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Review: HTC One S
Prasad Naik
July 23, 2012
First Published: 12:54 IST(23/7/2012)
Last Updated: 17:22 IST(23/7/2012)
HTC One S

The baby brother of the HTC One X, the One S took its own sweet time to arrive in India. Unlike its old brother, the One S does not boast of a quad core processor or a HD display. But what it lacks in sheer horsepower, it aims to make up with its ultra thin body, which is one of the thinnest around and definitely the thinnest in HTC's entire product portfolio. But will just a thin body be enough to win customers over? Let's find out.

Design

The HTC One S has an absolutely stunning aluminum unibody design. The phone is just 7.8mm thick, only slightly more than the Motorola RAZR, which is 7.1mm thick. Unlike the RAZR, however, the One is much narrower, almost by 4mm, which is instantly noticeable when you hold it.

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I cannot stress enough how amazing this phone looks and feels. The phone looks great in pictures but is even better in person. I'm not a huge fan of ultra-thin phones because they are often too wide and dig into your palm but this one just feels perfect to hold, unlike the bigger One X, which can be quite a handful at times.

The phone is also beautiful to behold. Unfortunately, we only have the grey colored model in India and the black model with the microsecond oxidation is not sold here.

The phone features a unibody aluminum shell that forms most of the back and the sides. The only other bits include the two plastic caps at the top and bottom on the back and the display on the front.

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The earpiece on the front uses the same finely drilled holes as seen on the One X. The holes are drilled into the body itself and are not a separate part that has been tacked on. A small detail that might get unnoticed is that one of the holes actually has a tiny LED indicator. While it's a nice touch, the LED is so small that that it's hard to see, thus defeating the purpose of its existence.

Next to the earpiece is the front facing camera. The ambient light sensor and the proximity sensor have been smartly hidden in the glass areas just below the display. Below the display you will find the three navigation keys.

The display area seems to flow gently onto the sides, but unlike on the One X, where the glass itself flows onto the side, the One S has a flat glass on top with another black glossy piece of plastic on the side to create the illusion of glass flowing onto the side.

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On the right side is the long volume control keys that fall perfectly underneath your thumb when you hold the phone. On the left side is the microUSB port. On top is the headphone jack, power button and a secondary microphone.

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The plastic portion on top hides the SIM card slot. All you have to do is slide your fingernail at the slit at the top and then just pull it apart. The One S uses a micro SIM slot, like the One X. Unfortunately, there is no microSD card slot on this phone and the battery is also non-removable. Near the bottom of the phone is the loudspeaker that does not get muffled even when you keep the phone on its back.

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Overall, I'm extremely pleased with the design of the One S. I had high expectations with the phone when I saw the design and I must say the phone managed to exceed them. It's just a wonderful bit of design that makes using the phone thst much more special.

Display

The HTC One S has a 4.3-inch, 960 x 540 resolution Super AMOLED display. The display uses the infamous PenTile matrix layout, which means each pixels has either RG or BG sub pixels instead of the usual RGB sub pixels on regular displays. This is basically the same display found on the Motorola RAZR.

Although much fuss has been made regarding the sub pixel layout of the display I found it to be almost a non-issue. The display on the One S definitely shows signs of slightly rough looking fonts, where each letter instead of looking like one flowing character looks like it is made up of multiple pixels and this most noticeable when looking at white text on black display. Having said that it is so minor that unless you specifically go looking for it or compare it with a significantly better display, such as the one on the One X you will never be bothered by it.

This issue apart, the display on the One S is gorgeous. The colors are slightly over saturated but look great nonetheless. The white balance is proper, the viewing angles are great and the black levels are fantastic as is usual for an AMOLED display.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the display on the One S. It might not be as awesome as the one on the One X but it still gets the job done very well.

Hardware and Software

The HTC One S internationally comes with a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor but due to the shortage of this chip HTC had to fall back to the previous generation S3 processor for the One S in certain markets. So now we get the Qualcomm MSM8260 instead, the same basic processor found in the Sensation and the Sensation XE but this time it has been clocked to 1.7GHz.

Now this partcular processor is no slouch but the MSM8260A that it replaces is in a completely different league altogether. That is actually one of the fastest mobile processors out there, at times even outpacing the NVIDIA Tegra 3 in the more expensive One X. It also runs on the newer 28nm architecture, which means it will run cooler and consume less power.

Speaking of memory, the One S has 1GB of RAM, 2.21GB of internal memory for your apps and 16GB of storage space out of which only a disappointingly low 9.93GB is available to the user. This is one of the major weaknesses of the phone, where the memory is just too low for all the things the phone is capable of doing. What's worse is that there is no memory card slot, so you can't increase it either.

On the software side the One S runs on Android 4.0.3, Ice Cream Sandwich. Although HTC has not announced any plans of upgrading to 4.1, Jelly Bean yet considering that there are not a lot of major differences under the hood it would take them less time to upgrade than it did for ICS.

As usual the phone is running HTC's Sense UI on top. I have expressed my disdain for it in the past and I still think it's not as good as having stock Android 4.0. Still, given the choice between Sense and what the other Android OEMs are doing I'd rather go with HTC's implementation. At least HTC seems to have some taste when it comes to redesigning Android.

Performance

As mentioned before, despite being an older generation processor the MSM8260 under the One S is no slouch. The performance of the phone was always satisfactory, whether you are browsing the web, going through your photos, watching a 1080p movie or playing a 3D game, the One S will not disappoint you.

Performance in other areas was pretty good too. The earpiece was loud, the loudspeaker was surprisingly loud for such a thin phone and the network reception was pretty good as well. The One S comes with the Beats Audio that has now become synonymous with HTC phones. As usual the Beats Audio only works when you have headphones plugged and is available system wide, so every time you play audio on your phone from any app and if you have headphones plugged in you will get the Beats Audio option in the notifications tray, from where you can quickly enable or disable the feature.

There were a couple of strange things on this phone though that we did not see on the One X. For one, you only get the Beats Audio effect in the music player whereas the One X had a whole bunch of other equalizer presets available. Secondly, in the video player, if you disable the Beats Audio effect the phone automatically switches to HTC audio enhancer, so there is no way to have clean, untainted audio unless you use a third party app.

Then again, you should be using a third party video player app. The One S is capable of playing videos in 1080p resolution but the stock player in the Gallery app will only be able to play some of them. Using a third party player such as DicePlayer ensures you get to watch a wide variety of formats on your device.

Camera

The HTC One S has an 8 megapixel camera that is identical to the one on the One X. I wasn’t quite impressed with the image quality on the One X because it was a high-end smartphone but the One S is a rung below so I don’t mind the quality that much.

The image quality isn’t bad as such. Sure, the images are a bit grainy and the dynamic range isn’t great but they are still of pretty good quality, especially on the One S. It’s just that the One X was competing with phones like the Galaxy Note and the iPhone 4S that had set the camera quality bar much higher. The One S has no such competitors to worry about. It’s closes rival, the Motorola RAZR has a fairly middling camera in comparison.

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What it loses in terms of image quality, the One S wins back by having an excellent camera application. The application is well designed and has some really good features, such as the ability to instantly record a video from the main screen without having to switch to a separate video mode, take photos while recording videos, a very effective HDR mode and several effects that you can apply while taking a picture.

The One S also has the famous burst mode from the One X’s camera. It’s just as fast as on the One X thanks to the dedicated image processing chip HTC called ImageChip. What I particularly like is how fast the shutter is, with practically no lag from the time you click on the button till the image gets saved.

Battery Life

I was curious to see how the battery performance was on this particular version of the One S. The original One S with the Snapdragon S4 processor is based on 28nm technology, which is much more power efficient. The S3 inside the Indian One S is based on the older and less efficient 45nm process and it has been overclocked to 1.7GHz. On top of that the battery size has remained constant.

Thankfully, there was no major issues with the battery life on the One S. Our review unit managed to easily last for a day on a full charge. Even during our video playback test, the One S lasted for six hours on a full charge while playing a 720p movie on loop.

Overall

I really enjoyed my time with the One S. There is a lot to love here. It looks great, it feels great, it has a great display, it’s fast, has a great camera and the battery life is pretty good too.

Unfortunately, due to some insane reason, HTC has priced the One S out of contention. At Rs. 33,590, the One S is ridiculously expensive and even though it is a great phone it still can’t justify that price tag. What’s worse is that you can get the even better HTC One X by spending just about Rs. 3,000 more.

As such it is difficult to recommend the One S to anyone unless HTC drops the price below Rs. 30,000.

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