April 14, 2013 in Business

New smartphones bring competition for iPhone

 

Ready for the battle of the phones? This year’s crop of high-end smartphones is starting to emerge, like bear cubs crawling out of their burrows, sniffing the spring air. First out is the HTC One, a handsome, powerful animal that should do well this year.

The HTC One belongs to the big camp of smartphones running Google Inc.’s Android software. Collectively, they’re the big alternative to the iPhone, though no one model outsells the iPhone. What makes the HTC One really stand out is that it’s the only phone that can match Apple Inc.’s standards of feel and finish.

Much like the iPhone, the HTC One has a beautifully machined aluminum back and aluminum detailing on the front. Also like the iPhone, the metal edges are beveled, or “chamfered” as the industrial designers call it. Plastic and metal are joined together so well that you can’t tell by feel where one ends and the other starts.

While the HTC One clearly borrows some elements of the iPhone 5’s style, it’s hard to mistake the HTC One for the iPhone. For starters, it is half an inch taller and broader, with a huge screen. It’s also noticeably thicker at its maximum, but that’s cunningly concealed by a bulging back and narrow edges. Bigger screens are one way Android phones take on the iPhone, and that inevitably leads to bigger phones, but the HTC One carries its bulk very well.

The screen is quite a sight, boasting a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels — as many as you’d find on a 50-inch TV set. You’d have to line up three iPhone 5s, side by side, to show as much detail as you can on one HTC One screen. That doesn’t mean the screen is three times as useful. These pixels are just so small that the eye can’t take advantage of the full resolution.

Above and below the screens are two speaker grilles. That means that when you turn the phone sideways to watch a movie, you’ll get real stereo sound, without headphones. The speakers are great, too, pumping out surprisingly deep sound.

The price you pay for a body that feels as tight and sharp as a knife fresh from the forge is that nothing goes into or out of it. You can’t change the battery, and you can’t expand the memory with cards.

The camera does something interesting, but the results are disappointing. It’s well known that boosting the megapixel count of camera sensors doesn’t really do much for the image quality, but phone and camera makers can’t seem to stop using megapixel count as a marketing tool, so the megapixels keep climbing. HTC has finally taken a stand against this trend, with a camera sensor that has only 4 megapixels of resolution. It’s a timid stand, though, as HTC doesn’t actually tell you it’s a 4-megapixel sensor.

Rather, HTC calls it an “Ultrapixel” camera. The story is that the sensor pixels are twice as big as they are in most phone cameras, which means they can gather more light. More light per pixel means better pictures in indoor lighting, at least in theory. In practice, I found the images to be better than those of other Android phones in low lighting, but not as good as those from the iPhone 5.

Google releases laptop

Google has come out with a high-end laptop running its Chrome OS operating system. The Chromebook Pixel has a high-resolution screen comparable to Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina display. Here’s how the two laptops stack up:

Price: The basic, Wi-Fi model of the Chromebook Pixel costs $1,299. One that can also access the LTE cellular network goes for $1,449. The comparable, 13-inch MacBook Pro with high-resolution display starts at $1,499. There’s no MacBook Pro with LTE.

Internet access: Both devices have built-in Wi-Fi.

Storage: The basic model of the Pixel has 32 gigabytes of solid-state storage, and the LTE model has 64 gigabytes. Internal storage is not expandable. The MacBook Pro starts at 128 gigabytes. Both Pixel models come with 1 terabyte of online storage through Google Drive for three years.

Display: The Pixel has a touch-screen display that measures 12.85 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 239 pixels per inch. The basic MacBook Pro has a 13.3-inch screen at 227 pixels per inch. A 15.4-inch MacBook, at 220 pixels per inch, is also available for several hundred dollars more.

Weight: The basic Pixel weighs 3.35 pounds, compared with the lightest MacBook Pro at 3.57 pounds.

Processor: The Pixel has a 1.8 gigahertz Intel i5 processor and comes with 4 GB of working memory. The cheapest high-resolution MacBook Pro has a 2.5 gigahertz i5 processor and comes with 8 GB of working memory. Both have Intel HD Graphics 4000 cards.

Battery life: The Pixel promises five hours of active use, while the MacBook promises seven hours.


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