The HTC One is one of the most eagerly anticipated handsets in recent history. It’s a flagship, ‘hero’ phone for one thing, so it’s designed to how off the very best of what’s on offer. And with a price tag shading over £500 inc VAT, it has to be top-notch.
It comes at a crucial time for HTC. Once the darling of the smartphone world, HTC is suffering from its own recent lacklustre performance and from the all-conquering strength of Samsung, whose rise and rise seems to show no sign of abating any time soon. The HTC One has a lot of weight on its slim little shoulders – it has to do nothing less than keep HTC in the game.
Fortunately for HTC - and for those who like to see healthy competition between rivals - the HTC One is a splendid phone. It’s not without niggles, but it does enough to give HTC the lift it needs and there are plenty of innovations onboard to lure you in.
The build is superb. Aluminium and plastic unite with the former acting as the front and the backplate, and the latter being the edging that houses all the handset’s buttons and connectors. There are curves everywhere you look. The corners are rounded. The backplate curves inwards ever so slightly as it reaches the long and short edges. The top and bottom edges curve slightly at the back. It’s the kind of thing you barely notice, but it adds panache. Beware, though: that metal backplate is likely to be easily scratched.
Buttons and connectors are sparse and they blend in with the generally minimalist feel of the HTC One. The microUSB port is on the bottom of the phone and the headset connector is on the top, along with the on/off button. A thin volume rocker sits almost flush with the right edge, but it is raised enough to find by touch – just. HDMI out is via the MHL-compliant microUSB port, though you will need to buy a cable to use it.
There’s no escaping that this is a monster of a phone. It is exceptionally thin at just 9.3mm, but it feels very big in the hand thanks to the 4.7in screen. I’m not so sure I like the height that’s required above and below the screen to accommodate the pair of speaker grilles. They look fine with their pinhole design, but they do make the handset tall. On the other hand, they bash out the sound to a high volume and impressive quality, and if you are into mobile gaming with good sound effects, video, music or using the built in FM radio, then you’ll be a fan.
As you would expect from a top-end handset, the HTC One supports 4G, so it’ll be ready for super speeds when they get to you, if you don’t have access to them already. It also has NFC onboard so you’ll be ready if (and when) that really takes off.
Keen to offer something a bit different, HTC has also included infrared. The port is incorporated into the on/off button. This is used with a software feature called Sense TV. In combination, they let you view EPGs for your particular setup – Sky, Freesat, Freeview or Virgin Media – and remotely control your entertainment equipment.
You can do a horizontal sweep to get to more home screens. BlinkFeed didn’t do it for me, by being a bit too in your face and leaving no room for the shortcuts I like to have on the main home screen. The only way I found to get BlinkFeed out of my sight was to designate a different screen as the main home screen and leave BlinkFeed on the outer reaches of my home screen set. You can’t remove it and free up its home screen.
The app menu has had a makeover, putting the clock on its screen, spreading apps out more and using folders to keep them tidy. You can fiddle with this and take it back to the standard app menu design if you like.
Then there’s Kid Mode, which lets you create a walled garden within which only certain apps are accessible. So you can be sure your little darling(s) won’t trash your phone. This is a third party app that requires a subscription and any user can get it on any Android (or iOS) device, so it is hardly an innovation. HTC might have been better off doing something similar to what it does with its excellent Car mode for when you are driving, by which I mean building its own app.
But of course, as a flagship phone, the inner specifications are also top-notch. The quad-core 1.7GHz processor and its 2GB of supporting RAM were barely troubled by any demands I made. The response to screen taps and sweeps is lightning fast. I did notice the phone running warm if I pushed the processor to play video for prolonged periods, though.
With all these top-end specifications and extras floating about, you might be surprised to see that the main camera has a 4-megapixel sensor. But they’re actually ‘UltraPixels’, designed to improve the camera’s overall performance. I found image to be sharp, bright and clear – I didn’t hanker for a higher pixel count. And image file sizes are smaller than those on cameras with more megapixels, which is handy if you want to keep them on the internal memory.
And you’ve got that Zoe mode people are talking about. Effectively you shoot a 3-second video and can pick frames to keep as a photo or keep the whole thing. Individual videos can be stitched together for sharing. I’m not sold on the idea, but it is novel and could catch on.
Battery life is, perhaps not surprisingly, not as good as I’d like to see. You can kick in to power saver mode if you want to prolong battery life, but you may well find you need to boost the juice towards the late afternoon if you’ve had a heavy usage day.
The HTC One is a stunner to look at, and its screen is superb. The processor should be able to cope with anything, and sound quality is great. I'm not sold on BlinkFeed and wish I could remove it to free up a home screen. Zoe, too, might turn out to be a gimmick in the long term, though the camera itself is fine.
It's a real pity about the lack of microSD card support, the aluminium chassis might look great for a few weeks but get scratched, and battery life could become a perennial irritation. Still, even with these niggles in the mix, the One definitely gives HTC the boost it needs right now.
1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600
4.7in, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm