Portable Digest

HTC One S Review Round-Up

If the HTC One X/XL is too big, but the diminitive HTC One V too small, perhaps the HTC One S is just right. Announced with great fanfare at MWC 2012, the One S attempts to strike a balance between the X and V as the midrange entry in HTC’s flagship phone line. It has seemingly gathered a even bigger buzz than the X thanks to it’s svelte size and unique build, but is it the right phone for you? Let’s see what popular tech sites think.

Note: T-Mobile USA has a variant of the One S. Because of this, we’ll note whether the review we quote applies specifically to the T-Mobile variant.

Engadget: “Sporting a thinner and lighter design, the One S doesn’t deserve to be hidden in the shadow of its pricier brother. With the latest dual-core Snapdragon S4 and noticeable improvements to HTC’s Sense UI, as well as Android 4.0 and a potent camera, this phone is likely to play a large part of the manufacturer’s renewed efforts after a shaky 2011. With a tactile finish and enough power to go toe-to-toe with HTC’s quad-core entrant, it comes down to whether you’re willing to trade a technically weaker screen for a noticeable price difference and better battery life. It’s a decision we’d prefer not to make.”

Engadget loved how the One S felt in their hands, and found the 4.3 inch screen to be just right. They also were impressed by the performance of the Snapdragon S4, the phone’s power consumption, and the rear camera. However, they weren’t too sure about the new Micro-Arc Oxidation coating’s durability, and just couldn’t shake the feeling that the phone’s AMOLED display was lacking in quality thanks to it’s PenTile design.

Engadget (T-Mobile Variant): “Don’t mess with a good thing — that’s clearly, wisely and rightfully the approach T-Mobile chose to follow when minting its own version of HTC’s One S. There’s no doubt this handset is the carrier’s new flagship, a crown previously held by Magenta’s Galaxy S II. If you can’t afford the HSPA+ version of the Galaxy Nexus, $199 subsidized (after rebate) buys you a state-of-the-art Android smartphone that combines strong branding, refined design and a top-notch user experience. Now, can we have a One S with an HD or non-PenTile display, please?”

The fact that T-Mobile’s version of the One was largely unchanged from the international version is a testament to HTC’s newfound seriousness regarding branding and device experience. It’s something that Engadget found refreshing and it showed in their impressions. Still though, the screen was one thing that they felt needed improving and they wished that the carrier added software was uninstallable.

SlashGear: “It’s tough not to like the HTC One S’ physical feel. The design is subtle and discrete; it’s more how the smartphone feels in your hand that proves alluring. HTC’s metal-bodied phones have always felt sturdy, but the combination of sub-8mm thinness in a flex-free chassis add up to a device that feels more of a premium product than the true One X flagship manages…. The quadcore One X will gain the lion’s share of attention, yes, but the One S is the mainstream device that should go a long way to changing HTC’s fortunes in 2012.”

SlashGear, like most other reviewers, absolutely loved the One S’s premium metal materials, battery life, and build quality. The camera’s UI and image/video quality were other high notes. They were content with the screen, thanks to its punchy colors, especially when using the device solo without an immediate means of comparison. Sense 4.0 also earns praise for being lighter and cleaner, although the widgets were a bit too large in their eyes. They also wished that the bundled earbuds were more premium in terms of audio quality, something that makes sense given the One line’s multimedia aspirations.

SlashGear (T-Mobile Variant): “Big phones, like the Galaxy Note, remain outliers on the market. Even the One X is going to be too large for many, its 4.7-inch display delivering 720p resolution but demanding big pockets and, it has to be said, a fair amount of battery life too. The HTC One S is more of a compromise, true, but one which still delivers speed, longevity and construction that belies its mid-range ambitions. For those reasons alone, it deserves to be T-Mobile USA’s best-seller.”

When they got hold of the T-Mobile variant, SlashGear’s enthusiasm was muted by Sense 4.0,  and the screen quality.  T-Mobile’s bundled applications, and the questionable value proposition of Beats Audio, didn’t help matters. Still, they felt that it was a solid, snappy device with a great camera that fills a need, especially if the One X is seen as too large by a variety of consumers. Network speeds were also deemed good, especially for streaming video and use of the front facing camera during video calls.

The Verge: “When it comes to first impressions, the HTC One S is an instant winner. It marries thinness with a subtle, exquisitely refined design, and its AMOLED display is exactly the sort of vibrant eye-catcher that attracts people in stores…This wouldn’t be an Android phone review, however, if I didn’t bemoan the state of HTC’s custom skin. Sense 4 is an improvement on the company’s previous efforts, but that’s not saying much. The skin sits like a lumpen deformity atop the sleek Ice Cream Sandwich and breaks up the otherwise quick user experience with frustrating design choices and a few instabilities all its own. The One S’ qHD screen resolution is also quickly going out of style and rather lets down the rest of the top-notch spec sheet.”

The Verge loved the One S’s camera UI. They also appreciated how thin the phone was, as well as the data speeds and processing power. One of the biggest misses in their eyes was Sense 4: They really wanted a stock Android 4.0 experience and felt that HTC missed a key opportunity here. Other issues include a finicky SIM access door, and the qHD screen resolution/PenTile matrix.

The Verge (T-Mobile Variant)“If all you want is the best HTC phone you can own today, the easy answer is the One X and its superlative 720p display. But if you’re after the best Android or overall smartphone user experience on T-Mobile, look no further than the One S. It’s better than the Galaxy S II, myTouch 4G or Amaze 4G, and is easily the most compelling phone available from the carrier today.”

The T-Mobile variant of the One S shares many of the same downsides as the international variant in The Verge’s eyes. They also wished that the T-Mobile variant was available with HTC’s microarc oxidation treatment.  However, among its competition on T-Mobile, it rises above those drawbacks to remain a device they recommend over other flagship’s on T-Mobile.

PC Mag (T-Mobile Variant): “It took just six short months for the HTC One S to make T-Mobile’s other phones seem ancient. Its two top competitors on the carrier, while still excellent phones, are no longer quite as competitive… As long as the PenTile display doesn’t bother you, the HTC One S is your best choice on T-Mobile right now.”

PC Magazine liked the One S’s screen, deeming it “vibrant,” though they too wished the display was higher resolution. The build quality was also a high mark of the device in their eyes, as well as the software. They were frustrated though by HTC Sync and a lack of voice dialing over Bluetooth.

CNET (T-Mobile Variant): “In many ways the HTC One S is the Android smartphone loyal T-Mobile subscribers deserve. It’s slim, fast, and runs up-to-date software. At $199 the HTC One S may not be the most affordable handset in T-Mobile’s roster. Still, as the freshest phone to hit the carrier’s lineup in recent memory, it makes a very compelling choice indeed as the best it offers at the moment.”

CNET thinks the One S is a great handset that makes up for the dearth of high-end handsets T-Mobile got during the buyout attempt by AT&T. Sense 4 was liked, along with the camera. The screen’s quality was also praised, along with the overall performance of the phone.


Overall, it seems that the HTC One S represents a solid option for those who want high-end performance but don’t want to deal with a huge screen. The fit and finish, performance and camera impressed nearly every reviewer, and although Sense 4 isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, they all seem to agree that it’s toned down.

Have a One S? Plan to get one? Leave your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear it.


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This entry was posted on April 30, 2012 by in Roundups and tagged , , , , , , , .
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