Like the Sony Xperia U we reviewed recently, the HTC One S is just one member in a family of three related devices. Unlike the Xperia U, which was the little brother, the One S fits into the middle of HTC\'s One series. The middle child slots between the single-core One V and the range-topping, quad-core One X, all of which we first had a chance to sample in February at their public debut at Mobile World Congress in Spain. All get Android 4.0 overlaid with HTC\'s Sense 4.0 skin, with the hardware being the differentiating factor. The phone went on sale in the US late in April, and recently saw a price drop to $99 on a T-Mobile contract, making it even more appealing. Until July 15, the handset is priced at just $25 at T-Mobile after a web discount and mail-in rebate. Our tester came hitched to Canadian provider Fido\'s network, however. Unfortunately, Canadian prices aren\'t so motivating (see above).
Thin and sexy The One S\' claim to fame is its thin profile, at just 7.8mm. The camera lens does stick out a few millimeters farther, however, and is conspicuous thanks to its anodized blue color. The main body is made of a microarc-oxidized metal, though some other markets offer a ceramic finish. With reports of cracking in some examples for these darker-colored, ceramic versions, we\'re glad Fido and other North American carriers opted for the Gradient Blue body. The two ends are capped with plastic pieces, with the top one snapping off to reveal access to the micro-SIM card.
Like on some vehicles, there is a bit of a different hue between the color of the metal chassis and plastic pieces, no matter what angle they\'re viewed from.
There are just three hardware buttons on the phone, with the power/wake placed on the top right and the volume rocker positioned further down on the side. The top button sits too flush with the body, making operating it a sometimes fiddly and time-consuming affair. The left side of the phone houses an uncovered Micro-USB port for charging and syncing. A VGA camera on the extreme right of the phone allows for video chats, checking out makeup, or taking self-portraits.
This being Android 4.03, the three capacitive buttons at the base of the display shouldn\'t be needed, but they do a good job of helping users navigate through the interface. The leftmost is the back button, the center one is the home button and the rightmost one opens up a list of recently used apps.
One tiny (literally) detail we liked is a minuscule LED hidden behind one of the holes in the speaker grill up top. It doubles as a notification light in orange and green when the phone is fully charged, for example. Overall, the hardware is solid yet light and fits in our pudgy hand rather well. One-handed operation is likewise comfortable.
Setting it up
We were glad to find out that transferring contacts from our iPhone 4S was a quick, PC- and wire-free process thanks to the Bluetooth 4.0 connection. Yes, it took a few tries to connect the two devices, but if the proper sequence is followed, it goes off without a hitch.
To put local content onto the handset, there are a few options available. One can download the 139MB HTC Sync Manager software, the install of which took longer than the download. Once set up, it offers an iTunes-like interface, though without a store to find apps or songs and no app management ability whatsoever. It also backs up content from the phone, including contacts, bookmarks, photos, videos, calendar entries, and notes.
Users can also just choose to mount the phone as a disk drive to the host PC and drag-and-drop files directly to a folder.
Themes, which HTC calls Scenes, can be selected with various backgrounds and layouts to emphasize the common usage of the phone. There are six to choose from, including a carrier\'s (Rogers in our case), HTC\'s, and four others dubbed Social, Work, Play, and Travel. The Travel one for example, replaces the clock and weather widget with four international clocks that show the time in Taipei, Tokyo, Barcelona, and London by default. It also includes shortcuts to Maps and the Internet browser on the home screen. They can be further customized, however, with shortcuts and background images.
There are also four Skins, or backgrounds available and all widgets can be placed on any of the seven homescreens.
The virtual keyboard makes it fairly easy to type with one thumb, though ours was a bit too thick for the skinny keys. In landscape orientation the large screen made it much easier, spreading across the width of the 4.3-inch screen. All our presses were met with a satisfying yet soft buzz from the haptic feedback.
The large, 4.3-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen is great to view from a distance and at a casual glance, faltering only when it comes to reading fine text, such as website content, due to its 540x960 resolution. An HD screen, like the 4.7-inch panel offered on the HTC One X, should be considered by those who regularly use their devices for reading a lot of e-books. Watching local high-def and YouTube videos in High Quality was impressive on the One S, however. Gaming was also impressive and lag-free, with the large screen offering lots of real-estate for our thick fingers.
The dual-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor did a good job of handling any task we could throw at it, including 1080p video playback. Some HD formats required downloading third-party apps, as the native player wouldn\'t support them.
How-to articles preloaded onto the handset familiarize users with all of its functions, and despite looking through them, we couldn\'t play local content on our connected PS3 from the One S. Luckily, Google Play offered a quick solution with a free, third-party app.
The Beats Audio-certified speaker left us wanting, however, but only compared to our reference iPhone 4S. It can\'t overcome its rear placement and small physical size. When making voice calls, we experienced a slightly noisy connection, potentially due to excessive noise cancellation—a little fake, metallic, squelching from the person I was talking to.
Capturing photos and videos The eight-megapixel ImageSense camera with an f/2.0 lens is pretty cool in that it offers a lag-free shutter, like in Samsung\'s Galaxy Nexus and some others. It also lets users capture still images while simultaneously recording 1080p videos for those can\'t-miss moments. While the shutter is silent during shooting as far as we\'re concerned, reviewing the video after does result in some faint clicks in the audio, at least in an environment free of ambient noise. By default, the camera shoots videos in qHD or 960x540 resolution, with four other options available (320x240, 640x480, 1,280x720, and 1,920x1,080).
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Pressing the video camera on-screen button automatically turns on the video camera feature, as the shutter is then used for capturing photos during the recording. The camera\'s colors could be more accurate and small details sharper, but it is after all a cellphone camera. Its performance was slightly above average compared to other Android devices, however, while slotting below that of the iPhone 4S.
The camera app wouldn\'t launch at one point in our tests, though this was after downloading a third-party media sharing app. Restarting the phone resolved the issue, however.
Wireless media sharing is possible thanks to Media Link HD, though that requires a DLNA-compliant HDTV or HTC\'s Media Link HD wireless adapter. Not having the required hardware, we can\'t tell you how this works. A third-party app did allow us to share local content with a Sony PlayStation 3, though we imagine this wasn\'t as smooth and easy to use as the Media Link feature. HTC promises the ability to play local content on the big screen while using the phone\'s screen to perform other functions such as browsing the web.
We dig the preloaded HTC Car app, which gives users an in-car interface with clear, large buttons on that big screen for music, navigation, phone, and Internet radio apps, along with a central time and weather display. It also turns on Bluetooth and the GPS to speed up wireless connections and navigation. It can also be set to automatically launch when connected to a car dock and auto-connect to Bluetooth devices.
The handset is quick, subjectively, but it also posts decent numbers, with a Vellamo score of 2,408, beating all other devices the app compared the phone to, including the HTC One X and One XL, Transformer Prime Tablet, and even the Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Tab 10.1 and ASUS Transformer. In the Nenamark 2.3 test, it managed a score of 60.6, bettering the Galaxy S II, Droid X, and Eee Pad Transformer Prime. The graphics benchmark that is Qualcomm\'s NeoCore 3D netted an above-average 60.3 fps.
The AnTuTu Quadrant v2.8.3 test resulted in a total score of 6,983. It\'s broken down into 3,323 for the CPU, 1,568 for the GPU, 1,297 for RAM, and 795 for I/O.
As for network data speeds, the phone managed to reach 1,320kbps download and 418kbps upload speeds on Rogers\' 4G network, while there was 64ms of latency.
Summing it up The One S is a great all-around smartphone, with a sleek body that\'s likely to please its owners. The large screen is prone to scratches, however, so we\'d recommend applying a screen protector at one\'s earliest convenience. While that trick oxidized-metal body is said to be durable, the plastic end caps seem to be less so. The way the SIM card and camera cover delicately snaps into place also has us concerned over the mechanism\'s longevity, as one light drop would likely snap it off. The larger, more powerful HTC One X may be a good step up for those who need even more performance and a more vibrant screen for multimedia consumption. It is significantly costlier, however.
Comfortable to hold
Great screen with good-from-far quality despite being non-HD
Still photo capture during HD video shoot
HTC Car Widget
Long battery life Cons
Non expandable local storage
Dodgy call quality
More screen pixels would be nice
Plastic end caps look vulnerable in the long run