Don't let the fact that HTC's dropped the "batshit-crazy space-age materials" of the three original One models -- the HTC One (yes, they've gone definitive with this year's naming convention) is not only the most beautiful hardware HTC's produced, but it's also running an entirely-redesigned Sense UI, with a few new tricks up its aluminium sleeve, too...
Just like some of the leaks suggested, HTC's chosen all-body aluminium for the Jelly Bean 4.1.2-running One. Measuring 9.3mm at its thickest point -- where the largest components are stored -- the edges taper down beautifully to 4mm (height is 137.4mm; width 68.2mm; weight 143 grams). I've never had a problem with HTC's build quality (indeed, they've always felt the nicest "in the hand", as it were), but this One is definitely the most gorgeous industrial design to come from an Android-producing design studio, and also one of the most laborious pieces of hardware to create, taking 200 minutes to create the custom-blend aluminium used.
Those glaring enviously Japan's way thanks to the Butterfly J phone which HTC didn't offer us can rest easy tonight, as the 4.7-inch display on the One is even brighter and sharper, with its 1080p 468ppi LCD screen. The Gorilla Glass 2 used in the screen curves nicely over the edge of the phone, so while that swish silver chamfer isn't visible front-on, the whole effect is very "infinity pool."
There may be some eyebrows raised at the all-aluminium body, but HTC seems convinced it won't detract from wireless and NFC performance. Several white plastic strips crossing the width of the rear likely help in this area.
Above the screen, microdrilled speaker grilles are joined by microdrilled speaker grilles below the screen -- that's right, there are dual speakers on this thing; both forward-facing, and with larger chambers than HTC's used previously. They're calling the effect "BoomSound", and when coupled with Beats Audio, the loudness was all kinds of impressive. I didn't listen to enough music I'm already familiar with during my demo, to ascertain quality, but I can tell you that at first listen, it sounded louder and clearer than the iPhone 5's speaker.
The one thing which grabbed my attention when playing around with the music functionality was the addition of a very WinAmp-style music visualiser, where visual effects and lyrics pulled from GraceNotes are displayed in real-time on the screen. Maybe I've done karaoke a few times too many, as I was particularly excited by that move.
To the right of the top speaker lies the forward-facing camera, which is 2.1-megapixels, and capable of recording 1080p video. The 4-ultrapixels rear-facing camera, meanwhile, sits about 3/4 of an inch from the top, smack-bang in the middle. It's not raised, and doesn't add a bulge to the One's chest, satisfyingly. But more on the camera, and its daring new tech, later.
Located on the top, the headphone jack sits on the right, with an IR sensor to the left. The volume button sits on the right of the One, with the microUSB port located on the bottom. HTC has kept the buttons completely flush against the body, a move which results in a more high-end feeling phone. Seriously, I've never been in a demo where I've had to wait so long -- and impatiently -- to fondle the unit being passed around a table of similarly-hungry journalists.
Below the screen, two soft keys enable the user to go back, or home (long-pressing the home button activates Google Now). I did have some issues in this area, where if I touched a key slightly too high, almost verging onto the screen, the bottom drawer's icons (phone; messages; browser and camera are the generic choices available) were launched instead.
Inside, the LTE phone is running on a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor with 2GB of RAM, and internal storage is kept at 32GB (though 25GB of Dropbox space has also been thrown in).
Dual HDR noise-cancelling microphones form part of what HTC's called "Sense Voice" (companies do love their marketing terms), and can supposedly turn volume of the calls up if background noise is detected.
The battery is, unfortunately, not removable, but at least there's a slight bump up from last year's One X and One X+ (which had 1,800mAh and 2,100mAh batteries, respectively), to 2,300mAh.
Accessories on offer include a flip-case with stand; a car holder, and a really smart double-dip case, where the body is light grey; the top red, and the bottom dark grey. I don't normally like cases, but it's clear they drew inspiration from last year's 8S Windows Phone.
While Nokia tried something different with its PureView camera technology (remember that bold claim of 41-megapixels?), HTC has gone in the complete opposite direction, in one of its riskiest moves yet. I mentioned before there was just a 4-megapixel camera sensor strapped onto the back of the One -- they're actually ultra megapixels; capable of letting in more light (to quote a HTC exec, 300 per cent more light than a standard (aka, the Samsung's Galaxy S III's) 8MP sensor.
The examples I saw pitting HTC's ultrapixels next to the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III's efforts certainly looked impressive (especially in low-light -- there just wasn't a contest at all, there), but obviously we'll be running it through some heavy comparisons during our review. For an explanation on ultrapixels, take a look at our guide here.
A few stats for you: the ultrapixel camera has a 1/3' BSI sensor with 2.0 μm pixel size, and uses an updated HTC ImageChip 2 to last year's models. The lens is 28mm on the rear with F2.0 aperture, and they've even crammed optical image stabilisation in too -- to both the rear and forward-facing cameras. Meanwhile, five different flashes help pick the right distance between you and your photographic victim.
A few new photo-editing functions have been added to Sense 5.0, such as the ability to lighten skin; de-shine and smooth faces; remove red-eye; whiten eyes, and even make them larger if your desired look is modelled on Japan's photo booths.
Perhaps more interesting -- certainly more novel, anyhow -- is the addition of what HTC's dubbed Zoe (after zoetropes, you know, the old toy which shows a horse trotting around as you spin the cylinder). Zoes are a way to bring your photos to life, and will inevitably draw comparisons to GIFs, Vines, and even the moving newspaper photos in Harry Potter, thanks to its 3 second-capture. If you switch over to Zoe mode, five photos before you capture your main frame will be snapped, along with 15 afterwards, and 3 seconds of video and audio. It's a little confusing to get your head around at first, but I can see myself filling my internal memory up with all manner of moving images -- scrolling through the photo gallery, each event is brought to life in a really interesting way.
Zoes, which weigh around 12 - 20MB each, can be shared with people using a new sharing service (HTC will only host them for 30 days, so you better remind your pals to view and download them or lose 'em), along with 30-second video highlights, which goes one step further to preserving those memories by automatically stitching photos, Zoes and videos together from an event, with the user able to choose from six Instagram-like filters and six audio tracks.
It's done randomly, but there is an option to have some control over the effect, and HTC even told us that in the future there'll be the ability to add your own personal tracks to these video highlights. A video highlight showing someone kicking a football around, when slicked over with a sequence shot filter, resulted in six or seven visions of the same guy, kicking the ball around. Very cute, and much easier to use than video-editing software or apps.
HTC hasn't entirely done away with the traditional flip-clock look of its Sense 5.0 UI; if you swipe left you can still add the usual homescreen widgets and shortcuts. But, if people choose to keep BlinkFeed as their homescreen, they'll have access to news from 1,500 providers (that's both local and global), plus their social-networking accounts (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Weibo and puzzlingly, Plurk) are all included.
It'll have people scratching their heads and saying that's what Motorola tried to do with Motoblur, and admittedly I was one of them at first. I'm really not sure if I'd keep BlinkFeed activated, but I think there's a lot of potential there, particularly in the future with some Google Now integration, or more of a concierge-style service. Basically, HTC will have to offer something different to what Flipboard and Feedly are doing, to keep people interested. At least the ability to add RSS feeds not offered within those 1,500 news partners...c'mon, Haitch Tee See!
Battery-watchers can tinker with the refresh rate in settings, needless to say.
Other areas HTC has tidied up in Sense include the calendar, which is much more streamlined and easier to use; the smart dial has been overhauled so you're no longer overwhelmed with a mass list of contacts or recent calls (just start typing the contact's name, instead), and the app grid size within the menu can be altered if you prefer larger icons, to 3 x 5 or 4 x 5.
TV watchers might find some value in HTC Sense TV, which uses the IR sensor located on the top as a remote for all manner of TV models (when setting it up, there are about six million TVs and set-top boxes to choose from). It folds a channel guide in too, so you can choose what to watch by searching through the channels, or genres, and even record them for later. Otherwise, integration with Blinkfeed reminds you of upcoming shows you may want to watch.
The One is available to pre-order today, but won't be available until mid-to-late March. Every network will be carrying the One, (pricing below) . Contract-free prices? Well, online retailer Clove is selling them for £510 (that gets you a 32GB model in silver or black). If you're curious about whether or not to plunk down cash for a pre-order, you can head over to the Phones4u Oxford Street store, where they've got devices in-store for you to play with right now.
- Vodafone: £99 upfront, then £33 per month for 24 months
- Orange: Free upfront, then £36 per month for 24 months
- EE: Free upfront, then £41 per month for 24 months, including 1GB of 4G data
- O2: No pricing as of yet
- Three: No pricing as of yet