Review: HTC One sparkles, but can it compete?


An employee displays the new HTC One smartphone for a photograph during a launch event in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013. (Simon Dawson/BLOOMBERG)
April 18, 2013

Facing diving sales, HTC said last year that it would start to concentrate on making fewer, higher-quality phones rather than chasing low price points.

The first products of that new focus included the impressive HTC One X and One X+. But this year, HTC is pouring its efforts into into a single phone, aptly named the HTC One.

And it shows: The HTC One is simply gorgeous.

With a polished aluminum back and sleek profile, it’s the kind of phone that draws an excited, and envious, “Ooh, what’s that?” when you pull it out.

A lot of thought went into the design of this phone, which has a 4.7-inch screen but never feels too large. Overall, it’s well-balanced, feels good in hand and seems like a phone that will last you a while. There’s none of the flimsiness of older HTC phones here; the metal gives it the cache of an undeniably premium device.

The screen shows vibrant colors in videos and in the browser, and the resolution makes photos very crisp. The camera, which HTC boasts as great for low-light shots, lives up to the hype, though the video recording quality is a bit less that you might expect from a phone of this caliber.

Audio, through a partnership with Beats, is another of the phone’s highlights. The HTC One plays music well even without external connections, and the speakers face frontward so that users won’t have to hold the phone awkwardly to keep from blocking the sound. The excellent sound clarity is duplicated in voice calls, which are neither muffled nor distorted on the HTC One.

In terms of performance, the phone is quick, making use of its quad-core processor. There were no stutters or slowdowns during video playback, and the phone jumped easily from app to app.

But there are some pitfalls. After heavy use from watching video or prolonged surfing sessions, the unit provided to The Washington Post got a little too warm to the touch.

There’s no expandable memory on the device, which offers only got the 32GB on the basic model or 64GB available on a second AT&T model to hold data.

Power users will also mourn the the absence of a replaceable battery -- you can’t carry a spare if your juice runs out and you aren’t able to charge your phone. And battery life isn’t impressive: The phone can make it through the day on a single charge with average use, but heavy browsing, app use and movie-watching drains power surprisingly fast.

As for software, the HTC One comes with Android Jelly Bean 4.1.2 — not the latest version of Android, but it doesn’t show. HTC has also introduced a new, grid-like layout on its home screen called “Blinkfeed,” similar to the tiles on a Windows Phone and features social updates and news stories.

HTC gives users a running update of news from curated sources, which makes an attractive feed, though it’s harder to customize. But there’s no contest between Blinkfeed and the old HTC Sense overlay — the new layout wins.

The HTC One is up against tough competition in this smartphone market — namely the Samsung Galaxy S 4, which is due out later this month. Releasing its model first gives HTC a bit of precious time in the spotlight, and, so far, the One is shining. It’s in the running for the best Android phone on the market right now and a worthy competitor to iPhone.

AT&T provided a review unit to The Washington Post. The HTC One hits store shelves on Friday at Sprint and AT&T. T-Mobile is now taking pre-orders for the device and will begin selling it April 26. The phone will cost $199.99 on a two-year contract for a 32 GB phone at AT&T and Sprint. A64GB version is available at AT&T for $299.99. T-Mobile will offer the phone for a $99 downpayment, plus subsequent monthly payments.

Related stories:

HTC launches HTC One, coming to Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T

Apple extends lead over Samsung, HTC in U.S. ahead of Galaxy S 4, HTC One launches

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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