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In-depth review: HTC One

On the Buttons: It's handsome, well-made and well thought through. Plus, the full metal jacket gives the phone a premium feel

David Phelan
Tuesday 19 March 2013 16:57 GMT

The world of the smartphone is not a two-horse race. True, Apple and Samsung are between them taking a lot of market share. But the players in the rest of the market are world-class: Nokia, Sony, BlackBerry and HTC, for instance.

Apple is currently gunning for the premium end of the spectrum with a pricey iPhone 5 and, for less wealthy customers, refreshed versions of its crowd-pleasers from previous years, the iPhone 4 and 4S. Samsung has a whole bunch of handsets including its aggressively priced flagship the Galaxy S III. In a month's time that'll be replaced by a similarly styled but more powerful Galaxy S 4.

So where does HTC fit in? Its latest model is a stunningly-designed high-end phone that holds its own even in the company of the iPhone. Look no further than the back: it's all aluminium apart from the glass camera lens and assorted other little bits. But this is a technological breakthrough. Previously, phones have needed plastic or glass sections on the back to let the phone signal through.

The metal jacket gives the phone a premium feel. And it works: in testing the phone thoroughly over the past ten days the signal quality rarely dropped and call quality was about the best I've ever heard. This, of course, is important as however smart your phone is, it needs to be good at the basics, too.

The HTC One has exceptional build quality, too: it feels like one piece of machinery with no join to get in the way. HTC has a history of well-made handsets, from its handsome Legend phone – also big on metal – onwards. But this is certainly the company's stand-out hardware.

Flip it over and the second eye-catching feature is revealed: a 4.7in display which has a higher pixel density than any on the market. There are 468 pixels per inch. You don't need to try and count them – this resolution is so rich it makes text look as smooth and detailed as a book.

And the size is big enough to prove pretty immersive, making it a great phone on which to watch video or check out the photos you've snapped.

The camera is probably HTC's big risk. Where the latest flagships from Sony and Samsung feature 13MP sensors, this one has just 4MP. This is not an economy measure. HTC's theory is based on the knowledge that the megapixel race isn't always the best way to go – headline-grabbing though it is. Too many pixels in the small space of a phone sensor can mean they're so small they're gasping for light.

The One's pixels are considerably bigger than most smartphones can manage. This helps in low light – always the trickiest for cameraphones to conquer and annoyingly also the very place many photos are snapped: parties, clubs, restaurants.

And the results justify the risky strategy: you can take photos on this phone which would be murky and indistinguishable on other cameras. Unless you use the flash, of course, in which case detail is bleached out anyway.

HTC has also built strong sound into the phone, thanks to its connection with Beats Audio. Two front-facing speakers give a beefy effect to video playback, though unsurprisingly the audio sounds best through headphones.

Then there's Blink Feed – a new interface designed to make it quick and easy to snack on information from sources like Twitter, Facebook and news organisations like the Independent. This is a highly attractive ribbon of images and text tiles which keeps you effortlessly up to date with your social networking and the world around you.

Don't care for it? Swipe right and you're back in the more familiar world of apps and widgets that characterise the Android smartphone.

HTC has some gimmicks built in, too. Like the infra-red blaster which ensures that the phone can work as an efficient TV remote. It's easy to set up and the result is effective: once you've told it what TV and set-top box you have, it will show you selected highlights for now and later, changing channel smoothly when you touch a programme's icon.

Maybe you don’t need a TV remote on your phone. Never mind, there’s plenty else to enjoy here.

This is a 4G handset. It’s compatible with the three frequencies the UK is using, ie 800/1800/2600 MHz, so it has the potential to be blindingly fast on all networks in due course. For now, though, if you want the fastest data connections, your only option is EE.

Battery life is unexceptional though should still get you through to an evening recharge. In fact, battery is about the biggest Achilles' heel here. It's hard to dislike a phone that is as handsome, well-made and thought through as the HTC One.

It certainly has a hard battle ahead to squeak in between the inevitable sales of Samsung's and Apple's crowd-pleasers, but if there's any justice, it will.

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