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HTC One S smartphone review
What is it?
The mid-ranking Android smartphone from HTC's new One-series line.
Beats Audio across all apps, classy design and streamlined version of HTC Sense; good battery life.
Only 16GB internal storage.
The bottom line
An ultra-thin, high-powered handset that almost outshines the more expensive HTC One X.
It's difficult being the middle child. Your elder sibling gets all the attention thanks to their trail-blazing antics. They seem bigger, stronger and perhaps a bit smarter, their achievements casting a long shadow over your own. Meanwhile your younger brother/sister manages to impress everyone with simple skills you mastered years ago.
The One S is that middle child, sitting between the space-age One X and the entry-level One V in HTC's new One-series family of phones. It lacks the screen inches and quad-core pace of its bigger brother, yet it has more power than the baby of the family and a better design too.
It looks quite different to the One X, with a smaller 4.3-inch screen and a noticeably thinner profile. In fact at just 7.8 mm thick it's the thinnest phone HTC have ever produced, and only just beaten in the skinny-stakes by the Motorola Razr. But although it's a sliver of a phone it never feels overly lose in the hand thanks to its subtly angled edges. If you find the One X too big to hold comfortably or slip in your pocket, this is the One series phone for you.
The One S has an aluminium chassis which has apparently been subjected to 10,000 volts of electricity, a hocus-pocus process called micro-arc oxidation which we won't pretend to fully understand. The end result is a phone that has a cool ceramic toughness rather than metallic sheen (an alternative grey metal finish is also available).
HTC claim it is more resistant to scratches and scrapes than their previous phones, and although we've not put it through an extensive handbag spin-cycle, it certainly feels like it will withstand a good battering from your keys and coins. The red-ringed rear camera lens does protrude slightly, however, which could prove to be the chink in the One S's chassis over time.
Specs-wise, you're looking at a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 8MP camera and Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. That means the One S sits just below flagship phones like the Sony Xperia S and the soon-to-reach-these-shores Nokia Lumia 900, sliding onto the shelves alongside last year's big hitters such as the Samsung Galaxy S2 and HTC's own Sensation XE, which the One S effectively replaces. Internal storage is limited to 16GB and there's no microSD slot. But as compensation you do get 25GB of free Dropbox space with the phone.
HTC haven't quite been brave enough to opt for a virtual button interface found on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which runs on a pure version of Android 4.0. Instead the One S dishes up "home" and "back" touch sensitive buttons at the bottom of the screen, along with a third "app-switching" one. It's a system that generally works well, though the screen can look a little cluttered when Android 4.0's context-sensitive virtual buttons come into play.
Switch on the phone and the big difference between the One S and One X (other than their looks) is immediately apparent. Although the screen of the One S is more than adequate for most users, it is noticeably less sharp and vivid than the display of its bigger brother, or indeed the eyeball searing Sony Xperia S. In practice that won't make much difference when reading emails, tweeting or web browsing. But if you watch a lot of movies on your smartphone it might be worth shelling out for those extra pixels per inch.
Speed-wise, we couldn't see much difference between the quad-core One X and the dual-core One S. Whether you're flicking through a 3D roll-a-deck of recently opened apps, or browsing desktop sites or photos, the One S proves very nippy indeed. Lag and loading times were practically non-existent - not once did we find ourselves grinding our teeth while waiting to for Angry Birds Space to load.
It's likely that as more app developers take advantage of quad-core processors the differences between the One X and One S processors will become more apparent. But unless you like to have half the app drawer open at one time, or want to be sure your smartphone can handle all upcoming 3D games, you'll be more than satisfied with the speed of the One S.
HTC Sense has been streamlined for version 4.0, with fewer unnecessary visual flourishes complicating the user experience. You've got up to seven home screens to customise with full-screen widgets like clocks, calculators and social networking feeds, and creating folders or apps or docks is now a simple drag-and-drop affair. The ring unlock system allows you to jump straight into any of the apps or folders you've chosen to place in the home screen dock. Tons of customisation options are also available for power Android users.
The camera on the HTC One S is almost identical to that of the One X. It features an 8MP sensor and the HTC ImageChip - a physical chip dedicated solely to the camera. In addition, you're also able to take still images while recording full 1080p video; both the camera and video capture buttons are always on the right hand side of the screen, so it's simply a matter of pressing one or the other.
You can also take up to 99-images in quick succession, and elect to keep the best of these - a useful tool when photographing moving subjects. The low depth-of-field f/2.0 lens and auto-adjusting flash allow for good close-up and low-light shots, and there's an almost obligatory front-facing camera too. All in all it's a fantastic package, and one of the best cameras we've seen on a smartphone.
Indeed, the One S is fantastic all-round. We had no problems whatsoever with call quality or connectivity, and the battery was also pretty good for a smartphone: we still had a fair bit of juice left after a day of average use. Couple that with the excellent camera, sleek new HTC Sense 4.0 interface and premium design, and you've got a mid-ranking phone that could easily be a flagship one.
Camera: 8 MP, LED flash, simultaneous HD video and image recording
Video: Yes, 1080p@30fps, stereo sound recording, slow-mo
Display: Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 540 x 960 pixels, 4.3-inches
Dimensions: 130.9 x 65 x 7.8 mm
Weight: 119.5 g
Internal Memory: 16GB
Card Slot: No
Colour: Black / Grey
Audio Playback: 3.5mm earphone jack & loud speaker
Operating System: Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with HTC Sense 4.0
Processor: Dual-core 1.5 GHz
Battery Life: Standard battery, Li-Po 1650 mAh