HTC One ultrapixel camera hardware & focusing defects: a tale of four phones
Since there are many threads about the focusing issues
with frustrated and desperate HTC One owners willing to try anything to resolve their issues, I wanted to share the following account, since it pretty plainly describes a situation where hardware defects are the most likely explanation and the out-of-box failure rate of Ultrapixel cameras is pretty high. This even seemed evident before the unit was on sale, as several review sites (see here
) had their review units pulled by HTC
and swapped with alternate hardware due to an "isolated hardware issue
" which in my case was seemingly not as isolated as they claimed, but is due to hardware more likely than not. See this video
for an example of the issue with pretty music and excessive production value.
I want to share this narrative as I'm in the perhaps rare position of having been hands-on with 4 units of the exact same type, seeing the defect side-by-side with properly functioning hardware, and seeing a 50% (small sample size, but 2/4 is pretty nuts) failure rate right out of the box. I work in mobile technology and dabble in photography, so I'm not uninformed in these regards. It seems most likely that there are build quality issues or perhaps a bad batch of the camera focus assemblies that are slipping through HTC quality control.
I ordered an HTC One Google Play Edition when they went on sale in the US (note that this should not have been an "early" device as production of carrier branded units had been up and in full swing for almost 3 months), and received a unit with a camera that consistently/always failed to focus properly. When I say failed to focus, I'm referring specifically to the same issue that many users have reported online
in this and other fora - the camera would focus up to 20" or so, but could not focus to infinity or gain a focus lock on anything farther than macro range. This was true right out of the box at 4.2, after receiving both OTA updates to 4.3, and after a factory reset on 4.3. At this point I called HTC, who said they were
aware of the issue and that it was software related, and they were "working on a fix" and were not issuing RMA's/repair orders for this defect and I would have to wait it out. Considering I selected this unit because of the camera, this was disappointing to say the least, as they were not standing behind the flagship feature on their flagship phone. I did not pursue things further with HTC and requested a warranty replacement from Google Play.
A friend also had ordered a HTC One Google Play Edition approximately 4 weeks after I did, and they received a unit that right out of the box took flawless photos and focus locked quickly and accurately every time. Right out of the box, but also after receiving both OTA updates to 4.3. Side by side photo shoots made the defect in my unit appallingly obvious, and given that their unit worked 100% from the get go and mine failed 100% despite both units having identical baseband, kernel, OS and build #'s, this seemed to be a pretty compelling case that similar to what the Hardware Zone reviewer above saw, that there was a hardware defect that was perhaps not isolated to a few review units.
At this point, I received a replacement unit from Google Play (note to those who purchased an HTC One Google Play Edition and are similarly afflicted with a non-focusing camera: Google may replace defective hardware if you call their support line and describe the defect being described here); this replacement unit was also defective in the exact same way. The camera would not focus on anything >20" away; pictures looked like abstract watercolors. Again, this defect was present right out of the box at Android 4.2, after receiving both OTA updates to 4.3, and after a factory reset on 4.3. Occam's Razor pointing clearly to a hardware defect at this point. Google Play support was understanding and willing to send a replacement for the replacement, and this third unit thankfully worked right out of the box.
Again, all units were ultimately running same kernel, baseband, build, OS, etc. Using the stock camera app, the issue was either 100% present or 100% absent right out of the box. I can't logically see this being a software issue, particularly when people with carrier-branded HTC One units are experiencing the lack-of-focus issues after the promised software update
One thing to note - the serial numbers did not indicate a bad run per se, as the serial of my original unit < serial of my final working unit < serial of my first defective replacement < serial of my friend's working unit.
Anyhow, if you are affected I know how frustrated you must be, and I would recommend you approach your carrier or Google Play to exchange the hardware, as I don't know if any software fix can remedy this problem and what I've personally seen suggests there are significant hardware issues affecting the HTC One units in the wild. The camera on this thing is great when working, and I just wanted to share in the hopes that this might help some others achieve resolution to a somewhat unclear situation (puns somewhat intended).