Finland is a funny market. Home of Nokia, most interesting devices take a
while to actually become available here. Three years ago, I got my Nexus One by
help from a colleague based in UK. It served me well - while it had always been
pretty short on memory and for a long time had not been too impressive in terms
of speed, it had a nice form factor and, even by today's standards, a fairly
good display. However, I had been planning to swap to something more up to date
for a while.
The Nexus 4, however, still isn't available here. Sure, at times a local
retailer might have a few units with a
pretty unattractive price, but the value proposition Google gave for the
device is unreachable, since they will not deliver it from Germany, France, or
UK to Finland. So much for the unified trade region of the European Union..
So, when I first heard of
the HTC One, I had
not picked up anything as a new device. I had considered a Galaxy S III, but I
can not warm up to the imitation-chrome-rimmed plastic design Samsung is so
fond of. In sharp contrast to that massive sales hit of the Android world
(behind only the iPhone in sales figures), HTC One is a gorgeous design item.
Enough has been written about
its surface features, I see no point adding to that conversation. To my eye,
HTC One wins the physical aesthetics crown among current phones, with the
5 and Nokia's Lumia
720 coming behind it. Each represents a very different philosophy and
executes the details well. Anyway, I'm more of an Android guy, so even if One
wasn't so gorgeous, I would not pick an iPhone or Lumia for myself.
But Finland isn't among the first markets for HTC either - heck, often it
isn't an early market even for Nokia. In addition, One has suffered several
delays, just barely making it to some markets ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S4,
which must be its worst rival. So, especially since I managed to crack the
Nexus One's screen to an unusable state, I had to resort to foreign help again
- always a bit of a gamble with even with unlocked phones, due to the network
differences. Since I couldn't locate a device in Germany, it was time to look
what UK could deliver. And deliver it did - through Ebay, I received an
untouched, still-in-retail-wraps HTC One last Friday.
I have to say it's just as beautiful in real life as it was in pictures. The
finish is exquisite, with the aluminum, glass and polycarbonate seamlessly
fused together. I would have happily traded 10 grams more mass and a millimeter
in thickness for a more powerful battery, which I'm certain is the weakest part
of the device, but it's not difficult to come up with a strategy that will take
the device through my regular working day. As most reviews have concluded, it's
at the top of Android models, if not of all smartphones.
But what of the un-review? Here are the things HTC has failed to do a good
job with, all in the software installed on the device, as noted over one week
of use. Where I've figured out a workaround, that's noted, too.
- The Power Saver - yes, it has one built in. However, the way it's
implemented (as an always-there checkbox at the top of the Notifications
panel), it obstructs Android 4.1 from presenting the expanding notifications
(which are present only for the topmost item). Those notifications are very
useful. So, long-tap on the power saver option until an App Info pop-up
appears. Through that, you can kill the Power Saver to recover the notification
menu. For power saving itself, I use Llama
profiles and a few events I've come up with over time.
- The Calendar - several dealbreaker presentation problems, such as no
weekday info in the daily view, no event labels in the weekly and monthly views
(despite plentiful resolution to display small type on the Full HD 4.7" screen)
and terribly confusing multi-calendar display options. I replaced it with
own Calendar app, hiding the built-in tool. They'll show the same calendars
and this swap in no way prevents the lock screen and BlinkFeed from continuing
to show calendar entries.
- The keyboard's auto-complete and auto-correct is really irritating,
including that hitting space will complete words but not insert the space.
SwiftKey, which is a far more competent solution anyway - but I might not
have done it, had the keyboard been just that tiny little bit more
- The Share menu in HTC's own apps, including the browser. Limited to showing
only four sharing options, among which HTC's own service and the not-so-great
Mail app, all of the tools I use to share content (most notably GMail
require extra taps. Chrome does not suffer from the same issue, though, so for
browsing, this is easily bypassed. Too bad, because the HTC-customized stock
browser is otherwise quite competent, slightly faster, and supports Flash for
the few situations where that still is valuable.
- That Mail app. Sure, it will connect to various mail servers including
Exchange and private IMAP servers, but it's not nearly as polished as the GMail
app, and all my mail accounts are backed by GMail anyway. This would not be a
big deal, except for..
- The lock screen is able to show weather, upcoming calendar entries,
incoming SMS messages and the latest mail headlines - except, it will show the
latter from the Mail app only, not from GMail. D'oh. Naturally, some might
prefer to not show that potentially sensitive data on the lock screen, but I'd
prefer the convenience, if it worked.
While overall I still prefer stock Android to these manufacturer
customizations, HTC has improved on a couple of points. BlinkFeed is a nice
presentation of news, Facebook and Twitter streams without leading to any
undesirable duplication of work so common in these aggregation apps, the People
browser that replaces both Android's Contacts app and the stock dialer is
pretty good, though it takes some getting used to, and the camera application
is a good use of the unique capabilities of the device. Of the major flaws,
only the Mail/lock screen issue is something I have not found a workaround for,
and it's a stretch to call that issue major. Nonetheless, I hope and expect HTC
to deliver an update (perhaps along with Android 4.2) that would address these
issues, many of which have been already noted by others, too.
Oh, and the camera? Its 4MP "UltraPixel" direction certainly sets the device
apart from the competition. I have not done comprehensive side-by-side tests of
it, but it does have good low-light performance (especially considering others,
including the Lumia 920, use much longer exposure times and thus suffer from
more motion blur, even if their image stabilization were able to eliminate
camera shake). Perhaps the color balance could be slightly better. As for the
resolution, it's certainly enough for online use, though won't leave much room
for crops. Considering no mobile camera apart from the already-extinct PureView
808 can compete with a zoom-enabled pocket camera, let along a DSLR, I think
the camera performs where most consumers would need it to. I hope HTC's gamble
will pay off, and those same consumers won't be misled by the megapixel
The other stand-out feature, unmatched sound output certainly stands out as
well. This is the first mobile device capable of putting out a decent audio
stream that I've tried. I doubt music will ever truly sound good at this scale,
but at least its recognizable even from a distance. Most importantly, voice
output comes clear and loud, so this is by far the best speakerphone ever made.
If there's anything I can fault it with, it's this - even the lowest volume
setting is sufficiently loud to carry over in a quiet room in a way that might
bother other people nearby. I'd like one more setting below it, but headphones
solve this with minimal inconvenience.