In case you didn't already know, the HTC One launched in London today. While our editorial don Riyad Emeran was checking out the main event at the German Gymnasium up in King's Cross, I was invited to attend a more intimate gathering at Phones 4u's flagship store in Oxford Street. There, I had the chance to get my paws on the new hero phone, the results of which can be viewed via the slideshow below. It's far too early to judge the handset, of course, but a few things did strike me as noteworthy based on a brief play with the device.
Let's start with the obvious: the HTC One is an impressive piece of craftsmanship and design. Handling is one of the few things you can get a decent idea of from a quick spin, and this smartphone feels every bit the premium offering it's intended to be. The full aluminium chassis is smooth and pleasing to hold, and while it's nice and slender at 9.3mm and feels light in the palm, it also manages to come across as secure, not just svelte and handsome. Without wanting to compromise what HTC has brought to the plate here, I couldn't help but think that the One and its minimalist design had a little whiff of Apple about it. The Full HD display is as seductive as it should be, and HTC's decision to go with a 4.7in screen as opposed to catching the five inch bug like many other manufacturers appears to have paid dividends: images looked crisp and sharp, with a rough calculation revealing a pixel density just shy of 470ppi.
What's also striking is the way HTC has really gone to town with the latest version of its custom Android overlay, Sense 5.0. In fact, to the uninitiated, it looks almost nothing like a traditional Android layout: the BlinkFeed live home screen foregrounds custom content and reminds me of Windows Phone 8 more than anything else. It's miles away from a vanilla version of Jelly Bean 4.2 - as found on the Nexus 4, for example - which may hamper software upgrades in the long run, but looks like rewarding users for the foreseeable future.
Then there's the much-lauded UltraPixel camera, which has been dubbed Zoe. Spec purists should know that it's roughly equivalent to a 13-megapixel measurement, but as HTC was keen to stress throughout the event, the One is all about the user experience as opposed to numbers on a sheet of paper.
To that end, the Highlights feature looked like it's going to win over a fair few consumers, transforming your image gallery from a static state into a dynamic, flowing stream of media. Similarly, BoomSound might have a slightly hilarious moniker but the audio on the HTC One genuinely seemed a cut above that found on the average smartphone. There's the latest Beats Audio technology, but what seems more likely to be making the difference in terms of sound richness is the addition of front stereo speakers. OK, it won't power the next get together of your local dubstep society, but it seemed good enough for adding some extra ambiance to a room full on non-audiophiles. Elsewhere, the HTC One offers more specifications that put it at the top of its class: there's a quad-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz, 2GB RAM, and a 64GB on-board storage iteration on the way to satisfy content hoarders and complement the more standard 32GB model.
To summarise, I've had my grubbies on a fair few gadgets and the HTC One is a rare case of something that I'm sad not to be able to walk away with. I didn't get a chance to explore some of the new Sense features as much as I would have liked, so watch this space - we're looking forward to getting hold of one of these slick little numbers and really putting it through its paces in the near future.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for some imminent spec comparisons - with the likes of the BlackBerry Z10 and Sony Xperia Z also turning heads early on in 2013 and Mobile World Congress once again just around the corner, there's a bevy of juicy showdowns in the making. We'll also be keeping a close watch on HTC One availability - Phones 4u revealed today that the device will be available free on contracts from £36 a month, with a full consumer release set for mid-March. Pre-ordering has gone live and the Phones 4u website indicates a provisional delivery date of 15 March, for those really wanting to pin things down.