updated 07:14 am EDT, Fri May 17, 2013
The HTC One could be the most enticing Android smartphone yet
The HTC One may be the ultimate iPhone switch-inducing Android device yet, even if the Samsung Galaxy S4 juggernaut remains unstoppable for the time being. There are a few of key aspects of the HTC's Android flagship device for 2013 that makes it the most likely to interest Apple iPhone 4, 4S and 5 users itching for a change of scenery, but who can't wait as long as September when Jony Ive's design-influenced version of iOS could be released. Many iPhone users also love the beautiful industrial designs that Jony Ive has cooked up for the iPhone over the past few years. For many, however, even if they have contemplated switching to an Android device, most were simply not made to Apple's high standards of design and finish -- until now.
The HTC One is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful smartphones ever made. It is the type of cohesive and solid design that can only come with the choice to go ahead with a built-in battery. The One is also made from the same sort of premium materials that Apple users have long come to expect in their devices. The combination of the aluminum on the front and rear of the HTC One, along with its seamless integration of glass conveys the same sort of premium look and finish found on the iPhone 5. Yet, it is in no way obviously derivative of iPhone designs from Apple, demonstrating conclusively that a manufacturer does not need to rip-off Apple to come up with an original and stunning industrial design. As a long-time iPhone user it certainly caught my attention and I suspect I'm not the only one.
Apple's iPhone Retina displays with their 326ppi pixel density have been the benchmark for smartphone displays until recently. For a good couple of years, however, looking at the PenTile displays and those with a lower pixel density on competing Android devices made the thought of switching pretty unappealing. Once you've enjoyed a high pixel density, high resolution display, it is very hard to go back. Just ask the many potential iPad mini buyers who like the form factor of the iPad mini, but are holding off for a Retina version of that device. The display on the HTC One has the highest ever pixel density on a smartphone at 468ppi packed into a 4.7-inch 1080p display. At 4.7-inches, it is not too big to navigate one-handed either - just not as comfortably as on the 4-inch display on the iPhone 5. If you chose the iPhone because you wanted a smartphone with the best display, it is now found on the HTC One.
iPhone users have also long enjoyed the audio quality on their devices and this only improved with the release of the iPhone 5. It produces the sort of high quality sound that has attracted a massive after-market headphone economy that has targeted iPhone users to take full advantage of this. This has not gone unnoticed by HTC, integrating Beats Audio processing into their devices, but with little real success until now. HTC has ramped Beats Audio integration up a notch on the One, which now also includes high-performance front-facing stereo speakers powered by a built-in Beats Audio amplifier. Listening to music on the device in an enclosed space is surprisingly satisfying, while the added call clarity and volume is a revelation. Having used the One for the past few weeks, I can say that the sound quality is rich and clear and simply great to listen to with headphones on or off.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for iPhone users who have considered switching from an iPhone to an Android device has been the Android operating system itself. While it has tended to be more feature rich and flexible than iOS for some time now, it often suffered from stability issues, freezes, hang-ups and lag. Even when many an iPhone switcher jumped on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), many also found the experience less than satisfactory and switched back to the iPhone. Things changed with the launch of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), and have since continued to improve for the better with Android 4.1 and 4.2 (Jelly Bean). Further, HTCs Sense 5 customizations work well for the most part, and retain the inherent slickness and speed that iPhone users have long enjoyed from the iOS user interface. It is the first Android smartphone, apart from the Nexus 4, that I have had absolutely no qualms about using as my regular smartphone.
If you look at the photos taken with the HTC One from our One review, you will see that the iPhone 5 probably retains an overall lead over the HTC One in general use. However, if low-light situations are where you are most likely to use your smartphone, the HTC One outperforms the iPhone 5 pretty handily in this regard. It might not take the best photos outdoors, but they are certainly not bad. It also has the advantage of being able to take photos in burst mode, while also incorporating a few other tricks up its sleeve like HTC Zoe. If photography has been a driving factor in choosing the iPhone, then you will probably want to stick with it for the time being, but the HTC does bring something new to the table with its UltraPixel camera.
HTC has also developed iPhone-switching software for Mac users, which is something of a pleasant surprise. HTC Sync Manager for Mac actually a pretty decent effort too, and gives One users the option to sync their music via 'drag and drop' or through its Mac interface allowing users to click and select multiple albums or photo albums for syncing. Most interestingly though, it also has an iPhone switcher utility built-in taking your last iPhone back up and syncing the critical data like contacts, and calendar across to the One. Sony has also developed similar software for the Mac as the two companies look like they are quietly trying to outflank Apple, while it fights on the main battlefront with Samsung. It's great for user choice though.
Sure, there are things that I miss in making a switch to the HTC One. For one, I can't sync my legally purchased movies and TV shows through iTunes. Of course, I will need to repurchase some apps, but I still much prefer my iPad to any Android tablet so my app and movie investments will still get plenty of use for the time being. The iPhone remains a great app platform and without it, we wouldn't have the HTC One, or Android, as it is now. However, Jony Ive's redesign of the iOS user interface can't come quickly enough, while I'd also like to see Apple do something really interesting with its iPhone hardware too. Apple's WWDC in June will be critical if it wants to reassure investors and iPhone users that it is still the innovation powerhouse that sparked the smartphone revolution.
In the meantime, HTC has developed a smartphone proposition that may actually be more successful at switching iPhone users to the One than it is at switching Samsung Galaxy S4 users. That is no mean feat.
By Sanjiv Sathiah