A best-in-class display, a toned-down Sense interface and excellent audio on the HTC One helped this brand earn a two-way tie with Apple for the silver in our first showdown. A second- or third-place finish in every other category (including cameras) didn’t hurt, either. HTC also does a fairly good job juggling multiple platforms. The Windows Phone 8X proved to be a quality device both in terms of design and performance.
After Samsung, the most prolific smartphone maker this past year was HTC. We reviewed 14 of its devices, seven of which received 4 stars. Of those, four received Editors’ Choice awards, such as the HTC One, whose aluminum design, excellent low-light camera and innovative Sense 5.0 skin make it one of our favorite smartphones. We also very much liked the Windows Phone 8X, which offers a sleek design along with fun color options.
The latest version of HTC’s Sense 5.0 overlay is cleaner and more subtle than previous versions while offering a new BlinkFeed home screen, which streams news and social updates to the HTC One’s home screen. Users can customize news sources geared toward their interests. If you find the whole BlinkFeed layout too busy, you can relegate it to a secondary home screen. We also like that you can decide how large or small you want the icon grids on the app screen, and the easy access to Google Play and search.
In the past year, HTC’s phones have lasted an average of 6 hours and 36 minutes on our tests, with the flagship HTC One handset providing as much as 6:20 minutes of 4G LTE battery life — more than the Galaxy S4 — under its efficient power-saving mode. Unfortunately, like Apple and Motorola, HTC doesn’t let you change your own battery so you’ll have to invest in an external battery case.
HTC emphasizes its audio quality and cameras on most of its handsets, including the HTC One and Windows Phone 8X. Beats Audio is available across both the Android-powered One and 8X, but only the One offers dual BoomSound speakers. HTC’s ImageChip offers fast shooting with its cameras, while the UltraPixel camera in the One offers very good low-light performance. The One also offers Sense TV, which turns the handset into a TV remote using a built-in IR blaster and software from Peel.
HTC is known for spoiling its customers with gorgeous displays, and its latest One is no exception. The device boasts a 4.7-inch Super LCD 3 1920 x 1080-pixel display, and its rich colors and awesome details make for an impressive viewing experience. HTC’s previous- generation handsets, including the HTC One X and One X Plus, offered similarly beautiful screens. The handset maker was also the first to offer a full HD display on a smartphone with the Droid DNA. It isn’t just Android smartphones that get such gorgeous screens, either. The HTC Windows Phone 8X’s 4.3-inch Super LCD 2 display is one of the best-looking Windows Phone displays.
With its latest handsets, HTC balances helpful photography features with very good image quality. The flagship HTC One’s Ultrapixel camera placed second in our Smartphone Camera Shootout, thriving in low-light conditions where most other brands fell short. Lower-end models come with a dedicated ImageChip for snapping photos in an instant. HTC has built some snazzy photography features in newer phones such as the HTC One, including Zoes, for capturing a series of pictures along with a 3-second video.
HTC has nearly caught up to Apple in terms of industrial design, offering a sexy full metal body on the spectacular HTC One. HTC also isn’t afraid to mix things up, using color (HTC Windows Phone 8X) and soft-touch finishes (HTC Droid DNA) to stand out from the crowd. Thanks to HTC’s trademark rounded rear panel, users can expect a firm, comfortable grip no matter the size of the device.
MORE: Best Smartphones 2013
By adding dual stereo speakers to its flagship One phone, HTC easily catapulted itself to the head of the audio class this year. Adele’s “Someone Like You” rang true through the One’s BoomSound speakers, with the richest vocals. The sound gets plenty loud without being distorted. This also was the only flagship phone to introduce any bass from Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.” Most HTC phones offer Beats audio, which enhances sound when headphones are plugged in.
HTC offers SenseVoice on many of its phones, which increases call volume and quality in noisy environments. We found this technology very good at blocking ambient noise. Plus, on T-Mobile, HTC is one of a very few brands to take advantage of HD Voice for high-quality, clear calls.
While not as diverse as Samsung’s, HTC’s smartphone portfolio includes a wide variety of handsets, ranging from the high-end HTC One Android flagship to the Facebook-centric HTC First and the Microsoft-powered Windows Phone 8X. However, you won’t find a rugged or device from HTC. The HTC One is available on AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint with Verizon coming soon.