HTC One S Android phone

HTC One S review: The HTC One S is a superbly built phone with slick software

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HTC One S
  • HTC One S
  • HTC One S
  • HTC One S

Pros

  • Thin and stylish design
  • Excellent performance
  • Great camera software

Cons

  • Display can't match some rivals
  • No memory expansion
  • Inconsistent Sense UI

Bottom Line

The HTC One S certainly doesn't look or feel inferior to the flagship One X. A lower resolution display is the main differentiator, but the One S makes up for that with a design that's more comfortable to hold and better battery life. If the One X's size is too much for you to handle, then you should definitely check out the One S.

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HTC Sense doesn't always make Sense

The HTC One S runs Google's latest 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich software, which makes it a slick and fast smartphone that offers excellent performance. The One S again features the Sense 4.0 UI, which HTC says attempts to simplify an interface that was considered too cluttered.

The new version of HTC's Sense is almost identical to the one seen on the One X. HTC has removed some fancy 3D animations and redesigned other UI elements to tie in better with the vanilla Android theme. We love some less advertised touches. The software asks you whether you'd like to save an incoming phone number as a new contact. The four dock icons can be completely customised and automatically appear as shortcuts on the lock screen. You can automatically jump to a weather forecast when you've turned off your morning alarm. HTC's well renowned widgets, including the now iconic clock and weather widget, are still available. Best of all, there is no apparent lag or slowdown during general use. Unlike previous iterations of the software the latest version of Sense does not appear to be a greedy, resource hog.

While Sense does offer some nice touches, however, the software has continued to make changes to the standard Android interface for changes sake. The recent apps menu is a perfect example: instead of a vertical list of apps that appears as a translucent layer, Sense uses a horizontal full screen version. It looks attractive but is slower to open, only shows one app at a time and adds no real benefit over the original version. Similarly, the phone app offers excellent linking of contacts from multiple sources but the interface feels cluttered and aside from the roboto font, it doesn't achieve any consistency with the regular Android UI. The default Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard, one of our favourite features of the Galaxy Nexus, has been replaced by HTC's keyboard. It is neither better looking or better implemented and wastes valuable screen real estate thanks to directional keys on the bottom row. It comes with a handy Swype-like text input (activated in the settings menu), but it isn't as accurate or effective as Swype.

HTC's insistence on capacitive shortcut keys on the One S also creates plenty of inconsistency. The Galaxy Nexus uses on-screen shortcut keys in a predefined bar at the bottom of the screen, but on the One S the menu or option key for many apps appears at the bottom of the screen in a large, ugly block that wastes screen space. To make matters even more confusing, in the Sense skinned messaging, gallery and calendar apps the menu key appears at the top. In the YouTube app the menu key appears twice, both at the top and the bottom of the screen. In some apps, this menu key doesn't appear at all.

Finally, the One S comes with so many preloaded apps that opening the app draw will surely confuse many first time smartphone users. While we like diversity and choice, does the HTC One S really need an app shortcut for Flash Player Settings, Friend Stream, HTC Hub, Personalize, Setup, Show Me, Task Manager and Transfer, amongst others? Many of these features are easily accessible through the settings menu and certainly don't need to be present in the app drawer.

Some excellent camera features

The HTC One S shares an identical rear camera to the more expensive One X. Like its flagship counterpart, the ability to snap a photo in 0.7 seconds with a 0.2 second autofocus makes the One S one of the fastest cameras we've ever used on any smartphone. From holding your finger on the on-screen shutter button to enable burst mode (up to 99 photos), to being able to take still shots while recording uninterrupted video, HTC's camera UI is near perfect. We love how there is no need to switch from camera to video mode or vice versa — simply press the video button to immediately begin recording. We also like the ability to add a range of real time effects including distortion, vignette, depth of field and sepia.

An image we captured with the HTC One S.

The quality of images captured by the HTC One S aren't going to replace a stand alone digital camera, but they will suffice for those who would only ever use an entry-level point and shoot. Images we captured were well focussed and relatively sharp, but low light performance was poor and colours often washed out. Like most camera phones, images tend to lack detail when zoomed in and possess a fair bit of noise. Video recording quality is excellent, though autofocus is very erratic with movement. Disappointingly, the front facing camera on the One S is a poor quality VGA snapper compared to the more respectable 1.3-megapixel front camera on the One X.

The HTC One S comes with Dropbox integration and 25GB of free storage, while the music player can sync iTunes playlists automatically. The One S includes Beats Audio qualities, a direct result of HTC's "strategic partnership" with the Beats By Dr. Dre audio company. The Beats Audio profile noticeably enhances bass and works in all applications, not just the music player. However, unlike the HTC Sensation XL, the One S isn't bundled with a pair of Beats headphones. There is also no NFC (Near Field Communications) chip in the One S, a feature present in the One X.

Perhaps the best reason to choose the HTC One S over the One X is battery life. We couldn't manage to achieve a full day of use before needing a recharge on the One X, but the One S comfortably lasted a full day on more than one occasion. Power users will still need to recharge before the end of the day, but most other users should be well served.

The HTC One S will first sell through Optus and Virgin Mobile from Monday 2 July. It will be available for $0 upfront on the $50 Optus plan over 24 months, and $0 upfront on Virgin Mobile's Big Plan $39 over 24 months.

The HTC One S will also be available through Telstra from Tuesday 17 July, though no pricing or plan details have been announced as yet.

Related content

HTC One X review
HTC One XL preview
Best upcoming smartphones in 2012

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