It Took Five Years To Make A Beautiful Android Phone

Android has become an enormous success in part by appealing to a lot of people who don't prioritise aesthetics. It's no wonder it's been ugly for half a decade. But it has finally spawned a truly gorgeous object for everyone: the HTC One.

Google's take on phones was never meant to be pretty — it was just supposed to do all the things the iPhone could. All that mattered was that big touchscreen and Computer Lite things, like email and internet. And it did! It was rough, but, hey, so was the first iPhone.

As the software advanced into a fantasy cartoon playground for people who care about custom ROMs and spending hours tinkering with settings, the hardware stalled. Every new Android phone was like every other Android phone — and not in an Ah, slight refinement! way. Just a lazy way. Just a, Hey, let's make this part red now way. All smartphones are basically just glass rectangles, but the Android lineage has never cared to be anything more — never put any attention into powdering its pedestrian little face.

And so for the past half-decade, we've been buying phones like these.

Jetson family heirlooms.

Black chunks.

Early-aughts throwbacks.

Oh, come on.

This looks like an Alienware PC and that's not a compliment.

This rectangle is shiny.

These rectangles look like they fell out of Mad Max's pocket.

Even the mega-hype Galaxy S 4, with internal components of the deities, is identical to what came before it. Just another plastic candy shell.

OK, but here's the HTC One. It's not an anonymous black rectangle, a chintzy plastic slab, or wrapped in some kind of x-treme GI Joe kevlar muumuu. It's machined out of aluminium with the kind of industrial grace and attention that I've seen from the iPhone 5.

Tiny details abound and — with the exception of the just-short-of-barf Beats branding on the back — all of them sing.

The delicate grille above and below the large, crisp screen is yanked straight of the Dieter Rams/Jonny Ive lovechild playbook. It's a little bit of ornamental abstraction, a little bit of functional kick if you're triggering the speakerphone, and something that gives the handset an actual visage — some personality. It has charm. And when we're staring at something every single day of our lives, it's important that it looks back at us with even a faint wink of warmth.

The One's back and front are friendly in every way that Android is stubborn or overwrought, cold and alienating, while still looking everything like a sophisticated and powerful little computer. There's no Fisher Price DNA here, or Nokia's occasional brush with infantilism. Nothing dinky. Nothing effete.

And maybe even more interesting than Apple, standing here in March 2013? Yes, I think so. That's not to say it's better than the iPhone, or necessarily worse, but HTC's managed to build a phone that looks beautiful without aping anyone. It didn't show up to the salon with a glossy cut-out page of some A-lister's hair. It is its own beauty, and that's enough to be a wonderful beauty.

This doesn't excuse HTC's bloated, totally superfluous software skin. It doesn't do much to fix Android's ethos of DIY ROM-modding, touchscreen Tinker Toys for IT Lotharios. It won't change that. But it might shift Android away gradually from the kind of phone you get because it's free on-contract — or because it's the only phone that will let you tinker all day long. It might make Android the kind of software that's put in a beautiful tiny home made out of aluminium, with a slender curved back and Space Age detailing. It might make beautiful Android phones — even the inexpensive ones, because, yes, HTC, we know you can do it! — the rule, rather than the once-in-five-years pleasant surprise. Most of all, it might make Android an appealing decision rather than a rational one.


Comments

    Stop reminding me how long is left on my contract for the HTC One XL that I left on the boot of my car the other weekend then drove off...
    Now I'm stuck with an iPhone *shudder*.

      Huh? Being "stuck" with an iPhone isn't exactly bad, at least you're not stuck with something like a Samsung Galaxy Fit. The whole article is basically about how an Android phone can finally hold its own against an iPhone in the looks department.

        Nope, the article was about how the HTC One is the first truly beautiful Android phone.

        OK, I was lucky I could just use one of the iPhones from work instead of having to buy a new phone.
        But I hate it. I hate the shape, I hate the feel, I hate the stupid noises it makes, I hate most things about it. (I don't mind the physical switch that is there to put it on silent, that's about it though).
        The HTC One one the other hand... I want that in my life now, but it's not going to happen.

        Ascetic appeal is different for every single person. If you think a Nokia brick looks better than an iPhone, then it is much worse. For me the iPhone looks bland and boring, for you it might be as shiny as a leprechauns pot of gold.

        You can't help the way your mind is wired and influenced.

          Ascetic =/= Aesthetic my friend.

          It's completely true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I actually laughed because of how much I disagree with this article's idea of what looks good. IMHO the HTC One is hideous, and the Iphones could well be the definition of boring design. I actually really like some other Android designs that have been around for a while e.g. the HTC Hero from way back in 2009. Each to their own though :)

          this article can be pretty much summarised as:

          HTC basically made an iphone 5 clone with thinner bezels, larger screen and curved back. Therefore it looks wonderful (and also wont be sued)

            Equally sarcastic, is the idea that an iPhone is stylised as an enlarged copy of a Nokia brick.

            Yes. Sam Biddle's iWorship shines through once again. He has a nerd-gasm every time a new iProduct is announced, yet imo they aren't that aesthetically pleasing. It's a freaking piece of hardware man, not something to hang in the Louvre.

          I agree, I think the nokia lumina bricks are the most appealing phone shape, in saying that, I'm not willing to buy into wp8 after being on wp7 for 2 years.

          Last edited 20/03/13 5:46 pm

      Should get mobile insurance the next time. I suggest it lumping it with your home contents cover.

      This article is entirely troll-bait, and unfortunately typical of Sam Biddle's ill-considered rants. I guess I'm just feeding the troll, but what kind of drooling moron fanboi writes an article like this?

      Sam's suggestion that people only buy Android phones because they're cheap is both ignorant and insulting. And the Tinker Toys comment is disgracefully inaccurate and stupid. There are plenty of people for whom Android (even skinned Android) is their first preference, irrespective of price.

      Yes, the HTC One is a well made and good-looking phone, but it's by no means the first in Android's 5 years of commercial availability. HTC's One series from last year were both well-crafted and good-looking too, as were some of the much older phones like the Legend. And it's not like HTC have a monopoly on good looking phones either; the new Sony phones also look very nice (albeit in a rather different way). And the Nexus 4's construction and styling are appealing in an entirely different way again. Aluminium and glass do not have a monopoly in the style stakes.

    Not buying a new phone without wireless charging. Putting my foot down on that.

      Yep, because the inconvenience of having to plug a cable into a phone is so much worse than having to take (and plug in) a wireless charging mat with you wherever you go.

        To me its more the fact that the cables *and* the port on the phone both wear out over a 2 year contract.

        I used to wake up without a full charge because I'd received an email during the night and the cord had come slightly lose and stopped charging.

        Loving the wireless charge on the 920 though -- basically why I forked out for this thing.

          What are you doing with your cables?? I still have the cable that came with my ipod mini and it works with the port on the device flawlessly... nearly 10 years of cable use life... of course the ipods battery is just about dead though.

          Last edited 20/03/13 11:36 am

            I like to think I'm not rough on my devices.

            Like to think.

              Are you one of those people that manage to force a USB cable in the wrong way?

                No comment.

                ... I'm not too bad, but those micro-usb connections aren't the best, and not all are built to the same sturdiness.

        I have a wireless charger car dock for my nexus 4. No cables, just clip it in and out of a cradle.

        Not sure what kinda stuff you're smoking but that is insanely useful and convenient to those of us on planet earth

          A car dock is about the best use for wireless charging. Unless the wireless charging thing is usable over a larger area ie. 1 or 2 metres from the charger, then I will still find the wire more convenient, as i can use the phone in my hand while charging, which I find myself doing more often than I thought I would.

        I'd rather have a wireless charger at work and another at home, and just pop the phone onto them to charger than plugging in cables.

        It doesn't look as messy, and I'm not wasting an hour each day trying to find the person who pinched my micro USB cable to charge their phone while I was out.

        If wireless charging takes off and we get a cross-platform standard (so never), we will see charging areas in everday places, like cars, desks, benches. Charging "power spots" will be as common as Wi-Fi is now and it won't stop at just phones.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qi_%28inductive_power_standard%29

          Standards?

    but then you have to buy wireless chargers... With the way battery lives are going with all the extra pixels and what not, prob not a bad idea for the work desk (if someone else pays)

      They're quite cheap. At least the ones I bought for my Pre were.

    personally i still think the sony xperia z is the best looking android phone atm but that is obviously very subjective ... its great to see android delivering not only an exciting OS but also exciting hardware

    It's definitely a beautiful and well-crafted phone. But I can't help thinking it's a teeeeeeny bit unfortunate that in an article describing the phone's top-notch build quality (which I don't doubt) there are two images featuring a hairline crack in the plastic beside the SIM slot.

      Eyes of a hawk!

        Where? i dont see it garrrrrr

          http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/18hwifvwz6592jpg/xlarge.jpg

          To the left of the slot thing. A thin crack.

            And just below that image, the text is "Tiny details abound" -_-

    The Nexus4 is a great looking phone

      It looks like just another boring slab to me. If you like it, that's good for you though :)

      Last edited 20/03/13 2:46 pm

    Beauty is subjective. Give me one of those 'black chunks' anyday.

    So it might look great until you drop it and the screen shatters because the hard metal frame doesn't absorb the impact.
    Of course, to prevent that happening (like iPhone owners), you'll wrap up all your lovely industrial design in a stupid rubberised plastic case.
    Give me a plastic bodied phone that can survive a fall any day of the week!

      It's ridiculous how many Iphone users I've met that brag about how good it looks, and how thin it is. Then they go and buy an ugly case that doubles it's width -_-

    It looks to have the same sort of design philosophy as the HD2. It may be time to buy a new phone.

      Exactly what I noticed. Methinks someone at HTC said "what's arguably our most popular and best phone so far? The HD2? Let's modernise it!" So glad they did - I reckon lots of HD2 owners using custom ROMs are going to finally upgrade and it will be to this One. I know I'm one of them :)

    Maybe it looks better in life. I'm not enjoying the look of the edge. It doesn't seem cohesive. The aluminium surfaces are just floating in a sea of mediocrity.

    I doubt moto was going for good looks when they made the original droid.

    I don't always state subjective tastes as fact, but when I do I publish it online as tech news.

    Am I the only one who can see the old school portable record player way down the page?
    Where it talks about the front and back of the one.

    I think the curved back rocking on a flat surface would annoy me after a while.

      My Pre3 has a curved back and I really like it. I'm always fidgeting with something, so I like being able to spin it on tables :)

    Oh please tell me more about your completely subjective opinion on mobile phone aesthetics.

    Typical gizmodo article.

    "Android has become an enormous success in part by appealing to a lot of people who don’t prioritise aesthetics"

    Or people who just prefer a different aesthetic.

      I don't like Android, but I do like that it has so many different designs.

    To be then covered in a big ugly plastic/rubber case, bumper or leather flip......ironic really

    I'm sorry but the first Android phone I ever saw was, at the time, the most beautiful handset I had ever seen - the original Nexus One. The shape, the finish, the texture - everything about it was so new and different and it all worked beautifully. I'd also suggest the Galaxy Nexus is a really nice looking phone.

    Early android phones were about aesthetically pleasing as the first iPhone, both have come along way.

    Actually, you know what? Come to think of it, there are one or two other things that have improved aesthetically over the years....cars, computers, houses, clothes, televisions, and so on.

    This is truly amazing, please stop what you're doing and write an article on it right now!

    original iphone was 2007. iphone 4 was 2011. so it only took 1 year less to make a decent looking iphone.

    I cannot understand the obsession with aluminium. Sure it looks great if it was going to be something that was going to sit on my shelf that I could look at and pick up occasionally, but that aside the practicality just does not stand up. Everyone I know has dropped their phone and guess what happens to aluminium when it is dropped? Ahhhhh you might say that you will put it in some sort of protective case, but then where is the design element? Gone!

    Plus, what is the environmental footprint of aluminium versus "plastic" because certainly aluminium must have one of the most power hungry smelting processes around. Does it make sense from that end as well?

    I love the look of my S II, others might disagree but I think of the entire Galaxy range its definitely the best looking.

    It's between this and the SGS4 for my next phone (I have an SGS2 at the moment) and although I do love the look of the HTC One, it'll be the camera (especially in low light) and usefulness of the new bells and whistles that will likely decide it for me. Also I'd be very interested to see some real-world stress tests to check if the screen of the HTC One really would be more prone to shattering as opposed to a phone encased in plastic such as the SGS4. I absolutely REFUSE to purchase a thrid party case for any of my devices - their durability should be built in to the original design.

    That being said I'm about to explore rooting my SGS2 to see if I can make it more streamlined as I use it for very basic purposes - SMS, occasional calls, web surfing, Youtube & Vimeo, Facebook, twitter, Reddit, Aldiko and a few other apps - I don't game on it but I would like to be able to take better photos. If I can get my SGS2 to be better at all that then an upgrade might not even happen, especially since I have a battery pack addition that's stopped previous battery issues (and although it doubles the thickness of the phone, I actually find the weight more comfortable in my hand).

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