It's rare to experience a manufacturer's modification of Android on a
smartphone that's actually worthwhile.
Usually they're just random graphical flourishes -- functions you'll never use or crapware. You feel it's just tampering that's doing nothing but delaying any true Android upgrades.
Yet the HTC One, which should have been little more than the latest quick tweak to the One X line of phones, changed the operating system in ways that knocked my socks off. Rather than being the usual product of corporate ego, this model is something that makes using an Android a significantly better experience.
It helps that the HTC One makes a great first impression. It's thin, light and has a gently curved aluminum back. The physical buttons for wake/sleep and the volume just barely stick out from the phone itself, yet they're easy to trigger.
While we're on the subject of hardware, the One has speakers on the top and bottom capable of pumping out sound much louder and clearer than you'd expect on a smartphone. You won't need any accessories to use it as a personal music player.
You'll see this isn't your average Android when you go to the home screen. Rather than place you in the usual Android land of customizable apps and widgets, the One puts you into a news feed dubbed BlinkFeed.
As you'd expect, the feed can contain social network updates from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But it can also have various updates from a variety of other websites and sources, such as the Associated Press, ESPN, Huffington Post and others.
It's all presented in a variety of large boxes that seem to tilt into the screen as you scroll. BlinkFeed can get a little cluttered if you turn everything on, but that's why you can pick and choose which social networks or news sources are part of it. If you'd like to stick to sports news on the feed and leave Facebook to the Facebook app, you can.
The feed also includes the latest weather conditions, as well as the ability to narrow down the feed to any one of the selected sources at any time. Frequently used and customizable functions also stay on a persistent launcher bar at the bottom.
What if you want to get to the rest of Android? Simply swipe to the left anywhere on the news feed and it's there, widgets and all, just like every other Android phone. HTC has done a great job of overlaying the feed without making the rest of Android feel buried.
In another Android tweak I liked, the full list of apps can be rearranged in any order and even combined in folders, iOS-style.
I should also mention HTC's handy TV app, which can give you a list of what's showing now or in the near future on your specific cable provider's lineup or on a few streaming services like Hulu and Crackle. You can even customize what shows up so you won't have to swim through various shows from channels you'll never watch.
While testing all this, I kept thinking there's got to be a catch somewhere. But no -- the processor's speedy, the camera's good and has plenty of options, the menus are reasonably easy to navigate, the battery held up well and the price is right.
The only gripe I could come up with is the unsightly bar code slapped on the back, but it turned out to be a cinch to peel off.
Right now, Samsung phones are dominating the Android market, largely because they're great phones for the most part. The HTC One could change all that, since it's the best Android I've ever used.
(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)
Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at www.tulsaworld.com
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