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

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.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

Software and HTC Sense 5

In addition to the fantastic hardware, HTC teams put a lot of work into HTC Sense 5 and related software. Here are some thoughts on these new features:


The central focus of HTC Sense 5 is BlinkFeed and it comes as the default home screen. You can of course easily change this or swipe once to get back into a standard HTC Android experience. However, even as a power user, I find I spend most of my time browsing or "snacking" on the information shown on BlinkFeed. Yes, it is similar to Flipboard, but offers more personal information and has a cooler user interface. HTC apparently studied people and found they enjoy snacking on information like this, and even though I thought I would hide this part of the experience, I am loving it.

My wife can't wait to have her HTC One with BlinkFeed setup for Facebook since she primarily uses her phone for Facebook, photos, text messages, and calls.

Phone interface

Speaking of calls, I wrote about the Windows Phone look to the phone utility and I personally love it. I like how easy it is to navigate and how well laid-out the dialer display is.

Application launcher

HTC also provides a custom app launcher and, for the most part, I like what I see when I have the 4x5 grid selected. However, I do not like that I have to drag an icon up to the top to the double arrow (if I am on a different screen) and then back down again to drop it in a folder.

Areas to work on

The HTC One is not perfect, but many of the things I would like to see changed can be taken care of with software updates. Here is my list of cons and recommendations:

  • Custom feeds in BlinkFeed. I see that HTC is increasing content partners — Android Central is there now — but I would still like the ability to fully control the content that appears in my BlinkFeed.
  • Zoes and memory consumption. I understand that the way Zoes work is to capture burst shots, however I wish there was a less manual way than to have to manage hundreds of photos and many that may look nearly identical to each other.
  • App launcher organization. I should not have to drag icons up to the top of the screen and then back down below the clock to place them in folders.

Things I still need to test

I plan to continue testing the HTC One, including the OIS video I mentioned above. I also need to do more testing on the HTC TV utility and IR port, but I don't have cable so there is limited usefulness for me. Anything else you wish me to try out?

Closing thoughts

I plan to buy an HTC One as soon as it comes on T-Mobile. I thought about a Verizon one, but they haven't announced one and they already have the Droid DNA that looks to be about 95% of what the HTC One already is. I also plan to buy my wife one to replace her Lumia 900. This is the first Android phone she has really been trying to take from me and she agrees that the hardware is stunning.

HTC needs to put some major marketing behind the HTC One. It is clearly a better piece of hardware than anything else out there or coming soon and deserves a fighting chance. HTC did just about everything they could with the hardware and software while also making broad carrier deals to get the device launching on three of the top four US carriers. Now it is time to tell the story of the HTC One and let the world touch it.

I recommend you check out some other reviews of the HTC One, summarized and linked on the GDGT page where the critic reviews show an average of 8.9. If I had a rating system, I would give the HTC One something like 9.5 to 9.8 out of 10. I can't really find anything to complain about and the few minor issues I have are correctable with software updates.

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