HTC's new 4.3-inch handset is no lightweight
As much as we might like to believe otherwise, not every phone buyer is after a gargantuan slab of glass and plastic. And if you're the sort of person who likes your smartphones to be hand, pocket and wallet-friendly, it's not always possible to work the latest features and the fastest performance into that formula. So here's HTC with the HTC One Mini, a device that promises most of the features of the larger, more expensive 4.7-inch HTC One in a smaller chassis at a lower price point.
Despite recent successes with the HTC One, the past year hasn't been kind to HTC, and the manufacturer's mid-range efforts in particular have failed to impress. Last year in particular saw the HTC One brand being applied to phones which, if we're honest, probably didn't deserve it. This summer, then, the Taiwanese manufacturer will be looking to make a splash in the mid-range space its latest handset, officially announced today.
We've had the chance to spend some quality time with the HTC One Mini, and you'll find our full video walkthrough, along with more photos and words, after the break.
HTC One Mini hardware
It’s difficult to describe the HTC One Mini without doing so in terms of its larger, 4.7-inch sibling, so let’s start by saying the two share an awful lot in common when it comes to design. The display is sandwiched between bassy front-facing “BoomSound” speakers, the aluminum back has a neat, ergonomic curve, and you’ll find all the Mini’s buttons and ports are similarly placed. Likewise, the Mini sees the continuation of HTC’s unique (if not universally popular) two-button setup.
One of the Mini’s stand-out feature is its size — it’s fitted with a 4.3-inch display, allowing for a smaller and slightly lighter chassis. It’s still a big, tall phone, but most of the space-saving seems to have been focused on the One Mini’s width rather than its height — thus making it more comfortable to hold one-handed, and easier to reach more of the screen with your thumb.
The screen itself is a 720p SuperLCD panel, which spread across 4.3 inches of glass gives you an ample 341 pixels per inch. It’s a great-looking screen, with rich colors, a high maximum brightness level and wide viewing angles. (We’re not sure if it’s the same panel HTC used on last year’s Windows Phone 8X, but it looks just as good.)
While still packing a metal frame, there’s a bit more plastic to be found on the One Mini. The outer trim is a glossy polycarbonate, reminiscent of the shiny band used on last year’s One X — and it also extends around the exposed edges of the phone, which might make the mini less prone to picking up knocks and scrapes on its aluminum parts. Holding the One Mini, you’re aware of a slightly more plasticky look and feel, however the all-important back panel remains metal, and that’s the part your palm comes into contact with.
On the inside, the One Mini is powered by a Snapdragon 400 dual-core CPU, clocked at 1.4GHz, and backed up by 1GB of RAM. While not quite a cutting-edge chip, the 400 has proved itself in devices like the HTC First and Galaxy S4 Mini, and it’s more than up to the task of powering a handset with a 720p display. Hardware specs are becoming less and less crucial when it comes to delivering a fast, responsive user experience, and so what really matters is that the One Mini is just as fast as its big brother in real world use.
The rear camera is a 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” shooter — the same unit used in other HTC phones, including the full-sized One. The Mini is lacking Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), however, a hardware feature which allows the lens itself to move to counteract unsteady hands. (To make up for this, there’s now an “anti-shake” software shooting mode.)
The only other hardware casualties are NFC and the IR blaster. How big a deal that is will depend on how you use your phone, but we suspect most people will miss IR the most — that's the part that lets you control your TV from your phone.
The One Mini also packs 16GB of internal storage, of which around 12 is available for your own stuff.
HTC One Mini software
The HTC One Mini runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and HTC Sense 5, and the software experience is just as we remember it on the HTC One. Animations are smooth, apps load in an instant, and almost every widely-advertised software feature from Sense 5 is alive and well on the smaller handset. That includes the BlinkFeed home screen reader — which now supports Instagram feeds — and the wide variety of Sense widgets with which you can customize the regular home screens. The fact that the One Mini's firmware is based on Android 4.2 means you also benefit from features like Daydreams — the little screensaver-like animations — as well as lock screen widgets and quick settings in the notification shade.
The camera and gallery apps represent another important pillar of the HTC Sense experience, and they've made the transition across to the HTC One Mini. As we mentioned, the Mini uses the same Ultrapixel sensor as the larger One, though without OIS. Because of this you now get a software stabilization option, though we'll have to spend more time with the Mini before we decide if this is a suitable replacement. Regardless, you should get a comparable photo-taking experience on the One Mini — assuming your hands are steady enough.
Just like its big brother, the One Mini can shoot Zoe shots — the little three second video clips that include rapid-fire photos — and automatically arrange your photos and videos into highlight reels. As it's based on the latest version of Sense, you get all the new video highlight themes that the HTC One recently gained in its 4.2 update.
So the HTC One Mini compromises almost nothing in the software package it offers. In fact, the only application we couldn't find on the One Mini was the Sense TV app, presumably removed as it's not particularly useful without the requisite IR blaster. Most impressive, perhaps, is that we couldn't detect any drop in performance, despite the move to a less powerful chipset.
Quick comparisons ...
HTC One Mini versus the HTC One
Despite the hardware differences, the HTC One Mini includes pretty much the entire HTC Sense 5 experience, including BlinkFeed, the BoomSound front-facing speakers, the Ultrapixel camera, Zoe photos and video highlights.
Build quality, too, is almost on par with the full-sized One, with an aluminum back — though a slightly more plasticky trim. What's more, HTC's used an excellent 4.3-inch 720p SuperLCD panel on the Mini.
But there are three major omissions — first, there's no OIS, which means photos will be more vulnerable to shaking. Next, there's no IR blaster, meaning you can't control your TV using the phone. Finally, there's no NFC support, which, let's be honest, will likely mean nothing to average users.
The internal hardware of the Mini is a step down from the full HTC One — a dual-core Snapdragon 400 at 1.4GHz versus a quad-core Snapdragon 600 at 1.7GHz. There's half the RAM, at 1GB versus two, and half the base storage, at 16GB versus 32. Despite this, performance in day-to-day tasks is virtually identical on the Mini.
So compromises have been made, but not in a way that results in a compromised device.
HTC One Mini versus Galaxy S4 Mini
Both the S4 Mini and the One Mini are powered by the same Snapdragon 400 CPU, though the S4 Mini boasts a little more RAM — 1.5GB to HTC's 1.0. As a result, performance is a wash —- both are very speedy handsets. The screens, though equally bright, are a world apart in terms of resolution. The One Mini uses a SuperLCD at 720p, while the S4 Mini uses a (PenTile) SuperAMOLED at 960x540. As such, HTC wins on display fidelity overall.
The S4 has a microSD slot, but HTC has around 12GB of internal space available out of the box, versus Samsung's 4GB. When it comes to cameras, the HTC Ultrapixel sensor should win in low light, though we've been impressed with what the S4 Mini can do in daylight shots.
It also seems like the One Mini retains more of the features from its full-size counterpart than the S4 Mini. The S4 Mini loses features like Air View, Air Gesture, the more advanced eye-tracking tricks. Meanwhile, headline HTC features like Zoes, BlinkFeed and BoomSound are alive and well on its Mini.
It's worth pointing out, however, that Samsung did manage to fit an IR blaster into the Mini's svelte chassis, giving it TV-controlling capabilities. Similarly, the Samsung includes NFC, while HTC does not.
HTC One Mini accessories
As it's done for previous phones, HTC plans to release a range of first-party accessories for the One Mini. There's a new flip case that doubles as a kickstand, and the One Mini flip case significantly sturdier than the regular HTC One version, with a solid plastic back and no cut-out area. Color options include blue, red and black, and green and black.
We also saw double-dip hard cases for the One Mini in blue and grey, and orange and grey — these looked almost identical to the regular HTC One double-dip cases we came came across a few months back. Finally, HTC will offer a plain-looking but functional stand for the device.
Hit up the ShopAndroid newsletter to learn when the first HTC One Mini accessory stock arrives.
Our first impressions
When it comes to "mid-range" smartphones, it's easy for manufacturers to fall into the trap of making one compromise too many, and giving consumers are lackluster device as a result. Though we've only spent a short amount of time with the HTC One Mini, it's clear HTC has focused on bringing the important, core components of the HTC One user experience across to its smaller (and cheaper) device. The list of things the HTC One can do that the mini cannot is remarkably small — NFC, OIS and Infra-red — and of those only the IR-based TV controls could be called a user-facing feature.
Perhaps more importantly, HTC hasn't skimped on two of the most important areas of any phone. First, the screen, which looks as good as any 4.3-inch panel out there. And second, the device's build quality — the One Mini looks good and feels sturdy — though it's bested by the full-sized one in this area.
The competition among big-name mid-range phones about to hot up, with Samsung's Galaxy S4 Mini already in play and Motorola about to join the fray with the Moto X. But however things pan out, HTC has a strong entrant in this space with the One Mini, and we're looking forward to spending more time with it in the weeks ahead.
The HTC One Mini will launch in selected countries in August, and will be available in silver and black color options. HTC isn't offering any specific info on pricing just yet, but the company told us that it intends to sell the Mini at "two price points below" that of the HTC One.
Update: In the UK, Phones4u, O2, Vodafone and EE send word that they'll be selling the HTC One Mini.