HTC One S Lightning Review: Android's Sturdy, Speedy Wolverine

The old HTC is dead. Long live the new HTC, with fewer products and more attention to detail. The HTC One line heralds this new day. The first product to reach the U.S. is the One S, launching today on T-Mobile. But is it a worthy debut?

What Is It?

It's a 4.3-inch phone on T-Mobile's 4G network. It runs the Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) OS, with HTC's Sense 4.0 interface.

Who's It For?

T-Mobile users who want a zippy, no-nonsense Android smartphone that excels at taking photos like those in the gallery below.

Design

It's beautiful and rock solid—super thin at 7.8-mm, and light at 119.5 grams, with smooth edges and a brushed aluminum body.

Using It

Against a comparable Android 4.0 phone, Samsung's Galaxy Nexus, the One S wins a speed trial on basic moves through the user interface. The camera software is clear, quick, and versatile.

The Best Part

Qualcomm's 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor dishes out the speed and does well with power management.

Tragic Flaw

Current HD screens kill this one.

This Is Weird...

HTC Sense doesn't suck anymore! Amazing, but true. Things like HTC's own calendar app are worse than stock Android 4.0 OS features, but the unlock screen and the app switcher are better on the Sense skin.

Test Notes

• The camera's still photos often came out brighter and sharper than the iPhone 4S, especially in low light thanks to it opening up to f2.0. It can record 1080p video and shoot stills at the same time (see gallery below for test shots)

• Video quality is not nearly as good as the stills. It lacks detail, has all kinds of problems with motion, and suffers from strange oversaturation.

• The Samsung Galaxy S II has been the king of the Quadrant Standard benchmark, with speeds averaging around 3000. The HTC One S averages 5000. Yowza. (take benchmarks with salt, though)

• Battery life usually lasted a whole day without needing to be charged. Sometimes, there was an unexpected, steep drop-off, though.

• T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G network averages around 8Mbps download and 1.5Mbps upload speeds. (Verizon's and AT&T's LTE networks have hit speeds of 20Mbps down and 14Mbps up.)

• Occasionally, the radio signal would just mysteriously drop out, leaving the phone with no reception. It was rare, but not rare enough.

• Some apps do not yet work with the new Snapdragon S4, though that's changing rapidly.

• No expandable memory and no NFC is a bummer.

Should You Buy It?

If you're already on T-Mobile, seeking an upgrade, then totally. It's fast, sleek, and pretty excellent. If you're in between contracts, then it's not worth switching over for. The HTC One X on AT&T and the HTC Evo 4G LTE on Sprint are both better phones, with better screens, plus LTE and NFC. That said, most who buy it will likely be happy with it.

View gallery »

HTC One S Specs

• Network: T-Mobile
• OS: Android 4.0 with Sense 4.0
• CPU: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor
• Screen: 4.3-inch, 540 x 960 pixels Super AMOLED
• RAM: 1GB
• Camera: Rear: 8MP Front: VGA
• Storage: 16GB
• Price: $200 with 2-year contract
• Giz Rank: 3.5 stars


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