HTC One review: 'one of the most eye-catching premium phones yet'

First look: David Phelan spends some one-on-one time with the stand-out smartphone

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The Independent Tech

What do you do when you're a still-young mobile phone company that makes premium smartphones but is up against the toughest competition yet from Apple, Samsung, Sony, Nokia and a re-energised BlackBerry? Up your game, of course.

That's what HTC is hoping to do with its new flagship handset, launched today. The name itself hopes to convince you to look no further: this is the One. Last year the company released the One X, One S and One V. Now that choice has been refined to just one phone. And while the X, S and V were announced at the phone trade show, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, last February, this phone has been revealed a week before this year's show, to make sure the announcement isn't lost among other launches.

In all likelihood it would have been a stand-out no matter what was going on around it because the HTC One is a spectacular-looking phone. The Independent has had extensive hands-on time with the handset and it's easily one of the most eye-catching premium phones yet - from any manufacturer.

It has a 4.7in display which, because it's a Full HD resolution, 1920 x 1080 pixels, has the highest pixel density of any phone – 468 pixels per inch. This is almost half as many again as the already splendid iPhone Retina display. It looks drop-dead glorious, and the HTC One sounds great too, thanks to the stereo speakers on either side of the display and HTC's considerable smarts with sound: this phone is the latest to feature Beats Audio tech.

This is not a phone that feels fat in the hand. At its thickest point it measures 9mm from front to back, but the edges taper to just 5mm. And HTC has pulled off a remarkable technical trick: a metal case on a phone is tricky because it's hard to get the phone and data signals through it - which is why you'll find non-metal panels on most phones. Somehow, HTC has managed to build the antennae into the metal back and still make it work. Ingenious.

The camera is a real highlight of this phone. Phone – and compact camera – manufacturers are seemingly in a race to offer more and more megapixels on their devices. The problem is that phones can only have small sensors, especially in a slim body, so the only way to squeeze in extra pixels is to make them smaller.

HTC has created a whole new sensor which uses what the company calls Ultra Pixels. On a rival phone with a 13MP sensor, each pixel measures around 1.1 microns. That's small. The Ultra Pixels on the HTC One measure 2 microns, a big enough difference to gather 300 per cent more light than the 13MP model, the company claims.

This means, from the comparative shots HTC showed, massive improvements in low-light situations. These situations happen to be both exceptionally popular places to take photos on your phone (restaurants, bars etc) and the Achilles' heel of traditional camera phones. HTC's aim is to create photographs with detail, brightness - and no noise.

The company is taking a risk because the headline number attached to the camera is 4 megapixels – way lower than other phones so HTC needs to make clear that these are bigger, better pixels. When the phone's ready to be reviewed you can bet this will be something we'll be checking out in detail.

The other big story of the phone is Blinkfeed. HTC has routinely improved on the base Android operating system with its unique and largely superior interface. Blinkfeed is the latest innovation, a rich visualisation of what matters to you. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, of course, but mixed in with selected news sources - need we mention, the Independent is there from day one? It's a new and attractive way of interacting with your phone and – as usual with HTC – it's designed with exceptional elegance and style. The focus is on quick snacking, easy discovery and speedy delivery.

Has HTC done enough to stake its claim among the big boys? The full review comes later but this is a stunningly attractive handset with an eye-poppingly good screen and a cute, intuitive and highly pleasing interface. If the camera lives up to expectations as well, this phone could be a game changer.

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