[Op-Ed]HTC goes big with the One and mostly succeeds

Yesterday HTC took the wraps off it’s latest flagship smartphone, the One.  Will the One be the handset that turns around HTC’s fortunes?  Let’s dive it and find out.

The Good:

Design:
The design of the HTC One is nothing short of stunning and is in my opinion the best looking Android phone of all time.  Previously that distinction fell to the white HTC One-X, but the One is even better.  It features an aluminum unibody with injection molded polycarbonate accents and stereo speakers on each side of the screen.  It looks very apple-esque (I mean that in a good way) and looks extremely premium.  Suffice to say, I love the design.  The One is gorgeous.

Display:
The 5″ 1080p Super LCD 3 display on the Droid DNA is the best looking screen I’ve ever laid eyes on.  Considering the 4.7″ screen of the One is basically an even more pixel dense version (468ppi) of the same tech, the screen is a definite winner.
Specs:
I was a little concerned the One was going to come with the same Snapdragon S4 Pro as last year’s flagships, and was pleasantly surprised when it was announced with a quad-core Snapdragon 600 instead.  Judging by the insane benchmark scores (over 22,000 on AnTuTu and 124xx on Quadrant), the One won’t be lacking for power.  Couple that with 2GB of RAM and a minimum of 32GB of standard memory and the flagship specs department is covered.
HTC One Sense TV and infrared port:
This allows the One to be used as a remote control for your TV/Blu-ray player, etc.  Pretty slick.
The Bad:

Sense 5.0 and BlinkFeed:
As far as skins go, Sense is not one of my favorites.  I personally feel it’s bloated and unnecessary.  HTC clearly went to great effort to improve the interface, but the end result leaves me cold.  I like the new icons, and the idea of fewer home screens makes sense, but I’m not a fan of BlinkFeed.  BlinkFeed is basically similar in concept to Flipboard and essentially takes the data from your social networks and other news sources and pops it into a tile like interface.  If BlinkFeed were just a widget that could be disabled it would be one thing, but it’s not.  It can’t be uninstalled which means you’re stuck with it unless you want to install an aftermarket launcher (I highly recommend Nova for the record).  Lame.

It’s two versions of Android behind:
The One is releasing with Android 4.1.2, which is two versions behind the most current 4.2.2.  HTC has a reputation for slow updates and releasing a flagship phone that’s already two versions of Android behind doesn’t instill a lot of confidence that they’re going to turn things around in that department.

Smallish Internal Battery:
The One has a 2300mah internal battery.  Compared to most other smartphones it’s slightly above average, but I wish HTC had gone bigger.  Having to worry about whether or not you’re going to make it through a day should be a thing of the past.  The Motorola Razr HD/MAXX HD and the Samsung Galaxy Note II have shown this is possible and HTC should have followed suit.

No SD Card Slot:
As is typical for HTC, the One doesn’t have an SD card slot.  It does come standard with either 32GB or 64GB of internal memory though, which makes the lack of a slot more palatable.

No Verizon:
The One is not coming to Verizon.  I assume this is because HTC would’t allow them to call it the HTC One Incredible DNA 4G LTE II SE and slap ugly red accents all over it.  God I hate Verizon sometimes.

Incomplete:

The Ultrapixel Camera:

The camera on the One features some unique tech.  Instead of playing the stupid mega pixel one up game, HTC decided to focus on the quality of the sensor itself.  I won’t get too much into the technical details, but essentially the One has a 4MP camera that features pixels that let in 330% more light than the typical smartphone camera.  In theory this should allow for better pictures in normal lighting situations and less image noise.  They also added in optical stabilization that is similar to the Lumia 920 which creates more stable images and video.  I’m putting the camera into the Incomplete category because it’s unclear whether the camera actually produces better pictures or not.  Looking at sample pictures around the internet some looked pretty impressive, while others looked overly soft and washed out.  More data is needed before drawing any conclusions on this one.

Conclusion:
The HTC One is currently the most technically advanced smartphone on the planet.  It’s also the best looking.  I was pleasantly surprised by what HTC has put together and the One should be on the short list of any perspective buyer.

But the One is not without some of the same problems that have been plaguing HTC for years.  The hardware isn’t the issue, but it’s never really been the problem.  HTC makes fantastic hardware.  The problem is Sense.  It’s bloated and HTC is slow with updates as a result.  Releasing a flagship phone that’s already two versions of Android behind further reinforces this point.

It looks like Samsung will announce the Galaxy S IV (GSIV) on March 14th or 15th and the One might get lost in the shuffle just like the One X did last year.  That would be a real shame because it looks like HTC has put together a hell of a smartphone and I personally don’t believe the GSIV will be a significant step beyond the One.  In a few weeks we should have a much better idea of where HTC fits in the smartphone landscape.  I’m rooting for the One to be a success, but I’m not sure the changes HTC has made will be enough to overcome the incoming GSIV tidal wave.  All I know for sure is the industry is better off with a strong HTC and it would be a shame to see them continue to bleed market share into oblivion.

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