The One sports 2GB of RAM, and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset, which itself holds a quad-core 2.3GHz Krait 400 processor and an Adreno 330 GPU. That’s as high-end as mainstream smartphone guts get nowadays, and in practice, the One handled anything we threw at it with ease.
There really isn’t much to say about the 801’s power here; everything on the One just works. Every game, movie, and Web page we used flew without any noticeable hitches. Photo editing was a breeze, and rapidly typing text messages brought up no lag whatsoever.
The HTC One also remained cool under pressure, with only the gauntlet of graphics-heavy games and Web pages making the One somewhat warm. All told, the internals here feel far ahead of the software they power.
The new One also marks the return of the dual “BoomSound” front-facing speakers that were first introduced with last year’s model. For the record, they are still the best pair of speakers on any smartphone today. They can still produce super loud audio (relatively speaking) when needed, even louder than before, and they just about always sound clear when doing so. To put it one way, this may be the only phone we’ve ever wanted to avoid using headphones with.
The One arrives with either 16 or 32 GB of storage right out of the box, but only 10 and 24 GB of that, respectively, are actually usable. The aforementioned addition of a microSD slot helps, but that doesn’t change the fact that the lowest configuration here doesn’t come with all that much space. Most everyday users should be able to survive, but the One still won’t be able to load up too too many apps and photos.
Finally, call quality on the One is perfectly fine. Test calls only brought up one instance in which a voice was described as “wobbly,” but otherwise those on the other end of the calls said things were clear and devoid of any excessive background noise. When it came to receiving calls, those BoomSound speakers made voices crisp and plenty loud.
The new HTC One runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat right out of the box, which is the latest and most refined version of Google’s mobile operating system as of this writing. It’s not noticeable, though, because HTC has once again overlaid the whole OS with its own skin, dubbed Sense UI. To be specific, the new One brings the debut of Sense UI 6.0, which thankfully doesn’t feel as overbearing as its predecessors.
Now, Sense’s style and design quirks are still going to be salient, and its core is still the same. The launcher, app drawer, notification menu, dialer, and other such programs still look different than those of stock Android. The default keyboard is particularly heinous. And HTC has still loaded up the One with a bunch of basic, proprietary apps that don’t really need to be there — though they are kept relatively contained in their own folder by default. (Our Verizon unit was filled with the typical load of space-chomping bloatware.)
With Sense 6.0, though, HTC has made its skin much less overwrought than it was before. It doesn’t feel noticeably worse than stock Android in practice, in large part because it’s more attractive — everything here has gotten a slight makeover, making the UI flatter and less cumbersome. It’s also because its most prominent mandatory apps are more functional, while its newest features add some utility as well.
Take BlinkFeed, for example, which is HTC’s own Flipboard-esque news aggregator. Last year, it was forced onto users as the One’s default home screen. Now, it’s always located on the left-most screen, and it can quickly be turned off whenever you’d like.
That said, BlinkFeed now does a better job at finding relevant info, with more than 1,000 news sources supplying feeds, and specific topics like video games or NSA-related stories available via search. (You can then create sub-feeds based on those subjects.) That goes in addition to updates from various social media feeds, and reminders from apps like Sense TV, the One’s highly useful TV remote software. Flipboard’s widget is still more effective, but BlinkFeed is at least worthy of the space it takes up now.
Perhaps the biggest addition to Sense 6.0, however, is the set of “Motion Launch” gestures that work whenever the One is in sleep mode. Much like LG’s KnockOn feature, tapping or swiping on the One’s display in various ways will bring up a corresponding part of the phone. A double tap, for instance, brings up the lock screen. A swipe up brings you right to the launcher (provided the One doesn’t require a PIN code). A swipe left directs you to BlinkFeed. And so on. You can even quick launch the camera by holding the phone horizontally and holding down one side of the volume rocker.
On a basic level, all of this works well. The gestures do exactly what they claim to do, as only the quick camera launch ever required multiple tries in testing. They excuse the power button’s annoying placement to a degree, and prove useful.
At the same time, Motion Launch also makes the One’s display a bit too sensitive. As mentioned above, it’s too easy to turn the phone on unintentionally at some point or another. The gestures themselves are also somewhat limited at the moment — yes, going to the lock screen is nice, but pressing the power button was never that tedious of a process to begin with. Being able to swipe straight to a specific app would be a little bit handier.
Now we come to the one aspect that proves the One is mortal: its camera. The main lens here remains largely unchanged from the One (M7); it’s still a 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” shooter that sacrifices its pixel count for larger pixels that collect more light. HTC claims that this allows for fuller shots that perform especially well in darkened settings.
On its own, that main camera is still just okay. Yes, it does snap solid pics in low-light arenas, but pictures taken anywhere else are still inconsistent. They’re not outright bad — colors and white balance are solid; it provides serviceable detail with steady hands; and the pics themselves can be taken at a remarkably fast rate. Casual users shouldn’t have any complaints.
Yet, compared to the shooters on competing flagships, the One’s is still lacking. Photos usually come off as too soft and somewhat out of focus, and the detail doesnt match the detail found in pics from the iPhone or Galaxy S4. Megapixels aren’t everything, but they do count for something, and HTC just can’t overcome the One’s low count. The fact that it removed optical image stabilization (OIS) this year doesn’t help matters either.
It’s a shame too, because almost everything else camera-related here is great. That includes the 5-megapixel front-facing camera, which is more than serviceable for the occasional selfie or Skype call.
The app itself has a truckload of settings, filters, and effects to play around with, and using it is more or less self-evident thanks to a new, icon-based main menu. HTC’s “Zoe” feature, which effectively lets you create makeshift GIFs, is back and still just as fun as it was last year. There’s even a decent amount of editing options, which lets you warp or tidy up pictures to a fairly significant degree. The interface really is one of the better mixes of utility and functionality out there.
On top of that, the One’s main sensor is joined by a second, smaller lens this year, dubbed the “Duo Camera.” It isn’t so much a second camera as it is a depth sensor that can add more post-production effects to any photo taken with the main shooter.
HTC’s added a few editing tools specifically designed to take advantage of this, and they’re all pretty fun to mess with. The best is probably “UFocus,” which allows you to take a normal photo and add a bokeh effect, changing the point of focus and stylishly blurring the background. A “Foregrounder” option uses the second sensor to filter the background, allowing would-be shutterbugs to add a motion blurred look or even a “Take on Me”-style sketch illusion. A “Seasons” option adds animated objects like snowflakes or falling flowers. There’s even a “3D Dimension Plus” effect that lets you maneuver around a shot’s perspective.
These kind of options range from silly to semi-professional, and while none of them are exactly necessary, they’re good fun to mess around with. You can spend hours taking their photos and exploring the options, turning your pics into something entirely different. The problem is that those photos are still going to be relatively dull, and lacking in detail. Without a better main shooter, all the interface and Duo Camera improvements here are inherently curbed.
The One’s 2,600 mAh battery is just 300 mAh larger than the pack found in last year’s model, which sounds like a recipe for trouble given the One (M7)’s struggles last year and the larger high-res display here. But while this One’s battery life still isn’t quite top-of-the-class, the improved efficiency of the Snapdragon 801 chip helps give it a noticeable boost in stamina. We were usually able to get 12-15 hours out of the One with everyday use (browsing the Web, streaming videos and music, playing the occasional game, etc.), which should be plenty of juice to get you through through an average workday. Unfortunately, the battery here isn’t removable, meaning that you’ll need to have a charger handy once the pack inevitably peters out.
Also of note here is the One’s “Extreme Power Saver” mode, which essentially strips the phone down to its bare essentials (calls, texts, and emails), but allows it to last for several hours with a low percentage of battery left. It isn’t available yet, and it isn’t likely to be something you will rely on all the time, but it could come in handy in emergency situations.