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Switched On: Moving forward with leaning back


Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

Just a few months have passed between the introduction of the Droid DNA and the new HTC One, but it seems that HTC has been turned upside down in that time. While the Droid DNA was introduced in conjunction with Verizon and can't be a wholly representative picture of how HTC might have introduced the device otherwise, it was a spec- and design-driven product -- a 5-inch, 1080p display with a 440-ppi density that appeared to spill over onto sides that included a microperforation.

In contrast, little was said about the HTC One hardware itself until later in the device's introduction, surprising because the HTC One is not only the most attractive handset the company has ever built, but also certainly one of the most attractive on the market. While it is an Android device, the casing builds upon the tapered, Windows Phone-inspired 8X, substituting aluminum for polycarbonate. That said, there is also the spillover glass effect found on the Droid DNA. The HTC One retains the 1080p display found in the Droid DNA. However, since the screen is smaller, the pixel density is even higher (468 ppi) than in that record-breaking device.

Key specs continue to influence the HTC One, sometimes in surprising ways. Many companies have declared the megapixel wars over through the years, but few have actually stood behind that claim by reducing resolution as HTC has with its 4-megapixel "UltraPixel" camera. Other hardware choices such as the integrated stereo speakers and dual microphones also enabled key functionality and differentiation.

However, what provides direction for that functionality -- indeed, what HTC devoted the first half of its introduction to -- is the software experience. A theme that ran through the features was the way the One will take what is often a lean-in, 1-foot experience and imbue it with elements of a bigger-screen, lean-back experience. Examples of this included:


While HTC Sense has previously sought to be a bubble-up experience across a wide range of activities, those have now been concentrated into a Flipboard-like scrolling mélange of social- and media-driven updates. As with other content aggregators, it takes some time to set up, but once it's in place, it's time to feed at the content trough.


Applying amplification and Beats processing to those stereo speakers enables the One to rise above the tinny monophone of most cellphone speakers to create a tiny theater experience. You'll still probably want headphones for most listening, but there's no work to be done here. Just lean (slightly) back and enjoy.

Sense TV

Adding an infrared emitter and TV program guide to a mobile device is the kind of thing you might expect from TV vendors such as Sony and Samsung. Indeed, both have put such a port on their tablets and paired it with guides. But for HTC this is a step forward beyond the Media Link it introduced with the first One.


"Shall I take a picture or video?" So much to think about. Not anymore. Taking advantage of the One's bigger pixels and fast processor for automatic HDR, Zoe (inspired by the "zoetrope") is a nifty photo / video combination that includes capabilities seen in Microsoft Photosynth as well as from Scalado. HTC's new photo and video experience can even automatically create highlight videos, a process that takes an extra step on the iPhone or BlackBerry Z10.

Speaking of BlackBerry, rumors have recently swirled that Lenovo has been interested in acquiring the smartphone pioneer. The kind of personal and professional productivity optimizer that the former RIM has targeted is very much in line with Lenovo's resonant slogan, "For those who do." The HTC One, on the other hand, seems designed "for those who would rather not" -- rather not dig through separate feed apps, rather not strain to hear a music video, rather not even pick up a separate remote control. And that's OK. It can require a great deal of overachievement to enable underachievement.

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at @rossrubin.

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