At the same time as HTC unveiled its flagship model, the One X, the company also presented the One S -- a device which has often been overshadowed by its more powerful brother. The One S has a smaller display, a lower resolution, and a slower dual-core processor. However, it does come in an elegant metal casing and is currently one of the slimmest smartphones available on the market.
The HTC One S is not the fastest smartphone on the market, but it is one of the fastest. It does not offer the best screen, but its display is one of the best. Finally, it is definitely not the best smartphone at the moment, but it is one of the best available.
This review is of the international version of this handset, not the one being offered by T-Mobile. Unlike the One X, there are few differences between the U.S. and international versions of this device.
Build & Design
The body and build of this smartphone are surely one of its biggest selling points. Everyone who was thrilled by the One X, but cannot come to terms with its truly humongous dimensions, can easily shift their interest over to the One S. Truth be told -- big smartphones with big displays are ideal for some things, especially when accessing the Web. However, because of their hefty size, they cannot be used with just one hand. Not even those with smaller than average hands will have this problem with the One S, whose 4.3-inch screen is located in a casing with the following dimensions: 130 x 65 x 7.8 mm.
Furthermore, its elegant slim design makes it very impressive when held in hand, plus this phone rides easily in a pocket. This is the slimmest HTC smartphone ever built, and only Huawei has presented slimmer smartphones so far; the Ascend P1 is 7.7 mm thick and the Ascend P1 S just 6.7 mm.
The entire body is made of anodized aluminum, which gives it an undoubted solidness and robustness. This will be a source of great pleasure to everyone who wants a powerful smartphone but decided against One X, due to this expensive device having a plastic polycarbonate body, just like the competition's flagship model, the Samsung's Galaxy S III.
The only downside to this body boils down to uninspiring design. Aside from its slimness, the One S looks like just another HTC smartphone, not the least bit special or recognizable. Criticism should also be stated for the battery, which cannot be replaced, and there is no memory card slot or a special camera activation key.
This smartphone's 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen from Samsung is above average when it comes to imaging quality, but I have had the opportunity of seeing much more impressive displays in the past few months, especially among HD resolution models. The One S has a 540 x 960 pixel resolution, which offers a 256-ppi pixel density on this display size.
Using the Pentile matrix is not the best solution for this pixel density. Slanted straight lines on objects displayed on the screen (those that were drawn under a 45-degree angle) appear very jagged. This becomes less noticeable as the slope of the line reaches an entirely horizontal or vertical position, and eventually disappears altogether.
Icons or widgets on the desktop that include simple shapes look good, while those with a lot of tiny details, curves and especially sloped lines are not nearly as impressive. This screen shortcoming is emphasized when, for instance, you slowly flip through the home screens and the edges of large widgets stop being horizontal and are more and more sloped during the animation that simulates a 3D appearance. It is then possible to see the edges become more and more grainy and jagged with the naked eye.
With the exception of the sharpness issue, the One S's display offers exceptionally vivid colors, a wide viewing angle, and a lasting contrast that handles various lighting conditions well. The Super AMOLED screen with this resolution and matrix (and a not too contrasting HTC Sense 4.0 user interface) offer very solid imaging when exposed to direct sunlight. The contrast is still not as good as an iPhone 4S, however. The One S can therefore be labeled as one of a few Android OS smartphones that are actually pleasant to use in direct sunlight.
Other Design Elements
The three capacitive keys are located below the One S's screen: Back, Home and the Task Manager. The space above the display includes a front-facing camera, sensors for ambient light and proximity, as well as a tiny LED.
There is a micro-USB port on the left side of the device, which also serves as a battery charger and an HDTV connection, thanks to MHL support. The volume control switch is on the right side.
The upper part of the smartphone has a 3.5 mm audio jack, a power button and a small fingernail slot that facilitates raising the back cover for the micro-SIM slot. The lower edge includes a miniature microphone and the backside features the lens of an 8 megapixel camera and an LED flash.
Apart from elegant and very pleasant dimensions, the HTC One S delights with its speed above all else, which can be credited to Qualcomm's MSM8260A Snapdragon processor with two Krait cores running at 1.5 GHz. It turns out that this chipset is significantly faster than the one in the older Snapdragon with Scorpion cores, and it can also hold its own against the quad Cortex-A9 processor rather well. Furthermore, One S comes with the Adreno 225 graphic chip.
After an hour or two of using it, it is clear to see that the HTC One S is in fact no slower than the more expensive HTC One X, regardless of whether we're talking about the international, quad-core version of this smartphone or the dual-core one, intended for the U.S. market. After Samsung presented its Galaxy S III, it is evident that the One S is not the fastest smartphone in the world, but it comes second or third along with its brother model One X, depending on the process being performed.
This means that all tasks on this device can run smoothly, and the user can enjoy the speed at which they take place; from video playback to running demanding games, booting the device, or scrolling and zooming in on web sites.
The later action, however, starts stifling the device and creates some lag if the web site contains complex objects, like those created in Flash. Still, the One S is slightly faster than the One X when it comes to this issue because it does not have to deal with its sister model's HD resolution, but it still clearly performs it with less elegance than the Galaxy S III which also has HD resolution. You should bear in mind that such a situation happens rarely and in general, HTC One S is an exceptionally fast smartphone with impressive performance.
All this is somewhat confirmed by the synthetic benchmarks. According to SunSpider, One S gives the score of 1720, while the quad-core One X gives 1752 (lower is better). Similarly, according to BrowserMark, which marks 'higher is better', the One S receives 98522 and the One X scores 96912. On the other hand, according to AnTuTu Benchmark, which states that higher is better, One X wins with 10850, and One S has 7201.
There is one issue that could be a deal-breaker for some purchasers -- the One S is only available with 16GB of data storage and 1GB of RAM and this capacity is not expandable with memory cards. Those who take many photographs and want to use the option of recording video clips in Full HD resolution, as well as those who use a smartphone as an MP3 player will find this is not sufficient. Interestingly enough, the One S is marked with HTC's Beats Audio logo on the back cover, but suitable headphones are not delivered with it.
As far as the software goes, the One S is identical to the One X: it comes with Android OS 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) enriched with the Sense 4.0 user interface. Compared to pure ICS, Sense 4.0 includes a dynamic lock-screen (it is possible to run an application by taking the wheel to its icon), up to seven home screens can be created, and the status bar has been polished etc. It also includes theme 'scenes' adjusted to certain types of users (business scene, gaming scene, social media scene...) and a whole line of other cosmetic alterations.
The likable task-manager is available at all times via a special capacitive key. Its processes, shown in a 3D, can be rotated and selected with a finger as well as turned off by being 'pushed' upward and off the display. Contacts, the dialer, music player and others offer similar functionality.
This smartphone boasts very powerful image and video software. The 8 megapixel camera can take photos with aperture of f/1.0 at the widest viewing angle of 22 mm expressed in units equivalent for a 35 mm film. Sense 4.0 enables simultaneous video recording and image taking, while HDR photographs, face detection, geotagging and continuous shooting are also supported.
The photo app is very fast and can shoot images in under a second after its icon is pressed. It is a shame that the One S does not come with a hardware key for turning on the camera.
The photographs taken with this handset are very sharp. The software does not touch them up too much, and thus they have unrealistically glaring, over-saturated colors, which creates noise at times. The same thing goes for video quality.
The battery has a cited capacity of 1650 mAh and offers above-average time between charges. With very heavy use, you will have to charge it every night. However, with a regular level of consumption, the battery will last roughly one-and-a-half or two days.
With the One S, HTC has created a new market category of smartphones which could be called an 'alternative flagship'. We are talking about a device whose each specification almost matches those of the currently most powerful smartphones on the market, and in several very specific details, it presents a better choice than the 'primary flagship' for certain purchasers.
In the case of the One S, these details refer to dimensions; this smartphone is much more pleasant and practical to hold than the much larger One X. It offers the same software as the more expensive One X, with exceptional speed that even surpasses the One X.
The price that those who choose the One S will pay includes a smaller screen and a lower screen resolution which, with the display's matrix, does not offer as sharp imaging as the One X does. Plus there's no microSD slot for expandable memory. Still, imaging quality is above average and in general, this smartphone's quality is also above average.