PROS / An elegant design, booming sound and a screen to die for set the HTC One apart.
CONS / Its camera isn’t quite as impressive as we'd hope, and its processor lags behind the competition.
VERDICT / The HTC One is one of the best Android phones around. If you can get past its not-quite-stellar CPU, you'll fall in love with its multimedia capabilities.
Beautiful, elegant and packing a staggeringly sharp screen, the HTC One has established itself as one of the finest Android smartphones available. It's inundated with hardware features, has a battery that should easily see you through your day, and boasts front-facing speakers that will blow away your friends. Sure, it doesn't have the fastest processor on the market, but you'll probably be too busy having fun with the camera's Zoe function to notice.
The HTC One is one of the most beautiful Android phones we've reviewed. Machined from aluminum and Corning Gorilla Glass, its chamfered edges and rigid assembly reflect a level of build quality usually reserved for Apple products. The chassis' curved back nestles snugly in your palm and keeps the phone generally usable with one hand, a quality missing from many modern smartphones. Even the phone's two front-facing speaker grilles – features we'll discuss a little later – offer opportunities for great design, with an LED notification light hiding unobtrusively behind one of the many precision-drilled holes.
Once you finish admiring the chassis, you can't help but fall in love with the One's screen. Squeezing 1080p resolution into a 4.7-inch LCD display, the HTC One offers the smallest, most densely packed pixels we've ever seen in a smartphone. It boasts a jaw-dropping 468ppi density – high enough that you can hold the phone to your nose and not see individual pixels. Simply put, you won't find a sharper screen on any other phone.
The One comes pre-installed with HTC Sense, which itself runs atop Android 4.2. Sense is HTC's proprietary user interface. It offers a dark, white-on-black color scheme with bold iconography, as well as BlinkFeed, a pictorial newsfeed that fills one of your home screens with updates from Facebook, Twitter and other sources you choose. Many enjoy it, but if you'd prefer to run without, the phone's latest software update gives you the option to disable it.
We're both in love with and disappointed by the HTC One's camera. Instead of packing in megapixels like its competition, the One offers a wonderfully large ƒ/2.0 aperture and has a sensor with huge, 2-micron pixels. This means that the One's pictures aren't particularly large, but they capture great detail even in terrible lighting conditions. Photos taken indoors or at night look almost as crisp and clean as daytime shots. The phone even offers true optical image stabilization, which dramatically reduces blurriness.
The One doesn't have a built-in panorama mode, but it does offer a different feature: HTC Zoe. Named for the old zoetrope device that first showed us moving images, Zoe captures short video clips that you can scrub through, frame by frame, to find the perfect picture. When you're previewing your photo collection, various Zoe videos will automatically play in their thumbnails, giving you a beautiful, semi-animated look at all the photos you've taken with the device.
The One's prowess in low light is impressive, and Zoe is a fun feature, but we still found ourselves missing those extra megapixels. Smaller images can mean much less clarity than the sharpness achievable with 13-megapixel, or even 8-megapixel shots. The One's photos look stunning on its screen, but when blown up, their imperfections become more noticeable. It's not a replacement for your point-and-shoot, but it'll take care of business if you want to capture moments with family and friends.
It may not be able to compete directly with our pick for the best Android phone, but the HTC One still offers some impressive battery life. You can enjoy 13.5 hours of continuous talk time and 500 hours of standby – that's just under three weeks of idle time in your pocket. Of course, we use our phones all the time to watch videos and browse the web, and the One can stay alive for up to 10 straight hours during either activity. In real-world usage, you can expect to easily make it through your day without needing to be concerned about battery life, regardless of how often you take it out of your pocket.
A quad-core, 1.7GHz processor is no slouch in a mobile phone, but it's still one of the HTC One's weakest components. In head-to-head benchmark tests, the One offered about two-thirds the power of our top two picks. It's still significantly faster than most of the other Android phones we reviewed, and it won't fail you when you want to play great games or run powerful apps you download from the Google Play store. You may find, however, that it lacks the long-term capability of phones with 2.5GHz chips or 64-bit architecture.
You can't beat the One for hardware features. Between its superb front-facing stereo speakers and fun built-in extras, it's one of the most versatile Android phones available. All the boxes you'd expect from a flagship phone are checked – 4G LTE support, near field communication, tethering and Bluetooth, to name a few. In addition, you get a few extras like an infrared blaster to let you control your TV, and a built-in FM tuner so you can listen to the radio whenever you like.
Some of those features you'll use, and some you won't, but you'll definitely enjoy the One's stereo speakers. Mounted above and below the screen, they offer left and right channel sound when you turn the device on its side. Most other phones hide their speakers along the edge or even the back of the phone; on the HTC One, they're prominent and powerful. You'll always experience a certain level of tinny echoing from any phone, but HTC's solution surpasses anything else we've heard from a device of this size.
The HTC One may not be perfect, but it's definitely one of our favorite phones. Between its stunning good looks, spectacular screen and bevy of features, it's a device that's easy to fall in love with. It may not have the fastest processor you can buy or the latest version of Android installed, but after playing with Zoe or listening to those speakers, you won't mind a bit.