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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  

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.

About the author, Rich Brome:

Editor in Chief Rich became fascinated with cell phones in 1999, creating mobile web sites for phones with tiny black-and-white displays and obsessing over new phone models. Realizing a need for better info about phones, he started Phone Scoop in 2001, and has been helming the site ever since. Rich has spent two decades researching and covering every detail of the phone industry, traveling the world to tour factories, interview CEOs, and get every last spec and photo Phone Scoop readers have come to expect. As an industry veteran, Rich is a respected voice on phone technology of the past, present, and future.

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Feb 21, 2013, 7:33 PM

HTC One or Experia Z?

HTC One or Sony Experia Z?

Feb 19, 2013, 1:05 PM

Why use the name "One" again???

HTC dropped the underwhelming "One series" last year. Why would they name their new "flagship" device the same thing?

I would have thought the smarter play would be to come up with something totally new.
In hopes for everyone forgot 😛
I think it's a good brand. It's certainly simpler and better than the cumbersome "Galaxy S III".
So you can say ," I want to go get ""ONE""." hehehe...
its a brand thing...people recognize that ONE. its also LG stuck with Optimus, people associate that name with a brand. good or bad...lol

Feb 20, 2013, 11:38 AM


It is refreshing to know that the new HTC One and the LG Optimus has a quad-core with 2GB RAM instead of 1GB. Can't understand having a quad-core processor with only 1 GB RAM..........These are the only two US made phones I know of with 2Gigs RAM.....Please let me know of any others...........It's just good engineering......
Oh Yea , With all this speed and power does it drain on your data plan??????????????????UMM. 🙂
Or does it save Data by being so fast to connect , it uses less data ............
Someone at ATT told me it is all up to your connection speed 4G , 3G......
Well, the US variants of the Galaxy S III have 2GB of RAM, but no quad-core, so that may not fit your criteria.
The Note 2 alson has a Quad with 2 gig's of ram.
also having a quad with one gig of ram isnt exactlly a bad thing either. the quad is more power efficient than a single or double. also you have to dig deeper like how many channels of ram they have.

Feb 20, 2013, 5:16 PM

No microSD card slot = No Sale (to me at least)

I refuse to buy into the stupid idea of not having a microSD card slot on these devices. I understand that Google doesn't like them but I and most folks do.

My 32GB microSD card currently has over 25GBs worth of music, movies, & pictures on it and that doesn't impact the built-in memory that is being used for applications.

Having to stream data when the carriers are ditching unlimited data plans is stupid and will cost consumers more $$$. And there are times when you can't stream data (like on the NYC subway when underground) but still want to access your content.

At least this device offers 32GB and 64GB version unlike the DNA which only had a pitiful 16GB total.

Feb 19, 2013, 11:27 AM

White and Silver

The white and silver model looks better than the black model, I guess I'm just tired of all black phones. The white and silver pictures seem to have more personality.

I am very skeptic of the this phone because I have the HTC One X and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Because of random reboots and software glitches.
I would agree going again with a non removable back and no expandable memory is a huge mistake. One X proved that and HTC is going to have to hit a homerun with this to make up for it and so far I don't see that. Also with everyone worrying about thei...
I feel the same way, enough with black phones!
White phones are a whole lot better looking!

Feb 19, 2013, 2:55 PM


... I've called it quits with HTC. I have waited patiently out of contract, to see how HTC would address a complaint. I was hoping this new device would capitalize. It didn't. The last 8 years with them has been nothing less than awesome. However, a common problem with most handsets(not just HTC), is that the USB port for charging the batteries, can fail right between the end of manufacturer warranty and end of contract. It is an extremely fragile part that fails under constant use. This has left me having to swap batteries to get me through until contract ends( I'm not paying a deductable for insurance when my contract is up within months). I have repeatedly expressed my concern to HTC that a removable battery is crucial in mobile technolog...
Only thing I would add there is if you have INS and are close to upgrade date do the INS and then sell the device to purchase your new upgrade.
Not having a removable battery is not what is making HTC's sales go down. The iPhone does not have a removable battery and their sales are just fine. Maybe your concern shouldn't be the removable battery but the usb charging port itself.
I'm experiencing the same exact problem with my Samsung Droid Charge, I've had it since October 2011, and the mucro-usb port is inoperable! I use desktop chargers.
A micro-usb port is definitely something I am concerned about in the long term.
My n...
Huh. I've never had a micro-USB port fail on me, and haven't heard of it being a common problem before.

Certainly there are several valid reasons why a user might want a removable battery.

But there are also several valid reasons that many compa...

Feb 19, 2013, 9:20 PM

"Unfortunately, Verizon is carrying on with its Droid nonsense."

Made me smile 🙂
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