Through the course of 2011, HTC slightly lost their grip on the smartphone market. Samsung swooped in and stole the entire Android realm's attention with the Galaxy S II and Note while HTC continued to produce phone after phone that slightly missed the mark. Whether it was a few key specifications that were short of expectations, the poor performance and cluttered appearance of Sense UI or the physical heft of their devices, their edge was lost.
But HTC promised for a better year in 2012. They vowed to focus on quality over quantity, and the very first hint of that came from HTC's strong presence at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain just last week. The day before the show officially kick-started, HTC announced a new line of devices, strangely dubbed One. There are only three different devices in this family, One X, One S and One V.
So what exactly makes the One series so much different than HTC Android devices of past? For starters, there is a definite structure to their devices. Also, at least in terms of the One X, depending on your market and carrier, will come with either a dual-core Snapdragon S4 chip or a NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor. Beats Audio is now a hardware feature, not just a software function integrated solely in the Music app. Beats Audio will be heard throughout the system, for better or for worse. And it's all packed neatly in the beautiful HTC design we all have come to love.
More importantly, however, HTC has made major improvements to the camera technology they will use in the One series, which they are calling ImageSense. Each One device will come packed with a f/2.0 aperture with 28mm lens, dedicated HTC ImageChip, smart LED flash and a BSI sensor. They will also come with software optimized for speed – the camera app can fully load and autofocus in 0.7 seconds flat. And you have the ability to take continuous shots simply by holding the shutter button, or even the ability to capture stills while recording video.
HTC quickly followed up their claims by uploading nine different sample shots from a One device to their Google+ and Facebook pages. In short, the images look quite nice. They're no SLR shots and the some seem to be over exposed or over saturated. Regardless, they look nice – a huge improvement over some of their recent devices.
Even Aaron had some hands-on time with the HTC One X camera at MWC and showed us how little shutter lag there was. From what I can tell, the image quality there looked to at least be decent, and it seemed to be doing quite well in a fairly low-light situation, thanks to the f/2.0 aperture.
However, yesterday afternoon, I stumbled upon a post on HTC's blog. It was about a trip that Larry Meadows, managing editor of HTC Blogs, and his colleague, Wyatt Lewin, taking a trip to Camelback Mountain and giving an HTC One a bit of a test drive. Meadows gave some sample shots that he took while on the trip, one panorama and four other random images of scenery.
When I first came across the article, the thumbnails were hyperlinked to larger (not full-res) images. While some aspects of each photo were nice, like the level of detail on the focused subject, the overall product of each image was mediocre. At least two were terrible and very blurry.
In response to several comments asking about the questionable quality of the images, Meadows responded saying they "actually compressed the images for web to make load times better." I can definitely understand the need to compress images – a full-size, 8-megapixel photo on a blog would be a bit excessive. But I am about 99.9 percent certain that the poor quality of the photos was not due to any form of compression. They were blurry and devoid of precious detail. Of course, this could be due to an unsteady hand on Meadows' part, or simply a poor choice in pictures. Either way, when I returned to the article a short while ago, the hyperlinks had been removed and the thumbnails are the only images available. Meadows explains:
"Thanks everyone - I was trying to get a quick post up about a cool trip Wyatt and I took while down in Arizona on business. We are reviewing the full set of photos from all our events to give you MUCH better examples of what this new camera can do."
(Update: Twitter user M_Sined just pointed out to me that the actual images have not been pulled. The hyperlinks to the larger images were just removed. To view them, right click a thumbnail and copy the image URL. Paste that URL in your address bar and delete the thumbnail resolution (i.e.: "-150x150"). Here I've picked the best two for your viewing ... pleasure.)
Suddenly, I'm having flashbacks to the Galaxy Nexus announcement – a fantastic device nearly ruined by a seemingly mediocre set of optics. I have found myself questioning those nine pictures we were shown last week. I don't doubt that the Ones' camera is capable of taking such awesome shots. But now I feel a lot more skeptical about them and just how much time and effort some pro put into making these pictures absolutely perfect.
Remember the Rockaway Beach video made by Google's Romain Guy? It made everyone feel as if the 5-megapixel shooter in the Galaxy Nexus might be fantastic. It's really not that bad for video in great lighting. Although I had my doubts, I tried to believe it stills would be great, too. Long story short, it may be one of the worst cameras (in an Android phone) that I've ever had the displeasure of using.
Just like with the Nexus, the camera is a huge selling point for me in the One X. I want to believe HTC has truly made these image sensors something to write home about. But after catching a (very brief and unsatisfying) glimpse of Meadows' trip to Camelback Mountain, I'm a bit wary. The Amaze had quite an impressive camera, and if HTC has improved anything since then, there's hope yet that the One series' cameras will be nothing short of amazing.
Here's to hoping Meadows just had a case of shaky hands that day.
What say you, folks? Do you still think the One series will feature a set of great cameras? Or will they, like many Android devices before them with hyped optics, come up short? If the One X's camera isn't up to snuff, will you still consider it?