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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  • UltraTech79 - Saturday, March 30, 2013 - link

    As an Apple fan, Im really glad to see other manufacturer really pushing the highend. This just eans the iPhone 6 will need to be even better, and the cycle continues. Good for all of us!

    Im also very glad to see people brave enough to stop the MP wars and realize that SnR is worth far more. You can only bruteforce performance to a point.
    Reply
  • dexter1 - Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - link

    WOW....that's a remarkable device and happy that it impressed you guys very much...

    it's quite long...when can we expect full review...??
    Reply
  • RacerCub - Thursday, April 4, 2013 - link

    Anand, a couple of questions, #1. Do you think you would permanently replace your iPhone with the One? #2. Is 3D dead and #3. Do you think HTC will support the phone more than a year?

    I have owned many HTC phones over the years, and the biggest problems are no updates to fix issues or give you better version of OS and they ditch supporting it quickly. Things like HTC hub go away so you can no longer get HTC widgets or themes.
    Reply
  • iamdluhansa - Thursday, April 4, 2013 - link

    I've use 6 samsungs, 1 motorola, and 2 htcs..and, battery-wise, they are all the same to me. Don't know bout how you use your android, but they way I use androids, they are no different. btw, I use one of the htc the longest, a year. Reply
  • PubFiction - Friday, April 5, 2013 - link

    I may have missed it but I saw no mention of the IR emitter. This to me is probably the first innovative (if you can call it that) addition to smartphones since Samsung brought back the stylus in the note. This is one of those things we should have had for years. I am pretty disappointed in the review because it makes little to no mention about the poor choice of HTC to seal this phone up, does it even have a microsd slot? And also completely misses the IR emitter. I guess anand has so much money now he forgot about value and flexibility because he can carry aournd multiple phones in case a battery isn't big enough or he runs out of storage and im sure his TV is completely remote controlled by his phone independent of IR. Reply
  • PubFiction - Friday, April 5, 2013 - link

    And just for the record I currently have an HTC evo 3d, my mom has the evo 4g lte, its not that I don't like HTC phones but they are completely killing a portion of their chance to get sales because they they don't have removable batteries and microsd slots. It seems only Samsung is smart enough to corner that market in high end devices. Reply
  • SuBoX - Friday, April 5, 2013 - link

    And samsung are killing a big portion of their sales by releasing such an ugly device.

    Like sd card + battery but don't like design => choose samsung
    Like design but don't need sd card and battery => choose htc
    Like design and battery and sd card => could try an ugly samsung and be unhappy about design and feel OR try the HTC with external battery chargers (not much bigger then a removable battery in you pocket) and usb otg for storing your extra movies and music on a usb stick
    Reply
  • DannyOoi - Saturday, April 6, 2013 - link

    Hey all tech fans. Really chill out. Removable battery or microSD cards do have their advantages but whether it is actually a number one priority in your decision to get whichever smart phones is a personal choice. Some prefer it some don’t, some just don’t give 2 hoots about it. From my opinion and from where I am, microsd slots are useful for mid tier phones as those phones usually come with 4gb space, hence the need for microsd. If you are looking at flagship phones which are usually equipped with 16gb upwards it becomes an accessory. Is it a must have? Especially we are moving towards cloud storage. And I have seen so many users android or apple alike have not fill up their 16gb storage. For users like this, what‘s the microsd slot for if not an additional accessory? For removable batteries, I find USB chargers selling for as low as 5USD. But batteries on the other hand cost about 30USD. From my usage pattern it is much easier to just plug your phone in whenever available is easier and cheaper than swapping batteries. For short vacations, some mentioned they could go few days without the charger with 2-3 batteries. Well I would rather bring a charger and leave it at the hotel. Or a power station which is essentially a battery pack and I could use that to charge both my phone and tablet. Rather than having a few different batteries. For long term, replacing a dead battery, I am sure many of you tech fans will want to keep your devices up to date which means before the battery reached its end of life you would have change from whatever you are using to the latest which is the trend I see among many users. And last I check, selling a used set with 2 additional batteries won‘t really make much of a difference to used price. Cheers and let's appreciate what new technology brings to us and let's argue less over trivial matters. Reply
  • RP99 - Saturday, April 6, 2013 - link

    Pre-Orded. 'nough said. Reply
  • IsthatyouBevis - Saturday, April 6, 2013 - link

    I ordered this. I am not concerned about no removable battery or SD slot. Coming from a samsung. Probably a lot of people out there like me that are ready for a change from samsung, don't like the direction of samsung design, have never needed to swap batteries or needed more than 32 gb storage.

    I saw a lot of comments saying that even if people don't need the swappable battery and sd slot, it is a marketable feature. For some, yes, but, most people have smart phones now and know if they need it or not.
    Reply

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