Product Review: HTC One Android Smartphone

Taken from http://www.dailytech.com

Those who know me will understand I am always go for all things that gives me total control on how I use my tools and the same goes for my choice of smartphones hence I am not a fan of iPhone, iPad or anything that has an “i” in front. Smartphones are like cameras. There is no right or wrong when it comes to tools so when it comes to Androids, there is no right or wrong too.

With that out of the way, let me tell you something when it comes to HTC and me. I am a long time fan of HTC. When HTC was know as O2 in Singapore, I was already a fan although to me it was really a love-hate relationship because of the Windows Phone OS. Slowly they introduced the short lived Dopod brand and I got myself the grand daddy of multi purpose smartphone or phablet in the form of the Dopod U1000. As a testament to HTC’s prowess in the hardware category, the Dopod U1000 is still working fine to this day.

To its credit HTC is always ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation and they are really the first one to fully embrace the Android wave if one remembers the HTC Magic and then the HTC Dream with the slide out keyboard. HTC was synonymous with being new, creative, smart; in short, the one thing a geek would want in his pocket other than the hot babe(s) in a barely there bikini.

The very first Phablet, the Dopod (HTC) U1000

Then something happened, Samsung stormed in with their Galaxy Phones. The Korean Chaebol has since created wave after wave of hit mobile phones after they released the Galaxy S. The S3 is to my knowledge and memory, the only phone that created long queues outside mobile phone shops other than the iPhone. And they pull in their geek credentials too with NFC, gorgeous AMOLED screens and fast processors. They are so successful that when the Phablet known as the Note came, people accepted it like fish to water and created a new category of phones.  All of a sudden HTC was caught off-guard, being beaten by their own game providing razor edge technology to the masses.

Fact of the matter is that we can’t blame HTC for not trying. I did buy the HTC Hero (yeah the first HTC Phone with the chin) and I am very comfortable with the phone. But replacing it after 2 years was a dilemma then. In one corner was the Samsung SII and the other corner was the HTC One X. For people who knew me, they would have expected me to get the HTC One X. Did I give the HTC One X a fair go? Actually I did. I still remember attending the HTC One X photography marketing exercise done at Suntec City with M1 and we went out via the Riverboat to take shots in the rain. I still have the umbrella.

In the end, I went Korean instead of Taiwanese. Why? The very reason why I (and perhaps I speak for many Android geeks) is the ability to swap batteries and to upgrade our memory via the MicroSD card slot. Reasons are simple. Battery dead? Buy a new one. Need a higher capacity battery? Buy one and install it yourself. HTC One X? No can do. And when we upgrade phones, the MicroSD card is the easiest way to upgrade as we do not need to sit in front of the PC to use our new phone immediately.

What’s worst was that we cannot use On-The-Go (OTG) SD card reader with the HTC One X. HTC just shuts down that option.  It was important for me because I can just plug in my memory card from my camera and transfer some photos via the Internet. I can just transfer files from phone to thumbdrive. A smartphone is supposed to be smart right?

HTC phones since the One X has been crippled in its feature set and found itself having a tough time wining the hearts and minds of would be Android users. To put it bluntly, the problem did not lie with the HTC  marketing message or machinery but purely because the products just fell short of what its competitors are offering. It is after all a specification war first and foremost since the OS is pretty standard (apart from the User Interface).

But kudos to HTC One X. Their camera feature was and still is a real treat and a threat to other phone manufacturer. I guess Nokia got the wind and do something similar with their Lumia 920 with their excellent PureView and was greatly enhanced by the 920 but alas Windows Phone 8 doesn’t work for me.

Fast forward a year and now we have the HTC One. In all honesty I think the codename for the One – M7 – sounds better and it just makes it sound more, masculine. One? I just don’t get it. Which One? That One lah! Is that the only One? Maybe is that One.  You One (wan) or not? And this One can be confused with that One X/V etc.

So now we have this One and I have the honour to touch it before it is launched in Singapore.

First up the specifications

  • Android Jelly Bean 4.1.2 with the new HTC Sense 5
  • Size: 134.36 x 69.9 x 8.9mm
  • Metallic unibody construction design (Superb! WAY better than the plasticky One X. It feels that you are buying a Rolex and not a Swatch – Please note Samsung!!)
  • 135 grams with battery
  • 4.7 inch super LCD 3 touch screen 468 PPI
  • HD 1080p
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 1.7 GHz Quad Core
  • 32/64GB Storage
  • RAM 2GB DDR2
  • LTE enabled with microSIM card + Wifi
  • NFC
  • DLNA for home entertainment
  • micro USB 2.0 (Great. No need another *cough* lightning *cough* cable )
  • Beats Audio
  • 2300 mAh battery (lasted me the whole day on a single charge)
  • Social Media + News – Blinkfeed
  • HTC Camera Specs
    • ImageChip 2
    • F2.0 at 28mm (35mm focal lengthequivalent)
    • Ability to shoot video and grab full resolution screen grab (WOW!)
    • Mini 30seconds video (gimmicky? You can see my sample here: https://zoeshare.htc.com/wzLQjwQ21)
    • Optical Image Stabilisation (good to have but nothing beats placing your camera next to or on a stable object like a wall/column/table)
    • Smart flash
    • 1080p Full HD Video for BOTH cameras (wow!)
    • HDR Video (another wow!)
    • HTC Zoe Camera Application
    • Retouch Object Removal, Always Smile and Sequence Shot
    • Wait for it…wait for it!! FOUR (4) ‘Ultra’ Megapixels Camera (I hear choruses of ‘WTF?!?!’ and ‘R U Sirius?’ going through the air. Please hang on to your horses and do read my review on this ‘small problem’ below)
  • Entertainment
    • 3.5mm stereo audio jack
    • BoomSound
    • Beats

With the above out of the way and with my comment in parentheses, I will now focus on the more critical stuff that reviewers will look at.

Entertainment

HTC One Speakers at the front/ IR transmitter hidden as On/Off Button

The HTC One with the 4.7 inch screen is nothing short of breathtaking. Ok perhaps not that breathtaking since I have used my PadFone 2 for sometime now and both with the new LCD screens is brighter, sharper with very good contrast. My eyes don’t strain as much while using these top of the range screen with 1080p Full HD and they are bright and easy to read while under the sun (just make it brighter for outdoor use).  Moreover there are no visible ghosting. The screen size of 4.7 inch is just nice not to be categorised as a phablet. That means it is a good sized phone – not too big for the pocket and not too small for the eyes. Perfect.

HTC has been linked with Beats as part of their campaign to appeal to the younger set of users. I personally think it harms them more than helping them as Beats can be said to be a brand that charges a premium for, at best, a blend performance headset even for its top offerings.

So having Beats in their handsets is not really a game changer at all as we want a phone, not a Walkman. Beats creates a perception that is expensive with little or not value proposition for most users. Just give us a good equaliser and we are good to go.

Putting that aside I am at least glad that someone has make the most practical decision when it comes to speaker placement – the front- and not with just one puny speaker but two! That beats (pun intended) the competition hands down.

Putting speakers  at the back of the phone muffles the sound when place on the table and the other manufacturers should take a leaf out of this for the smartphones (for this I would also commend Samsung for putting the speakers in front of the tablet too!). The placement has made movie viewing so much more enjoyable. For those who want better sound quality, then I would still suggest to go for a good head/earphone set (with the activated Beats sound).

Sound wise at least it is clear and a tad sharp to some and the bass can be heard but not what I considered as earth shaking. Nevertheless I am glad that someone in the design department has some common sense to do something right for once.

:Sense TV: – Underated Feature that is the Killer App.

I would say this is the most underated feature of the Phone. Why? OK let me ask you. Whenever you are watching a program on the TV, is the phone next to you or with the pile of remote controllers? You do? Then would it be great that the phone can also act as a universal remote controller for your TV, your MioTV, your Starhub box and your amplifier?

Think about this. You are just flipping through some messages and then you wanted to switch a show. Instead of reaching out for a remote controller, you actually start the in-phone app to control the boxes. Cool ain’t it? And what’s more, Sense TV will also load up program details from MioTV and Starhub Box channels (Sorry folks, I am writing from the Singapore perspective so do check that HTC One supports your local cable TV providers) via the Internet and if a program you fancied is coming up, you can just press the phone screen and the program will come up on TV!

How did the phone do it? Very simple – they have incorporated the Infra-red transmitter into the on/off button at the top of the phone and so you can ‘train’ your phone to take over the original remote controllers. No more fumbling with DLNA and WiFi set up. Fact is the phone have both but really nothing beats IR simplicity. Genius!

: Blinkfeed: Social Media + News

Taken from blog.htc.com

HTC has introduced a new live home screen called Blinkfeed. Nope it doesn’t mean you blink and you will feed yourself….hmm….come to think of it…it is exactly what it meant – blink and feed yourself with news! It is an almagamator of Emails, Messages, News, Calendar notification, Photos from Flickr, TV program feeds and reminders, Social Network feeds from Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin/Weibo/RenRen and updates it while you are on the go.

Judging by the way my battery lasted me the whole day easily with a single charge with normal usage (simple checking of emails and facebook feeds, taking snapshots, a few SMS and a few calls), I would say the App actually didn’t take up too much battery juice to work.

Blinkfeed reminds me of Windows 8 Metro UI or Flipboard unfortunately because of the boxes. Either you hate it or love it.

Is it useful? Perhaps for some who likes RSS feeds that pushes information to you, the Blinkfeed is a god-sent. There are of course other Alamagamator Apps such as Flipboard but the Blinkfeed seems to edge it out a bit there. Would I use it? Well it is given as part of the phone so I would use it as and when I am bored and want to flip through the Home screen; Otherwise I will go straight to Facebook to get my daily social fix.

:ZOE: HTC Camera App

OK. Are you done with all the cursing and swearing that HTC One  has ‘only’ 4 Mega Pixels? Great! Now take a deep breath and look at the chart below:

Taken from http://www.westcoastimaging.com/wci/page/info/FAQ/faqprintlab.html

Those who followed my blog will understand my disdain using the Mega pixel count as a marketing tool (the latest post on the same subject is here: https://wilzworkz.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/having-mega-pixels-our-notion-of-quality-and-print/).

If you are not privy to what is this Mega Pixel myth, I will attempt to  explain it within a paragraph. The myth suggests that for one to have a very good image quality, the number of pixels in a sensor determines the sharpness and clarity that the camera can produce. All well and good yes? Now why am I showing the table above? It is to show you that the size of the print and its print quality (purple colour means photo quality) is determined by the Mega Pixels that a sensor produces.

As the chart above is used by a printer, the information therein gives a good idea what we do need in our tools. Just remember this. Mega Pixel count plainly deals with the print size of the image you would want to print. And in some cases, with more Pixels it would also mean more leeway to crop the picture. You can say that it is another form of digital zoom. But how many Mega Pixels is needed when it comes to everyday use?

Now stand back and ask yourself this very simple question. How many times do you print your photos at A4 size (8 in x 12 in)? Or even 5R or 4R which is half the size of an A4? Hardly? So what do you use your photos for? Sharing…so that would mean the screen is important for you to see and share your photos with. And Mega Pixels is not as critical as you think it should be when measuring how good a camera function is.

Now how much do you think the screen need to show your picture in native resolution and in good detail (that means one pixel on the sensor is represented by one pixel on the screen)? A Full HD Screen will need 1080 pixels by 1920 pixels = 2073600 pixels or simply 2 Mega Pixels. That means for you to show sharpness on your TV screen at home, be it 50 inch or more, it is more than sufficient to use a 2MP camera (unless it is an Ultra High Definition 60″ screen but it can be easily be met by a 10MP camera).

If you are still not convinced, perhaps you can use your screen monitor and determine which of the pictures below is taken with the HTC One X (please don’t cheat 🙂 ). My reputation is at hand here so I won’t massage the images here via post editing to make the HTC One or any of the products I am using for this test looked superior than any other gadgets.

The images are straight from the cameras and they all go through the same resizing via Flickr engine except for one picture that is shot in 3:2 aspect ratio and I cropped it to have the same ratio as the rest of the contenders so as to not give the game away. Pictures are taken without any in-app enhancements and they are at even exposure (EV = 0) with matrix/multi metering. In short it is done everything at default automatic settings so that one can test how good the image processors are.

So by the marketing message we all hear is that having less Mega Pixels would mean that pictures will be worse off in terms of image quality, then please choose the worst picture of the lot below and that will, by the definition of more Mega Pixel is good in everything, lead you to the picture taken by the HTC One. If you can’t see the difference (after all normal users do not have trained eye to see photos), then it is also a confirmation that 4MP is good enough for on-line consumption of photos.

Below are taken by one professional level compact camera and the rest are smartphones. If you want to guess, please comment in this post. I will reply with answers next Sunday.

Candidate 1
Candidate 2
Candidate 3
Candidate 4
Candidate 5

As far as I am concerned, the usage of a sensor that matches what one is doing will in turn reap more in terms how good an image is captured.  I am at least glad that HTC has the guts to do what even some major manufacturers has failed to do – to maximise and improve on the sensor technology instead of piling more and more pixels into a fixed space with no actual benefit at all except for having bigger print size.  Would you print a picture that is taken horribly?

The usage of a 4MP sensor actually allowed more light absorption at the pixel level. Why do we mean by that? Image you have a fixed square area to fill with boxes and each box is representing one pixel. Let’s say you can fill 16 boxes in that square space (4 rows and 4 columns). If I want to increase the number of boxes from 16 to 25, what would I need to do in order to make sure the space is kept constant? Yes you would need to reduce the size of the boxes.

In practical sense, the bigger the box, the more things you can hold in that one box. If the pixel is bigger, it can absorb more light at that pixel level. What one sacrificed would not be the print quality but will  determine the print sizes that the users can opt for. So Mega Pixel count directly affect the ability to print big and for photographers, the ability to crop tighter.  I do agree that more pixels would also mean a better representation of colour graduation (i.e. how a photo can hold graduation of colour and light intensity from black to white or darkness to brightness.) but still it is more to do with print rather than actual representation on screen since ALL sensors needed to be downgraded to 2MP level, the number of pixels to represent graduation on the screen will still be the same for ALL the sensors. So even if you have the super duper 36MP Sensor DSLR, the computer would still need to translate all those pixels into a 2MP screen to make it practical for on-line sharing.

So if we are to agree that majority of the users of smartphones are using the pictures taken on the smartphones to be shared instead of printing and even so, they would be printing images no bigger than A4 size majority of the time, the usage of 4MP is definitely sufficient for majority of the users.

And there are much better benefits when having a bigger pixel capture

  • The colors are more accurate
  • You can shoot better at night because the bigger sensors do help with light capture and using tripods are serious impediment to mobile phone users.
  • Avoiding false colour dots or ISO noise
  • Smaller image file size = more pictures can be captured
  • Smaller image file size leads to other camera centric features such as the micro video and 1080p video+full resolution still capture. Imagine doing that with 13 MP sensor with their huge files.

I am not the only one who actually celebrate the break from the Mega Pixel War when it ended (apart from Nikon D800 36MP sensor and the Nokia 808 42MP sensor). There are other sites that decry the use of MP as the standard to denote image quality and I am not alone.

Ken Rockwell: http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/mpmyth.htm

Astropix: http://www.astropix.com/wp/2011/03/01/sampling-and-pixel-size/

So to cut the long story short, here is my image quality equation. Do note that Image Quality <> Print Quality.

Image Quality (IQ) = Sharpness, Clarity (as in colour separation and graduation), ISO Noise control (No fake colours) = Lens used + Sensor used + Processor.

As far as I am concerned, the Image processor on the HTC One called the ImageChip 2 is doing a fine job for a smartphone and coupled with a more practical sensor, it proves to be a better camera phone overall. Lens? Unless one is getting the Carl Zeiss lens of the Nokia Windows Phone or Carl Zeiss Sony phones (that is quite old actually). But generally across the phones in the market. they are more or less equal in terms of performance and shouldn’t be a huge factor in IQ across the phones. So what’s left is how good the image processor is, how well the image app makes use of the camera and the sensor that the camera is relying on.

So on record, I am glad that HTC One gives a better sensor with a better image processor for snap shot use without the associated overheads and shortcomings.

Pet Peeves + HTC work around

Like humans, there are no perfect products. The reasons why I bought an Android phone over the iPhone are:

  1. Ability to control my data and where it resides (I hate iTunes immensely)
  2. Ability to share and move my data/content in the phone easily (OTG and my phone is a glorified thumb drive)
  3. Practicality concerns when it comes to battery usage and servicing and even upgrading the battery capacity.

Very simply, the Unibody design is beautiful but it would require the battery to be fused with the phone. Part of the reason would also be the placement of the NFC coils for better connection strength.  But the main objection and the consumer rejection of the HTC One X is because it doesn’t give consumer a choice to transfer files via OTG since it came without the microSD card slot and furthermore the battery doesn’t last as long as it should be. So it was a double whammy for HTC and that explains why Android users like myself would choose the Samsung S2 over HTC One X.

Does it apply now? Perhaps it is not as dire when HTC One X first came out. For the battery issue, the external battery pack is readily available at an affordable and fair price. And the OTG feature is switched back on since HTC One X+. Furthermore HTC has also included a transfer app to help new adopters to transfer data and files via the cloud. Contacts are very easy to transfer since we all needed the Google account to use the phone in the first place so contacts are now downloaded to the new phones. So what’s left is to transfer photos and videos via the computer or using the HTC Transfer App (included out of the box).

Conclusion – Would I buy?

Quite honestly I would say this is really the Hero phone for HTC. Hero? HTC is in the doldrums for the longest time not because their marketing message is weak (read: http://technology.topnewstoday.org/mobiles+and+wireless/article/4148136/) but their offerings were sub-par vis-a-vis competitor offerings especially Samsung.

Let me summarise it a bit:
HTC One X – Lack of SD card slot and made worse by lack of OTG. Poor battery life made worse by Unibody design. Plasticky.
HTC One X+ –  Where in the world is LTE? If there are improvements, hence the ‘+’, then make significant improvements.
HTC Desire – Totally off the consumers’ radar and nothing to desire for (sorry for the pun).
HTC Butterfly – LTE? Although I understand there was demand for it outside of Japan where it was originally intended for. It is a beautifully designed phone with the red edition reminding users of the Japanese lacquer ware. But alas, why would we shoot ourselves in the foot by getting a non-4G handset?

So for the above phones, they are designed with history in mind. They are not really forward looking. When they arrived in the market, they are basically crippled soldiers in the fight for Android phone dominance. Add with the fact that they also pay off Apple so as not to be involved in the law suit that Samsung is fighting now, it is of little wonder  that they are not performing well in terms of financial and stock market performances. So all in all it was a very crappy 2 years for HTC.

>With the HTC One, I am quite confident to say that things are looking up for the phone manufacturer<

Full Metal Jacket HTC One

Summarised Reasons Why I won’t get it:

  1. Battery. I want to change it when there is a problem or there is a possibility to upgrade it to a higher capacity battery without the need to go to a service centre. ASUS Padfone 2 do give the ability to change the battery but there is a warning sticker. Besides that finding the battery for the Padfone 2 is next to impossible so it is straight to service centre too. No such issues with Samsung Phones.
  2. SD Card slot. If one wants the user of another phone brand to change ship, at least make it easier for them to change. Not having the SD card slot is really a pain in the posterior.
  3. Waiting for the challengers- Sony Experia Z (just launched) and Samsung Galaxy SIV (in March). May look into the Note 3 as well (2nd half of the year). So one has to wait but advances in technology do move on.

Summarised Reasons Why I would get it:

  1. The Sense 5 is really snappy now. I don’t have any huge issues with the older Sense UI so having the latest iteration is a bonus for me. Blinkfeed is not a deal breaker nor is it a deal maker.
  2. Sense TV and Remote Controller. By far the killer feature of the phone. The geek weapon so to speak. The thing to show off the phone literally.
  3. I usually don’t buy a smartphone because of its camera features. If I am, I would have bought the HTC One X over the Samsung SII over a year ago. However the One’s camera is spotted with a more modest and more practical minded 4MP Pixels. ‘Ultra’ moniker is seriously not needed as it just make it tougher to explain it. The pictures speaks for itself. It would really meet the vast majority of the smartphone users out there with good quality pictures to boot.
  4. Zoe Camera app. Really fun to use especially when one has a good camera see point 3.
  5. Speaker placement – the best in the business. Front facing is always the best. You don’t see high end Hi-Fi speakers point away from the listener.
  6. Sound? Not really the best using the speakers but it did well with ear/headphones + Beats Enhancement.
  7. LCD Screen (not AMOLED) is sharp, contrasty and bright. Even in bright sunlight.
  8. Metallic Body feels more robust and gives more bang for the buck.  At least now my SGD900 would feel more well spent than getting a plasticky phone. It is really well built and this may tip me towards this phone rather than a plastic Samsung. In short, you will be buying a Rolex, not a Swatch.
  9. OTG is back and the phone can be a glorified thumb drive again and a mobile PC too for OTG transfer of files.
  10. 64GB with Dropbox. And to make life easier just push everything to the cloud instead of on-board memory. Besides, OTG is back! (see point 9).
  11. A built-in memory is hard wired to the motherboard. i.e. memory bandwidth will be much faster than using a standalone MicroSD card unless one buys a super hi speed MicroSD card.

The HTC One is slated to come on-board in Singapore early part of March :).

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