One. In literal terms, it's a number. To HTC, however, it's a branding strategy -- the foundation upon which the entire company is now based. Just take one look at the One lineup and you'll easily understand this is the manufacturer's pride and joy. There's a very good reason for that: in a crowded smartphone market, HTC is the underdog to titans like Samsung and Apple. The company needs to stand out if it even wants the chance to prove itself to consumers.
Last year's One X marked a solid start, and while it didn't pick up the momentum CEO Peter Chou would've liked, the follow-up model -- simply called the One -- takes HTC's design and imaging chops to the next level, bringing a new UltraPixel camera sensor, among other top-shelf specs. But will it catch the eye of potential smartphone buyers, in light of another key product announcement? We'd say it's got more than a fighting chance.
- Gorgeous design
- Camera does very well in low light
- Powerful quad-core Snapdragon 600 chip
- Stunning 4.7-inch, 1080p display
- Clever features like Zoe Share and Highlight Reel
- A few aspects of the Sense 5 UI feel like a step backward
HTC's latest flagship is the company's best yet. Its beautiful design, great display and solid performance make it among the finest phones available.
HTC's latest flagship is the company's best yet. Its beautiful design, great display and solid performance make it among the finest phones available.
In order to most fully appreciate the One's hardware, you first need to understand the process that goes on behind the scenes. Rather than opt for the sort of polycarbonate shell used on the One X and One X+, HTC crafted the One out of a single block of anodized aluminum, sprinkled with polycarbonate accents throughout. It's incredibly intricate: each unit goes through at least 200 minutes of CNC machine cuts, and the aluminum is etched into channels filled with polycarbonate -- a technique called zero-gap injection molding. Add chamfered, polished edges that connect the sides of the phone to the glass (Gorilla Glass 2, to be specific), and you have a handset with one of the best industrial designs we've ever seen. The amount of detail here is staggering, and it reflects just how crucial this device is to HTC's future.
Much like the Windows Phone 8X and Droid DNA (globally known as the Butterfly), the One has a pyramid-like internal setup: larger components like the display and battery sit up front, with the parts getting progressively smaller as you move toward the back of the phone. This gives the rear cover a sleek curve that makes it utterly comfortable to hold. Though the One is even slimmer at 9.3mm (0.37 inch) than the 10mm (0.4 inch) 8X, it's easier to grasp because the edges are contoured the way they are. At 5.04 ounces (143g), it feels a little weightier, but less than you might have guessed; it's actually relatively light given the materials used.
Ultimately, we're smitten with the One's design for all sorts of reasons: it's sexy, it feels secure in the hand and the combination of unibody aluminum and polycarbonate ensures the phone won't shatter into a million pieces if it were to hit the ground (although it may get dinged or scratched up a bit, depending on the angle).
While industrial design, ergonomics and build quality are a good start, there's much more to this skinny slab of aluminum. The front of the device is home to some of the biggest changes, headlined by a 4.7-inch S-LCD3 panel with 1080p resolution and two capacitive soft keys just below it -- a departure from the standard three-button setup. A tiny HTC logo sits where the home button once did, smack-dab in between the two soft keys. In fact, it's almost a little deceiving: it looks as if the logo should double as a button (we'd prefer it), but unfortunately there's nothing more than meets the eye. Aluminum strips line the top and bottom of the phone's face, with a set of BoomSound speaker grilles designed to offer stereo sound when you're watching movies or listening to music. (The grille setup isn't unlike what you'd find flanking the keyboard of some laptops.) An LED notification light resides under the top grille, toward the left. A 2.1MP wide-angle, front-facing camera is located in the top-right corner, while a pair of sensors sits over on the top left.
The front is by far the busiest part of the phone, while the edges and back have a more minimal design that helps keep the phone looking refined. The polycarbonate-laced sides angle inward until they meet the Gorilla Glass on the front, with only a chamfer to connect them. The left side is uninterrupted, save for a micro-SIM tray and miniscule ejection port. A micro-USB / MHL port and mic are on the bottom, and the right is taken up by a single volume rocker that uses the same ridge-like exterior as the Droid DNA.
The top end is where things get a little more interesting. The 3.5mm headphone jack is nothing new, but the power button has a dual personality: it doubles as an infrared (IR) blaster capable of transmitting and receiving, allowing you to use the handset as a TV remote. Because that power button is housed on the left, the act of locking and unlocking the One could be a bit more awkward for folks who tend to hold their phones in their left hands.
Now we turn to the back, which itself is a study in symmetry and simplicity. Two strips of polycarbonate line the top and bottom, lining up neatly with the top and bottom of the 4.7-inch display on the other side. Squint hard enough and you may see a noise-cancelling mic in the top strip. The camera lens sits in the middle of the back, just barely below the top strip; it's encircled by a thin layer of polycarbonate and is slightly recessed to prevent the glass from getting scratched. You'll see an LED flash to the left of the camera; there's also the obligatory HTC logo set in the absolute center of the device, and Beats Audio branding has a spot just a smidgen above the bottom strip. An NFC transmitter is built into the back around the camera module. Unfortunately, though, one thing you won't find back here is wireless charging. Sorry, folks.
Finally, as you've likely already surmised by now, the 2,300mAh battery inside the One isn't removable or even accessible. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has used an HTC unibody flagship. There's also no place to stick a microSD card, so the 32 or 64GB of internal storage will have to suffice.
There's plenty more going on underneath the shell: the One is powered by a 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 (APQ8064T), an Adreno 320 and 2GB DDR2 RAM. While there are two basic versions of the device -- the UL and LTE-less U -- there will be six different SKUs that feature six different sets of LTE and HSPA+ bands. All of the units are quad-band GSM/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz), but it gets more complicated as the speed goes up: our review unit, which was made for European frequencies, sports 900/1900/2100MHz UMTS/HSPA+ (3G) and 800/1800/2600MHz LTE. The "U" offers the same three frequencies and adds 850MHz for good measure, while Asia's variant uses 850/900/1900/2100MHz 3G and 1800/2600MHz LTE. Confused yet? Let's throw the US models into the mix. AT&T will offer 850/1900/2100MHz 3G and 700/850/AWS/1900MHz LTE. T-Mobile's has 850/AWS/1900/2100MHz 3G and 700/AWS LTE. Finally, Sprint's version uses 700/AWS 3G, 800/1900MHz CDMA and 1900MHz LTE.
If that last paragraph of specs didn't wear you out, maybe the full data sheet below will. We hope not, because we have a lot more to discuss.
|Dimensions||137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm (5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 inch)|
|Weight||5.04 oz. (143g)|
|Screen size||4.7 inches|
|Screen resolution||1,920 x 1,080 (468 ppi)|
|Battery||2,300mAh Li-Polymer (non-removable)|
|Rear camera||4MP, BSI, f/2.0, 1/3'' sensor size, 2µm pixel size, OIS|
|Video capture||1080p, 30 fps (front and back)|
|Radios||Depends on market -- see hardware section|
|Bluetooth||v4.0 with aptX|
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 (APQ8064T)|
|Entertainment||MHL, DLNA, IR sensor|
|WiFi||Dual-band, 802.11a/ac/b/g/n, WiFi Direct|
|Operating system||Android 4.1.2 (upgradeable to 4.2), Sense 5 UI|
We praised the One X's 720p S-LCD2 display when it first showed up on the scene last spring, and there was even more to love a few months later when the Droid DNA came out with a 1080p S-LCD3 panel. Having built up this much momentum, we weren't expecting anything less than the absolute best from the One. And on paper, certainly, it doesn't disappoint: the One features the same number of pixels as the DNA, except they're crammed into a 4.7-inch screen (4.65 inches, to get technical). For the pixel density fanatics out there, this means the One offers an incredible 468 ppi. The setup sounds great on paper, but how does it translate into real life?
To be honest, the display is the area in which we feel the most nitpicky, because the 1080p panels we've seen on other flagships so far feature simply jaw-dropping quality. And to pick up on minute differences between these incredible displays, you'd have to really start splitting hairs. In particular, 1080p displays don't offer nearly as noticeable a difference over 720p as we saw with 720p over qHD. Given how far we've come in terms of resolution and pixel density, the only way for screens to stand out above the crowd is to offer the best color, viewing angles, brightness and readability in daylight.
The One's display does very well in all four areas. It's slightly brighter than the DNA's and significantly better than the One X+'s S-LCD2; the darks are sufficient, though still not as rich as what you'd find on an AMOLED; the other colors are incredibly close to fully natural; viewing angles are just as good as the One X+ and DNA, because it's difficult to get any better; and we could see the display without a problem in the direct sunlight. Movies look amazing on the One, and if we want to get exceedingly picky, the text on the One is slightly more crisp than on the DNA -- but this is something that's only noticeable when you view the two side by side. Tiny details aside, the One's display is the most gorgeous we've seen thus far.
In the days leading up to the One announcement, HTC promised a whole new imaging and sound experience on its new flagship -- and it certainly wasn't exaggerating. With the exception of Nokia with its PureView line, all of the company's competitors are busy increasing the megapixel count on their latest and greatest cameras. HTC, however, boldly chose to go the opposite direction: it decreased the resolution to 4MP. As you would expect, there's a lot more to the story than a simple drop in pixel count -- in fact, HTC coined the term UltraPixels to describe its new imaging innovation.
The idea behind the UltraPixels is to take a physically large sensor and combine it with big pixels that are capable of gathering more light than standard-sized ones. Whereas the typical smartphone camera features 1.1µm pixels, the One proudly boasts a one-third-inch BSI sensor with 2µm pixels capable of absorbing 330 percent more photons. But that alone isn't enough to excel at low-light photography, so HTC also uses a 28mm f/2.0 AF lens and optical image stabilization (OIS) -- and just in case you still can't capture enough light, an LED flash is thrown in for good measure.%Gallery-181323%
HTC's also developed a next-gen image signal processor (ISP), aptly named ImageChip 2. Despite a lower megapixel count, the new chip is capable of continuous autofocus in less than 200ms, reduced noise, real-time lens compensation and 1080p HDR video recording. It also offers a buffered-capture cycle with pre- and post-shutter recording, not unlike what you get with BlackBerry's Time Shift, Scalado's Rewind, Samsung's Best Face and Nokia's Smart Shoot. In other words, don't worry about the resolution on the camera -- instead, let the images do the talking.
The front-facing camera hasn't been neglected either. The 2.1MP module comes with an f/2.0 wide-angle (88-degree) lens and is capable of capturing up to 1080p video, much like its compadre on the back of the One. Even though it can't do the same fancy scene modes (for video or stills) as the rear camera, you can at least grab HDR shots and tweak white balance if necessary.
In a nutshell, all of the usual customizable settings are there: white balance, ISO up to 1600, exposure control, HDR, face detection, a specific macro mode, panorama, three crop styles, plenty of filters and a post-shot photo editor. There's a clever UI trick that lets you switch between rear and front cameras by dragging your finger down from either side of the phone. The only thing that's sorely missing is the ability to touch and hold the on-screen shutter button to lock exposure and focus, even when the One's burst-shooting mode is disabled.
When it comes to performance, there are so many places we could start, so we'll begin by discussing the megapixel myth. It's so easy to just naturally assume that a camera with lower resolution is worse than one capable of capturing a larger number of pixels, but that isn't always the case. Indeed, cameras with higher resolutions allow for better cropping and digital zooming. When shots are viewed at their regular size, however, there isn't any visible degradation of detail. Colors are impressively natural, and white balance is excellent as well. The only issue we found with stills was that the camera tended to overexpose subjects in direct sunlight.
The One camera truly outshines almost everything else in low-light situations. It usually produces better shots at night than the Nokia Lumia 920, and comes in second only to the current imaging king, the Nokia 808 PureView. We were amazed by how much errant light it picked up; the One could snag perfectly usable shots on pitch-black streets, and the OIS worked like a charm. The only time noise actually became a problem was in extremely dark scenarios, but otherwise we were quite impressed by how clear most of the images came out.
In short, even though it's not perfect and we'd love to be able to get more detail from zoomed-in shots, the One's UltraPixels methodology appears to be completely sound. We're confident enough in its quality, in fact, to declare the One as our new go-to camera.
On the video side, there's plenty to keep you occupied as well. Since the ImageChip 2 is capable of recording 1080p video at about 30 fps and 720p at 60 fps (this includes HDR functionality as well), you can take these options out for a spin at any time, in addition to HTC's signature slow-motion mode. We've compiled samples from each mode above for you to check out. In our time with the One, daytime videos were not only crisp and smooth visually, the One's noise-cancellation mics did a great job filtering out wind and other unwanted background noise, while picking up our own voices very well at the same time. HDR videos are pretty good, but we noticed the occasional weird artifact on some frames, while brightness mysteriously jumps at times. Videos taken at night were quite clean, though the frame rate appears to suffer, dropping down from 30 fps to around 20, and there are fairly minor issues with white balance as well.
As if the UltraPixel camera isn't enough indication that imaging plays a huge part in HTC's strategy to gain market share, it's also introduced a unique feature called Zoe. When looking at one, it's hard not to envision an old-fashioned zoetrope spinning around and around to create a short movie. The feature is capable of capturing four to five full-res stills per second while recording a few seconds of 1080p video. In the end, what you get is a short video segment and a burst of roughly 20 images -- think of the moving pictures in Harry Potter, and you'll get the idea. On the surface, it doesn't seem like this would be of any practical use, but we started to appreciate it as soon as we saw animated images pop up in our photo gallery. Once we saw the highlight reels and Zoe Share, however, we were completely sold. We'll discuss these features in the next section.
At its core, the One is an Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean) device. HTC, however, would much rather have the focus be on the custom skin job it's put on top of Google's mobile OS. Known as Sense 5, the next generation of the user interface is very much an evolution from previous iterations -- we'd dare say that it's a completely different experience, much like Sense 4 was from version 3. The fourth iteration was a noticeable improvement, as HTC had finally merged many of its ideas with Google's general design guidelines. Now, with Sense 5, the UI has changed on nearly everything once again, from the home page to core HTC apps; it's better than Sense 4 in some ways, but in other ways it's a step back.
For basic navigation, Sense 5 devices use two soft keys. This is a huge departure from Sense 4 devices, which use a three-button setup consisting of back, home and recent apps (with the latter being customizable to work as the menu button if desired). The One, on the other hand, offers only back and home keys. A long-press on home activates Google Now, while double-tapping the same button brings up a new recent apps menu that is much improved over the card-style version on Sense 4 that reminded us too much of Windows Phone and webOS. Cards are still present this time around, but they're much smaller and you can view up to nine in total. It's still possible to flick each one up to remove them, but since we often like to have more than nine apps open at the same time, this limit is too restrictive for our tastes.
Because Sense 5 eschews a menu key, it means many third-party apps have to throw in the virtual menu key at the bottom of the screen. This feels like a step backward to us, especially after the One X was updated to allow menu functionality on the recent apps soft key.
The most striking change in the UI is BlinkFeed, which takes over as the default home page. Thanks to its many tiles of various shapes and sizes, the tool is reminiscent of Flipboard, Motorola's Blur UI and even Windows Phone. (Dare we say it even brings back memories of the Microsoft Kin?) The idea behind the service is to bring in content from your favorite publications and social networks -- Engadget, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr are just a few examples -- and put it all together for easy browsing. In fact, the word "casual" should be the main focus here: outside the usual notification bar, BlinkFeed won't feature your emails or any other critical updates. If something of interest pops up in your feed, just tap on any tile to read the associated post or status update. There's also a modernized clock and weather widget at the very top, but it only shows up on the main screen -- it disappears as soon as you start scrolling down into the depths of your feed.%Gallery-181220%
Fortunately, you still have full control over BlinkFeed through a hidden pull-down bar nestled in between the tiles and clock widget, which is accessed by dragging your finger down on the starting page (you can also use this gesture to manually update your feeds, although you can set it to auto-refresh on mobile data and WiFi or WiFi-only). A tab on the left lets you pick and choose which feeds you want to look at; for instance, you can opt to view only updates from Engadget or go for the whole kit and kaboodle of topics that interest you. If you want to change which feeds are highlighted, just head to the settings, found in the BlinkFeed menu. Additionally, you'll also find options to post to Facebook or Twitter directly from this bar.
An SDK will eventually be offered so that devs can publish their apps to BlinkFeed as a means of making the service more useful. This is something we look forward to; the entire concept just feels like it's too drastic a shift from stock Android. Fortunately, in case you're not a fan of BlinkFeed being the default screen every time you unlock your phone -- and let's face it, it's a huge departure from anything we've seen on Sense or Android in general, so it's not going to please everybody -- you can choose a different home page. There doesn't appear to be any way to completely disable it, however, so you're stuck with it taking up one of your five main panels. This leads to our major frustration: while the idea behind BlinkFeed isn't terrible (and we imagine serial social networkers and news junkies may find it quite handy), it makes Sense feel a little too cluttered with unnecessary bloat and users should be given the option to disable it if they don't get any benefit out of it.
We should note that BlinkFeed's tiled layout isn't restricted to that main panel; it's actually a recurring theme in the gallery as well. The app uses tiles to let you choose between your own photo galleries, your friends' Facebook albums and other online services like Dropbox and Flickr. When you go into your own photo albums, you may see a few images moving on their own -- those Harry Potter-like movies hanging out in your once-stagnant album are Zoe shots. Each picture (Zoe or otherwise) can be starred as a "highlight" so you can show your friends and family the best images from last month's Disneyland vacation instead of, you know, all of them. You can also upload those precious memories to Zoe Share, a service that generates a URL displaying up to 10 photos which you can share with whomever you want -- whether they're Zoe or plain, old stills. Each website is active for 180 days, in case loved ones or stalkers want to visit over and over. (We've generated a sample URL for you to take a peek here.)
Admittedly, Zoe Share is a much slicker feature than we first gave it credit for, but there's another clever way to share these five-second clips: the One can take your collection of Zoes and stills from that day and create a professional-style highlight reel complete with images, clips, special effects and music. There aren't a lot of song choices available yet, and you can't use your own music, but the stock tones offered are at least diverse. Each individual song comes with its own theme -- one comes with an old-timey filter, for instance -- and the pictures are synced almost perfectly with the music. These 30-second movies can be uploaded to Zoe Share on a unique URL for 30 days, or it can be uploaded to other services such as YouTube. We had a hard time believing that the resulting movies weren't done by a human, but this is just one creative way to take advantage of the Snapdragon 600 chipset.
The main home panels on Sense 5 really aren't that different from what we saw on the previous version. The iconic Sense clock and weather widget is missing by default, but don't panic, fans -- it's still offered as a widget, so long-press the main screen and you'll get the standard Sense setup that lets you pick out which widgets, shortcuts and apps you want. You may also notice that the font is different from Senses past, but it's actually Roboto, the stock font on Android 4.0+ (albeit, Sense uses a different weighted version). The notification bar uses the same setup as before, but it also takes advantage of the new font and a slightly modernized style.
Besides BlinkFeed and the gallery, the other area that received a major revamp is the app menu. The grids, which offer a more Holo-style look than the ones found on Sense 4, are aligned vertically instead of horizontally and come in two different sizes: 3 x 4 and 4 x 5. By default, the grid shows up as 3 x 4, and just as we saw on BlinkFeed, the Holo-style clock and weather widget take up the top row of icons on the very first screen (for either size). App placement is different here than on the stock app tray: you customize your docking tray from here instead of the main screen, you can create or manipulate folders and another pull-down bar with tabs and settings sits between the app icons and clock. This tab allows you to change the grid organization to show alphabetical order or recent apps (folders are non-existent in these modes).
The One makes good use of the included IR blaster with Sense TV, a Peel-powered feature that blends a program guide and universal remote into one app. Stateside, Hulu Plus is integrated and all major cable services are supported; in the UK, Virgin Media, Sky, Freesat and Freeview will be included in the offerings. We'd love to see Netflix supported as well, but HTC hasn't announced any plans on that end yet, so we'll become more virtuous by exercising heaps of patience. (It's a win-win, really.)
As for the remote itself, it still works pretty well but not as flawlessly as the Optimus G Pro's iteration. It comes with a library of IR codes to support nearly any TV brand, cable service and home theater setup you can think of. The software guides you step by step as you attempt to get your phone properly set up with all of your equipment, even going as far as to tell you to align the One with your universal remote if it's unsuccessful at getting everything programmed correctly. Once you're ready to actually use the remote, your mileage may vary depending on your TV brand and cable provider. We weren't able to turn off the Dish DVR despite easily being able to control the menu, and a Hitachi TV recognized the input menu button on the remote but refused to let us select any of the options in the menu. Aside from this little hiccup, everything worked as advertised. As another nice touch, you can access basic controls and recent channels in the notification tray, use the remote on the lock screen and even tell the app to remind you of upcoming TV shows in BlinkFeed.
Sense 5 also brings with it an updated HTC Sync Manager. This feature is primarily aimed at new users hoping to move their information from iPhones or other Android devices. If you're coming over from an Apple, you can use Sync Manager to go into iTunes and grab your contacts, calendar appointments, photos, videos and music (DRM-free, natch). If you're coming from an older Sense device (3.6 or higher), you'll be able to transfer all of the above as well as texts, bookmarks and preferred settings. You can achieve similar results on other Android phones (2.3 and up) by installing an HTC app from the Play Store, whereas any other devices can still transfer contacts the old-fashioned way -- via Bluetooth. Sense 5 also makes it possible to store encrypted backups on your Dropbox account (or Sina, if you're in China), which is then tied to your Facebook creds. Using this method, you can back up all of your settings, apps, widgets, BlinkFeed, TV, home screen layout and account information.
Finally, HTC's partnered up with Zoodles to add Kid Mode. The app serves as a password- or gesture-protected launcher that your children won't be able to exit. Once enabled, you have the ability to restrict which apps your children use, while also offering a place to make drawings and read storybooks. Speaking of storybooks, the service lets you record stories via the front-facing cam, so your kids can watch you read The Three Little Pigs to them, even if you're out of town. There's also a video mail feature that allows you and your young 'uns to exchange messages back and forth to each other.
Since your offspring are likely all sorts of ages, each individual child can have their own specific mode in which their favorite apps and preferences (along with your own parental customizations) pop up. As a parent, I found the service to be incredibly handy -- it's no secret that kids have just as intense a love for electronic gadgets as we do, so it's important to keep them (not to mention our personal data) safe as they play with our phones.
Performance and battery life
Outside of that stunning design, the star of the show is the One's Snapdragon 600 (APQ8064T) chipset, which pairs a 1.7GHz quad-core CPU with an Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB RAM. This particular piece of silicon is the next logical step up from Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064). The CPU features Krait 300 -- a bump from the S4 Pro's Krait 200, which results in a 15 percent improvement in instructions per clock (IPC) and a "speed-enhanced" Adreno 320 GPU. The 600 is also built using a 28nm process, just like the S4 Pro, and offers support for LPDDR3 -- even though the One uses LPDDR2 specifically -- and 802.11ac support on the WiFi side (in addition to the standard suite of a/b/g/n). This is the same chipset used in the LG Optimus G Pro and ASUS PadFone Infinity, and doubtless countless more over the next few months. It won't stay king of the Snapdragon hill for long, since Qualcomm expects the 800 to be available in mid-2013.
Still, the fact is that, as of this writing, the Snapdragon 600 is the strongest processor on the market, and the benchmarks -- as you'll see in the chart below -- indicate a solid improvement over the S4 Pro chip. We've compared the One with its predecessor, the One X+, as well as the S4 Pro-powered Droid DNA and Snapdragon 600-powered Optimus G Pro, so take a look at how the One holds up.
|HTC One||HTC One X+||HTC Droid DNA||LG Optimus G Pro|
|SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)||991||1,107||1,150||904|
|GLBenchmark Egypt 2.5 HD Offscreen (fps)||34||12||31||27|
|SunSpider: lower scores are better|
It shouldn't be much of a surprise to see the One edge out HTC's older flagships, but it also handily beat the G Pro in all but one benchmark (SunSpider). Since the silicon itself is essentially the same, this likely indicates that Sense 5 is more optimized than LG's Optimus UI. In any case, the differences aren't visible to the naked eye. When they're both that good, tiny discrepancies in performance just aren't as noticeable: but for what matters most, the One definitely does the job, and does it well. It runs buttery smooth and the screen is quite responsive. We strained our eyes looking for any sort of lag with no success and the graphics in games like Shadowgun, Asphalt 7, Real Racing 3 and Riptide are as quick and detailed as we've come to expect with high-performance phones, if not just a little bit more so. (This reviewer's personal performance when playing games, however, is a completely different story.)
The One's 2,300mAh battery is a solid improvement in size over previous flagships -- the One X used a 1,800mAh cell, while the One X+'s was beefed up to 2,100 -- so we were hoping to see a measurable boost in how long its battery held up. Now for the moment of truth: in our rundown endurance test, in which we play an HD video on endless loop, the One made it through six and a half hours before all of its juice was sucked dry -- an average result. As a disclaimer, our initial real-world usage tests were conducted on AT&T's 1900MHz network, which admittedly doesn't offer consistent HSPA+ speeds in our area; with this in mind, we got almost nine hours of constant use, which consisted of emailing, social media, taking pictures, making a few calls and an assortment of other random activities.
Update: Our UK team just received a unit with full LTE coverage and has had the opportunity to take it for a spin. Noble gentleman Mat Smith shares his experiences, which are quite similar to ours: "On the UK's EE LTE network, we were picking up download speeds around 10 Mbps, while uploads were often even higher, circling around 22 Mbps during our tests in central London. Further afield, however, it was closer to those 10 Mbps down speeds. During a standard day's use on LTE (including a heavy-use three-hour stint in a hospital waiting room), our European review model powered down just after eight hours' use -- not far off our HSPA rundown, possibly thanks to Qualcomm's integrated radios in its new 600 series."
As flashy as the One is, it's an actual phone first and foremost -- and even this aspect of the device is specced out to the max. HTC has thrown in a pair of HDR microphones designed to cancel unnecessary background noise and handle a wide range of sound levels without saturating. Call quality was solid, but what really stood out to us was what we didn't hear. At one point in a recent conversation, we told the person on the other line to excuse the UPS truck passing by right behind us; our friend couldn't even tell that anything was in the background, let alone a noisy truck.
Remember those stereo speakers taking up all that room on the front of the One? They're the best set of external speakers we've heard on a phone so far, and as afraid as we are to admit this, Beats Audio may have something to do with it. HTC's BoomSound technology makes it so you don't have to use earbuds or an on-ear headset to take advantage of the various codecs Beats has to offer. If you don't want to annoy others -- and why would you? -- the phone uses the same 2.55v headphone amp used in the Droid DNA, giving you similar bass levels even when you're not listening through the speaker. In any case, if you do decide to go the no-headphone route, the result is a much fuller audio experience. Not only that, we cranked the volume as loud as it could go and we couldn't hear any distortion whatsoever.
Regardless of how well Samsung's soon-to-be-announced flagship does on the market, we'll continue to have a soft spot for the One. Last year, we were very impressed by the One X, but that wasn't enough. HTC pushed itself and made its sequel even more polished than the original. We love the phone's industrial design and the camera, while the Snapdragon 600 chipset and 1080p display aren't bad either. We're not sold on every aspect of Sense 5, such as BlinkFeed and the One's two-button layout, but overall the user experience is much improved. As far as we're concerned, HTC has a hit on its hands.
Update: Here's a ZIP file containing most of our un-retouched full-size HTC One photos along with matching shots taken with other handsets.
Myriam Joire and Mat Smith contributed to this review.