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Review: HTC One for Sprint (Harman Kardon Edition)

Form Performance Basics Music Extras Wrap-Up Comments  9  

What makes the HTC One Harman Kardon Edition special? Some software audio tricks, a better pair of headphones, and compatibility with higher-quality FLAC audio files.

In order to fully test the One h/k edition, I used it side-by-side with a non-h/k edition of the One and listened to the exact same set of songs (some metal, EDM, rock, orchestral, and a capella singing) on both. (Let me tell you how maddening it was to continually swap the microSD card…) I used the included Harmon Kardon earphones, as well as my own Shure 535s. I also did some A-B listening through my full living room stereo system, since it is easier to hear what's really going on when you have 6-inch woofers blasting the sound at you with the help of 125 watts.

The One h/k is processing sound slightly differently than the non-h/k version. First, it has h/k's ClariFi technology. Harman Kardon claims this helps fill in the gaps created by compressed files. It says ClariFi boosts the dynamic range and lets you hear details that might otherwise have been lost. As far as I can tell, h/k has adjusted the gain up a bit, and slightly boosted the bass and treble curves. The One h/k creates just a bit more power than non-h/k One when listening at the same volume level. This works really well with headphones and the BoomSound speakers.

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(Personally, I don't care much for the AE-S headphones provided by h/k. They're certainly better than the junk that ships with a normal HTC One, but I found them to be uncomfortable and I had trouble getting a good fit with the provided tips.)

Then there's LiveStage. LiveStage only works with headphones or when plugged into a stereo system of some sort. It expands the sound stage to give the music an exaggerated stereo effect. It also throws in some reverb (echo) for added depth. Again, this sounds good with headphones.

Both ClariFi and LiveStage fall apart a bit when I pushed the One through my stereo system, however. They amplify the sound a hair too much, which leads to some distortion. We're talking a minute amount, but I could hear it. The One h/k does produce a better range than the non-h/k version, and definitely offers richer bass and treble, and a warmer overall sound.

Perhaps most importantly, the h/k One adds support for 24-bit 192 KHz FLAC files. (The 2013-era One supported FLAC files, too, but at 92 KHz.) This is a lossless format that samples .WAV files (CD source material) at a much higher bit-rate. It's about as good as you can get when it comes to packaging music into a file. The FLAC files are moderately smaller than the corresponding .WAV file would be, but they're significantly larger than normal MP3 files. In other words, you need to have a high-capacity microSD card handy if you want to transport these FLAC files.

The samples I listened to sounded very good through my headphones and through my stereo speakers. The difference is slight, but it is there.

Is the HTC One h/k worth the extra $30? Well, that really depends. True audiophiles should be most excited about the expanded FLAC file support and will probably already have headphones superior to the ones bundled in by Harman Kardon. The One Harman Kardon does produce slightly richer sound, but that's not saying all that much when you consider how good the One already is at delivering excellent sound. It's like raising the top speed of a sports car from 185mph to 195mph. Few people are ever going to be able to take advantage of the improvement.

MP3 Player  

The One includes the basic Google Play apps, including Music & TV, Video, Books, Newsstand, and Games. You can use the Play Store to purchase or rent content and then consume it in the corresponding app. These apps are fairly mature and haven't changed much in the last year or so. They work just fine.

There's a fairly advanced stand-alone MP3 player for music that you've side-loaded or stored on a microSD card. It's quite full of features and can even pull down album covers and band data from online. It is much less of a pain for listening to music than the Play Music app. There's no corresponding app for sideloaded video, however. Anything you put on a microSD card will play in Google Play Movies & TV.

The Sprint version of the One also includes NextRadio for listening to local radio stations. It's a bummer that it requires headphones, though. Sprint loaded the One with Spotify, NASCAR Mobile, NBA Game Time, as well as Sprint Music Plus and Sprint TV & Movies. Sprint's Music store is getting better. The latest version offers news as well as the latest hits and the user interface is much improved. It's still a bit slow, however. Sprint TV & Movies offers a limited selection of live, streamed TV shows. Most of the content revolves around news and sports. If you want more channels and movies, you have to subscribe to the monthly service. Sprint charges $10 per month for access to a better selection of TV and a separate $6 per month to access a limited selection of movies.

Anything you play via the Boomsound speakers is going to sound good, but I was also quite pleased with the quality passed from the One through my favorite set of headphones. HTC uses a better headset amp in its phones than most other phone makers do, and this really helps with music playback. The One also supports the best stereo Bluetooth profile (aptX) for playing music back wirelessly. Bottom line, this phone makes media sound good.

HTC went out of its way to improve the HTC TV application. This app has two functions: It serves as a remote control for your TV set and also serves as a content guide for your local TV provider. Setting it up takes seconds. I had the app showing me all my local TV shows in no time. It's quite easy to use and was accurate as far as matching shows to the channels available to me through my local provider (Sprint FiOS.) One big piece of the remote app is access to sports. It has partnered with several sports-centric web sites to make sure live sports are always available. OK, so, in the middle of the day on a Monday that meant all I could watch was some cricket and some soccer, but you get the idea. It is also easy to set up the One so it controls various pieces of home theater equipment, such as TVs, cable boxes, receivers, and so on. The content/remote combo makes this app much more useful than it was in last year's phone.

TV Remote  

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