HTC One mini 2 review: petite luxury, for a price
HTC already offers a beautifully crafted Android smartphone with the One M8 – but for all its beauty, it sure is big. So for those who put a premium on pocket space (or pocket change) comes a smaller, cheaper alternative. The new HTC One mini 2 hits shelves this summer with a mission to bring the One M8’s high-end user experience to the midsize category.
But the landscape of mini smartphones is a pockmarked one, cratered with cut corners and dotted with disappointment. Is the One mini 2 truly something different, or just another compromise in disguise?
Let’s find out.
HTC One mini 2 Review Video
Specs & Hardware
If you’re like us, “compromise” will be the furthest word from your mind when you first lay hands on the One mini 2. Opening the box reveals a slender ingot of gently curved metal and glass, slightly cold to the touch. Not since Sony’s Xperia Z1 Compact have we encountered such a high-end feel in a midsize phone.
The One mini 2’s casing is 70% aluminum, with a plastic border that looks much better here than it did on last year’s One mini. It comes in the same three color choices as the one M8: Amber Gold, Glacial Silver, and the Gunmetal Gray of our review device (our personal favorite).
Truth be told, we like the design of the One mini 2 even more than that of its flagship forerunner. Without the Duo Camera around back, its lines are simpler, while up front HTC has restored the symmetry it lost on the M8, matching the look of the speaker grilles above and below the display. And despite being 15% lighter than the M8, the One mini 2 loses almost none of the luxurious feel: at 10.6mm, it’s thin but still grippable, its rounded corners as gentle to the palm as ever. For our average-size paws, it’s the perfect size for one-handed use. If you’re an iPhone user considering the leap to Android -or just suffering from jumbophone fatigue– this thing’s gonna get your attention.
If there’s a handicap with the build, it’s the buttons: The volume rocker sits naturally under the thumb but the power/standby key is still located up top, an inconvenient position given the absence of the motion unlock gestures of the One M8. And none of the keys has terribly good travel or feedback. Our review device is technically pre-release, so it’s possible HTC may solve our button complaints in the production version. The company isn’t likely to make the One mini 2’s aluminum backside any less slippery though, so if you’re a fumble-fingers, you’ll want to take extra special care with this one.
It’s on the spec sheet that the One mini 2’s midrange roots become apparent. At the phone’s heart sits a Snapdragon 400 system-on-a-chip, the MSM8926 build of Qualcomm’s mid-tier processor family. It’s backed up by an acceptable 1GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage (about 10.5 of which is accessible on first boot). Fortunately for media mavens there’s also MicroSD expansion here for up to 128GB of music and movies – or you can stream the same over HSPA/LTE or dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n everywhere WiFi’s available.
You’ll watch that media on a 4.5” Super LCD2 screen protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass 3 spanning the gap between the BoomSound speakers. The display is quite vibrant when it wants to be –and Sense 6’s palette provides ample opportunity for color-lovers to take notice– but it’s nothing terribly special on the whole. Blacks are somewhat milky, viewing angles aren’t terrific, and the 720p resolution is straight-up middle of the road. Still, keep in mind that those figures provide a pixel density of 326ppi, so we’re nowhere near bargain-basement territory with this screen.
Making up for that average spec sheet is an above-average software experience. Android is getting so good that stock 4.4.2 doesn’t need epic-level hardware to run well: witness the excellent Moto G, running on a similar Snapdragon 400.
What’s surprising is how well HTC’s custom UI runs on this hardware. In terms of depth and density, Sense 6 is one of the heaviest Android skins around – yet the day-to-day experience on the One mini 2 feels as fluid and quick as stock KitKat. Visually too, HTC’s modern flair is a welcome reprieve from the sameness of stock Android: the consistent visual cues across the core apps serve to unify the experience, giving the One mini 2 a fresh, modern edge that we really appreciate.
You get some added utility from the Sense customizations, too: during our testing, the HTC Browser came to the rescue more than once when Chrome couldn’t handle a particular site or a live video feed, and more than a year after its release, the BlinkFeed social/news stream continues to prove its worth on a daily basis.
While HTC deserves plaudits for approximating the One M8’s physical fit and finish with the One mini 2, we think its accomplishment in software is the greater one. It’s not a perfect experience –after a couple weeks, things like multitasking delays and app launch times do stand out as being noticeably slower than on flagship-level hardware– but those quibbles aside, using the software is just as much a pleasure here as it is on the One M8. And that’s a big deal indeed. (For a refresher on why that’s high praise, see our thoughts on the entire HTC Sense 6 experience in our One M8 review.)
Sadly, we can’t say the same for the camera experience. We’ll admit to a certain level of intrigue when HTC told us it had packed a 13-megapixel sensor into the One mini 2, a resolution 9MP higher than the UltraPixel shooter in the ostensibly higher-end One M8. On paper, it seemed like the elder incumbent was about to get spanked by its smaller sibling.
Then, an important thing happened: we started taking pictures.
See the above comparison –and Adam Z. Lein’s photo shootout– to get the whole picture. Despite its lower resolution, we’d take the One M8’s camera over the One mini 2’s any day of the week. There’s a variety of reasons for this, chief among them low-light performance, color balance, and contrast. The M8 just produces prettier pictures to our eyes.
Taken by itself, the One mini 2’s 13MP shooter is best described as “adequate.” Pictures in good lighting are fine: the camera defaults to 9.6 MP if you want to preserve a 16:9 aspect ratio, but you can manually crank it up to 13MP if you want all the zoomability that higher resolution provides (so long as you don’t mind shooting 4:3 photos). There’s no Duo Camera functionality due to the lack of a dedicated depth sensor, but such tricks are easily replicated with apps like Google Camera, and there’s no shortage of photo enhancements in HTC’s viewfinder software.
On the whole, the One mini 2’s pictures emerge looking quite flat. Colors are less vibrant than in real life, with brightly-lit areas tending to overexpose quite easily. Both problems are exacerbated by the phone’s too-aggressive HDR mode and the propensity of HTC’s exposure controls to dramatically overcompensate when using tap-to-focus, neither of which is a new problem.
Even without taking into account the excellent low-light performance of the One M8, Xperia Z2, or Microsoft’s Lumia line, night shooting with the One mini 2 is flat-out bad. That’s true even using the phone’s dedicated Night mode, which slows the viewfinder’s performance to a crawl, yet seems to have little or no effect on the dim and noisy end results (“duplicate” photos shown were taken with different shooting modes).
This seems as good a time as any to mention that the One mini 2’s camera module is the exact same one found in HTC’s Desire 816, which means that none of these observations should come as a surprise. Midrange cameras gonna be midrange cameras.
It is possible to take good photos with the One mini 2 – and it’s actually quite fun to try thanks to HTC’s excellent, feature-packed viewfinder. But it’s not easy. That’s true of the 5MP front-facer as well; it’s the same component found in the M8, but to our eye it shoots a hazier, slightly narrower photo. Of course, with the alien eyes made possible by HTC’s TouchUp feature, you hardly notice.
All this holds true for video as well, though as always, it’s easier to impress in camcorder mode. Slow-motion video in particular is a treat, but we wish the viewfinder was a little snappier when recording 1080p video to the MicroSD card: its stutter is a real distraction during smooth pans or when trying to capture fast action.
The One mini 2’s camera is by no means a horror story: we’re still quite taken with the way Sense presents photos in the Gallery, particularly with respect to Video Highlights, which never fail to make your life look way more exciting than it actually is. Those looking only to capture taxi-cab selfies and casual shots in the name of social check-ins will be happy (in the daytime, anyway). But those expecting the One mini 2’s added resolution to make up for the One M8’s lukewarm camera specs will find no comfort here. To paraphrase the 1995 epic Showgirls, “megapixels ain’t quality.”
Elsewhere, the One mini 2 goes back to impressing. HTC has ported the software-based BoomSound amplification engine from the One M8, a Beats replacement that brings some added “oomph” to playback through earbuds if you want it (or it can be toggled off for an oomph-less experience if you don’t). The front-firing speakers that make up BoomSound’s hardware component aren’t quite as throaty as the bigger chambers on the One M8, but they’re about on par with last year’s HTC One – which still makes them worlds better than anything else on the market.
That’s especially evident in gaming, which the One mini 2 also handles with aplomb. While the more intense graphics of some titles aren’t always available, gameplay itself is quite smooth with very few frame drops or skips. We’ve only been able to crash a game once (Asphalt 8) and only by running it immediately after another memory-intensive title (Sky Gamblers Air Supremacy).
Otherwise it’s been smooth sailing, and for fairly respectable spans: we’ve been able to consistently squeeze a full day’s usage out of the One mini 2’s 2100 mAh LiPo battery. Our heaviest usage came on a day that brought constant photo and video capture, heavy social media app usage, long-term web browsing, and even streaming HD video for an hour (over 3G); we were still able to break eight hours before powering down.
Keep in mind that this is no superhero power pack: it’s not too hard to run the One mini 2 dry if you’re using GPS navigation alongside a podcast-streaming app, which we did on a recent weekend drive. Mix in about 30 minutes each of light browsing and talk time, and you’re down to 30% after 4 hours. But that’s typical of any device this size – and these figures don’t take into account HTC’s Extreme Power Saver, which can add needed talk time in an emergency.
Speaking of talk time: two weeks of testing on AT&T’s 3G network in both NYC and Greater Boston haven’t turned up any problems with reception, and call quality is solid in both earpiece and loudspeaker modes. The phone is a pleasure to talk on We’re not able to test LTE performance, as the One mini 2 lacks the proper 4G bands for the US, but we expect that to change if and when the One mini 2 makes it to American shores.
+ Excellent build quality
+ Outstanding acoustics on all fronts
+ Smooth, reliable software
– Too pricey relative to competition
– Unimpressive camera
Pricing and Availability
The One mini 2 will launch in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and North Asia in June, and HTC tells us it’ll be available for about £360. That’s significantly cheaper than the £530 Three is asking for the One M8 at full retail, and the One mini 2 will certainly come in significantly cheaper upfront with a tariff/contract.
HTC did an excellent job replicating the quality feel of its higher-end offering with the One mini 2. It’s got the finest fit and finish of any “mini” Android smartphone, and it’s a phone we’d recommend to anyone looking for quality construction, a fresh and responsive software build, and best-in-class onboard audio.
That said, we do think the One mini 2’s price tag is a bit high. Some may point to the Lumia 520 and new super-affordable Moto E as hallmarks of the recent sea change in smartphone pricing, but a far more apt comparison here is to the aforementioned Xperia Z1 Compact. That device packs a much better camera, top-shelf hardware, and waterproofing to boot – and it’s on sale for less than HTC wants for the One mini 2. That’s significant, and it makes us wonder why HTC didn’t price this phone more aggressively, especially given given its camera, battery, and horsepower sacrifices. Interested buyers can only hope that wireless carrier discounts will make up the difference.
So on the whole, the One mini 2 is indeed a compromise, just like most of the mini flagships that came before it. But thanks to its top-notch construction and solid fundamentals, it’s one we can happily recommend – for the right price.