Conclusion - The Good

  • Good exposure in all light situations
  • Good low light performance
  • Very good flash performance
  • High resolution 1080p screen is great for viewing images or watching video
  • Excellent stereo speakers for a phone
  • Good quality stereo sound recording in videos
  • Attractive metal body and good build quality
  • Snappy and responsive performance
  • Optical image stabilization very useful for shooting video
  • Comprehensive imaging feature set
  • Image parameter adjustment for saturation, contrast and sharpness
  • Useful slow motion video mode
  • Good range of editing options in the gallery app

Conclusion - The Bad

  • Low pixel count means less pixel-level detail than the high-end competition in most shooting situations
  • Optical image stabilization system can cause softness at the edges of the frame
  • Occasional AF-inaccuracy in low light
  • Strong purple fringing
  • Tendency to produce purple flare with strong light sources just outside the frame and magenta color shading at the center of the frame
  • Use of very slow shutter speeds can lead to slightly shaky images in low light
  • Accessibility of some camera settings could be better, camera app most suited for snapshot style shooting
  • Filter effects not available for shooting video

Overall Conclusion

When you hold the HTC One in your hands for the first time it is immediately obvious that you are dealing with a high-end device. With its all-metal body and solid build quality the HTC One looks and feels like a premium product. The specifications complement the appearance and with its quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM the One always feels snappy and responsive in operation. It's a pleasure to view images and video on the extremely high-resolution screen and the stereo speakers with Beats Audio system sound better than anything else we've seen on a phone before. As you know in our reviews we are focusing on the imaging features and capabilities but it's fair to say that, as a mobile device, the HTC One is one of the very best we have tested so far.

Features & Operation

The phone's comprehensive feature set complements the great build quality and high performance components. In the camera app you can choose from a number of innovative features and functions to experiment with but some of them could do with a bit of further development. The HDR mode simply did not work on our test unit and consistently produced overexposed results. HDR video does a decent job at increasing the dynamic range in your video footage but you pay for it with a heavily cropped frame, image artifacts and generally reduced image quality. 

Zoe movies is an interesting feature that offers a new way of capturing and sharing memories but you end up with an almost unmanageable number of files in your storage folder and the process for creating highlight movies should be more intuitive. That said, the One offers a good number of decent filter effects, the ability to modify imaging parameters such as contrast, saturation and sharpness will be appealing to power users and the panorama mode produces very large panoramas with good stitching.

In terms of operation and usability the One's camera app is most suited for a snapshot-style shooting. The app offers a lot of parameters and settings to play with but to change most of them you have to dive deep into the slightly longwinded menu. Linking the exposure to the focus point will be familiar to iPhone users but has its limitations when capturing high- or low-key scenes and generally offers less control over exposure than "traditional" exposure compensation. The latter is still available in the menu but frankly is too difficult to access to make it useful. If the HTC One's default camera app is not your cup of tea you can of course always install a third-party app such as Camera FV-5 or ProCapture but you'll have to revert to the native camera app for Zoe movies and other innovative features.

Image Quality

Image quality in general and "ultrapixels" specifically have been a huge part of HTC's launch campaign for the One. In reality the camera is a bit of a two-sided sword. With its fast F2.0 lens and optical image stabilization the HTC One is capable of capturing good exposures down to light levels which leave most of the competition struggling. This is only achievable by using shutter speeds that are mostly too long to capture moving subjects without any motion blur but the HTC at least allows you to take a picture of static scene when many other phones simply have to give up. The flash is another strong point and in combination with the F2.0 aperture and OIS position the One amongst the best low light smartphone cameras in the market.

However, as you can see in the cons list above, the camera is not without its faults. In our samples we observed unusually high levels of purple fringing, purple flare with strong light sources just outside the frame and color shading at the center of the frame. All these effects should be relatively easy to mitigate through software processing and we're surprised HTC has not opted to do so. In some images we have also seen pretty strong edge softness that we think is caused by the OIS tilting the lens.

While the HTC is capable of producing, for a smartphone, unusually clean results in low light, in bright conditions the low-resolution sensor simply cannot capture the same amount of detail as the competition with its higher pixel-counts. However, there are good arguments for HTC's approach. Most smartphone images are edited and shared at lower resolutions than they are captured at, so pixel image quality only really becomes a concern if you are planning on downloading your images to a computer to print or display them at a large size. If you would like to see the HTC One's image quality next to the Samsung Galaxy S4, Apple iPhone 5 and Nokia Lumia 920, we recommend you also have a look at our Smartphone Super Shootout that we published in April.

The Final Word

The HTC One is an excellent smartphone with a screen and speakers that are great for viewing images and watching video. The feature set of the camera app is very comprehensive but some of the functions cannot quite convince us fully yet. The camera performs well in low light and when using the flash, which makes it a great mobile tool for social photography. The 4MP sensor is not without its flaws and users who like to view images at a pixel level will not always be impressed.

If you can live with the limitations described above, the HTC One is a great option for Android users but those who prefer a higher resolution sensor might want to have a loot at Samsung's new Galaxy S4 flagship device which offers 13MP with a similarly comprehensive imaging feature set as the HTC.

HTC One
Category: Mobile Phone
Camera and Photo Features
Screen Quality
Ergonomics and Handling
Video Quality
Still Image Quality
Speed and Responsiveness
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The HTC One is high-end smartphone with an excellent screen and stereo speakers that are a notch above the rest, making it an excellent choice for viewing images and watching video. The feature set of the camera app is very comprehensive but some of the functions cannot quite convince us fully yet. The camera performs well in low light and when using the flash which makes it a great mobile tool for social photography, but the 4MP sensor is not without its flaws and users who like to view images at a pixel level will not always be impressed.
75%
Overall score

Sample Gallery

There are 45 images in our HTC One samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.