HTC One: First Impressions!!

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New Gadgets: HTC One

If ever there was an underdog in the Android game… Well, there ARE underdogs.  Many of them.  Most of the players, actually, not the least of which is HTC.  Analysts are saying that the Taiwanese company is on its last legs.  Despite making some of the best hardware in the business, HTC has been unable to carve out a substantial enough stake in the Android device marketplace to rake in acceptable revenues.  In fact, prior to this most recent earnings report, the company had little more than bad news to report on any given earnings call in quite some time.  That’s changing, albeit slowly.  The HTC One is this company’s best effort in so many different ways; it’s hard not to smell the desperation permeating the air from those blood, sweat and tears.  And that desperation might’ve been a good thing.

With so much riding on HTC’s newest flagship phone, it’s fitting that the hardware for the One is quite literally the best hardware to ever don the Android OS.  Bar none.  The build quality here is easily on par with Apple’s iPhone 5.  In some ways, such as the built-in speakers (front-facing, amplified, glorious speakers coined with the buzz phrase ‘Boomsound’), the display’s pixel density and, more arguably, the camera, the phone may surpass Apple’s darling.  Remember the phrase, ‘unibody’?  You’ve heard it used to describe Apple’s Macbook Pro line of premium laptop computers for the last few generations.  Well, HTC has taken a page of the Apple playbook here.  The HTC One is created out of a single piece of aluminum, utilizing a unibody technique that results in one of the most solid feeling, rigid, beautiful and substantial designs I’ve ever had the opportunity to get my grubby hands on.  This phone is gorgeous.  The looks don’t stop at the shell, either.  The screen on the One is astoundingly capable of reproducing real world colors.  At 2/3 brightness, it’s a pleasure to behold.

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Internals on the One are about on par with those of the domestically released Samsung Galaxy S4.  The chipsets at work in both phones are almost identical, with the One’s iteration underclocked just slightly at 1.7GHz.  Both devices sport 2 gigs or RAM. Just know that what’s under the hood is not merely competent.  It’s put to great use on this device.

Enter HTC’s Sense 5.  Frankly, I’ve never liked HTC’s skins.  They’re gaudy and bulky and don’t speak to the direction Google has gone with their Android OS with any fervor.  Sense 5, however, is tame.  It’s a redefinition to address the aforementioned concerns in a number of ways.  The interfaces for settings and the like are clean here.  There’s nothing necessarily phenomenal about Sense or its UI.  Rather it’s just not obtrusive to the extent that previous HTC phones were.  Some people will still hate it, but frankly, it could be worse.  The underpinnings here come in the form of Android 4.1.2.  Sure it’s not the latest version of Android, but I really can’t tell the difference.  A typical user won’t by a long shot.

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HTC has incorporated into Sense 5 an element to the home screen known as Blinkfeed.  Ever used Flipboard?  It’s comparable.  Think Flipboard wrapped around a 3D cube that’s only visible by the wrapping effect of your feed upward and backward.  It pulls in news, status updates, and the like from all the usual places and puts them all front and center on your home screen.  They don’t have to stay there, however.  Like the carrier bloatware that’s a permanent fixture of the One (and the Galaxy S4, for that matter), Blinkfeed can be placed to your periphery as a secondary screen on the device.  It goes a long way in making the device feel closer to stock and there’s a chance you may enjoy Blinkfeed as a supplement to the traditional Android experience.  I did.

No Lag with HTC One

The real story here isn’t necessarily what’s here to differentiate the HTC One, software-wise, from the other top tier new gadgets/smartphones.  It’s what’s not here – Lag.  While the One is technically clocked at a lower speed than the S4 with an otherwise comparable spec sheet, this phone does not lag.  It’s buttery smooth the entirety of the time you’re using it.  All the time Google has spent refining the Android experience is not overwritten in the One.  Rather, its underlying benefits shone through without a hitch the whole time I used the One as my daily driver.  HTC may not offer a clean Android experience, but what the user is met with here is close enough.  Coupled with the hardware in-hand, I’ve never been so tempted to go Android.  Ever.

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I’ll have my full write-up posted in the next day or two.  If you’re a kneejerk type of person who’s looking to upgrade already, the answer to the question you’ve been scouring these impressions for – Samsung Galaxy S4 or One – should never have been a question at all.  Do yourself a favor and pick this phone.  HTC deserves you to.  In fact, the world deserves this phone.  Marketing should not dictate the success of a device.  The company with the insights and attention to detail that yield the better product deserves your time and hard-earned money. Google does, as of today, offer an S4 with stock Android, but your voting dollars are then still going to a company incapable of creating an exceptional experience on its own.

Readers, the onus is on you to hold these manufacturers to a higher standard.  Vote with your dollars and resoundingly let Samsung know that they’d be better off putting that $8 billion in marketing money (!!!) back into their engineering to invent stronger industrial design and refine their custom user experience.  Right now, they think you’re all lemmings and they’re betting you’ll take that leap to the next Galaxy phone.  Face palm the gimmicks and vote One.

More to come on both phones sooner rather than later.

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Chuck Rodriguez is a tech enthusiast on all accounts. His first piece of hardware was a Nintendo Entertainment system circa 1986. He destroyed Super Mario Brothers at age 4 and never looked back from the digital frontier.