By Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY
NEW YORK - To the casual observer, the smartphone slugfest has come
down to two main combatants: Apple, with its iPhone, and Samsung, with
its Galaxy line. The reality, though, is that there are other muscular
heavyweights vying for contention, including the Taiwanese handset
manufacturer HTC. HTC hasn't been able to duplicate the strong
commercial success of its rivals, despite producing Android phones that
generally have been critically well received.
Now, HTC is punching
away again with the thin and stylish 5-ounce HTC One, which reaches
U.S. consumers on April 19, presumably a week or two ahead of the
Samsung Galaxy S4. In many respects, HTC One is, well, one knockout of a
device, though I also found a few things in my tests that I wasn't wild
It will initially be sold at AT&T, Sprint, HTC and
Best Buy and cost $199.99 for a version with 32 gigabytes of storage or
$299.99 for 64 GB, under customary two-year contracts. It will also be
sold later this spring at T-Mobile, which recently announced its
intention to ditch traditional wireless contracts. You'll be able to get
the T-Mobile version for a down payment of $99.99, after which you'll
be responsible for 24 equal monthly payments of $20.
certainly boasts a long list of positives, starting with a handsome
all-metal unibody design that speaks to the premium quality of HTC's
latest flagship. And HTC One has a splendid full high-definition screen
(468 ppi resolution), robust Qualcomm quad-core processor and powerful
speakers (backed by Beats Audio) excellent not only for listening to
music but also for using the speakerphone.
The HTC One also has a
camera capable of producing fine quality photographs, even when you're
shooting in low light. And the "living" Gallery for showing off those
photos reveals not only stationary pictures but moving images, too. It's
a very cool special effect.
HTC One even doubles as a universal
remote control and can serve up TV recommendations of what to watch
based on your designated preferences.
In lieu of a traditional
home-screen layout with icons and apps, HTC is making much of a new
interface called BlinkFeed, a live and constantly updated stream of
customizable social feeds from your Facebook friends and the folks you
follow on Twitter, as well as feeds from any number of news sources. The
feeds appear as pictures in squares and rectangles of different sizes,
and brings to mind the Flipboard app.Tap on a square or rectangle to
read the underlying content, which HTC says can come from more than
1,400 content providers in a dozen categories. You can drag down to
refresh the screen.
The idea is that your HTC One home screen
would look different from mine, though I suspect some users will find
BlinkFeed a bit overwhelming. If so, you can go with HTC's alternative
Sense Android layout. Given Facebook's own intentions, announced last
week, to take over the phone screen, you will also soon be able to use
the Facebook Home interface on the HTC One, should you find that choice
My main gripe with the HTC One has to do with usability.
example, the decorative HTC logo that sits below the 4.7-inch display
is in precisely the location where you'd expect a home button to be. I
kept inadvertently hitting that logo to no effect, because the actual
on-screen home icon that you're meant to tap is off to its right. A poor
As I indicated, the HTC One's camera can produce
top-notch picture quality and features a suite of clever photographic
stunts built around what HTC refers to as Zoe. When Zoe is turned on,
for example, you can capture not only a still photograph when you tap
the camera icon but also grab a few seconds of video. Through an "always
smile" retouch feature inside Zoe you can drag a circle that appears
around a face until you get a pose you can live with. Zoe can also
automatically produce a little themed highlight reel put together from
some of your shots.
But too often I found the Zoe software
confusing. It was not always intuitive how to dig down to get to the
various features, clever though they may be.
The camera itself is
built around what HTC claims to be the largest and most light-sensitive
pixels you'll find on a smartphone - so while there are fewer pixels
than on other phones, HTC says the ones on board it capture more than
300% more light than other cameras. I was certainly impressed with most
of the pictures I took, in a variety of settings.
I was equally
impressed with how music sounded on the phone. And HTC had demonstrated
to me a fun karaoke software feature with lyrics fetched from Gracenote,
but it didn't work with the music that was loaded on my test device.
didn't do a formal battery test but did notice low-battery warnings
late in the day, so it's something to watch. And be mindful that the
battery, like that of the iPhone, is not removable.
HTC One is a
beautiful well-sculpted device that belongs in the conversation of
heavyweight smartphone contenders. You'll appreciate many of its
features even as you wish some of the software were more intuitive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
on up (with two-year contract) from AT&T and Sprint. $99.99 plus
$20 a month for 24 months on T-Mobile. Runs Android Jelly Bean.
Beautiful unibody construction and premium feel. Snappy. BlinkFeed
interface will appeal to some. Excellent speakers. Splendid display.
Some slick photo features.
Con. Phone is not always
intuitive to use, and some of the photo software is confusing. BlinkFeed
won't appeal to everyone. Battery life seems only fair, and battery is