These days, most of our Android attention goes towards companies like Samsung and Google — you know, the lumbering giants in the mobile industry not named "Apple." It's easy to forget a time when US consumers had more choice, with companies like LG and HTC offering unique devices built to tempt shoppers browsing carrier shelves.
To that end, one of my favorite smartphones is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its US launch this month. The HTC One — usually referred to as the One M7 these days — wasn't my first Android phone, but it is one that holds a near and dear place in my heart. And, in revisiting this device, I was not only caught off-guard by how well its design has aged, but to what extent this phone helped cement what a premium Android experience means even ten years later.
How the HTC One's design does (and doesn't) stand the test of time
I was only a couple of weeks into college when I first laid my hands on the HTC One. Although the phone launched globally in March of 2013 — and on various US carriers in April — it didn't reach Verizon, my personal carrier, until August. As fate would have it, the arrival on Big Red was timed perfectly with the death of my Galaxy Nexus, as the ever-durable micro-USB connector finally ceased working after about eighteen months.
Surrounded by a community of new friends who, primarily, relied on iPhones, the HTC One felt like a breath of fresh air. I loved my Galaxy Nexus for what it was, but in comparison, this hardware made Samsung's efforts look downright embarrassing. No removable textured plastic back here — a downgrade to some, I'm sure. This thing was built to compete head-to-head with Apple, taking what HTC had proven it could do with the One X a year before to a whole new level.
For a phone that's now ten years old, so much of the hardware here still feels surprisingly timeless and elegant, and it all starts with the design. This phone's size was considered middle of the road when it launched in 2013 — not as large as Samsung's Galaxy Note 3, but much larger than the iPhone 5s and its 4" screen. Today, the 4.7" panel — not to mention the surrounding chassis — looks positively tiny. I struggle to even find a phone in my collection that feels remotely similar in the hand, to no avail.
But at the risk of beating a dead horse, this size is damn comfortable. Sure, the bezels are huge — especially once you account for the capacitive buttons below the display — but it's small, light, and the curved back fits right into the palm of your hand. I'd kill for a phone this size — albeit with a modernized screen to maximize its footprint — but I'm well aware the market has moved on.
Of course, the size here wasn't what made the HTC One stand out from the competition in 2013. That honor belongs to the aluminum unibody design. Although the device isn't a complete glass-and-metal sandwich — HTC relied on a plastic frame with matching strips along the back for its antennas — it helped set the bar for what Android hardware could be, particularly in a post-iPhone 4 world.
It's kind of astounding how much of this design has aged like fine wine. Looking at it from the front — particularly with the display off to hide those bezels — it remains a classy piece of hardware. The chamfered edges reflect the surrounding light perfectly without picking up grime or fingerprints. The dual front-facing speakers are reminiscent of most modern ultrabooks in the best way possible (even if this audio style would eventually be replaced on all but a select group of gaming phones).
None of this is to say the HTC One has a flawless design, of course. The off-center micro-USB port is awkward and, naturally, not holding up particularly well on my decade-old unit. The power button and volume rocker are both nearly flush with the body, making them difficult to press, and the rocker's brushed metal clashes with the rest of the phone. And don't get me started on the amount of branding on the back: the HTC logo, the Verizon logo with a separate 4G LTE symbol (which, obviously, wasn't on every model), and — of course — a massive Beats Audio insignia covering much of the aluminum casing, like terrible tattoos earned on a drunken night out ten years ago.
The camera was truly terrible as well, but squint and you'll see a glimpse into the future of smartphones. HTC's big power play with this device was "UltraPixel," which used a comparatively low-res 4MP sensor with larger pixels than its peers to increase light sensitivity and (theoretically) produce better images. That's right — HTC was essentially going for the same results we see with pixel binning, before Google and Samsung made it cool (and good).
As for the software, well, let's just say HTC Sense is best left in the history books, especially in the Lollipop-based era seen here. Ignoring general performance on a ten-year-old phone (it's sluggish, what else did you expect?), the overall look and feel is a far cry from the Android we know today. Having launched prior to the arrival of Material You, you won't find much in the way of modern design trends.
It's also packed with branded HTC applications you probably forgot existed. A swipe to the left brings you BlinkFeed, the company's mix of social media and news (theoretically — whatever server needs to power this is presumably offline). In settings, you'll find references to the HTC Mini+, a Bluetooth-capable accessory for the M7 that supported texting and calls using, effectively, a dumb phone, while the camera app offers a tutorial on creating Zoes. There's also the aforementioned Beats Audio toggle for tuned sound from those stereo speakers. That's right, folks — the HTC One M7 is technically an (un)official Apple product these days.
HTC built our modern expectations — and paved the way to a smartphone duopoly
With its aluminum unibody design, the HTC One M7 is an outlier when compared to modern smartphones. Nearly every Android flagship these days relies on identical materials — a metal chassis with glass front and back — something you won't find on this device from 2013. The curved back, the flush camera sensor, the front-facing speakers, and the capacitive buttons all give away the One M7 as an aging relic from a decade ago.
But ultimately, that's not why HTC's work here still holds a place in the hearts of millions of Android fans around the world. Rather, this phone proved that premium hardware wasn't an Apple exclusive. Even as Samsung was building its lead as the default choice for countless smartphone users, it did so while facing blowback from the Galaxy S4's design. Compared to the One M7, the S4 felt cheap and creaky, a far cry from the high-end look and feel that allowed HTC's product to hold up to scrutiny, both in 2013 and in 2023.
It was this move that made reviewers fall in love with HTC in 2013. In his review published ten years ago this month, former Android Police EIC David Ruddock called the HTC One M7 the most important smartphone of 2013. He praised it as "the best built Android phone ever". Although you could make a pretty strong case for 2013's best actually being the Nexus 5, it's hard for me not to agree.
Unfortunately, the HTC One also marks the beginning of the end for this company. Its successor, the M8, was a solid follow-up that I also eventually owned, though I found the brushed aluminum far less attractive and considered the decision to add on-screen buttons while nonetheless retaining the massive black bar below the screen a mistake. The M9 was a phone I genuinely forgot existed until I sat down to write this retrospective, effectively serving as reheated leftovers utilizing the M8's design. Really, it wasn't until the HTC 10 that the company offered a follow-up worthy of the M7's design — but by then, it was too little, too late.
In addition to correctly highlighting the importance of this phone, David's M7 review also calls out a nascent problem that, a decade later, has firmly become our reality. In his introduction, he writes of the emerging duopoly of Apple and Samsung, specifically mentioning HTC's shrinking market share. In retrospect, it's almost silly to think of the Android market circa 2013 as a duopoly, even if the signs were obviously there. In the decade since, we've lost both LG and (effectively) HTC, and while other brands like Motorola have held on, the remaining players just feel like shadows of their former selves.
In the end, Samsung did eventually switch to premium materials in its smartphones (after a brief foray into bandage-esque textured backs with the Galaxy S5). The Galaxy S6 and S7 series seemed to cement HTC as an also-ran; once the more popular company caught up to the competition, it was only a matter of time. And while I have no doubt that Samsung would've made this move eventually, I really feel like the HTC One M7 was the smartphone that first established what an Android flagship could be, and in the ten years since, it's the legacy of this particular phone that the biggest brands in tech have built on.
Happy birthday, HTC One
Ultimately, I only had my HTC One for about five months before a sudden drop into an icy puddle ended its life prematurely. I ended up with the LG G2 in my possession as a replacement, a phone that will likely require its own celebration when it turns ten later this summer. But five months was all I needed to fall in love with this smartphone, and in 2023, it's clear that the rest of the industry found it pretty special, too.
So, happy birthday, HTC One. While we'll likely never see a device quite like you again, the expectations you established in the smartphone industry will never be forgotten.
HTC spent the early 2010s building some of the best-looking Android phones ever, and the One M7 is a shining example of the company's best. With a beautiful display, dual front-firing speakers, and superior low-light camera performance, this was the Android handset to beat in 2013.