HTC has a long tradition in manufacturing unique high-quality smartphones and while the company might have lost its focus a little bit last year, it's definitely back with its new HTC One-series, which HTC announced at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The HTC One S, which is one of three new HTC One-series Android phones, is HTC's mid-range smartphone of the series only, even if it would be a high-end smartphone for other manufacturers. It's powered by a Qualcomm S4 dual-core Snapdragon CPU at 1.5 GHz and for sure it's running on Android 4.0.3/Ice Cream Sandwich, which is enhanced with HTC's brand-new HTC Sense 4.0 user interface which was exclusively developed for the HTC One-series.
Connectivity-wise, the phone comes with everything a non-LTE state-of-the-art smartphone should feature and this includes quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE, triband UMTS/HSDPA+ (up to 21 Mbps)/HSUPA (up to 5.76 Mbps) at 850/900/2100 MHz as well as WiFi b/g/n (at 2.4 and 5 GHz) and Bluetooth 4.0 support. Furthermore the One S features the Android-typical gyro and G-sensors, digital compass as well as a proximity and ambient light sensor. Not on-board is NFC which is reserved for the One X. However, that's pretty much common nowadays.
Not so common is the material HTC is using for the body. While the One S is succeeding HTC's long tradition of unibody aluminum designs, the black One is is featuring an ultra-matte black Ceramic Metal surface that is the result of a microarc oxidation (MAO) process originally developed for use in satellites. It transforms the surface of the aluminum unibody into a ceramic, super-dense crystalline structure that is four times harder than anodized aluminum, enabling the HTC One S to look great over time.
The here pictured grey One S uses the more traditional anodizing but takes this to a new level with a new patented process that creates a light-to-dark gradient fade that looks gorgeous and sophisticated.
The super sharp, crispy and flat 4,3" Gorilla Glas Super AMOLED touchscreen features a qHD (540 x 960 pixel) screen resolution and thanks to the minimized bezel, the One S' footprint is much smaller than someone would expect from a 4.3" device.
In terms of camera quality and features, HTC made some real progress and it seems that the HTC engineers spent a good amount of time to bring the company into the champions league, now competing with companies like Nokia, Samsung and Sony. The 8 megapixel main camera with continuous auto focus comes with a smart LED flash which determines the distance from photographed subjects.
The camera's BSI sensor allows better low-light captures, even without the use of the LED flash, which is also backed-up and supported by the F2.0 aperture and 28 mm lens. Videos can be recorded up to 1080p and also includes stereo sound. While the hardware improvements are important, the best hardware is only as good as it is supported by the software which controls it; and HTC also put a lot of effort in enhancing its HTC Sense 4.0 user interface.
It allows to capture a photo in the midst of recording a HD video and also features a continuous shooting mode which captures multiple snapshots with a single tap. The video stabilization feature removes annoying and shaky motion during video recordings.
Unfortunately not so fancy is the slightly underpowered 0.3 megapixel VGA front facing camera which is nevertheless good enough for video telephony and chat.
The One S requires a mico-SIM and doesn't support the expansion of the inbuilt memory of 1 GB RAM and 16 GB flash memory. However, the One S features free 25 GB of Dropbox online storage for two years, which for instance allows to upload photos and videos automatically.
The device comes with the now typical Android 4.0 button-layout which features the home, back and most recently used applications keys and the micro USB port supports MHL-HDMI video and audio out.
At a size of 130.9 x 65 x 7.95 mm, the HTC One S weights 121,9 gram only, including the non-removable 1.650 mAh Li-Polymer battery.
While the HTC One S is running Android 4.0.3/Ice Cream Sandwich, it wouldn't be an HTC device if it would come with the Android 4.0 vanilla look and feel. But for sure is the One S, like all new One-series devices, featuring HTC Sense 4.0. Being much lighter and smoother than its forerunners but also more powerful at the same time, it's not only replacing Google's Android 4.0 user interface, because it's not just a skin, but it's HTC's very own user experience for Android. It's even adding or enhancing Android 4.0 features, Google has left. Best example is the camera user interface above, which adds countless of options and settings.
But HTC is definitely not addressing the typical early adaptor only but also users which might be new to either Android or smartphones in general. After the first start of the One S, Sense 4.0 is showing simple introduction overlays on first time opened Sense apps, to give users a hint how to use these apps and what to expect from them.
This is pretty handy for users which are new to smartphones, Android or HTC Sense 4.0 and definitely a worth addition to give users a head-start.
But then again, HTC Sense 4.0 is not only about HTC's own user interface, the HTC One S also comes with a wide range of preinstalled apps. For sure this includes all common Google Android services like Gmail and Maps as well as some widely used 3rd party apps like Facebook or Twitter. However, others like the mail and calendar app are replacing the original Android apps and others are completely new to HTC Sense 4.0. For instance the One's integrated music experience, which allows to easily access all music libraries and installed audio apps including the preinstalled TuneIn Internet radio app. HTC Music is even open enough to allow adding any later installed music app, like Google Music or Spotify.
But HTC has also tried its best best to support as many online services as possible. This even includes support for Microsoft's SkyDrive which allows to access Microsoft's cloud storage service from an Android phone.
While HTC was never away, last year's portfolio might have lacked the style and innovation as we were it used from HTC all the years before. And if there ever was the question if HTC might be able to do the turn-around in 2012, the One S gives the clear answer to customers and competition.
Like all HTC devices from the past, the One S feels rock-solid but the micro-arc oxidized aluminum unibody design makes it quite unique and even better looking. And finally, HTC has also improved the camera quality. This was one of the biggest issues I had all the years with HTC phones. But with Sense 4.0, HTC has not only improved the hardware quality, the smart features also set the new benchmark in some areas. Being able to snap photos while recording a video is quite useful because it allows to share a single photo with friends while the video is kept for the family.
Sure, the One S is "only" running a dual-core 1.5 GHz CPU, other phones are already or soon running quad-core CPUs. But then again, in my humble opinion it's questionable how many end-users really need quad-core CPUs nowadays? The average smartphone end-user won't miss the other two cores, especially not because HTC Sense became much lighter and speedier. However, I definitely don't like the use of a micro-SIM and the lack of expandable memory. Sure, micro-SIMs are much more common today but still not as common as mini-SIMs. And while 16 GB of memory might be sufficient enough for regular users, power-users might miss the extra possible 16 or even 32 GB. HTC's workaround to offer free 25 GB of Dropbox storage is a pretty interesting workaround, but this offer lasts 24 months only, before Dropbox will charge for it.
So what's the overall impression and bottom-line? As always there's room for improvements but the HTC One S is that kind of an HTC smartphone I was waiting for. A great looking device, not too big, not too small, with decent camera, powered by a speedy 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU which is powerful enough to run Android 4.0 and a much improved HTC Sense user interface on top. Yes, I know. The real "enthusiast" will most likely dislike HTC Sense but looking at it as an end-user, I see much more value in Sense than disappointments. Design is always a question of taste, something you can't discuss and Sense 4.0 really hit my taste.
With its suggested retail price of 499 Euro, it's even cheaper than someone might expect from such a highe-end device but for sure, there needs to be some further room for the second and real high-end HTC One device, the One X. The HTC One S will be available in two colors, gradient metal and black ceramic metal.
Cheers ~ Arne