DPReview smartphone reviews are written with the needs of photographers in mind. We focus on camera features, performance, and image quality.

Introduction

HTC is a pioneer in the smartphone world. The Taiwanese manufacturer got very early into the game with its Windows mobile devices, many of them marketed under carrier brand names. It also designed and manufactured the first Android phone in 2008, the T-Mobile G1/HTC Dream.

However, in the more recent past HTC has been struggling to compete with its bitter Korean rival Samsung. While HTC's 2012 flagship device, the One X, got rave reviews and was universally praised by technology writers as one of the year's best devices, it could not match expectations in the marketplace where many consumers found Samsung's Galaxy S3 to be the more compelling choice. 

2013 could therefore be a "make-or-break" year for HTC and it seems the company has done everything it could to prepare itself. With its 8MP camera, fast F2.0 lens and a 1.5GHz multi-core processor, last year's One X was no slouch, but the new 2013 flagship has been improved in almost every area. The HTC One swaps the One X's polycarbonate body for a beautiful all-metal unibody design which houses a 4.7-inch 1080p Full-HD screen, 2GB RAM and a Snapdragon quad-core processor.

The photosites on the camera sensor in the HTC One are approximately the same size as those in enthusiast compact cameras such as the Pansonic Lumix LX7.

While all the general device specifications leave no doubt that the One is a high-end device, HTC has put special emphasis on its flagship phone's image capturing capabilities. Like its predecessor, the HTC One comes with a fast F2.0 lens but also offers an optical image stabilization system, making it, at least on paper, an ideal low-light imaging smartphone.

The HTC One is not the first smartphone to sport a fast lens and OIS, but its 4 "ultrapixel" CMOS sensor is a novelty in the mobile space. "Ultrapixels" is essentially a marketing term that has been coined by HTC to describe pixels that are larger than those on competing models. The core of HTC's argument is based around the idea that using fewer, larger pixels on a sensor that's the same size as the 8 or 13MP units found in competitors should offer better image quality. This of course runs counter to conventional marketing, which has always contended precisely the opposite, i.e. more pixels are better.

There is an argument for using fewer pixels on a smartphone, since most images are edited and/or shared at lower resolutions than 4MP. That said, there’s a pretty strong argument that what really determines image quality when looking at the image as a whole is the total amount of light captured by the sensor, not by each individual pixel. We've put the HTC One through our review process to find out what ultrapixels mean for image quality and how the device generally performs in imaging-related tasks. Read on to find out how it did.

If you would like to see the HTC One in a side-by-side image quality comparison with the Samsung Galaxy S4, Apple iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 920 and Apple iPhone 4S please also have a look at our comprehensive Smartphone Super Shootout and our comparison with the Apple iPhone 4S.

Key Photographic / Video Specifications

  • 4MP backside-illuminated HTC 1/3" CMOS sensor
  • F2.0 aperture
  • 28mm equivalent focal length
  • Optical image stabilization
  • 1080p Full HD video on both front and rear cameras
  • HDR video
  • HDR Microphones and stereo speakers with Beats Audio
  • Slow-motion video with variable speed playback
  • HTC Zoe movies
  • Object Removal, Always Smile and Sequence Shot editing options
  • 88-degree wide-angle front camera

Other Specifications

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor, 1.7 GHz
  • Android 4.1.2 "Jelly Bean" OS with HTC Sense 5.0
  • 4.7-inch 1080p screen (486ppi)
  • 2GB RAM
  • 32/64GB storage
  • NFC
  • 2300 mAh battery (not removable)
  • All-metal unibody design

Our ten-page review

We've considered every aspect of the HTC One, with the photographer in mind. We examined the user interface of the native camera app and its special features. We experimented with the camera's performance when taking stills and video. Click any of the links below for more information of specific functions and continue to our conclusion for a final summary of our findings.