The History of Flagships: Part III – HTC
A few months ago, we came up with the idea of presenting the history of flagship devices released by some of the major Android OEMs. In this, we’ve had the pleasure of bringing you the stories of Sony (Ericsson) and Samsung. Now, it’s time for our third and final installment. This is a very special episode, as the OEM I will talk about was heavily connected to Android and the beginnings of XDA as a whole. Yes, I’m talking about HTC, the Taiwanese manufacturer that brought the Android to the masses and still has millions of fans around the world.
HTC’s original full name was High-Tech Computer Corporation, and it was founded in 1997. The company was later officially rebranded to HTC in 2011. HTC has been producing Android devices ever since this operating system was introduced to the public. Before the Android era, HTC released dozens of devices with almost every mobile OS. One of the very first devices released by our Taiwanese hero was the O2 Xda phone, which ran Windows Mobile. It was made under many names including HTC, Quanta and Enima. You might have not known this, but the O2 Xda was one of the main reasons the XDA forum was created back in 2003.
Ever since the launch of Windows Mobile, HTC announced and released dozens of devices running the OS’s various iterations. The strategy of the company changed dramatically in 2008, when Google released the first phone powered by a then-unknown operating system, Android. The birth of the HTC Dream, also known as the T-Mobile G1, was a milestone as the first mass market Android device.
Dream of Android
The HTC Dream G1 featured a 3.2” screen with an impressive (for the era) 320×480 pixel resolution. HTC loaded up the device with a single core 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A processor. To complete the hardware specifications, the device had a 3.15 megapixel camera, 192 megabytes of RAM and 256 MB of internal storage expandable with microSD card. The phone had an Android navigation bar with physical buttons and a trackball for easier movement between and within fields. HTC added a slide-out keypad, which was standard equipment for many phones of the era.
The Dream G1 shipped with Android 1.0, which was later updated to version 1.5 Cupcake and 1.6 Donut. In 2008, Android was still at a very early stage and lacked some essential features. HTC didn’t sell too many units, but more OEMs decided to give Android a go. As a result, Google’s operating system is now the dominant mobile OS in the world.
The HTC Dream G1 was also known as T-Mobile G1 because it was released exclusively by T-Mobile. In many countries, the name of the phone differed but the hardware specification remained intact. The HTC Dream gave a glimpse of the Android’s potential. The open source operating system, based on the Linux kernel, gave the freedom for third party developers. Early versions of Android gave a birth to custom ROM development, which is now a major hobby for thousands of developers around the world.
Magic of design
The second flagship device released by HTC was the Magic. The HTC Magic was launched in May 2009, and it had very similar specs to its predecessor. Among the few differences, it featured a whooping 288 MB of RAM, which is 96 MB more than the HTC Dream. A decent 512 MB of internal storage was available, and expandable through the use of a microSD card. Hardware buttons and trackball were still present to make navigation easier.
The HTC Magic shipped with Android 1.5, which brought support for a software keyboard. As such, HTC decided to ditch the slide-out hardware keyboard from the Dream. This move made the Magic a less bulky and lighter animal.
The HTC Magic was in direct competition with the Apple iPhone 3G, which dominated the market at the time. HTC sold one million units in the first three months of distribution. The Magic was the last device from HTC (aside from GPe variants) powered by pure Android. The Dream was supported to Android 2.2 Froyo.
A Modern Hero
The company’s third flagship was released two months later. The HTC Hero (T-Mobile G2 Touch) was the first phone by HTC to feature a 3.5 mm audio jack, a multi-touch display, the HTC Sense user interface, and a “Lite” version of Adobe Flash. The Hero was one of the most modern looking smartphones of the era.
HTC used the same hardware as in the Magic. The only element that was significantly upgraded was the camera, which received an upgrade to 5 megapixels. The Taiwanese manufacturer put lots of efforts into pushing out a really sleek design and providing an even more functional operating system. The original version of Sense was laggy, and it was something that HTC needed to soon address.
The Hero initially ran Android 1.5, but was updated to Android 1.6 and 2.1. HTC planned to release the Android 2.2, but corrected the statement later deciding to update the HTC Evo Design 4G, the direct successor to the Hero.
The Hero showed the direction for its upcoming smartphones. The device didn’t look like a plastic toy, and it featured an attractive new design. Thanks to this phone, HTC left a mark on the smartphone world.
HTC’s Desire to Conquer the World
The fourth flagship by HTC was the HTC Desire. Released in March 2010, it sported a 3.7” AMOLED at 480×800, a single core 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250 Snapdragon CPU, and an Adreno 200 GPU. It also featured 576 MB, with 150 MB available to the user. Storage could be expanded up to 32 GB thanks to its microSD card slot.
The Desire shipped running Android 2.1 with Sense 1.9 and Flash 10.1. The phone was officially updated to Android 2.2 and later Gingerbread. The little 250 MB system partition was a huge problem for the latter upgrade, as Android with Sense required more internal storage its limited capacity. On August 01, 2011, HTC finally removed some bloat from Sense and released the Gingerbread update. It was available only as an RUU.
The HTC Desire was often compared to its HTC-built cousin, the Nexus One. However, there were a few differences between these devices. Most noticeably, there was a different body shell, an optical trackpad, an FM Radio, and Sense UI rather than vanilla Android.
“HD” is Better!
The successor to the original Desire was the HTC Desire HD, which was released in October 2010. The Desire HD was a big step when compared to its predecessors. It was the first phone that used the new 1 GHz MSM8255 Scorpion CPU. The new processor used a lower-power 45-nm process technology for higher integration and efficiency. Its Adreno 205 GPU doubled the performance of the older Adreno 200. RAM, camera, and internal storage were upgraded too. The HTC Desire HD featured 768 MB of RAM and 1.5 GB of internal storage. The microSD slot allowed expansion to 32 GB. The screen got bigger, though it didn’t feature an HD resolution as its name might suggest. The 480×800 screen measured in at a rather large 4.3″. And rather than featuring an HD panel, the “HD” in the name stems from the device’s ability to record videos at 720p. With this device, HTC ditched HTC ditched classical physical buttons, replacing them with capacitive navigation keys below the screen.
The HTC Desire HD also featured new software with Dolby Mobile, Sound Retrieval System WOW Surround Sound, DLNA, Adobe Flash Player 10.2, and DivX/Xvid support. The Desire HD shipped with Android 2.2 Froyo and a new and more bloated version of HTC Sense. The device also featured a new fast boot feature, which allowed the device to partially boot up in less than 5 seconds. When the battery was removed and reinserted, the boot time increased to over a minute, highlighting the difference courtesy of this technology. In December of 2011, HTC updated the device to Android 2.3.5 and Sense 3.0. This was the last true flagship bearing the Desire name.
A Dual-Core Sensation
The next flagship from HTC was the HTC Sensation. Released in May 2011, it was the last non-One series flagship phone from HTC. The Sensation was the company’s first dual-core flagship. The Taiwanese OEM gave the device a 1.2 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Scorpion in the basic model and 1.5 GHz dual-core Scorpion in Sensation XE variant. The phone featured 768 MB of RAM and 4 GB of internal storage. The user got 1 GB for personal data, whereas 3 GB was reserved to Android and Sense 3.0 UI. The phone initially shipped with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but it was later upgraded to Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich and Sense 3.6. HTC kept its predecessor’s size at 4.3″, but gave it a qHD display covered in Corning Gorilla Glass. The Sensation also featured an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front shooter.
The HTC Sensation was HTC’s first device to have its bootloader ship locked. Due to overwhelming customer feedback, the bootloader was unlocked for the new devices. Since August 2011, HTC officially allows users to unlock the Sensation’s bootloaders via HTCdev.com.
Say Goodbye to the Sensation and Hello to the One (X)
One year later, HTC released the first phone from the current One line. The HTC One X sported an Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC, which featured a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU and an ULP GeForce GPU at 520 MHz. It also featured 1 GB of RAM, 16/32 GB of internal storage, and a 4.7” Super LCD 2 720p display. To avoid physical damage, the screen was covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 2.0. Finally, it featured an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 1.3-megapixel front shooter. The international version of the phone didn’t feature 4G connectivity like its American cousin.
The HTC One X shipped with Android 4.0.4 and Sense 4. HTC managed to update the software to Android 4.2.2 and Sense 5. The One X featured Beats Audio to improve the audio quality, though many would undoubtedly disagree with that assertion. HTC was never good at delivering updates to older phone, so like its predecessors, the HTC One X was abandoned after receiving just two Android updates.
In October 2012, HTC unveiled a refreshed version of One X, aptly named the One X+. Users could get the device in new colors, red and gray, as well as the older white color. Its internal storage was bumped to a whooping 64 GB. HTC also used a bigger, 2100 mAh battery and an Nvidia Tegra 3 clocked at 1.7 GHz SoC, though American variants got the Qualcomm MDM9215 SoC and LTE connectivity.
The HTC One X was a great device and still has lots of fans to this day. But despite its overall greatness and a warm reception by users and the media, HTC had no real chance in competing with the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2. Sales started to decline, which was the first sign of hard times to come for this Taiwanese OEM.
The One Branding Lives On
In February of 2013, HTC announced what is undoubtedly one of its greatest phones to date, the HTC One. This model, which is now referred to as the M7 in order to avoid confusion with the latest flagship (M8), was undoubtedly a premium device. HTC used aluminum as its build material. They also put lots of efforts to make the One a unique device. The device featured a 4.7” at 1080p resolution. It was fast, thanks to its Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, which featured a quad-core Krait 300 clocked at 1.7 GHz and an Adreno 320 GPU. The One featured ample RAM and storage, at 2 GB and 32/64 GB, respectively. Surprisingly HTC decided to use a 4
megaultrapixel camera, which ditched a high resolution in favor of larger pixels. The new UltraPixel technology allowed users to capture great low light shots for a phone, but many found it disappointing in better lighting conditions.
The HTC One shipped with Android 4.1.2 and Sense 5.0. And with this device, HTC showed marked improvements in delivering up-to-date Android versions to its users. In fact, HTC One M7 users should be expecting an update to Lollipop quite soon.Google released a Google Play edition of the device, which was recently updated to Android 5.0.1. Despite various “Phone of the Year” awards, HTC undoubtedly lost to its rivals such as the Galaxy S4 in terms of sales.
One (M8) to Rule Them All
HTC’s latest flagship phone is yet another device bearing the “One” moniker. This time, we have the HTC One (M8). The M8 was officially unveiled in March of 2014. The new model retains the same general design of the first generation One. However, the M8 features a bigger, 5” 1080p screen and Gorilla Glass 3.0. It also features a quad-core Snapdragon 801 running at 2.26 GHz, an Adreno 330 GPU, 2 GB of RAM, and 16/32 GB of internal storage expandable by microSD card. Once again, HTC decided to use a 4.0-UltraPixel camera. As with its predecessor, the device also featured BoomSound stereo speakers, but they were improved with deeper enclosures, a larger amplifier, and an updated DSP for improved sound quality. In addition, the M8 can be used with a unique Dot View Case that shows the clock and weather forecast without unlocking the phone.
The M8 shipped with Android 4.4.2 and Sense 6.0, but it has since been updated to Android 5.0.2 Lollipop. HTC Sense hasn’t been updated to a newer version. Just like M7, the M8 was also released in Google Play edition form.
In August of 2014, HTC and Verizon Wireless announced the HTC One for Windows, which is powered by Windows Phone 8.1. It’s the first Windows Phone device to be released by HTC since the HTC Windows Phone 8X from 2012. The device is only available in dark gray color.
Return to Nexus
In October of 2014, Google announced its latest tablet. The Google Nexus 9 is the first flagship Android device featuring a 64-bit SoC and running a 64-bit version of Android. HTC loaded the device with the powerful Nvidia Tegra K1 SoC, featuring a dual-core 64-bit Denver CPU clocked at 2.3 GHz and 192-core Kepler graphics. The device also comes with 2 GB of RAM and either 16 or 32 GB of storage.
The Nexus 9 was widely criticized for its build quality. Many feel that the OEM’s return go the Nexus name should have been more noteworthy, or at least a better value for the price. However, it would be silly to not consider the Nexus 9 to be an amazing device in many ways.
HTC is a household name, and they’ve done quite a lot of good for Android as a whole. The OEM’s flagships generally always featured top-notch build quality and decent software. Now, HTC gives its users the option to unlock their devices, which opens the doors to custom ROMs and much more development.
Are you a fan of HTC? Do you have some old HTC flagships gathering dust, or is your current daily driver made by this Taiwanese OEM? Let us know in the comments below!