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HTC One 2013 Review for Malaysia and Singapore

It’s been a while since I last did a phone review, mainly because I’ve been so busy, but those of you who followed BolehVPN since its early days know that I’m an avid phone switcher. This year, I switched from a Galaxy Note 2 to a HTC Butterfly and then to a Sony Xperia Z and now finally the HTC One which has landed in Singapore just this weekend on Saturday! In fact, when I bought it, the sales people at Challenger at Funan, weren’t even sure they had it in stock.

For your information, there hasn’t been any official announcement date for Malaysians though it is expected to come before the end of April.

There are a lot of reviews out there on the HTC One so I won’t go too much into the specifications but more on the general feel and impressions and how it stacks up against the competition.

LOOK AND FEEL

The HTC One is definitely a looker though the uninitiated, (aka my girlfriend and her housemate) thinks that it looks like an iPhone 5 because of its chrome edges. I beg to differ and HTC has managed to come up with a unique and differentiating design in a very signature HTC look building on the previous awesome designs of the HTC One X and the Butterfly. The curved back and the dual speakers definitely make it a looker and will illicit envious stares. I’m a bit concerned at the silver back as to how it would fare against scratches though and I’m not generally a fan of smooth surfaces as opposed to a matte grooved backing ala Galaxy S2 which gives better grip and is more scratch resistant. In fact, the HTC One, feels a bit slippery and I keep on worrying about dropping it. Though other reviews indicate that the metal backing is tougher than it looks without the metal chipping problems of the iPhone 5.

Compared to the Sony Xperia Z which exudes grunt and is great for fans of square-ishness and Borg-like looks, the One looks like a refined and sleek device, albeit it does admittedly has some Apple-ish design elements. This is pretty important considering the Galaxy S4 looks very similar to a Galaxy S3 and tips the scales into the One’s favour in terms of looks and design. It is a little big to hold in the hand though and I feel that the Xperia ZL (not the Z), has a better grip feel than the HTC One.

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CAMERA AND ZOE

No quick review would be complete without the much hyped 4 ultrapixel camera and I’m pleasantly surprised.  I was concerned that it was marketing hype and how it would stand up against a Lumia 920, and it fared pretty well.

For a good comparison, you can view TechnoBuffalo’s pretty comprehensive review here and you can see how well the HTC One fares. Where it shines are the low light scenarios where noise levels are significantly less. It just seemed like an improved version of the HTC Butterfly’s camera with better low light capabilities. It also trounced the Xperia Z, that despite its 13 megapixel EXMOR RS sensor, introduced noise into everything, a problem that has been expressed in XDA Developers as well. The drawback is that with the lower megapixel count, digital zooming becomes kinda pointless. However, it is a pretty competent holiday snapper and it goes to show that megapixels aren’t the be all and end all spec! In fact, the smaller file sizes generated make them that much easier to upload on social media (the destination of most phone snaps anyway).

I attach some of my own photos here for comparison.

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Zoe is pretty cute! I was a bit skeptical of how it worked at first as it just seems to take a short little video, but it’s how it’s being implemented that makes it functional being more like short snippets of something happening and then bringing them together in a automatically created slideshow with video and background music. I’m still coming to grips with it but the functionality is a bit limited with only a few song choices and it’s not immediately clear how to create a Zoe out of several different days together. The best part are the Gallery previews which bring your photos to life ala Harry Potter newspaper style.

You can view the Zoe I created here.

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SCREEN

I really love the screen. While the Xperia Z lacks punch and looks muted (unless playing movies and pictures (where the Bravia Engine helps), the HTC One’s screen is fantastic much like the HTC Butterfly’s. It may not be as punchy as an AMOLED screen, but colours are vivid with great viewing angles and good readability in daylight. I would take this screen over an AMOLED any day though that may be a matter of preference. Whatever it is, no one can doubt the quality of the screen. Also for the PPI addicts out there, yes it beats the iPhone 5 Retina (326 PPI) and yes it beats the S4 (441 PPI) as well. It’s 468 PPI and takes the pixel density crown (though arguably you won’t see that much difference at that level of density).

BOOMSOUND SPEAKERS

Ok, this is a pretty bad name for it but it’s what really makes the HTC One a great media playing device. No longer do you need to rely on external speakers as the sound coming out from the dual speakers in front are pretty decent, much like a good set of laptop inbuilt speakers which is pretty decent for showing videos to your friends or for watching while on the go. This is a pretty killer feature for me that sets the One apart from its rivals rather than just pure specs alone. It’s a functional addition that adds a lot to the experience.

BLINKFEED AND INTERFACE

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I was also a bit skeptical on BlinkFeed since it just appears glorified newsfeed much like FlipBoard except it’s on your homescreen. But it’s beginning to grow on me. We mostly whip out our phone for some thing to do and BlinkFeed facilitates this very well. A big gripe is that there are only limited feeds to pick from and you other options just include picking entire categories (eg technology and science, politics) without control of which sources appear. We understand this will be rectified in a software update. There’s also no clear way on how to disable BlinkFeed though you can just simply not use it and it will not drain data etc and set a different homescreen. On my phone at least, it will remain as the homescreen and especially so when more fine tuned controls for managing those 1400 + news sources that BlinkFeed uses… Kudos to HTC trying to be different.

However, what I don’t like about the interface is that HTC has removed the menu button which necessitates a virtual menu key in programs that need it that would takes up valuable screen estate. They could have replaced the HTC logo with an additional key.

BATTERY LIFE AND PERFORMANCE

Thus far, it performs beautifully and benchmark shows that it’s the most powerful phone out today which is based on the Snapdragon 600. Granted that crown appears to be only short lived once the Galaxy S4 (without LTE version) comes out based on benchmarks done on the unreleased handset. The LTE Galaxy S4 version would also use the Snapdragon 600. However, there’s no lag in usual operation and it’s snappy and responds well despite the heavier UI in the form of Sense 5.

Battery life is mediocre and about on par with the HTC Butterfly/Droid DNA though better than the Xperia Z. It’s average battery life and for normal use would last you a full day but for me would die in about 14 hours of use and need a top-up.

PRICE

The HTC One is at the high end of the scale in terms of price at RM2,299.00 in Malaysia for the 32 gigabyte version. In Singapore, it’s SGD986.00 for the 32 gb and SGD1,068.00 for the 64 gb. The 64 gb version will only be available later in May. This should be more or less comparable to a Galaxy S4.

VERDICT

This is really the definitive Android phone to own right now even with the S4 coming out. The Galaxy S4 may beat it in raw processing power but in terms of design and features, the HTC, arguably has the lead here. Samsung’s additions seem more like gimmicks (Smart Stay, Air Gestures) rather than actual functionality compared to HTC’s camera and BoomSound features which can be used everyday. The same in a way can be said for the Xperia Z which all it boasts is its waterproof capability (though I do admit enjoying to use it while showering).

It’s a pity that with delays in manufacturing due to parts delay connected to the UltraPixel camera, the HTC One was launched so close to the Galaxy S4 and as a result a lot of its thunder was stolen. HTC cannot compete with Samsung on specs relying on third party vendors such as Qualcomm and also cannot complete on a marketing standpoint with a much smaller budget than Samsung. Samsung’s advantage lies in the hardware side being able to control most if not all of the components in their phones hence better adherence to shipping dates and a wide distribution and production network, able to launch its phones quickly globally. Which is a pity since this phone, despite not being the most powerful phone out there, really shines in trying to be different and doing it well.

Despite its stunning design, unique features and all around great performance, most people don’t even know what the HTC One is nor know what the difference is between a One X and a One (bad marketing choice in my opinion). There was hardly any hype leading to it compared to the much fanfared S4. When I posted a picture on Facebook of the One, people thought it was a Blackberry Z10 and had no idea what it was! Even the aunties and uncles know what a S4 is and that is a real marketing triumph for Samsung.

HTC One embodies all that is good about HTC and also highlights its weaknesses. “Quietly brilliant” is the tagline of the Taiwanese company but unfortunately…a bit too quiet for HTC’s liking and hopefully it won’t be the last hurrah for a company in desperate need of a bestseller despite all its hard efforts. It’s only a matter of time until Samsung catches on as this rumour indicates.

2 Comments

  1. Dan says:

    What do you think the best android phone is with the smallest form factor? I’ve gotten to the point where most of my use is on a tablet.. but still want to carry an android phone for looking up information while on the go. I really want to minimize the size of the phone without getting into the really cheap handsets.

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