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By now, we hope you’ve taken the time to read our HTC One X review, and now it’s time for the HTC One S to be put under the microscope. The One S is second in command in the new HTC One line but for those who aren’t in love with the idea of having a 4.7 inch monster in your pocket, the One S may be the top dog for you. With a thin profile and powerful innards, the One S is a force to be reckoned with. In this review, we’ll dive in deep and see if the One S is the “One” to go for, or see if it was properly placed in the 2nd position.
The One S is a beautiful piece of hardware, but that's not much of a surprise. HTC is known for its beautiful designs. That said, the One S is different. With the Micro Arc Oxidation process, the handset is not only beautiful, it's also incredibly durable. More on that later.
The One S packs in some great internal hardware, including the 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 4.3 inch qHD Super AMOLED display, 8 megapixel ImageSense camera with multi-mode LED flash, VGA front-facing camera, 16GB internal storage with 25GB of free DropBox cloud storage, Beats Audio support, every sensor you could expect, like accelerometer, Gyroscope, G-Sensor, proximity and ambient light sensor, and the expected WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS.
Just like the new Sense UI, the design of the One line has been streamlined, which makes for painfully simple, yet elegant designs. The particular unit we're reviewing is the unlocked version, so you wont find any carrier branding on it, but that will surely change when T-Mobile begins offering the device.
The front of the One S is very simple. The face of the device is covered by the 4.3 inch display, as you'd expect, along with the front-facing camera on top, with the proximity and ambient light sensors hidden right below. Below the screen, you'll find the the capacitive soft buttons for back, home, and multitasking. The decision to keep the capacitive buttons is a bit of a grey area. While Ice Cream Sandwich no longer requires physical buttons for navigation, HTC has decided to keep them. The only real downside to this is that you won't be able to customize these buttons if you like to apply custom ROMs, like on the Galaxy Nexus. Still, it's hardly something to complain about.
The left side of the One S has the micro USB port for charging, with a long and thin volume rocker on the right side. The top of the devices houses the power/lock button, 3.5mm headphone jack, noise-cancelling microphone, and a small tab to access the micro SIM. The rear of the the handset only has the camera and LED flash on the top, and the speaker grill with the Beats Audio logo at the bottom.
While some people may be a little bummed that the One S (or the One X, for that matter) lacks a dedicated micro-HDMI port, it does support MHL. There was certainly a point in time that I wouldn't even consider a phone that didn't have a HDMI port but once I actually owned a phone with said port, I never really used. DLNA does the job just fine without the need of a wire, so I can see why some handset manufacturers are opting for MHL.
Possibly our one gripe about the One S is that HTC didn't include NFC. Whether it was because of the back piece causing interference or not, we wish that HTC would have come up with some sort of solution. No, NFC isn't that big of a deal yet but it's going to do nothing but grow in the future. The One S' lack of NFC isn't a deal breaker but if you ever wanted to try out Google Wallet, Android Beam or any other interesting feature using NFC, you're out of luck.
No qualms here. The design of the One S is signature HTC. Simple and elegant. That said, a friend saw me pull the phone out of my pocket and said that it 'looks like a phone that's already been out before." We do suppose that we could see why someone could say that, as it could be mistaken for the Droid Incredible (at a glance), especially with the red ring around the camera, but that's about it. Even then, we won't be mistaking the One S for the Droid Incredible any time soon.
On the other hand, if you're expecting wow-factor for the One S' design, you're not going to find it. Like some LG handsets that went for understated and came off as boring, one could say the same for the One S. We're not necessarily saying this, as we're pretty fond of what HTC has done here, but don't expect this handset to turn heads. You really need to hold it to get a feel of how nice this phone is.
As if you ever needed to question HTC's build quality for its phones, the One S is probably one of the most solid smartphones we've put our geeky paws on before. As we said before, HTC has put the handset's back plate through a Micro Arc Oxidation processor, which essentially hits the strong aluminum backing with 10000 volts of energy. This causes a chemical reaction to the aluminum and leaves a ceramic finish that's much harder than the "un-volted" aluminium.
The finished product is an incredibly strong casing that has a matte finish. In the hand, the phone feels pretty indestructible, save for the face of the handset.
Dropping the phone on a hard surface may give you some scuffs but wouldn't likely do actual damage to the phone. HTC has done it, yet again.
Outside of the solid hardware of the One S, it also packs the latest and greatest version of HTC's Sense UI. Sense 4.0 has been scaled back in a lot of ways compared to previous versions of the custom user interface, which could make the transition for users coming from another Android device that isn't made by HTC a little easier.
HTC had gotten rid of the original dock it once had from previous versions in favor of a more traditional dock found on most Android devices today. It's still "Sensi-fied" in terms of looks but gone is the large phone soft key and the Personalize button you probably never used. There are a handful of changes in the new Sense, but we'd say the dock switch-up is likely to be the most dramatic and noticeable.
Sense 4 is still very much Sense. You'll still have the 7 homescreens to customize that produce a carousal-like animation. The widely-known Sense clock, application tray, and other Sense appendages remain largely intact, though refined in their own ways. Don't expect a massive overhaul in the look and feel department, as the word to describe Sense 4 is "refined".
Like the One X, the One S has no expandable memory via a microSD card. Instead, HTC and DropBox have partnered up to give users 25GB of storage for free. You'll have access to this data for about 2 years, the life of the contract with the carrier.
There's a lot more to Sense 4. So much that we're going to have our own review of HTC's latest version, so stay tuned.
Sense 4.0's web browser has undergone a few tweaks here and there, which makes the browsing experience solid. A simple gesture has been added to the browser that allows you to add the page to your homescreen, bookmarks, or reading list (add to), access your bookmarks, saved pages, or go directly into your open tabs. All you need to do is swipe down on any web page and these options will appear at the bottom of the screen.
Going back to the tabs, its layout hasn't changed much from previous versions of Sense but you are given the option to open a new tab or new incognito tab from this page. Unfortuately, you're still required to tap on a 'X" to close a tab and we wish that we could see the same swipe to dismiss gesture to close a tab, like on the Galaxy Nexus.
Many more settings are found within the browser, which should satisfy the geekiest of geeks. Overall, the new browser within Sense is quite nice.
The One S isn't in short supply of multimedia option by any means. Other than the Google Play Store, the One S offers up HTC Watch for renting movies and TV shows on the go. Watching movies may not necessarily be the best experience on the 4.3 Super AMOLED display but it's certainly not unbearable.
If you're not looking to grab a MHL adapter for the One S, you can just as easily share your content through DLNA. Whether its to a PS3, or some other media server on the same Wi-Fi network, sharing content to other DLNA compatible devices is very easy.
When you're on the go and watching a movie, you can expect some exceptional sound coming from this device. It's not at all surprising that the One S comes with Beats Audio support but HTC has put the eargasmic tech lower into the software stack, allowing for much more support throughout the device.
Like other HTC handsets with impressive cameras, you won't find any shutter lag on the One S. Not only that, it actually takes great pictures in the process, which also shouldn't come as a surprise. HTC's focus on the camera experience has helped it differentiate its handsets from any other Android manufacturer today and it's not done yet.
The layout of the software is very simple and we really like that HTC has put the important features front and center. Along the left side of the viewfinder, you'll find flash, mode, and settings menu icons. On the right side, you'll find effects, camera shutter, video recording, and gallery options. While we do wish that there were some sort of customization options à la Samsung's Touchwiz, it's very easy to use.
Unlike other camera software, which just switches from camera to video modes, pressing the video button on the One S will immediately begin to record video. We suppose you'll get used to it but in our short time with the handset, we never did.
Like we said, the camera takes some great pictures but at some point you can see that the color saturation is a bit intense. The sky in the top two pictures looks nice and vivid but it's not a true color representation. Still, it's hard to speak ill of this camera.
We caught quite a bit of noise from the wind while recording video,
We can't really speak much for the call quality of the One S since this is an unlocked unit. We were using the phone on AT&T, which has a pretty notorious reputation here in San Francisco. Calls weren't awful, nor were they exceptional. Either way, we're not counting off for this. We'll wait and see what T-Mobile's version brings to the table later this year.
Battery life is on par with what you'd expect a powerful handset of this caliber to endure. You'll get through a day but not much more, which is nothing you haven't heard before. Of course, heavy usage of just about any phone will yield results that are less than stellar. While this phone isn't much different, we're pretty impressed with the battery life when it comes to moderate usage.
Simply put, the One S is a great phone that is a joy to use and hold. There are enough bells and whistles to satisfy most users today, and it's packaged in a shell that's both solid and sexy. And I'm going to reiterate that this probably is the most solid device I've ever touched.
HTC has clearly redefined what it is to create a phone with its logo on it and we couldn't be happier with the One line. Both the One S and One X signal a new beginning for HTC and if these handsets are apart of the first wave, we can't wait to see what's in store for the future.
At this moment in time, we probably couldn't suggest a better pair of phones. Sure, in a few months something bigger and better will come out but will likely lack the styling and solidity that the One line shares. Even if the competition brings the heat, we at least know that the One S can withstand it.
If you've been longing for a HTC comeback, you just got your wish.