Katherine Boehret

HTC Makes the One the Android to Beat

In the crowded world of Android, it pays to be bold. HTC has spent years pairing its striking hardware designs with memorable software overlays for Android. But Samsung has surged ahead with a few bold moves of its own.

In an attempt to get some of its mojo back, HTC created a new smartphone with an old name: the HTC One. This $200 device (with two-year contract) will be available on April 19 from AT&T and Sprint. AT&T will also offer a $300 device with twice the memory, and a T-Mobile model is coming later this spring.

I enjoyed using an AT&T model and can recommend it to anyone looking for a new Android phone. It comes loaded with the latest version of Android and HTC’s usual Sense software overlay, which makes the One look and behave differently than other Android smartphones. In the future, the HTC One will be able to run Facebook Home, which puts the social network front and center. And I captured several extraordinary photos with this smartphone’s camera.

Still, it wasn’t flawless. I found the Back and Home icons didn’t always glow when I used the Facebook app, leaving me wondering how to navigate away from the app. And icons on the camera screen didn’t change from horizontal to vertical when I held the phone in portrait view. HTC attributed the former to a light sensor that may need tweaking and the latter to a bug it plans to fix via a software update later this year.

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HTC One has a 4.7-inch touchscreen that rivals the iPhone 5 and a high-quality camera.

If looks are important to you, you’ll like this smartphone’s design. It’s elegant and thin with a curved back that’s made to fit your palm. With a 4.7-inch touchscreen at 468 pixels per inch, this display outshines Apple’s iPhone 5 and the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S4. Its aluminum build gives it a sturdy feel — but makes it slightly heavier than the S4 and iPhone 5. The One’s aluminum back felt a bit slippery at times and I dropped it on several occasions.

Voice calls sounded crisp and clear and though I didn’t perform a formal battery test, I found myself using the One for a full day without a recharge. AT&T’s 4G LTE network proved speedy for email, Web browsing and various apps, including Google Maps for navigation around Washington, D.C. In downtown D.C., my average download speed was 14.5 megabits per second, peaking at 18.78 MBPS, while uploads averaged 9.84 MBPS. This isn’t quite as fast as Verizon’s LTE, but it wasn’t enough to notice any drag.

The HTC One camera aims to dispel the megapixel myth that has flummoxed people — that a higher megapixel count always equals better photos. This smartphone’s camera is measured at 2 UltraPixels, which are larger than ordinary pixels and are designed to capture better quality images. HTC uses a better sensor that can capture 300 percent more light than many 13-megapixel cameras, an improved processor and optical-image stabilization, among other things.

I was skeptical at first. But I captured shots in a dark room with the lights off that looked crisp and clear — not blurry or washed out by a flash. I took a photo of someone in a dimly lit chapel and it looked as if the person was in a room with plenty of light.

Outside on a sunny day, this camera was just showing off. I captured many shots of spring flowers and a cherry blossom tree, sunlight glistening on flower petals and tree branches. Of the three smartphones in my bag, I repeatedly reached for the HTC One to take photos.

If you aren’t crazy about capturing videos that take up a lot of storage space on your phone, Zoes might be your speed. These are 3-second videos that are captured by shifting the camera capture button to Zoe. I took several Zoes, but found them unsatisfying. I captured a train whizzing by, flowers blowing in the wind and my husband making a funny face. They showed up in my phone’s photo gallery as moving pictures that reminded me of those portraits that hang on the walls in Harry Potter movies. Yet, I didn’t know quite what to do with them.

Enter HTC Zoe Share. This is a smart option that shares many photos and Zoes at once. Shares are emailed via a Web link that lasts for 180 days. I shared these links from my phone with friends who used computers, iPhones and iPads to open them.

The Zoes appeared mixed in with the still shots in an on-screen collage. But if you’re not using HTC Zoe Share, these three-second Zoe clips are pretty much stuck on your phone. If you try to share them via Facebook or Twitter, they appear as still images that can’t be emailed. And why would you really want to share just three seconds of anything?

A new interface called BlinkFeed appears on the HTC One’s home screen with a tap on its tile-like icon. BlinkFeed is meant to give you bits of information as you glance down at your phone in line at the coffee shop or while in the elevator.

You set up BlinkFeed to display content from news sources of your choice like the Associated Press, Huffington Post, ESPN and others. These feeds can be mixed in with your Twitter and Facebook news feeds.

The BlinkFeed design is attractive, showing photos and text in a Flipboard-like mesh that you can quickly scroll up or down. To read more about an article, tap on it to see a short summary, then follow a link to read the entire article.

Those looking for a new take on Android, and especially a better smartphone camera, should consider the HTC One.

Email Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com.


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