Review: HTC One on Verizon with a focus on camera

 20130918_154609The Good: High quality aluminum case, the best front facing speakers ever tested. Big, bright, sharp, true-to-life color yet high contrast screen. Low light camera, Zoe, BlinkFeed. Slow motion, high speed video capture. Good battery life, built-in video clipping linked from all videos. Excellent camera interface, auto-focus, spot metering, panorama. A fast, smooth phone.

The Bad: Good overall camera, not the best in daylight – lacks pixel zoom ability (gets fuzzy when zoomed in) due to 4 megapixel low-light sensor.

The HTC One is a top pick for a high end Android phone. The smooth aluminum case is well made, feels silky. Crisp corners on the sides keep it from becoming a slippery metal phone.

The dual front facing speakers are far better than any smartphone I have tested to date. When using it for turn-by-turn navigation and Netflix, the sound system adds considerable value to the experience. I was watching a movie when I noticed a jet flying by appeared to be in stereo. Most smartphone speakers are placed on the back where it is muffled and pointing in the opposite direction of your ears.

The camera interface is quick to respond, shoot and process and simple if you want it to be with more technical options below the surface of the interface.

phone compare

The “UltraPixel” camera used in the HTC One has larger pixels to aid in low light situations and is combined with an F2.0 aperture and a relatively wide 28 mm lens.

At right from the top, I compared the HTC One with an iPhone 4, Motorola RAZR and Galaxy S II in an unlit room with only florescent light coming in a door. The photos at right were boosted with brightness/contrast all at the same rate so you can see how the boosted image falls apart.

Holding down the shutter gives you a very rapid burst shot that you can set the total number of frames.  

htc 1 nokia RAZR I was impressed with the low light capability compared with most smartphone cameras.

At left is a comparison, from the top, of the HTC One, a Nokia Lumia and the RAZR on poorly lit street with orange sodium vapor street lighting. The Nokia is still the best low light camera I have tested.

While the auto-focus is excellent and camera function top notch, I wasn’t terribly excited about the HTC One under normal lighting conditions. I would consider it good when compared to most smartphone camera’s on the market, but this is a top end device and the bar should be set high.

HTC one  outside light

It’s helpful on the HTC One to pick an exposure point as well as a focus point to get a good photo. The unit will set both automatically if you don’t do anything, but you have the option to spot focus and pick an exposure.

For example at right I was able to lighten or darken the image to bring out the background or keep the flowers from blowing out.

Tap the green square on the screen and the exposure will be held until you tap the shutter or move the HTC One, then it reverts to auto focus and exposure making it idiot proof for the next exposure. Hold down the shutter for a burst of frames.

panorama

The panorama function features a dynamic horizon line to to keep you in line as you spin the camera as well as a dynamic preview of what you are recording so you can stop the panorama part way.

The Zoe is an automated video creation tool built into the HTC One. The nice part about it, even for power video editors, is that you do nothing! to create it. It just appears as an animated thumbnail in the media gallery of the HTC One.

You have an option to re-randomize it or choose one of 12 templets. Transitions, zooms and pans will match the soundtrack. Pieces and parts of existing photos are used in edits. Under gallery, choose Events and you will see the Zoe for each picture group. You have the option to save a rendered video file that can be shared. The Zoe is a fun way involving totally no input to review your day, an event, even if you don’t render and share.

trimVideo stabilization is on by default when shooting video giving you smooth pans.

There are also options for slow motion, fast motion HD (60 fps), and Video HDR (Full HD). A nice option is a link to trim and save any video from a link off any video in your gallery.

blinkfeedAt first glance, the BlinkFeed looks obtrusive, but digging deeper, it’s a nice option and another useful information feed. You can customize the picture linked feed with news and feature sources and combine it with your personal news feeds like Twitter and Facebook.

If you don’t want Blinkfeed front and center it can be moved to a side screen. The number of side screens can be customized. I liked BlinkFeed as an optional image dominated information feed. The connected links are optimized to read well on the HTC One in a magazine format.

The multi-tasking key is a double tap on the home key, which differs from many Android handsets and appears as tiles instead of a vertical stream. There isn’t a settings key, only home and the back button.

The HTC One isn’t a pure Android phone, but the software HTC has added to Android 4.2.2 is useful, can be customized and doesn’t get in the way of the Android experience. Although I have seen better daylight images come out of phones, much of our days is about dim light. The HTC One can grab a photo in low light situations that most smartphones are a complete failure.

I have seen some reviews talk about soft low light images from the HTC One. I think the problem is that a slow exposures need steady hands. I found no such problem.

The HTC One is a top pick for a personal cell phone. The only thing I really didn’t like about it was sending this demo back to Verizon Wireless.

About Paul Kuehnel


Paul Kuehnel
has worked for the York Daily Record/Sunday News since 1984.

Follow him on Twitter @paulkuehnel.

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