HTC One (M7) review

Ultrapixels, Zoes, Blinkfeed and more: HTC is going all out

HTC One review
Editor's Choice
Yeah, but is it THE One?

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BlinkFeed is HTC's attempt at moving away from the traditional homescreens of old on Android phones and bringing users something that will make the HTC One (and other models in the range) a little more unique.

The feed is a simple interface that borrows heavily from the Live Tiles of Windows Phone, which HTC has been repping hard, with the Windows Phone 8X and all. The tiles are various sizes though, which makes things a little less repetitive for scrolling through to "snack" on content.

The idea is a really sound one: giving a mish-mash of content, be that from curated news feeds on certain topics, videos shared from the HTC Zoe camera app or social network updates from your buddies.

HTC One review

There's an interesting rhythm to the content, as while news is clearly the most 'snackable' of all on offer (rather than hearing what TV show your friends are watching at that point) they obviously wane at certain times of the day, meaning you're left with a sea of Twitter updates.

We were initially very sceptical about BlinkFeed when we were told all about it by HTC before the One launched - and a lot of the reservations we had then still pervade. For instance, the feeds are grouped by topic, and there's no mechanism to select specific outlets that you trust, or to add you own RSS feeds to the mix.

We get why HTC is doing this: to preserve the UI, so sites with very poor pictures won't be filling the blocks on screen with loads of pixelated images. However, users ALWAYS prefer content control over an ideal, so an option to enable this has to be available. In fairness to HTC it's promised such functionality will be on the way, but it's never good to launch without the full arsenal.

Similarly, there's no "learning" involved here either, so you can't vote up or down certain topics, or exclude certain people from being shown on the timeline. Again, we're not too bothered about this latter feature as BlinkFeed is actually pretty adept at getting things right, using data from Facebook and Twitter to see who you interact with regularly. Turning off retweets would be welcome though.

But more interesting than all of that is that BlinkFeed actually works much better than we thought it would. In the few days we had between turning on the phone and it becoming part of the daily routine, we found that time and again we returned to the feed to just get a feel for what's going on rather than opening the specific Flipboard, Facebook or Twitter apps themselves.

HTC One review

We particularly like the fact that tapping an article will show the picture and text in a reader-style mode, without the need to open the browser. It would be nice if this downloaded more quickly or cached over Wi-Fi (although you can auto-refresh the feed) as sometimes we're left waiting for more than a few seconds to read an article. Otherwise, it's all ace.

There's a pleasant 'snick' when you pull down the most recent story to refresh the feed, and in a move taken from Apple, you can tap the top of the screen to get back to the top of the list when you've gone a little too deep into your BlinkFeed - something that we only found by accident when we realized that scrolling all the way back up to the top was going to take a LONG time.

The overall UI is incredibly pleasing, not just because of the different sizes of the tiles. The weather and clock at the top of the app are a strong replacement for the traditional widget we're used to from HTC, and offer the information just when you need it. On top of that the slight pull down from the top of the list is a natural gesture to get you to the settings and ability to customize your feed - it's touches like this that show HTC has stepped things up with the One.

This is also the place to search through the current feed, which is actually a hugely valuable too. So often we want to mention something we read, but can't find it instantly. A quick BlinkFeed search will find all mentions of that term in news, TV or among your friends' missives, and brings a more holistic feel to the listing.

Sharing is meant to be part of the experience on the HTC One's BlinkFeed, and while you can put up statuses on Facebook and Twitter directly from the feed (with the "posted from HTC Sense" tag) sharing news is a whole other issue. Instead of the story it will post a note that says "HTC News" with no notion of what it's about, and then a link to a cached version of the article.

HTC One review

While that makes it easy for others to read on a phone, it doesn't help spread the original article properly, which is what sharing is meant to be all about.

It's a shame that BlinkFeed isn't present on the lock screen, but given you can disable the lock screen altogether (a feature we're surprised hasn't been offered on more phones) it's not really needed.

Overall, we were very impressed with BlinkFeed compared to the hopes we had for it; there's still a lot to do in terms of making the app more personal, as well as being able to choose and exclude the feeds and friends you get information from, as some news "sources" are nowhere near such a thing.

However, on multiple occasions we found ourselves reading really interesting articles that we wouldn't have seen previously, so for that reason alone we have to give BlinkFeed a big thumbs up as a USP on the HTC One, and look forward to the updates in the future that should address at least some of our wish list.