Last weekend, my Nexus 5 suffered a tragic screen-related accident. It still works, but I’m too OCD to use a phone with a broken screen unless I absolutely have to. Unfortunately, I bought the phone secondhand from a friend of mine, and it was purchased directly from T-Mobile, so I’m not eligible for Google’s unofficial one-broke-screen-replacement policy. And yes, I did call to try anyway – the nice Google representative forwarded me to the LG representative, who confirmed that, alas, LG’s warranty did not cover a broken screen.
Fortunately, since I’m a hoarder when it comes to tech devices, I still have my “old” HTC One, originally purchased back in April of 2013, and my daily driver until I got the Nexus 5 back in May of this year. I figured, at the very least, I could use the HTC One until I fixed the Nexus 5 – or used the broken phone as an excuse to upgrade to the Nexus 6. Now, I’m not sure I want a Nexus 6…or any other phone, for that matter.
Why not just fix the Nexus 5?
I could, but the replacement part is anywhere for $50-80, but the time investment to actually fix it – and that’s assuming the replacement part works as expected. Repair services in my area are unreasonably expensive, especially given the price of a new Nexus 5. Also, after using the HTC One for a few days…I honestly just don’t want to.
But isn’t the HTC One ooooold?
Technically, sure. But day-to-day? It sure doesn’t feel like it. It’s running Android 4.4.3, and Sense 6 – HTC’s custom skin – is in some ways just as good, if not better, than stock Android 4.4.3. I think I still prefer Android 5.0, but as I’ve said, Android 5.0 actually takes a great deal from Sense. It’s clean and functional enough that swapping the Sense launcher for the Google Now Launcher has scratched most of my stock Android itch – and like the Nexus 5, it supports voice commands with the screen off, as long as it’s plugged in. It honestly feels just as fast as my Nexus 5 ever did, with the exception of a few dropped frames during certain animations. Bottom-line: people who say Android is slow are full of shit. Bad Android phones may be slow, but when you get the right phone on the right software, it soars. Everything I originally said about the HTC One still stands today, and if anything, the experience is better than it ways back then.
Full disclosure: I am running a custom ROM, something 99% of users will never do. Specifically, I am running Maximus HD, which I installed a few months ago as a side-project. Since the HTC One was no longer my daily driver, I felt comfortable messing with it ways that I’d be reluctant to do to before. That said, I haven’t done any performance tweaks beyond installing the ROM – I am not underclocking or overlocking anything, I’m simply running stock HTC software without AT&T’s horrible bloat.
If the HTC One is so great, why did you even buy a Nexus 5?
There are two answers to this, both equally accurate. The short answer is that I am easily distracted and like shiny new things. The more complicated answer is that I wanted an unlocked device, free of any carrier interference with regards to software and update delivery. I didn’t want any of their unwanted crap on my phone, and ideally I didn’t want to be at all financially tied to a carrier, though obviously I’d still have to finish the two-year contract I renewed when I purchased the HTC One.
In my attempts to escape carrier bloatware with my original Android phone, the HTC One X, I experimented extensively with custom ROMs, and during that time I grew tired of the whole process. After months of jumping from ROM to ROM, in search of the perfect experience, I just wanted a phone that worked great out of the box – which the HTC One did provide, albeit at the cost of carrier bloatware and delayed updates.
It turns out I never really needed the Nexus 5, though – I just needed to grow some cojones, dive back into the world of custom ROMs, and free the HTC One from its prison.
So are you ever going back to the Nexus 5?
Honestly? I don’t really think so, no. Even if both devices were fully functional, and knowing the One’s flawed, I’d be tempted to stay on the One. There’s just something about it – like my old iPhone 4, it feels like an iconic, timeless device. I still prefer its design to this year’s HTC One, and I’ll take an optically stabilized camera over a weird depth-based dual-camera gimmick any day of the week. It really can’t be overstated how great this device still feels in the hand; something I’d forgotten in my months with the understated, nice-in-the-hand-but-kind-of-boring Nexus 5. Build quality and materials is something some people will never care about, but to me, it makes all the difference in the world – it just took using another device for me to realize how important to me it was.
It’s not just the materials and the build quality that makes me prefer the HTC One, though – it’s the little things in the hardware and software that I’ve redicovered. The lower-in-megapixel-but-infinitely-faster camera. The wide-angle, better-quality front-facing camera. The fantastic HTC camera software. Those still-best-in-class front-facing speakers. The (in my experience) more reliable Bluetooth connectivity. The higher-quality, higher pixel density display without any hint of backlight leaking. The fact it has 64 GB of storage, as opposed to the 16 GB of my Nexus 5. The little features of Sense, like the customizable Quick Settings. The superior lockscreen, complete with shortcuts to my most-used apps and e-mail/text notifications. HTC’s newfound drive to bring Android updates to flagship phones as quickly as possible.
Special mention should go to the IR blaster, which – combined with the casting ability of various media apps, as well as the Playstation app – allows me to control basically every aspect of my media center with my phone. None of these alone would be a good reason to prefer the HTC One, but everything together – the complete package – is hard to resist.
I do really miss wireless charging, though, and the ability to use the AirDock in my car. The side-mounted sleep/wake button was a bit more sane, too.
Should I buy an HTC One?
I feel like you could do a lot worse than to buy a used $200 HTC One, but I’m still not sure I could actively recommend it, if only because, at more than a year and a half old, it seems likely that Android 5.0 is the last major update it will get.
So what’s next?
I honestly don’t know. As I alluded to earlier, I originally thought I’d stick with the HTC One until I settled on a new phone, specifically the Nexus 6, but now I’m beginning to question that. Don’t get me wrong, I will be tempted, and I will certainly walk into an AT&T store to try the Nexus 6, but now I’m leaning towards what I probably should’ve done in the first place – riding out the HTC One as long as it will take me, or at least until something strikes me the same way it did when I first held it a year and a half ago.
Maybe it will be the Nexus 6, or the next HTC flagship, or perhaps something else entirely. As I said, I am distracted by shiny and new things, and it’s very possible the HTC One is still just “shiny and new” since I haven’t used it for so long.
What does seem likely is that I will no longer shy from messing with my phone, at least if that’s what it takes to tear out the carrier software and ensure more timely updates. In some ways, after spending just a couple of days with the HTC One I’ve come full-circle to what I originally said about the HTC One X: you can always change a phone’s software, but you can never change a phone’s hardware.