The HTC One: Setting a New Bar for Android Phones

by Ben Bajarin   |   April 10th, 2013

HTC-ProductDetail-Hero-slide-04

I’ve been using the HTC One for a few weeks now as my primary smartphone and I have to say it is an impressive device on many levels. The HTC One is undoubtedly the best Android device I have ever used.

Through the years, HTC has shown that they can create extremely well designed and unique hardware. The HTC One is the pinnacle of the companies efforts and rasies the bar for all Android, and Windows Phone devices for that matter, going forward. The HTC One is the first smartphone that even comes close to the iPhone in terms of hardware and in some respects it is superior.

From my experience with the HTC One there were three key things that stood out to me.

Speakers and Sound

The speakers on the HTC One are incredible. Hands down the best speakers I have ever encountered on a mobile device. At first, I was impressed at the sound quality but questioned how practical the feature was. After a day or so, I quickly changed my mind and realized the feature was incredibly valuable. I started listening to music in more locations, contexts, and situations than before. Although I own the Big Jambox by Jawbone, I don’t always have it with me. Even when my family and I go to the beach or the park, we always try to pack lightly. Bringing the Big Jambox is not always an option. But I always have my phone with me and with the HTC One it’s like having a boom box with you at all times.

HTC includes the Beats audio feature which is a hybrid software and hardware audio processing solution. This feature worked well on the phone but interestingly the Beats audio feature was applied to audio that was being streamed to other devices. I stream music from my phone to my cars speakers frequently and I noticed the audio coming through my cars speakers was benefitting from the Beats feature.

HTC positions the enahnced audio and speakers on the One by calling it BoomSound. I’ve used many portable audio solutions and the distortion at high to full volume on many devices makes them simply unusable in louder or outside environments. This was my primary knock on the smaller JamBox. So I decided to test the HTC against other devices and this is what I found.

The iPhone 5 has great speakers but its max volume is 65 db and at that volume has minor distortion. My Retina MacBook Pro at full volume hits 95 db with excellent audio clarity and no distortion. The HTC One’s max volume hit 85 db with excellent audio clarity and no distortion. Suffice it to say, impressive for a mobile device.

Those stats aside, whenever I gave a demo of the speakers to friends and family, they simply said “wow.”

Camera

I think we would all agree that the camera on our smartphones may be one of the most valuable features. Every generation smartphone manufactures look to integrate better optics, sensors, software, and capabilities to the camera function. The processor and the camera are the two features that annually get signicant performance bumps.

HTC has always been pushing the camera envelope, mostly around megapixels, but you won’t find megapixel claims much with the HTC One and for good reason. Megapixels no longer matter. What matters now is what you do with those megapixels. HTC has packed a number of relevant features into the One that are typically rerserved for high end point-and-shoot and mirrorless DSLR cameras. The result is the best low-light pictures of any smartphone I have used. Low-light images are the trickiest to shoot with a mobile device and I generally travel with a DSLR for this feature alone.

Bottom Line is that the HTC One will rival many mid-range point and shoot cameras. Impressive for a smartphone.

Software

I’ve always appreciated HTC’s attempt to add value on top of Android. Their strategy with the Sense UI has been solid since the beginning. As Sense evolved, it got more refined and more polished. The hardcore tech community has generally bashed Sense in this regard because HTC is not targeting the hard core tech community with Sense. They are targeting your casual smartphone users who don’t want to fuss with their smartphone but favor ease of use over heavy customization and software tweaking.

Many of the UI changes HTC made helped Android get out of the way rather than get in the way. And for the masses that is a good thing. I have not been shy about my frustration with Android as a UI but HTC has done much to add elements of simplicity and convenience to the platform. HTC’s much simplified app launcher is a great example of this placing most recent apps, a search bar, and quick link to the Google Play store all near the top of the app drawer.

HTC has easily created the best Android phone to date for the mass market. Its uses for portable sound and image capture are best in breed of any smartphone. Considering how the masses use their phones, those two features alone will stand out.

The HTC One will distinguish istelf from the pack with the hardware alone. The key for HTC and the carriers that carry it is to market it appropriately. If they can do this, then I think HTC could have a winner on their hands.

My personal preference is still to iOS. Using the HTC One with its larger screen size and iPhone like design convinces me even more that I want iOS on a larger smartphone screen than 4-inches. In fact several times I remarked to people that I wanted iOS on the HTC hardware. Specifically the speakers and the camera.

I give many technology recommendations to friends and family alike. I recommend different devices depending on the type of consumer they are. However, If someone were to come up to me and ask my advice on which Android smartphone they should get. I would tell them without hesitation, the HTC One.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • Walt French

    So BoomSound, a nice camera and “the UI changes HTC made helped Android get out of the way rather than get in the way.”

    The anti-Android phone.

    • benbajarin

      Anti-Android phone. I am going to use that but modify it. More to come.

  • pawhite524

    Ben,

    Informative and balanced review. I do wish you had linked to a specifications page so I could learn of that side of the phone. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer a review that is not spec focussed but is user experience related. Too many tech writers focus on specs, IMHO, as if the Holy Grail were the subject. Thanks again.
    All the best…

    • benbajarin

      Here is the link to specs in case you are interested.

      http://www.htc.com/us/smartphones/htc-one/?PS=1&cid=sem157p153625&gclid=CKa-lfKKw7YCFcU5QgodUXMApA

      I try to take a different approach in discussing specific products as you noted. But I may include the product link page in future articles. Thanks.

      • pawhite524

        Thanks for the reply and the link. Again, tech.pinions writers lead the way as to how a site should be run…

        • benbajarin

          My pleasure and thanks for the kind words. In my opinion, our smart and insightful commenters like yourself help make our site what it is. You guys are just as important to this site as we are.

          We have some exciting new stuff coming up soon and I am looking forward to the feedback.

          • pawhite524

            Gratitude.

  • Jun Hyeon Mun

    I still think Apple has made the right decision of keeping the iPhone small and portable enough to easily fit into anyone’s pocket. There is always a limit to how big a phone get; and accordingly no smartphone can provide an engaging experience that one can enjoy for a long period of usage. So it makes a lot of sense to focus on portability.

    • TheEternalEmperor

      Don’t disagree. But I think that there may be a bit more wiggle room with respect to size.

    • Quicksingle

      Are you seriously suggesting you can`t easily fit a HTC One into your pocket ? I think rather you are making an excuse for the iphones smaller and inferior screen. When Apple make a phone with a bigger screen, people will flock to it. Once you have used a phone with a bigger screen you can`t go back. Apple told you a smaller screen is better so you just accept the marketing.

  • TheEternalEmperor

    My problem isn’t the HW. It’s Android. It’s ugly, at least to me. And even as a professional software developer who’s main current focus is java, I just don’t care for it. And I don’t trust it. If I don’t trust the apps, it is difficult to get excited about the phone no matter the hardware.