HTC One review: To rule them all

GSMArena team, 22 March 2013.

Tags: HTC, Android

Controls

Things on the front have been moved around a bit. The face of the One is split into three - the massive middle section is the Gorilla Glass 2 covered screen, with strips of aluminum on both sides. The latter house the stereo speakers with BoomSound tech. A strip of glass right below the screen keeps the two capacitive keys, Back and Home. Long-pressing the home button launches Google Now, while a double tap brings up the task switcher. There are no dedicated Menu and App switcher keys.

HTC One Review
There's just two capacitive keys this time

To make up for the missing Menu key, there are gestures throughout the Sense 5 interface (swipe down in the App Drawer or the BlinkFeed homescreen. On the pre-release units we tested there was an option to set a long press of the Back key to act as "Menu", but this is not available on our review unit.

Above the screen is the front-facing camera, plus the ambient light and proximity sensors. The top speaker takes the role of an earpiece during calls.

HTC One Review
The front-facing camera and the usual sensors on top

The front-facing camera on the HTC One is almost the same as the one on the Butterfly - it has a 2.1MP sensor with an 88° lens and can shoot 1080p video, complete with HDR mode.

The HTC One uses microSIM cards, which go in a tray on the left side of the phone. As usual, you need the supplied SIM eject tool or a paper clip to open the tray.

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The microSIM card slot

The right side of the phone houses the volume rocker, which is big and wide, but a little too flat and quite difficult to press. There's also no dedicated camera key, as has become the unfortunate norm for Android flagships.

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The volume rocker isn't the most comfortable around

The microUSB port and the mouthpiece are at the bottom. The USB port is MHL-enabled, so you can use it for HD TV-Out and for USB Host functionality. There's a noise cancelling mic at the back of the phone. Besides its usual noise cancelling duties, the second mic keeps track of how loud the ambient noise is and the phone will boost the sound from the mouthpiece to make sure the other side hears you loud and clear.

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The mouthpiece and the microUSB port

The top of the phone features the 3.5mm audio jack and the Power/Lock key. That key has a surprising talent - it's also an IR emitter hiding in plain sight. HTC has preloaded an app that helps you control TV sets and audio equipment. After years in oblivion, IR ports seem to be making a comeback though no longer as a means of data transfer.

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The power button doubles as an IR blaster

And while the power button does extremely well at its hobby, it's rather less comfortable for the main job. HTC's decision to place the power key on the top of large screened smartphones such as the One makes little sense, as this is one of the hardest places to reach. This time the key itself is also sitting pretty low and its press feedback is poor. That's bad news about one of the most used controls on the phone.

The back of the HTC one is a big slab of aluminum that's split into three parts by fine plastic lines - to match the division of the front into screen and speakers. The noise cancelling mic is placed on the upper line, but the star of the show and arguably the most controversial bit of the HTC One is the camera.

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The 4 megapixel camera lens is the most prominent thing at the back

It features a 28mm wide-angle lens with F/2.0 aperture and an optically stabilized 16:9 4MP sensor with ultra-pixels. It's the boldest attempt at a camera system since PureView, and we'll pay proper attention to it later on in the review.

The HTC One features a 2,300mAh Li-Po battery that's fixed inside the metal unibody. It's non-replaceable, but it's about 300mAh bigger than the one powering the HTC Butterfly and the same capacity as the battery in the Sony Xperia Z.

While embedded batteries concern many and the fact that HTC released no official numbers on the endurance of the One didn't help ease them off, our dedicated battery test showed that you have little to worry about. The HTC One got a very respectable 48h endurance rating, suggesting that it can last for two full days on a charge if you use it for an hour of web browsing, an hour of video watching and an hour of telephony per day. HTC One
HTC One battery test scorecard

You can find more about the testing procedures here.

Display

The HTC One has a brilliant 4.7" Super LCD3 screen, not a 5-incher, which is becoming the flagship standard. The One's screen is 12% smaller than the 5" models, but boasts a pixel density of 469ppi, up from 441ppi.

HTC One Review
The 4.7" 1080p Super LCD3 is simply gorgeous

The 300+ ppi screens of last year's flagships are pretty close to the limit, but the jump to 400+ ppi isn't about individual pixels - it was already pretty hard to see jagged edges on 720p screens but the 400+ ppi displays look smoother still. The difference between the 469ppi of the HTC One and the other 1080p screen out there (even the 401ppi LG Optimus G Pro) isn't the kind that can be easily seen. Anyway, we assume HTC were driven by a screen size they considered most usable, rather than trying to top some pointless pixel density charts.

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HTC One and Sony Xperia Z display matrices compared

HTC has been putting out some excellent screens recently and the One's display is just another example of this. The contrast is impressive and the viewing angles are extremely wide - there's no shift in colors and only a slight contrast loss at extreme angles.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
HTC One 0.13 205 1580 0.42 647 1541
HTC Butterfly 0.14 173 1200 0.45 501 1104
Sony Xperia Z - - - 0.70 492 705
Oppo Find 5 0.17 176 1123 0.51 565 1107
Samsung N7100 Galaxy Note II 0 215 0 402
LG Optimus G Pro - - - 0.41 611 1489
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III 0 174 0 330
Nokia Lumia 920 - - - 0.48 513 1065
LG Optimus G 0.14 197 1445 0.33 417 1438
Apple iPhone 5 0.13 200 1490 0.48 640 1320

The screen is laminated too, for a maximum close fit between individual layers, bringing the image as close as possible to the surface of the glass.

The only area of the HTC One screen performance that is not quite perfect is sunlight legibility. It's still good, helped by its good brightness levels, but it's not quite up there with the best we have seen.

Sunlight contrast ratio

  • Nokia 808 PureView
    4.698
  • Apple iPhone 5
    3.997
  • Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III
    3.419
  • Samsung Omnia W
    3.301
  • Samsung Galaxy S
    3.155
  • Nokia N9
    3.069
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
    2.970
  • HTC One S
    2.901
  • Samsung Galaxy S II
    2.832
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus
    2.801
  • Huawei Ascend P1
    2.655
  • Nokia Lumia 900
    2.562
  • HTC One
    2.504
  • Sony Xperia Z
    2.462
  • Samsung Galaxy S III mini
    2.422
  • Motorola RAZR i
    2.366
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    2.307
  • Apple iPhone 4S
    2.269
  • HTC One X
    2.158
  • Nokia N8
    2.144
  • Oppo Find 5
    2.088
  • BlackBerry Z10
    2.051
  • Apple iPhone 4
    2.016
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia ray
    1.955
  • Samsung Galaxy Camera
    1.938
  • HTC Butterfly
    1.873
  • Sony Xperia V
    1.792
  • Sony Xperia U
    1.758
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1.691
  • HTC One V
    1.685
  • LG Optimus Vu
    1.680
  • HTC Desire V
    1.646
  • LG Optimus G Pro
    1.552
  • LG Optimus 3D
    1.542
  • Nokia Asha 302
    1.537
  • Nokia Lumia 610
    1.432
  • Gigabyte GSmart G1355
    1.361
  • HTC Desire C
    1.300
  • LG Optimus L7
    1.269
  • LG Optimus L9
    1.227
  • Meizu MX
    1.221
  • Sony Xperia E dual
    1.203
  • Samsung Galaxy Pocket
    1.180
  • Sony Xperia tipo
    1.166
  • Samsung Galaxy mini 2
    1.114

You can find more about the testing procedures here.

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