The HTC One is the best Android smartphone on the planet, but its 4.7-inch design might be too large for some. That's where the AT&T-exclusive HTC One Mini comes in. At 4.3 inches, the $99 Mini was built specifically for one-handed use, and it still sports dual front speakers along with a (mostly) aluminum design. But HTC didn't just shrink its flagship down; you'll also get midrange specs and have to sacrifice a pretty nifty feature. Do the changes hurt the One Mini, or is this handset just right for the price?
The HTC One Mini definitely doesn't look like a lower-priced phone. There are sturdy aluminum panels on both the front and back, and we like that the back has a rounded design. However, in place of the polished aluminum edges and spun metal volume rocker, the Mini has white polycarbonate edging and two metal volume buttons. Despite these changes, the One Mini is still an incredibly sexy smartphone.
The One Mini also lacks the One's slick combination power button/IR blaster. But while using your phone to control your TV is convenient, this certainly isn't a deal-breaker. Up front, you still get an edge-to-edge glass display situated between HTC's BoomSound speakers, and capacitive Home and Back buttons.
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At 5.2 x 2.5 x 0.36 inches, the Mini is shorter but thicker than the 5.3 x 2.6 x 0.28-inch One. Of course, the 4.4-ounce Mini is still the lighter of the two phones (the One weighs in at 5.04 ounces). The One Mini is also the biggest of the new crop of bite-size smartphones hitting the market, dwarfing Samsung's 4.9 x 2.4 x 0.35-inch Galaxy S4 Mini and Motorola's 4.8 x 2.4 x 0.34-inch Droid Mini. At 3.8 ounces, Samsung's S4 Mini is lighter than the One, but the 4.6-ounce Motorola Droid Mini is heavier.
Overall, the Mini is far easier -- and more comfortable -- to use with one hand than the full-size One. You won't have to reposition the Mini in your hand to reach the far edge of the screen. Better still, you can easily press the power and volume buttons while holding the Mini in one hand, something that can't be said for larger smartphones.
While it lacks the 1080p resolution of the One, the One Mini's 4.3-inch 1280 x 720, Super LCD 2 display is just gorgeous. A trailer for "Kick Ass 2" looked beautiful, with pleasing colors; details such as the ruffles in a red piece of fabric were easily visible.
For comparison, we put the One Mini up against the Droid Mini for Verizon, which features a 4.3-inch 1280 x 720 TFT display. Colors appeared more saturated than on the One, but characters' skin tones had a ruddier complexion. Fine details were harder to discern, too.
At 422 lux, the One Mini's display easily outshined the average smartphone's rating of 390 lux. The full-size One, however, hit 433 lux, and the Droid Mini's display registered a whopping 540 lux, making it one of the brightest handset displays we've ever tested. Nevertheless, we found it easy to read this screen outdoors in direct sunlight.
Looking for exceptional audio from a smartphone? The One Mini has you covered. Like the original One, the Mini features HTC's explosive BoomSound front-mounted speakers and Beats Audio software, both of which help the handset produce impressively loud and accurate audio. The concussive pop of the bongos that fill the opening to Kanye West's "Through the Wire" sounded exceptionally clear, while the gentle rhythm of TV on the Radio's "Will Do" smoothly poured from the Mini's speakers without a hint of distortion.
On our LAPTOP Audio Test, which measures a handset's decibel level at 13 inches (the approximate distance from a smartphone to your nose), the One Mini's speakers registered 80 dB with Beats Audio off and 81 dB with the feature turned on. That's loud, but the Droid Mini was even higher, at 86 dB.
Like the original One, the One Mini has HTC's latest Sense 5.0 interface layered over Google's Android 4.2.2 OS. HTC's BlinkFeed home screen is a cross between Windows Phone's Live Tile interface and Flipboard. This interface provides users with streaming news and social media updates from a variety of customizable sources. If you find BlinkFeed overwhelming, you can relegate it to the second home screen position and instead use one of the standard Android home screens as your main page.
At the bottom of the Mini's display are four customizable persistent shortcuts for the Dialer, Messages, Browser and Camera apps. The same shortcuts are included on the Mini's customizable lock screen.
The Mini's apps menu has a clean look. Users can organize apps in either a 3 x 4 or 4 x 5 grid; we prefer the former, as it makes apps easier to scan. We do, however, wish HTC made the Search, Settings, Google Play and Customize options visible at the top of the apps menu without having to pull down on the apps grid.
HTC takes its own approach to multitasking with the One Mini, presenting a grid of nine thumbnails you can select or swipe up to close apps. We find this approach simpler than Google's usual Recent Apps menu.
HTC's Sense Input keyboard proved fast and accurate, whether we were firing off text messages or typing URLs. The setup includes a slick QWERTY layout with keys large enough to type quickly. HTC also included a trace keyboard, which lets you slide your finger from letter to letter to type a word. Predictive text proves especially useful when hammering away on emails. A next-word prediction setting guesses the next word you are going to type and displays it above the keyboard.
Whereas the One packs a 1.7-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM, the Mini features a less powerful 1.4-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 1GB of RAM.
Games such as "Temple Run 2" and "Super Monsters Ate My Condo!" ran smoothly, while the camera app opened in 1.4 seconds. However, it took the One Mini 20 seconds to open the resource-intensive game "N.O.V.A. 3." That's 5 seconds slower than the smartphone category average and the Droid Mini's open time.
The One Mini trailed the competition on other benchmarks. Transcoding a 230 MB 1080p video to 480p using the VidTrim app, for example, took the Mini 9 minutes and 20 seconds, much longer than the smartphone category average of 7:51. The Droid Mini, with its 1.7-GHz Snapdragon S4 processor and unique X8 Mobile Computing System, transcoded the same clip in 6:35. The Samsung Galaxy Mega, with its dual-core 1.7-GHz Qualcomm chip, took a somewhat leisurely 9:15.
On the Quadrant test, which measures a device's CPU, graphics and I/O performance, the One Mini scored 6,155. That's higher than the category average of 5,607, but well below the Droid Mini's score of 8,736. The Galaxy Mega scored 8,203.
Graphically, the One Mini got outclassed by its competitors. On the 3DMark Ice Storm test, the handset pulled down a score of 4,592, nearly 4,000 points lower than the category average of 8,502. The Galaxy Mega (5,300) beat the One Mini, while the Droid Mini reached 11,408.
Camera and Camcorder
The One Mini has the same Ultrapixel camera as its bigger brother. The shooter's f/2.0 aperture lens is capable of capturing up to 300 percent more light to take better low-light photos. And like the full-size One, the One Mini's photos looked beautiful.
A series of photos of a busy intersection offered vivid colors and sharp details. We were also impressed with the camera's ability to adjust to different light settings on the fly. When we took a photo of the Empire State Building, for example, the camera compensated by increasing the skyscraper's brightness, while dimming the light reflecting off surrounding buildings. Focusing on the surrounding buildings, however, resulted in the Empire State Building looking blown out.
A video shot in the shadow of an office building, however, looked far too dark at points, making objects and individuals appear blurry. As we panned down the street toward a better light source, the video cleared up.
The One Mini's 2-megapixel front camera captured sharp images with even color balance. We could make out fine facial details like stubble, which normally looks blurry on other phones.
HTC's gimmicky Zoes feature also makes an appearance on the One Mini and functions just as it does on the full-size One. Accessible through the Mini's camera app, Zoes will capture 20 still frames along with 3 seconds of video. Plus, the camera starts a second before you press the button and finishes 2 seconds after you press stop, which means you're less likely to miss an important moment. The idea is that you'll want to share your Zoes, and HTC enables just that with a dedicated online portal (zoeshare.htc.com).
The feature worked well during our testing, capturing a series of images of a young woman typing on her keyboard, as well as three seconds of video. We could also choose to move the available slider along the timeline at the bottom of the screen to select images from the video and save them as individual shots.
For a feature that's supposed to be social media-friendly, Zoe certainly has a lot of limitations. Your friends and family can't view your Zoes on Facebook or Twitter, but instead will have to go to the Zoe website.
In HTC Onen to the standard array of Android apps, AT&T loaded the HTC One Mini with a host of its own apps, including the cloud-based AT&T Locker and AT&T Family map, which helps users locate anyone signed up on the same family plan. You also get AT&T Navigator, AT&T Ready2Go, AT&T Wi-Fi Hotspot, Mobile TV AT&T Smart Wi-Fi and AT&T Messages. There's way too much here for our tastes, but at least it's all contained within a dedicated folder.
Beyond AT&T's proprietary apps, the One Mini is relatively light on preinstalled software. In fact, the only other apps you'll find are SoundHound, Amazon's Kindle, YPMobile and Facebook and Twitter.
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4G LTE and Web Browsing
At our office in New York's Flatiron District, the HTC One Mini delivered an average download speed of 18.9 Mbps over AT&T's 4G LTE network using Speedtest.net. Uploads were slightly less impressive, topping out at 4 Mbps.
The One Mini's Web speeds were just as fast during our real-world testing, with NYTimes.com's mobile site loading in 3.3 seconds and ESPN.com's page loading in 5.2 seconds. The image-heavy Laptopmag.com desktop site loaded in 8 seconds.
As with most AT&T smartphones, the HTC One Mini includes the carrier's proprietary Web browser. The biggest difference between AT&T's browser and Google's Chrome browser, which is also loaded on the One Mini, is the AT&T's banner toolbar. Located at the bottom of the screen, the banner provides users with a quick way to post articles and websites they want to share via Facebook, Twitter or email. The app also provides users with shortcuts to sales offers, as well as news, sports and entertainment highlights. We prefer the cleaner Chrome.
Unfortunately, like the full-size One, you can't remove the One Mini's 1800- mAh battery pack. The battery lasted 5 hours and 28 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE with the display brightness set to 40 percent. While that's longer than the Droid Mini's lackluster 5:04, it's nowhere near as good as the full-size One and its 2,300-mAh battery, which lasted 5:55, nor is it as good as the smartphone category average of 6:07.
The HTC One Mini is a sexy smartphone that combines a gorgeous 4.3-inch display and powerful front-mounted speakers in a one-hand-friendly package. At $99, the aluminum-clad Mini is $100 cheaper than its bigger brother, but that cost savings comes at the expense of some performance and TV remote control capability (which we can live without). We also would have Galaxy S4see the Mini last longer on a charge.
Some may want to wait for the Galaxy S4 Mini to hit shelves before they buy a sub-$100 Android phone. That Samsung handset will offer TV remote functionality and a replaceable battery. However, Samsung's Mini has a plastic body and lacks HTC's audio oomph. If you're not wedded to AT&T, the Droid Mini for Verizon is a very tempting choice. That device offers faster performance and a brighter screen along with touchless voice control, but its camera and battery life fall behind the One Mini.
Overall, the HTC One Mini is a very good midrange Android phone that looks as good as it sounds.