Samsung and Apple better beware – the HTC One combines stunning design, a supreme screen and explosive power to offer one of the best smartphones around.
It's got a full HD screen crammed into 4.7 inches, which brings a 468ppi resolution – well above what's needed for the eye to discern, and it does definitely bring sumptuous sharpness throughout the use of the phone.
On top of that there's a CPU and RAM combo that is barely bettered, a more-than-enough 32GB of storage and top-end Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3G / 4G connections, all topped off by a completely re-imagined version of HTC Sense. What's not to like?
The HTC One is at the sharp end of the smartphone price scale, although can be had for around £34 per month on a two year deal in the UK, which isn't too bad at all compared to the competition. There was something of a delay in getting the phone out on the shelves, but that's been fixed now (rumours that it was down to the camera production are strong, but unconfirmed).
There are now a number of PAYG and off-contract deals for the HTC One, but all will ask for between £470-£480 for the phone before letting you walk off with a slice of UltraPixel pie. It's a little under what's been asked for other high-end phones such as the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4, which is a real feather in the cap for the One.
The design of the HTC One is something that you simply have to experience in the hand. Where people who pick up the Samsung Galaxy S4 will go "Oh, it's a bit plastic, isn't it? But ooh, it's quite light" and those who encounter the iPhone 5 will, to a person, say "Ooh, it's very light isn't it? You don't expect it to be that light!" those who try the HTC One will simply intone: "Oh, that's really nice. Really, really nice."
And do you know why? Simple: the HTC One is one of the best-designed phones on the planet. Not content with inventing a new machining process to enable the body to be all aluminium, the Taiwanese firm has extended the screen to the edges of the chassis further than ever before, meaning you're getting a 4.7-inch Full HD display without the additional heft you'd probably expect.
It's even thinner than its predecessor, the HTC One X (we know, that naming strategy leaves a lot to be desired) and as such slides nicely in the pocket. It's not light either, weighing more than most of the competition, but rather than feeling overweight, combined with the metallic chassis it oozes a premium build. Samsung is probably hoping not a lot of people hold this phone side-by-side with the new S4 as otherwise the buying choice is going to be a lot more of a worry for the Koreans.
On top of that, there's a whole host of little design wins that delight when you first try the HTC One. For instance, the machined holes that enable sound to emanate from the dual front-facing speakers (can you say BOOMSOUND?) look amazing, and the lines on the back of the phone give a nice textured movement to things, helping to break up the constant greyness of the aluminium.
You could argue that straight-on it looks far too much like either an iPhone 5, with its chamfered edges, or a BlackBerry Z10, and you'd have a good point, since this phone doesn't reinvent the rectangle-with-rounded-edges formula that we're so used to. But in the hand the curved back brings a whole new dimension to things.
There's a zero-gap construction at work here as well, which means that you won't find any gaps, holes or light leakages to make you feel like you've not spent your hard-earned cash on something wonderful.
The volume control on the right-hand side of the phone is in the same dazzling metal, and contrasts nicely with the rubber/plastic that makes up the sides. Our sample actually showed a fair amount of wiggle in this area, and slightly detracted from the overall premium feel.
The power button resides on the top, and doubles as the infra-red blaster - however, this is one of the poorer points as it doesn't have a whole lot of travel.
Similarly, the placement of this button, even on a phone that's been shrunk down while accommodating a larger screen, is still a bit inconvenient. We had to shuffle the phone around in the palm to turn it on and off on many occasions, and a lot of the time we couldn't use our thumb to hit the whole of the screen without jiggling the phone up and down.
That's another problem with the design: it's pretty slippery thanks to the metallic chassis. We thankfully only ever suffered two serious drops when we were about a foot off the carpet (basically scrabbling for it to turn off the alarm in the morning) and a more alarming one stepping out of a cab, but there have been a few near misses when trying to manoeuvre around the screen.
If only that power button was on the side, or a physical home button unlocked the phone, this whole issue would be negated for a large part.
But as we mentioned, HTC has wandered away from the physical buttons - where once it put a trackpad in the Nexus One, now it's stripped the capacitive buttons down from three to two, with the multi-tasking option going the way of the dodo. You can still get the same functionality by double tapping the home button, but it's not the same.
Overall though, you can guess we're impressed with the construction and design of the HTC One. We're not even looking at final hardware here - although we appear to have got lucky with our sample, as there are few design flaws in sight - so the chances of metallic chipping ('because that's just what it does....' OK, Apple) are slight to say the least - providing you don't fling it on tarmac. Seriously, we tried that... don't do it.
We thought we'd scuffed it so many times during our test, but each time it was simply a slight amount of dirt or dust that wiped right off.
HTC has been hard at work redesigning Sense once more, and the HTC One is the first phone to bear the fruits of that labour. Sense 5 (as it's colloquially, if not officially, called) is another step forward in the Android overlay story, but we think this is the biggest yet from HTC.
We're talking a whole new button layout, a new grid for the menu icons, geometric patterns replacing the over-complicated widgets of old; in short, it's simple, stark and we really like it.
There's no doubt that it's still a little heavy on the old processor - a quick trip to the battery usage settings will confirm that - but what HTC has done is bring the notion of Android (4.1.2, if you're interested, which you totally are, you naughty thing) to a wider audience by, well, making it less Android-y.
The option to add widgets and such has been brushed to the side to some degree, with BlinkFeed taking centre stage (and you can read our bigger rundown of BlinkFeed on its own, separate, section). Instead of the home button taking you to your collection of homescreens, BlinkFeed will pop up, in all its Windows Phone-like glory.
However, it only takes a swipe to the right to access the homescreens as you know them from Android of old, although you get a miserly five home screens to customise. And customising them isn't easy - you either have to long press on the home screen and choose the apps that way, or drag them from the menu via the shortcut icon at the top. More convoluted than on other Android phones, that's for sure.
But enough of that - how does the interface work under the finger? In short, blazingly well, as you'd expect from a phone rocking a quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor. Add to that 2GB of RAM and you've got a phone that would be most fanatics' dream, and it really lives up to the promise.
From opening and closing apps to browsing multiple tabs on the internet, there's nothing that can slow down the HTC One, and you'll really appreciate that in day to day life.
You can also choose from a number of lockscreen types, be it productivity for emails, calendar entries or messages - and a swipe upwards while holding said missive will launch it directly too.
It's a little sad that we've lost the HTC ring that we grew to love so quickly, but the geometric simplicity of Sense 5 is enough to calm the urges to run back to a Sensation.
You can select a range of pictures to wander past your eyes, have some tunes on offer or simply have no lockscreen at all if you're convinced nobody is in there trying to get at all your precious smartphone data stored on the HTC One - and we're fans of the latter, as lockscreens are annoying if you have no need for them.
Once you're in and past BlinkFeed you can select whether to stick with the frankly under-selling 3x4 grid of apps ('People now want simplicity in an Android phone' say HTC rather unconvincingly.) If you want to have the right amount of apps, edit that instantly to show 20 on the screen at once, and you can order them in a number of ways too.
Widgets aren't locked away in the menu like on many other Android phones either, as all it takes is a long-press on any home screen and you're greeted with all the widgets on offer - which is admittedly rather few.
The dock at the bottom of the phone pervades through the homescreen and menu options, which means you can always launch the camera or internet browser from anywhere on the main screens - you can customise this with a long press, so if you only want the entire range of Angry Birds games at your fingertips, you can make that happen.
It's not obvious how this works if you want to change it - you'll have to be in the apps menu to do so. While you're there, you can also hide apps too, which is neat if you're stuck with a phone rammed with bloatware.
Compared to something like the Samsung Galaxy S4 the HTC One is a little under-powered when it comes to the interface, but where Samsung is all about the functionality HTC is about style and minimalism.
It doesn't chuck power options, connectivity settings and brightness adjustment in the notification bar (although we wish the option was there) so when you pull down to look at a message, you do just that.
It's annoying that the power saver option DOES live there, but then again when you need the extra power when things are getting a little shakey it's not a bad thing to have.
The interface on the HTC One is simple - really simple. It doesn't have a huge amount of peeking to see messages (BlackBerry, take note) nor does it do much more than telling you the time or the weather. But it does all this in a way that makes you feel like you're never missing anything and getting a stylish experience to boot that isn't like anything else on the market.
The closest we can equate it to is the LG Prada 3.0 phone's interface - and given that was designed by a fashion house, we'll call that pretty high praise indeed, if we don't say so ourselves.
HTC BlinkFeedBlinkFeed is HTC's attempt at moving away from the traditional homescreens of old on Android phones and bringing users something that will make the HTC One (and other models in the range) a little more unique.
The feed is a simple interface that borrows heavily from the Live Tiles of Windows Phone, which HTC is a main contributor to. The tiles are various sizes though, which makes things a little less repetitive for scrolling through to 'snack' on content.
The idea is a really sound one: giving a mish-mash of content, be that from curated news feeds on certain topics, videos shared from the HTC Zoe camera app or social network updates from your buddies.
There's an interesting rhythm to the content, as while news is clearly the most 'snackable' of all on offer (rather than hearing what TV programmes your friends are watching at that point) they obviously wane at certain times of the day, meaning you're left with a sea of Twitter updates.
We were initially very sceptical about BlinkFeed when we were told all about it from HTC before the One launched - and a lot of the reservations we had then still pervade.
For instance, the feeds are grouped by topic, and there's no mechanism to select specific outlets that you trust, or to add your own RSS feeds to the mix.
We understand a little why HTC is doing this: to preserve the UI, so sites with very poor pictures won't be filling the blocks on screen with loads of pixelated images. However, users ALWAYS prefer content control over an ideal, so an option to enable this has to be enabled. In fairness to HTC it's promised such functionality will be on the way, but it's never good to launch without the full arsenal.
Similarly, there's no 'learning' involved here either, so you can't vote up or down certain topics, or exclude certain people from being shown on the timeline. Again, we're not too bothered about this latter feature as BlinkFeed is actually pretty adept at getting things right, using data from Facebook and Twitter to see who you interact with regularly. Turning off retweets would be welcome though.
But more interesting than all of that is that BlinkFeed actually works much better than we thought it would. In the few days we had between turning on the phone and it become part of the daily routine, we found that time and again we returned to the feed to just get a feel for what's going on rather than opening the specific Flipboard, Facebook or Twitter apps themselves.
We particularly like the fact that tapping an article will show the picture and text in a reader-style mode, without the need to open the browser. It would be nice if this downloaded more quickly or cached over Wi-Fi (although you can auto-refresh the feed) as sometimes we're left waiting for more than a few seconds to read an article. Otherwise, all ace.
There's a pleasant 'snick' when you pull down the most recent story to refresh the feed, and in a move taken from Apple, you can tap the top of the screen to get back to the top of the list when you've gone a little too deep into your BlinkFeed - something that we only found by accident when we realised that scrolling all the way back up to the top was going to take a LONG time.
The overall UI is incredibly pleasing, not just because of the different sizes of the tiles. The weather and clock at the top of the app are a strong replacement for the traditional widget we're used to from HTC, and offer the information just when you need it. On top of that the slight pull down from the top of the list is a natural gesture to get you to the settings and ability to customise your feed - it's touches like this that show HTC has stepped things up with the One.
This is also the place to search through the current feed, which is actually a hugely valuable too. So often we want to mention something we read, but can't find it instantly. A quick BlinkFeed search will find all mentions of that term in news, TV or among your friends' missives, and brings a more holistic feel to the listing.
Sharing is meant to be part of the experience on the HTC One's BlinkFeed, and while you can put up statuses on Facebook and Twitter directly from the feed (with the 'posted from HTC Sense' tag) sharing news is a whole other issue. Instead of the story it will post a note that says 'HTC News' with no notion of what it's about, and then a link to a cached version of the article.
While that makes it easy for others to read on the mobile, it doesn't help spread the original article properly, which is what sharing is meant to be all about.
It's a shame that BlinkFeed isn't present on the lock screen, but given you can disable the lock screen altogether (a feature we're surprised hasn't been offered on more phones) it's not really needed.
Over time, you'll find your dependence on BlinkFeed will diminish as it becomes a mobile commodity - it's not a bad thing, but because you can't customise it very well at all, it's not very addictive.
The method of choosing categories is overly complex and while we like the results, there's so much more to come here. Also, not being able to turn it off from your home screen (not that we'd want to) is going to irk some users.
Overall, we were very impressed with BlinkFeed compared to the hopes we had for it; there's still a lot to do in terms of making the app more personal, as well as being able to choose and exclude the feeds and friends you get information from, as some news 'sources' are nowhere near such a thing.
However, on multiple occasions we found ourselves reading really interesting articles that we wouldn't have done previously, so for that reason alone we have to give BlinkFeed a big thumbs up as a USP on the HTC One, and look forward to the updates in the future that should address at least some of our wish list.
Contacts and callingWhen it comes to the contacts system on any HTC phone, we've been impressed for years, and the HTC One continues in that tradition. Whether it's simply knowing which contacts you want to join with which social network profiles, or just making sure that new and relevant information falls into the contact card, the HTC One manages it all with aplomb.
One of the big changes some users will note is that, unlike the Samsung Galaxy S4 or Nexus 4, the HTC One can pull in high resolution pictures from Facebook, which is a big plus.
While the others can do so from Google+, they eschew the same thing when it comes to other social networks, which is really annoying when you want the more popular profile pic of your friend to pop up when they call, but don't want it to be hideously blurry.
And to offset the times when there is no high resolution picture on offer, HTC has come up with a fun dotted picture that brings a stylised view to the picture, rather than just showing you a bunch of mashed together pixels.
It's a nice touch that adds to the premium feel - and we like the fact HTC calls them 'big pictures' in the settings menu, where you can select whether these are downloaded over Wi-Fi or mobile data too.
If you want to change the pic on offer, a simple tap on it in the contact menu will yield a little folder icon in the corner which will enable you to shoot a new one using the camera, head to the gallery to choose another or go from another social network if you're a fan of the blurry.
We're making a big deal about this for a reason - when people call you, seeing a big, sharp picture really improves the overall impression of the device, and anything that achieves that should be highlighted.
The contacts system is pretty much as simple as you want it to be, which is a big plus in our eyes. The tab on the right-hand side of the screen is easy to grab so you can scroll up and down the list to find the letter group you're after, and then all the names and pictures are laid out with the new, clean interface on offer from Sense 5.
Diving into the contact itself, and again it's easy to get the information you want, be it a history of all the ways you've interacted with the person over email, calling or texting, and details on their birthday if the information is there on Facebook too.
On top of that you can view their social networking updates in the same neat BlinkFeed interface HTC has developed, which means some natty pictures at times to punctuate the sea of white words on grey background. HTC is one of the few brands to still integrate picture albums drawn from Facebook into the contact profile as well, and while it might be a slightly unused feature, it's still a great tool to have.
The contacts system is simple enough to use, but if you've got multiple accounts on the go then you'll find it a little tricky to filter them all out at times - if you're not careful you'll end up with lists including Twitter, Google+, Facebook and more in your normally neat phonebook, so make sure you tag 'only those with phone numbers' in the settings menu.
Smart dialling, such a key function of any phone in our opinion, is on offer again in the HTC One, making it so much easier to quickly call up the profile and number of the person you want to get hold of simply by typing in the letters that correspond to their name using the T9 predictive text input method.
Each option comes up quickly, although we would like to see the One being a little more intuitive when it comes to deciding which person to show when there are multiple options for the same combination of numbers - if someone is in our 'favourites' list then it should be top here.
But we still love the contacts section of HTC phones, and the HTC One is an excellent way of organising your life that doesn't make it all a large hassle. Well done.
CallingThe calling on the HTC One is superb - we'll get that out the way early on. From the clever noise reduction to the fact you can boost the earpiece volume way over the necessary level you'd need it in most situations, we never struggled to talk to our friends on the go.
We tested walking past roadworks with drills a-go-go, and only when right next to them did things become inaudible for the person on the other end - impressively, we could still hear them.
The inbuilt amp helps with this, but more important is the fact the HTC One has incredible connection quality given its encased in an aluminium body.
We often found a bar or two more of signal on offer than other phones, and this translated to actual connection as well, with data popping down with no issues.
There's very little you can do when it comes to in call options, such as not being able to control noise reduction on the fly, but the things you need are there, such as activating the speaker and switching between a Bluetooth headset if you so wish.
It's nice, it's functional, and we didn't drop a single call during our tests. That's a win right there for a device that is still a phone at its heart, after all.
MessagingMessaging on the HTC One doesn't really re-invent the process in any way - it simply offers up the chance to connect with the people that you want to in the simplest way possible.
It's a hard section to really review, as anyone that's previously used an HTC will recognise the menus, the easy to use inboxes and will also be glad to note that the keyboard seems back up to HTC standards.
We say that because in the early days of the smartphone, the HTC keyboard was by far the most intuitive, but over time that power has become eroded as other options have caught up. Of course you can install a number of other keyboards, and we recommend SwiftKey if you're looking for a good one, but it's important that the stock offering works well.
The accuracy, as we mentioned, is high - plus the option to calibrate the keyboard by teaching it how fat-fingered you are is also a useful tool. HTC was one of the first manufacturers to embed Swype-style tracing of words on its keyboards, and that's a trick that's been repeated here, and it's pretty accurate to use as well (although you will need to enable it in the settings).
As you can guess, we like the HTC One keyboard because it is.... altogether now.... ACCURATE.
There is one issue in that the default setting for the keyboard is to have languages as a key, meaning you can switch between French and English and German - this is ridiculously easy to hit, thus ruining predictive text input, so get rid of that as soon as you can.
The messaging system itself is well laid out, with a new interface for the conversation view. Messages received have a nice white box around them, but those sent from your own fine fingers are greyed into the background. You might think you're writing a load of drafts to start with, but you're not. Move on.
You can easily append video or pictures to your missives by simply tapping the paperclip icon on the messaging interface, but on top of that you can do things like sending your location too. Try using this when you're explaining to a person using a smartphone where you are and you'll marvel at living in the future. Seriously, try it. It's ace.
The email client is one of the better ones we've seen on a smartphone, taking on the likes of the Windows Phone brigade in making the whole operation that much simpler.
There are easy checkboxes to hit when you need to choose messages to delete, and all those emails that come in a conversation won't litter your inbox as they group themselves together.
We like this latter feature, but make sure that you don't miss key messages through the grouping - you'll need to stay vigilant, and some will want to switch this off altogether just to be on the safe side.
There are loads of other little tricks that you can achieve with the HTC email client, such as being able to set your out of office messages directly from the menu (if you've got things so configured) and having a favourites section that shows you only the messages from the people that matter.
You can also think of this folder as a place to keep the fear-inducing messages from your boss and in-laws… it adds a touch of adrenaline to the business of checking your email every few seconds.
HTC has added in the ability to Smart Sync your email, which places it between push notifications and a periodic update, and seems to manage to throw emails at you when you need them - it works out when you're using the phone more and then decides to poll the server, rather than just doing it willy nilly when the HTC One is clearly asleep and unwanted.
Another key email feature, and one that's come from older HTC Sense iterations, is the ability to use folders with ease to navigate your way around. Tapping the Exchange menu dropdown will show recently used message folders, and you can easily find new ones.
The reason we mention this is many of you will be super-organised and keep your emails in dedicated folders on the desktop – and when you're out and about and need that address suddenly you'll be forced to dig it out. On some phones this is a real nightmare, but on the HTC One it's a snap to get to your emails, no matter where there are, and if you need to download older ones from the server it's as quick as a flash as well.
InternetThe internet browsing on the HTC One is similar to many other phones on the market launched using Ice Cream Sandwich or above - as in it offers you both Google Chrome and the inbuilt internet browser as a method of spreading your digital wings through the sprawling mass of the internet on the go.
However, while Google Chrome is undoubtedly useful in so many ways, such as being able to sync tabs across the desktop and mobile, beyond that we can't see a single reason you'll ever use it when the onboard browser is so much better.
Firstly, it's a lot faster, and we mean blazingly fast. We use that phrase a lot, but give the HTC One the speed to perform, be that over 4G or through a decent whack of Wi-Fi, and it will never let you down in terms of hanging and loading web pages.
Compare that to Chrome, which sometimes stutters when panning around or even loading the mobile version of sites, and you can see why we're favouring the former.
The HTC One internet browser has a really key feature that we want to speak about first: a Flash player that you can toggle on and off. Place in the settings menu, this is invaluable for using a web that still, despite Apple and even Adobe assertions to the contrary, still has a large whack of Flash video dotted around.
So when you run into these problems on something like the Samsung Galaxy S4 you'll either have to grin and bear it, or sideload the Flash player on there. In this case you can just enable it if you're desperate and toggle it off to save battery and performance when you're not. We're all about options, and this is a good one.
Another great thing we're happy to see is the fact you can have a number of tabs open; so many that we got to 12 before we couldn't be bothered to open any more. For a firm that once only let you have six tabs open at any one time, it's a real step forward, and helps when you're just opening and shutting web tabs all over the place. You also get a '.com' option on the keyboard.
One of our big criticisms of the HTC One's predecessor, the HTC One X, was that the web browsing experience was inconsistent in areas like trying to go back to the URL bar. Sometimes it would live at the top of the screen, sometimes it would disappear, and sometimes it would appear when scrolling at a certain speed.
While it's set as a pervasive option now (thank you), you can also have a clever gesture-based system too (that's hidden in the Labs section of the menu). This asks you to swipe from the side of the screen to open bookmarks, URL and check your tabs. It takes a while to get used to, but it's a very neat way of not having to shuffle the phone around in your hand to get around the web.
That said, there's no easy way to access the settings menu from there to enable Flash player or Desktop view, so it definitely needs more work.
Talking of bookmarks, if you're one of those that uses Chrome on the desktop then you'll find a lot of joy with the HTC One, as any bookmarks you have there (and have saved to Google from other phones) will all show up here, taking away another reason to ever use Chrome on the phone. They're nicely sorted and come with visual thumbnails that populate when you use them regularly.
Beyond that, just sit back and marvel at the size of the screen and the resolution on offer - we tell you now that when you're trying to get your head around an expansive web page full of text and you don't have to constantly zoom in, you'll love what's on offer here. Text is legible even from impossibly far out, making the HTC One one of the best phones on the market for whipping around the web.
And don't forget that HTC is still the master of making it easy to read the words on a page should you want to get closer to the action: a double tap not only brings you larger letters, but as soon as you pinch to zoom in further, the text will redraw itself to fit the screen without needing the confusing pattern of double taps on something like the Samsung Galaxy S4, and isn't even possible on the iPhone 5.
CameraA big change on the HTC One is the camera: it's 'only' a 4MP sensor. It should be put into context though: the camera has a smaller sensor but much larger pixels to allow in more light, and therefore more data, to make your pictures look that much better on the go.
The Ultrapixel method is one to be applauded, as it's pushing back on the 13MP image sensors that are being crammed into ever-thinner phones these days. HTC has published a blog detailing how this process was conceived, if you're after a bit more Ultrapixel info directly from the horse's mouth.
But what does that mean in reality? Well, you're getting a faster sensor for one thing, and that means you can take more snaps on the go. In fact, it's so fast that we didn't notice that it had fired on the odd occasion, although at other times it would have a bit of a think before saving your picture.
The same range of HTC gizmos are on offer here as seen in the HTC One X - so you can alter the ISO levels, change exposure, contrast and sharpness and also enable HDR mode through the onscreen menu.
HTC clearly wants you to use the front facing camera too - it's been given a spec bump to 2.1MP, making it close in power to the rear of the phone (without all the Ultrapixel jiggery-pokery) and as such takes great snaps. You simply slide your finger up and down the screen to jump between the two cameras as well as enabling the countdown timer if you so wish - it's not a strongly advertised feature, but when you find it, it's really impressive.
The interface for the camera isn't the easiest to use at times, simply thanks to the fact the buttons to hit are so small and there's a great deal of scrolling to alter the effects. There's no intelligent shot mode like that found on the Sony Xperia Z and LG Optimus G Pro, but it doesn't matter in many situations.
But if you want to fire the text mode (which alters the contrast of the picture) or get a little closer up to stuff using macro, you'll have to scoot through a few menu options.
It's also annoying that you can't use HDR (high dynamic range, where multiple exposures are captured of the same photo and stitched together) mode when shootings Zoes (more on that in a separate section) as this really improves the pictures no end.
Given you can use video HDR mode as well on the HTC One, we're not sure why it's not an option. HDR is a much better option than it used to be on older HTC phones, as it can manage to process in no time at all now. In fact, we wish it could be enabled by default rather than having to switch it on each time.
So onto the good stuff: is the HTC One camera actually any good given the bold move made on the camera front? The simple answer is yes, photos taken in a variety of scenes look pretty darn nice.
There's a lot of noise thanks to the lower pixel count at times, but the range of light levels you get to shoot in compared to other camera phones is excellent. We were surprised how trigger happy the flash was in auto mode given this ability. The HTC One DESTROYS the Galaxy S3 at low-light ability, as you'll see in the photos below, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 doesn't add a huge amount in this arena.
And the photos we took looked stunning at times on the phone screen, which HTC says is where most of them stay - which we agree with to a degree. However, on the computer screen things are oddly different, with higher exposure and some loss of detail.
You probably won't look at many photos this way, but if you're thinking of uploading them to Facebook, you probably will get some people checking out your efforts at a larger size.
We've noted some criticism of the HTC Ultrapixel system already, and yes, if you really care about photos on the go, working hard on scene composition all the time and fiddling with the exposure chances are you won't want this phone. Ultrapixels work well enough, but there's definitely a lot more to come from the technology.
Another 'failing' some perceive for the HTC One is that, by default, the phone shoots in 16:9 size, rather than the traditional 4:3. Well, again, if the photos are only ever going to be viewed on the screen on on a social networking site, then it makes sense that they should fill the display. We know there are many good reasons to have photos in the 4:3 format, but the user base of the HTC One is less likely to be bothered by those.
However, for most people they'll be overjoyed with the photo quality on the HTC One. The combination of fast shooting, accurate focus, sharp continuous shooting and a nippy HDR mode, combined with photos that look good on the phone screen, will impress many.
And let's be honest, that's the reason we buy a phone with a camera on it, right?
HTC ZoeThe HTC One comes with a new trick indeed in the shape of Zoe, a mode on the camera that takes 0.6 seconds of HD footage before you press the shutter button and three seconds afterwards, meaning you get a 'moving photo' to give all manner of information about what's actually been happening.
In reality, it's more of a quirky feature that does at least take on the notion that you have to have still images in the gallery all the time, as instead of loads of people staring blankly at you from a grid of snaps, the gallery is an orgy of motion as cats bounce about, people walk out of shot and blinking brings a tidal wave of eyelids.
It's a cool idea though, although one big issue is that you have to hold the camera up for a while to capture the Zoe properly, and while many people are used to posing for a while for a cameraphone snap, three seconds feels like an eternity while you wait for that red bar to fill up while the image/movie is captured.
The HTC One also confusingly will turn this high res movie into many, many images in the folder. This won't show up in the gallery, but if you want to share a photo with a third party app like Facebook you'll suddenly find you've got hundreds of snaps when you thought you'd only taken 15. Also, the file sizes are massive, with a single event (made up of around 10 Zoes) taking up half a gigabyte of space on your unexpandable hard drive.
You can save these to an HTC Zoe Share server to show to family and friends and free up valuable space, but they will expire after a month rather than living there indefinitely. Of course, you can use something like Dropbox here, but it doesn't really solve the fact that long term you'll need to be really frugal with your memories.
But enough of that - let's get onto the good stuff, and that's the ability to see your memories in a really fun 30 second video highlight reel. The HTC One will look at your snaps and auto-create the short video based on a date or location for the photos being taken (if you've enabled geo-tagging of your snaps).
The results are really rather pleasing, meaning a few pointless snaps of a cat or your Mum being, frankly, hilarious are turned into something that looks a lot more professional.
The downside is that there are only six effects to choose from, each with their own way of mixing motion and still from the Zoes you've made, and to different music and effects each time. HTC has promised that it's working hard on making it so you can create your own effects to your own music, but the issue there is beat matching, as the scenes will change based on the rhythm of the music itself.
While the idea of this is initially quite strong, it gets a LOT more complicated if you want to have a level of control over these video highlight reels. In addition to the Date or Location grouping, (which don't always work, as you might take loads of photos in a certain place, or on a certain day, that you don't want to see in the highlight reel) you can choose an Event to make a video highlight reel for.
However, to make an event isn't easy, as you need to press a few times to get to your photos, then open the settings, then select 'Move to' before setting up a new album. And the size of the Zoes dictates that this moving process takes a while, which is annoying as it should just be an internal tagging process.
Once that's done, the video highlight reel is created without an issue, and that works pretty well. You can choose the 13 pictures that make up the reel itself, so if there's something that doesn't quite have the desired effect you can scrap it to include something more dynamic, and if you took a photo with the highlight footage in mind you can make sure it's included.
It would also be great if you could choose your establishing shot - the one at the start of the movie - rather than it working chronologically, as otherwise it can really take a while to get things going highlight-wise.
HTC has also acknowledged an early bug in the shape of not properly being able to choose the pictures used for the event. While you can go in and select up to 13 to populate the highlight reel, it will still show you items that you didn't want in there, which can ruin the effect.
While we sound rather negative about this new feature, that's not the intention at all - once you know how to create them, the highlight reels and Zoes are a really, really neat feature, and being able to share them to Facebook with a simple tap is nice.
A Zoe is no use if you like to share specific snaps, as you'll need to go into the short video and choose a frame to save as the photo - only have the Zoe idea turned on if you like making highlight reels.
It's just there's a lot more that could be done here to make the whole process more slick, and not eat up so much space on your phone - but then again, if you're after a handset with expandable memory, the HTC One isn't the one you're looking for.
MediaMedia on the HTC One is a game that's hard to typify as the handset is clearly set up for such an activity, and yet it makes it quite hard to use at times. The first thing we'll deal with is BoomSound - and not just because it reminds us of this every time we say the word.
BoomSound is the combination of the two front facing speakers and the inbuilt amp to help boost the sound through your headphones - and both chuck out fantastic sound. The latter really does boost the volume levels to a give as more even tone to your tunes, while the former is simply amazing when you're showing off videos to friends and loved ones. As you always do, you bore, you.
Actually, that was one of our biggest criticisms of BoomSound and the two front-facing speakers - we didn't think many people would ask others to crowd around a phone screen that often, thus rendering the technology pointless unless you're alone in a hotel room and want to make the sound of the female actress you're watching sound all the more accurate.
But in just a few days we found ourselves showing off the quality of the front speakers on a number of occasions - be it the newest version of Gallon Smashing, or a particularly dead-horse-flogging Harlem Shake video - and each time, the bass and clarity of the music was so impressive, unlike anything we've heard coming from a mobile phone.
Also, with the addition of HTC Zoe video highlight reels, you'll find that showing off your work at splicing together pictures is used a lot more often too, and the sound quality really adds to the show. So while it's perhaps not the most important thing in the world to have on a smartphone, BoomSound works.
MusicThe music ability of the HTC One is something not to be sniffed at, and is easily the equal of anything else out there. The music hub has been dropped in favour of a pre-loaded folder with all your music and media bits in one place, which leads to the lovely and confusing Music and Google Music, both apps denoted by a headphones icon, living side by side.
The former is just the onboard music player, the latter the new service from the search giant that lets you upload your tunes to one place and stream them back down again.
Both offer high quality sound, and more importantly, both can run on the lock screen, which is a real annoyance when using the Samsung Galaxy S3, although this has since been rectified with the Samsung Galaxy S4. However, Google Music, for all its power, still needs a data connection at all times, so unless you're on an unlimited plan its worth staying away.
HTC Music doesn't have the cool SoundHound integration that we're used to, although the app is present on the phone. But what it does bring is new visuals and lyrics to songs if they're available (providing the song information is correct and GraceNote can access it).
It's a fun feature for when you're trying to work out the real words (turns out it wasn't 'wipe in the Vaseline') but unless you've got aspirations of making it BIG on the professional karaoke circuit, this isn't going to be a lot of use. Good when combined with the BoomSound speakers though.
The size of the internal memory means you'll be OK for space for a fairly decent-sized music collection, although if you're partial to making Zoes all over the place you might want to keep an eye out for the 64GB version of the phone, as we can see a critical storage error cropping up quickly when you want to lob a decent-sized chunk of music on there.
Why no slot?So, let's address the elephant in the room here - the lack of the expandable memory slot. We spoke to SanDisk about this problem, and the flash memory maker - which maintained neutrality on the issue of memory card slots as it provides the flash memory either way - and it confirmed that HTC has missed out on the slot again to preserve the design of the HTC One.
SanDisk also said that while it didn't think the card slot was needed for a lot of people, it's still one of the most important things for consumers look for when buying a top end smartphone, and as such, could be seen as a big omission.
We agree to a point - the need for a memory card slot is definitely decreasing, but there's no doubt the HTC One couldn't have benefitted as there's no place to get rid of your Zoes to. You can upload them as movies to Dropbox, for instance, and you can save the video highlights as MP4 files and store them on YouTube, but in reality, most people will just leave them on their phone until space fills up.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is going to pack a memory card slot, the Sony Xperia Z manages to do so - so come on HTC, what gives?
You can make the case that people don't need it, but when a video package is so easy to create yet munches 0.5GB of the addressable memory (which is already lower than the 32GB advertised thanks to the OS) and you can see a problem coming. Please don't let's see a repeat of the situation where apps can't be installed due to storage size.
We've had a chat with HTC about this, and while Symon Whitehorn, director of special projects at HTC, sympathises with the problem (stating that it's 'slightly more of a concern' when pointing out the space gobbled by the highlights) it is coming up with solutions.
"I think it's a perennial worry about all technology, but it does make that slightly more of a concern," Whitehorn said about the One's storage issues.
"We are starting to provide more management terms and we are working on more elegant solutions then what we have now. We'll bring updates and more services and we'll want to get more elegant solutions out once we start to hit that curve."
The notion is that HTC will give users an easier route to store their favourite videos and photos - this obviously won't materialise in the form of a slot, but could see the Taiwanese brand extend the space and time constraints on its online storage solution, as users still aren't happy with having to constantly connect to a PC just to free up some space.
VideoOne of the key features of any Full HD phones these days has to be the performance of the video player, and to that end, most are successful. The Sony Xperia Z uses the Bravia Engine 2 to bring clear, crisp images; the LG Optimus G Pro offers bonkers levels of clarity, brightness and colour saturation. And of course Samsung is going to continue with the like it or hate it HD Super AMOLED screen.
So why does the HTC One, with a perfectly bright and capable screen, not manage to play movies back very well? We downloaded The Amazing Spiderman from its HTC Watch service to check it out in HD, and we were disappointed by the results. The screen was too dark in automatic brightness mode, and when turned up full, sucked battery down a little quicker than the rivals.
A recent update seems to have tweaked this somewhat, making it more palatable on the power, so it's not as bad when watching video at full brightness.
There was also a big issue with the sound falling out of sync quickly on the Watch video, but that's more to do with the quality of that service than anything else - if you're looking for movies, Google's Play Store is a better bet, but doesn't have the same depth of catalogue.
Also, while the range of codecs you can use is impressive on the HTC One, including AVI (but not DivX) there's actually no obvious way to play them. Really - unless you want to dive through the HTC TV app or the Google Play Movies function, you'll have to download a dedicated player to achieve your goals. The videos don't even show normally in the Gallery - and all this despite HTC telling us that it will be bringing the ability to play back your own clips through the Watch app.
It's like the Taiwanese firm doesn't want you watching videos on the HTC One.
If you've got a bright enough scene on show, the HTC One can play it back smoothly and crisply. However, take it down a notch in brightness and suddenly you're struggling - it's not a deal breaker, but really, we expected better from a flagship phone.
HTC TVHTC has thrown a new feature on the One in the shape of a new TV app, as well as an infra red blaster that shoots out TV-controlling rays from the power button.
It's a concept we were, like BlinkFeed, initially quite sceptical about, simply because history has taught us that these apps are usually gimmicks that only serve the country of production. Well, once again, our opinion has been changed by the launch of the HTC One.
The HTC TV app won't appeal to all, but those that take the time to set up the phone to control a TV, DVD / Blu-ray player, set-top box or audio system will get a real treat, and no matter your territory there's something for you.
For instance, in the UK, all we needed to do was give the app our postcode for location purposes, and then choose the provider we used. From there, all the channels we use were front and centre, with no hint of not being able to control certain devices. It's much more impressive than we anticipated.
The app itself is also very clever as you can set your favourite programming and then see large thumbnails when the stuff you care about is playing. Think of it as an EPG that knows what you want to watch, rather than a list of channels.
That latter feature is actually there too, but it's poorly executed as it takes AGES to refresh when scrolling through and weirdly can't be used in landscape mode. It's better for when you need to get inspiration for your favourite shows.
Making sure the app knows what you like to watch is important, and while it takes some time to set up your fave shows, it's worth it, as you'll be constantly impressed when you flick on the TV, don't know what to watch, only to be shown that Friends or Scrubs re-runs are currently on. And here's the fun bit: press the thumbnail and the channel will change to the show. It will impress those watching you, trust us.
Here's one real problem though – you're given a list of favourite options at the app set-up, and even if you later change your mind about what you like, they'll still appear in the 'now showing' section of the app.
Also, searching for your favourite shows is laborious, with a check for Arrow not showing the popular programme until we'd refreshed the pane five times. It's really good, and should be shooting (sorry) straight to the top.
There are some other neat touches, such as being able to see episode guides of your favourite shows, see when other showings are available and be reminded when specific showings or new series are starting. We didn't get to test that new series functionality, but it's something that's invaluable if it works as missing new episodes really, really hurts. You know what we're talking about.
There's still a lot more that the TV app on the HTC One can do though, as we constantly ran into limitations. For instance while it's cool the remote can learn functions (by pointing the power key at the original remote to show the command) you can't edit the layout of the remote itself. So if you've got a TV, amp and cable box and want to control the volume on all three independently, you can't.
Colour buttons aren't on offer, and the power and input keys are locked away when they should be on the main interface for ease of use. One advantage of a real remote is tactility to press things without looking, something a smartphone can never offer, so ease of use has to be enhanced.
There's also no inter-app operability as it stands, with only HTC's quite limited and expensive Watch available for on-demand content. It's good when it can offer you an episode of something you missed, but it would be really cool if your current OD services (such as 4OD or Sky Go Extra in the UK) were in there too and could be jumped into.
The app also likes to suck down the battery too - we noticed that after using it a little bit here and there throughout the day it will constantly be up at the top of the power consuming apps. Come on HTC, it's only an IR blaster. It's not a torch, let's see some battery saving here if it's at all possible, else the actual remote, which doesn't need constant recharging, will come back into play.
Overall though, we like HTC TV. It would be cool if the remote would pop up when your home network is recognised (as is the way on the LG Optimus G Pro) but we're glad the TV remote appears in the notification bar when we're using it, at least.
Battery life and connectivityWith a massive upgrade to a 2300mAh battery, a more efficient processor onboard and general increased stability from Android 4.1.2, has HTC managed to erase its demons?
Where it was once a mixed bag, and it completely depends on what you intend to use the HTC One for. For instance, we took the phone off charge when it was fully juiced just before bed, and left it running all night.
Eight hours later it had dropped only 1%, and yet emails and Facebook updates had come through, despite the data connection going into a deep sleep when the phone is in such a state. At this point, we were impressed.
And while we were previously upset at the short-term power drain of the HTC One, things are massively improved now. Where once a session of game-playing, music listening and internet browsing over an hour would have destroyed the battery, it now managed to do all that with around 10% loss.
There are slight caveats to this: when watching a movie you'll need to fire the brightness of the phone right up, thanks to the screen being a little dark, and this is a real battery sapper still.
Similarly, using the camera and creating Zoe highlight reels is the other way to really impact battery life. If you do hours of camera business with the phone make sure you've got a power pack with you, as there's no removable battery to change over and make things easier.
Placing all phones on flight mode, we ran non-HD Nyan Gareth video for 90 minutes against the Sony Xperia Z, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S3 for good measure. We also brightness corrected the displays, so that each was comfortable as a viewing experience, rather than whacking them all up to full brightness.
The good news is that the HTC One outperformed the Galaxy S4, managing to lose only 19% of life during the test, the same as the Xperia Z and 2% better than the S4.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 managed the same test and only dropped to 82%, showing that the Full HD pixel count does take more power despite the uprated battery.
In real life usage, we found the HTC One to be more than acceptable. We played video and took photos on the Xperia Z, One and Galaxy S4, then playing music and browsing the internet intermittently.
Even with Stamina Mode turned on Sony's smartphone warrior (which is supposed to save battery life when the phone is not in use by switching off mobile data and stopping apps syncing) it still only lasted until 7PM.
The HTC One managed to get to nearly 9PM, but the Samsung Galaxy S4 kept right on chugging until nearly midnight, when it still had around 10% of its juice left.
On top of this, we put the HTC One through a lower-power tests, to mimic how some users, who don't get all movie-like and power-hungry all the time, might experience and there it was phenomenal.
With admittedly low amounts of screen time (less than 7% of the overall use for the period) we still managed to get close to 40 hours out of a single charge - and that was only to 98%. Turn on power saving all the time and you'll easily get two days or more out of the HTC One.
So if you're not one to constantly use your phone, then perhaps this is the handset for you. Just, as we said, be ready with a charger or battery block when you know you're going to be hammering it.
With the One, it's about how it copes doing the things it's designed for - so making videos, Zoe photos, watching HD movies and sharing them should be high on that list, and that's where the battery life is at its most vulnerable, but far less so than before.
In our like for like tests, the HTC One is now more than satisfactory when it comes to battery life, but remember you can't replace the battery to boost performance - so best get a portable battery charger pronto if you know you're going to be home late after a marathon movie session.
ConnectivityThe HTC One comes with a huge range of connectivity on offer, with all the usual suspects present and correct. GPS is paired with GLONASS (the Russian system) to bring stunningly accurate mapping, and the Wi-Fi is all the way up to 802.11n, with dual channel bonding on offer too.
Bluetooth is offered at the low-power 4.0 standard, with apt-X codecs onboard for improved music clarity over Bluetooth (and it really does improve the quality of music streaming compared to a non-apt-X set) and NFC obviously makes an appearance to enable Android Beaming of your photos and videos.
HTC's MediaLink is available on the HTC One, so if you've got the little box, a simple three finger swipe on any app will connect you up to your TV, which in turn will see your One screen mirrored so you can play movies and games and whatnot on the go. It's not a great experience doing this, especially on the gaming front, as the response between finger and screen is pretty slow, and the picture fairly jumpy at times.
You've also got MHL available, so if you think the idea of streaming wirelessly is too advanced for you, then you can buy an MHL lead and do the same thing with a lovely connection.
HTC has included DLNA within the phone, so if there are any nearby media servers sharing content you can connect up to those and download content directly to your phone - look for the option in the menu settings in the Gallery to get an idea about what's on offer there.
And finally: HTC Sync is on offer, and has been combined with HTC Setup on the PC. The latter is more interesting, as it means you can set you sound profiles, wallpaper and ringtones from the web, when logged into your HTC account, and from there it will be beamed directly to your phone with the minimum of fuss.
On top of that you've got the fact you can drag and drop the content directly into the heart of the HTC One - if you don't want to fiddle about with the drivers you can just look through the folder system and dump your pictures, music and video in there without needing to worry about installing a million bits and pieces.
So overall, the HTC One is a very well-connected beast; no, it couldn't have you killed - we don't mean it in that way. But not matter what you fling at it, the One can interact with it in some way, and thanks to the uber-powerful innards, there's little that it can't do well, either.
Maps and AppsHTC has finally bitten the bullet with the One and lost the HTC mapping software that bloated things so badly before. It's also dispensed with the services of Footprints too, which were cool in their own way (being able to give an account of places you've been pictorially) but were rarely used.
Instead, it's all about Google Maps here, and what a stunning experience it is. We won't go into huge detail on how the program works, as it's a delight for you to find, but there are a number of ways that the HTC One really uses its power to bring Google Maps into the light.
For starters, over Wi-Fi and 4G (and even decent 3G) the speed with which it can locate you and load up your surrounding area is impressive - and if you're in one of the larger cities you'll get 3D models of the buildings too.
A simple two finger swipe will change the perspective so you can see exactly what you're walking through when you're in a new city (with the ability to save maps offline too) and the HTC barely breaks sweat to bring you these mountainous images.
Then there's the sat-nav software - it's excellent, but you'll need to make sure you've got a decent data plan and a car charger handy, as it sucks both bytes and power down in a heartbeat as it brings live traffic information and route information.
But the bright and large screen of the HTC one makes the handset and excellent choice for dashboard mounting and ditching the TomTom.
So if you're looking at the HTC One as dedicated sat-nav, we can't recommend it highly enough - plus the car mode is one of the best out there, with large buttons, instant-on music and good voice transcription all part of the dedicated interface.
AppsThe HTC One comes with a host of extras to make it into a more fully-fledged phone, and of course you can supplement these with more from the bulging Google Play store. However, we'll take you through a few of the key ones on offer here.
Kid mode is one of the big changes from HTC, with the option to set the phone up with programs the kids will like without giving them the keys to buy stuff from the internet or send a picture of poo to your boss. The main interface is pre-loaded with a load of mind-numbing games and activities (can you tell we don't have kids?) but they all seem beautifully colourful and probably contain some educational message.
You can them add to this by choosing apps you've selected live in there as well, such as Google Maps so they can learn where Scotland is. It's not the simplest interface to learn, but then again, kids are managing to jailbreak iPads these days, so we're probably worried about nothing.
The only annoying thing is you have to enable Kid Mode, where on Windows Phone the service is accessible from the lock screen, which saves you from a child with sticky fingers nabbing your phone.
Evernote integration is also on offer from the HTC One, with the Notes function enabling you to sign into the service. You can also record voice and notes at the same time and see where the match up afterwards - this is an invaluable tool if you're big on transcription, although you'll have to hope you get pretty accurate with that onscreen keyboard.
Polaris office is on offer and will enable you to view and edit a whole host of document types. It's an irritating app in that when you download a PDF it won't let you read it - but then when you try to open it with Adobe Acrobat (which you have to download) you're presented with an option to open in Polaris, and it does it better than Adobe. Grrrr.
Beyond that, we're into the same territory as before, with the handy flashlight locked deep away in the menu, so make sure you turn it into an app shortcut if you live in darkness or like poking through stuff quietly.
The alarm on the phone is a bit poor, as the choice of ringtones is limited and none of them really scream 'let's wake you up softly', rather scaring you into consciousness. Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy range, which has pre-alarms and fairy mist or some odd business to wake you up with, or the LG Optimuseseses which make you type in a code to prove you're awake, and we think HTC has been a bit lazy here.
We know we're being a bit over the top with the criticism, but given most people now rely on their phone to wake them up in the morning, this is something that really can't be overlooked. Thankfully, again, there are loads of options on the Play Store to sort you out.
And finally, the HTC Weather widget. How we love you. How very, very much. While Sense 5 has stripped away the temperature graph of old (boooo) and replaced it with a list of temperatures for each hour, it's still light years ahead of the competition, which push you onto a mobile site to just see how cold or hot it's going to be later that day. Again, a small feature, but again, a key one for a lot of people.
Next: Read 35 HTC One tips and tricks or find out what's new in the smartphone world.