The HTC One is currently my favorite new phone of 2013.
I have been using the One over the past few weeks as my primary device and have become smitten with it. This is as shocking to me as it is to you. I am a full-time iPhone user and any attempt to use an Android device in the past as my primary has been close, but left me frustrated for one reason or another. The One is different though.
In a world dominated by Android-running Samsungs and Apple’s iPhone, HTC has fallen far behind the pack in terms of market share and outright sales. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t learned how to build an excellent phone.
One of my biggest gripes about most Android handsets is that they feel cheap. The all-plastic shells that have dominated LG and Samsung’s lineup don’t give your $300 smartphone a high-quality feel. The One took a page out of Apple’s book and molded its shell out of a solid block of aluminum. This phone feels fantastic to hold. It’s taller and thinner than an iPhone 5, but feels pretty close to Apple’s build quality.
The biggest difference I notice between Apple and HTC quality is the “feel” of the buttons. The power button and volume rockers don’t have that firm, satisfying press feel that you get from Apple hardware. They aren’t cheap plastic buttons like Samsung phones, but they don’t feel much better.
The screen on the One is bright, crystal clear and makes any other Android I’ve played with look washed out in comparison. It’s a 4.7-inch 1080p (1920x1080 pixels) piece of glass that has a pixel density so insane I dare you to spot a pixel with the naked eye.
The camera is top-notch, too. If you look at it on specs alone, you’ll wonder why the One only offers a 4 megapixel camera rather than a 13-megapixel monster such as the Galaxy S4’s. By offering a lower megapixel count, HTC is banking on providing better looking, clearer photos rather than giant ones.
In practice, photos in normal low light looked great. In fact, they are some of the best on any smartphone I’ve used. The lower megapixel count means you likely won’t be printing 8-by-10s from your phone’s camera, but I doubt many people are doing that anyway.
How does it compare to my iPhone 5? It’s pretty close. I shot a few of my most recent Instagram shots using the HTC One and edited them with Snapseed, and I couldn’t really tell much of a difference in quality. This is a big difference from my experiences using the Nexus 4 as a camera. That phone produces unacceptable photos.
No phone is perfect and HTC’s flagship suffers from the same problems I have had with most non-Nexus Android devices. The One ships with Android 4.1, even though Android 4.2 has been available for several months. It also eschews Google’s stock Android experience for its own customized skin called Sense 5.0. Sense 5 isn’t as in-your-face as previous versions and I found myself not minding it most of the time, but Google has improved the core Android experience so much in the past few years that it’s frustrating to see every different Android device offering a different core experience from the one most users expect.
Even though Sense 5 isn’t bad, it is far from perfect. There are two different areas for me to organize my apps: the launcher and my home screen itself. Both support folders and dynamic ordering, which is confusing. There is no way to disable the Blinkfeed, which I rarely find useful content from.
The weirdest user experience niggle I’ve found is on the lock screen. To unlock the phone you can swipe up on the lock icon. If you want to go directly to one of your “dock” icons (the bottom 4), you can swipe up that icon instead and the One will launch directly into that app.
The problem is that the same swipe up and away gesture will remove the app from the Dock when the phone is in an unlocked state. It’s confusing.
Luckily, Google and HTC announced a stock HTC One is coming later this month to the Play Store. I plan to buy one the day it is available. This great hardware deserves the stock Android experience that Google has improved to the point of being great.
Other than a few issues with the “enhanced” software, I love this phone. With the HTC One, Android finally has a high-quality handset that matches the hardware quality of an iPhone 5 or Nokia’s Lumia lineup.
The gap is continues to narrow. I can’t wait to see how Apple is going to volley next week.