The HTC One strides mightily ahead of the rest of the Taiwanese phone maker's range, confidently surveying its foes on the smart phone battlefield. With a 4.7-inch Full HD screen, a blisteringly powerful quad-core chip, a metal chassis and the latest version of its Sense interface, it's not a misplaced sense of confidence.
Those are some impressive specs, but with all the top-end phones packing similarly potent components, is it going to be enough to keep HTC's head above the water? With Samsung's Galaxy S4 imminent, it's likely to have a fight on its hands.
The One was due to go on sale in the next couple of weeks, but HTC has already confirmed it's having supply issues, so we may have to wait a while longer. It also hasn't officially named its price yet, but we're strongly expecting it to be around the £500 mark -- Three is pre-emptively offering it for £480 on pay as you go, for example.
Should I buy the HTC One?
The HTC One has a stonking lineup of specs. Its quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM makes it phenomenally powerful. Its 4.7-inch, Full HD display is incredibly crisp, but Google's Nexus 4 is an absolute powerhouse too and although its screen has a lower resolution, I'd bet money you can't tell much difference in normal use.
The problem, then, is that the Nexus 4 starts at £260, whereas the HTC One is expected to land for upwards of £500 -- almost twice as much. The One is undeniably a much classier phone. It's made of metal for one, which makes it look and feel vastly more sturdy and luxurious.
It runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (not quite the latest version), which HTC has given some cool tweaks. Its Flipboard lookalike software Blinkfeed won't appeal to everyone -- especially as you can't get rid of it -- but it's handy for checking up on what your mates are up to on Facebook. Elsewhere, the Android experience is sleek, attractive and easy to use.
With an expected price of half a grand, it's not going to appeal to the casual smart phone fans among you, but if you're willing to splash out on a superbly powerful phone, packed with top-end features, wrapped in a cool metal jacket, you could do much worse than the HTC One.
I think the Sony Xperia Z has the edge with its waterproof chassis, and the iPhone 5 has a better camera. Nevertheless, Samsung will certainly have to go some distance to make a much better phone than this.
Design and build quality
Rather than the plastic of the older One X and One S phones, HTC has given the new One an entirely metal body. HTC championed the use of metal in some of its much older phones, so it's refreshing to see a return to this classier construction.
It certainly feels particularly firm and will definitely appeal if you don't like the plasticky designs of phones like the Galaxy S3. Google's ever-popular Nexus 4 has glass on its front and back, but with plastic making up the chassis, it doesn't feel anything like as solid.
Outwardly, its looks haven't deviated much from HTC's usual design schemes. Above and below the screen you'll spy extra metal, perforated with holes for the speakers. That extra space at either end means it looks rather like BlackBerry's new Z10 and a smidge like the back of the iPhone 5 -- I'll let you decide if that's a sign of good taste or mere copying.
The back is a wide expanse of grey metal (the only other colour option is black), broken up by the HTC and beats logos.
I don't think it's the prettiest phone around, but it's far from horrific and doesn't do anything too drastic -- it's unlikely to turn anyone off completely. If you're already a fan of HTC's blowers, you'll have no problems with the One.
It measures 137mm long and 68mm wide, which is certainly quite hefty. As a Nexus 4 and Galaxy S3 user, I'm used to bigger blowers, so I wasn't put off by the size -- but if you're more used to the iPhone, prepare to stretch out your palms. Its 9.3mm thickness means it isn't the slimmest thing around, but you'd have to be in a particularly bad mood to call it chubby.
Although the metal feels enjoyably solid, I worry that it'll be susceptible to scratches, particularly the black version. The black is only paint over the top of silver metal, so if it gets scratched, the silver will show through. Many owners of the black iPhone 5 have reported exactly that, so if you want your phone to look pristine forever, you might stand a better chance with the silver one. I'd recommend using a case, too.
You might be able to keep it free of deep scratches, but you'll definitely struggle to avoid scuffs and dirty marks. When I pulled my black model out of my pocket, I was horrified at the amount of marks on it from my gold house keys. It was so easy to mark with metal objects that it basically became a pocket blackboard. The marks do come off with a bit of a spit and polish, but you really shouldn't have to do that.
HTC has stripped out the multi-tasking button at the bottom of the screen. Instead, you'll see just a home and back button. To bring up the multi-tasking toolbar, you'll need to double tap the home button. Holding it down brings up a Google search. It's easy to do once you know how, but if you're used to having a range of buttons on your phone it might take a few hours to get used to the switch.
Around the edges you'll spy a micro USB port for charging and data transfer as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. The battery is sealed into the metal frame, so you won't be able to replace it. Storage options come in 32 or 64GB varieties. There's no microSD card slot to expand it, so if you have hundreds of albums and take dozens of photos every day, you might want to consider the higher capacity model.
The only buttons on the edges are the power button on the top and the volume rocker on the side. The latter sits so flush with the body, however, that it's difficult to find the buttons with your finger without looking. You'll probably be able to get used to the very subtle differences in texture, but I'd certainly appreciate it being raised slightly.
The HTC One uses Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean software. Many companies add their own tweaks to the core Android experience, but HTC has done a huge amount with its Sense 5 interface. It immediately sets it apart from the other Jelly Bean phones knocking around.
The most noticeable addition is something HTC calls BlinkFeed. This takes data from various news websites and your social networks to show randomly sized tiles of info for you to scroll through. Tapping on a tile will show you the article in full-screen mode.
You can select from categories including News, Technology, Entertainment and so forth, as well as connecting it to your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr accounts. Once everything is connected, all the latest posts from the various sources will be shown in a scrolling grid, or you can select to view only one category at a time.
Pulling down on the list refreshes the feeds to bring you new articles, while clicking on a tile will show you the article in full screen. If you've ever used a news aggregator like Flipboard then it'll be instantly familiar to you.
It's not perfect though. For one, you can't get rid of it -- it sits permanently on your homescreen. If you don't use Flipboard, you probably won't find yourself using BlinkFeed much either. You can set a different home screen as the default panel to return to, but BlinkFeed will always be lurking away to the left.
You also only get to choose from the news partners HTC has approved and there's no way to add your own using RSS feeds. Very keen on updates from a particular music or cooking site? You'll have to visit it in the browser.
Only one homescreen is available by default, but you can add extra screens to swipe through in the same way you would on other Android phones. You can slap down your favourite weather, news or Facebook widgets anywhere you want, or keep things simple with just the one screen if you'd rather.
Dive into the grid of apps and you'll see HTC has had some tweaking fun here, too. For one, the weather and time widget remains at the top. The apps themselves can be shown in in either large rows of three -- a very simplistic style -- or rows of four smaller icons if you don't want to scroll as much.
You can select to display all apps in alphabetical order or by most recent, which is probably the most helpful option. There's also a custom setting, but there doesn't seem to be any way to select which apps appear in it. Without being able to actually customise it, it seems pretty pointless offering a custom menu.
Next to the view options you'll also see a search option to help you find an app among the plethora you're likely to download, or jump straight into the Google Play store to find more.
Elsewhere, the interface is much the same as you'd expect from an Android phone. The settings menu is straight from the Android blueprint and setting up email accounts is done in the same way. It's generally straightforward to use and is unlikely to flummox existing Android users or new converts alike.
Processor and performance
The HTC One is powered by a burly quad-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz. That chunky chap is paired with 2GB of RAM. Those specs undoubtedly put the One at the top end of the smart phone spectrum, along with the likes of the Xperia Z and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.
Unsurprisingly then, it produced impressive results in my tests. It returned the score of 2,668 on the Geekbench test, easily beating the Note 2's score of 1,998. It performed similarly well on the Quadrant test, where it achieved a whopping 11,777, smashing the HTC One X's score of 4,904.
It really is a monstrously powerful device, so I wasn't at all shocked that it handled all my day to day challenges without batting an eyelid. Menus loaded quickly, page transitions were smooth and free of lag, and jumping into the multi-tasking menu to switch between open apps was easy.
The One also makes use of a 4G radio, so you will be able to connect to EE's 4G network -- and others, when they launch later in the year -- for super-fast data speeds. It supports all the UK 4G frequencies, but not those used in the US, so you won't be able to roam with 4G (probably a good thing for your phone bill).
Like the One X before it and the Nexus 4, the One boasts a 4.7-inch display. Unlike the other two however, it packs in a whopping 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution. That's the same resolution you'd expect to find on your living room telly, but as the screen is so much smaller on the One, the pixels are packed much tighter, resulting in a sharper image.
Indeed, the One boasts 446 pixels per inch (ppi), which far outstrips the 326ppi of the iPhone 5's retina display. You'd be forgiven for thinking, then, that the display immediately looks a lot sharper and clearer than other phones, but that's not quite the case. The problem is that the iPhone 5's screen and indeed the 320ppi of the Nexus 4 are already incredibly sharp and side by side, it's hard to tell the difference.
There's no denying that it's super-crisp, but if it's difficult to tell the difference between it and a lower-resolution screen, it's debateable whether there's much point in having it -- especially as there will of course be an extra price premium slapped onto the phone because of it.
What's perhaps more important is the display's use of colour, where it does a pretty good job. Colours are rich thanks to the deep black levels and good contrast. Photos and videos looked bold and vibrant -- and, needless to say, pin-sharp -- while colourful games like Angry Birds shone like a newborn star. If you plan on using your phone to watch shows on Netflix, the One's screen will do the job admirably.
It's bright too, which helps cancel out a good deal of the reflections from the CNET UK office lights. If you plan on using it in the Californian midday sun, though, you'll certainly want to use some sort of shade if you want to see anything.
HTC has taken a huge gamble with its camera. While other manufacturers are boasting about their 13-megapixel snappers, HTC has plumped for a 4-megapixel sensor for its new flagship. That might seem like an unforgivable crime to the smart phone lovers among you, but HTC has its reasons.
The amount of pixels might be lower, but the individual pixels themselves are supposedly bigger. As they're bigger, they're able to capture more detail, resulting in better quality pictures. At least, that's the theory HTC is trying to push. In reality though, the camera by itself doesn't do that much to impress.
This outdoor scene of the Thames and St Paul's Cathedral was captured by the One with a fairly even exposure, but it lacked much of detail in the brickwork and in the surrounding buildings. Worse still, loads of image noise crept into the darker areas of the clouds, something that wasn't present on the comparison shot I took on the iPhone 5.
Heading indoors and the One's camera didn't seem to want to put up much of a fight with low-light scenes either. This pool table scene was exposed as well as I'd expect from most mid-range cameras -- detail is lost in some of the highlights in the windows and in the darker corners. It too suffers from image noise, particularly in the blue wall in the background.
In general, the image quality from the One's camera isn't good enough to justify HTC's decision to lower the megapixel count to four. It'll do fine for some snaps of your friends, but don't expect to become the next Ansel Adams.
It's in its software, however, that the One's camera plays a much better game.
You can shoot in two main modes, standard camera or something dubbed Zoe mode. This allows you to take a 3-second video clip comprising 20 frames. You can either watch it back as a short video or scroll through, selecting individual frames from an action sequence to save the best shot. If you like taking snaps of your friends' free-running antics, this is a great feature to play with.
When you've got your single frame, you'll no doubt want to tart it up with some effects. The One has you covered there too. You can slap on a number of filters -- many of which can be viewed live as you're taking the image -- as well as tweak brightness, contrast and other settings. Once you're done, you're able to share to the usual social networks in the same way you would with other Android phones.
The camera is able to shoot 1,080p video too and has its own scene modes including HDR video and slow motion. We've had HDR modes for still images for a while, but it's only just started to make its way to video. In my tests, however, it didn't really do anything to help the scene. If anything, it made it worse. With HDR on, the camera seemed to overexpose the scene, resulting in burned out skies and annoying changes as the exposure changed during filming.
The One packs in a capacious 2,300mAH battery, which is a healthy boost over its predecessor, the One X. With such a powerful engine at its heart and with a huge, Full HD screen though, it's an incredibly power-hungry device.
I found that after a full charge overnight, unplugging at 7am, the phone had dropped to around 60 per cent battery by 12 noon. In that time, I had been connected to 3G and Wi-Fi, played a spot of Angry Birds, kept push email on and sent some messages using WhatsApp.
I've certainly had worse results from other phones, but I would have hoped to see more life out of it. After all, I was using the phone as normal, not pushing its limits with graphically demanding 3D gaming. If you want to eke out a whole day of use, you'll have to keep an eye on what you're doing with it.
With its super-crisp, bold screen, monstrously powerful processor, all-metal chassis and fun, attractive interface, the One is a real contender among this year's high-end smart phones. Its BlinkFeed software might be a gimmick, but overall it provides a classy, user-friendly experience.
It's likely to be a very pricey piece of kit, but you are at least getting a whole lot of tech your money. If you're after top of the range performance and don't care about saving for your autumn years, the HTC One is a great option to consider. We'll have to wait and see how it ranks among the best of 2013, but HTC has certainly done a good job.