Review: HTC One
This is not your typical cell phone review. Mostly because I don’t understand most cell phone reviews. It’s a phone. You get a new one every few years. The fervor and intensity of Internet discussions about what phone is best is beyond my realm of understanding.
So what is this? Well, by most accounts the HTC One is, ahem, one of the top smartphones available right now (the others being the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S IV) and I was curious, how good is it? Not just from the dime-a-dozen subjective point a view, but an actual look at the hardware.
So I guess you could consider this a look at the HTC One mostly as an LCD TV and portable media player, judged as such, plus a bit of the other subjective crap because why not. Plus, we went ahead and did full video and audio measurements on it. Because why not.
Not reviewing or covering smartphones is one of the many things I love about my job. It’s bad enough I have to deal with LCD TV fanboys calling me a liar for saying plasmas look better. If I dared profess an opinion about iOS vs Android I feel like I’d get thrown in a digital sack and flogged.
So this HTC One is no review sample. My aging HTC EVO Shift needed replacement, so I spent a hour or so looking what was out there, and decided I wanted the HTC One, because it was newer (and larger) than the latest iPhone, and I liked the design over the Galaxy S IV. It was a close race, as the iPhone is great, and the Galaxy S has an OLED display which is both badass and awesome.
But the HTC One is slick and stunningly sleek, has a lot of beefy hardware, and didn’t seem to have any drawbacks compared to the others. What HTC is trying with the camera (more on that later) put it over the top for me.
The One is my first “high-end” phone. My EVO Shift was a mediocre phone that’s one benefit was a slide-out keyboard. I’ve used friend’s iPhones, and Brent has a Galaxy S III. Reading reviews online, you’d think the One is the mobile second coming. I guess this is where my disconnect starts. Having used the One for over a week now, in can say without question it’s amazing, fast, and easily and by far the best smartphone I’ve ever had.
But... it’s not that different from an iPhone. It’s not that different from the Galaxy S III. I guess it’s a little faster, the screen’s maybe a little nicer, but it’s not like the difference between a 6 year old LCD and a modern plasma, which is what the reviews make it out to be. Eh, whatever. Maybe there’s some spec or test that shows how much better one of these things is over another. In general use, though, it works exactly as I’d expect it to. Maybe that’s an achievement in itself. My EVO Shift sure didn’t at the end.
I will say this, every command, every interaction, anything involving any sort of processing, is all crazy fast. The OS is intuitive and slick, and that’s all definitely cool.
I’m a bit of an amateur photographer, which is a euphemism for “spends a lot on camera gear.” I do the photography for almost all my Tech2 stuff, so you’ve seen my stuff on this site for years. So I was intrigued when I read that HTC was not stuffing their flagship phone with an ultra-high resolution camera, instead opting for a lower-resolution “ultrapixel” camera.
Now, flat out, “ultrapixel” is a marketing term. I’m sure the marketing team freaked out when the engineers said “OK, so we’re going to have a 4 megapixel camera.” But that’s the resolution of the One’s camera. Here’s the thing, even though it’s a nice simple number, the amount of megapixels a camera has really has no bearing on the quality of the photos. An 8-megapixel SLR will always take better pictures than a 12-megapixel point and shoot. There are other factors that go into image quality, not least the quality (and size) of the lens, the amount and type of internal processing, and of course, the sensor itself. Even two sensors with the same resolution can perform differently. To judge a camera based solely on its megapixel rating would be exactly like saying all 1080p TVs perform the same.
So what’s an “ultrapixel.” Well, instead of squeezing more and more pixels onto the tiny sensors that fit inside a smartphone, the sensor in the One uses larger pixels. Much larger. The benefit, according to HTC, is better low-light performance. In my testing, the low light performance is very good. Not quite as good as I’d hoped, but far better than most of the camera phones I’ve used. I’ve been able take images in the near dark, without a flash, and have them come out decent.
I don’t want this to devolve into a camera review, but one other cool thing the One’s camera can do is shoot 768 x 432 slo-mo video. This is so awesome. Here are two videos I shot of my friends’ dogs doing dog things, in slo-mo.