A history of HTC in 12 devices

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A history of HTC in 12 devices

HTC on Friday basically sold a huge portion of itself to Google, which is clearly hoping to use the company’s talent for hardware in its own push for self-branded devices. It’s the end of an era for a major company that has been a friend to Google and Android for a decade — perfect timing for a little retrospective on HTC’s many and varied devices.

Seeing these all at once is also an interesting lesson in just how much HTC loved the number 1. How many can you count in product names?

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2005: Universal

Back in 2005, smartphones were mainly business devices, not mass-market products — and Windows Mobile was king of the hill.

Well before Android was a twinkle in Google’s eye, HTC was deep in the hardware game. This interesting little WinMo 5 handset is an early ancestor of some of the little palmtop computers that briefly thrived in later years, but in another way was among the last of a breed: smartphones not influenced by the iPhone.

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2007: Touch (AKA Elf, AKA Vogue)

The Touch was notable for being one of the early phones supporting both touch and stylus. Unfortunately, it appeared mere weeks before the iPhone, which utterly eclipsed it in pretty much every way. It also was mere preamble for the iPhone’s then-nascent but now perennial enemy, Android.

But HTC had something up their sleeve there too…

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2008: G1 (AKA Dream)

The G1 or Dream was the first real Android handset — there had been prototypes leaked and so on, but the G1 was how most people first saw the new OS in action. Today this might seem like a strange piece of hardware on which to make such a high-profile debut: a hardware keyboard hidden under a hinged screen; five buttons on the face and a trackball that even in 2008 seemed like an anachronism; and let me tell you, that thing was thick and heavy.

You must remember, however, that in 2008 smartphones were still toys for hackers and gadget fiends. We wanted all those bells and whistles, and chided Apple for failing to include things like a back button or contextual menus. The G1 was aimed squarely at the nerds.

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G1 bonus slide

As a personal note, I’d just like to call out my G1 as having been an excellent phone. I used mine straight through until it was decommissioned (with Android 1.6). Man, I loved that thing. Things have come a long way since then, but I still think of it fondly and wish I had a working one today… just in case.

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2010: Evo 4G

With phablets like the Galaxy Note series pushing past the 6-inch screen level today, it’s hard to believe that back in 2010, HTC’s Evo made waves with a measly 4.3 inches. But at the time we all thought it was too big to live. Of course, now we know it as the grand-daddy of a whole class of phones. HTC skated to where the puck was going to be, though they forgot to include a decent battery.

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2010: Nexus One

2010 was a big year for HTC. One part of that was the company’s involvement in the new Nexus program, which had Google collaborating with a hardware company to make a sort of “official” handset. The Nexus One was a troubled device, however — HTC had given it an OLED screen that severely limited the number that could be manufactured, and as such the phone was extremely hard to get. Eventually they replaced it with an LCD screen just to get it into people’s hands. It’s remembered fondly by ROM hackers, who would support it for years to come.

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2012: 8X

Well, they can’t all be winners.

Now, that’s not to say the 8X was a bad phone. But Microsoft’s attempt to compete with iOS and Android was destined to fail, and with it went a lot of work from HTC, which embraced Windows Phone from the start. You can’t really blame either for trying, of course.

Unfortunately, not only did Windows Phone never really make a dent in the market, but Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia produced a sort of in-house hardware shop that HTC would have had to compete with. So the 8X muddled along, the right phone in the wrong place at the right time.

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2012: One

After a few years of relatively uninspired designs that were increasingly losing out to Apple and Samsung, HTC made a major push into the premium smartphone space with the One. Its construction was unibody aluminum, its internals were all the latest and it had a handsome 1080p 4.7-inch display, giving it even superior pixel density than Apple’s vaunted Retina displays. The front sported stereo speakers and the rear had the intriguing but ultimately disappointing “ultrapixel” camera that eschewed resolution for better sensitivity and color.

The One and particularly its successor, the One M8, were the darlings of the Android world for a time, but as the years rolled on it began to appear as if HTC had exhausted its design budget putting together the One. All its phones took on a similar appearance but with varying levels of quality. With increasingly fierce competition from Samsung, Sony, Huawei and others, these devices never lived up to the impact of their earliest forbears.

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2013: First

Back in these days, phone makers were trying hard to differentiate themselves by making their own launchers that sat on top of vanilla Android. HTC’s was among the more well-thought-out ones (loved the clocks!), but back then you could never have too many. So they collaborated with Facebook on the First, which covered vanilla with a thick layer of social networking.

This might have been good but for the fact that the Facebook launcher had all kinds of serious limitations, and even the biggest Facebook addict didn’t want to be on there literally 24/7.

The phone bombed, which is really too bad, because it had a lovely understated design and a great 720p screen. I bought two, for a total of maybe $160, and they were good to me.

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2014: RE

This strange little gadget indicated that HTC was feeling the need to branch out. And in 2014, everyone was all about GoPros and other action cameras — so why not make one of those?

The tubelike Re was made to be an alternative to pulling out your phone to take a picture. It had deep integration with a special app. It was waterproof. It only had one button. It was weird. No one bought it.

I’m starting to think there’s an inverse relationship with how cool the people are in your product’s promo photos and how well the product sells. How can anyone live up to the pressure of being a beautiful 20-something in a convertible blasting down the coast? Chances are this thing would be taking pictures of food 90 percent of the time.

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2016: 10

2016 was a year of reinvention for HTC, though with only partial success. The 10 is to the One what the One was to the earlier generation of HTC devices. Except now HTC had its life on the line. Fortunately for the company, the 10 is a great phone: excellent camera, good battery life, a nice screen and an evolved version of the unibody aluminum design that improved its handling.

Alas, the 10 struggled to sell well despite being a solid choice. Why, you ask? As is so often the case in consumer tech, no one really knows.

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2016: Vive

After the demise of the Re and a series of smartphones that didn’t really make a splash, HTC’s announcement that it was making a VR headset had some thinking the company had finally lost it completely. Compete with industry pioneer Oculus? In a market that’s barely gotten started? With a headset that’s even more expensive? Good luck with that.

Yet against expectations, the Vive has not only sold well (as well as can be expected, at least, given the VR market’s limitations), but it has generated considerable good will in the VR community as being, arguably, both technically superior to the competition and more open to creators.

The Vive is still a strong piece of hardware and it has been receiving regular updates — and we expected HTC to capitalize on its success with a follow-up. That hasn’t happened yet, but the Vive crew is pretty much all that’s left of HTC, and the company says it’s still committed to the product.

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2017: U11

In what may turn out to be HTC’s swan song, the U11 is, as we put it, “a good phone with a dumb gimmick.” Great build quality, an amazing camera, attractive styling… and you could sqeeze it to launch certain actions. Not that it doesn’t come in handy, but that’s really going to be your marquee feature?

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