HTC One Hands-On and Initial Impressions
While HTC One units are still seemingly scarce in this part of the world, my local phone store had several demonstration units up and running, enabling me to check out HTC’s latest flagship for the very first time. This is what I thought after spending an hour with it.
It’s indeed true that the HTC One is exquisitely built. While I’m not sure whether the beautiful chamfered edges are as susceptible to scuffing as those on the iPhone 5, I’m absolutely sure that in the flesh, the HTC One looks nothing like the iPhone 5 or the BlackBerry Z10. The curved, aggressively beveled back and slim edges are reminiscent of the HTC Butterfly, but the HTC One looks and feels more elegant and refined than anything we’ve seen from the Taiwanese manufacturer. It’s really hard not to fall in love with the way the HTC One looks and feels even if one is handling it in a store with a big fat security device stuck on its back. In many ways, the HTC One proves, once and for all, that the company is capable of producing hardware that takes the fight to Apple and Nokia in terms of industrial design and engineering prowess.
I got a chance to look at both the silver and black variants, and I have to say I prefer the HTC One in black. Regardless of which colour variant you opt for, you’ll get to enjoy a 4.7-inch 1080p SLCD3 that is truly out of this world in terms of clarity, vibrance, brightness, contrast and viewing angles coupled with a solid set of hardware specifications that should be enough to handle anything you throw at the device for the next 2 years. HTC’s decision to go with a 4.7-inch display for their flagship smartphone certainly makes the One much easier to handle with one hand than the 5-inch smartphones I’ve reviewed previously, and I think it is possible for one to get used to the unconventional button array at the bottom of the screen. The Back button works as advertised, a short-press of the Home button takes you back to the homescreen, a long-press of the Home button pulls up Google Now while tapping the Home button twice pulls up the multitasking menu. While I wish HTC would have stuck to Google’s post-Android 4.0 button conventions, I don’t think it’s a dealbreaker.
I wasn’t able to test out the UltraPixel camera, HTC’s Zoe, or the dual front-facing stereo speakers (called HTC BoomSound) in the conditions I was in, but that is what a full review is for. However, I was able to spend a bit of time exploring Sense 5 and BlinkFeed, and I am happy to note that Sense 5 feels like such a breath of fresh air compared to Sense 4′s overdesigned, tired aesthetic. Everything in Sense 5 has been flattened, the gradients have all been toned down; the icons have been given a much-needed design refresh and the overall sense that I get is that the team behind Sense pushed the user interface towards simplification and minimalism. What we’ve got in Sense 5, then, is not in any way closer to the vanilla Android experience, but it is no less appealing from an aesthetic standpoint. HTC has also picked a variation of Roboto for the system-wide font and I think it looks excellent on the HTC One’s display. Sense 5 might just be my favourite Android skin yet.
BlinkFeed is a key component of the new user experience that HTC is pushing with Sense 5, and it is essentially Flipboard on your homescreen. Tapping on an article allows you to read it directly without having to load a webpage; the BlinkFeed homescreen is also capable of displaying upcoming calendar appointments and content from Facebook. Of course, you can switch content sources on and off as you wish. At the top of your feed and app tray is a large clock and weather display; it takes up a fair amount of screen real estate but isn’t terribly obtrusive because it doesn’t stay on-screen all the time. While it’s debatable whether BlinkFeed has any real-world utility given the popularity of existing news-reading apps, it succeeds in making the out-of-the-box experience feel distinctly different from any other Android smartphone out there. The standard widget-based homescreen is just a swipe away, and you can add more homescreens up to a maximum of 5 and change the default homescreen away from BlinkFeed if you really don’t like it. At the end of the day, I think it’s a nice addition.
Spending an hour with the HTC One has made me even more excited to give this smartphone the full review treatment. The HTC One is the first genuinely interesting and innovative Android device I’ve seen in a long time, and represents a very strong effort from the handset maker to get back to making products that people want to buy.