With an all-star lineup of contract-free smartphones and a burgeoning LTE network, T-Mobile is doing its best to position itself as the un-carrier. For example, you can pick up the awesome HTC One for $99 down ($100 less than AT&T) and get the same gorgeous 4.7-inch 1080p display, speedy quad-core processor and Beats Audio-infused front-facing speakers. And now that T-Mobile has officially launched LTE service in 116 markets, you should be able to get faster speeds in more places. Find out how the One fared in our testing.
The first thing you'll notice about the HTC One is its attractively sleek design. The aluminum body features a spacious 4.7-inch display tucked in between its metallic silver edges, which are both speckled with the handset's front-facing speaker grills.
The border surrounding the touch screen is black to match the display when it's turned off, giving the illusion that the Super LCD 3 screen reaches from edge to edge. Below the display you'll find capacitive Home and Back buttons, unlike other flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, which also come with a Menu button. However, users can access menus via in-app buttons, which we prefer to the Galaxy S4's physical menu button.
Along the right side you'll find the One's spun-metal volume rocker, which looks elegant. The power button up top cleverly houses an IR blaster for controlling your TV, but it's a bit too recessed for our tastes.
Measuring 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.37 inches and weighing 5.1 ounces, the HTC One is slightly larger and heavier than the 5.31 x 2.7 x 0.25-inch, 4.6-ounce Samsung Galaxy S4. This is largely due to the One's metal chassis, as opposed to the S4's plastic body. Both the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 are significantly larger than the iPhone 5, which measures 2.31 x 4.87 x 0.3 inches and weighs just under 4 ounces. However, only the S4 has a removable battery.
The HTC One's 4.7-inch Super LCD 3 1920 x 1080p display renders images and video beautifully. When watching a trailer for "Elysium," colors looked richer and more defined on the One compared with the same trailer on the Samsung Galaxy S4's 5-inch Super AMOLED 1080p display. For example, blacks looked much darker on the HTC One than on the S4. Scenes loaded with action, such as the part showing skyscrapers on Earth crumbling, were filled with much more detail on the HTC One than Samsung's flagship. Additionally, we noticed that text really popped on the HTC One when reading an article on The Huffington Post and hi-res images from Flickr looked vibrant.
Not only is the HTC One's 4.7-inch display colorful and sharp, but it's brighter than most smartphones as well. During our light meter reading, the T-Mobile HTC One measured at 439 lux, well above the 296 lux smartphone category average. This puts it on a par with the 446 lux Samsung Galaxy S4, but the iPhone 5 registered an even higher 525 lux.
The HTC One's dual front speakers produced full and boisterous sound. When listening to "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men on full volume, we heard the male and female vocalists clearly. The instrumentals felt full-bodied and rich, and we noticed the two singers' solos trading off between the front and bottom speaker, just like you would hear on a full stereo system or pair of headphones. The integrated Beats Audio technology makes sound deeper and fuller, especially when listening with headphones.
The HTC One delivered the best audio quality when compared alongside the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4. Apple's smartphone had the loudest speakers, but the audio sounded tinny and muddier in comparison to HTC and Samsung's offerings. The Galaxy S4 was clearer and more defined than the iPhone 5, but couldn't compare to the equalized tones of the HTC One.
The HTC One features the company's Sense 5.0 interface, which gives the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean UI a fresh facelift and adds a new BlinkFeed feature as one of the Home screen options. BlinkFeed is a content aggregator that serves up updates from news websites and social media in the form of tiles, resembling Microsoft's Windows Phone Live Tile layout.
The tool comes with a setup wizard that lets you choose from a plethora of sources, such as The Huffington Post, ESPN and The Associated Press. You can also choose and sort your content by category such as Business, Technology and Music, for example. You can dismiss BlinkFeed by swiping to the left or right to access another Home screen, or set the feature as a secondary Home screen so it doesn't appear when you unlock the device.
The app menu in HTC Sense 5.0 has a clean and streamlined feel to it, and scrolls up and down rather than left to right like the S4. However, if you happen to scroll horizontally out of habit, the app drawer will automatically move to the next screen.
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The HTC One's notification drawer isn't as robust as the Galaxy S4's. You can only toggle the Power Savings function, while the S4 lets you manage a slew of features such as display brightness, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Still, we prefer the way the One displays recent apps as compared to the S4. Rather than having to scroll through a vertical list, you can see all currently running apps in a 3 x 3 thumbnail view by double pressing the Home button.
Instead of hunting for the remote control buried beneath your couch cushions, the HTC One's IR blaster lets you use your smartphone to navigate your TV. HTC's flagship joins the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and LG Optimus G Pro in being one of the few smartphones with this capability.
Through the Peel-powered Sense TV app, you can control your TV and cable box directly from your smartphone. Pairing these devices with the HTC One is simple and straightforward--at the most you'll need to know your cable provider and TV model. The controller itself includes a full number pad for manually entering channels, volume buttons and DVR play, pause, fast forward and rewind buttons.
The HTC One's keyboard felt natural and fluid during everyday use. We notched 22 words per minute with just one error when taking the Swift Typing Test. When taking the same test on the Galaxy S4's layout, which has smaller keys, we managed only 12 words a minute with five errors.
The One's keyboard also delivers just the right amount of haptic feedback and comes with a Trace option that lets you slide your finger across the keyboard to complete words. Similar to the Swype keyboard for Android, we found this to be useful when trying to type in a hurry.
HTC packed a 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM inside its flagship One--pitting it directly against the top smartphones on the market. Apps loaded in a snap and games such as "Jetpack Joyride" and "Super Monsters Ate My Condo" ran without a hitch.
On the Quadrant benchmark, which measures CPU, Graphics and I/O performance, T-Mobile's HTC One scored 11,573, skyrocketing past the smartphone category average of 3,899. This is on a par with the Snapdragon 600-powered Galaxy S4 (11,308).
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The HTC One scored a 2,985 on Geekbench test, which measures overall performance. This showing is lower than the S4's 3,234.
The HTC One's graphics performance was fairly impressive. The HTC One notched a score of 10,882 on the 3DMark Ice Storm benchmark, well above the 8,546 smartphone category average. During the 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme test, the HTC One reached an equally impressive 6,147, which also beats the 5,360 smartphone average. The Samsung Galaxy S4 showed similar results during these tests, scoring 10,371 and 6,632, respectively.
Camera and Camcorder
Forget megapixels--HTC has moved on to Ultrapixels. Although it's just a marketing term, the One's camera comes equipped with a larger image sensor and an f/2.0 aperture lens capable of capturing 300 percent more light. We saw this technology in action during our Smartphone Camera Shootout, in which the HTC One captured some of the best low-light images when compared with eight other flagship smartphones.
When snapping a photo at night in a low-lit street in Queens without flash, our subject appeared clearly although slightly out of focus. The photo was somewhat grainy, but had the best exposure and color accuracy of the bunch without using its flash. The camera also snapped vibrant photos during the daytime, although we noticed that some images were overexposed and washed out.
A 1080p video shot using the rear camera looked bright and delivered smooth action. Even with the video paused, we could see clear and accurate detail. The One's 2-megapixel front camera captured clear images, with facial details noticeably visible in our photos.
HTC's Zoe feature lets you capture up to 20 seconds of still video frames along with three seconds of video. To ensure that you don't miss a crucial moment, the camera starts shooting two seconds before you press the Zoe button and finishes two seconds after you press stop.
Unfortunately, the Zoes didn't work as well as we had hoped. According to HTC, the feature should let users create a Sequence shot, which combines all of the images in the Zoe to display an action shot of an object or person moving across the frame. In our testing, the software didn't compile our images correctly. In certain instances, we encountered an error message saying that there weren't enough frames to create a Sequence shot.
The T-Mobile HTC One comes preloaded with some useful apps such as SoundHound, Dropbox and Polaris Office. The carrier bundled shortcuts include T-Mobile My Account, Visual Voicemail, T-Mobile TV and T-Mobile Name ID--only the first of which is actually helpful.
T-Mobile My Account lets you see how many minutes and messages you've used in your plan, adjust your account info and offers access to T-Mobile's support team. The included TV app features content from networks such as Fox News, ABC News and PBS Kids. You can subscribe to the monthly $12.99 Prime Pack to also gain access to content from ESPN Mobile TV, MTV, NBC and CBS as well. Name ID tracks down the name and location of unidentified callers--which sounds useful until T-Mobile prompts you to pay $3.99 per month. T-Mobile Visual Voicemail, as the name implies, is just a shortcut to your voicemail messages.
The HTC One for T-Mobile also comes with Zoodles Kids Mode, which allows parents to set up a child lock that ensures their son or daughter stays in Kids Mode when using the phone. You can add a child when signing up for an account by inputting his or her nickname, birthday and photo if you choose to do so. From there, you can hand-pick apps that your child will have access to when the Child Lock is in place.
Along with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5, the HTC One is among the first smartphones to take advantage of T-Mobile's new LTE network. The carrier started rolling out LTE to select regions this spring, and has only recently reached 116 markets, including Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, San Jose, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. This number beats Sprint's 110 markets for now, but pales in comparison to Verizon's 500 areas and AT&T's 326 markets.
Prior to T-Mobile officially launching its LTE network in New Jersey, we received a signal in the downtown area of Jersey City. Using the Speedtest.net app, download speeds averaged a solid 10 Mbps, which is about on par with the Galaxy S4's 10.6 Mbps average download speed. Uploads averaged about the same speed at 10.8 Mbps, which was faster than the S4's 7 Mbps upload rate.
While these may seem like quick speeds, we suspect that very few people were using T-Mobile's LTE network in the area we tested.
In New York City near Times Square, speeds ranged from 9.7 Mbps to 19 Mbps down, to 6.8 to 8.5 Mbps up. However, in our office at 20th Street and 5th Avenue, we couldn't get an LTE signal. The good news is that downloads were still a brisk 10 to 11 Mbps. That's the advantage of T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 network. However, uploads dropped all the way down to less than 500 Kbps.
HTC's flagship is one of several T-Mobile devices that feature HD Voice, which is supposed to cancel out background noise and enable your caller's voice to sound clearer and crisper. This functionality works only when you're calling other HD Voice-enabled T-Mobile handsets, which includes the iPhone 5, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4, Nokia Lumia 521 and BlackBerry Z10.
We used our HTC One to call the Sony Xperia Z, another supported device, and found that our participant's voice sounded clear and loud. However, we did notice slight feedback that wasn't audible when performing the same test with the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S4. The feature also did little to cancel out the chatter of our co-workers in the background.
The HTC One's 2300 mAh battery performed like a champ when it came to the LAPTOP Battery Test. While surfing the Web over LTE with the display brightness set to 40 percent, the T-Mobile One lasted an impressive 8 hours and 17 minutes. This is comfortably longer than the T-Mobile iPhone 5 (6:10) and T-Mobile Galaxy S4 (6:41).
Using AT&T's LTE network, the HTC One lasted for 5:55, while the Sprint variant lasted for 5:17. This endurance advantage may be due to the fact that not many devices were using T-Mobile's LTE network at the time of our testing.
Value and Plans
T-Mobile sells the 32GB HTC One for a $99.99 down payment with monthly $20 installments over 24 months. If you prefer to pay up front rather than using T-Mobile's payment plan, you can purchase the phone for $579.99.
T-Mobile's individual data plans start at $50 per month for 500MB, jumping to $60 per month for 2GB of data, and $70 per month for unlimited data. Each plan also comes with unlimited talk and text.
If you choose the 2GB plan, you'll end up paying $2,020 over the course of two years. This includes the $99.99 down payment, the $20 monthly fee and $60 per month for 2GB of data. The unlimited data option will cost you $2,260 over a two-year period.
By comparison, the total for a 1GB Mobile Share AT&T plan over the course of two years would amount to $2,479, or $409 more than T-Mobile. AT&T's 4GB plan would run you $2,839 over two years, which is $579 more than you would pay for T-Mobile's unlimited data plan.
With a premium metal design, captivating 1080p display and speedy quad-core processor, you'd be hard pressed to find a superior smartphone than the HTC One. Although T-Mobile's LTE network is still rolling out, you'll be paying considerably less than other carriers.
While we prefer the Galaxy S4's useful and entertaining suite of camera features and like its multiple quick setting options, overall we prefer the One because of its better build quality, more impressive speakers and longer battery life.