HTC ONE S

It doesn’t have a giant screen or 4G speeds, but HTC’s One S smartphone still packs plenty of strength under its extremely slim bonnet. Is this svelte smartphone overshadowed by its One series brethren, or does it punch above its weight?

 

There are three things which immediately grab you about the design of the HTC One S as soon as you pick it up. And all three are positive.

The first is how thin it is. HTC describes the One S as its “thinnest phone yet” and at 7.8mm, you’d be hard-pressed to find a phone on the market which is thinner than this one. When we picked up the One S for the first time, we couldn’t quite believe how thin it was. If you put four credit cards together and pressed them tight, you’d get a profile not dissimilar to the One S.

This is a phone which, despite its 4.3″ screen size, will fit easily into quite small pockets. It will slip unnoticed into handbag, and we suspect it’s the kind of model which a fashionable socialite like Paris Hilton might like to slip into the back pocket of their jeans without it creating a big extra profile. We love that smartphones have gotten this slim.

The second aspect of the One S which bears mentioning is its materials, which are quite peerless. The front is composed of the now industry standard Corning Gorilla Glass, but it’s the side and back casing of the One S which grabs attention. The smartphone’s anodised aluminium simply looks incredibly smooth and stylish, and it fades from a light grey to a dark from its top to bottom, delivering an incredibly classy and stylish look which is well suited to a trendy wine micro-bar in Sydney’s financial district. As with the iPhone 4/4S, the One S’s solid feeling in the hand completes this feeling, to make its design stellar.

The last thing you’ll notice about the One S is the size of its screen.

Although the smartphone isn’t that much physically larger than the iPhone 4S, being about a centimetre longer and a few millimetres wider, it has a much larger and longer screen at 4.3″ compared with the iPhone 4S’s 3.5″ screen. This is due to the fact that the One S’s screen extends almost to the edge of its casing, with only a few millimetres on either side to contain it, and components such as a small speaker grill above it and the usual Android control buttons below it. The One S’s screen is the major feature here, and highlighted so well by HTC. Everything else is secondary.

Aside from these hero features, the rest of the One S’s design is pretty standard HTC. You get a microUSB port on the left-hand side for charging and synching with a PC, a volume rocker on the right-hand side and a 3.5mm audio jack and power on/off button on top. As usual, the camera and flash are on the back. All of this is trademark HTC, and very minimalist — there’s nothing extra which the majority of users won’t use.

Overall, the One S’s design is stellar. The quality of its materials, its dimensions, its minimalism and class all combine to make it one of the loveliest little smartphones we’ve had the pleasure to play with for some time. We’re sure you will like it too. [/tab]

With a few substantial exceptions, the One S’s featureset is very strong.

The One is similar to many new smartphones released in Australia in that it ships with version 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) of Google’s Android operating system — a step up from the previous version 2 (Gingerbread) which most current Android phones in Australia are sold with, but not quite up to par with the latest Jelly Bean version. On top of that is layered version 4 of HTC’s Sense user interface overlay.

The One S features a powerful 1.7GHz dual-core CPU and features a 4.3″ Super AMOLED screen; smaller than the 4.7″ of the One X and XL but still large for a smartphone (Apple’s iPhone, for example, has a 3.5″ screen). That screen runs at a resolution of 540×960 pixels, for a pixel density of 256 ppi, and is covered with Corning’s Gorilla Glass.

The smartphone measures 130.9 x 65 x 7.8 mm and weighs 119.5g. It comes with 16GB of storage space and 1GB of memory. Its camera is an eight megapixel model which also supports taking 1080p video at 30fps. The One S has a VGA front-facing camera for video calling, and integration with the Beats Audio technology common to the One line for quality sound when listening to music or consuming other multimedia.

What extra features would we have liked to see baked into the One S? Well, there are two which would elevate it beyond its current strong position and into the stratosphere: 4G speeds and support for Jelly Bean.

Telstra this morning revealed that it now has some 500,000 4G customers and would be expanding its 4G network to two thirds of Australia’s population by mid-2013. Optus also has some 500 4G towers already and is rapidly expanding. In this context, it seems a bit dated to buy a non-4G smartphone in mid-2012, and we expect a number of great new 4G models to land in Australia shortly. This is one factor significantly holding the One S back.

The second upgrade we’d like to see to the One S soon is Jelly Bean, the next version of Android. We’ve been playing with Jelly Bean on the Nexus 7 tablet released by ASUS and Google recently, and this is one Android upgrade which really makes a huge difference to the usability of the operating system. In particular, we love the ‘Butter’ project which has made navigating around Android as smooth as that proverbial sandwich topping. We can’t wait to see it come to HTC’s One series, and with Jelly Bean, the One S would be a much more attractive smartphone.

As a minor last point, although we don’t care about it personally, we know a lot of readers won’t buy a smartphone without a microSD card slot. The One S doesn’t have one — which will rule this model out for some people.

However, in general, the One S delivers a very strong featureset to the modern smartphone buyer. There is little missing here, and a lot to like. The One S is a powerful smartphone with a very modern featureset.

There are three factors you’ll want to know about when considering the One S’s overall performance: User interface and applications, camera and battery life. And it’s safe to say that the smartphone more or less delivers on all three.

With its 1.7GHz dual-core CPU coupled with 1GB of memory, Ice Cream Sandwich and Sense 4, the One S’s user interface was always going to be speedy, and it delivers in practice. You’re not going to have any problems opening whatever Android applications you want here, and any games you want to run are also going to perform fine. In addition, unlike its lower-powered sibling, the One V, the One S’s screen is large enough to not suffer any problems with small fonts. Everything looks lovely and whizzes along smoothly.

The One S’s battery is also pretty solid. It’s no iPhone 4S or Galaxy S III (we’ve been particularly impressed by the battery life of those two models), but you’ll probably get a couple of days out of the One S with moderate use before needing to recharge, as opposed to higher powered models like the One XL, which need to be recharged basically every day. The One S also tended to last longer than most of our test models when left on a desk unattended for a few days — although it will definitely run out of juice before a week is up.

GSMArena has published a sophisticated analysis of the One S’s battery life suggesting that the phone’s weakness is in web browsing, with it performing amongst the top ranks of smartphones for video use and voice. In any event, while you’ll need to keep an eye on its battery, this isn’t the sort of smartphone which will die at the drop of a hat.

In terms of its camera, we were very impressed with the One S’s eight megapixel model. It takes very crisp, clear, colourful shots both close-up and of landmarks in the distance. We’re more than comfortable using our personal One XL for most of our casual photography needs and you’ll get the same experience from the One S. Like all of the recent HTC models we’ve tested, the One S’s camera tends to make faces look a little red on-screen, but that usually gets cleared up when you upload the photos to a PC. In short: Don’t worry about the One S’s camera — you’ll be pleased with it, for both casual photos and videos.

If it’s not clear by now, let’s put it on the record. We really liked the HTC One S, and it’s one of the best smartphones released in Australia so far in 2012. We would only rank it below the One XL (because of its 4G speeds) and Samsung’s Galaxy S III (because of its improved user interface, quad-core CPU and microSD card) in terms of an overall rating, and it’s also at least on-par with the One X, which is the equivalent of the One XL, but without 4G speeds.

There are also a number of reasons to prefer the One S over those models: Namely, if you don’t need 4G speeds, and you do want a smaller profile smartphone without the giant 4.7″ or 4.8″ screens found on other models in the same class. Plus, the One S’s thinner profile and lovely design make it a stand-out all on its own.

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