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HTC One wows with stunning design, premium parts (hands-on)

HTC aims for the top with its gorgeously crafted, high-powered firework of an Android phone.

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Editors' note: Our partner site CNET UK has recently reviewed the global version of the HTC One. Read its full review here.

As HTC's new flagship smartphone, the HTC One is packed to the rafters with top-notch components and technologies including some of the latest processing gear Qualcomm can muster. The device isn't merely technically advanced, but is lovingly crafted from premium metals, too, leaving no doubt that the Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer has placed considerable blood, sweat, and tears into this handset. In fact, after getting my hands on an official unlocked version of the One, I can easily say its the fastest, most beautiful phone I've ever used.

Design Rectangular, flat, and extremely thin, the HTC One is practically all screen. Its 4.7-inch (1080p) LCD display uses what the company calls SoLux technology for improved picture quality and generates 468 pixels per inch (ppi). This, says HTC, helps the One's screen to boast the most impressive viewing experience of any phone it has ever created. Since the display is slightly smaller at the same resolution, the One's screen has a denser pixel count than the Droid DNA (5-inch, 440ppi). The same goes for the Samsung Galaxy S4, which uses a larger 5-inch OLED screen (441ppi).

Indeed I can verify that the One's display has plenty of impact with vibrant colors, wide viewing angles, and plenty of brightness. Details also look extremely crisp, which makes me eager to stack the One's display against the Galaxy S4. I suspect that Samsung's latest monster will offer higher contrast and brighter colors, but the verdict is still out until I place both handsets side-by-side.

HTC also makes a big deal about the One's all-aluminum chassis, describing it as using a zero-gap unibody design. Indeed, available in hues of black and silver, the handset feels sturdy, has reassuring heft, and its smooth metallic skin exudes high-end craftsmanship. HTC also took pains to point out that while the thin white trim encircling the silver model I manhandled appears to be plastic, it is, in fact, metal.

HTC One
The HTC One has an all-aluminum frame. HTC

In another interesting twist, dual speakers (one on each side of the screen) act in unison to deliver a more lively audio experience whether while watching movies or listening to music. Paired with an onboard amplifier and Beats technology, HTC has given the system the rather unfortunate name BoomSound. It reminds me of the kind of cheesy trademark Philips used to plaster all over its old boom boxes.

That said, the One's speakers do pack a hefty punch, producing rich audio with a satisfying helping of bass. The phone's audio system has wide stereo separation as well, plus a surprising amount of volume.

Core hardware A flagship smartphone wouldn't be worth its weight in salt if it wasn't backed up by a bevy of screaming components. You'll be glad to know that the HTC One doesn't disappoint. Beating inside the heart of this regal machine is a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, fresh off of Qualcomm's factory floor. It's the first device I know of to officially feature the new silicon. Because of that I'm sure a lot of smartphone addicts out there will be itching to get their hands all over this gadget.

The HTC One will also ship in two memory configurations, a stock 32GB (internal storage) model and a tricked-out 64GB version. Both devices, though, will feature a full 2GB complement of RAM.

Quick benchmark tests confirmed the HTC One's processing power. My unlocked HTC One unit turned in an impressive Linpack score of 661.4 MFLOPs (multithread) which the phone completed in a short 0.26 second. Additionally, the device managed an astronomically high Quadrant score of 12,149. Both results are the fastest I've ever measured on an Android smartphone and prove the One is more than a match for the HTC Droid DNA (401.6 Linpack, 8,165 Quadrant).

Anecdotal use backed up my impression that the HTC One is a seriously nimble machine. The device smoothly flipped through menus screens, launched apps, and fired up Web pages with no hiccups or stutters to speak of.

An embedded 2,300mAh battery serves as the One's power source, which I admit doesn't sound like much on paper, especially compared with phones with ultra-high-capacity batteries such as the Motorola Droid Razr HD Maxx (3,300mAh). Of course the HTC Droid DNA managed a long 8 hours and 43 minutes on the CNET Labs video battery drain test with a smaller 2,020mAh battery.

In terms longevity, though, the HTC One didn't disappoint. The phone beat out the Droid DNA on the same test, lasting a full 9 hours and 37 minutes when subjected to the official CNET Labs video battery drain benchmark.

Software To match its premium parts, the HTC One has all the power of modern Android Jelly Bean at its disposal. Layered on top of Android is yet another version of HTC's Sense UI. As you may have guessed, this latest version of Sense offers more enhancements you may or may not find useful.

The first is something HTC calls the BlinkFeed, a main home screen that consists of dynamic tiles that display content from a wide variety of news outlets, blogs, and Web sites (including CNET). If you're familiar with popular news aggregators such as Flipboard and Pulse, then you get the idea.

There are drawbacks to BlinkFeed you should be aware of, most notably that you can't turn the feature off at least entirely. By default the BlinkFeed screen is set as the phone's primary home screen. You can, however, select any of the HTC One's home screens as its starting point.

Another annoyance I ran into is that BlinkFeed pulls content from a stable of vetted sources. While that's fine for casual news viewing, you'll probably run into roadblocks trying to tweak it to display more-targeted outlets.

The HTC uses a cleaner, tighter Sense UI. Brian Bennett/CNET

The HTC One also runs the latest version of the company's Sense user interface. Besides BlinkFeed, the skin has a cleaner look with icons that are less crowded across and within the app tray. Also odd is that unlike in stock Android Jelly Bean, the app tray doesn't side scroll left and right; it scrolls vertically.

Gone is HTC's iconic weather clock widget, too, which has graced its phones since way back in the days of Windows Mobile. You will still find information for time and weather forecasts at the top of the home screen, but displayed in a much more low-key fashion.

BlinkFeed is front and center on the HTC One. Brian Bennett/CNET

Confirming that the line between tablets and smartphones is blurring more every day, the HTC One also features an IR blaster on its top edge. When used with the HTC Sense TV app and HTC remote software, users can command their TVs with the phone plus keep tabs on local programs.

Set up HTC remote to control TVs and home theater gear. Brian Bennett/CNET

I have to say, this feature comes in more handy than I would have originally thought. After going through the simple, if rather lengthy, setup process, which asks you to lay out the TV channels you receive in detail, I was able to control my home theater set effectively. That means switching channels via my cable box, adjusting volume on my Onkyo receiver, plus opening the guide to sift through available programs.

What's also pretty slick is how I can tap icons of shows I have marked as my favorite to immediately begin watching them if they are currently on.

View what's on TV now right from the HTC One. Brian Bennett/CNET

Camera prowess The HTC One continues the company's strong focus on phone camera capabilities. The new One handset will feature an updated ImageSense system, new ImageChip 2 hardware, along with a revamped light sensor. Called the Ultrapixel Sensor, it technically is able to capture a resolution of just 4 megapixels. Still, HTC says, the actual size of the sensor is larger and the pixels it creates much more detailed.

HTC claims the end result is a camera able to capture 300 percent more light than competing camera phones. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. After taking my unlocked HTC One for a quick spin, I can confirm that its camera is extremely fast, capturing shots almost instantly.

Colors were accurate in still-life shots. Click to see larger image. Brian Bennett/CNET

Color was also accurate in both my indoor still-life shots, if a bit dark. Outdoors in strong sunlight I did notice some heavy-handed image processing, which tended to blur background details, especially with complex forms such as the branches of trees and other foliage. Also, while the HTC One could take images quickly in dark environs, thanks to onboard hardware image stabilization, the ISO was bumped up so high that color noise became rampant.

In sunlight, colors were bright but details were heavily processed. Click to see full image. Brian Bennett/CNET
In low light, color noise became a problem.Click to view full image. Brian Bennett/CNET

I do like that the camera can record short 3-second videos, what HTC has labeled the Zoe (inspired by 19th-century Zoetrope movie machines). The idea is for users to shoot these brief clips, similar to the Vine app for iOS, and share them with friends and loved ones via a special camera mode within the HTC One's camera app.

My favorite camera feature is that the HTC One will automatically stitch together highlight reels based on all the video, pictures, and Zoes you've snapped each day. Each highlight film is set to canned HTC music, which I admit isn't that bad, and you have the option to save them as MP4 files locally or share them via Facebook or e-mail. Frankly it's a cool little tool to keep family in the loop about the kids' latest shenanigans or present a polished spin to daily activities.

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Outlook In the limited time I've spent with the HTC One, I can definitely say it's fast, thin, and flaunts a very sexy design. Of course these words describe a lot of new smartphones. In my experience so far, however, the phone's screen and camera live up to the hype, but low-light performance seems a bit oversold. I am concerned about the BlinkFeed feature, which may be exciting for Android newbies but doesn't seem extremely useful for smartphone old hands.

I can get the same experience by adding Flipboard or other widgets myself. Worse, there's no way to shut BlinkFeed off entirely. While you can push it to the side and use a custom home screen, it will always be running in the background. I was surprised, however, by how much fun I found the phone's Highlight video function to be. Sure, shooting Zoe videos isn't very exciting since it's a proprietary file format. The Highlight movies on the other hand are convertible and much easier to share. It also resulted in me capturing one of my best phone videos ever, but new parents are a subjective bunch.

Still eager for an HTC One of your own? Expect the phone to ship on April 19 in the U.S. for AT&T and Sprint. Sprint will sell both the 32GB and 64GB models for $199.99 and $299.99, respectively. The AT&T version (32GB) will also cost $199.99. T-Mobile plans to scoop up the HTC One as well but will price it at $99 (32GB) and let you pay off the rest of the cost in monthly installments. Aside from a spring launch date, T-Mobile hasn't been specific about when the handset will hit its shelves.

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