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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

HTC One review: The gorgeous HTC One is a winner Part II

Sprint just couldn't resist adding its own smattering of bloatware to the HTC One. SprintZone rolls up access to your Sprint account and its own software, video, and music storefront in one location. A separate Sprint TV & Movie app hawks live programming from the likes of Fox News, Disney, and ABC along with video from partners such as Crackle and mFlix. Sorry, but I'll pass.
It's hard to ignore the HTC One's metallic design.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Core hardware
A flagship smartphone wouldn't be worth its salt if it wasn't backed up by a bevy of screaming components. You'll be glad to know that the HTC One doesn't disappoint. Beating inside the heart of this regal machine is a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, fresh off of Qualcomm's factory floor. It's the first device I know of to officially feature the new silicon. Because of that, I'm sure a lot of smartphone addicts out there will be itching to get their hands all over this gadget.
The HTC One will also ship in two memory configurations, a stock 32GB (internal storage) model and a tricked-out 64GB version. Both devices, though, will feature a full 2GB complement of RAM. Keep in mind, though, that Sprint will only sell a 32GB version. The One features wireless radios for Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11 a/b/c/g/n Wi-Fi, plus NFC connectivity too.
Quick benchmark tests confirmed the HTC One's processing power. My Sprint HTC One unit turned in an impressive Linpack score of 696.97 MFLOPs (multithread) which the phone completed in a short 0.24 second. Additionally, the device managed an astronomically high Quadrant score of 12,194. Both results are the fastest I've ever measured on an Android smartphone and prove the One is more than a match for the HTC Droid DNA (401.6 Linpack, 8,165 Quadrant).
Anecdotal use backed up my impression that the HTC One is a seriously nimble machine. The device smoothly flipped through menu screens, launched apps, and fired up Web pages with no hiccups or stutters to speak of.
Call quality
I tested the Sprint HTC One on Sprint's CDMA network in New York. On my test calls, I enjoyed relatively clean audio quality with very little distortion. Callers described my voice as clear if a little flat, and could easily understand the words I spoke. They did notice a slight crackle at the beginning of sentences and could certainly tell I called from a cellular connection.
On my end voices came through loudly but also had a hint of robotic flatness. Callers, however, said the speakerphone handled audio well and transmitted what I said clearly. Despite the HTC One's large speakers, though, I was surprised that the speakerphone didn't produce an impressive amount of volume.
HTC One (Sprint) call quality sample Listen now:
Data speeds
While the HTC One is compatible with Sprint's 4G LTE network, the carrier's fast data service is only available in a handful of locations. Sadly, New York -- where I tested the phone -- isn't yet one of them. As a result I clocked slow data throughput speeds that were pokey even for 3G. Average downloads came in at just 0.45Mbps and upload speeds at a similar 0.46Mbps.
(Note: we'll update this section with additional data tests once we're able to test the phone in an LTE market.)
Battery life
An embedded 2,300mAh battery serves as the One's power source, which I admit doesn't sound like much on paper, especially compared with phones with ultra-high-capacity batteries such as the Motorola Droid Razr HD Maxx (3,300mAh). Of course the HTC Droid DNAmanaged a long 8 hours and 43 minutes on the CNET Labs video battery drain test with a smaller 2,020mAh battery.
In terms longevity, though, the HTC One didn't disappoint. The phone beat out the Droid DNA on the same test, lasting a full 9 hours and 37 minutes when subjected to the official CNET Labs video battery drain benchmark.
The HTC One continues the company's strong focus on phone camera capabilities. The new One handset features an updated ImageSense system and new ImageChip 2 hardware, along with a revamped light sensor. Called the Ultrapixel Sensor, it technically is able to capture a resolution of just 4 megapixels. Still, HTC says, the actual size of the sensor is larger and the pixels it creates are much more detailed. HTC claims that the end result is a camera able to capture 300 percent more light than competing camera phones.
With the phone in hand, I can confirm that its camera is extremely fast, capturing shots almost instantly.
Colors were accurate in still-life shots. Click to see larger image.
(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)
Color was also accurate in both my indoor still-life shots, if a bit dark. Outdoors in strong sunlight I did notice some heavy-handed image processing, which tended to blur background details, especially with complex forms such as the branches of trees and other foliage. Also, while the HTC One could take images quickly in dark environs, thanks to onboard hardware image stabilization, the ISO was bumped up so high that color noise became rampant.
In sunlight, colors were bright but details were heavily processed. Click to see full image.
(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

In low light, color noise became a problem.Click to view full image.
(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)
How does the One's camera compare to the competition? My colleague Jacqueline Seng included the HTC One in a four-way smartphone camera shootout with the Nokia Lumia 920iPhone 5, and Samsung Galaxy S3. (We plan on doing another head-to-head shootout once the Galaxy S4 is released and will update this section accordingly.)
I do like that the camera can record short 3-second videos, what HTC has labeled the Zoe (inspired by 19th-century Zoetrope movie machines). The idea is for users to shoot these brief clips, similar to the Vine app for iOS, and share them with friends and loved ones via a special camera mode within the HTC One's camera app.
My favorite camera feature is that the HTC One will automatically stitch together highlight reels based on all the video, pictures, and Zoes you've snapped each day. Each highlight film is set to canned HTC music, which I admit isn't that bad, and you have the option to save them as MP4 files locally or share them via Facebook or e-mail. Frankly, it's a cool little tool to keep family in the loop about the kids' latest shenanigans or present a polished spin to daily activities.

Which carrier?
In this pre-Galaxy S4 world, there's no doubt in my mind that the HTC One is currently -- for the next few weeks, at least -- the best Android option on Sprint. Ironically, though, that may be the weakest carrier on which to get the One, thanks to Sprint's poor 3G infrastructure and scarce 4G LTE access.
I suggest One fans go with AT&T if blazing 4G is what you crave. At the moment, AT&T's 4G LTE network is a known quantity and it actually exists including in major metro areas such as New York and San Francisco.
Go for a T-Mobile HTC One if the carrier's no-contract plans and lower prices appeal to you. And while T-Mobile's LTE network has barely gotten off the ground, its 3.5G HSPA+ speeds approach real 4G in quickness.
Not committed to any carrier just yet? Perhaps the special HTC One Developer Edition is your number. While its steep $649 unsubsidized price might be hard to swallow, the fact that the device features an unlocked SIM Card slot and bootloader made for tweaking is tempting. Built to work on U.S. carriers, HTC says the phone supports GSM, CDMA, and LTE signals plus is available now for preorder.
The power key doubles as an IR blaster.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
With the One, HTC has created a premium phone that's fast, thin, and flaunts a very sexy design. In my experience, the phone's screen and its camera largely live up to the hype, though the camera's low-light performance is a bit oversold.
I was surprised, however, by how much fun I found the phone's Highlight video function to be. Sure, shooting Zoe videos is limited because it uses a proprietary file format. The Highlight movies, on the other hand, are convertible and much easier to share. It also resulted in me capturing one of my best phone videos ever, but new parents are a subjective bunch.
BlinkFeed may be nice to some but a pain to others.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Opinions on manufacturer-specific Android skins vary, with the general consensus being that deviating from Google's stock Android interface usually causes more harm than good. While it's as subjective as anything else, I liked the new, more subtle Sense UI found on the One. The BlinkFeed feature, meanwhile, may be exciting for Android newbies but isn't extremely useful for smartphone veterans -- and it's annoying that you can't uninstall it.
If you can get past the few drawbacks, the HTC One is without a doubt worth buying. However, with the Samsung Galaxy S4 right around the corner and competing head-to-head with the One on T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T, Android lovers should wait to see how the two compare before making a final decision.
Immediately there's one clear difference between the two phones. For the same $200, the AT&T HTC One nets you 32GB of storage while the $200 GS4 has half as much (16GB). Of course we'll be updating this review once we've had a chance to spend some quality time with the Galaxy S4; in the meantime, you can see how they stack up from a specs perspective, with the iPhone 5 and BlackBerry Z10 thrown in, to boot.
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