HTC One S, a First Look

Gear Diary HTC One S

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go into Manhattan on a Monday morning and get an early look at HTC’s new line of phones, the HTC One. There are three phones in the series: the HTC ONE X, the HTC ONE V, and the HTC ONE S. The latter will soon be released on T-Mobile, and for the last 48 hours I’ve been able to run one through its paces. (Check out more info on the HTC ONE, here.) It’s far too early to be able to give a full review of the device, but it certainly isn’t too early to give some initial, and not so initial, impressions of it. Here are a few.

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Here’s what HTC has to say about the line:

HTC One S boasts a head-turning design on our thinnest phone yet. With beauty both inside and out, our new display delivers a rich viewing experience like you’ve never seen before. You’ll love the camera that captures every moment (even in low light) with crisp, vivid, beautiful photos. Plus, with Beats Audio™ you hear authentic, deep sound with true, finely-tuned details.

Capture video and pictures at the same time: The camera on HTC One devices starts up in just under a second to ensure you capture the moment. Plus with photo and video capture buttons on the same screen, it’s easy to switch modes or simply snap a photo while recording HD at the same time.

Continuous shooting: Never miss a shot again…ever. With continuous shooting you capture every moment. Just press and hold the shutter button and the camera captures every picture until you let go. It’s faster, smarter and more intuitive.

Authentic sound for all media: The new, integrated music experience makes it easy to access all your music libraries, favorite audio apps and Internet radio simultaneously from one convenient location. And with Beats Audio™ built-in, you get rich, authentic sound.

Quick access to your top apps: Access to your favorite apps is just a finger stroke away. Set your phone and quickly get weather updates, stock information or your favorite people’s Facebook status. Or see your to-do lists and events in a glance.

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I do not believe it is an overstatement to say that the HTC ONE series represents the culmination of everything the company has learned over the past 10 or so years. The device looks fantastic, it feels terrific, and it stands out thanks to its sleek beauty. One of the things that has always struck me about the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S is the fact that it is so refined that it feels more like a fine piece of jewelry than an electronic device.

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HTC has been able to achieve something similar with this device. It has a graceful curves, glass which stands up at certain points along the way but is flush with the body of the phone at others, seemingly let it float on the device. It is remarkably solid and is actually a rather nice size when you want to use the device one-handed.

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And then there is this — this phone is thin like a supermodel; a gorgeous thin but strong supermodel.

The phone is incredibly thin, but it is also remarkably light and despite those two achievements it still feels solid. In fact, it actually feels better in the hand then the iPhone 4S does. After using it for a day, the iPhone 4S feels rather boxy, angular (but not in a good way) and heavy. I hate to say it but HTC has done a better job on the physical feel of the device then Apple has been able to achieve.

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And the beauty isn’t only skin deep. Let’s run down the specs.

Size: 130.9 x 65 x 7.8 mm

Weight: 119.5 grams with battery

Display: 4.3-inch touch screen

Screen: 4.3-inch (540 x 960 resolution)

CPU Speed: 1.5 GHz, dual core

Platform: Android™ 4.0 with HTC Sense™ 4

SIM card type: microSIM

Total storage: 16 GB


Sensors: Gyro sensor, G-Sensor, Digital compass, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor

Connectivity: 3.5 mm stereo audio jack, Bluetooth with aptX™ enabled (Bluetooth® 4.0), Wi-Fi®: IEEE 802.11b/g/n, DLNA® for wirelessly streaming media from the phone to a compatible TV or computer, micro-USB 2.0 (5-pin) port with mobile high-definition video link (MHL) for USB or HDMI connection (Special cable required for HDMI connection.)

Camera with HTC ImageSense™:

8 megapixel camera with auto focus, smart LED flash, and BSI sensor (for better low-light captures)

F2.0 aperture and 28mm lens

1080p HD video recording

VGA front camera

Dedicated imaging chip

Capture a photo in the midst of recording HD video
Continuous shooting mode captures multiple snapshots

Auto flash smartly determined by distance from your subject

Video stabilization feature removes annoying, shaky motion

High quality slow motion video capture and playback

Sound enhancement: Beats Audio™

Battery Capacity: 1650 mAh

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The phone ships with the phone, some user instructions, a SIM card, a wall adapter and a USB to micro USB cable. That’s it. Yes, while it has Beats audio built-in this phone it won’t be shipping with Beats headphones the way the last generation of HTC Beats devices did. In fact, it won’t ship with any headphones at all.

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I think back to the first iPhone which came bundled with headphones and a wall charger and a sync/charge cable and a dock and then take a look at this device which doesn’t even include headphones and… Companies are going cheap these days! Then again, since most of us already have headphones (assuming we use them) it doesn’t really matter to us if headphones are included or not. Still it is one more example of companies finding a way to save a few pennies here and there.

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Let’s talk speed. The device is fast. Really fast! During my brief time with it I have experienced no slowdowns whatsoever. The responsiveness is fantastic and almost makes the experience of using Android pleasant, even for an iOS guy like me.

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As previously mentioned, the device comes with Beats audio integrated and it shows. The sound coming from the speakers isn’t tinny the way I have come to expect HTC devices to be. No, listening to a number of songs over the phone’s speaker itself was a pleasant experience and this was the case whether I was listening to Jamiroquai, the Strokes or even some classical music. No, it’s not a full big audio experience but it certainly is better than anything I’ve heard from an HTC device and it is up there or better than any other handheld I used.

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I’ve been rather open about my dislike for Android, and I’m still not completely sold on it. Still. I must say that the combination of phenomenal hardware that is thin, light and fast with tight integration of Google’s services was a pleasant and surprising change for me. I logged into Google Music Play, and within seconds all of the songs I’ve uploaded to my Google account were right there. One tap on the screen, and the music was streaming from the cloud down to me while I was driving. I was more that a bit impressed.

And let’s talk briefly about the screen. To put it simply – it’s gorgeous. I’ve become used to using devices with beautiful screens and this one is right up there with the best of them. Colors are bright, there’s a bit of depth to the images on the screen and the fact that everything moves so quickly adds to the visual experience of using the device. I mentioned previously that the screen almost seems to float on top of the device because it is thicker at the middle than it is on the ends with the middle portion actually showing a bit of the screen sides. This effect has been rather captivating while using the device.

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Put it altogether, and you get what is actually a rather elegant device experience. That’s not something I easily say about an Android device, but it is true. It looks and feels great, it works with the operating system beautifully, and it is snappy and sounds good.

And one more aspect of the device deserves a mention. Google’s voice recognition program capabilities have always left me a bit cold. They were a bit clunky, not accurate enough, and would often cut off dictation in the middle, but not at a standard time such as after 30 seconds or a minute. That’s completely different on this device. The voice recognition is quite accurate. No, it’s still not as good as Nuance is Dragon Dictation or Siri-powered mobile voice recognition but it is a far cry from the last experience I had with Google’s offering. And there is one area when it has a big leg up on Nuance and Siri; the program doesn’t stop the dictation process after 45 seconds or a minute and then process everything. Rather, it processes your transcription on the fly. That means as you speak the words you said a few seconds before will show up on the screen as you continue to dictate. This is a nice enhancement to the process of trying to dictate your emails or text. As it stands now I am writing the first pass of this review on my iPhone because that was the device that had a charge (more on that in a second), and I’m finding that every minute it cuts me off and has to process the dictation. I like this new approach far more.

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So what is the downside of the phone? First off it’s on T-Mobile, so that will be a deal breaker for many but perhaps a welcome aspect for some. The big issue is, (and I cannot report on this definitively yet, because I have only had two days with the device), but I think the beautiful screen, the speed and the thinness added together equal sub-par battery life. I know that the phone ran down before I even got going today. Combine that with a non-replaceable battery and this just might be the Achilles Heel of an otherwise amazing device.

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1 reply

  1. Nice quick look Dan. Can’t wait to see the real thing. Although I am a spec maniac this still may fit the bill. Have not personally been with HTC since the HD2 but I like what I am seeing so far this year. If the One X doesn’t make it to TMO and the SGS3 is too far out this may be my next. Glad you are liking 4.0 so far.