JR Raphael

HTC One: Hands-on impressions of an impressive handset

April 08, 2013 12:15 PM EDT

HTC OneEach year, a few Android phones manage to break out from the pack and emerge as the cream of the crop -- the devices worthy of a "best of the best" designation. Make no mistake about it: The HTC One is one of those phones.

I've been using the U.S. version of the HTC One -- on sale next Friday from AT&T and Sprint and later this spring from T-Mobile -- in place of my own personal device for several days. I'm not going to write a full review of the phone just yet; from hardware to software, the One has a lot of significant elements to consider, and I want to spend more time living with it and getting a meaningful feel for how its features work in the real world before reaching any final conclusions.

I've gotten to know the One enough, though, to share some general thoughts and impressions:

• HTC really hit it out of the park when it comes to the One's hardware design and build quality. Plain and simple, this is a fantastically made device. The One's unibody aluminum casing is both visually striking and a pleasure to touch. The phone is thin and sleek, with a gently curved back and no real protrusions. There are no flimsy or plasticky panels, either; this is a premium product through and through.

• The HTC One's display is, in a word, phenomenal. It's a 4.7-in. 1080p LCD with an eye-popping 468 pixels per inch. I'll get into more detail in my review, but in short, it's hard to find much bad to say about this screen.

• Equally impressive: the One's dual front-facing stereo speakers. I'm not sure I've ever heard a smartphone sound this good.

HTC One Hardware• The HTC One is fast -- really fast. The best part, for me, is that I've found myself barely even thinking about performance while using the One; it just works the way a high-end phone should. It makes me optimistic that we're nearing the point where high-end devices are just reliably snappy and lag-free. With devices in this league nowadays, that shouldn't even be a question.

• The HTC One's camera, as you may have heard, is a bit different from what we're used to: It has fewer megapixels than most smartphone cameras -- four megapixels total, to be exact -- but each individual pixel is significantly larger than average as a result. HTC calls it an "UltraPixel" setup and says it allows 300 percent more light to be captured than what you'd get with a typical 13-megapixel lens.

I'll say this: The One definitely gets great-looking pictures in low-light conditions; I can snap a photo in a dimly lit room and get a lighter and more detailed image than what I see with my own naked eye. As for the overall image quality and how the "UltraPixel" setup affects it, the jury's still out; I'll get back to you soon. (Remember, most early reviews of the phone involved unfinished preproduction units. HTC says it's made some camera-related adjustments since that time.)

[HTC One camera samples: Judge for yourself]

• Last but not least, the software -- and this one's a mixed bag. This ain't no Nexus-like stock Android experience; that's for damn sure. But HTC's Sense UI has come a long way, and the company's come up with some interesting new features and modifications. That said, it's also made some choices that leave me scratching my head -- odd alterations that make things needlessly complicated and unintuitive at times.

Android Power TwitterI'll get into all the nitty-gritty -- including my feelings on the phone's two-button approach and BlinkFeed-ified home screen -- in my full review. Stay tuned for that, and be sure to follow me on Google+ for more One discussion in the meantime.

[UPDATE: HTC One: To buy or not to buy?]