Smartphones of 2013: HTC One

The past couple of months have seen a dizzying array of “hero” smartphones hit the Australian marketplace. They’re all around the same kinds of price points outright or on contract, so which one should you pick? This week: Has HTC made “the One”?
See also:
Smartphones of 2013: Samsung Galaxy S4
Smartphones of 2013: Blackberry Z10
Smartphones of 2013: LG Optimus G
Smartphones of 2013: Sony Xperia Z
There’s a Prince song called “The One” that I’m particularly fond of. Given the title, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s about devotion, and given that it’s Prince, I would link it below, but, well, he’s Prince, and that means that any music video that turns up online is likely to be gone within seconds. His lawyers must be raking in the fees. Here it is… but don’t be surprised if it’s gone by the time you read this… or indeed if I’ve been whisked off to Minneapolis for re-education:
I can’t help but think of the Prince song every time I pick up the HTC One… and that’s no bad thing.

HTC One: On the plus side

This phone is gorgeous… and I don’t say that lightly. There are lot of really nicely designed phones out there, but I reckon HTC’s outdone them all with the One’s aluminium design. It slips into a pocket easily, is easy to hold and just looks awesome. Yeah, that’s a slightly gushy way to describe a phone, but the One deserves it.
Apple’s often held up (and quite rightly so) as an examplar of meticulous design. All I’ve got to say is that Apple’s going to have its work cut out for it to top this. I hope they do — and I hope others do — because competition in good design can only lead to more excellent designs to pick from. Right now, though, if I had to pick a phone purely on its aesthetics, it’d be the HTC One.
It’s also a very nice hardware performer in the main, with a 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM providing enough grunt for a Geekbench 2 score of 2735. The integrated battery will run well for more than a day, even under a solid 4G workload. The stereo speakers are generally excellent, with one mild caveat. During my testing time with the HTC One, I often used it as a standalone desk speaker, and it worked well, but all the time I was doing so, I was all too painfully aware that at some point, I’m going to come across some anti-social tosspot using the same excellent speakers on a train or bus, and I’m going to want to throttle them.
Ahem. Don’t, as they say, be “that guy”.
HTC’s made a lot of noise about its 4MP “Ultrapixel” camera and accompanying “Zoe” software, which allows you to do all sorts of in-camera trickery, from wiping out photobombers to capturing sequences and stitching them together. The camera itself is remarkably capable, especially in low light situations where many smartphones genuinely struggle. The Zoe software experience is still a little uneven, and it’s not terribly well explained on the phone itself. As the shots it takes are still only 4MP, it means digital zooming and cropping can end up with rather small shots compared to the competition and their much larger pixel count cameras. Megapixels aren’t everything, but they can help.

HTC One: On the minus side

There are some negatives to the One. The minus-One, if you will.
For a start, it’s a fully sealed phone, which means there’s no capacity for removable batteries or memory expansion. The battery issue doesn’t bother me that much, given that external battery packs are stupidly cheap and simple to keep on hand, but the storage issue is more of a problem, especially as the model I tested with was the 16GB version. It’s not enough, so if you’re keen on the HTC One, make sure you opt for the 32GB or 64GB version (although that doesn’t appear to be an Australian carrier option), because there’s no way to upgrade, and a brief look around the differing carrier pages doesn’t make it all that clear which model is the default.
HTC’s other big innovation with the HTC One is “Blinkfeed”, its flipboard-style news aggregator. It’s a fair idea, if not a terribly original one… but I didn’t want it per se. Annoyingly, though, you can’t uninstall it. The best you can do is shift the homescreen pane away from it and pretend it isn’t there, but it’ll stay, taking up screen real estate and processing cycles. It’s nice that phone manufacturers are adding value in software, but, as was the case in with the Galaxy S4, it would also be nice if users had the choice to at least uninstall the apps they don’t want.
Then there’s the niggly little stuff, like the fact that HTC’s Sense 5 UI strips out most of the useful toggles from the notification bar, making quick switching a little more difficult than it should be.
There are rumours circling right now that HTC will follow in Samsung’s lead and allow for a “clean” Android version of the HTC One to be produced. That’d be an excellent move in my view, and I’d be keen to see how much of a difference an uncluttered UI would have on this excellent hardware.

HTC One: Pricing

The HTC One’s had shipping issues, so finding one might be interesting, but it’s technically carried by all three of the big carriers. Telstra sells it starting at $70/month ($600 “worth” of calls, unlimited texts, 1GB of data, min $1680 over 24 months), while Optus will contract you for as little as $46/month ($200 “worth” of calls/SMS, 200MB data, min $1,104 over 24 months), and Vodafone matches that with a $46/month plan ($200 “worth” of calls/SMS, 200MB data, min $1,104 over 24 months.
In terms of the direct importers, Mobicity currently lists the 32GB model at $759, or 64GB at $899, while Kogan lists the 32GB version for $789.

HTC One: Alex’s Verdict

The HTC One has its issues, but then no phone is utterly perfect. It’s a particularly tight field in the premium smartphone space at the moment, with each model having its own particular benefits and quirks. The Xperia Z is more waterproof. The Optimus G is cheaper. The Blackberry Z10 is info-centric to an incredible degree. The Galaxy S4 is astonishingly powerful. Still, in my estimation, right now, the HTC One trumps them all with an excellent combination of style, power and utility. If you’re after a premium phone and want the very best, then right now this is the One you should buy.

About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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