April 18 (Bloomberg) -- When it comes to making Android phones, Samsung seems to suck up most of the profits and all the buzz. Meanwhile, HTC quietly produces phones every bit as capable and sometimes considerably more handsome.
The latest example is the HTC One, about to go on sale in the U.S. After using the device for a couple of weeks, I’m impressed. Yet it may get lost amid the massive marketing blitz for Samsung’s Galaxy S4, which arrives later this month.
If so, that will be a shame. The One is a standout on a number of fronts.
In looks, it’s a beaut, with a sharp, vivid 4.7-inch screen bracketed by excellent stereo speakers that enhance both looks and sound.
The aluminum back is gently bowed and the phone is just a third of an inch (4 mm) at its thickest point, making the One feel great in the hand despite the size. At five ounces (143 grams), it’s substantial without being heavy.
The One runs “Jelly Bean,” the latest version of Google’s Android software, though HTC overlays it with a home-screen interface called BlinkFeed that brings in information from a customizable list of news, social-media and other sources.
The One is also among the initial handful of phones that’s supposed to be compatible with Facebook’s new Home software, giving you the option of replacing news of the world with news of your friends.
About the display: HTC brags about its pixel density, 468 per inch, which exceeds the Retina display on Apple’s iPhone 5 (326 ppi). What it doesn’t tell you is the irrelevance of the claim, because the human eye can’t distinguish differences beyond about 300 ppi in a device held six to 12 inches away.
It’s worth mentioning because even as the One is perpetuating the resolution wars, it’s trying to puncture another common comparison: what it calls “the megapixel myth” surrounding cameras.
Without getting too geeky about it, the number of megapixels isn’t nearly as important to the quality of a photo as camera- and smartphone-makers have made it out to be.
In the case of the One, HTC says its advanced sensor and signal processing result in better-looking photos that require less light; it says its four-megapixel images are the equivalent of eight- or 13-megapixel shots on other, more conventional cameras.
The photos I took were clear and sharp, even in a darkened room. Less impressive, at least to me, was a feature called Zoe that allows you to shoot shareable three-second videos. Even after talking to HTC, I couldn’t figure out why I’d ever want to do this.
While the One has a quad-core Qualcomm processor and is capable of running on LTE -- by far the speediest 4G network technology -- which carrier you choose will make a huge difference in your perception of how fast it is.
Verizon Wireless, which has the biggest LTE network, so far isn’t offering the One. At AT&T, with the second-widest LTE coverage, the One will cost $200 on a two-year contract for a model with 32 gigabytes of storage, or $300 for 64.
Sprint is, for a limited time, offering new customers the 32-gigabyte model for $100 -- a terrific deal on a phone like this -- but the company has barely begun to deploy LTE, so you’re likely to find yourself on its older, slower 3G network.
T-Mobile, which recently announced plans to junk the two-year-service requirement as well as the practice of subsidizing the cost of its phones, hasn’t publicly announced a price. In any event, T-Mobile is even further behind in LTE than Sprint.
Because my test model was a Sprint version, and the carrier’s LTE service has yet to reach my area, I wasn’t able to get a full read on battery life. Still, I was easily able to go more than a day on 3G, leading me to believe you shouldn’t have a problem getting through a full day on a more power-hungry LTE connection.
The One is packed with a number of other features, some useful, others less so. A built-in infrared blaster lets it double as a TV remote control. It also has a Near-Field Communications (NFC) chip, which will soon, eventually, someday or never -- pick one -- become indispensable for stuff like mobile payments. And it supports the latest version of Bluetooth for low-power wireless connectivity.
For now, the One is the state of the art in Android phones -- at least until next week’s Samsung debut. And unless the Galaxy S4 proves to be very, very good, it may remain so after next week, too.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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