HTC One revisited: Some fresh perspective on the flagship phone

HTC One Revisited

After a couple of months away from it, I've been spending some time getting reacquainted with the HTC One these past few days. I lived with the phone for a few weeks back in April; since then, I've used the Galaxy S4, the Optimus G Pro, and my own trusty Nexus 4 (which is actually my regular personal phone).

Given the upcoming release of the "Google Edition" HTC One, I wanted to familiarize myself with the One once again. And I found that after several weeks away from the device, I could experience it with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.

Back when I reviewed the One, I came away with a largely positive (though certainly not perfect) impression. So with the time that's passed and the mobile experiences I've had since then, how have my impressions evolved?

Here are some random thoughts I've had while trying to figure that out.

• Man, this phone has ridiculously nice hardware. HTC's all-aluminum build really is top-notch -- in terms of both look and feel -- and it's impressing me now as much as it did when I first carried it around.

• Similarly, that display -- yowza; I've missed it. Between the resolution and the LCD technology, it doesn't get much better than this. Same goes for that front-facing speaker setup; that, my friends, is how it should be done.

• Some of the decisions made in HTC's Sense software baffle me now as much as they did back in April. Things that should be simple, like adding an app shortcut from the main app drawer to the home screen, have been made needlessly cumbersome and non-user-friendly. Even as a guy who spends his life using and studying Android -- and as a guy who lived with this phone for a few weeks once before -- it took me a little time to re-figure out how some of that stuff works. I don't even want to think how long it'd take a typical (non-enthusiast) user to do the same.

(And yes, a custom Android launcher can cover up a lot of that crap. But remember, most non-enthusiast users don't put custom launchers on their phones.)

• That said, idiosyncrasies aside, the overall design HTC has implemented on the One's software doesn't bug me that much. Maybe it's because I've spent more time with Samsung's Galaxy S4 in recent weeks and compared to that UI monstrosity, HTC's Sense is downright delightful. It doesn't make me want to jab out my eyes with a butter knife every time I look at it, and that's more than I can say for certain, ahem, other aforementioned takes on Android.

That said, Android 4.1 -- still. Why, HTC? WHY?!

• The One really does have a killer camera. Damn. The software-enabled add-ons like Zoe and Video Highlights still make me smile, though I can't honestly say I've missed them much over the last several weeks (but then again, I don't have kids, which seems to be an area where they're particularly valuable). I also still worry that all the complication surrounding those features could cause their usefulness to be lost on a lot of users.

• The worst thing about coming back to the One from a Nexus is without a doubt the primary button setup. Virtual vs. capacitive argument aside, the One's placement of the home button on the far right is just plain awkward -- and the two-button approach, omitting the standard Android multitasking key, makes getting around the system a pain in the arse for no real reason. At the very least, I wish HTC had put all three buttons on the phone, like it did with its newly announced (and likely never coming to the U.S.) Butterfly S phone. That approach would have made for a far better user experience and made the One an even stronger device.

(For anyone wondering, though, yes: Flawed as it may be, I'd personally take this configuration over Samsung's bizarre button setup, with its clumsy physical/capacitive combination and dated Menu key, any day. It's all relative.)

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I still have some questions about the user experience on the upcoming "Google Edition" HTC One and how it'll compare both to the regular One and to a true Nexus phone like the Nexus 4. The good news? We should have some answers soon.

The "Google Edition" One is set to make its debut next Wednesday, June 26. Stay tuned for my thoughts once I've had a chance to use that device.


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