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Key Takeaways

  • HTC played a significant role in the smartphone industry, helping to kickstart the Android platform and reshape Google's approach with the Pixel lineup.
  • The Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 was a notable early HTC phone, featuring an impressive display and a keyboard with a distinct sliding action.
  • The HTC One M8 and HTC 10 were standout phones from HTC's prime era, featuring sleek designs, innovative features, and improvements to the camera and user interface.

We've come a full decade down from the peak of prominence for a well-respected - perhaps even what you could call legendary - Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer named HTC. That wasn't an exciting name by any means, but the devices that came out of the company helped it become greater than the sum of just the words "High Tech Corporation."

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HTC helped to kickstart the entire Android platform, stood out on its own with a polished UI, then a series of pure lacquer One phones, and then fell into obscurity while helping to reshape Google's approach with the Pixel lineup. We've rolled down the tracks of the firm's history before, but here, we're focusing on 10 of what we think are the greatest phones to have ever come out of HTC. We won't be ranking these phones strictly based on merit. Suffice to say that the HTC One M7 and One M8 usually contend among critics for best of all time - and, spoilers, only one is on this list. Instead, we'll shine the spotlight on phones from three specific (though overlapping) eras and the aspects that made them so notable and even loved.

Our "approach" highlights 10 great HTC phones, focusing on their contributions across different eras (early, prime, and for Google) rather than strictly ranking them, to showcase how HTC's innovations have significantly impacted the smartphone industry.

The best HTC phones of the early era

While HTC has immense street cred in the Android realm, we can't forget that the company was also a prolific name in the Windows Mobile and Windows Phone ecosystems, too. It also had a hand as a white-box manufacturer in kickstarting at least one particular company's smartphone lineage.

1 Sony Ericsson Xperia X1

Quirky Windows Mobile phone


Yes, believe it or not, Sony Ericsson left it to HTC to launch what is now solo player Sony's highfalutin' Xperia smartphones series - the catch here is the Xperia X1 was highfalutin' all the way back in 2008. It had an impressive 800 x 480 display, which, on a 3-inch display, brought a level of definition that was fairly rare on a mobile phone. The X1 also sported a keyboard that, according to our testing back in the day, had a "distinct, crisp, and quality sliding action", much like the HTC's pioneering and satisfyingly clacky Android device, the T-Mobile G1 with Google. And much like the phone that was also known as the "Dream," the keyboard itself was mushy, cramped, and far from premium.

Windows Mobile had a few quirks that device manufacturers tried to smooth over with shortcut buttons or extra layers of software. Unfortunately, the X1's Optical Joystick was too fiddly to navigate with precision and the D pad-esque controller rocker the joystick was embedded in wasn't that much better. But Sony Ericsson's multitasking panels made sense - the overall paradigm hasn't changed much across time or operating systems - and its media playback apps were so much easier to use than Microsoft's own.

Fifteen years on, and we're still talking about Sony Xperia Android phones with some enthusiasm and frequency at Pocket-lint. Not so much with HTC anymore, even though it does have new phones out in 2023.

2 HTC Hero

Debut of Sense UI for Android


In competing against iOS, Android stripped away many of the hardware controls we were used to seeing in Windows phones and enabled some striking candybar designs, including HTC's very own Hero. While other phones had raised chins, this one was built on a solid Teflon foundation and had some personality to boot. Most importantly, though, was the debut of Sense UI for Android, replete with the combo flip clock and weather widget and the graphical furnishings that covered up some of the barer spots of the base OS and went further in adding themeable elements, too.

Android was definitely growing on its own with a lively Android Market of applications and seemingly constant dot-dot version updates, but phones like the Hero and OEMs like HTC helped propel the platform to better features, better looks, and to more people.


Chonkster with a 4.3-inch screen


On hardware alone, the HTC HD2 was known primarily as a chonkster with its market-first 4.3-inch screen, but it was taken on the whole as a competent device in spite of Windows Mobile. But its legacy lives on in the hearts of modders as the phone that could never die. You see, this Windows Mobile 6.5 device was released on the cusp of Windows Phone 7's launch, but Microsoft ultimately denied the HD2 that update as it didn't meet a number of what could be argued as arbitrary spec requirements. The company told APC (via Internet Archive) at the time the phone lacked specific feature buttons and other hardware components. It wasn't a good look for either HTC or Microsoft. What was one to do?

Why, they could take charge! The HD2 allowed users to flash ROMs from its microSD card slot, so if you could compile a build that could reconcile your choice of operating system with the phone's components, you'd be able to use Windows Phone 7, MeeGo, Firefox OS, Linux, even Android all the way up through to version 7.0 Nougat via Cyanogenmod (via Pocketnow) on this unkillable slab. Even to this day, on the forums of our sister site, XDA-Developers, you'll find tweakers proudly showing off their HD2 running 2009-era Ubuntu.

Let it never die.

The best HTC phones from its prime

The first few years in the landscape of Android phones saw volleys one month and salvos the next as it became clear that Android would be the leading contender against the iPhone. Product release cycles went lightning fast as manufacturers catered to wireless carriers who were pushing 4G (and the need to buy a new phone) in earnest - this meant the same essential chassis being packaged up in different ways and sold as network-locked "exclusives" to the likes of AT&T, Verizon, Telus, Rogers, Vodafone, O2 - you can insert your own brands here. HTC, however, gradually began narrowing down and refining its product strategy starting in 2012, delivering some of the best material builds it ever put to market.

4 HTC One S

The One series is here


This one may be a little controversial to those who were around for HTC's first in the One series of phones that would go on to carry the company through the middle of the decade. The 2012 entries consisted of the Nvidia Tegra-powered One X with an unabashedly plastic body, the cost-conscious One V with an aluminium unibody and a lacklustre spec sheet, and, right in the middle, the One S.

It, too, had an aluminium unibody, but the rear surface came in two finishes: a black colourway treated with micro-arc oxidation for a granular feel (which was more prone to chipping, according to XDA-Developers forum contributors) and an anodized silver look. While unfortunate, the overall design language of the hardware gave the One S complementary curves in all the right places. While it was a step-down from the One X in prestige, it oozed the best vibes out of the trio.

5 HTC One M8

Fully aluminium attitude


2013's One M7 introduced us to HTC's fully aluminium attitude, but it was the One M8 that added friendlier curves and an added degree of chic that made it plainly irresistible to pocket. BoomSound speakers became a call to fame, and the Super LCD technology of its display was getting its flowers for providing a more colour-balanced 1080p picture than Samsung's early AMOLED products. Sure, the UltraPixel camera (now with an added depth sensor) has never exactly been a safe choice, but in the age before, mobile phone cameras could even be called "good," capturing as much light as possible was a good tack to take. Sense UI 5 simplified and flattened all of the custom elements it was applying on top of the late-stage Android Holo aesthetic - that said, if you thought it hip to be square, you could get an HTC One M8 with Windows Phone 8.1 out of the box, too.

I personally got entangled with the One M8 Harman/Kardon edition after winning it in a sweepstakes - I was also subscribed to Sprint, but that's a completely different story - and it was a lovely bit of kit with a black-and-gold colour combo, double the normal storage, and a thicker, heavier body. That heft came in handy after the phone fell from my pocket while I was biking and hit asphalt - no cracks to the display glass at all! The added audio heft wasn't particularly impressive, but the Harman/Kardon name did give me a couple of extra bragging points back when people noticed my phone and asked about it.

6 HTC 10

Admirable comeback


HTC was left carrying the bag in 2015. Or, instead, it's One M9 that took the first heat of the Qualcomm's scandalous thermal management problems with the Snapdragon 810 (via XDA-Developers). Add in some stagnancy on the part of designers and engineers, and the phone flopped. If this underdog player had any relevance, the iPhone 6S and Galaxy S5 were quashing it.

The HTC 10 marked an admirable comeback from this nadir. The company went bolder on its aluminium unibody design by doubling down on the chamfers in the rear, almost to the point of calling them bevels. After a disappointing non-UltraPixel camera in the One M9, the one on the 10 was a much-needed course correction. And Sense UI, which was beginning to outlive its usefulness, was freshened up once more to make navigation and theming easier.

This was a step back from the brink, but it seemed as though the brink stepped back with HTC.

7 HTC U11

The last stand


The U11 was the last stand for HTC's wonderful engineering department. Out with metal, in with glass. The company came up with a treatment called "Liquid Surface" that was somehow able to streak different colours across the striations of that glass as to reflect - keyword: reflect - a fiercely vibrant, constantly changing appearance as you spun the phone around in your hand.

Unfortunately, the rest of the phone was bound to fade into the background. In its attempt to keep up with gimmicks coming from other manufacturers, HTC brought a custom AI assistant into Sense UI and added pressure sensors for an added physical interface it dubbed "Edge Sense" that could trigger a shortcut. Other HTC hallmarks, while doing well in their own right, weren't advancing in a meaningful way - Super LCD, for example, seemed to be at its limits of what it could provide versus OLED panels.

Come the start of 2018 and, Google would close on an acquisition of HTC's hardware department. We haven't seen any stunners since then.

The best HTC phones made for Google

Speak of the devil; it's well known Google was more than happy to come back to HTC time and again for Nexus and Pixel devices so that sale of the workforce might have been a natural move to some observers if not an inevitable one.

8 Google Nexus One

Quintessential Android phone


This was the quintessential Android phone of 2010. And make no mistake; the Nexus One was centered on Android and not the other way around: we're talking about four navigation buttons plus a trackball. That's a control surface endemic of the transitional period away from many buttons and towards having just one - even home buttons would begin to die off in a few short years. All of this was wrapped up in a lovely, compact plastic body and topped off with a poppy display. Early bird buyers were able to experience the Nexus One with an AMOLED panel that was bright and sharp, if a bit off with colour reproduction, but most others had to settle for the more efficient Super LCD after supplies ran dry.

The Nexus One was a showcase for software. By design, the hardware had its back at every turn.

9 Google Pixel

Death of Nexus


2016 marked the death of Nexus and the birth of "Made by Google," though HTC was the one behind the curtain for not just the Pixel and Pixel XL but the Pixel 2 as well. In fact, it would've made the Pixel 2 XL as well before LG was tasked with it. Supposedly, those blueprints were recycled to bring the U11 to life. It's not exactly clear if that Liquid Surface treatment was meant to be the Pixel's alone or if Google had decided to go forward with a prototype device.

The fusion of metal and glass at the back coupled with a striking blue hue let the original Pixel phones make a great first impression, but the occasional QA mishap here and there - including one I reported on for our sister site Pocketnow - would also give us a first taste of how badly Google handles return merchandise authorizations.

10 Google Pixel 3a

Google absorbs HTC hardware


After Google absorbed HTC's hardware staff, the unit went straight to work developing what would become the Pixel series' first budget-tier device, the Pixel 3a. Rick Osterloh, the company's hardware chief, would confirm this fact with The Verge. So, what does the living legacy of a quality phone maker do with a cost-conscious remit?

Come up with a solid two-tone plastic body, an AMOLED display that holds up nicely against its bigger sibling in the Pixel 3, and carry forward a tried-and-true camera that just plain works. After all, it's Google's software team that was able to round the 3a out with reliable Android experiences and an IV of new features. Taken together as a whole, the Pixel 3a became a big enough deal that, in my opinion, allowed Google to stand out on its own as a real phone brand. And that's about as good of a lasting note as the phantom of HTC could ever write for itself.