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The HTC One Deserves Its Place in the Spotlight

The Android-based HTC One phone. The Android-based HTC One phone.

Remember HTC? For a long time, this Taiwanese phone maker seemed to be on a roll. Its Android phones kept making gadget headlines.

Then, all of a sudden, Samsung came along, all technological and marketing guns blazing, and that was that. It became an Apple-versus-Samsung world. Everyone sort of forgot about HTC.

Its latest phone, arriving at Sprint and AT&T next week, and T-Mobile shortly thereafter, will give HTC at least a few more weeks in the spotlight. The phone will cost $200 with a two-year contract for the model with 32 gigabytes of memory, $300 for 64 gigs.

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It’s an Android phone — the most beautiful one you’ve ever seen. Seriously. It makes you feel happy and calm just holding this thing in your hands. There’s a picture of the HTC One next to “gorgeous” in the dictionary.

It’s sculptured from a thin, solid block of aluminum, with a gently curved back that adds to that soothing, worry-stone effect. The aluminum grille, above and below the black, black screen, houses the unbelievably powerful, crisp stereo speakers.

The screen is like nothing you’ve ever seen; with 468 pixels crammed into every inch, it’s the sharpest screen ever set into a phone. It’s a bit unnecessary — you stopped being able to detect individual pixels back on the iPhone 4S — but at least you can sleep well at night, satisfied that nobody’s screen is sharper. We’re talking 1080 resolution, the highest HD video there is.

This screen is bright, vivid and huge — 4.7 inches diagonal. A screen that size makes the One much bigger than, say, the iPhone, but not as unwieldy as some Android jumbophones. It weighs a satisfying 5.1 ounces.

The camera is something special. Technically, the resulting photos have 4 megapixels, but HTC correctly points out that megapixel count isn’t everything. The company claims that these are big pixels that soak in more light — and indeed, the low-light pictures from this camera put other phones to shame.

There are some disappointments, though. There’s no memory-card slot, so the built-in storage is all you get. You can’t pop out the battery, either. Battery life is typical 4G LTE Android; you’ll get one day of use on a charge. The usual set of three buttons on an Android phone — Back, Home and Menu — are down to two; HTC has eliminated the Menu button. These buttons are supposed to light up, but they don’t always.

Weirdest of all, HTC once again insists on replacing the mature, polished Android software design, the year-old “Jelly Bean” version, with an interface of its own. This software places, on the first of your Home screens, a series of tiles showing photos and headlines from news sources of your choosing, much like the popular Flipboard app. It’s great, although optional. But in many other areas, HTC didn’t improve Google’s original design.

The phone’s power button doubles, intriguingly enough, as an infrared lens for controlling your TV, but the accompanying app is fairly inelegant. The camera app is not only full-fledged, it may be overly fledged; it offers Still mode, Video mode, and Zoe mode (three-second clips, whose purpose escape me). There’s no physical shutter button.

A crying shame that Verizon is the only carrier holdout; this thing would wipe the floor with its rivals if it had that kind of ubiquitous, superfast LTE network behind it.

Otherwise — wow, is this phone packed. It’s ridiculously fast. Its camera, screen and speakers take first place in smartphones. And hey — did I mention how beautiful it is?

HTC has put all of its 2013 eggs into the One basket, and in general, that was a good call. You could quibble with the software overlays, but it would be hard to imagine a more impressive piece of phone hardware.