with standard usage. If you pushed it and used the camera for an hour or two then you could kill it faster, but that is not a typical usage scenario. People harshly judged the Droid DNA battery life and I am able to go a full day on LTE with that device.

Retail packaging

The first HTC One I had was a near-final model that came in a standard white reviewer box. A couple days later I received a retail shipping product, international model, so I was able to see what one can expect when buying a device from their carrier or retailer.

The square box with rounded corners has a photo of the HTC One's front and back on the cover with some basic specs shown on the back. It is an eco-friendly package that is 98% recyclable and 76% fast renewable.

IMGP1097

Inside you will find the HTC One, USB cable, USB A/C adapter, microSIM removal tool, and wired stereo earbuds. The earbuds are black with red tips, but they are not Beats Audio headphones. However, they do fit well and sound decent, so if you don't have a pair of headphones you may appreciate these. I haven't seen a headset included from US carriers lately so this may not come in all packages.

Hardware experiences

You will find a few sections on the HTC One hardware below. Keep in mind that the unit I am testing is an international model without LTE support for the USA.

First impressions

I already posted the specifications, walk around the hardware, and a bit more in my first impressions article so I won't repeat all of that here. I can tell you that the HTC One feels as good in my hand now as it did when I first pulled it from the package and it honestly is difficult to put the device aside.

There are some different elements going on with the HTC One, including a gorgeous display with soft glass, two laser-drilled speaker grilles in silver, glossy chamfered edges, white plastic sandwiched around the edges and leading boldly across the metal back, finished off with a solid aluminum back that reminds me of my MacBook Pro material.

My advice to every reader is to visit a store as soon as the HTC One is launched and put one in your hand before you decide on your next smartphone purchase. Even if you know you are going to buy an iPhone 5, just hold the HTC One first so you can feel the ultimate in smartphone hardware design.

Specific HTC One experiences

Display

You might think the hardware itself is fantastic and then when you turn on the display you just sit back and look at awe at what comes alive in front of you. HTC knows how to make a LCD display and the HTC One even trumps the industry-leading HTC One X display. Fonts are crispy, blacks are dark, viewing angles are crazy, and photos look fabulous.

I also like what HTC has on there for fonts, as well as the cool white outline on black icons they have for their weather widget. The HTC One display impresses me like the Chromebook Pixel display did on a laptop.

Performance

The HTC One is FAST and everything I do happens instantly. There is no observable screen lagging and moving my finger over the display feels like using an iPhone. With 2GB of RAM and a quad-core processor there is nothing slowing down the HTC One and it truly is a refreshing experience. I have had frustrating HTC experiences in the past so I greatly appreciate such an experience.

Camera

I conducted some testing of the camera, but still plan a couple more articles and just need to find the time and proper venue for testing. I specifically plan to compare the Lumia 920 directly with the HTC One for still photos and for video because they both have OIS and that was a major reason I bought a Nokia Lumia 920 in the first place. I also want to share with you the powerful camera editing functions that let you remove photo bombers, create sequence shots, touch up your face, and much more.

Speaking of the camera, I used the HTC One to capture lots of Zoes, stills, and video over the past week, including a weekend work trip I had. My one caution for you as you use Zoes is to understand that a short video clip and 20 still images are captured each time you capture a Zoe, so you will see LOTS of photos stacking up in your device memory as you capture content. As you can see in the photo below, the front-facing camera works quite well on the HTC One and the wide-angle lens is useful for capturing scenes like the following.

HTCOneFrontFacing

Make sure to check out my post on HTC Zoes and video highlights, since I go into detail on how to customize the content in the videos. I travel quite a bit and am planning to capture content with the HTC One and share it in unique manners with my family and friends.

Battery life

As I said, this model does not have LTE so I cannot test those speeds or impact on battery life. I also did not enable the power saver mode, but will now that I am testing it more for long term usage. I used the HTC One to wake me up at about 4:10 am, spent 45 minutes on the train reading YouVersion Bible, checking Twitter, clearing out email, and listening to podcasts. I then used the device while at work for my calendar, email, and sometimes for plain music in the background. I ended the day with another train commute home (again using the One for streaming music and Twitter). I took photos after work, during breaks, and on the weekends.

Capturing lots of Zoes, video, and pics does seem to hit the battery harder than other phone usage. However, I never reached the point where the phone died on me, and I was able to go most days without recharging. I charge all of my modern devices each night and I also usually top off at work if I am working at my desk most of the day.

In my experiences, the HTC One has done as well as my iPhone 5, BlackBerry Z10, and others, while doing better than the Nokia Lumia 920. However, nothing can really beat the Galaxy Note II with its monster size and battery, and I am alright with that.

Audio experiences

I wrote about and shared a video of the external speakers in action. They are impressive and given that the HTC One creates highlight videos on the fly it is important to have good integrated experiences to share those videos with people right after they are created. I personally enjoy them with Songza and some jazz while I am writing.

Phone calls

I know most people use their phones today for data, but I also do make some phone calls. The HTC One was fantastic for calls and, as I will discuss later, I am a major fan of their phone user interface. People said I sounded good and they all sounded great on the HTC One.

Topics: Mobility, Android, HTC, Reviews, Smartphones

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133 comments
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  • No MicroSD, No Sale

    At least for me, if there's no MicroSD slot, I won't buy it. I keep *all* my digital photos on my phone. It's my own version of off-site backup, and the folder gets bigger week by week. Sure the 64 GB version of the HTC One might be OK for now, but in a year or so, it might not be. For me, being able to easily add storage is a huge deal.
    bmgoodman
    • Re: It's my own version of off-site backup

      Considering how easy it is to lose a phone, I wouldn't do that if I were you.
      ldo17
    • Get with the times

      Every time I hear someone say they "NEED" an SD slot on their phone, I picture some elderly person clinging-on to their 1980's PC with floppy disks.
      furious00
      • Need may be too strong a word

        But want -- a lot -- is certainly totally reasonable. And the OP wants it, a lot. For him it is a differentiator that makes a phone that is otherwise tempting much less so. And that's his opinion. You may not "need" one, so go ahead and get a One or an iPhone or a Lumia 920 or a...and enjoy it.
        x I'm tc
      • Oh please

        There are definitely use cases where a ton of storage is important. People immediately assume that we're just too stupid to put our pictures and movies and music on THE CLOUD! but there are space-hungry apps that can't be so easily offloaded.

        Now maybe eventually someone will write an app that can swap apps between phone storage and THE CLOUD! as needed, but this might not be such a hot idea for most people given that the major carriers have all axed unlimited data in order to squeeze more money from their customers who use THE CLOUD! like they're encouraged to do.

        Thus, I remain of the opinion that more storage is better and less storage is worse.
        Jim McNary
        • I guess I'll start to worry

          if I ever fill up the 16G onboard....still got over 10G free, but then I don't keep ever song I own or picture I've taken on the phone. Why would I?
          timspublic1@...
          • why wouldnt I want a large video and music collection

            If I am out and about I want to be able to choose something to suit my mood at the time - it doesn't take many HD videos to fill up an internal card -especially when it often doesn't have anywhere near the headline space available. However it is horses for courses - if you don't store tons of data, play large games or use your phone as a constant entertainment device, and you don't want to hack or mess around with it, then you don't need Micro SD. The point being made is that the presence of a micro sd would not stop you from buying one however the absence of one will stop others, why lose even a part of your potential market over such a cheap small thing.
            cymru999
          • Full HD movies

            all you need to do to fill up 16gb is load a bluray movie on your phone.
            with a full hd screen that storage limit becomes restrictive real easily.
            warboat
          • Also lossless audio compression as a use of space

            I never have enough room to keep very much of it lossless, and I really prefer not having the artifacts of lossy compression - the high frequencies are not great and the bottle is kind of lifeless... If you really listen.
            Schoolboy Bob
          • Buy your movies from Google Play

            They stay in the cloud and you can stream them to your phone without using memory.
            wiseoldbird
          • Try that on the subway sometime.

            Let us know how it goes.
            sleepdawg
          • So you get an SD card

            and fill 4 movies on the phone? So more memory isn't really useful to you either.

            I think you can use a compression technique to get near HD quality and not take nearly the space!
            wiseoldbird
          • wait what?

            being able to store 4 movies on an SD card is not useful?
            that's 4 more movies that I can store without an SD card.
            Don't give me this cloud streaming excuse. If I want to stream it, I have that choice. If I want to view movies offline because I don't have unlimited data then the choice is mine.
            warboat
          • To be fair

            Even compressed you are talking at least a Gig. Realistically 1.5 to take advantage of the high res screen. I don't know who needs this, not many people sit around watching movies on their phones, but I have on occasion. But 32gb with 8-9gb of music, 1-2 of other still leaves room for 3-4 movies for those rare occasions.
            stano360
        • Unlimited Data

          Both Sprint and T-Mobile offer unlimited data, and AT&T as well, if you're grandfathered in (as I am).
          Derek Barr
          • T-Mobile

            offers "unlimited data" but after 5 gigs they throttle the bandwidth to about 70Kb/s
            wiseoldbird
          • Sprint

            They are the only true unlimited. No throttling!
            jet1959mo@...
        • If you have the cloud

          and unlimited bandwidth, why would you swap anything back and forth? Old style thinking there.

          Are you upset with your phone cuz you can't send the AT transmission commands, like you did with your modem?
          wiseoldbird
          • new age sheep

            I don't have unlimited data. using airtime to stream data is also taxing on the battery.
            I don't keep my life in the cloud, that's for ignorant noobs.
            warboat
          • *bingo*

            ;)

            Seriously, the cloud - and the draconian, bloodsucking terms of service (royalty-free copy and all), is for the n00bs and r00bs...
            HypnoToad72