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HTC One Review: The One that Got Away

It's our HTC One review!!!
It’s our HTC One review!!!

The One that got away

Encased in cool solid metal and smooth Gorilla Glass II, the HTC One is arguably the most premium looking smartphone in the flagship category to date. It has the monstrous internals to back up the word “flagship” as well as it sports a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB RAM. Not content with the usual specs, HTC went a step further by innovating with their software, introducing BlinkFeed, Zoe, and even the 4-ultrapixel camera. We’ve been using it as our daily drive for the last week and we can’t wait to share with you guys our full review!

Before anything else, let’s have a quick refresher on the specifications!

HTC One Spec Sheet

  • Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 600, quad-core, 1.7GHz
  • 2GB DDR2 RAM
  • 32GB Internal Storage, no microSD Expansion
  • 4.7-inch Full HD Display, 1080p, 468 PPI
  • HTC UltraPixel Camera – BSI, dedicated HTC ImageChip, F2.0 and 28mm lens with OIS
  • 2.1-megapixel front facing-camera with 880 wide angle lens and HDR
  • 1080 Full HD Video recording for both front and back cameras
  • HDR Video, Continuous shooting and VideoPic, Slow motion video recording
  • HTC Zoe™ with HTC Zoe™ Highlights and HTC Zoe™ Share
  • HTC BoomSound
  • Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi a/ac/b/g/n, NFC, DLNA, infrared, GPS, LTE, 3G
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with HTC Sense 5
  • 2300mAh Battery

>>>SEE ALSO: HTC One Unboxing and Initial Hands-on

As you can see the only downer is that it’s on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. However there’s already buzz going globally that the 4.2.2 version is already being slowly rolled out from market to market.

Hardware and Design: It Wipes the Floor with Everyone Else

Plastic? What plastic? All metal baby.
Plastic? What plastic? All metal baby.

HTC is one of the first Android handset manufacturers to go all metal and glass with their flagship smartphone. A lot of other brands out there prefer the compact plastic treatment and while that may not be an issue for some, it’s definitely a downer also for others. We’re pretty confident though in saying that majority of smartphone customers would appreciate an all-metal and glass chassis for a Php30,000+ gadget.

What are the benefits of a “full metal” smartphone? First, and most obvious, is that the device will look stunning. The HTC One is truly a feat of industrial design and engineering. Among all the flagship smartphones we’ve reviewed, this one delivers the perfect balance between ergonomics, efficiency, and aesthetics. Holding the HTC One feels solid and it just has the right amount of heft to assure you that it’s made from quality materials. The edges are also perfectly curved so that holding it doesn’t bite into your palm.

>>> YOU MIGHT ALSO WANT TO READ: Samsung Galaxy S4 Full Review

Stunning from every angle
Stunning from every angle

On the sides we have the ports and controls and you can see the crazy attention to detail that the designers put into the construction of this gadget. The volume rocker is one of the nicest looking volume rockers we’ve ever seen (lol) and the power lock button at the top even doubles as an IR blaster so you can use this as a remote control for your TV. Talk about marrying form and function right?

At the back we have the 4-ultrapixel shooter which we will tackle in detail later in this post. Below it is the HTC logo, proudly displayed by the engineers that made the phone. Below that is the familiar Beast Audio logo that we’ve come to see in most of the smartphones released by HTC.

Best looking back on any Android smartphone we've ever come across
Best looking back on any Android smartphone we’ve ever come across

From any angle you look at it, the HTC One is a technological marvel. It almost feels like a crime to put it in a case, hehe.

Fantastic display quality and screen!
Fantastic display quality and screen!

At the front we have the 4.7-inch Gorilla Glass II Full HD display. We’re not sure what kind of coating HTC used for the screen but it feels wonderfully satisfying to glide through it with your fingers. Again it feels like a crime to put a screen protector on this thing, haha!

When you turn it on it even looks much more appealing as the Full HD resolution comes to life bringing vibrant colors, detailed images, and barely any visible pixel as this clocks in at over 450 pixels per inch.

>>> SEE ALSO: Sony Xperia Z Full Review

If I have one criticism worth mentioning about the design it’s probably the set of capacitive buttons below the screen. Instead of the usual three-button set that other Androids use, the HTC One just has two buttons, one on each side of the silver HTC logo (that absolutely does nothing when pressed). If you’re used to hitting the center button for home you’ll probably have to spend a few hours unlearning that habit before you reach a level that navigating the HTC One is second nature.

Where's the home button? Hehe
Where’s the home button? Hehe

Everything taken into consideration, we still believe that the HTC One is the best looking Android smartphone in the market to date. It’s one of those rare gadgets that’s able to strike the perfect balance between form and function. Right amount of style, comfort, and class! Three words that rarely go together when one talks about smartphones. :P

Software: A lot of Hits, a few Misses

POWERRRR!
POWERRRR!

The good times continue when we go to software and performance! First up we have the Antutu Benchmark score. The HTC One clocked in an impressive showing placing second only to the Samsung Galaxy S4. That’s already a major achievement and translated into real life usage that basically means lag and delays are a rarity and that you get a mostly smooth over-all experience with the phone.

That's a pretty high score, hehe.
That’s a pretty high score, hehe.

For core services and functions like messages, e-mail, social networking, calls, and browsing, the HTC One delivers in spades. It’s a seamless and fluid flow and this is made possible by the monstrous quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, 2GB RAM, and Project Butter of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

Yes, you read that right… it runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, in a time where even local brands are already shipping with Android 4.2.2. Fortunately the 4.2.2 update has already started to roll-out globally so we should expect more features and optimizations with the user interface once we get that here in the Philippines. This includes optimizations in the notifications panel and the shortcut controls.

HTC BlinkFeed

The HTC One runs on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with HTC Sense 5 built on top of it. This new user interface makes some big changes to the usual Android experience. First is the BlinkFeed.

BlinkFeed displays selected content and social streams in lieu of the usual widget-filled home screen.
BlinkFeed displays selected content and social streams in lieu of the usual widget-filled home screen.

The BlinkFeed displays selected content in different window sizes or boxes on your home screen. Scrolling down brings up more content from the various content sources. You can actually customize what appears on your BlinkFeed by scrolling up and tapping the downward arrow icon. HTC struck up partnerships with several publishers already so you can just select them and their latest articles will appear on your feed. In addition to that you can also have your social stream from your Facebook and Twitter accounts show up.

You can actually control and set what you wanna see on the BlinkFeed!
You can actually control and set what you wanna see on the BlinkFeed!

We kinda loved using the BlinkFeed. It’s a great way to pass time when you’re bored and you don’t want to open up all of your social networking accounts and RSS reader apps. It’s not a game-breaking innovation but it’s very well appreciated. HTC is to be commended for this particular effort.

By default the BlinkFeed is your home page. This means every time you unlock the phone it’s what you will see. However by swiping to the right you can go to the usual Android page with widgets and icons. If you don’t like the BlinkFeed you can even set it aside by setting the usual Android page your default home page (just hold down on the screen and select which panel will be the home screen).

Gaming on the HTC One

Unleash... the minions!!!
Unleash… the minions!!!

We tried a barrage of games ranging from casual titles like Candy Crush and Angry Birds to our favorite graphics card and memory hog, Dead Trigger. They all worked fantastic. No lags or delays whatsoever. They also all loaded quite fast. The game that got us hooked the most though was the new Despicable Me 2 game, Minion Rush (it’s free on Google Play and iOS go get it). It’s like Temple Rush but you actually have to fight bosses and the environment is much more vibrant, interactive, and exciting.

Media Consumption

Perfect for reading articles of your favorite sites and blogs on Flipboard!
Perfect for reading articles of your favorite sites and blogs on Flipboard!

The 4.7-inch Full HD screen lends itself to becoming the perfect portable media canvass. Be it watching videos, reading RSS feeds on Flipboard, or just admiring photos, the HTC One will deliver a superb and compact viewing experience that’s hard to rival. Speaking of videos, you’ll have to figure out which ones you’ll put in the phone as the storage is just limited to 32GB (not expandable via microSD).

One major feature that we loved about the HTC One that not everyone is talking about though is the built-in amplifier of the sound card. Unlike most Android handsets that seem to have low powered sound cards, the HTC One has fantastic audio for both its external speakers (thanks to BoomSound) and even when you just connect your headphones or earphones to it. Turning on the Beats Audio option actually helps now since it doesn’t just ramp up the bass but it also helps make the mids clearer and the highs even warmer.

Built-in amplifier is superb!
Built-in amplifier is superb!

As a portable media consumption device the HTC One is arguably at the top of the heap of the flagship smartphone wars. Fantastic viewing experience coupled with unparalleled audio quality.

Camera: 4-Ultrapixel all Gimmick or Good as Advertised?

Really nice camera.
Really nice camera.

There’s been a lot of talk about HTC’s UltraPixel camera. Upon testing though it turns out to be quite a competitive shooter when compared to the optics of other flagship Android smartphones. UltraPixel works by enlarging the pixel size which lets the camera capture significantly more light. It’s not about how many megapixels on your camera that counts but really the quality of the sensor and pixel sizes.

Here are some sample shots:

Congratulations DM9 Jayme Syfu for bringing the first Cannes Grand Prix to the Philippines!
Congratulations DM9 Jayme Syfu for bringing the first Cannes Grand Prix to the Philippines!
Beautiful colors captured by the HTC One
Beautiful colors captured by the HTC One
Amazing shot!
Amazing shot!

The front-facing camera also has wide-angle view which means you can have more people in your “supposed-to-be-selfie” shots. Here’s a sample pic we took while we were in the car.

Me and the wife. Taken with the HTC One front-facing camera
Me and the wife. Taken with the HTC One front-facing camera

Not bad right?

The HTC One also takes superb 1080p video. Here’s a drop test video that we took using the HTC One.


(Make sure you set it to 1080p, it doesn’t run on that by default)

In case you’re wondering what we dropped, that was an iPhone 5 in a Tech 21 Special Ops Patrol Case. Retails for around Php2,200 in Digital Walker.

HTC Zoe? What’s that?

HTC One's Photo Gallery
HTC One’s Photo Gallery

HTC has a camera feature called “ZOE” which makes the camera takes multiple shots and stitches them together so that you get animation of your favorite pics when you’re looking at them in the photo gallery. While in concept it’s nice, we don’t recommend using it as it just eats up space on your storage. Also exporting pics becomes a little more messier since the quantity of photos you take export quadruples.

Battery Life: Can it Go the Distance?

One issue we have with the HTC One is battery life. Despite having a 2,300mAh battery, it failed to get us through one whole day with moderate-heavy use. That’s even without connecting to LTE. We averaged around 7-8 hours on it which is standard fare for mid-range phones but definitely shouldn’t be the case anymore for flagships. Don’t get me wrong though, 7-8 hours is more than the iPhone 5 but it’s not on the same level as the Galaxy S4 (we usually got 9-11 hours).

Speaking of criticisms…

You’re probably wondering why we said in the title that the HTC One is “the One that Got Away”. Here’s the reason why.

Connectivity: WHY YOU NOT WORK ON SMART LTE!?

Stuck forever on 3G/HSPA+ if you're on Smart
Stuck forever on 3G/HSPA+ if you’re on Smart

The HTC One is NOT compatible with Smart LTE (which you guys know we’re huge fans of). You can connect to Globe LTE but you can only go HSPA+ or 3G on Smart. This is truly frustrating since we would probably have shifted entirely to the HTC One and let go of our other phones for this one because it’s a fantastic device. However since our postpaid line and LTE connectivity is through Smart (and we rely heavily on LTE), we will have to bid adieu to the HTC One after this review. :/

Verdict: And that’s why it’s the One that Got Away

Two thumbs up! Save for the Smart LTE connectivity
Two thumbs up! Save for the Smart LTE connectivity

So what’s our verdict? From a purely telco agnostic viewpoint, we can say that the HTC One is the best Android smartphone we have ever had the pleasure of reviewing to date. Period. Why? Because it really does strike the perfect balance between form and function. It’s the most premium smartphone in terms of materials used and it has the monstrous specifications to propel it towards flagship status.

Two thumbs up to HTC. This is the best device you’ve ever shipped. We just hope that you’re able to share that to consumers through your marketing efforts.

The HTC One retails for Php32,990 in official stores and resellers. It also sells for just Php28,800 on Kim Store. Kim is also offering the 64GB model for Php34,500.

PS: HTC One on the Unbox Podcast

We featured the HTC One live on our season ender podcast last week. If you want to watch it check out the episode below. It should start in the 6 minute mark.

Carlo Ople

Carlo is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Unbox.ph. During daytime he’s the Managing Director and Partner of a Digital Marketing Agency in the Philippines and by nighttime he’s living out his passion as a gadget enthusiast and story teller through Unbox.

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