The Android phone market is a forrest. An Android forrest that is so dense, it’s very difficult for a phone to stand out from the rest. It is possible though – Samsung has shown that with the success of its Galaxy line. But Samsung’s success has come mainly from manufactured buzz – by building a very good product and then spending money like there’s no tomorrow to promote it. Free rock shows, Super Bowl Ads, and astro-turfing social media are just a few of the ways Samsung has become the brute leader in smartphone sales.
For HTC, a similar strategy was not going to be good enough. They needed to deliver a phone that looked and felt as good as an Apple device and outflanked Samsung’s Android dominance. With the One, they’ve done both.
The One is beautiful – its aluminium back is the nicest side of any phone on the market. The flash and camera are perfectly placed. Only thing I’d change are the buttons and ports, which I would have preferred to have a more uniform look. The volume rocker, power button, SIM card slot – all have different colours and textures. HTC should have chosen a single type an stuck with it.
When you’re done looking at the back of this gorgeous phone, you’ll end up gazing at the front speaker grills which perfectly frame the screen. The stereo speakers are a revelation. Not because they are louder than other phones (They’re not) but because the sound quality is noticeably better than any mono-speaker device on the market. Watching the first few minutes of Prometheus (using the Netflix app) on the One was an auditory gem.
Unfortunately, there’s an annoying LED notification flash that blinks incessantly on the front of the phone, because in today’s age, you’re always getting an email, Facebook message, text, or app alert. It’s easy to turn off in settings, but it still takes away from the One’s classy design aesthetics when it’s on.
Apple’s Tim Cook recently said that larger screen sizes make for too many other compromises in screen quality. The One makes those comments sound like bunk. The One’s screen is incredibly sharp (468ppi!) and it’s 4.7-inch size makes YouTube and other video watching a joy. Thanks to the curved aluminum back, the One feels good in your hands despite the large screen size.
When it comes to horsepower, there’s no need to bore you with tech specs. Whatever’s under the hood of the One, it works fast and smooth. It is the most fluid Android phone I’ve ever used. HTC Sense, the special flavour of Android you get on the One, works well without getting in the way too much.
A few other things:
- The camera on the One is very good, but not exceptional. What HTC calls UltraPixels produces great colours, especially in daylight, but photos look a little muddy when you zoom in even a bit.
- As a Logitech Harmony remote lover, I’m really impressed by HTC Sense TV, which lets you control your TV, sound system, and set-top box using the One.
- Expect your One to be saddled with apps and content from whatever carrier you buy it from. Even my Stocks app had Bell’s (my loaner’s carrier) stock quote pre-loaded. For such a classy phone, it’s quite tactless.
- Battery life is good enough. Expect to charge every night.
My one continuing worry about recommending the One without any hesitation is customer service. How will HTC support its customers a few months after purchase? What about after a year? If HTC aspires to be the world’s best smartphone brand, they need the world’s best customer service. What happens if while under warranty, your micro-USB port stops working? Will HTC provide robust and ongoing upgrades to newer versions of Android? These are questions that need answers.
Look, this phone isn’t going to get iPhone users to ditch their devices – Apple buyers are proving to be more loyal than ever. But if I’m Samsung, I’m worried about the HTC One. Because quite frankly, it is the best Android phone available, by a long shot.