HTC, 1.5GHz dual-core, metal chassis, qHD display, you'd be forgiven for thinking we were talking about the HTC Sensation XE, but no, this is the HTC One S, the latest mid range handset from Taiwan's mobile golden child. With no removable battery or expandable memory, many feel HTC are taking a step back with the One S, but we're here to explain how this phone is a nothing short of leap forward.
HTC One S: Design
Svelte, firmer, more taught, the HTC One S measures just 7.8mm thick. Despite being little more than a slice of phone, it also boasts a rigidity rivalling even the Nokia N8 thanks to its all metal unibody. This is HTC build quality at its best. If you're lucky enough to pick up the black version, you'll also be treated to a ceramic coating which gives the One S a rich, cold, soft touch feel adding grip and oooh to every touch.
Charmingly, the Gorilla Glass fascia slumps over the sides of the device like a Dali clock, all the while micro-drilled holes adorn the in-call and loud-speaker. Three simple capacitive buttons nuzzle below the screen, while the only other accent of note is the metallic ring surrounding the camera mount. Ours was a metallic scarlet O.
A micro USB slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack are the extent of the ports on the HTC One S, with a power button and a volume rocker being the extent of the buttons. This finishes off the aesthetic elegantly making for a phone fit for a pocket, a hand and our mobile design hall of fame - it really is that good.
HTC One S: Screen
The 4.3-inch qHD AMOLED panel on the HTC One S is bright and punchy with vibrant, saturated colours and good contrast levels. Having said that, it does suffer from a slight dotty fuzziness that pentile panels of old have - think back to Motorola RAZR and Nokia Lumia 800.
Interaction with the screen is flawless, 4.3-inches proves perfectly thumb-manageable given the slim chassis and blacks are endless. With solid viewing angles and brightness, while we certainly don't have another HTC One X on our hands in terms of display, we've got a respectable panel we could happily live with.
HTC One S: User Interface
We've reviewed HTC Sense 4.0 in our HTC One X review and the One S experience is virtually identical. Sense 4.0 is lighter, simpler and better. It offers a skinny hairline clock, customisable 5-icon dock and resizable widgets. These widgets look cleaner and operate more smoothly than those of HTC Sense 3.5 although they can still take a second to activate fully which is a shame.
Key UI elements have also moved towards the stock Android experience such as the apps drawer - now side-scrolling and the notification bar which has sacrificed the option to toggle settings in favour of a simple shortcut to the general settings. This is one Sense 3.5 feature we wish made it through to 4.0.
HTC has retained their lock-screen of old with two additional styles. The ‘Productivity’ lock screen indicates any missed calls, calendar events or notifications. The ‘People’ lock screen displays a grid of contacts who’s details can be expanded by dragging their shortcut into the central ring. These work well, reaffirming HTC’s lock-screen supremacy over other OEMs.
The task manager involves a 3D card system that, like Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) illustrates running apps in a suspended state. While this is more informative than the stock task-manager, the 3D effect HTC have used looks a little over-done and black cards with no information on them crop up now and then. We would have preferred the stock ICS task manager personally.
Without a doubt one of the best, most usable keyboards on any handset, the HTC One S QWERTY is well spaced and intuitive. Customisable, it also contains Swype style input which is initially hidden and can be activated in the settings.
HTC One S: Camera - Stills
As with the HTC One X, the One S features an 8-megapixel camera with an f/2 lens and a back-side illuminated sensor. It delivers fantastic results, especially in low-light with nicely saturated shots and an intuitive user interface.
As you can see from the sample images, across a range of scenarios, the One S offered great performance, with outdoor shots being high on detail, macro shots delivering sharp foreground and blurry background and indoor shots low on noise and riddled with ambience.
The effects included in the HTC One series camera UI are also fantastic, either applied through filters while shooting, or added post-capture.
Our one gripe with the camera would be that focusing wasn't as quick or as spot on as with the HTC One X. We had some trouble forcing it into macro at times which resulted in more than a couple of blurry shots, despite the camera being capable of stunning close-ups.
HTC One S: Camera - Video
Another surprise turnout for the books comes in the form of video. While the HTC One X delivers blisteringly sharp video with incredible auto-focus, with a frame-rate of 23 fps, it wasn't as high as we were expecting. That said, the HTC One S plays back at an impressive 29.23 frames in the clip illustrated below, and all this despite its slower processor / GPU.
The output looks solid with decent amounts of detail and respectable in-capture focusing. Not quite as sharp as the One X, but as mentioned, a markedly higher frame-rate.
HTC One S: Connectivity and Storage
Wi-Fi, 3G, GPS, Bluetooth, MHL, the HTC One S is well connected to say the least. We had no issues with call quality and HTC's custom toggles make managing your connections a doddle.
HTC's customisations to the browser make for a great web experience with the One S zipping through sites and streaming video without breaking a sweat. The option to view desktop versions of sites is appreciated and the overall interface look and feel is clean and simple.
With 16GB on-board and no expandable memory, it's unfortunate that only 9.6GB is available for user storage. HTC do try and remedy this with 25GB of Dropbox data bundled with each phone, however this might put off users who want a music library in their pocket at all times
HTC One S: Performance
Dual-core? Slow? Poppycock. We've seen it with the Sony Xperia S and now we see it even more acutely with the HTC One S - new-age dual-core processors leaving us wanting for very little if anything at all. With Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 processor, the One S benchmarked above any dual-core handset we've used and ripped through everything we threw its way with confidence and panache.
Battery life is fantastic on the HTC One S in stark contrast to the One X. We were able to get two days out of it which we haven't said for a high-end smartphone in far too long. That there was no noticeable effect on performance should reassure Qualcomm fans the world over that even in the face of Tegra 3, the Snapdragon S4 is a very competitive proposition.
HTC One S: Conclusion
All in all, HTC have thrown a spanner in the works with their One S. Despite not even being a flagship handset, it's our favourite phone of the moment. Build, interface and features are balanced incredibly well. Its design and power-management are class leading and while we would have rather it had an LCD 2 display like the One X, the AMOLED panel is still perfectly respectable and complements the black chassis beautifully. Given the choice between this and any other handset on market right now, we'd choose this - surely that's testament enough?