My current phone, on which I am typing this post, is an HTC One — the iconic model known, but not advertised, as the M7. It’s old and I’m now only days away from replacing it. The battery can barely hold a charge anymore, the main camera is busted, and the proximity sensor ain’t what it used to be. Besides that, of course the CPU isn’t much by today’s standards and 32 GB of storage is rather limiting with no SD slot… but if it weren’t for the wear&tear issues, I’d feel pretty darn okay with continuing to use this phone for quite a while longer. It’s an excellent phone, and I definitely wish there were more phones out there which embraced front stereo speakers.
The M7 was quite an important and influential model. Its design and build set a new standard for the kinds of materials and aesthetics that a high-end phone should aspire to. Samsung took a couple of years to catch up, and I’m not quite certain Apple ever did. It’s because of HTC’s chamfered aluminum back that nowadays every midrange Chinese wannabe model has a “premium” metallic build, and plastic became intolerable on a high-end model. And though the stereo speakers may not have been imitated nearly as often as they ought to have been, their presence did manage to embarrass all but the cheapo models into at least putting a speaker on the edge, like Apple, instead of on the back.
Even its camera, which was often regarded as the most disappointing piece of the phone, was influential. The “ultrapixel” approach forced makers and buyers to realize that pixel size matters as much as pixel count, and this is why today’s camera spec comparisons include that metric, along with numbers for megapixels and lens aperture. And yes, this was also among the first cameras to make an issue of its aperture, with f/2.0 when competitors were f/2.4 or slower. The “zoe” feature also helped popularize sharing brief video snippets as if they were still pictures.
Another imitated feature was the IR blaster, though that is now falling out of favor again. Don’t blame HTC for the trend to nonremovable batteries, though — that was well under way a year earlier.
Aside from innovative aspects, it was just a solidly good phone. Its software, for instance (initially a skin on Jellybean, eventually updated to Lollipop), was dramatically smoother and more pleasant than that of the competing Galaxy S4, which tended to be jerky even when fresh out of the box. It also had a stronger headphone amp than the Galaxy. Its audio features even included FM radio, while other phones were giving that up. The display was pretty good for a non-amoled, with nice color and 1080p resolution, which is actually better than 1440p for those who watch movies and TV on their phones. Also, the size of the display was about what I still consider ideal for a compromise between ergonomic convenience and viewing area. The whole industry has pursued the trend to phablet-sized enormity too far, in my opinion, and I’m glad to see a sign of reversal coming now, with Google’s new Pixel phones (made by HTC) each being a size smaller than their Nexus predecessors, and with no performance penalty for the smaller model relative to the larger.
What are the important and influential models in the history of Android phones? The HTC Dream, a.k.a. the T-Mobile G1, was the first. The Moto Droid was the first to popularize the platform with massive advertising, pointing out that there were areas where it could outdo iOS. The Galaxy Nexus showed off the alternative of a “pure Google” unlocked phone, and a high definition screen without a high price. The Galaxy Note put phablets on the map, and the Galaxy S III was, for many, the first phone to show that Android might actually be superior to iOS, depending on one’s personal priorities. The M7 was the first phone to outdo Apple at physical design and construction, and to demonstrate the importance of good speakers. And maybe we can make a spot for the S6 Edge for being the first to put curved glass to good use, eliminating the side bezel and taking another definite step beyond Apple in physical design. Historically, the M7 stands in distinguished company.
We shall see what becomes influential next — perhaps modularity, though judging by current sales, probably not.
The M7’s physical design is definitely iconic, and it’s unsurprising that HTC kept changes to a minimum for the M8 and M9, comparing them to a Porsche 911 which still looks like it did 40 years ago. Unfortunately they kept too much else the same, and lost popularity. To me it’s sad that HTC has regained customers by losing its definitive feature, the stereo speakers… though the HTC 10’s mix of front sound at one end and edge sound at the other is still influential, having been copied by Apple.
So as I say goodbye to my hard-working HTC One, it’s mostly just with regret that it’s getting physically worn out, not that it’s fallen too far behind. I will definitely keep it around — if my new phone ever has an issue and I need a backup, I know that the old phone will still be able to perform well, as long as I can keep juice in it.