HTC One S -- Not for Everyone

It's a lot like the X -- a great camera and music, but with a few more drawbacks.

GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 / WCDMA 850 / 1900 / 2100
Form Factor:
Block / Google Android OS v4.0
131 x 65 x 8 mm
Touch Screen
Battery Type:
1650 mAh Li-Ion
Talk Time:
10.5 hours
Standby Time:
13.2 days
16.0 GB
Radiation (SAR):
Low Radiation (0.39 W/kg)

Main Screen:
Super AMOLED (ClearBlack / Accelerometer / Proximity Sensor / Ambient Light Sensor)
16,700,000 colors (540 x 960 px)
Secondary Screen:
8.0 MP / LED Flash / Zoom / HD Video Recorder / 0.3 MP / Video Calling

MP3 Player:
Beats Audio / MP3 / AAC / WMA
FM Radio:

540 x 960 px
Screen Savers:
540 x 960 px
Android Market
Streaming Multimedia:

POP3 / IMAP4 / SMTP / Gmail
AOL / Google / Windows Live / Yahoo
Predictive Text:
Handwriting Recognition

Google Calendar
To-Do List:
2.0 (Webkit / Google Search)
Voice Commands:

Infrared Port:
High-Speed Data:
802.11 b/g/n
Google Maps
PC Sync:
USB 2.0

Product Website

Compare With Similar Phones:

Google Nexus 5 Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Apple IPhone 5C Apple IPhone 5S Motorola Moto X
Google Nexus 5 Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Apple IPhone 5C Apple IPhone 5S Motorola Moto X

The dilemma of the mid-tier. It straddles the line between top- and low-end, needing to find that balance of good features and an affordable price. Really, there's two ways to cut the cost, either you throw in slightly lower-quality components all around the board, or you keep some high-end important things, and simply go cheap on the rest.

The One S follows that second strategy.

Since it's cheaper than the X, you'd expect it to lack high-end features. But it retains a surprising number of standouts parts, like the excellent camera and thumping Beats Audio music. In fact, it's an impressive multimedia device. But with each pro, there are an equal number of cons, like the low-resolution display, short battery life and small storage.

So it's either a great bang for the buck or a terrible device, depending on your tastes. It's not made to please everyone, but then again, if it was, it'd be more expensive device.

What's the Phone?

While the X is attractive, the S is no slouch. The case is made with technology that NASA uses for satellites. Through a process called "micro-arc oxidation," aircraft-grade aluminum is run through 10,000 volts of energy to create a chemical reaction that creates a ceramic surface. It's not a coating, but a treatment, which makes the phone thinner, and nearly three times stronger than stainless steel.

In fact, at just 0.4-inches, it's thinner than the X, and second only to the Droid Razr. The body feels solid in the hand, but it lacks the curves and slopes of more elegant devices, instead, settling on a back that fades from a stormy-sky to dark gray. It's small, too, so it's very easy to fit into a pocket or clutch. But it's kind of slippery, so be careful.

Photo 1

The 4.3-inch screen is a bit small. You may not notice the drop in pixel count, but at 256-ppi density, it lacks the clarity of finer mid-tier displays. The 960-by-540 resolution is a bit low, as well, so you'll really notice the lack of detail when watching movies or playing games.

The PenTile pixel layout makes fonts and icons look jagged around edges and on slanted lines. On black and white, that graininess is especially noticeable. But otherwise, colors are extremely vivid, even bordering on oversaturation, at a wide viewing angle. That strong contrast also means it's easy to see in direct sunlight.

While the 8-megapixel camera is a step down from the X, it's still outstanding. The f/2.0 lens takes sharp photos, for the most part, but make your hands are rock-steady, otherwise softness and blurring can creep in. Paired with the strong LED flash, you won't a problem capturing scenes in low light. Colors are pretty accurate, too. You can actually snap photos and record 1080p video at the same time -- that's pretty neat for impromptu moments -- and in general, clips have the same clarity and color balance as the stills.

Photo 2

You get the standard slate of features, burst mode for action shots, HDR when you need more contrast, and white balance, exposure and ISO settings. I should point out that the interface was a joy to use -- it's very simple and intuitive. But my one gripe is the design: when you lay the phone on a table, the back actually rests on the lens, which protrudes out slightly. Just be careful not to scratch it.

Beats Audio blasts loud and thumping sounds that would make Dr. Dre proud. It's a bit thick on the bass, but that gives it a more robust, fuller sound. If prefer a purer sound, you can turn it off. But as far as music goes, you can't beat HTC phones. Sync Manager software also makes it simple to transfer your library from a PC.

The S runs on the same software as the X -- ICS and Sense with new widgets, animations and fonts. You'll also get a few features like a dynamic lock-screen and a 3-D carousel to bring up open apps, and a notification bar lets you remove certain elements, like e-mail accounts, that you don't want to view. But frankly, the tweaks don't add much that's very useful. Fortunately, it's cleaner, faster and more elegant than old versions, but I still prefer stock Android.

Like the X, you won't find a microSD slot. The 16-gigabytes of memory means you do a lot of deleting. You can offload files to the cloud -- Dropbox, through a deal with HTC, gives you 25-gigabyte free for two years -- but it doesn't really compensate for lack of storage.

The S is powered by a fast 1.5-gigahertz dual-core chip. Amazingly, it's no slower than the X so you can be sure everything will run smoothly, with a lot of apps in the background. So far, the S has been pretty great, but its Achilles' heel is the poor battery life. The non-removable 1,650 mAh pack is not bad on standby -- I lasted a bit more than a day -- but during continuous use, I didn't get more than three hours. Maybe it's the screen, or maybe it's the processor, but the juice begins to drain quickly when it's on.

You'll Want It If...

You want a speedy device with a great camera and music player without paying top-dollar. But problems with a lackluster display, small storage and poor battery life mar an otherwise outstanding multimedia device. So depending on what you value, it's either a decent or awful choice.

If you plan to watch movies or browse the Web, I'd skip it. But if you plan to use it for photos and music, it's not bad. If you're on T-Mobile, you don't have many choices, and the S is one of the better devices in the portfolio. But if you're looking at other carriers, you can probably find a better mid-tier device.

It's Not My Thing -- What Else Ya Got?

Of course, if you can afford it, pay a few extra bucks and get the X. It's a much better device with a superior screen. Staying on a budget, consider the Galaxy S2. It comes in a few flavors, like the Skyrocket for AT&T, but it's just as attractive with better features and a microSD slot.

Other Reviews From Around the Web

I Want More Stuff Like This!

We're on a mission to help you understand why technology matters. Sign up to our daily e-mail and see for yourself. See Sample.

User Reviews

Rating: 4 of 5 Elegant Design

Bernie Ingman on May 02, 2012

This phone is just beautiful -- it's slim, light and convenient to hold. The design makes an iPhone 4S look like a brick. The processor is as fast as they come, no problems whatsoever with lag or hiccups. Android is nice, but I'm not a big fan of Sense UI. But surprisingly, version 4.0 actually turned into something that's of use. The 8-megapixel camera is a good camera. It's not the greatest, but it does a good job. And compared to my old Sensation, the call quality and reception is much improved too.

The few gripes I have are with the touch display. The screen is stunning. But I notice there's a problem with the pixel arrangement that can make text look blurry sometimes. Otherwise the viewing angle is great and the colors are vivid. Also, 16-gigabytes of storage is nice, but there's no microSD card. That's a bit disappointing if you're a heavy user like me.

Overall, the phone meets all my needs. It's elegant and refined and Android does it all.

Was this review helpful to you?

Rating: 5 of 5 One of T-Mobile's Best

Steve Smith on June 03, 2012

I've been stuck with T-Mobile because no other carrier has service in my area. So I need a phone I can depend on and the One S is one of the best I've used over the years. Typing on the touch keyboard is fine. I used to have the Sensation and the keyboard would often display gibberish. As for the basics, the call quality comes through loud and clear. I often talk over Wi-Fi -- via the Wi-Fi calling app -- and there's some slight static when making calls over the Internet. You don't really notice it unless the room is quiet. But overall, it's a great feature. I set my calls to Wi-Fi preferred so it links to my router when I walk through the door.

The 4G speed is phenomenal. Downloads finish in seconds rather than minutes on the Sensation. And emails load in an instant. The music sounds great. The Beats Audio makes music sound clear and doesn't add a lot of bass. With the filters off, music sounds a bit rougher and more distorted -- especially at high frequencies. But overall, it does a great job. You'll be pleased if you're an audiophile. The camera lens takes great photos. The flash is bright, so you don't have to worry about dim settings -- it also doubles as a flashlight.

The phone can get hot sometimes. Maybe it's the processor but it's not too big of a deal. I can't really say enough about this phone. I've used T-Mobile through the years and watched other carriers get the iPhone. If you're unsure whether to get this, let me tell you, you won't be disappointed.

Was this review helpful to you?

Rating: 5 of 5 Fantastic Camera

JC on May 11, 2012

After using this for a month, I have to say... this phone is amazing. The 8-megapixel camera is probably the best part. The photos that come out... stunning. Camera phones have definitely come a long way and are now on par with standalone digital cameras. There's even a feature to take 99 continuous shots. Simply awesome.

A lot of people say they don't like overlays, but I actually prefer Sense 4.0. Coming from prior HTC devices, I guess I'm used to the feel. The interface is smooth and even though there's no menu key, the button is nicely added to the Sense UI. The processor is really fast. I tried to see how many apps I could run at once, and even when I throw everything at it, it runs well. Only once did it lag a bit.

I wish it had a microSD slot. I've loaded it with a few albums and four to five movies. But I have a feeling I may run out. But don't worry, there are 16-gigabytes built-in... plenty of room for most.

Was this review helpful to you?

Write a review and share you thoughts.

You Might Also Like:

Related News

MWC: HTC Aims for Comeback with Streamlined Phones

HTC unveiled a simplified Android smartphone line, dubbed "One," hoping to spark a turnaround by streamlining its handsets and ramping up its entertainment offerings.