HTC lost a lot of ground to Samsung and other companies over the past year or so, and is trying to make up the difference with its One series. The One series includes the One V (the “value” model with the “chin”), the One S (for the “mid-range”), and the flagship One X.
HTC’s One line represents a refreshed focus on the software experience and build quality. Like we mentioned in our HTC One V review,, choice is good. For a higher-end smartphone, is the HTC One S a good choice? Read on to find out!
The HTC One S ships with Android 4.0.3 and a 1.5GHz, dual-core Qualcomm MSM8260A Snapdragon CPU with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage (up to 9.93GB available), but offers no microSD slot for expansion.
Unlike the One V, the One S has a VGA-quality (640×480) front-facing camera, and an 8MP rear-camera with single LED flash (F2.0 28mm lense) which can record 1080p video at 30fps, but comes pre-set at qHD (960×540).
The HTC One S looks great and is cast from a solid block of aluminum. This member of the One family features a flat design — no “chin” here. The display is 4.3 inches at qHD 960×540 resolution (making for a very respectable pixel density of 256 ppi) Super AMOLED. The phone is available for both T-Mobile USA and in an unlocked European version.
Also inside is Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, DLNA, and aGPS and GLOSNASS, and is capable of HSPA 42 Mbps. The phone weighs 119.5 grams, and is just 7.8mm in depth. Powering everything is a 1650mAh battery.
Like the others, the One S has a “borderless” glass screen and Ice Cream Sandwich’s three buttons as “always there” capacitive areas at the bottom.
Unfortunately this doesn’t necessarily save screen space, since many apps make use of the ICS “menu” button, which requires the soft button bar to show up, and this single button takes up the entire row.
The display, a Super AMOLED panel at 960×540 resolution, is large but not too big. With an estimated a pixel density around 256 dots per inch, text and images are sharp on the One S’ display, and color saturation and contrast are very good. Outdoor visibility is impressive. The only downside is that the resolution is qHD, not 720p HD like the Galaxy Nexus.
The rear is aluminum, which adds a feeling of “heft” and quality to the phone, and is cool to the touch. Back here we can see the 8MP camera, plus the removable panel at the top.
Removing the back panel we reveal the microSIM slot. Absent, however, is a microSD slot for extra sotrage. We suspect most users will be fine with the internal 16GB of storage, which is similar to that of the unlocked Galaxy Nexus.
On the top you’ll find the 3.5mm headphone jack, a mic for noise cancellation, and the power button.
At 7.8mm, the One S is a little slimmer than the Galaxy Nexus, but a little thicker than the Droid RAZR. The smooth lines give the impression of a gently curved screen, similar to the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, but the screen itself is perfectly flat.
Like we’ve mentioned previously, HTC has made a lot of beneficial changes to Sense in version 4.0. Although it’s greatly improved, there’s still room for more (Dear HTC: Here’s How to Fix Sense).
Unlike the One V, the One S sheds the stock Android Ice Cream Sandwich task switcher UI for a more “webOS-like-panel-switcher-3D-thing”. It looks nice, but it’s significantly slower and adds extra hesitation and time to something that’s supposed to be quick.
Another difference between the One V and One S is in the Sense keyboard. The V sheds the directional buttons on the bottom, whereas the S includes them.
One place where we wish HTC had toned Sense down for the One S is in the widget-adding screen. The One V sputters at this task, and the One S still lags, but doesn’t exhibit the graphical anomalies like its sibling does.
The One S includes the somewhat helpful Leap feature that lets you pinch to see a zoomed-out view of all of your panels, and easily add and remove panels.
Like the other HTC One devices, the One S has Beats audio, which is essentially a third-party audio equalizer. It becomes available when you plug in headphones. While it does noticably improve the quality of the audio, it’s more a marketing point than a noticable improvement when using headphones. Where Beats Audio really shines is when you plug into a quality speaker system. Bass was deep, highs were clean, and music sounded absolutely amazing — as long as we were playing it back on mid- to high-end speakers. Otherwise, you probably won’t notice any difference.
Like the other phones in the One family, the One S comes with 25GB of free Dropbox storage for two years. Like iCloud, Dropbox will automatically upload your images (and videos too!) to the cloud, making them available across all devices that have the Dropbox app (which is available for literally every platform now). Unfortunately, after the the two years is up you’ll have to pay Dropbox for the storage.
Although the HTC One S is a “mid-range” phone, the benchmarks scream! With its dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU and 1GB of RAM, testing proved that this is one very, very fast phone! Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem all that fast in everyday use. Sense adds time and lag to what should be a much faster experience.
Here’s a look at the benchmarks, which are some of the fastest we’ve seen:
Smartbench 2012: Productivity 3046, Games 3373
LinPack Single Thread: 100.739 MFLOPS, 0.82 Seconds
LinPack Multi-Thread: 216.517 MFLOPS, 0.78 Seconds
HTC describes the One S as having a camera capable of shooting “stunning photos”. The truly stunning part is how fast you can start taking photos or video. This is one place where the phone’s high-end hardware really shines. You can take photos while you’re recording video, there’s a great burst mode that lets you choose the “best shot” out of many, and there are on-the-fly video effects.
Like the others in the One family, the picture and video quality are good, but not great.
We were surprised that the One S comes pre-set to qHD video recording.
Default Video Recording Settings: qHD
Maximum Video Recording Settings: 1080p HS @ 30fps
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
Unlike the Galaxy Nexus which works great on AT&T and T-Mobile, the One S doesn’t support all the bands necessary for full-speed data in the U.S.A.
We tested the HTC One S on AT&T, even though it’s intended for Europe. Over HSDPA we were able to clock download speeds of about 3.22Mbps and upload speeds a bit over 1.08Mbps, which isn’t anything remarkable — but again, this phone was not intended to work on AT&T.
We also tested the HTC One S on T-Mobile USA. Alas, it was only able to eek out EDGE speeds of 125Kpbs down and 142Kbps up.
In terms of call quality, the One S fares especially well as a phone. Calls were crisp, and unlike the HTC One V, the volume on the earpiece was amazingly loud and clear. The speakerphone was one of the best we’ve used.
The HTC One S has above-average battery life, thanks in part to its 1650mAh battery. It will last through the day with moderate use, but you’ll need to plug in to make it all the way through the night.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The One S is available from Clove for around US$670. A T-Mobile USA version of the HTC One S will be available soon.
+ Aluminum unibody feels fantastic in-hand
+ Good battery life
+ Camera software is innovative with a fast shutter
+ Relatively inexpensive
– Performance is sub-par, especially in the browser
– Camera is good, but not great
– No NFC
– Non-removable battery
Overall the HTC One S is a fabulous phone and has wonderful hardware. It does what it needs to do and it’s got fabulous benchmarking scores.
Unfortunately, Sense slows that experience down and makes the phone feel slower than it should. Combine that with the other items we’ve noted and we give the HTC One S 3.5 out of 5 stars.