HTC announced its new flagship HTC One smartphone on Tuesday, which HTC Americas President Mike Woodward dubbed “the best phone ever made.”
The smartphone, with a 4.7-in. screen, will be sold in mid-March by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile USA in 32 GB and 64 GB versions, reportedly at a starting price of $200, including a contract.
A laundry list of improvements includes an aluminum case, a new Sense interface, and an Ultrapixel camera for taking better photos in low light. Analysts said HTC was clearly out to improve its smartphone standing globally, having dropped half of its market share in 2012 from 2011 to less than 5%.
The HTC One is based on Android 4.1 but applies a new HTC Sense interface that some analysts compared to Windows Phone 8 for using a series of tiles on the home screen to track updates and streams of information. HTC also sells Windows Phone 8 smartphones that make use of live tiles in the interface.
“The new Sense is definitely a differentiator to stand out from the Android crowd,” remarked Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner and aComputerworld columnist, in an email. “HTC One seems like the flagship Android device at the moment, but given market velocity, we’ll have to see for how long.”
Some Android purists will object to the new Sense interface because it is an overlay of Android with some cross references to live tiles in Windows Phone 8. The cross references will appeal to some buyers, however, said Carolina Milanesi, also a Gartner analyst.
“The new Sense brings something different to the Android camp, and as you generally have positive feedback on the Windows tiles experience, and [because] people want Android, this Sense might actually appeal,” Milanesi said.
Sense offers BlinkFeed, which streams information from various sources.
Most reports prior to the HTC One’s release focused on the new camera, which HTC calls the “Ultrapixel” camera. It is not made up of three different light sensors, as some early reports said.
The Ultrapixel camera is able to capture 300% more light than cameras in competing smartphones, which is seful in low-light conditions, HTC said. It works by capturing larger pixels with a sensor on the back of the phone that measures one-third of an inch, according to HTC’s specifications.
At the launch event, HTC wouldn’t provide the camera’s megapixel count, telling reporters and bloggers, including Computerworld‘s Barbara Krasnoff, that the megapixel is irrelevant. “The era of the megapixel is over,” said Jonah Becker, HTC’s design director, during the presentation.
According to the spec sheet, each pixel is 2.0 um, an area of 4 square microns — a pixel size that is twice that of last year’s HTC One X, which had an 8 megapixel sensor. While HTC wouldn’t say how many megapixels are in the One, Symon Whitehorn, HTC’s director of special projects, told CNET and others that the One’s camera has 4 megapixels.
Having a 4-megapixel sensor with fewer megapixels forces each pixel to be larger, letting in more light, according to HTC.
Analysts agreed that HTC is correct in saying that megapixels aren’t the only factor in a good camera. HTC cited other camera features, including optical image stabilization and a smart flash with five levels of flash that are automatically set by the distance to a subject.
“Megapixels alone in a camera are not enough: You need good software, lenses and sensors to make the experience rich,” Milanesi said.
“There’s definitely truth to the argument that sensor size is more important than raw pixel count,” Gartenberg said. “That’s true in dedicated cameras. If HTC implemented well, it could make a difference, especially in low light.”
HTC didn’t stop at a good camera in the One. The phone maker also mentioned audio improvements with Boomsound, which includes dual front stereo speakers enhanced with Beats Audio technology.
The phone also comes with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor, rated at 1.7 GHz, and a 2,300 mAh battery. LTE networks are supported on all three U.S. carriers, and near-field communications technology is available, depending on the carrier and the location. The HTC One weighs 5.04 ounces, and measures 5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 inches.