HTC One S first impressions – Powerful and smart in a small package

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The One S is what you’d call the “middle of the road” in the new One line from HTC, but the handset is anything but mid-range. The handset packs a punch with its internal hardware, and demands attention with its simple and ultra thin profile. We recent got one of these bad boys sent to us and have been playing with it over the weekend. We will save all of the juicy details for the forthcoming official review but here is a few first impressions of the HTC One S.

Hardware

The One S is about as sleek as any HTC device we’ve come across before but it’s very thin and has an in-hand feel that’s more solid than any HTC handset before it. The One S may not necessarily get the attention it deserves due to its subtle design but it’s the internal hardware that really allows it to shine.

Like the One X, the One S’ display also looks to spill over to the side of the device but it’s less noticeable, as the contrast isn’t as dramatic as the white One X. Nonetheless, the One S is a beautiful device that really needs to be held before any opinions are made.

Back when HTC released the EVO 4G on Sprint, the idea of a 4.3 inch display seemed unnecessary. Fast forward to today and the One S looks downright small. It’s thin profile also makes the handset seem even smaller. Luckily, the size will be just right for those not looking for a 4.5 inch screen on their next smartphone.

The 4.3 inch screen is a qHD (960 x 540) Super AMOLED display, which provides rich colors and beautiful saturation. We do like the display, but it’s pretty easy to see individual pixels on the screen. It’s not a bad screen in any way but it’s certainly not the Super LCD 2 display found on the One X.

The One S isn’t the most powerful handset we’ve seen before but it’s definitely not something you should dismiss, even if you’re a power user. Powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor, the One S is a zippy and we’ve yet to experience any sort of lag whatsoever. Along with the fast processor and 4.3 inch display, the One S also includes an eight-megapixel camera with HTC’s new sensor to take even better shots, faster, VGA front-facing camera for video chat, 1GB DDR2 RAM, 16GB internal storage, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, along with the new HTC Sense 4.0.

We’re going to go back to the external side of the One S, as its casing isn’t the usual aluminum found on most phones today. This aluminum is hit with 10000 volts, which results in a chemical reaction that produces a ceramic finish that’s said to be three times harder than stainless steel. HTC boasts that this sort of finish on the phone will allow users to feel comfortable without a case, because you won’t need one.

Software

The One S ships with the newly refined version of Sense, which scales the heavily customized user interface down quite a bit. Sense has largely been a favorite for Android users but at some point became a bloated mess. HTC noticed this too, took out its tools, and chiseled out some of its customizations within Sense. The result is Sense 4.0.

Sense 4.0 is still very much Sense, but strips a few HTC tweaks out of the software to make it give stock Android come through a bit. One of the changes that are most easy to notice is that there is no longer the large soft key for the phone application and the bottom of the homescreen. Instead, HTC has opted for the traditional dock found on most Android devices today.

Other HTC-made applications have also received a revamp as well, with the camera software being one of the most notable. Like most of the simple refinements of the Sense UI’s homescreen, the camera software has been tweaked to be very straight forward and simple. The features you’ll likely user more often are found right on the screen, including the flash and mode settings, as well as an option to dig into the rest of the settings. A zoom bar sprawls across the bottom of the viewfinder, and the gallery thumbnail, effects button, and the option to quickly switch from camera to camcorder is always found on the right side of the viewfinder. We’ll get into the camera more in the official review, as there’s a lot to see.

You’ll still find the familiar lock screen and carousal effect when scrolling through home screen panels, as well as the slightly tweaked, Sense clock that adorns all of HTC’s handsets out of the box. If you’ve been using Sense for a while now, you’ll be right at home, as most refinements in the latest version have no sort of learning curve.

Overall, the Sense UI running on top of Ice Cream Sandwich is mostly a hit, with only a few qualms. We like that HTC has scaled back some of the customization of its software, but for every refinement, there’s another new software tweak somewhere else. We’re really picking at it as this point, though.

There are many people who prefer to keep their Android as stock as possible and would never consider HTC Sense for its heavy customization. It’s true that HTC’s experience is pretty much unlike any other Android phone’s today but that’s also why there’s such a following behind it to begin with. Luckily, the new and improved version of Sense scales back enough for the stock Android purists to appreciate it, without losing any of its previous fans. Sense 4.0 is much more approachable from both sides and it’s definitely where HTC wants to be right now.

We’ll be getting down to the nitty-gritty with the One S and put it through its paces for our official review. For now, feel free to check out the gallery below!

 

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