Slim and attractive design; Gorgeous Super AMOLED screen; Speedy camera; Sleek Sense UI on top of Android 4.0;
T-Mobile 4G Network can be spotty; Mediocre battery life;
The HTC One S provides a compelling combination of style and performance, along with a powerful camera and an attractive Sense Interface that enhances Android 4.0.
With both HTC and T-Mobile going through trying times, both the carrier and the handset maker are looking to make a bold statement with the HTC One S. This little brother to the HTC One X boasts the same superfast camera--thanks to a dedicated imaging chip--along with a sexy Super AMOLED screen packaged in an anodized aluminum design. The beauty of this $199 Ice Cream Sandwich-powered device also extends to the Sense 4.0 interface, making the One S one of the most powerful Android phones on the market today.
At just 5.15 x 2.55 x .3 inches and 4.2 ounces, the HTC One S feels incredibly light in the hand, a breath of fresh air compared to smartphone behemoths like the 5.3 x 2.7 x .37-inch, 5.3-ounce Samsung Galaxy Nexus or the 5.78 x 3.27 x .37-inch, 6.5 ounce Samsung Galaxy Note. Still, the HTC One X for AT&T is nearly as thin (.35 inches) and not much heavier (4.58 ounces) despite having a bigger 4.7-inch display.
With a strong brightness of 451 lux on our light meter, it's no wonder the One S has incredible viewing angles. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S II measured just 249 lux and the Galaxy S Blaze just 231 lux.
However, when we played the same trailer on the iPhone 4S's 3.5-inch, 960 x 640 Retina display, images were sharper. This wasn't a surprise given the iPhone's higher pixel density. Viewed side-by-side, the colors on the One S seemed warmer but had a bit of a yellow hue when compared to Apple's device.
Like other current HTC phones, the One S features Beats Audio, a hardware / software solution which improves the fidelity of music and video. To experience Beats, we had to plug in a set of headphones, because the software doesn't enhance sound emitted through the phone's single back-facing speaker. With our headphones plugged in, a Beats Audio icon appeared in the status bar and, using the status drawer, we were able to toggle Beats on / off.
You can also select specific sound profiles for different types of music (classical, jazz, warm, treble bass) in the Sound section of the control panel. Though we didn't notice much difference in audio between the different profiles, we did notice a tangible improvement when Beats was toggled on.
When listening to a the bass-heavy tune "Forget Me Nots," on Rhapsody, sound was extremely warm and rich with Beats enabled. The difference was less pronounced when listening to guitar-laden rock tunes such as "Breaking the Law," but these songs sounded great even with Beats turned off.
Ice Cream Sandwich, Sense 4.0
Unlike the stock version of Ice Cream Sandwich, which appears on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the HTC One S provides a row of real capacitive buttons for home, back and recent apps. Though the buttons don't rotate when you change from portrait to landscape mode, we appreciated HTC's decision to avoid the virtual buttons Google uses in stock Android. These physical buttons save precious screen real estate and make it easier to navigate the OS without covering part of the display with one's fingers.
A nav bar with icons for the apps menu, email, phone, SMS messaging and camera apps appears on the bottom of every homescreen. Except for the apps menu icon, each of these shortcuts can be changed by dragging them on or off the bar. In a feature unique to Sense, you can also launch any of the four custom shortcuts directly from the lock screen, just by dragging its icon into the unlock ring. This quick unlock feature is particularly helpful when you want to whip your phone out of your pocket and take a picture or make a call right away.
Pulling down the status bar reveals a drawer with a list of recent notifications and a button that launches the settings menu. Unfortunately, unlike on some other phones, you cannot toggle the wireless radios or any other settings directly from the drawer.
In another unique Sense 4.0 feature, users are able to create custom application folders on the desktop by simply dragging one shortcut icon on top of another. For example, we were able to create a social media folder by dragging the twitter icon onto the Facebook icon and then tapping the new folder icon to name it "social."
With its 1.5-Ghz, dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip and 1GB of RAM, everything we did on the HTC One S felt incredibly snappy. Whether we were watching a high-quality video trailer on YouTube, drawing a sketch in the notes app, playing the Where's My Water game, loading web pages, taking photos or, most importantly, switching between these functions, we never experienced a moment of lag or a force close.
Synthetic benchmarks also showed that the One S is one of the fastest phones we've ever tested. On Quadrant, an application that measures overall system performance, the One S notched a strong score of 4,857 more than double the 2,018 smartphone category average On the CPU portion of the test that's simply called "Benchmark," the One S scored an amazing 4,994.3, more than double the 2,387 category acerage. The phone's graphics scores were also strong, as it returned a solid 7,314 on An3Dbench, a test where the category average is 6,954.
Using a stop watch, we were able to confirm HTC's average time of .7 seconds, which compared very favorably to the HTC Titan's time of 1.7 seconds. However, the iPhone 4 and 4S we used shot pictures just as quickly as the One S.
After an initial shot, the One S camera can also capture photos in just .2 seconds in burst mode. By holding down the shutter icon, we were able to shoot up to 100 images in a row. After shooting, the HTC ImageSense software allowed us to scroll through a list of thumbnails and to pick a single "best image" that was saved while the others were discarded. You can also capture still photos while filming 1080p video.
The One S's rear camera is more than just a speedy shooter; it also sports an F 2.0mm aperture lens that promises sharper, more colorful images than most smartphones on the market today. In an extensive afternoon of testing, we shot over 100 pictures of both outdoor and indoor subjects using the HTC One S and then compared them against shots we took with the HTC Titan II and iPhone 4S.
In general, we found that the One S's photos were impressive - perhaps the best we've seen on an Android device -- but not quite as detailed as the Titan's or as accurate as the iPhone 4S's.
When we shot photos of pink flowers that were sitting in a shady area, the color of the petals appeared more vibrant in the One S's picture than in the iPhone's. However, the iPhone's darker tones were more in-line with the shadiness of the day.
In an indoor photo of a young baby, the subject had redder cheeks in the One S's image than the iPhone's, but the iPhone's image looked warmer and sharper.
The One S also supports HDR (high-dynamic range) shooting, which takes multiple shots at the same time with different light settings and turns them into photos where both foreground and background objects appear bright and colorful. Though shooting in HDR meant waiting an average 3.8 seconds for each photo to process, it allowed us to take a photo of the Empire State Building where both the skyscraper and the sky behind it appeared equally vibrant. However, an HDR photo of the same subject taken on the iPhone 4S was a bit sharper and more colorful.
Front Camera and Camcorder
Though not nearly as sharp as the main camera, the 2-MP front facing lens shot accurate, colorful images of our face when we tested it indoors. Though we doubt you'll be in a rush to shoot a photo of your own mug, the shutter is just as fast on the front camera as the back.
When we recorded full 1080p video of a city street with the rear-facing camera, colors like the yellow paint on cabs were particularly vibrant, images were sharp and motion was completely smooth. Using the 60 fps slow-motion video mode, we captured a clip of a coworker who was dancing quickly but appeared to be moving at a snail's pace.
Though our connection seemed pretty fast, a T-Mobile rep told us that our review phone has not yet been provisioned for full HSPA+42 speeds, but that consumers would receive phones that get the full benefit of the network. In previous tests, T-Mobile's Galaxy S II returned speeds as high as 11.7 Mbps / 1.7 Mbps and the Blaze 4G delivered 11.4 Mbps / 1.5 Mbps transfers.
With its speedy processor and solid connection, the HTC One S was able to download Laptopmag.com in an average of 6.7 seconds and the mobile versions of ESPN and CNN.com in just 4 and 1.7 seconds, respectively.
Considering that you can't remove its 1650 mAH battery, it's a little disappointing that the HTC One S only lasted 5 hours and 26 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery test, which involves continuous surfing over 4G. The smartphone average, which includes slower 3G phones, is a slightly higher 5 hours and 48 minutes. The Samsung Galaxy S II lasted a whopping 7 hours and 38 minutes while the HTC Sensation lasted 7 hours and 12 minutes.
That said, in everyday stop-and-go use, the One S should last through most of a business day. In fact, after a three hours of on and off photography with the screen at maximum brightness, we still had more than half our battery left.
On top of all the software, the HTC One S comes with a free 25GB Dropbox account that is good for two years. Because Dropbox has clients for Android, Windows, Mac and other platforms, you can use this free account on any other devices you own, allowing you to sync files across your tablet, laptop, home desktop and more.
To keep you entertained, the One S comes with HTC Watch, a paid video purchase and rental service that allows you to stream movies or shows for a price. The handset also has an FM radio app, Slacker Internet radio, and access to T-Mobile's paid TV service.
When we were in a strong coverage area, we could hear our call partner loud and clear and she reported that our voice was accurate on her end. However, when we were in an internal area of our office with a poor signal, voices sounded tinny and metallic. T-Mobile offers a Wi-Fi calling option that allows you to make unlimited calls by connecting to any router so calls should always be clear from the home or office, provided you use this option. The internal speaker was adequate, but not loud enough to fill a room. Since the speaker sits on the back, we found ourselves accidentally muffling it when we held the phone the wrong way.
The two big Android challengers that loom for the One S are the One X for AT&T, which will also offer LTE speeds and a larger screen (though a bigger body) and the Samsung Galaxy S III, which should be one powerful sequel. But for T-Mobile customers, right now the One S is as good as it gets.
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|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|Operating System||Android 4.0|
|Data||HSPA 42 Mbps|
|CPU||1.5 GHz Dual-core Qualcomm MSM8260A|
|Memory Expansion Type|
|Display (main)||4.3-inch (540 x 960 resolution)|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth 4.0|
|Front Camera Resolution||VGA|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP|
|Audio formats supported||AMR|
|Audio formats supported||WAV|
|Audio formats supported||AAC|
|Audio formats supported||OGG|
|Audio formats supported||MP4|
|Audio formats supported||MP3|
|Audio formats supported||MIDI|
|Audio formats supported||M4A|
|Audio formats supported||WMV|
|Video formats supported||WMV|
|Video formats supported||MP4|
|Video formats supported||3GP|
|Video formats supported||3G2|
|Photo formats supported||GIF|
|Photo formats supported||BMP|
|Photo formats supported||JPEG|
|Talk / Standby Time|
|Size||5.1 x 2.5 x .3 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|