The Camera

If the One’s industrial design and materials choices make it nice to own, it’s the camera that makes the One a must have. In fact, that’s how it all started for me. I popped my test sim into the One and started carrying it around with my iPhone 5 as I went about the user experience part of my review process. I quickly found myself only taking photos using the One, and using the 5 for everything else. After a few days, the 5 was pretty much only used to check iMessages and answer calls to that number - with the One being used for everything else.

I remember talking to Brian after he first learned about what HTC decided to do with the One’s camera system. I believe he said something like “this is exactly what they should be building”. In the three years I’ve worked with Brian I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say that about any smartphone OEM’s decision with any component/subsystem. The strong endorsement was enough to pique my interest in the One.

Brian will go into great detail about the One’s camera in his review, and what I’ll provide here is no where near doing it justice but I’ll do my best.

At a high level, HTC’s strategy with the One is to boldly bow out of the megapixel race and instead integrate a lower resolution rear facing camera sensor with larger pixels. Each pixel in the One’s 4MP rear facing camera sensor is over 2x larger than those in the iPhone 5, and even larger than those in the Galaxy S 4. Larger pixels help ensure a better signal to noise ratio, which in turn can really improve low light performance when paired with a suitable lens.

The downsides are obvious. Very well lit scenarios can suffer compared to a higher resolution sensor, and the bigger issue for HTC is that 4MP doesn’t sound as good to the uninformed consumer compared to the Galaxy S 4’s 13MP rear camera. HTC tried to get around the latter problem by calling its larger pixels Ultrapixels, but then it’s up to point of sale training to ensure that the benefits are adequately conveyed. Call me cynical but I don’t have a bunch of faith there.

The F2.0 lens ensures a bunch of light can hit the sensor, and the result is easily the best low light performance I’ve ever seen in any Android or iOS smartphone. I took this shot during Jen-Hsun’s GTC 2013 keynote earlier this week:

The One seems to want to drive ISO as high as possible to increase brightness, so for this particular shot I manually set ISO down to 100, but otherwise everything else was left to defaults.

The Auto ISO algorithm doesn’t always drive itself super high however, the shot below is outside of Terminal 2 at the RDU airport at 11:29PM:

For this shot I didn’t touch anything and the result was a surprisingly low-noise shot.

It’s not just night shots where the One’s camera excels, but also in the more common poorly lit indoor scenarios where I come away very impressed:

HTC One


iPhone 5

In well lit outdoor scenes the One’s camera does a reasonable job (although HTC seems to have an issue with noise in these well lit scenes from whatever processing they seem to be doing):

Integrating a good sensor and camera system is just part of what the One does really well here. The feature that I’ve found resonates the best among normal smartphone users is the highlights reel.

Sense 5.0 will automatically assemble 30 second highlights videos based on photos and video you’ve taken throughout your day. The One automatically adds filters, background music and stitches everything together; all you have to do is use the camera to take photos and video, everything else happens automatically.

The highlights reel below is one that was automatically generated based on my photos and videos from opening day at GTC 2013:

Although highlights reels are automatically generated, you can also generate highlights of individual albums. I created an album of photos I had taken over the past couple of trips (as well as some shots I took at home) and the One created this video:

Each highlights reel is shared as standard MP4 (baseline profile, ~3Mbps 720p H.264), so compatibility isn't a concern.

You can manually choose from multiple themes (filters/music combinations, 6 total), but there’s unfortunately no way to add your own background music yet (I suspect this is coming in the next major update).

The highlights reel is easily the most emotionally engaging feature the One has to offer, even ranking above aesthetics and build quality in my opinion. It’s the type of feature that really seems to resonate with everyone I show it to. The killer aspect in all of this is the fact that the One will put together highlights reels automatically, with no user intervention.

I can see the background music and filters getting boring after a while, and that’s why it’s very important for HTC to quickly enable end users to supply their own audio tracks (as well as quickly - and regularly - expand the collection of filters offered).

The downside to the One’s highlights reel autonomy is the feature remains relatively buried, almost hidden in the gallery app rather than front and center like Blinkfeed. The highlights reel is easy to demonstrate to someone else, it’s just not as obvious of a feature when you pick up the phone for the first time.

I haven’t touched on Zoe, the ability to simultaneously shoot stills and record a short video - both at full res. Zoe is a difficult feature to really explain without demonstrating it, but it does wonders in the creation of highlights reels. Zoe is a great way of dealing with the problem of what to do when your subject is in motion - do you hope for a good still or just capture a video? Zoe interestingly enough does both. It’ll capture a 1080p30 video, as well as 20 full resolution (4MP) stills at the same time.

I’ve mostly been using Zoe as a way to make my highlights reels more interesting, but the best use case I’ve seen was actually by a friend of mine who used it to capture the actions of some street performers in Europe. In one Zoe he had performers spinning on their heads, which typically would make for a good video or an emotionless (but potentially cool) still. Zoe delivered both.

The One, like Nokia’s Lumia 920, features optical image stabilization (OIS), which is designed to help both in shooting video as well as improving low light performance. In practice, I’m not super impressed with the OIS implementation on the One. It seems to need a bit of tuning, but I’ll leave it to Brian to explain exactly what’s going on.

Shot to shot latency on the One is amazing. Video quality is solid as well.

The One has the physical beauty to get you interested, but the camera prowess to keep you engaged.

Introduction & Design The Rest of the Features
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  • glugglug - Thursday, April 11, 2013 - link

    SD Card slots are intentionally missing nowadays.

    Apple couldn't charge 120 more for a 64GB iPad vs. a 16GB model if it had an SD slot where you could put a 64GB card for $25.

    As for the people saying to "just use the cloud" good luck trying to access your cloud storage on a train or a flight. Even having the bandwidth for 480p video outdoors is not consistent with most cell service, especially if you enter a crowded area with other cell users.
    Reply
  • raj-jamaica - Saturday, March 23, 2013 - link

    the world would be so much of a better place if 3 pests,namely...jayseeks, cerisecogburn and darwinosx areout of this blog. Reply
  • hp79 - Saturday, March 23, 2013 - link

    Can't wait for the release on AT&T next month. I was waiting for HTC One, but then Microsoft was giving Nokia 920 for free with 2 year contract (upgrade). I really wanted try out WP from long time ago, and was not worried since Nokia 920 is the flagship product of WindowsPhone so I got the Nokia.
    I use the cheapest possible data plan, 300MB for $20 which is a rip off, so I'm careful with how I use data. I looked around, and found out that it didn't even have a data usage monitor app (DataSense is missing from at&t version).
    Also, there's no Starbucks app, no Google Voice, bunch of bank apps missing, and no way to remove the hotmail contacts (I use google contacts) from showing up. Contacts are all duplicated because I have google contacts and hotmail contacts showing up. Sure, they are linked under one name, but eventually I had to manually clean up all the contacts in hotmail.

    It's a shame to Nokia that they used "PureView" mark on the Nokia 920 because the photo quality was so-so, even compared to my Note 1 (N7000). Nokia 920 has Carl Zeiss lens, but I don't think there's any benefit. My ancient dumbphone - Sony C905 takes better pictures than this.

    I returned the Nokia 920 today, and now back in the waiting line for HTC One.
    Reply
  • Techlover30 - Sunday, March 24, 2013 - link

    Honestly 64GB would be plenty for me. Realistically why would you need anymore space than that? Unless your putting A LOT of movies or an absolute crap load of photos on your phone it doesn't really make sense. As for the removable battery, I can understand if people need or want that feature. Nearly every phone I've ever had has had a removable battery but I've never had the need to change out or replace the battery in any of them. More than likely I will be getting the HTC One because of the materials, build quality, better screen and Sense (much better than Touchwiz in my opinion). Don't get me wrong I think the SG4 is a hell of a phone I just like the HTC One better. Reply
  • doctorpink - Sunday, March 24, 2013 - link

    I had a HTC Wildfire S & SGS2.... Htc wins it hands down im my opinion... even if the wildfire s was a low end device.

    Easier to unlock/root , easier to modify, smaller and Sense >> Touchwiz
    Reply
  • Biln3 - Sunday, March 24, 2013 - link

    So the htc one has ddr2 and the gs4 has ddr3 with the same SOC (here in the states). is there gonna be much of a performance difference? Reply
  • cyberguyz - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    We're better because we have a 4MP rear Camera with bigger ccd elements? Seriously?

    That is the quality of digital cameras in the '90s. Can't HTC find a way to clean up an 8MP camera?

    I guess it comes down to this:

    How much will it cost? If it is significantly cheaper than the SGS4, this might be a viable solution for those that want to get a little more bang for the buck. But if the cost is the same you need to step back, look at both phones and ask yourself "Which one gives me the most for my money?" and "What am I willing to give up in the name of bling?".
    Reply
  • phillyry - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    Pixels are too small in 8MP and up to let in enough light for good low-light performance. Reply
  • phillyry - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    Re: bling vs. perceived utility

    Different consumers.

    Both extreme views. Reality is that the utility between these phones is marginally different.
    Reply
  • xenol - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    Reading a few pages into the comments seems to center around whining that the HTC One has no removable battery or SD card slot. But it makes me wonder... How many people actually use those features on a regular basis? If you don't, then why complain about a feature you don't really use? Reply

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