[Device Review] T-Mobile HTC One S Review
The Not So Good
Storage size aside, I consider the HTC One S a winner. I elaborate on the storage issues at the end of my HTC One S review, but when you account for the just right Goldilocks size, its bright and vibrant screen, solid build quality, fantastic camera, blazing processor and network speed, and comparatively decent [...]
Storage size aside, I consider the HTC One S a winner. I elaborate on the storage issues at the end of my HTC One S review, but when you account for the just right Goldilocks size, its bright and vibrant screen, solid build quality, fantastic camera, blazing processor and network speed, and comparatively decent battery life, you’ll more than likely be happy with this phone if you were to go pick it up today. If the 4.8″ screen of the Samsung Galaxy S III is not your thing, this phone has nearly identical internals to T-Mobile’s new flagship phone, with the screen resolution, RAM and physical size being the only real differentiating factors. The One S only has 1gb of RAM vs the 2gb for the Galaxy S III. You’ll probably find fairly similar performance between the two devices. But if you really hate Sense or Touchwiz, beware that both phones are pre-loaded with the manufacturer’s skin rather than a stock Ice Cream Sandwich experience. Since we’ve already reviewed the UK’s version of the One S, I’ll try to cover more of what’s changed since the phone has made its journey over to the US.
When I first took the phone out of the package I immediately noticed not only how much lighter it was than any device I’ve ever held, but just how much thinner it was! Pictures don’t really do it justice; I honestly don’t know how they’ve stuffed phone internals and a battery inside this thing. Although Dave covered this topic, I just don’t think it can be stressed enough. I’ve never understood the draw of having the smallest, slimmest device on the block until I used this phone. When you put it in your pocket and you can’t even tell it’s there, you know it’s crazy thin. The One S features a sturdy metallic unibody design that makes it easily the most solid feeling phone in recent memory.
Stacked top to bottom: T-Mobile G2 (2010), T-Mobile One S, Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Everything about the build just screams quality, and it’s immediately obvious just how much care HTC put into the design:
- 4.3″ Super AMOLED screen at qHD resolution (960 x 540 pixels)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor at 1.5GHz
- 16gb internal storage
- 7.95mm ultra-thin aluminum unibody design
- f/2.0 8MP back side illuminated camera with HTC ImageSense technology
- 1080p 60fps HD video recording
- Beats audio integration
- Wi-Fi calling capability
- DLNA & HDMI (MHL) video out
- Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich with new HTC Sense 4.0
At first I was afraid that the pentile qHD resolution on a 4.3″ screen would make me wince after having used the Galaxy Nexus with its 4.65″ 720p HD screen. My initial reaction was “Eww I can see pixels,” but that initial feeling only lasted a few minutes, and while using the phone at a normal distance (read: NOT trying to inspect how many pixels I could count) the pixel density really doesn’t bother me. There are plenty of other phones on the market with a higher pixel density, but I can overlook that in favor of the consistent brightness factor, excellent readability outside, and virtually no ghosting, unlike nearly every Motorola phone from 2011. In short, the pentile display on this phone doesn’t seem to suffer from the same issues.
Call and Sound Quality
I found very few problems with call quality when using the One S. Initially I encountered some weird static. I’m not sure if that was a network issue or the person on the other line, but it happened with more than one caller. After that first day however, everything seemed to sound better, with reception generally being full bars in nearly every area I went into, including the inside of buildings. I also found that the One S gets lots of 4G reception and rarely ever slips into the dreaded 2G depressions that seem to permeate every crack and crevice of buildings everywhere.
Speaker quality of both handset speaker and loudspeaker were excellent. I often find loudspeakers on phones have poor volume quality, but the One S is just about as loud and clear as I would want. I never struggled to hear the person on the other end when using speakerphone. The Bluetooth volume is a different story though. My standard Samsung headset was very quiet on the One S in comparison to other phones I’ve used with it. Even with the volume at the loudest setting, I had trouble hearing the caller on the other end while I was driving on the highway.
Music playback is solid with the One S, and the included Beats Audio feature boosted the bass just as advertised. Whether or not this makes your preferred music genre actually sound better is for you to determine; it was hit or miss for me. Even within the same genre some albums or artists sound better with it on, others were better with it off. Overall the phone sounded as good as a dedicated MP3 player on the sound systems I hooked it up to, and I had no complaints about the music volume levels or quality.
Battery Life and Network Performance
When HTC announced that the One series would have non-removable batteries, and that those batteries wouldn’t be larger than removable batteries a la the RAZR MAXX, reactions were understandably tantrum-like. However I can happily report that, even with only a 1,650mAh battery, the One S makes it through a full day’s use without the need for that mid-day recharge. Because of its lack of internal storage (which I’ll get to later), streaming content from the Cloud is a necessity with this phone. As such, the network reliability, speed performance, and overall battery life related to those tasks must be efficient. My normal daily routine gave me 16 hours until I hit the 14% low battery warning, but it still lasted me throughout the night. During heavy use I was only able to muster about 8 hours out of the battery, but light use kept the battery at a cool 64% by the end of the day.
After doing speed tests in multiple areas of the greater metro Orlando area I found that T-Mobile’s 4G claim is mostly true, with a few exceptions. On average I would see about 10-12mbps download and 1-1.5mbps upload in most areas. This is a far cry from the quoted 42mbps+ that T-Mobile has been pushing with this phone, but it’s also possible that they haven’t upgraded my area at this point. Speed seemed to be slightly higher in urban areas than rural areas as a whole.
This is easily the best camera I’ve seen on an Android device, which puts it in the top tier of all smartphone cameras for sure. Sporting an f/2.0 8MP back side illuminated camera, you know you will get good pictures with great lighting, better contrast between dark and light areas, and an overall clearer picture than most smartphone cameras I’ve seen. HTC has spared no expense when it comes to the lense and the sensor here, which is clearly apparent when you take pictures or video for the first time. My only concern about the design of the lense is how it protrudes out of the body. The lense may be prone to damage if it is not kept in a soft pouch or cover. There is a raised metal ring around it, which may protect it from scratching against another surface, but anything protruding from that surface is likely to hit that lense before it hits anything else on the camera.
General device performance can be summed up into one word: blazing. I only felt the phone stutter a handful of times in rare situations. Apprehensions over switching from the Tegra 3 quad-core chipset found in the European variety of the One series phones to the dual-core Snapdragon S4 should be completely assuaged. Using the Quadrant scores from our UK One S review shows that the Snapdragon S4 is neck-and-neck performance wise with the Tegra 3.
left: T-Mobile One S (Snapdragon S4/Adreno 225), right: the international HTC One S (Tegra 3)
Multi-tasking initially looks incredible, and with the dedicated multi-tasking button on the phone and the excellent interface that HTC has crafted, everything is butter smooth and quick to respond to loading up. Now there is some real controversy as to how HTC has modified Android’s built-in multitasking system. There seems to be more reloading of applications than there should be, which I found to be a nuisance when moving back and forth between any application that doesn’t handle shut-down very well. You’ll find more app reloading than necessary because of this, and it gets annoying if you use more than one program on your phone at a time. There are scripts out there that appear to fix this, but it’s really a shame HTC did this disservice to its customers by breaking the excellent multi-tasking system already built into Ice Cream Sandwich.
left: Multi-tasking, right: HTC’s poor memory management often closed even the home screen
Software and Wrap Up
Our full Sense 4.0 review will be posted soon, so check back then for my thoughts on HTC’s redesign of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. One thing I would definitely switch out right away is HTC’s keyboard; the thing is downright awful. Sure it features a Swype-like functionality to make one-handed typing faster, but the layout combined with the text prediction left me constantly wanting better. I did notice that the text prediction improved considerably after using it for some time, but it’s still one of the most unfriendly keyboards I’ve ever used.
The biggest problem with the One S that I haven’t mentioned yet is the storage size. Considering the very small 16gb internal storage, coupled with the fact that really only 9gb of this is usable because of the size of Sense and the way HTC formatted the internal memory, 9gb is a paltry amount of storage for any user nowadays. Fortunately Google Play Music stores up to 20,000 songs for you for free, Google+ stores all your photos in an instant, and Dropbox gives One S users 25gb of storage for free. And although these features help to ease the painful lack of storage, I don’t think it justifies the inability to simply drop a 32gb micro SD card into the phone. To me, it doesn’t make sense not to have this option on a modern day smartphone. I understand HTCs desire to have a slim, light build, but I feel this is even more inexcusable than not having a removable battery. Granted, I hadn’t run into actual storage problems in the week that I used the phone, but I guarantee that users will reach the limit sooner or later, and they will not have the option to add more storage.
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