Good things come in threes, or so they say. HTC has three phones in its One-series range: the top-end One X, the low-end One V and the piggy-in-the-middle HTC One S. But, as it is with all middle children, the One S struggles to stand out.
Did you road test the One X in a phone shop recently, but walked away concerned that the screen was too big? It's probably the most common refrain from people handling this year's batch of smartphones, especially those who are used to the considerably smaller iPhone. HTC and Samsung are arm wrestling for your Android interest, and the size and quality of the screens is one of the key battlegrounds. Both the One X and the Galaxy S III have screens in excess of 4.5 inches diagonally, and, for some users, this is just too big.
Enter the HTC One S. It mostly shares the physical design of the One X, but packs it into a slightly smaller package. The screen here is 4.3 inches in size, which in turn shaves 5mm off the height and width of the handset, compared with the larger One X. The screen is also lower resolution, down to a qHD (540x960-pixel) panel, and makes use of AMOLED screen technology, rather than Super LCD. While it is hard to notice the drop in pixels with the naked eye, the shift in screen technology is far more pronounced. Colours displayed on the One S are bold, bordering on appearing over-saturated. This will bother some people, but only as much as it will be seen as evidence of how great this screen is by others. Our test video content looks amazing on the AMOLED screen, and its off-axis viewing angles are outstanding.
HTC opts for a aluminium chassis on the One S, with a small, detachable portion at the top on the back of the handset. Below this, the user can find a micro-SIM slot beside the phone's 8-megapixel camera lens. The battery in the One S is non-user accessible, like the One X, and there is no micro-SD card reader to expand the handset's internal 16GB of storage — of which only 12GB is available for users to store personal content on.
User experience and features
For the most part, the user experience and pre-installed features on the One S are the same as those we saw earlier in the year when we reviewed the One X. This handset runs on Android Ice Cream Sandwich (our review unit was on version 4.0.3) with HTC Sense version 4.0 over the top. This includes Beats Audio software, the HTC Watch movie-rental service, the time-stamped HTC Notes app and plenty more.
For richer details as to what you can expect, especially if you are using an older HTC device, check out our One X review.
So much of the One X and One S is the same, but differences appear below the surface. While the top-shelf One X runs on Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 processor, the S is powered by the seemingly slower dual-core Qualcore Krait chip, clocked at 1.5GHz per core. We say "seemingly slower", meaning you could confuse cores with speed, but this isn't necessarily the case.
In our performance benchmarks, the One S held its own admirably. It's BrowserMark results are in proximity of those when the test is run on the Tegra 3 hardware, and our OpenGL 3D-rendering test places the One S among the best phones we've seen this year. This tests don't hold too much water, in our opinion, but they at least indicate what you'll see in everyday use; that the One S offers a smooth, pleasurable user experience.
As it was with the HTC One X, battery life is a concern with the One S. HTC does a decent job of preserving juice when the phone is in standby mode, but when the screen is on, the battery life is among the lowest we've seen this year. This means that light to moderate users won't be too concerned; if you don't have one long sessions browsing the web each day, you shouldn't notice the battery running short. But heavy users will definitely need to look elsewhere for a phone that can handle their usage patterns.
Battery life (time)
- Wi-Fi browsing
- 720p video playback
- 7h 8m
- Samsung Galaxy S3
- 4h 27m
- Sony Xperia P
- 3h 50m
- HTC One S
- 3h 47m
- HTC One X
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Though it sounds very similar on paper, the camera in the One S isn't as impressive as the one we saw in the One X, or the Samsung Galaxy S III, for that matter. That said, it is still a very capable shooter, with burst shooting and high dynamic range (HDR) settings, fast auto-focus and decent colour reproduction. We did find that too many of our test images came out a little soft and blurry, though, so you will have to make sure that your hands are steady when shooting with the One S.
Crammed between the One X and One V, the One S is a phone with middle-child syndrome. It has a good design, solid performance and some excellent features, but so does the One X, with it's larger, 4.7-inch screen. Battery life is a big concern, too, and while we appreciate that HTC is consciously putting the slim-line design of its handsets first, we are hesitant in recommending a phone with battery-drain results like those we saw when we put the One S through the CNET Australia labs.
In theory, the One S should be a cheaper version of the One X flagship model, but Australian customers won't benefit from a difference in price, with Optus offering both HTC models on the same AU$50 plan. If you really can't stand the larger screen on the One X, then the S is a reasonable alternative, but so too would be the Galaxy Nexus, Sony Xperia S or last year's now-cheaper Galaxy S II.