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Android

HTC One mini 2 review: petite luxury, for a price

By Michael Fisher May 26, 2014, 3:00 am

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.

Video Review · Specs & Hardware · Software · Camera · Performance

 Pros/Cons · Pricing/Availability · Conclusion · Scored For Me

HTC One mini 2 Review Video

url: //www.youtube.com/embed/3CsjMSvMsKQ url: public://2014/05/sbs1.png alt: One mini 2 night mode vs One M8 night mode (Click to expand.) caption: One mini 2 night mode vs One M8 night mode (Click to expand.)

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.

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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).

url: public://2014/05/IMAG0047.jpg url: public://2014/05/IMAG0046.jpg url: public://2014/05/IMAG0045.jpg url: public://2014/05/IMAG0040.jpg url: public://2014/05/IMAG0013.jpg url: public://2014/05/IMAG0012.jpg

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.

url: public://2014/05/IMAG0054_1.jpg alt: Sorry. caption: Sorry.

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.

url: https://vimeo.com/96454932

 

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.”

Index

Performance

url: public://2014/05/htconemini2_performance.jpg alt: htconemini2_performance align: center

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.

url: public://2014/05/htconemini2_batt.jpg alt: htconemini2_batt align: center

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.

Index

Pros

+ Excellent build quality
+ Outstanding acoustics on all fronts
+ Smooth, reliable software

Cons

 Too pricey relative to competition
 Unimpressive camera

Index

Pricing and Availability

url: public://2014/05/htconemini2_avail.jpg alt: htconemini2_avail align: center

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.

Index

Conclusion

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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.

Index


Scored For Me

url: public://2014/05/OneMini2ScoredForMe.jpg alt: OneMini2ScoredForMe align: center

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