Review: HTC One excels with the basics

02 Apr

htc-oneOur new phone cavalcade concludes today with a look at my favourite of the bunch, the HTC One (M8). The Taiwanese company’s new flagship device is currently shipping early through major Canadian wireless carriers’ websites and will be broadly available at retail starting on Apr. 10.

I’m digging the HTC One because it’s a phone that does just about everything right and, unlike a lot of competing devices out there, it doesn’t pack in a whole lot of extraneous gimmicks that don’t serve much practical purpose. It’s a simple phone that appeals to users with simple tastes.

Among those basic desires is for the phone to just feel good when held, an aspect HTC has mastered perhaps better than any other manufacturer. The One has a rounded, fully metal body with a five-inch screen, so it’s the perfect size – not too big and not too small – and it feels weighty, solid and well built. It’s a device that isn’t likely to shatter into a thousand pieces if dropped. The test version I had was also gun-metal grey, which is quickly becoming my favourite colour for everything (I’m considering converting my whole wardrobe to gun-metal grey). In terms of look and feel, HTC’s device gets top marks, which is important in a day and age when so many phones look and feel the same.

That is indeed the conundrum for Android manufacturers, who have struggled to differentiate their devices since the early days of the operating system. In most cases, they’ve done so with their own “skins” of the software, or slight variations of Android designed to give their devices a different vibe from competitors. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a lot of bloat – unwanted apps, garish interfaces and the like.

The HTC One’s skin, Sense 6, is a welcome step back from that. It’s a subtly modified version of stock Android, with the most noticeable difference being the BlinkFeed social media interface that’s activated by swiping to the far left of the home screen. Like Flipboard, BlinkFeed pulls in tweets and Facebook postings into a magazine-style layout. But beyond that, the phone uses a relatively basic Android layout and interface.

When it comes to the display, the HTC One is easily one of the best phones going. With a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a 441 pixel-per-inch density, the screen is incredibly sharp and vibrant. Coupled with the design, it pretty much nails the required basics.

The gimmicks are also few and far between, with a couple of them actually coming in handy. You can swipe up on the screen when the phone is off to launch right into it, or double tap it to get the lock screen, for example.

The One also has stereo speakers – one on top and one on the bottom, which are obviously on left and right when the phone is turned horizontally – which is great for anyone who wants to listen to media without headphones. I’m rarely in that situation so it seems to me like one of those aforementioned extraneous gimmicks, but your mileage will ultimately vary.

If there’s one thing that keeps the HTC One from claiming the best-smartphone-on-the-market crown, it’s the device’s camera. HTC has tried something innovative with the Duo Camera, which features twin four-megapixel sensors that ultimately combine images into one composite. This allows for some nifty effects to be applied, like refocusing shots after they’re taken, but the end result just isn’t as good as some other cameras out there.

HTC is probably right in not playing the simple megapixel numbers game, but it still hasn’t figured out a way to top the imaging results found on Nokia and Apple devices. As such, the HTC One’s camera is okay for sharing photos over social media, but like most Android devices it’s not good enough for more ambitious uses.

All things considered, the HTC One is as good as it gets for Android smartphones. Some day, someone will (or may?) come along and design an Android camera that shames all competitors. Until then, users will have to content themselves with a device that covers all the other bases, which the HTC One does amply.

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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in HTC, mobile


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