Review: Updated HTC One phone worth considering

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NEW YORK (AP) - The HTC One might be the best smartphone you never heard of.

The phone won critical acclaim last year, yet it barely made a dent in the marketplace. It’s overshadowed by Apple’s iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones.

Good thing HTC Corp. doesn’t understand defeat.

An updated One expands on some of the features that made it notable. The new One has a metal design like last year’s model, but it feels smoother and more comfortable in my hands. The back edges are more curved and remind me of the sleek finish in Apple’s latest iPads. HTC also turns its hub for personalized content, the BlinkFeed, into a companion rather than an unwelcomed guest.

HTC is making the Android phone available through all major carriers simultaneously this time, starting Tuesday online and by April 10 in retail stores. Verizon customers don’t have to wait months, as they had last year. In an apparent concession, Verizon is the first to get them in stores - on Tuesday.

The new phone, known officially as HTC One (M8), will cost about $200 to $250 with a two-year service contract, or about $650 without a contract. Customers can choose gray, gold or silver.

The One still has some flaws - namely, its 4 megapixel rear camera. By comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 phone, which comes out April 11, will have 16 megapixels. Sony and Nokia already have phones that exceed 20 megapixels. Apple’s iPhones are at 8 megapixels, twice what the HTC One offers. More megapixels typically translate to sharper images and more options for printing and cropping.

HTC is correct in saying the megapixel count is just one factor in what makes a good camera. It prefers making the size of individual pixel sensors larger to absorb more light for night and indoor shots. That’s laudable, but Apple’s iPhone 5S and Nokia’s Lumia Icon are both able to offer decent low-light shots while providing more megapixels than the One.

Compared with last year’s model, though, the One’s camera is much better, even at 4 megapixels. Colors look washed out in day shots I took with last year’s camera. The new model seems to have fixed that. The new version also has a 5 megapixel front camera for selfies, far better than what rivals offer.

HTC also has improved its camera software:

- Thanks to a second lens on the rear, the phone now captures depth information. That lets you decide later through built-in software whether to focus on the foreground or the background while blurring everything else. Other phones also offer this capability, but the One does this automatically. You don’t have to switch to a special mode ahead of time.

- The One offers plenty of manual settings, as other phones are starting to offer. The One goes further in letting you save frequently used combinations of settings. If you take a lot of action shots indoors, for instance, you can save a combo that uses a fast shutter speed to reduce blurring from motion, while adjusting the white balance to filter out the hint of color from the ceiling lights.

- You can pause video recordings. Most phones only let you stop recording, so you have to stitch together several files with software to get the same effect. The Vine and Instagram apps also let you pause video recording, but those clips have length limits. With the One, you’re limited only by the phone’s storage.

As for watching video, sound quality is wonderful, thanks to the phone’s two front-facing speakers. If I hold the phone close enough to my eyes and slide the volume to maximum, I can pretend I’m watching in a movie theater. Phones with rear speakers sound boxy by comparison.

The One also has some useful shortcuts when the screen is off. Swipe from the left to get the BlinkFeed content hub, and swipe from the right to get your regular home screen. Press the volume button to get the camera and press it again to take the shot. Double tap to get the lock screen.

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