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HTC One S Review
HTC delayed the launch of the One S in India for a pretty long time. Though the exact reason is not known, it feels like HTC didn’t want the One S to cannibalize the sales of the One X, since benchmarks on the Internet proved that the S4-powered One S trounced the Tegra 3-powered One X in several tests. It’s no secret that the Indian version of the One S will have the S3 SoC instead of the S4 and the reason behind this is that Qualcomm isn’t able to produce enough number of S4 chips to satisfy the global demand. But is this really a deal breaker to the average consumer? Let’s find out.
HTC One S video review The HTC One S is a well rounded smartphone
The HTC One S is a well rounded smartphone
Design and Build
The One X-inspired design gives the One S an extremely sexy and streamlined look. This is hands-down one of the sexiest phones in the market and you’ll fall in love with it the moment you hold it in your hands. It’s incredibly slim at just 7.8mm and light as well, weighing just 119g. The ceramic shell is very smooth to the touch and feels durable as well. The black version is the one with the micro-arc oxidation process while the others simply have a gradient finish. Just like the One X, the Gorilla Glass overflows on either side over the edge which adds to its visual appeal. In the front, we just have the row of capacitive buttons and a front facing VGA camera while the sensors are hidden behind the black bezel.
There’s only a microUSB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack for connectivity, along with the power and volume rocker buttons. Coming to the rear, we have an 8MP camera with a single LED flash along with the speaker grill at the bottom. The flap around the camera is removable, which is where you insert the microSIM card. There’s no expandable memory card slot so you’ll have to make do with the 16GB onboard. Just like the One X, the battery is also non-removable which could be an issue if you want to use a bigger battery pack. Overall, I was really impressed with the design and build of the HTC One S and also favour it over the One X, mostly due to the fact that a 4.3-inch screen is a lot more manageable than a 4.7-inch one.
Gradient effect makes it stand out from the crowd
Speaking of the screen, we get a Super AMOLED display with a 960 x 540 pixel resolution so text, images, icons appear sharp and crisp. You get nice saturated colours, although at times it can be a bit much, and really deep black levels. One small issue we faced was the purple fringing, which is most prominent on grey backgrounds or when the backlight is self-adjusting the brightness. You’ll notice this when you launch the Play Store and some other apps with a grey background but otherwise, it’s not visible in photos or video. This is not a defect of the screen but rather a side-effect of the Pentile display technology. The One S comes with Android 4.0 along with Sense 4.0 skin running on top.
A familiar interface
The interface is smooth as one would expect and all the animations and swiping through home screens and menus are very quick and smooth. Like I mentioned at the outset, the One S sold in India (Asia in fact) and some European countries will have the Qualcomm S3 SoC instead of the S4. Now for the average user, you really won’t be able to tell any real difference in performance, however, the one area that is of concern is the battery life. The S3 MSM8260 is built on the older 45nm fabrication whereas the S4 MSM8260A uses the smaller and more power efficient 28nm fab process. This not only lets it run cooler but also requires less power to function.
A good performer (Click for a larger image)
Apart from this, the S4 also has an Adreno 225 GPU instead of Adreno 220, supports dual-channel memory and manages to cram in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios along with 2G and 3G radios. The beefed up GPU is said to offer roughly 30-40% more performance but for most 3D games, it’s unlikely you’ll notice the difference. As you can see from the graphs however, the S3 is still a very capable SoC, scoring high across the board. If you’re finicky about the CPU bit then your only option right now is to source it from the US or other places or simply wait it out till Qualcomm can ramp up their manufacturing process.
The music and video player is pretty much the same as the one you get in the One X. The music player now integrates Sound Hound, Tune-in Radio and 7 Digital music store. Beats Audio is present, which does a decent job of enhancing the sound, however, it can never be compared to the Wolfson audio chip in the S III, which is in a league of its own. Sadly, HTC's done away with other enhancements like equalizer presets. The music player is easy to use and there’s even a lockscreen widget so you can control your music without unlocking your phone.
Good media performance
The video player has been tweaked a bit as well. It will still only play MP4 videos but you now have the option to capture a frame from a video and save it. The player also lets you use Beats Audio so it’s not only limited to music. You can even edit the video right there using the trim option.
There’s plenty of connectivity options right from 3G, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, TV-out via MHL. Two features that are missing include USB On-the-go and NFC. Other than Google’s default fleet of Android centric apps that also now include Google + with its messenger, HTC has bundled some of their own features as well, which include GPS-enhanced services. First up is Locations which is a 30-day trial of a versatile and easy to use Navigation (with Voice) software. HTC Hub is the company’s own little Android Market for downloading tweaks for HTC Sense as well as a few choice apps that would work well for the handset. You will need to Sign in/Create an HTC account to download the apps but it’s a bit redundant seeing as you’re taken back to the Google Play Store to actually download the app.
Plenty of bundled apps to play around with
There are plenty of handy features that come with the One S, out of the box. You have HTC centric apps like the Mirror, a Task Manager to kill apps and services, Flashlight, Notes that syncs with your Evernote account to a data transfer app that works between compatible devices and many more. The HTC Sense keyboard is not the best that I’ve come across, so if you are looking for a good alternative, I found SwiftKey to be an excellent choice. It’s a lot faster and more accurate as well.
As slim as they come
You also get productivity apps like Polaris office and a PDF viewer is on board for document files. HTC’s Car setup gives you a landscape display with oversized icons that make it easy to access features on your device while you’re driving.
The 8MP camera seems to be the same one lifted from the One X as all the features, including burst mode, are present. Another reason why we think it’s the same one is because the One S also has some issues focusing in macro mode. This seems to be a software glitch and we hope HTC can fix this. Burst mode works splendidly, just like it did on the One X although I did feel the One X had a slight edge with the quad-core CPU. I noticed at times that the camera will not engage burst mode immediately. Even if I continue holding the shutter, there’s a slight lag before it kicks in.
One of the best camera interfaces
The quality and detail in the images are really good, especially in outdoor shots. The LED flash comes in handy for low light shooting but the flash is not very powerful so make sure your subjects aren’t further than 5ft. Video recording maxes out at 1080p and supports stereo sound recording along with video stabilization.
Plenty of depth of field effects make for some stunning photos
Another outdoor shot
Shot in burst mode. Notice there's no blurring anywhere
Macro shots are good but it does have trouble focusing on smaller objects
The HTC One S is fitted with a 1650mAh battery that lasted nearly 7 hours in our video drain test. This is not bad but could have been better if it had the S4 chip inside. In our loop test, the smartphone lasted through one and half hours of calling, two hours of video and four hours of audio. All tests were performed under the automatic brightness mode.
Verdict and Price in India
The HTC One S is available in the market for Rs.33,900 although you can find it online for a little less. At this price, it goes up against Sony’s Xperia S and Samsung’s Galaxy Note and between these two the Xperia S is the stronger competitor to the HTC One S since both are focused around multimedia and imaging. Between the two, I’d have to go with the One S as the better all-rounder. Now before you get all fired up and head for the comments section, let me make this very clear - the One S does have a slight fringing issue in the AMOLED screen and yes, it’s an outrage that we have to put up with the S3 chipset instead of the brand new S4. However, I wouldn’t call these two little chinks a deal breaker as the One S is still a very good phone, so there's no need to disregard it for this reason alone. I do wish HTC had launched it under 30K though, as it currently feels a tad expensive. If you are paranoid about having the S4 chipset then by all means source it from elsewhere or wait for Qualcomm to get their act together. For the rest of you looking for a slim, super-fast and very capable Android, I highly recommend the HTC One S.