First Impression: HTC Has A Winner With The One

HTC may have a winner on its hands – if only people will pay attention.

The Taiwanese smartphone maker announced its new flagship device, the HTC One, at launch events in New York City and London. The events themselves were a little anti-climatic  short, full of corporate cheerleading and lacking anything of real substance. Good thing the quality of the One makes up for HTC’s lack of verve on its own.

HTC president Jason Mackenzie shows off the One. HTC president Jason Mackenzie shows off the One.

Hardware Details

With the One, HTC has officially raised the bar for smartphone design, hardware and aesthetics. It is a trim, 4.7-inch device with an aluminum body and a 1080p screen that features 468 pixels per inch (ppi). By comparison, the iPhone 5’s “Retina” display offers 326 ppi, while the Samsung Galaxy S3 features 306 ppi. The One runs a quad-core, 1.7 GHz processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, and 2GB of RAM. It will come in two varieties – with 32GB or 64GB of storage – and will start at $199 in the United States on a two-year contract from Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T. The HTC One will begin shipping in late March, according to executives.

HTC One aluminum body case HTC One aluminum body case

So, that's the HTC One from a physical standpoint. From a broad perspective, the One will be the best smartphone on the market when it ships later this spring. Nothing from competitors, major or minor, really comes close… yet. We will see how the likes of Samsung, LG, Nokia and Apple compare with their major flagships as the year goes along, but HTC has fired the first salvo in the 2013 Smartphone Wars, and it's an impressive one.

A Content Perspective

The One is more than just a beautiful body and hardcore specs. HTC thought a lot about experience with its new flagship and for once, a smartphone-manufacturer skin laid on top of the base Android operating system doesn't interfere with a quality user experience. 

HTC lead designer Jonah Becker tells the crowd about the One HTC lead designer Jonah Becker tells the crowd about the One

HTC has updated its Android skin Sense by building on top of successful features from its previous flagship smartphones, the One X and One X+. The One is running Android 4.1.2, which will disappoint many Android enthusiasts hoping that HTC would get in gear and release a smartphone running the most current version of the operating system (Android 4.2.2). Either way, the One still technically runs Android Jelly Bean and most, if not all, users will be hard pressed to figure out the difference. 

The One introduces a unique feature called “BlinkFeed” on the One's home page that serves up social media updates, calendar events, news and other feeds in one area. HTC has partnered with 1,400 media brands that produce up to 10,000 articles a day, including ESPN, Reuters and others.

A glance at BlinkFeed might lead you to think that HTC is aping Microsoft’s “Hub & Tiles” from Windows Phone or the new app panels in BlackBerry 10. That's not really the case. Think of BlinkFeed as a kind of real-time Pulse news reader that updates automatically on one home screen. The One still lets users set up Android widgets and app icons on other home screen panels. 

What The Heck Is An UltraPixel? Finally, An Answer

HTC has introduced what it calls an “UltraPixel” camera that features a new sensor with larger pixels the company claims can capture 300% more light than traditional smartphone cameras, allowing it to take better low-light photos. Of course, “UltraPixel” is a marketing gimmick, although if it even comes close to working as advertised, it would be a decent achievement. HTC also announced a feature it calls Zoe, which allows users to take pictures that includes motion before and after the shutter was snapped. This isn't exactly a new innovation, as both Samsung and BlackBerry offer something like it. But that's not going to stop HTC from emphasizing it anyway.

HTC remains focused on sound quality, offering two front-facing stereo speakers and Beats Audio. HTC calls this package “BoomSound.”

From a first-look perspective, it's hard to think how the One could be improved upon. We'll have a better idea when we get our hands on the device for a full review, but it seems that HTC really set the bar pretty high. 

HTC has been beaten down for more than a year as it tries to turn heads away from the like of Samsung and Apple. If any phone can get people to pay attention, it has to be the HTC One. Then again, quality doesn't always win the war. We'll know by the middle of 2013 if the HTC One is the company's savior... or its last gasp.

Event photos by Dan Rowinski. Product photos courtesy HTC.