HTC One hands-on: design and hardware

The HTC One made quite an entrance in London and New York today with a slick-looking design and re-imagined Android user experience. It's a significant departure from last year's One X -- our favorite handset of 2012 -- and represents the company's most important product to date. The HTC One is positioned to become a true global flagship, a phone that's available unmolested on all carriers worldwide, a device that really competes with the Galaxies and iPhones of the world. We spent some time with the HTC One to understand the direction the company is taking with this handset. Join us after the break for our hands-on video and detailed hardware impressions, then go read our software and camera posts as well. %Gallery-179196%

There's no doubt about it -- the HTC One is a fine piece of kit. It's particularly beautiful when viewed from the back and sides, with a semi-pyramidal shape reminiscent of HTC's own J Butterfly and phones like the Xperia Ion. The front is more staid and channels the BlackBerry Z10. Look a little closer and the attention to detail is staggering -- this is a product that stands shoulder to shoulder with the iPhone 5 in terms of materials and build quality.

The unibody polycarbonate design of the One X gives way to a machined aluminum shell that seamlessly incorporates polycarbonate accents. Basically the aluminum is etched to create channels into which the polycarbonate is inset using zero-gap injection molding. It takes 200 minutes to machine one shell, and the result is absolutely stunning -- a solid block of anodized aluminum, white polycarbonate and glass with chamfered, polished edges. HTC even sourced custom-grade aluminum that's harder than what's found on the iPhone 5. The polycarbonate forms a ring around the edge of the device, covers the top and bottom ends and bisects the back with two lines, one of which flows around the camera lens below -- it reminds us of circuit-board traces. Since aluminum can be anodized in different colors and polycarbonate comes in many hues, we'll leave you to imagine the combinations possible beyond the silver and white handset we played with.

HTC One handson design and hardware

In front are two aluminum bands (top and bottom) separated by a vast sheet of Gorilla Glass 2 covering a gorgeous 4.7-inch 1080p (468 dpi) Super LCD 3 display. This layout is similar to the Z10 and the chamfered, polished edges remind us of the iPhone 5. Both of these bands feature a matching set of perforations that conceal a speaker (and likely a mic in the bottom piece) -- that's right, the HTC One boast stereo speakers, each with a dedicated proprietary amp design that minimizes distortion and maximizes volume. The top piece also incorporates the proximity / light sensors, a notification LED and a 2.1 megapixel with f/2.0 wide-angle (88-degree) front-facing camera capable of recording 1080p video. You'll find HTC's brand under the glass just below the screen, flanked by two -- yes, just two -- capacitive buttons: back on the left and home on the right. How does this work? Holding the home button brings up Google Now and double-tapping shows the recent apps. There's no menu option.

Other than the aforementioned polycarbonate accents and prominent HTC and Beats logos, the back of the device is home to the main UltraPixel camera and a single LED flash (to the left of the lens). Basically you're looking at a 1/3-inch 4 megapixel BSI sensor with large 2µm pixels capable of gathering 330 percent more light than the 1.1µm pixels usually found in phones. This sensor is mated with a 28mm f/2.0 autofocus lens which is slightly recessed for protection and equipped with optical image stabilization (OIS), just like Nokia's Lumia 920. HTC's ImageChip 2 handles image processing and enables a bunch of new tricks like 1080p, 60fps and HDR video capture plus an interesting new feature called Zoe Share. Our very limited time with the camera confirms that performance is top-notch -- after all, photography isn't just about megapixels, and the HTC One checks all the important boxes.

HTC One handson design and hardware

Along the edges of the HTC One you'll find a power / lock key (left) and standard headphone jack (right) at the top, a machined aluminum volume rocker on the right side, a micro-USB / MHL port on at the bottom (right) and the micro-SIM holder and matching pin hole on the left side (near the top). The power / lock key is black and doubles as a bidirectional IR blaster for the handset's TV remote software (powered by Peel). Just like with the One X, the battery (rated at 2300mAh) is sealed and there's no microSD card slot. At 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm and 143g, the new phone is slightly taller, thicker and heavier than its predecessor -- it feels solid yet comfortable in hand and just exudes quality. This, combined with the premium looks, make for a very desirable product indeed.

HTC One handson design and hardware

The HTC One is powered by Qualcomm's newly minted quad-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 paired with 2GB of LP-DDR2 RAM and 32 or 64GB of built-in storage (depending on the version). Wireless functionality includes WiFi a/ac/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, GPS / aGPS, NFC and DLNA -- sadly there's no wireless charging support. Two devices will be available, a U model which includes GSM and WCDMA radios (HSDPA 42Mbps / HSUPA 5.67Mbps) and a UL model which adds LTE (100Mbps download and 50Mbps upload). It's still unclear exactly which bands are supported for which regions -- we know it's coming to most carriers in the US (and indeed, the world), except Verizon. The handset incorporates the Droid DNA's delightfully loud and clear 2.55V headphone amp (it operates with or without Beats audio enabled, but we much prefer it without). HTC's also outfitted the device with HDR microphones which can handle wide range of sound levels without clipping.

HTC One handson design and hardware

In the end, we walked away tremendously impressed with what the HTC One has to offer, especially in terms of hardware. Be sure to take a look at our software and camera posts (spoiler: Sense 5 runs on top of Android 4.1.2). With this phone, HTC's crafted something truly special -- it's now critical that the company follow through with strong marketing and prevent the carriers from fragmenting its vision. Will this be the one? We sure hope so.

Zach Honig and Mat Smith contributed to this report.