My HTC One Review

I've been an iPhone user for the past five years, except for a few weeks in 2011 when I used an Android phone to see how good it was. At that time, my evaluation was that Android was a second-rate knock-off of iOS.

But, with the releases of Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" and 4.1 "Jelly Bean", Android got a lot less ugly, and hardware is finally fast enough that it doesn't feel so slow. Because I make about half my income from Android app development, I decided it was time to give Android another try as my personal phone. I vowed to put the iPhone away, buy a top-of-the-line Android phone, and use it for at least 12 months. My goal was to immerse myself in the Android ecosystem and learn how "regular people" use their Android phones.

When I made this purchase in July, the two top-tier Android phones were the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. I've hated the two Samsung devices I've owned (Samsung Galaxy S and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0), so it was an easy choice.

I won't re-hash the things that all the other HTC One reviews say. These are my personal impressions, and what I do and don't like about the HTC One may not match your preferences.

It's Too Big

Among iOS developers, the "huge Android phone" has been a running joke. Android OEMs have kept pushing the sizes of their screens to four inches, five inches, or more in a weird race, while Apple has stuck to its concept of a small thin device. I didn't want a big phone, but there are a lot of people who do, so I bought a big phone to get a better understanding of the trade-offs.

I thought I would eventually get used to it, but four months later, it's still too big. It's hard to pull it out of my pocket, it's hard to reach the power button to turn it on, it's hard to reach all the places on the screen with my thumb. I find I have to use two hands to really use it, whereas my iPhone was usually a one-handed device.

One of my most valuable Android apps is Gravity Screen Pro. What it does is automatically turn the phone off when I put it in my pocket, and turn it back on when I take it out of my pocket. This is a big deal, because it is difficult to reach the power button.

Sometimes it is nice to have that large screen, especially when browsing the web or reading. But I have a half-dozen other devices around the house that are even better for browsing the web or reading.

HTC recently introduced the HTC One mini, which would be a better size for me. Unfortunately, in addition to being a small phone, it is also a cheap phone, without the performance of the One.

My Phone's Camera is Terrible

Most of the early reviews of the HTC One praised the low-light capabilities of its camera. So I was surprised when I tried to take some low-light pictures and they looked like everything was in a cloud of purple haze.

Apparently, some HTC One cameras have this problem, and others don't. HTC will not replace the phone if it has this problem. They claim a forthcoming software update will fix it.

So for now, I just have to live with a crummy camera.

Carrier-based Updates are Terrible

In July, Google released Android 4.3. In early October, HTC and AT&T finally released new firmware that included Android 4.3. This was supposed to automatically download to my phone, but after a few weeks, it hadn't.

I contacted AT&T about the problem. They were unhelpful, sending me the same set of instructions four times, then finally telling me to contact HTC.

HTC apologized for my difficulties, and sent me instructions for downloading an update package and installing it on the phone over USB. Unfortunately, their update procedure only works with a Windows computer, which I don't have. They apologized for the inconvenience.

I was eventually able to get the update installed by extracting the ROM image from the update package and using Android developer tools to flash it to the phone from my Mac, using instructions found on various Android hacker sites.

The lesson: Don't buy a phone that makes you dependent upon the carrier and manufacturer to provide software updates. From now on, the only Android phones I buy will be Nexus or Google Play editions, which get timely OS updates directly from Google.

Android

Before Android 4.0, Android was ugly, slow, and clunky. Anyone who says otherwise is an idiot.

But Android 4.0 eliminated a lot of the ugliness, and subsequent versions have addressed the slowness and clunkiness. Android is still not as attractive nor pleasant to use as iOS, but it is no longer embarrassingly bad in comparison.

The Google Play store has a much better selection of apps than it did a couple of years ago. Android developers are making a lot of good apps with well-designed user experiences. However, the best Android apps are still not as good as the best iOS apps.

I do like the openness of Android. I have grown dependent on some of the utilities that do things that wouldn't be allowed in iOS apps. For example, the Tasker app can automate many activities. I have it set up so that my phone disables the unlock code when it sees my home wi-fi network, and then re-enables it when I leave. I have apps that automatically do things based upon whether I am in my car, or what time of day it is.

I've played around with alternate lockscreen and homescreen apps. I've gone back to the standard ones, but having these choices is nice.

I haven't rooted my phone or installed any custom ROMs. My goal is to use the phone like "regular people" do, and most people don't do that. (Then again, most "regular people" with Android phones don't install many apps or use the web browser.)

It seems to me that Android is getting better faster than iOS is. When my twelve-month enforced-Android-usage period is over, I think I'll probably stay with Android, unless Apple provides some amazing stuff in iOS 8.

Final Thoughts

The HTC One is a good product. It's a little big, but it works well.

It's difficult to say whether I'd rather have this HTC One or a new iPhone. The HTC One seems more interesting, but that may be due to its newness. The iPhone is a great product, but it really hasn't changed much since its introduction, except for getting thinner and faster. The current crop of Android phones is a lot better than last year's Android phones, but that's because last year's Android phones were terrible.

The Nexus 5 was released this week. If I were to buy an Android phone today, that's probably what I'd get, but I'm hearing bad things about the camera.