The HTC One S is the piggy in the middle of HTC’s 2012 line-up, offering a 4.3″ AMOLED display inside a very slim and stylish aluminium chassis. You get the same ImageSense camera technology as employed to such great effect in the HTC One X, along with Android 4.0.3 and the very latest HTC Sense user interface over the top.
But there are a couple of key changes inside the One S. Qualcomm’s dual-core 1.5GHz S4 processor runs the show here, plus the display runs at 540×960 resolution – slightly lower than the One X’s officially HD 720×1280 screen.
The end result is a phone that’s very, very slim and stylish. The metallic body makes the One S cold to the touch, but it’s still textured enough round the back and sides that you don’t feel like you’re going to drop it.
And, unlike the HTC One X, the S can be opened up to insert the Micro-SIM. But, once again, the One S does not come with SD card support, nor can you remove the battery. This model came with 16GB of onboard storage space, half the 32GB onboard the high-end One X.
The different display tech is immediately obvious if you’ve seen the HTC One X in action. The One S uses an AMOLED screen, and runs at that lower resolution, meaning the display isn’t anything like as sharp as that found on the One X.
Click this and you can hopefully see what we mean about the AMOLED “mesh” effect on the icon text. It’s bright and features deep blacks, good contrast and is acceptable in bright light, but there’s no pretending this is anything like as sharp as the screen of the One X or Sony’s sensationally clear Xperia S.
The camera bump around the back’s not as pronounced as that found on the One X, so there’s less worry about it getting knackered. However, the One S does seem to shed its paint rather easily – those white patches are where the black colouring has rubbed off just through being in our pocket for a week.
We’ll keep the rest of this review brief, as the software onboard the One S is literally identical to that included with the One X, so we’ll just cover the basics here and run through anything we missed during the One X review.
If that’s OK with you.
So yes, the same Android 4.0.3 OS comes installed on the One S, with HTC’s version 4 Sense interface adding and altering the experience in a mostly very pleasurable manner. Widgets can be resized, HTC’s altered Android 4.0 shortcut/icon menu is in and it all moves smoothly and without glitch.
You get the same great, slimmed down Notifications pane as in the HTC One X (left), while pressing its “Settings” button quickly brings up the complete settings menu and plenty more toggles.
And that’s the excellent Dropbox integration. We didn’t think we’d use it, as we’re not overly keen on too much automation invading our lives, but… it’s just great having all your photos automatically dump themselves to your Dropbox account via wi-fi. Life’s better with Dropbox.
Lock screen music controls (left) plus the aforementioned HTC widget/icon installer, which gives you a great visual approach to customising the Home screens.
The phone dialer comes with all the numbers. Zero, three, seven and more, plus the Contacts section is an amazingly comprehensive destination in itself.
One thing we glossed over during the One X review was the web browser options. Being based around Android 4.0 means you get the Quick Controls tab option, which removes the URL bar from the browser and lets you access all the menu options by dragging your finger in from the right-hand edge of the display to pop up the blue dial (right).
It’s a great system that even gives you miniature icons illustrating your open tabs, although sliding your finger in from the right when using the phone in landscape mode is a bit awkward. You end up hitting Home or pulling up the multitasking menu.
Media playback’s great once again, with a custom video player onboard too. HD 720p MKV files and AVIs played perfectly on the One S.
If you’d like to buy films through official channels, HTC Watch in onboard. Due to HTC running a 5p rental promotion we actually tried it out. It works. Putting your credit card details in is a bit of a worry, but… it’s HTC. HTC’s not going to start buying stuff off Amazon using our card, is it?
The menu buttons still behave a little oddly. On apps that don’t yet include the android 4.0 spec menu, you’ll see a black overlay at the bottom of the screen, which often then expands to bring in more menu options. Which is how it’s always been done, but it can lead to having multiple menu buttons on the screen.
HTC Hub is here once again, giving us a curated app listing and collection of extra HTC audio and visual customisations to download. There’s not much new stuff here, still the same old sound sets HTC’s been offering for the last couple of years.
The camera app’s the same as the HTC One X. All controls accessed through on-screen toggles, very simple, super-quick to open and focus. We love it, and it’s the highlight of the One S just as it was the One X.
Some HTC One S camera samples for you. It’s such a fast camera to use, plus you get the same quick-launch option from the lock screen, the same collection of great filters and excellent picture quality as with the HTC One X camera.
The same HDR option (off left, on right) is present, too. Does a good job of jazzing up photos, although you can’t use the excellent continuous shooting mode when capturing in HDR.
The digital zoom.
Post-production filters within the photo gallery.
One thing we didn’t mention in the HTC One X camera review is the clever custom filter options. Once you’re done editing a shot, you can “Save Preset” and add your edit criteria as a custom filter, for easy one-press editing of future shots to the same spec. Who needs Instagram?
Great camera. Fast, colourful, and once again we just can’t stop taking photographs with it. That’s the macro close-up mode to the right, capturing some great local fungus.
Last one. Promise. Little lambs.
OK, just one more of the panorama stitching tool. It’s great at building enormous scenes.
The gallery view’s customisable, so you can choose to import other photo services and have them displayed within your phone’s photo hub. And that’s the lovely Home screen gallery widget, which you can flick up and down.
A 1080p video sample recorded using the One S. You get the same slow motion option as found within the One X, too. The only odd change here concerns the front-facing camera, which has been downscaled to only VGA resolution. Yes, VGA, despite HTC’s One S spec sheet [PDF] claiming it’d be a 1.3MP model. It’s not.
The email app’s the same as found on the HTC One X. That’s what Gmail looks like, as we didn’t look at it before.
Battery life is amazing. The smaller 1650mAh unit inside the One S completely thrashed the HTC One X in terms of uptime, easily sailing through a day of serious use. It’s not just a bit better, it’s two or three times better. It’s a big win for Qualcomm’s S4 over the One X’s Tegra 3 internals and the smaller AMOLED display.
A few sites have suggested the build quality of HTC’s new phones isn’t good enough. We disagree and like the way the One X and One S feel – they’re slim, light and comfortable to hold. They don’t feel cheap to us, just light and well put together.
However, as you can see, quite a bit of the black coating has already rubbed off our One S, and this is only after a week of very, very careful use. There are white “bald patches” on the back where the black coating’s come off, plus a few chips of paint missing from the top edge.
You’ll need to put the One S in a case if you want to keep it in mint condition. Which ruins the appeal of the slim, cool metallic unibody chassis somewhat, and makes a mockery of HTC’s claims of using amazingly innovative construction processes.
However, niggles aside, in some ways we like the One S more than the One X. The slightly smaller screen’s more manageable when using it with one hand, the metallic body feels great and is super-slim, and the battery life is astonishing and absolutely DESTROYS the short-lived HTC One X…
…but it all boils down to whether you can live with the AMOLED display or not. It lacks the sharpness and clarity of the One X and the fantastic Xperia S and we found the odd pixel/stippling effect a constant distraction when using the phone.
But then again, lots of people prefer the AMOLED way of doing things. If you’re one of them, the HTC One S is a faultless phone. Great battery life, nice body, and very, very smooth in action throughout. We’d go so far as to recommend it over the One X, if you’re used to AMOLED displays.