HTC One review
An Android smartphone can be beautifully designed and have an amazing screen and top-notch chipset, but none of this will make any difference if the software is rubbish. HTC sails closer to the wind than most on this front, as it heavily customises Android with its latest Sense interface.
Sense has always divided opinion, but this time HTC has really pushed the boat out. Running on top of Android 4.1.2 is Sense 5.0, and with it comes the end of the traditional Android homescreen, with its mix of widgets and icons.
Instead, you get what HTC calls BlinkFeed. This consists of a rolling grid of tiles, containing information aggregated from various news websites and your social media feeds. You can add all the major social media services, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr, but the choice of news websites is quite narrow; you get the Guardian, the Independent and Reuters for news, and CNET and TechCrunch for technology. For those used to getting their content from a wide variety of sources the BlinkFeed selection will seem very narrow.
BlinkFeed replaces the standard Android homescreen, and shows you news feeds and social networks in chronological order
It looks like the BlinkFeed needs to be specifically supported by the corresponding news outlet or website, so it remains to be seen whether overstretched publishers will be keen to support yet another platform. We found BlinkFeed more useful for keeping an eye on our Twitter and Facebook feeds, though, and often used Twitter links to find news stories anyway.
BlinkFeed is a clever idea which is in tune with how many people actually use their smartphones; to keep an eye on what's happening in the world and among people they know. Of course, if you prefer to use your Android smartphone to check your calendar widget at a glance on your homescreen before opening your email, you will most likely hate it.
The app tray is a smooth-scrolling lovely bit of design
The standard Android homescreen isn't completely dead and gone, though. Swiping right from the BlinkFeed takes you to a standard Android homescreen with space for the usual apps and widgets, and you can add up to three more screens if you need more room.
Most importantly, you can set a standard Android home screen as your default screen (the one that appears when you unlock the handset). BlinkFeed is still there, sitting to the left of the default screen, while your other home screens are off to the right.
Meanwhile, pressing the icon in the middle of the shortcut bar at the bottom of the screen takes you to the app tray, which is rather lovingly designed; we like the way it scrolls smoothly through pages of icons rather than continuously, as this makes it easier to keep track of where you are.
Although the HTC One shipped with Android 4.1, the company has announced that it is updating the OS to Android 4.2.2. While Sense 5.0 will remain the same, the OS upgrade adds new features and stability improvements.
Features from Android 4.2.2 that make it through HTC's customisations include the Android Daydream function, which allows data from selected applications, including Google Currents, the company's news reading app, to appear on-screen when the device is being charged. The audio sub-system, previously entirely reliant on Beats Audio technology, also gains the new equaliser.
Final features of the update include numerous tweaks to the underlying operating system designed to boost battery life, improve performance, reduce crashes and improve compatibility with certain Bluetooth accessories, along with the option to view the battery level percentage in the status bar at the top of the screen.
For those people that think that Sense is still a step too far, you'll be pleased to know that there's an HTC One Google Edition on the way. Announced in the US, but with no UK details so far, the Google Edition of the phone ships with standard Android with none of HTC's tweaks or additions. In this way, the phone is more like Google's own-brand phones, such as the LG-manufactured Nexus 4. This follows the news that there will also be a Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Edition, also running stock Android.
HTC has made a big deal about music playback ever since it first stuck a Beats by Dr. Dre logo on one of its phones, and the One is no exception. It has what HTC calls BoomSound – a pair of stereo speakers at the top and bottom of the phone - or left and right when watching video in landscape orientation.
Amazingly, these speakers sound reasonably good. It's the best sound quality we've ever heard from a phone, but the bar is set pretty low. The speakers are loud and produce audio with some definition, but the sound is certainly harsh with a definite high-end emphasis, but that's to be expected from speakers this size. We're also not convinced that putting loud speakers in a phone is a great idea, as most bus journeys we take are hellish enough as it is.
The One also has built-in twin microphones, which HTC says are designed for recording gigs. We didn't have any upcoming gigs during our time with the phone, so we decided to simulate one instead. We played back a Crowded House gig from YouTube on our PC with our speakers turned up high, and recorded the result on the HTC One.
When we played back the recording and compared it to the original, the concert sounded clear with little distortion, but there was a marked lack of bass compared to the original. You can compare the original video clip and the version recorded on the HTC One in the two YouTube clips below.
The original Crowded House recording…
And the same clip recorded with the HTC One's video camera
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