Tuesday, August 20, 2013

HTC One review - part 2: Hardware


Here is the second part of the HTC One review. If you haven't read the first part yet, you can find it here - HTC One review - part 1. Design. This time we will review what lurks under the hood of the HTC One, and help you to decide if this is your chosen top end phone of 2013.
Overview

The HTC One is considered by many to be the Android flagship phone of 2013, and has topped the PhoneDog Smartphone Rankings weekly since March 31st. This not only makes it one of the most successful HTC phones of all time, it also means it has been at the #1 spot for longer than even the immensely popular Apple iPhone 5.

The success of the HTC One can be credited to the major hardware changes and UI overhaul following the criticism received from One X users. Blighted by build quality issues, the HTC One X launch wasn't the revolutionary moment HTC required to stay on top of their finances and 2012 can be considered the year that HTC fell from grace, edging behind Samsung and Apple in sales. Despite this, the HTC One X was by no means a bad device and still has many devoted users. In fact, it recently received the 4.xx.xxx.x software update (a rare feat among HTC phones) that was pushed via OTA and includes Sense 5.0 (more details here).


Image source: www.beatsbydre.com
The HTC One needed to be something special. With profits slipping and their partnership with Beats Audio hanging in the balance, HTC put their team to work. They had one goal in mind: to exceed the build quality of the Samsung Galaxy S4, while maintaining the trademark HTC style of rounded corners and a prominent camera lens.

On February 19th, as rays of sun began to pierce through the cloud which threatened to engulf the capital, the HTC One was officially launched in London. The album from this launch event can be found here.

As Peter Chou demonstrated the new features of the device to polite rounds of applause, doubt began to creep through the brains of critics. How could a flagship phone not include a removable battery, or micro SD-card slot? (On a side note, these two main arguments against the HTC One were discussed here "Virtual SD card on Android" and here "Removable battery - do we really need it?"). Also of note was the meagre 4 megapixel camera; with unproven UltraPixel technology, HTC had entered uncharted waters. Indeed, reading through the comments of a blog feed on launch day, it seemed people had instantly passed the HTC One off as a failure, and Samsung fans rejoiced at the imminent demise of HTC.

How wrong they were. The HTC One really does need to be seen to be admired. It is a real beauty of engineering, with a sleek aluminium casing exceeding even the quality of the iPhone 5, with a superior hardness rating. The unibody polycarbonate body of the HTC One X is a thing of the past, with each individual One casing taking 200 minutes to manufacture.

The result is a masterpiece - the chamfered edges add another layer of style and the polycarbonate highlights (used for the phones cellular radio) break the monotony of the aluminium and provide a great contrast.

Camera

Image source: www.htc.com/www/zoe/
The large UltraPixel lens is centred like on the One X, however it doesn't extrude which should result in less scratches to the protective glass. A single LED flash is located to the left of this. The camera features a 4 megapixel BSI sensor with 2µm pixels, which are extremely large, and allow for great low light photography. The pixels are capable of gathering 330% more light than typical phone lenses such as the Galaxy S4. The actual lens is a 28mm f/2.0 autofocus, and features Optical Image Stabilisation. This ensures that videos and photos don’t blur while moving. Photos are processed with the HTC ImageChip 2. This allows features such as 60FPS video capture and HDR video. Overall, the camera quality is great and allows for stunning low light shots, matched only by the latest phones in the Nokia Lumia range. A wide-angle 2 megapixel front facing camera is nestled in the top right of the device.

Sound

The main feature of the HTC One cannot be directly seen. The two aluminium strips on the top and bottom of the device house the stereo BoomSound speakers, and feature a unique machined hole pattern. Dual amplifiers mean that the sound output is extremely loud, and the clarity and bass are both exceptional. When compared to the output from the Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5, the difference in quality is night and day. No phone to date can match the HTC One for sound quality. Playing for example racing games on HTC One is a really great experience. Stereo system is just amazing.
Image source: www.corninggorillaglass.com
Screen

The front of the phone is no less sophisticated. The black bezel around the 4.7 inch 1080p (468 ppi) SuperLCD 3 screen is invisible with the screen off, which results in a great edge-to-edge effect. The screen itself has fantastic viewing angles and great colour accuracy, as well has being the highest display resolution on a mobile phone. While the screen is excellent, the brightness and colour vibrancy are still not as good as the iPhone retina display, and the black levels and saturation are behind the Samsung AMOLED displays, although those tend to have a bad blue/green tint. To protect the screen surface HTC decided to use Gorilla Glass 2, however it was probably possible to use newer Gorilla Glass 3 instead.

Few words about the design

The sides of the HTC One consist of injection moulded polycarbonate, which joins the aluminium panel to the front and maintains the zero-gap promise. The plastic has a soft touch feel, and helps to make the phone to feel even better in the hand. On the right hand side is the volume rocker, which is made of metal and has a nice spiral effect. The rocker is flush with the sides and has a solid click, although it can be difficult to find in a dark room as it doesn't protrude out.

On the left is the SIM card slot, which requires the SIM removal tool. Using a pin may fail, but paper-clip should do the trick). This could be a problem for people who may need to swap SIMs on the go, as you will need to carry around the SIM removal tool.

USB / IR

Up top is the IR power button and the headphone jack. The power button protrudes slightly and clicks well. This means it is easy to find. The IR capabilities are fantastic. It's hard to find a TV which isn't supported, and the inbuilt app has great functionality, including a TV guide. Any case which covers the power button will stop IR working, so bear this in mind when choosing your case. The headphone jack is just the standard 3.5mm.

Finally, on the base of the phone is the MicroUSB 2 slot for charging and data transfer. This is standard on most, if not all, Android phones. The HTC One uses MTP, which can be slower than USBMS, but supports everything just fine and most users will not notice a difference. The phone tends to charge in around 2-3 hours with the 4.2.2 update. This can be considered quite slow when compared to the iPhone, but it has a much larger battery to charge. The phone features a 2300 mAh battery, which can easily last a day of heavy use. The average screen on time tends to rest around the 4 to 5 hours mark, which is fine for most users, but cannot match the Galaxy Note series, which are known for their large battery capacities.

System On a Chip

The processor inside the HTC One is a new Snapdragon 600 by Qualcomm. This is a change from the NVIDIA Tegra 3 found in the One X, and is a quad-core ARM based chip clocked at 1.7GHz. This is the exact chip used in the Galaxy S4, but clocked 200 MHz lower to increase battery life. When HTC One was released, we already knew that Snapdragon 600 wasn't the highest model of the new SoC's family by Qualcomm. It's Snapdragon 800 being the top unit, and it seems to be the only member of new family based on new Krait 400 ARM-based CPU. Is Snapdragon 800 just a higher version of Snapdragon 600? No, it's completely different unit. It has nothing to do with S200, S400 or S600. While Snapdragon 600 is more like upgraded Snapdragon S4 Pro, the 800 is a true successor of S4 Pro. Snapdragon 600 model number is APQ8064T and Snapdragon S4 Pro (presented in 2012) model number is APQ8064. As you can see, "T" is the only difference. However, there are not much differences in the overall specification as well. Both units (S4 Pro and 600) have the same Adreno 320 GPU and Krait 300 CPU.
Picture source: www.qualcomm.com/snapdragon

However, S600 seems to have enough power to supply, because the speed and fluidity of the HTC One is something to be admired. Every system app can be launched in under 2 seconds, and the overall experience feels very snappy. In fact, the phone feels faster than Galaxy S4, which experiences many micro lags caused by its TouchWiz custom UI. The HTC One doesn't seem to lag at all. The only instance is caused by Android: poor scrolling in some apps. This can be because of two factors: Android has poor scrolling as a whole, or because GPU Rendering isn't enabled in the app. This can be force enabled under Development Settings, and can really help scrolling in unsupported apps such as Facebook as it means that the GPU is handling the rendering instead the CPU. The voltages of the processor depend on the CPU binning of the chip. Out of a max of 7, mine is 3. This means that it is around average. A higher number should mean better battery life as the voltages supplied to the CPU are lowered. 

With the new Snapdragon 800 processors due to be included in phones starting September, the 600 will soon be minorly outdated, but it is still an excellent choice. Bundled with this is the Adreno 320 GPU. This is one of the best GPUs currently available, and beats the PowerVR SGX 544MP3 found in the Galaxy S4. The iPhone 5 also uses a PowerVR, and due to it’s smaller screen size and resolution, this phone will generally play games smoother than on the HTC One, however at the cost of screen size.

Connectivity

One of the main issues which HTC had to tackle during the designing process of the HTC One was a how to ensure the device wan't susceptible to capacitive detuning, where the human hand would stop the radio form functioning correctly. An example of this was the grip of death experienced by the iPhone 4. HTC solved this issue in a unique and clever way: the antennas tune themselves actively in order to ensure the best Standing Wave Ratio and to match impedance during the presence of a hand or case. HTC introduced a new antenna feeding structure to ensure that attenuation doesn't affect the overall antenna performance regardless of how the HTC One is held in the hand. This active antenna tuning is a first for 2013. The actual antennas HTC uses are the metal strips at the top and bottom of the device.

The HTC One includes NFC, which allows wireless file transfer with other NFC enabled phones. There is a loop antenna below the aluminium near to the UltraPixel camera, which allows NFC to function. Despite having NFC support, the device lacks wireless charging. This is likely due to the fact that having the full metal phone means that it would not charge correctly.

GNSS support on the HTC One means that the phone can always find your location, and is excellent for in-car navigation. The phone supports both GPS and GLONASS, which means that it can lock onto satellites extremely quickly, and can track your location to the nearest 4 meters.

Wi-Fi is where the HTC One really excels, due to being the first smartphone on the market to support the next generation Wi-Fi - 802.11ac. This means that it supports 80MHz channels and a higher maximum PHY rate of 433 Mbps. The support comes from the new Broadcom BCM4335 chip, which also supports Bluetooth 4.0 and FM Radio. The Galaxy S4 only features the BCM4329. This new chip could potentially increase battery life due to a shorter duty cycle for the same throughput amount. The chip also has better range.

Picture source: www.anandtech.com

RAM / ROM memory

The HTC One comes with 2GB of LPDDR2 RAM. This is a boost from the 1GB found in the One X. Applications can cache more with a greater amount of RAM, and this can improve both scrolling and multitasking. The multitasking screen on the One has room for 8 app previews, and you can be pretty safe in saying that at least 6 of these will still be cached and ready to jump straight back into. Android handles multitasking differently to on iOS, and allows things to really run in the background. This means that downloads can continue if the app is closed, and that a YouTube video can continue to play if you leave the browser. One negative point of the RAM is that it is still using LPDDR2, while the Galaxy S4 is using the newer LPDDR3 RAM. This offers more memory bandwidth, and means that the RAM is faster at caching and loading from cache. This means a slicker multitasking experience. Despite this, the Galaxy S4 doesn't show much of an advantage in real world use.

The HTC One is available in two storage variants - 32GB and 64GB. There are some users saying even 64GB is not enough, but for most average users 32GB is more then they need. Keep in mind that neither HTC One or any other Android device was not created to be media storage. For that purpose we recommend buying mini-PC with at least 1TB HDD drive.

Modem variants

There are a few HTC One models available currently on the market. The main difference between them is the modem version and their capabilities to run under particular network frequencies. For more information on this matter please visit this thread - HTC One variants.



Conclusion

In conclusion, the HTC One has proven itself to be top of the Android class, and thoroughly deserves its extended period as PhoneDog #1 smartphone. The build quality is second to none, and the overall specs definitely don't fall short. On paper, the phone is a beast, but in the hand it's more of a beauty. 


Hardware Summary:

+ High-end Snapdragon 600 SoC
+ 2GB of RAM memory
+ Impressive camera capabilities with HTC Zoe feature
+ IR (infra-red spectroscopy)
+ BoomSound stereo speakers
+ 2300 mAh battery
+ Excellent full HD SLCD3 screen with 468PPI
+ Next generation 802.11ac Wi-Fi modem
+ GNSS support
+ Effective cooling system with aluminium unibody

- No LPDDR3 RAM memory
- No Gorilla Glass 3
- Only two capacitive buttons instead of three
- Under-clocked CPU (from 1.9 to 1.7 GHz)


Here are the official specifications of the HTC One:
  • 4.7-inch Full HD 1080p SLCD3 @ 468PPI
  • Gorilla Glass 2.0
  • 1.7 GHz Quad Core Snapdragon 600 (Krait 300 core)
  • 2GB LPDDR2 memory
  • 32GB/64GB internal storage (without SD-card slot)
  • Full Aluminium Unibody
  • MicroSIM card 
  • 2300 mAh Li-Polymer Embedded battery (non replaceable)
  • Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX enabled
  • NFC Capable
  • Internal GPS antenna + GLONASS
  • Wi-Fi: IEEE 802.11 a/ac/b/g/n
  • Infrared Remote Support
  • Micro-USB 2.0 (5-pin) port with mobile high-definition video link (MHL) for USB or HDMI connection
Camera:
  • HTC UltraPixel Camera (4MP)
  • BSI sensor, Pixel size 2.0 µm, Sensor size 1/3'
  • Dedicated HTC ImageChip™ 2
  • F2.0 aperture and 28 mm lens
  • Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)
  • Smart Flash: Five levels of flash automatically set by distance to subject
  • Front Camera: 2.1 MP, 880 wide angle lens with HDR capability
  • 1080p Full HD video recording for both front and back cameras
  • HDR Video
Sound:
  • Dual frontal stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers (HTC BoomSound™)
  • Studio-quality sound with Beats Audio™
  • HDR Microphone
Network:
  • HSPA/WCDMA:
  • Europe/Asia: 850/900/1900/2100 MHz
  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE:
  • 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
  • LTE: (optional)
  • EU: 800/1800/2600 MHz
  • US (AT&T): 700/850/AWS/1900 MHz
  • US (TMO): 700/AWS MHz
  • US (Sprint): 1900 MHz
  • Asia: 1800/2600 Mhz

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