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Hands-On with the HTC One

Hardware Software Comments  39  

Feb 19, 2013, 10:32 AM   by Rich Brome

HTC is putting all of its eggs in One basket; the new One is HTC’s flagship for the world this year. It take a few risks with the hardware and sports a striking new design manufactured using proprietary techniques. How did it turn out? Find out in our hands-on report.

2012 saw HTC put forth a lineup of phones called the One series. The One series started with three phones, and grew over the course of the year. Although they received high marks from reviewers and had many fans, global sales were not what HTC had hoped. This year, HTC is taking a cue from Apple and Samsung, and simplifying its efforts around a single flagship model, presumptuously called the “One”.

 

One Hardware

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

With the One, HTC has returned to a metal unibody design, a style the company is known for and which has graced the company’s most adored phones of its past, including the Nexus One. If you’ve ever fondled an iPhone 5 sans case, you know that nothing can match the quality feel of a phone crafted from a solid block of metal.

HTC, however, has taken a slightly different approach from Apple by giving the One a curved back that makes the phone feel extra-thin, and allows your hand to cradle the phone comfortably. To achieve this, HTC employed the same unusual arrangement of innards the company employed in the Windows Phone 8X, which sandwiches the (huge, 2300 mAh) battery in the middle (between the display and the main circuit board.) This design is the clear successor of the phones that came before it, including the Nexus One, One X, Windows Phone 8X, and Droid DNA. The One combines the best of all of those designs, and the result is stunning. Not as square as the iPhone, but with a higher-quality feel than the Galaxy S III, it feels sexy, solid, and just plain great.

The phone back and sides aren’t 100% metal; there are thin bands of plastic. The phone maintains a smooth, solid feel, though, thanks to a unique manufacturing process. First, the rough shape of the phone is machined from a solid block of aluminum, including gaps for the plastic bands. The plastic is then injected into those gaps. Finally, this solid block of metal and plastic is carved into the phone’s final shape. Much like a slice of layer cake, the different ingredients of metal and plastic are exposed with a perfectly smooth surface. That means there are absolutely no bumps or seams around the plastic bands. You can’t feel them if you try.

The bands may remind some of the bands on the iPhone 4. Indeed, the bands are related to the radio antennas, which may cue some to wonder if the One will suffer similar “antenna-gate” problems as the iPhone 4. HTC claims that the metal parts are not the actual main antennas, but rather are designed to work in conjunction with the antennas inside. That makes sense, as metal usually blocks radio signals, so there must be some unique engineering going on here. We trust that HTC would be careful to learn from Apple’s mistakes, but we’ll have to wait until we can do a full review to see how this unique antenna configuration performs.

Even more impressive is that HTC found a way to work NFC into this mostly metal design. NFC usually requires a large antenna that takes up much of the back surface of the phone, and won’t work through metal. I’d been told by many in the industry to not expect many more metal-body phones now that NFC is so common; that it just wasn’t possible. But through some engineering wizardry, HTC seems to have solved this problem. Bravo.

Moving around the phone, the buttons are few and flush. They work well enough when you can find them, but finding them by feel is quite tricky; they should stick out more. Good luck using the side buttons with gloves on. The lock button on top is shiny black plastic, a telltale hint that it hides the infrared transceiver that lets the One double as a universal remote control in your living room. (Software based on Peel is included.) On the side is the large volume control, with an unnecessary spun finish that looks pretty on its own but adds clutter to the design of the phone overall. Also interrupting the otherwise clean lines are shiny metal chamfers (bevels) around the front and back edges. Like the spun finish on the volume control, this is a nice touch when used sparingly. However, the One already sports black glass on the front, white plastic bands on the back, and matte silver metal everywhere else. In my humble opinion, the addition of the shiny metal chamfers adds one color/texture too many and gives the One a “busy” look. But that’s a matter of personal taste.

Moving around to the front, Android fans will immediately notice that there seem to be buttons missing; the One has only two below the display, while most Android phones have three or four. HTC gives you home and back keys on the One; that’s it. I personally don’t find myself using the multi-tasking menu much on Android. If you’re like me, you won’t miss that key. (If you’re not like me, you may find it annoying to have to press and hold a key to access that menu, and users new to Android will probably never discover that feature.) The One also lacks the controversial hardware Menu key, functionality Google is trying to move to on-screen icons anyway. What might annoy me most is that HTC’s button layout makes it tricky to access Google Now, requiring a double-tap on the home key, an unintuitive and unnecessarily cumbersome “shortcut”.

The front also sports dual front-facing speakers connected to a high-power amp with active monitoring to prevent distortion. It’s ideal for sharing YouTube clips with friends. It does sound much better than most phones in that scenario, but don’t expect rich, room-filling sound. (That’s just not possible from a phone that will still fit in your pocket.) Accompanying that are three microphones. There’s a main mic, a noise-canceling mic, and the third is a “high pressure” mic designed specifically for automatically, clearly capturing sound in the 70 - 120 db range (really, really loud, like a rock concert, that would be distorted with a normal mic.)

The most important feature of the front is, of course, the screen. The glass stretches to the sides, with a unique bevel that looks sharp but feels smooth and pleasant for those all-important sideways swiping motions. Under that glass is one of the sharpest displays ever made. Like other companies’ flagship phones this year, it sports 1080p full-HD resolution. Unlike other phones, it packs all of those pixels into a display measuring just 4.7 inches on the diagonal, instead of the more common 5 inches. 4.7 inches is still a large display, but it helps the phone end up smaller than most five-inch models, and provides stunning pixel density. It looks great.

Fortunately, HTC has convinced three of the four big U.S. carriers to offer the One as-is, instead signing their fate away to a carrier exclusive. Even Sprint is giving up an EVO version this time around, opting to offer the One unaltered. Unfortunately, Verizon is carrying on with its Droid nonsense. We may see something roughly like the One come to Big Red, but it won't be a One.

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Subject Author Date
HTC One or Experia Z? marckaljonp Feb 21, 2013, 7:33 PM
Why use the name "One" again??? Dakidobf Feb 19, 2013, 1:05 PM
Speed.... BooBoo Feb 20, 2013, 11:38 AM
No microSD card slot = No Sale (to me at least) Snapper314 Feb 20, 2013, 5:16 PM
White and Silver johnhr2 Feb 19, 2013, 11:27 AM
Unfortunately... Slammer Feb 19, 2013, 2:55 PM
"Unfortunately, Verizon is carrying on with its Droid nonsense." Jellz Feb 19, 2013, 9:20 PM
 
 
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