The HTC One: Don't Drop It

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The HTC One has been widely lauded by the tech press as the bestAndroid smartphone hardware you can buy today.

Sadly, I'm here toreport that I disagree. I cannot recommend this device.

The HTC One is the fanciest Android smartphone you can buy today. Itis the Android to buy if you are impressed by metal construction andBreitling watches. It's the iPhone of the Android world, if you wish.

This is clearly the Android smartphone that can compete with theiPhone 5 for a spot in the Museum Of Modern Art. The design isextremely beautiful.

Here is the first problem: A smartphone is not a museum piece. It'ssomething that you hold in your hand and potentially drop on theground. The primary task of a smartphone is that it needs to feelsecure in the hand.

The HTC One feels terrible in the hand. It's too big and, moreimportantly, extremely slippery. It feels like a moderately used barof soap, ready to fly out of your hand any second. It's a little bitlike getting into a car where you can't get a comfortable seatingposition but you have a back ache from the first second.

Interestingly, HTC also makes the two smartphones that may have thebest feel of any smartphone, ever -- the HTC First, aka the so-calledFacebook Phone, as well as the HTC 8X for Windows Phone. The contrastcouldn't be more stark. Holding the HTC One feels terrible, whereasthe HTC First and 8X are a pleasure.

The other obvious comparison is the Samsung Galaxy S4, which looksrather unremarkable compared to the HTC One. No pedestal in MoMA forthe Samsung Galaxy!

However, in a simple blind test, the Samsung Galaxy feels pretty goodin the hand. Not great, like the HTC First or HTC 8X, but decentenough. It doesn't feel like it's about to slip out of your handanymore than most phones.

The HTC One is made in fancy metal, and it looks like it could havebeen carved from one piece. As it turns out, it is not. After onlyhours of using it, in my case, the front plate covering one of the twospeakers came off. Nothing of the kind has ever happened to me in 17years of often carrying as many as four cellphones simultaneously.

The review unit was swiftly replaced, of course, but I asked a Sprint ( S) store what would happen if one of these front plates came off for aregular consumer. I was told that if it happened outside the initialexchange/return period, it would be treated as "user error" and that Iwould either have to repair it myself, or buy a new one for $550. TheSprint store said it could not repair it.

Keep in mind, the front plate came off the device not because Idropped it. It just came off while inside a pocket, and I noticed itwhen I pulled it out. You can even feel the sharp line at the cornerof the HTC One where something could get stuck and rip off this frontplate, which is affixed seemingly only with glue.

iFixit gave the HTC One a teardown/repairability score of 1 -- thelowest of any phone ever. In contrast, the new Samsung Galaxy S4 gota score of 8 -- one of the highest ever. In combination with theapparent sensitivity to this front plate coming off, Sprint'sinability or unwillingness to repair it for a general consumer andthe record-low iFixit score, these are key reasons I would never buythe HTC One.

There are other parts of the HTC hardware that are great, however.The display is the best I've seen at 1080x1920 in a 4.7-inch size.The CPU is the market-leading Qualcomm ( QCOM) Snapdragon 600. WiFi is801.11ac. Basically, the hardware specs are almost exactly like theSamsung Galaxy S4. For now, the HTC One is a spec leader.

One other part of the hardware that's class-leading is the speakers.They are stereo and point forward. I have never heard any othersmartphone match it. You can watch a movie on this one and fill up asmall living room with sound. Truly the best of its kind.

What about the software? Several points to be made here, none of them positive:

1. Which version of Android does it run? It is based on Android4.1.2, which was current as of October 2012. The current version ofAndroid is 4.2.2, and you have had it for a while already if you havethe Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which was introduced in October 2011.

2. On May 15, Google ( GOOG) is widely expected to introduce a new version ofAndroid, most likely version 4.3. When will the HTC One get this new4.3 version of Android? Nobody knows. If history is any precedent,it will take at least many months.

3. How has HTC customized Android? Most prominently, it has createda default "home page" which looks a lot like the Flipboard app.Basically, you can take various inputs such as Facebook ( FB) and Twitter,and let it show there.

I had the HTC One set to use this new home page newsfeed, but I didn'tlike it. I prefer to go into applications such as Feedly and Twitterselectively, as I don't like to co-mingle these information feeds.

So how do you get rid of this HTC news feed? It took a while, but Ifinally figured it out. It was a non-intuitive menu setting.

Speaking of difficult to use, I found there are only two homepages as the default (aside from the news feed). This compares verypoorly with the Nexus, which has five.

Again, I had to go to the Sprint store and ask how to increase thenumber of pages from two. Turns out, you can increase it to four.Again, difficult to figure out.

One more in the "terrible interface" category: The camera. I'm thesimplest possible person when it comes to a camera. The only thing Ido is to open the camera app, and then press a button to take apicture.

So, on the HTC One, where is the button to take a picture? I haveabsolutely no idea. I finally figured it out, using an exhaustiveprocess of elimination. I basically pressed every icon (and non-icon)on the screen, and finally was able to discover what took a picture.Then, of course, I forgot it the next time I wanted to take a picture.

In contrast, on the Galaxy Nexus there is no doubt where you press totake a picture. How difficult can these most simple of the basics be? Are there no focus groups?

4. In other words, the software compares negatively to the morerecent Android Nexus phones. I don't find any improvement in the wayHTC has modified the software from the "clean" or "pure" Android Nexussoftware.

5. In comparison with the Samsung Galaxy S4, the HTC softwarecertainly looks better, in the sense that the icons and related colorschemes are not nearly as ugly. As far as functionality, that's toolong a story for this article, but they are close to equally bad.

Conclusion: Back to the Drawing Board

HTC, just like Samsung, needs to realize that it is not a softwarecompany. By making a non-Nexus version of Android, they aresubtracting value on the software side of Android, allowing Apple tolaugh all the way to the bank.

HTC, please leave the software stuff up to software companies such asGoogle, Microsoft ( MSFT) and Facebook!

On the hardware side, I don't like this HTC One at all. Its greatestsin is that it feels like it's about to slip out of your hand anysecond, and what's worse than that? Well, if it does break becausethe glue holding together the semi-loose front pieces comes off, thenit might be impossible to repair and the user -- according to mySprint store -- might be left holding the bag.

HTC makes the most pleasant smartphone hardware in the market in theform of the HTC First and the HTC 8X. Get one of those! As far asthe HTC One is concerned, I would avoid it.

At the time of publication the author was long GOOG,AAPL, FB and QCOM.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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