Three months in, here's why I can't sell my HTC One

It’s the saviour of the smartphone company that refuses to die, and the handset that shows Apple how it’s done. But with the hype almost gone, what has everyday life taught us about the One?

I’m frantically trying to get rid of an HTC One

I’ve spent a week persuading myself that my One’s time is up, that it’s time to investigate trade-in prices, or whether I can upgrade by ending my contract early - you know, the usual obvious symptoms of a constant, fruitless quest to find the Killer Handset.

But try as I might, the One just won’t go. 

A few weeks back, I even tried borrowing a Galaxy S4 for a few days, hoping that it would instantly expose the One as an over-designed, underpowered fop, so triggering the inner justification to swap. The S4 failed.

After just 48 hours, the Samsung Galaxy S4 limped back into its wood-effect packaging for return to its owner, let down by a laggy user interface (an aside, but how do they do that when it’s packing a 1.9GHz quad-core chip?) and a tacky plastic body that seemed custom designed to collect fingerprints.

So after 90 days with the One, the device that may yet save the High Tech Computer Corporation from oblivion, what is about the HTC flagship that makes it a keeper? 

If you were going to design and launch your own One-destroyer (which we know that you plan on doing, given your natural flair for industrial design and access to limitless funds and a global distribution network), what could you learn from the HTC team? 

USE HUMAN HANDS DURING PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

By comparison with the One, every other handset feels as though it was never held during development and testing. 

HTC One ergonomic sketch

I’m reliably told that Mercedes engineers spend hours with German taxi drivers and chauffeurs, working out the precise modulation of a brake pedal needed to achieve a smooth stop under hard braking. 

OK, so maybe an analogy between a German car’s brake pedal engineering and the side sculpting of a smartphone is a tad strained, but the One feels as though it was subject to the same scientific, obsessive scrutiny - hundreds of boffins spending months in an over-equipped lab, with access to an endless variety of homo sapiens hand shapes and sizes, and the freedom to get it just so. (Not far from the truth, as it happens).

Even after three months, I still pick up the One during the day just for the hell of it - it’s nice to hold. And the combination of the aluminium bodywork and reassuring weight - not too heavy, not too light - just seal the deal. If the mission was to jolt Apple by reminding them that they didn’t own the rights to seamless, high quality design, HTC has done its job.

That said, I can understand why an HTC One Mini is coming down the tracks: my household’s split between those who find the body housing the 4.7in screen a dream, and those who find it unmanageably huge. Thumb size appears to be the differentiator, especially when they start reaching for the notifications screen.

I’ve even grown accustomed to the One’s surreal button arrangement. I hold my phone in my left hand. The on/off button (which doubles as an IR blaster) is positioned top left of the handset. You see the problem. Now add a home button that’s bottom right, and I’ve had to learn new hand gymnastics. 

How to out-One the One? Sort the screen size. My daughter can’t work the One’s 4.7in screen one-handed; Apple knew their market in keeping the iPhone 5 to 4in. 

More after the break...

Ban stutter

The only thing I can find that’s anywhere near as snappy as the HTC One’s interface is the Google Nexus 4.

HTC One red

I’ve thrown everything at the HTC One: three heavyweight games running at once in the background, with four CPU-melting utility apps thrown in for good measure. The One doesn’t care. Quite how they’ve created a device that absolutely refuses to stutter from the raw ingredients of a quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of DDR RAM is beyond me (let’s face it, how many others have failed?). 

You can even go hunting for those grim, hideously coded apps at the back of the Play Store catalogue, the sort that usually make other handsets dissolve on launch. Again, the One laughs at your absurd, pointless antics. 

Transitions are lightning fast - from opening the app drawer to flipping between screens to opening the multi-tasking display (which, by the way, is a 1000% improvement on the abomination that passed for multitasking on the One X). Even the usual ‘blame an errant widget’ excuse doesn’t cut it: you can pack all five screens with widgets (including the big Play Store Library widget, which usually slaughters any device), and the One will remain stupidly fast.

How to out-One the One? You can't. You could make your new handset more powerful, but no user will notice.

GET RID OF THE INTERFACE skin

HTC Sense was the laughing stock among Android purists for years - Sense 5 (almost) shows the core Android UI team how it should be done.

It was my one moment of hesitation before placing the order for a brand new One: would I be hurled back into depressing memories of my old HTC Desire, suffering through layers of completely unnecessary, bloated, obstructive Android interface customisations that robbed you of the will to live?

But the HTC One has zero bloat. And yes, Sense 5 is beautiful.

It’s like the HTC design team took the best of the flat Holo design language from the core of Android, then set about making every element slightly better (don’t bother sending the hate mail, AOSP lovers - I won’t open it). The typography throughout is almost perfect, and 99% of the custom icons are tasteful and well finished (OK, I’ll ignore that cheesy Personalise icon in Settings).

The HTC One’s UI manages that trick that every mobile interface designer aspires to: allow the user to forget the design. Every common job - check mail, send a tweet, find an appointment, launch a game - is about as easy as it’s possible to make it, helped no end by the aforementioned rapid performance. 

What about Blinkfeed, you cry? What lunacy inspired a team to give over an entire screen to an endless scrolling tiles of pre-selected news, without the ability to turn it off? OK, so it’s an issue. Even after living with it for three months, I can’t quite understand why HTC didn’t include an ‘off’ switch for Blinkfeed, so allowing One buyers the freedom to use the maximum of five available screens as they see fit.

But then after three months of punishing a One every day, I’ve found myself regularly checking Blinkfeed, rather than opening Flipboard or Feedly (both of which I have installed), mostly because it’s… well, there, and easy. 

Eventually, I set my home screen as the middle of my maximum five screens, which means that Blinkfeed is on the far left - so only two quick swipes away. Which is actually quicker most of the time than launching an app.

Yes, I’ve wasted a few hours tweaking Blinkfeed channels, and I wish there were more of them. But most days, at least in the way I have it set up, it’s out of the way enough to be painless, but there enough to be useful.

There were quirks in the HTC One’s launcher at first. The device came to market with Android 4.1.2, overlaid with the firm’s revamped cut of the stock Android launcher, Sense 5. This included such maddening issues as the inability to remove an app from the shelf without a PhD (it was easy, by the way, you just needed to open the app drawer first, then drag the shelf app into it. Who knew?), and a app drawer that in its default state only offered a minimal number of apps per screen.

But 90% of the HTC One’s usability quirks were squashed by the recent update to Android 4.2.2. Moving apps around is more intuitive now, and the update also brought such delights as quick access to settings from the notifications screen and, of course, lock screen widgets.  

(In case you're wondering, the default app drawer grid could be fixed from launch, simply by adjusting a setting under grid size).

How to out-One the One? Tell your new smartphone’s marketing department that an entire screen given over to a feed reader is a bloody stupid idea. And if they really have to do it, include an off switch.

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Comments

@PabloCreep Can you go through that process again? There's no home screen style setting in my One - the most I can do is hide Blinkfeed by setting another screen as Home. 

You can turn off BlinkFeed by selecting your favourite styled Personalise button and selecting the Home Screen Style option. Job done.

Well I had a galaxy s4 and sent it back in exchange for a one which I think is far superior all round yeah the camera might let it down compared to the s4 but the new sony has the best cam out so if your buying a phone based on a camera get the Xperia 925( which does look like a nice phone) but in my opinion the s4 felt very cheap and breakable the one sits nicely in hand thanks to the curved back instead of a rectangle of cheap plastic so I think the htc one is still the best phone for at least another few weeks till another new phone comes out(seems like a new phone is launched every few weeks now and these 2 year contracts r terrible they should come up with a mobile phone swap shop like they have for games as long as its the same grade A,B,C ect...then swap over for a £5 or £10 at the most save people from being stuck with the same handset until your due an upgrade

I got an S4 and had it for about a week before I switched to the One.  I had previously had an S2 and a Note, so was entirely Samsung-friendly.

But the S4 let me down, simply because it wouldn't play nicely with MS Exchange.  It got tremendously hot, ran its battery down in just over 2 hours and used up, in the process, 145megabytes of data, without apparently doing anything at all.  

After several days spent trying to make it behave, I gave up.  I had had a similar issue with the S2 that somehow settled down in time, but with the S4 I couldn't take the risk that every time I went outside my wifi zone (or off the electricity grid) I'd be stuffed.  I was reminded that when I got the S2 it had to be exchanged 3 times before I got one that behaved.  I was so disappointed with Samsung.  I feel they've concentrated too hard on gimmicks, and not taken enough care to make the really important stuff work properly.

In contrast, the One has been superb. Not a sniff of trouble with anything, including Exchange, and superb battery life.  Plus, of course, it is beautiful.  And I rather like Blinkfeed - I have it set up to view my Flickr account and it works beautifully.  I still have a Note 2, but as the comment above says ... if HTC would produce a One Mega with a stylus, I'd take it like a shot.  

There is no doubt that the HTC ONE is an excellent phone and most of your comments are correct.

However, your comments on size are the most important I believe. You say half your household thought it perfect and half thought it too big. Now here comes HTC MINI. So a perfect situation you would think. I am not so sure.

In my office, mobile phones have become critical tools for the sales staff and over a period of six months .We started with a mixture of HTC ONES , IPHONE 4S AND 5S , GALAXY S3 (later some S4s ) and GALAXY NOTE 3S. The migration to the GALAXY NOTE 3 by the others has been amazing.

The office is nearly all GALAXY NOTES now. Reasons? Screen size is just right for data sheets, sales reports, emails, attachments ... and u get used to the size in a couple of days. S.PEN means we can quickly send each other sketches and examples.

Point is that going forward the split in your household will surely mirror the split in the marketplace. I bet you would find it real difficult going back to a smaller phone now. Now if HTC brought out a HTC ONE MAXI with a pen function...

I agree and disagree, somewhat. Yes, the HTC One is gorgeous to look at, and a great design. But where did you get lag from an S4? Are sure it was not a S2 you were using? I have a S4, and its far from laggy. My only complaint is the plasticky back if they made all aluminium like the One, it would be just beautiful.

Then on the One side the camera is not all that. The One is a good camera phone, and good the price and the whole package is justified. 

But without being biased, the tech on the S4 is far superior - hence why the S4 is a top seller. 

But well done, HTC, I nearly got one, as i was very impressed overall. But the S4 just had a few more bells and whistles to make it my winner.

Wouldn't disagree: if HTC would just fit the One with the S4's camera, it'd be perfect.

sad to see HTC aren't making enough money, its such a nice product! Although if you're an obsessive photo taker the s4 is probably better for you. 

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