Name: HTC One

Carrier: AT&T and Sprint

Price: $100 (w/two-year contract, Sprint), $200 - $300 (w/two-year contract, AT&T)

The Back Story:  With the year’s biggest tech trade shows, the Consumer Electronics Show and Mobile World Congress, already in the books, the smartphone wars have officially begun. The top contenders for best smartphone of 2013 so far are the recently announced Samsung Galaxy S4 and what many consider to be a reboot of HTC's highly acclaimed One series, the HTC One. After snagging “Best Smartphone of MWC” honors two months back, the build-up to the One’s release has already led to insurmountable expectations. But the positive response from the tech community, along with solid early impressions have led many to believe this is the phone to cop at the moment.

A beauty on all levels, the next-gen smartphone has been aggressively tuned in both the hardware and software departments. Though its moneymaker lies in the cleverly designed, gorgeous aluminum unibody. So what's it like toying with the end product? Extremely exciting.

DOPE

• The New Sense: As expected, HTC made some enhancements to our favorite Android software overlay. Though we admit it took a minute to grow on us, the latest iteration of Sense welcomes a smoother look and variety of new features that make the user experience uniquely compelling. The new “skin" displays apps on the homescreen in a sleeker fashion and preset icons (camera, browser) on the bottom tray have a cooler, updated look. All preloaded software—from Google’s app suite to AT&T’s bloatware—is organized and thrown into folders right out the box, making it easier to track down frequently downloaded and used programs. We also found the built-in filters in the camera app to be better than Instagram’s selection.

Now lets touch on Sense’s two biggest features: BlinkFeed and HTC Zoe. The former is presented in a Flipboard-like style and serves as a universal news feed that grabs everything from social media updates to the latest news stories posted on your favorite sites. What we found really interesting is how HTC has also applied this to its gallery app, which can snatch images from your Facebook followers and your camera roll. BlinkFeed is an intriguing approach to news aggregation and how users can break away from that multiple-step process of jumping into different programs to view content.

HTC Zoe works magic with your pictures and videos, automatically joining them together to create an animated slideshow (or GIF) with background music and filters. How is this accomplished? Zoe does it by capturing close to 20 still frames and three seconds of 1080p video. The final product is quite impressive, especially since users are given the opportunity to customize their creations. It’s much more effective and easier to work with than BlackBerry’s Story Maker feature. 

• Beautiful and oppulent design: It goes without saying that the HTC One is an ergonomic feat in mobile design. The device was constructed from a single block of anodized aluminum using a specialized CNC machine. That is a testament to the company’s dedication to building upscale hardware. The One sports a slim profile measured at 0.37 inches thick and is surprisingly much lighter (5.04 ounces) than expected considering the rich materials used to create it. It’s definitely sturdy and sits firmly in your hands. Both color options of metallic silver and black are attractive as well. Overall, it’s a stunner.

• Powerhouse spec sheet: A mobile this magnificently engineered should only be powered with top-of-the-line hardware. That said, the One carries some heat under its chassis. Qualcomm’s new 1.7GHz quad-core processor is a multitasking beast that delivers incredible benchmarks and zippy performance. Our Quadrant Standard report had the phone scoring a 9,351. Keep in mind that was a few seconds after powering up the device. This not only makes it the most powerful mobile out, but also solidifies the Qualcomm's position as the elite smartphone chipmaker on the scene. The additional 2GB of RAM shouldn’t be overlooked either. Then there is what HTC refers to as BoomSound, its new audio technology quarterbacked by dual-stereo speakers placed at the front of the display that bumps clear and loud audio no matter the media preference. 

• Alluring display: The One’s 4.7-inch (1080p) LCD panel delivers beautiful visual output, generating up to 468ppi. For the non-techies, that’s nearly 20 pixels per inch higher than the Galaxy S4 and 120 more than the iPhone 5. It definitely shows when playing 3D games and streaming Netflix videos. Sharp resolution enhances the image quality and on-screen text is slightly better than on the Droid DNA, plus the web pages and live animations demonstrated on some of the widgets look great.

• Promising extras: BoomSound is a pretty sweet audio upgrade, but it’s most useful when in speakerphone mode. The clarity is spot-on and voices sound clear on both ends. However, our favorite add-on has to the built-in IR blaster, which is actually integrated into the power button. Working hand-in-hand with the company’s new Television app, users can operate the device as a remote controller and monitor programs

NOPE

Downgraded camera: HTC’s credo behind its new “UltraPixel” camera is more pixels doesn’t always translate to superior picture quality. So instead of stocking the One with the amazing 8MP shooter found on its previous models, the company made the bold move of introducing a 4.3MP camera with a three-layer sensor. The technology behind the lens enlarges pixels and enhances shots taken in low-lit areas. That's dope, but unfortunately, it also captures grainy and washed-out images in brightened settings. Not the give-in-take we were expecting.

• Inconsistent LTE service: AT&T’s 4G network clocked erratic data speeds during our test. One minute our Speedtest.net readings showed download speeds of 18.74Mbps and 3.54Mbps for uploads. Another time we received bizarre readings along the lines of 6.85Mbps and 8.74Mbps, respectively. The proof is in the pudding.

Vulnerable to scuff marks: Leather and suede materials occasional wear onto the aluminum frame. Not to mention the white plastic trimming that wraps around the entire handset picks up dust faster than a vacuum. We recommend you cop a case. We recommend the manufacturer’s dope Double Dip cover. 

Final Say: The HTC One is what most consumers seek in a premium smartphone: stunning aesthetics, powerful hardware, and a dynamic, user-friendly interface. Once HTC refines BlinkFeed and Zoe, that's when you’ll really get the true feel for Sense 5.0. True, HTC slipped up in an area in which it's been a leader, but the truth is the shooter performs better than most others on the market. We’re not thirsty to call it the greatest Android phone ever like some of the other tech sites, as we feel the One X really set the bar for what the next best Google-operated phone should be during its time of release, and we've yet to use the Samsung Galaxy S4. But make no mistake—the One looks to be the clear front-runner for best smartphone of the year, at least heading into the Summer.