In an attempt to scale down the number of products in its series, HTC has included just three smartphones in its "One" collection. Each runs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and features a new-and-improved Sense interface. Following the One X, a high-end smartphone with a Full HD 4.7-inch display, we introduce the One S, the mid-range edition in the series. The One S has a non-HD 4.3-inch display, 16 GB of non-expandable memory (which in the end boils down to about 12 GB for the user) and an 8-Megapixel camera that films in 1080p.
Replacing the Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor of the One X, this amply equipped smartphone contains a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 and 1 GB of RAM. How does the HTC One S perform in relation to its price tag? Answers below...
Hardware & Design
Visually, there's no question that the One S hails from the HTC design table. Slightly curved like the One X, it should have no trouble appealing to fans of the Taiwanese company's style. The finishing had all the makings of an exemplary smartphone, but... while the aluminium body feels nice, it didn't take long for us to notice its incredible sensitivity to scratching. After only two days in my purse it had collected a considerable number of scratches to the exterior (see above photo). So that's one point against the One S. As the company has pointed out, the surface is much more resistant than a number of other materials on the market today, but esthetically speaking, what is it going to look like after three months of use? (Please note: we have brought up the issue with the manufacturer, and they are sending us a new copy from the "for distribution" stock. According to HTC, there was indeed a defect during manufacturing, but the copies that were delivered to retailers for sale do not contain this flaw. We'll check up on this and revise our review once we have received the new phone.)
Also off-putting was the fact that the MicroSIM card slot is difficult to get to. Couldn't they have used the same iPhone-inspired system as the One X?
The One S is light (116 grammes and barely 8 mm thick) and fits perfectly in the palm of your hand—even more so than the One X, which is bigger and wider. Contrary to the One X, the One S is easy to hold and navigate on all with one hand. Needless to say, it also fits better in your pocket.
The three touch-sensitive keys below the screen aren't erratic like those on the Sony Xperia S; mistakes are less common. And thankfully so. We still like the LED that lights up when you receive an email, text message, etc. Why isn't this on every smartphone?!
Following in the footsteps of Apple and, more recently, Sony, the One S uses a MicroSIM card, has no microSD slot for expandable memory (12 GB, which can be scant for users who consume a lot of multimedia, HD movies and the like) and doesn't let you access the battery, which is non-removable. A great deal of consumers have been complaining about this feature of the iPhone. It looks as though a trend is forming... A trend that Samsung may not intend to follow with its imminent Galaxy S3 announcement.
Compensating for the non-expandable memory, HTC is offering all One S owners 25 GB of storage space on Dropbox for making simple transfers via PC (the first two years are free, after that you have to pay).
With 960 x 540 resolution, the One S has a lower pixel density than the One X, iPhone 4S and Sony Xperia S. And the difference is visible onscreen. There's less detail and you can see the pixels (although you have to squint like Clint Eastwood to see them). When you're looking at a web page in standard format the text is difficult to read. The zoom function quickly becomes a necessity, as the characters aren't quite clear enough to make out.
While it gives lower brightness levels than the One X, the One S, like any self-respecting Super AMOLED smartphone, has infinite contrast. This makes black hues very dark, with lots of depth. That's another point in favour of the One S. But does that mean that the colours are über-bold and highly contrasted, even outrageously so (which is one drawback to AMOLED screens)? No, sir. With a delta E of 5.5, the screen has nearly as good colour accuracy as the One X (delta E of 5). The tones are fairly neutral on the whole, although they do slightly tend towards blue. So it isn't perfect (perfect colour accuracy would be delta E < 3), but it's pretty darned close.
Naturally the screen is multitouch, but on the default settings it only works with two points. For "true" multitouch, which can be handy when playing certain video games, for example, you have to change the settings in the menu.
Interface & Responsiveness
For all things Android ICS-related (including the thick layer of Sense 4.0, whose esthetic style many users enjoy), please see our review of the One X. Both phones have the same menu navigation features, which have become more coherent than the previous versions of the interface.
Whereas the One X is endowed with an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, the One S runs on a new-generation Qualcomm chipset: a Snapgradon S4 with "only" two cores. Is this a problem? Not at all. The One S is a highly responsive smartphone that offers overall smooth navigation. In everyday terms this means that programmes load quickly, apps and widgets open lickety-split, web browsing is smooth and video games run as they should.
Basically, it functions to a T—although the most demanding games only work on the One X's Nvidia platform. Video game developers have been hounding away to create exclusive 3D games to capitalise on the Nvidia Tegra 3's graphical performance.
Let's just say that as things stand today the S4 dual-core chipset has nothing to envy of the Tegra 3 quad-core and that the user experience is more than respectable. What's clear is that to date no application runs any better or faster on a quad-core CPU than it does on an S4 dual-core... barring a handful of video games. So if you're planning on playing the few, most advanced smartphone games on the market, you'll definitely want to go for the One X, which also has a bigger and better screen.
For all you benchmark and stats fiends, the figures we ran in our labs gave the Nvidia chipset a slight advantage in terms of graphics performance, although the Qualcomm was still one of the top in its class (the iPhone 4S came in first, then the One X, the One S and the GS2 right behind). As for computing power, the Qualcomm processor fares just as well, if not better on certain benchmarks, than the Tegra 3. It's also worth mentioning that with the S4, the One S doesn't heat up the way the One X does when running video games, for example.
With its 8-Megapixel camera and F/2.0 28 mm aperture, how does the One S compare to the One X? The answer is: very well. It has a very good camera function that allows you to snap shots at will. We're glad to see that HTC didn't downgrade the One X's camera for the One S. The interface has a plethora of options (self-timer, scene mode, automatic white balance, HDR, several "vintage" filters, panoramic mode, slow motion video...) and the camera is quick to shoot and save. That means you can take rapid-fire shots to capture all the best moments with family and friends. Like its higher-end counterpart, the only real drawback is that there's no physical "shoot" button on the body, which can be a problem for a good number of users.
The One S's screen may not be as impressive as the One X's (in size and pixel density), but web browsing is nonetheless very enjoyable. Even pages with a lot of content load quickly and the Favourites and History functions were well thought-out. As said in our last review, we still have a soft spot for Google Chrome's mobile browser, which you can find on Google Play and which we feel is more user-friendly.
The video player is compatible with a number of different file formats (such as MKV, DIVX and XVID) and it's quick and easy to decompress a film in 1080p. And to support more exotic formats you can just download a "real" multimedia player (like MX Player) from the Store.
The micro-USB port is MHL-compatible (adapter not included). There's no micro-HDMI port for transferring content to a larger screen, but you can instead use the USB/MHL solution or Wi-Fi, thanks to the DLNA standards. This method allows you to do things like grab content from a multimedia hard drive. Quite practical.
The volume goes a bit louder than the One X (which was already high) without deteriorating from the sound. The speaker saturates less, even at full volume. While the speaker isn't exactly the ideal way to listen to music, voices come out great, which is handy for having conversations hands-free. As for the Beats Audio equaliser, it doesn't add much in terms of quality.
Is it the "mere" dual-core chipset and lower-resolution display that give the One S a slightly better battery life than the One X? That's safe to say. The One S can easily hold out all day long with "normal" to "heavy" usage (browsing, e-mails, phone calls and texts), whereas the One X tends to let go a little earlier in the day (even with the latest update that improved its battery life).