In a bold attempt to steal thunder away from other phone makers ahead of Mobile World Congress next week, HTC just announced its HTC One flagship handset. Unveiled simultaneously at two glitzy press events in New York and London, the new HTC One is packed to the rafters with top-notch components and technologies including some of the latest processing gear Qualcomm can muster. The device isn’t merely technically advanced, but is lovingly crafted from premium metals, too, leaving no doubt that the Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer has placed considerable blood, sweat, and tears
HTC also makes a big deal about the One’s all-aluminum chassis, describing it as using a zero-gap unibody design. Indeed, available in hues of black and silver, the handset feels sturdy, has reassuring heft, and its smooth metallic skin exudes high-end craftsmanship. HTC also took pains to point out that while the thin white trim encircling the silver model I manhandled appears to be plastic, it is in fact metal.
In another interesting twist, dual speakers (one on each side of the screen) act in unison to deliver a more lively audio experience whether while watching movies or listening to music. Paired with an onboard amplifier and Beats technology, HTC has given the system the rather unfortunate name BoomSound. It reminds me of the kind of cheesy trademark Philips used to plaster all over its old boom boxes.
A flagship smartphone wouldn’t be worth its weight in salt if it wasn’t backed up by a bevy of screaming components. You’ll be glad to know that the HTC One doesn’t disappoint. Beating inside the heart of this regal machine is a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, fresh off of Qualcomm’s factory floor. It’s the first device I know of to officially feature the new silicon. Because of that I’m sure a lot of smartphone addicts out there will be itching to get their hands all over this gadget.
The HTC One will also ship in two memory configurations, a stock 32GB (internal storage) model and a tricked-out 64GB version. Both devices though will feature a full 2GB complement of RAM.
An embedded 2,300mAh battery serves as the One’s power source, which I admit doesn’t sound like much on paper, especially compared with phones with ultra-high-capacity batteries such as the Motorola Droid Razr HD Maxx (3,300 mAh). Of course the HTC Droid DNA managed a long 8 hours and 43 minutes on the CNET Labs video battery drain test with a smaller 2,020mAh battery.
To match its premium parts, the HTC One has all the power of modern Android Jelly Bean at its disposal. Layered on top of Android is yet another version of HTC’s Sense UI. As you may have guessed, this latest version of Sense offers more enhancements you may or may not find useful.
The first is something HTC calls the BlinkFeed, a main home screen that consists of dynamic tiles that display content from a wide variety of news outlets, blogs, and Web sites . If you’re familiar with popular news aggregators such as Flipboard and Pulse, then you get the idea.
Gone is HTC’s iconic weather clock widget, which has graced its phones since way back in the days of Windows Mobile. You will still find information for time and weather forecasts at the top of the home screen, but displayed in a much more low-key fashion.
Confirming that the line between tablets and smartphones is blurring more everyday, the HTC One also features an IR blaster on its top edge. When used with the HTC Sense TV app, users can command their TVs with the phone plus keep tabs on local programs.
The HTC One continues the company’s strong focus on phone camera capabilities. The new One handset will feature an updated ImageSense system, new ImageChip 2 hardware, along with a revamped light sensor. Called the UltraPixel Sensor, it technically is able to capture a resolution of just 4 megapixels. Still, HTC says, the actual size of the sensor is larger and the pixels it creates much more detailed.
HTC claims the end result is a camera able to capture 300 percent more light than competing camera phones. The proof as they say is in the pudding. I’ll have to see first hand how the One snaps pictures in the field. Another interesting twist is that the camera can record short 3-second videos, what HTC has labeled the Zoe (inspired by 19th-century Zoetrope movie machines). The idea is for users to shoot these brief clips, similar to the Vine app for iOS, and share them with friends and loved ones via a special camera mode within the HTC One’s camera app.
In the limited time I’ve spent with the HTC One, I can definitely say it’s fast, thin, and flaunts a very sexy design. Of course these words describe a lot of new smartphones. If the phone’s screen and camera live up to the hype, however, then HTC may have a big winner on its hands. I have to say I am concerned about the BlinkFeed feature, which may be exciting for Android newbies but doesn’t seem extremely useful for smartphone old hands.
I can get the same experience by adding Flipboard or other widgets myself. Worse, the HTC reps I spoke to confirmed that there’s no way to shut BlinkFeed off entirely. While you can push it to the side and use a custom home screen, it will apparently always be running in the background. Shooting Zoe videos doesn’t thrill me, either, since it’s a proprietary file format. For example you’ll need to register at the HTC Sense site first in order to convert and share Zoe clips with non-HTC handset owners.
Still eager for an HTC One of your own? Expect the phones to ship in March in the U.S. and be scooped up by T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint. The 32GB and 64GB models will cost $199.99 and $299.99, respectively.