Hands on with the HTC One

HTC introduced its brand-new flagship smartphone, the HTC One, at a New York press event early Tuesday morning. While this sweet new slab of machinery won’t reach shelves until later this March, we got a hands on with the One to see if the phone is as good as it looks.

The HTC One feels like a supremely well-crafted piece of technology. The phone is made of aluminum that's refined in a process called "zero gap construction," making the One look like it was chiseled out of a solid metal brick. On top of the phone’s premium build quality, the handset weighs in at a scant 5 ounces and measures just 9mm thick at its center.

Kevin Lee
Thickness comparison of the HTC One versus a Nexus 4

The HTC One has a gorgeous 4.7-inch, 1920 by 1080-resolution display that makes text and images look crisp. Now, pair that screen with two stereo speakers powered by Beats Audio, and you have a smartphone that’s serious about delivering entertainment. What’s more is that this thing can become a portable karaoke machine, with a new music player app that pulls down lyrics provided by Gracenote that scroll along as the song plays.

Performance-wise, the HTC One is quick and snappy thanks to the 1.7GHz quad-core processor hidden inside its thin chassis. Along with the latest version of Android Jelly Bean, the One sports the newest version of HTC Sense—but this is not just another cheesy Android overlay.

When you start the One, it does not open to your typical home screen filled with apps and widgets. Instead, you’re presented with the BlinkFeed, which aggregates all your social networking updates and news content into a live-updating stream. For example, your feed could be filled with the latest game scores followed by new stories on The Huffington Post. Clicking any of these items will bring you directly to an easy-to-read mobile version inside an invisible browser.

Kevin Lee

The One comes with two cameras: a 2-megapixel ultra wide-angle camera on the front, and a 4-megapixel camera as the primary shooter on the back. HTC is not out to win any megapixel war this time around, instead choosing to focus on physically larger "UltraPixels." The Taiwanese company claims that these UltraPixels can capture 300 percent more light than other smartphone cameras for better low-light photography, as well as to capture faster action shots.

My hands-on tests with the HTC One somewhat supported the company's claim. The camera certainly captures more light in a dim environment to create a photo that looks more like what your eye is seeing. But at the same time, these images pick up a lot of noise that make dark pictures look extremely grainy.

Bigger pixels aren’t the only trick that HTC has up its sleeve: HTC also introduced a new "Zoe" camera mode that captures photos and video at the same time. While in this new mode, the One takes a quick burst of 20 frames of video at a rate of five frames per second.

Kevin Lee
An example of a sequence shot.

The new picture mode allows you to take an action-packed sequence of sports shots and compile them into a single image that captures every frame of motion. Alternatively, you could use another tool to remove people passing by in the background of your vacation photos. One of the coolest features of Zoe is how you can use the face detection to manually change a group photo so that everyone is smiling at the same time.

On top of some cool image filters and photo editing options, the One has a new self-editing video feature that creates highlight reels for you. The video is automatically remixed into a shortened version set to some background music with cuts and stylish transitions and effects. These highlight reels are uploaded to an HTC Zoe site with links that you can share throughout the social networking universe.

Kevin Lee

The HTC announcement was all about changing the way we use technology—from how we get our news to how we use our cameras. The only real knock I have against the HTC One are the noisy low-light photos; otherwise the One is shaping up to be a solid device. We’ll see if everything still clicks when the HTC One makes it into the real world in the coming month.

Updated at 2:03 p.m. PT with video from IDG News Service

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