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HTC One 32GB Smartphone
HTC One
Once every long while there emerges a unique smartphone that raises the bar for design, speed and connectivity, and its camera. During my recent extended test of an HTC One with AT&T’s 4G LTE service, I discovered some surprising and interesting details relating to those categories.

HTC One Unboxing

Design

When I held the HTC One for the first time, I noticed the curved back and how smooth the metal felt. The glass screen may be slightly smaller than other smartphones on the market at 4.7″, but the feel of the glass seems more refined. The aluminum case seamlessly extends past the glass screen on the top and bottom, which house built-in amps with dual forward facing stereo speakers enabled with Beats Audio. The forward facing camera, proximity and ambient light sensors round out what is located on top.

Around the back of the phone, Beats Audio and HTC logos are visible along with circular cutouts for the Ultra Pixel camera, LED smart flash and a mini hole for the rear facing microphone. Thin strips of white plastic are embedded in the aluminum for the radio antennas.

Several remaining visible parts around the phone include a microSIM card slot on the top left side, a headphone jack and an infrared enabled power button on the top, a metal volume rocker button on the right side and a micro USB 2.0 port on the bottom.

Thin edges on the sides of the screen expand only slightly towards the bottom of the phone, where another HTC logo is located in between two touch sensitive buttons. A back and home button light up when the phone is in use. The completely flat front means there are no physical buttons to depress, which is a design carryover from the HTC One S. Some people that are new to Android might like a physical button to help them migrate easier from other platforms. Not having a physical button on the front made for a cleaner and more elegant design overall.

Speed & Connectivity

The HTC One is in “beast mode” right from the start. That is a popular term used to say that the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.7GHz processor handled everything without stuttering. From the processing of HDR images, burst mode photography and switching between playing videos, it performed well. The looks on people’s faces while using the burst photo mode were fun to see. Some of them came up to me to find out what the fast clicking sound was. They were genuinely excited to see that smartphones have evolved to this point.

For a few of the tests, I put it into a power saver mode. I did that because on some days I would burn through a full charge faster than I thought it should. The power saver mode has four options. They are CPU power, Display, Vibration and Data connection.

Over the years, I have found that smartphone displays consumed the most battery during a typical day. Now that 4G LTE is a standard, it along with the CPU speed would be the next two options to conserve power with. Simply tapping the mode to on, afforded me a battery that lasted all day. After a few days of having the mode on, I found that the capability of the device did not diminish to where I would need to turn it off.

AT&T Booth At CTIA 2013
AT&T Booth at CTIA 2013 at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas
The first day of testing for the HTC One was under some of the most extreme conditions for its 4G LTE connection. I took it to the CTIA Wireless convention in Las Vegas at the Sands Convention Center. The convention was expecting over 60,000 in attendance and nearly everyone would be on their phones using all available cell tower bandwidth. To my surprise, the device held a connection the entire time and from what I could tell, did not switch from 4G LTE.Connection speed tests during the show yielded several stunning results on AT&T’s 4G LTE network such as 11.3Mbps down, 5.2Mbps up on the first day of CTIA inside the convention area. The next test several hours later saw 10.9Mbps down with 5.8Mbps up. One more test the next day at the same convention saw 28.9Mbps down with 6.0Mbps up. For reference, the upload speeds I saw during each of these three tests are within 1Mbps of my home upload speed on a cable Internet connection. AT&T announced during the conference that they took the top spot in the 2013 PCWorld TechHive Speed Test.

For those times without access to 4G LTE or when you want to save on your monthly data allotment, the internal WiFi takes the role of connection to the Internet. This device comes with an ace up its sleeve. In addition to the 802.11 a, b, g and n standards, it comes with the newest ac draft. This means that if the router you are connecting to supports it, the HTC One will automatically switch to the fastest possible speed. This is excellent because the handset supports the capability to wirelessly stream media to a DLNA compatible TV or computer.

During testing, I found that the WiFi connection on the One was marginally faster than my slightly older test smartphones on the same WiFi access point. It was able to find more access points than even my computer because it can scan with a greater number of wireless standards. Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX is enabled along with NFC or near field communication on this model.

Bluetooth is important to connect with modern audio equipment including speakers, wireless headsets, car kits and other gadgets. NFC is a developing technology in the US, but is popular overseas. For those that travel and for future compatibility, NFC is a nice feature to be there just in case.

Camera

Fish Head from HTC One UltraPixel Camera
Fish at Shark Experience
The HTC One cameras, both front and back bring to market a new level of mobile photography for the smartphone enthusiast. While both cams do not have the highest amount of megapixels, they do a great job in capturing the moment. Features to HTC’s UltraPixel camera include a sensor that lets in nearly 300% more light than similar smartphone cameras. During testing, I found that the HDR or high dynamic range photos were slightly lighter in contrast than those from a Samsung Galaxy S4. The rear camera is capable of recording in full 1080p video, has a F2.0 aperture, 28mm lens, optical image stabilization and a smart flash that produces five levels of light automatically set by the distance to the subject.

Shark Experience HTC One Burst Photo
Shark at Shark Experience via Burst Photo Mode
Shooting photos of sharks swimming overhead in a curved aquarium with the UltraPixel camera produced many clear photos with plenty of light. The burst mode kept up with the fast moving sharks and gave me the option to save or delete any of the 20 photos. Another nice feature to the HTC camera software is that it will allow you to shoot video and take photos simultaneously.

San Francisco, California Pier at dusk
San Francisco Pier at Dusk
A front camera is usually an afterthought by smartphone makers, but again HTC has taken extra care to include a 2.1 megapixel 88 degree wide angle lens with HDR. This is the first device I have tested with HDR on the forward camera. This type of software and hardware combination will yield better selfies with adequate light.

Twin Peaks San Francisco
Twin Peaks in San Francisco, California
To round out the features included with the HTC One camera, it has a dedicated HTC ImageChip 2, HTC Zoe with sequence shot, object removal and what’s known as always smile. The HTC Zoe with sequence shot will be liked by those photographing anything that moves while in frame, like at sporting events.While taking photos at the aquarium, HTC’s video highlights app auto activated and gave me an option to create a video highlight reel. Mixed with music, it created a video out of my photos in an interesting way. The video only took about a minute to complete and it was small enough that I could then share it on Facebook or YouTube. A video highlight reel of photos used to take sitting down at a computer, but not any longer with the power of HTC’s software and hardware.

People that like recording video in slow motion are not out of luck with this smartphone. It did a nice job capturing fireworks and allowed me to playback the video at different speeds.

Wynn Las Vegas Waterfall HTC One UltraPixel Photo
Wynn Las Vegas Waterfall at Dusk
HDR, burst and panoramic modes were my favorite on the HTC One. As you can see, the first UltraPixel camera that has come to market does a good job and I hope to see great things with this technology from HTC and possibly other manufacturers.As smartphones go, new models from companies like HTC are received with a fair amount of excitement and fanfare from technophiles and regular Janes and Joes. But this time, an Android device has finally broken the plastic mold. A totally sealed, precision milled piece of aluminum with chamfered edges has emerged from HTC and hopefully they will continue to produce excellent devices like this in the future. An HTC One Developer Edition has also been released. With the power saver mode turned on, the battery lasts throughout the day.

The HTC One is one of the most talked about smartphones in recent memory and has been quite popular with customers from most of the major cellular providers in the United States. AT&T’s 4G LTE speed is certainly the fastest I have experienced in and outside of Las Vegas. As a top smartphone on the market today, the One is an easy yes when deciding what to purchase.

Disclosure: I received a review unit from AT&T. Opinions expressed here are my own.

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