A phone that finally gives iPhone a run for its money? How the HTC One measures up

mbonner@islandpacket.comJune 14, 2013 

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A few weeks ago, in order to test out AT&T's 4G LTE network on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, I was given a demo unit of the HTC One -- the current top-of-the-line smartphone from HTC.

As I had some extended time with it, I decided to try an experiment that I had first attempted two years ago -- could I make the switch to Android from my beloved iPhone?

Last time it wasn't even a contest. I got so fed up with the Android platform I didn't last a day. It was slow, buggy, laggy (the infamous Android jank while scrolling was as bad as I'd heard), and the lack of apps as compared to the iPhone made it a non-starter for me. Of course, that was then -- this is now.

The latest version of Android (4.2, code named "Jelly Bean") has evolved to become a rock-solid mobile OS. The app situation on the Google Play Store has gotten much better, and there's now a viable alternative available for just about any iPhone app.

The HTC One is the only Android phone available that rivals the iPhone in terms of build quality. Sporting a 4.7-inch screen with a 1080p resolution and 468 pixels per inch that is higher than the iPhone 5, its most impressive spec may be that it actually looks beautiful. With diamond-cut corners, aluminum finish, a rounded back that fits perfectly in the hand and two powerful speaker grills on the front for honest-to-goodness great sound from a phone, I have to say I like the design better than that of the iPhone. This is something I've never come close to saying before.

The point of trying to see if switching to Android was a viable option for me has more to do with the OS than the phone, but with hardware this gorgeous and functional it's hard not to take it into account.

OK, so I like to look at it and hold it. It's what's on the screen that matters most. After about 30 minutes I'd downloaded every app I routinely use on my iPhone (or at least the closest approximation available), set my background picture to that of my kids, and got to work.

First the good. There was a lot to like about this phone. In no particular order, I thoroughly enjoyed: the large screen; the endless customization options to make it look and feel the way I wanted; the Gmail app that integrated so much better with my work email than the Mail app on the iPhone; and the widgets (goodness gracious, the widgets -- being able to toggle the Wi-fi on/off without having to go three menus deep and/or jailbreak my phone made me squeal with delight). I really could go on and on -- it was that good. But -- and there were some big buts -- it wasn't all wine and roses.

The first problem I ran into was trying to send my wife a text message. Easy enough to do, but not easy to do for free as it is on the iPhone using iMessage. I had to download an app for free text messaging, then download that same app on my wife's iPhone, then assign both our phones their new numbers in our contacts. It was as big of a hassle as you'd expect. The next issue was trying to find a Twitter app that worked for me. I tend to live in Twitter on my iPhone, and my app of choice is TweetBot. The closest I could find for Android was Tweetcaster. It's good, but not good enough. Every time I tapped on a URL inside a tweet, instead of taking me to the webpage, I was presented with a menu of 10 options, one of which was to open the link like I clearly wanted.

That's Android's "openness" in a nutshell -- a whole lot of choices but if not implemented correctly they can get in the way. I also found Android's voice dictation much less accurate than Siri's on the iPhone. In addition to having to manually correct far more words after it translated, it also didn't turn my "period," "question mark" and "exclamation point" into ., ? or !. I know it's supposed to be able to do that, so maybe there was a setting I needed to find.

So will I switch? The short answer is no, not yet. Most of my issues were just small hassles I could probably either fix or overlook. The problem is the one thing I can't do anything about: OS updates. Earlier this week Apple introduced iOS 7, which is a complete overhaul of iOS and adds dozens of features. Naturally, it will be available for the iPhone 5, but it will also be available for the iPhone 4S as well as the iPhone 4, which was released nearly three years ago. Compare that to Android phones, where only the Google Nexus line is guaranteed to see updates. Because the manufactures insist on putting these skins on top of the Android OS, they often never bother to update older phones to make said skins compatible with the latest version of Android. As of this moment, 37 percent of all Android devices are running version 2.3 (Gingerbread) that was released in 2010 -- not because their owners don't want to update, because there's no update to be had. As it relates to the HTC One, there's simply no guarantee I'd ever see the next Android update on the phone.

The idea of never being able to add software features in the months and years to come is just not acceptable for something so costly. If that problem were to go away, I'd have to seriously consider switching. As it is right now, iOS is still the best choice for me and my legacy devices, but it's not necessarily the best choice for you (so save the hate mail, Fanboi's!). If you're trying to decide which platform to go with, I hope you might find my experience beneficial.

Morgan Bonner is pre-press manager and a systems administrator for the Packet and Gazette.

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