Thinner, Faster And Lighter. T-Mobile HTC One S Hands-On Review (Video)

Introduction

T-Mobile has finally unveiled its latest flagship device, the HTC One S.  The One S sits pretty between its younger brother, the One V and its older brother the One X.  We were able to hang out with T-Mo in NY recently at the Catch restaurant for the official announcement of the handset and we even got to hang with Carly for a bit (see pic).  If you missed our initial hands-on demo you can check it out here as well as here.  Unlike the European version which has undergone the Micro Oxidation Arc processes to give the black device its porcelain feel, Magenta has opted to receive the gradient blue model.  The One S is by far HTC’s, and T-Mobile’s for that matter, thinnest and lightest device coming in at a super slim 7.8mm and weighing in at just 119 grams.  Make no mistake about it, this device is camera centric and aims to be the perfect little point and shoot for anyone looking to always capture that which matters most.  The camera houses some new technology from HTC offering unprecedented functionality. The device brings to Magenta Android 4.0 ICS mingling ever so slightly with HTC’s newest iteration of Sense, 4.0.  The device houses some serious heft under the hood, thanks in part to its dual-core Krait Snapdragon S4 chipset which has even been touted as outperforming a quad-core A9 CPU.  There’s no expandable memory as there is no SD card slot nor is there the option to remove the 1650 mAh battery from the device.  I’m guessing these were the compromises HTC had to make in order to get the handset so light and thin.  The device also sports Dre dog’s Beats Audio technology but sadly, no, there are no Beats Audio “iBeats” included with the phone. Without further ado, on to the review.  

Design

As far as the design factor goes, HTC nailed this one out of the park.  If you’re not a big fan of using the word “sexy” to describe mobile hardware, this device will definitely change your mind.  The One S is by far one of the most sexiest and appealing handsets to come out of HTC’s camp.  With sexy curves on the sides, super slim housing and a uni-body aluminum casing, this device is sure to please the masses as far as aesthetics go.  It’s sort of like the Nexus One and HTC Sensation got together and had a pretty good looking kid.  Though the handset is abnormally thin (7.8mm) it still feels sturdy and good in the hand.  Though, buyer beware, it nearly slipped a few times out of my hand in cool weather so be sure to have a good grip on it.  Overall, the design of the device screams simple while still offering “Onederful” signs of innovation.  See what I did there?  Moving on…

Hardware

The hardware on this device compliments the design immensely.  It’s fantastic at how HTC was able to utilize great quality materials for the hardware while not compromising the handset’s design factor.  The screen is a generous 4.3-inches and touts a super AMOLED qHD display (960 x 540).  The chassis of the device is made up from an anodized uni-body piece of aluminum giving it an overall matte finish on the backside of the device.  T-Mobile has chosen the “gradient blue” model and we think overall it’s a fantastic looking piece of hardware.  HTC slimmed down the standard capacitive button placement on the device by only including three buttons instead of the usual four.  Back, Home and Recent Apps buttons have been spaciously placed across the bottom front of the device while completely omitting the stock ICS virtual buttons, they’re completely missing from the software.  Both the left and right sides of the device have been kept simple and clean only revealing a volume rocker on the right and micro USB port for charging on the left.  There’s nothing on the bottom of the device and your standard on/off button, 3.5mm headphone jack and microphone for the speakerphone assisting with noise cancelation are on top. HTC is using Gorilla Glass technology to ensure that the device is as strong as possible not requiring a case to keep it safe.  On the back side, HTC kept it simple as well only showing the 8 meg camera lens with a cool blue coating and single LED flash.  HTC’s logo can be found there as well in addition to the Beats Audio insignia at the very bottom of the device. As we mentioned above, there is no removable battery but even under the hood, HTC likes to keep things fresh.  You’ll have to remove the top back cover of the device (see pic) in order to get to the SIM card slot, and there is where you’ll find a cool blue color for its innards.  The European version houses a cool Droid Red undercarriage.

Battery

While at first the mere 1650 mAh label had me worried, however, I was in for a bit of a surprise when reviewing this bad boy. On the first day I basically attempted to run it down from a full charge spending a large amount of time on YouTube watching movie trailers, checking FB and Twitter, constantly retrieving emails for both work and personal, surfing the web and even using Google Maps for a quick trip to the grocery store.  We even managed to make a call on the device to test its call and audio quality.  Who the heck makes calls on their phone these days anyway?  Surprisingly, there was still some juice left over at the end of the day.  I’d strongly caution our readers though to do their best to condition the battery on the One S as best as possible upon initially purchasing it.

Performance

Overall and as expected, this device performed like a work horse.  With a powerful 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU (Snapdragon S4) and 1GB of RAM, it shouldn’t have gone down any other way.  At one point I attempted to hose the device up by opening as many apps as I possibly could, taking multitasking to a whole new level.  We played rich media filled games with  graphics like Shadowgun, Sprinkle and a few other graphic intensive games.  The device held up like a champ without a hiccup.  It was impressive to say nonetheless.

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In addition, we sometimes forget that these things make phone calls.  Calls sounded great on T-Mobile’s network as well as over WiFi.  Most HTC devices get a bad rap for speakerphones but the One S doesn’t disappoint with its clear audio output.  You can also check out some of the top speeds we received when running a speed test on T-Mo’s HSPA+ netowork.  Note the times of day.  I happen to know Im sitting directly between two cell towers so it wasn’t clear which one I was on at the time but I’m sure it altered my results and they varied depending on which side of the house I happened to be on.  The device is capable of running on T-Mobile’s 42 Mbps HSPA+ technology which should be more than sufficient regardless of what you’re doing with your device.  We even hit 2 megs up which is difficult to do where I live.  Overall, we’re very pleased with the service while reviewing the device.

Software

In the software department HTC has proven to be champion again.  The device, as any other Sense UI device is, was geared towards entertainment.  The handset comes jam packed with entertainment applications such as HTC’s Hub where you can download apps and customize the look and feel of your phone and HTC Watch where you can check out movies, TV shows and even download them to your device for offline viewing.  In addition, The One S offers what’s called “Media Link HD”, an integrated piece of software and hardware that allow you to wirelessly push content onto the big screen while also allowing you to freely navigate throughout the device uninterrupting the content on display.  As you can see, you’ll never go bored again.  The device is sporting Android’s newest version, ICS 4.0 while also accompanied by HTC’s latest, Sense UI 4.0.  Although this is just my opinion, as there are many loyal Sense fans out there, I’ve got to say, the UI feels like a bit of a crutch on the device.  HTC, if you’re listening, hear this, we understand completely that you need to differentiate your device among the many others such as Motorola’s MotoBlur or whatever they’re calling it these days as well as Samsung’s TouchWiz, but it’s completely unnecessary.  The days of Android requiring some kind of a skin to give it an overall polished look are long gone.  Especially in the case of Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.  If you’re thinking that no one will want your brand due to the lack of a personalizing it with Sense, I think you’re mistaken.  I believe with the incredible innovation of your design as well as the beautiful hardware you’re putting out, people will flock to your devices simply because you would be the only manufacturer out there with stock Android on it.  Not to mention how much easier it would be for you to upgrade all of your devices.  Sense UI needs to go, it’s no longer needed on Android. At the very least, you should highly consider making it an option for users to turn it off without requiring to root and ROM a device.  That being said, check out the some of the screen shots below of the software on the device.  One other note, HTC and dropbox have collaborated to offer anyone purchasing the device the ability to snag a whopping 25 GB’s of cloud storage for 24 months at no charge.  This applies for both new sign ups as well as those who already have an existing dropbox account.   This should more than make up for not having an expandable sd card slot.

Camera

And here’s where the bread and butter really show for the device.  If you’ve been following my Google+ or Twitter account you may have seen me share how incredible this camera is and that it’s unprecedented in its class. I’ve never seen functionality like this before and the new technology is certainly welcomed.  I guarantee you, this is by far the best camera we’ve ever used on an Android device.  With HTC’s new Image Sense chip technology which is fully independent of Qualcomm’s chipset, it actually adds a little fun and adventure to your picture taking.  The backside camera is an 8-megapixel auto-focus camera with a single LED flash.  The lens sports a fresh blue color trim around it for added style (Micro Arc Oxidation version sports the Droid red trim).  There’s also a front facing 2 meg camera with VGA quality for those looking to get a little front facing chat action.  But back to the main camera features.  The camera is capable of capturing 1080p videos as well as taking stills in “burst mode”.  Simply holding the shutter button down allows you to burst up to 20 shots in about 5 seconds.  By simply unchecking a button you can take that up to 99 shots.  That’s just absurd!  But that’s not all!  In addition to this, HTC has added to the software various filters for added fun.  The filters are very reminiscent of what Instagram offers only it’s built right into the device (see pics in the gallery below for examples of filters).  Another incredible addition to the functionality is that you can actually take still shots while in video mode.  And while we’ve seen this functionality before with the introduction of the Amaze 4G, here’s one thing the Amaze can’t do, it can’t take stills from within video playback mode. That’s right, while playing back any video that you’ve already taken with your device’s camcorder, you can snag stills from anywhere within it.  All of your standard features within the camera settings, of course, are still present such as white balance, exposure, self-timers and image resolution settings.  The UI is extremely intuitive and we love how both the camera and camcorder button is always present simultaneously should you need to jump back and forth to either application.  Basically folks, HTC wants to ensure you capture everything that matters most to you and we think they’ve heavily succeeded in doing so.  Overall, the mixture of hardware functionality and software make this the very best camera on a smartphone we’ve seen to date.

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Final thoughts

If you’re looking for a camera centric device, there isn’t going to be one better than what the One S offers.  With its simplicity yet powerful features, it’s sure to be a hit among the point and shoot crowd.  With a super slim and lightweight form factor, the One S is by far HTC’s sexiest device to date.  Sporting the powerful dual-core Snapdragon S4, Android’s ICS 4.0 and Sense 4.0, this device is sure to be a hit for months to come and may actually set the bar as far as style goes.  The device is going for $199.99 on contract with T-Mobile and has been available since the 25th.  Check out some of the comparisons below with T-Mobile’s previous flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy S II.

Full Device Specefications:

  • Stunningly thin at 7.8mm, ceramic or anodized aluminum finish
  • Quad-band GSM and dual-band 3G support
  • 4.3″ 16M-color capacitive Super AMOLED touchscreen of qHD resolution (540 x 960 pixels); Gorilla glass
  • Android OS v4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich with HTC Sense 4.0
  • 1.5 GHz dual core Krait CPU, Adreno 225 GPU, Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8260A chipset
  • 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage
  • Beats audio enhancement
  • 8 MP autofocus camera with LED flash; face detection, geotagging and continuous shooting
  • 1080p video recording @ 30fps; Snapping photos while recording video
  • Wi-Fi b/g/n and DLNA
  • GPS with A-GPS
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • Accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity and ambient light sensors
  • Front facing camera with video calls
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • microUSB port (charging) and stereo Bluetooth v4.0
  • MHL TV-out (requires a MHL-to-HDMI adapter)
  • Smart dialing, voice dialing
  • DivX/XviD video support
  • HTC Locations app
  • HTCSense.com integration
  • HTC Portable Hotspot
  • Splendid audio quality
  • Office document editor
  • 1650mAh battery
  • 25GB of free Dropbox storage for the first two years

» See more articles by Joe Sirianni


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  • Quantumyuri

    very informative review with loads of pictures! very helpful! keep it up!