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Hands-on with the HTC One

Last night HTC threw a launch event in Sydney for the HTC One, giving people in the Asia Pacific region a look at the new flagship Android smartphone for the first time. There were bands, a stunning view of Sydney harbor, loads of free alcohol and plenty of HTC One units floating around the place. I managed to get some serious hands-on time with the device, and here's what to expect when the device becomes available mid-March.

I was skeptical about the looks of the One from the renders and press shots I'd seen, but in real life the device is far more impressive. It's slim, it's sleek, and it's very well constructed, with each model apparently taking 150 hours to construct just the housing for the powerful internals.

The beautiful aluminium unibody construction used on the HTC One is without any gaps, joins or seams - not even a plastic panel for the RF module - meaning the device feels absolutely amazing in the hand. It's also remarkably light, especially compared to the Lumia 920 I was carrying on the night, and it also felt quite sturdy and strong because of a quality selection of build materials.

The choice to place speakers at the top and bottom of the front panel may seem like a strange choice at first, but it actually doesn't look too bad once you start having a play with the phone. The wonderfully crafted curved body, that keeps the device as slim as 4mm at the edges before expanding to a reasonable 9mm in the middle, immediately feels like one of HTC's best designs yet.

And the HTC One's camera module doesn't protrude from the device's aluminium back, unlike numerous previous HTC models including the One X, keeping to the svelte design choice used for the device. All the time and effort going into the design is certainly paying off, at least after an initial inspection, and it will certainly give some upcoming flagships a run for their money.

BoomSound is a feature of the HTC One, giving strong stereo sound through the two front speakers. In a noisy event room looking out to Sydney harbor, with the device at full volume I could quite easily hear the music being demonstrated to me. There's also the standard Beats Audio enhancement and a dedicated sound processing chip that not only work to power the audio through headphones, but also through the device's speakers.

The HTC rep I was talking to was very excited to show off HTC Zoe, which is basically a fancy marketing term for the camera software present on the One. Instead of simply capturing a still image, whenever you press the capture button (by default) the device will take a short, 3 second clip of the scene; the device even begins this recording before you've pressed the capture button.

Naturally I was skeptical about a few things relating to Zoe: the battery consumption from taking a short clip rather than a still photo is potentially an issue, especially as the device is constantly capturing the scene to facilitate the before-shot footage. Each "Zoe" also uses up more storage than a standard photo - I heard 4 MB per "image" but it could be more than that - so you might find storage filling up quickly.

That said, what Zoe facilitates is remarkably cool, as you can easily capture the best moment from a scene, as a still shot, from within the short clip. You also have the ability to easily choose the best smiles of everyone in a group portrait, and with the touch of a button you can remove unwanted objects, or add in new objects from later in the clip using "Sequence Shot". When I was trying out all this powerful camera software, everything happened remarkably quick, which goes to show how powerful the Snapdragon 600 is.

I asked about the issue of the HTC One's camera only technically being 4 megapixels and how the public might perceive this compared to the larger counts you'll find on upcoming flagships (eg. 13 MP in the Sony Xperia Z), and I was told that it wouldn't even be mentioned on any material associated with the device. A rep told me that HTC is committed to crushing the more-megapixels-is-better debate, and through some "amazing" upcoming ads we'll see Ultrapixels come into play and the fact that the camera captures 300% more light.

On the software side the HTC One also had some interesting things to show off. HTC's new BlinkFeed forms the basis of Sense 5's homescreen, delivering aggregated live content from a number of sources including news outlets and social networks. It's not a widget, but rather the main portion of the homescreen, with traditional Android screens peeling off to the left and right.

For once it feels like Sense is actually a seamless experience across the OS, and in my short time using the device I didn't feel like there was as much of a visual gap going Sense to stock Android. There are less ugly gradients across the skin compared to what could be seen on the HTC One X, however I still noticed a few odd design choices that I'll have to look more closely at when I get a review unit in my hands.

However, it did seem like BlinkFeed was being pushed as a major feature of the HTC One, and in my short time using it I didn't feel as if it was as much of a killer feature as the HTC reps were trying to make out that it is. Sure it was good, but the features of the camera and the design I believe will be much bigger selling points.

Performance wise the HTC One packs a Snapdragon 600 chipset: a 1.7 GHz quad-core Krait 300 CPU plus Adreno 320 GPU, and this is accompanied by 2 GB of RAM and up to 64 GB of storage. There's no microSD card slot, but I was told this doesn't matter as you'll get at least 32 GB of on-board storage and extra space on your Dropbox account.

Using the device everything performed ridiculously well, and it's clear that the Snapdragon 600 is more than up to the task of even the most intense activities, such as preparing short videos from all your Zoe shots. I did manage to shortly claim a device for some benchmarks, but you'll have to wait a little bit until the results can be compiled properly in comparison to the most recent devices.

Check back soon on Neowin for some more stuff related to the HTC One, including a hands-on video, and of course we are waiting eagerly to get some proper time with the device for a review.

Cameras: HTC One vs Nokia Lumia 920
Video hands-on with the HTC One

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