- BoomSound/Beats audio is excellent
- Expensive at launch
The HTC One mini is about to hit store shelves, offering up consumers a slice of that great HTC flagship Android user experience in a more affordable, more compact package.
HTC One mini review: Design & screen
The most distinctive element of the One was its eye-catching aluminium clad design and thankfully, much of that same DNA has been distilled into the HTC One mini.
Being a smaller device, the One mini is able to adopt a skinner aesthetic, particularly from the front where the display is sandwiched between incredibly thin edging either side along the bezel. Above and below the display sit the same metal ‘caps’ as on the One, complete with micro-drilled holes for the HTC BoomSound front-facing stereo speakers.
The back of the phone actually looks tidier than the flagship it’s inspired by, primarily as a result of fewer split-lines used in the integrated antennae arrangement. The majority of the back is made up of a curved, milled aluminium plate that feels both luxurious and comfortable to hold.
The outer edge of the phone is the One mini’s biggest design weakness, with a glossy white plastic band reminiscent of the iPhone 4 bumper, banding the edge of the device and cheapening the otherwise high quality feel. The volume rocker and power/lock key utilise a chromed finish with the power/lock key positioned somewhat uncomfortably on the top left as opposed to top right. The IR blaster functionality has also disappeared due to the mid-range status the One mini holds.
The 4.3-inch 720p HD display sits snugly in the centre of the One mini’s frontage and looks great from every angle. The S-LCD2 tech on the One mini is nothing short of excellent, with colour balance, contrast and viewing angles creating an immersive, clear image. Thanks to the 4.3-inch panel size, pixel density is wonderfully high too (at 349ppi).
It’s also worth mentioning that as a 2013 handset, the One mini features to same two back and home capacitive key arrangements underneath its display.
HTC One mini review: Operating system & performance
The three key elements that make up the Sense 5 UI are the homescreen, the apps drawer and HTC BlinkFeed. BlinkFeed, which is set as the primary homescreen by default displays informative content from a myriad of predefined news sources as well as a user’s own social feeds. Although HTC is keen to push BlinkFeed as a key selling point of its 2013 handsets, it won’t suit every user and despite the fact it can’t be removed, it can at least be hidden if desired.
The default homescreens offer up enough room for up to 16 app apps (excluding the four docked apps at the bottom of the screen), or alternatively a varying number of widgets, meaning there’s plenty of room to populate up to four black homescreens. Customising homescreens is simple enough, with a single menu offering up all the shortcuts and widgets you’d ever need. It’s an elegant system that user’s shouldn’t find too confusing, however tech-literate they may be.
Pressing the menu button at the bottom brings up the apps drawer, which displays a 3×4 or 4×5 grid of apps, depending on user preference, as well as the ever-present monochrome clock/weather widget at the top. Apps can be sorted into folders on the apps drawer for further organisation too and there’s even a shortcut to download more apps from the Play Store, handy.
Running the Android 4.2.2 revision of Sense 5 out the box, new additions like a two-tier notifications bar also feature, allowing quick access to a myriad of settings without having to open the full menu. The whole thing is designed to be quick to use and simple to understand.
HTC One mini review: Camera – Stills and video
The primary camera on the back of the HTC One mini uses the same 4-ultrapixel sensor technology debuted by the HTC One earlier in the year, the only key difference being a lack of inbuilt optical image stabilisation.
Absence of OIS aside, both picture and video quality is very good. Taking in low light is the camera’s biggest strength, with poorly lit conditions still yielding pleasing shots, a by-product of the larger pixels that give the ultrapixel sensor its name. In bright environments, like previous HTC cameras, images have a high probability of over exposure, but colours still look appealing and vivid. Macro too is just as accurate as with the original HTC One. The only real shortcoming is that fine detail is a little lacking across all shooting environments, no doubt as a result of the relatively small 4-megapixel resolution sensor.
The One mini can also capture up to Full HD video without much trouble, although the lack of OIS is apparent with footage adopting the slight shaking from handheld filming. It copes well with movement and colour but also has a tendency to actively hunt for focus a little too frequently for our liking.
Running Sense 5 the HTC Zoe feature also comes as part of the imaging experience and thanks to the Android 4.2.2-based version of the UI, the ZOE system automatically creates short clips based on an event’s stills and videos, complete with soundtrack.
HTC One mini review: Multimedia & storage
The 720p HD display and HTC BoomSound stereo speakers work in unison to create an impressively immersive media viewing experience on the One mini. As a result of independent drivers powering each front-facing speaker, sound quality is excellent, offering high quality stereo sounds that’s both loud and clear.
Some new Sense 5 features augment what you’d expect from the typical Android media experience, with HTC’s Zoe’s box of tricks offering up the aforementioned automated edits and that cut together a day’s snapping and filming into 30 second clips to share on a whim. What’s more, if music’s more your thing, the Gracenote integration makes an already beautiful fullscreen music player a pseudo karaoke machine too; with real-time highlighted lyrics.
Although the media playback offerings of the One mini are certainly rich, the unibody design chokes the option of expandable memory, leaving you with 16GB (about 9GB of which is actually user accessible) of fixed internal storage to divvy out between music, photos, documents, videos and apps.
HTC One mini review: Connections & battery
There’s no denying that the One mini is indeed a well connected handset, a look at the quick settings menu alone gives you access to WiFi, Bluetooth (4.0) and WiFi hotspot functionality, as well as the option to toggle mobile data on or off, which can be set to max out at 2G, 3G or 4G speeds based on your network and your needs.
As was mentioned earlier, the power/lock key on the One mini’s top not longer doubles as an IR blaster, as such denying users access to the Sense TV app complete with TV guide and remote functionality that can be found on the HTC One. Another missing piece of connectivity is NFC, an odd omission, perhaps excluded in the pursuit of keeping costs down, but one that typically has helped set the latest mid-rangers apart from last year’s predecessors.
The 1800mAh battery is surprisingly efficient, comfortably seeing the One mini through a day, even with 4G and WiFi use chopping and changing throughout the day. Being one of HTC’s most recent handsets, the One mini also has inbuilt power saving options to prolong battery if needed, accessible from the quick settings menu.
HTC One mini review: Conclusion
The HTC One mini certainly looks the part, but does it deliver? Absolutely.
It’s not perfect, but this more pocketable take on the HTC One is a joy to use and offers users a rich smartphone experience that its rivals may find hard to beat. The size of the device better suits one-handed use and the design retains a flagship appearance for the most part.
The multimedia experience is bested only, perhaps, by the flagship HTC One from which this phone takes its name and the general feature set out-the-box should keep most users entertained for some time.
The Sense 5 overlay might have a few features that some might not see great use for, such as HTC Zoe or BlinkFeed, but having the options help set it apart from competing UIs.
At a snip under £400 (around £390) off contract, the HTC One mini’s price tag isn’t quite so small for the moment, but this puts it right inline with that of its main rival, the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini, which offers more powerful internals but a weaker audio/visual experience. Other more affordable LTE-savvy alternatives include the Sony Xperia SP and the Nokia Lumia 820.