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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  • Mook1e - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    Read back one page and you'll see one person who used those features in the last two weeks. Me. Reply
  • phillyry - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    So, stop bringing it up.

    Let sleeping dogs lie.
    Reply
  • half_duplex - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    Many of you are missing a very important factor. The HTC One will compete not only with Samsung, but also Apple.

    I don't feel there are very many Apple users who look at the Galaxy line as a serious option, they are too far apart. Apple users are accustomed to top of the line fit and finish, Samsumg users expect the top spot on the specs chart and the largest screen.

    I am an iPhone 4 user who's waiting on an Android device for the first time. I'm getting a more powerful device, a larger (not too large) screen, but I don't have to take a step back in build quality.

    I don't mind the camera issues, but it would be nice to see this thing launch with the latest Android.
    Reply
  • phillyry - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    +1 Reply
  • krumme - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    Well you should have no problem as you are used to a smaller screen in a big, heavy and fragile chassis and old software Reply
  • DEECEE - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    But you're saying you don't have the imagination to see that you could use replaceable battery and SD slots? I am just saying HTC really goofed on omitting those, having those would win them a ton of customers given the higher build quality of the HTC ONE. Reply
  • brandensilva - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    Well I certainly plan on getting this phone in the next couple of weeks due to its impeccable housing body and performance. I'm willing to sacrifice the battery and SD storage to be honest. That's hard to say as a techy but I've come to find those features to be unnecessary even for me after I went that route last time. I know I can root this and throw whatever OS I want on it, so sense 5 is a non-issue; although I may give this sense a try as its slimmer.

    I got tired of changing batteries and losing track of which one was charged and which one was not. I got tired of swapping around SD cards too. I just want a phone that works well, looks good (since I have to stare at the thing often) and can do what I need it to do. Speed, OS customization, and functionality are far more important to me these days.

    I think most people don't care about batteries and additional SD slots. It's easy to see that today. Nexus line = no sd card. HTC is going the same route. The iPhone has already been there since its inception. Other handsets following suit or already gone that way.

    I did the family test and I'm the only one in my extended family out of 50 or so smartphone users who has ever bought more batteries and sd cards. Half the family uses iphones, the other android. I'm sure if more people in my family were techies, those odds would go up for these features but people just need to stop arguing that these are critical features for the majority of users; they are not and they never be.

    With that said, I know there is a small market for these features and I'm sure Samsung will be more than happy to cater to that.
    Reply
  • brandensilva - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    I forgot to add the co-worker test. When I worked at a tech company with a group of 18 or so techies, over half of us had additional sd cards and batteries. It's clear, that the I.T industry loves more space (or pr0n I'm not sure) and juice. But then again, it could have just been a "my wang is bigger than yours" statement kind of thing too. I see the trend dying off more and more as internal space progresses.

    I also witnessed two iphone switch overs and they were content not worrying about the storage/battery stuff anymore. I'm at the same point myself but I just can't bring myself to the iPhone as I got my iPad for my iOS needs.
    Reply
  • DEECEE - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    I am glad you can let go, but why do you have to let go? I'd love to buy the ONE, but why would a product force you to let go? SD card with 64GB internal storage may not be needed, OK, I can tolerate that, but no replaceable battery? I don't need a spare to carry around, but I know one day that battery will die and I don't want to throw away my device just for a replaceable part, especially if I actually like the ONE. I still have my StarTac's, and with a new battery, they work perfectly well. Reply
  • superflex - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    It would be nice if the comments were devoid of fanboi bravado and would focus on the device at hand.
    Just imagine if the One had an AMD based GPU. Cerise would have an aneurysm and the comments would have expanded to 100 pages with his trolling.
    As soon as this becomes available, I'm buying one and shelving the OG EVO.
    Reply

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