HTC One S

There's a belief that being the middle child brings awkwardness. The "Middle Child Syndrome," it's called. Chances are if you have (or are) a middle sibling, you'll find a way for this to be true. The HTC One S is the middle child of the HTC One family, flanked by the HTC One X and the HTC One V. But this guy's no awkward little brother.

Before diving into our HTC One S preview, be sure to hit up our HTC One X review, as well as our Sense 4 walkthrough. Any order is fine, it's just that they all share some common traits that will aid your understanding of the following:

The One S probably is the sleekest, sexiest phone you've seen to date, with a birth story that sounds more like it came from of "Game of Thrones" than a traditional glass-and-plastic smartphone manufacturer. This phone wasn't just "made." It was forged. Or fried. Or something.

This isn't our full HTC One S review. Think of this one more as a preview of what's to come in the weeks ahead (no, we don't have an official date yet) on T-Mobile. Time, tides and the lack of proper radio frequencies here in the States prevent it. But that's why we've got a European desk, and we'll have tons more coming up on the HTC One S.

Got all that? Good. Let's get to it.

The video walkthrough

The hardware

Let's start with the obvious: The HTC One S is thin. Thinner, head to toe, than anything you've used before, most likely. It's 7.8mm thin. Yeah, yeah. The Motorola Droid RAZR is 7.1mm thin, but that's ignoring the head of the phone, which gains some girth for the camera. The One S is consistent from top to bottom, adding maybe a full millimeter for the protruding camera lens. You certainly notice this when you hold it. It just feels​ sexy.

Sexy Item No. 2 is what the body of the phone is made of. OK, so, it's aluminum. But as you've no doubt seen by now, it's aluminum that's undergone micro-arc oxidation, a process in which the metal is fried with 10,000 volts of electricity. That causes the metal to sort of turn into a ceramic, HTC says. They use this in friggin' satellites! If you haven't seen HTC's video showing off how MAO works, it's worth a watch.

The overall look of the One S is not unlike the HTC Sensation, with the phone's body seemingly wrapping around to the front of the phone, with the display tucked in tight. The One S differs in that the entire back plate does not come off. Instead, the top inch or so pries loose to reveal the micro-SIM card slot, and three pairs of connections for antennas that are embedded in the small removable plastic piece. There are cutouts for the camera lens and flash. (It'd be nice if the lens perhaps was part of the removable piece, so that it could be replaced if scratched, like on the Nexus One.) The exposed part of the phone is highlighted with that Ferrari red HTC knows and loves so well.

HTC One S.

The entire body of the phone isn't made up of the MAO-treated aluminum. The removable plastic door as well as a bit at the bottom where the rear speaker (and its 84 pinholes) is found are done up in a soft-touch coating. Radios and metal tend not to mix too well, so this is no real surprise. (It's also likely why there's no NFC on the HTC One S.) They also add a little bit of grip to what otherwise is a fairly slick phone. When the bottom of the phone rests in your palm, it sits on that soft-touch footing. Same for wrapping a finger around it up top.

HTC One S.

As for the front of the phone, the HTC One S has a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display at qHD (540x960) resolution. That's not as high a resolution as you'll find in the highest of the high-end phones, but it's still pretty respectable. The debate over the quality of AMOLED displays won't end with the HTC One S — the there's still some checkerboarding in grays and whites. (Going back to the lower resolution of the One S probably hasn't helped hide this to our eyes any.)

The earpiece speaker is an array of 78 pinholes, with a subtle but still-visible LED notification light tucked into the fifth hole from the left on the bottom row. Next to the speaker is a VGA front-facing camera.

HTC One S.

Beneath the display you have the now-standard three buttons. HTC's choosing to use capacitive buttons on the device itself, instead of incorporating them into the software, like you see on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. As we discussed in our Sense 4 walkthrough, this has presented a small design change in that legacy menus are displayed as three dots on the bottom of the screen in some applications. But that should eventually start to trickle off as developer begin redesigning their apps for Android's new standard, which moves the menu functions elsewhere.

The right-hand bezel houses the volume rocker. The micro-USB port is on the left. 

Up top is the power button, 3.5mm headphone jack, a pinhole for a secondary mic (the main mic's down on the bottom of the phone), and the space you use to pry open that back cover.

The bottom line is this: The look and feel of the One S are great. A 4.3-inch display is still a nice medium between "Big" and "Holy crap that's huge." The phone's thinness is impressive, and the feel of the treated aluminum is nice. The phone's weight — 4.22 ounces — is proportional, and it's well-balanced. If you hold this phone and don't feel just a little bit better about yourself, seek help.  

What's under the hood

The HTC One S is running a dual-core Qualcomm S4 at 1.5GHz. It's been plenty speedy in our testing, as you'd expect. There's also the standard 1 gigabyte of RAM for running applications and the operating system.

We're in for a long slog over which is better — the dual-core Qualcomm processor you have here and in the HTC One XL, or the quad-core Tegra 3 set that's in the GSM version of the One X (and as seen in numerous other devices). We've been using both for a little while now. And chances are unless you really go looking for ways to show the difference (like graphics intensive games or video output), you'll probably not notice a difference. That certainly won't (and shouldn't) stop the debate.

Our review unit has about 2.2GB of storage for loading apps, and 9.93GB for pics and movies and the like. (Some app data can be moved to that partition, of course.) HTC has teamed up with Dropbox to provide 25GB of online "cloud" storage free for two years.

As for data speeds, we'll need to wait and see when we get a proper T-Mobile version here in the states. 

The One S has a 1650 mAh battery. Like the HTC One X, you can't swap out the battery, so whatcha got is whatcha got. No swapping. 

The software

If you've already read our HTC One X review or made your way through our Sense 4 walkthrough, you're pretty well versed in what's coming here. Like its big brother, the HTC One S is running Android 4.0.3 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich), with Sense 4 tucked in for good measure. 

The implementation of Sense hasn't changed one bit from the One X to the One S. Save for the exclusion of NFC communication, the software on our review units is the same. And we're still pretty enamored with how HTC has turned Sense 4 into an extension of Ice Cream Sandwich instead of a major reworking of the UI. The home screens look and act like you expect. The application dock is familiar.

The two biggest changes from previous HTC phones are the HTC lock screen, which in and of itself isn't new, and the way HTC handles getting widgets (and other items) onto the home screens.

The camera

HTC One S.

The display might have been switched out. The processor might be different. But the camera and camera app haven't changed one bit from the HTC One X, and that's a good thing. It's still a full 8 megapixels, with an f/2.0 aperture, LED flash and the dedicated ImageSense chip. Pictures from the One S look just as good as on the One X.

The wrap-up

We've had the HTC One S for just a few days now, and remember that we'll have a full T-Mobile rundown when that one's released, and we've still got a proper review of the European edition on the way. Some early judgment calls:

  • It feels better in the hand than HTC One X, mainly because it can actually fit in your hand. We didn't think we'd be calling a 4.3-inch phone "smaller," but in this case, it's true.
  • The thinness — 7.1mm, remember — is something you need to feel to believe. Combine that with the fact that it's 65mm wide and 130.9mm tall (narrower and shorter than the One X), and it really does feel great.
  • Did we mention it feels great? The micro arc oxidation coating also is nice, and a great nerdy selling point. But we're starting to see some smudging, and we're a little worried about scratches. 
  • The camera is as good as on the One X, and it should be, since it's the same camera.

So do we prefer the HTC One S over the One X? Stay tuned. 

 
There are 10 comments

tronthedon says:

"...But the camera and camera app have[n't] changed one bit from the HTC One X."

I don't usually like to point out obvious typos, but I think this one could actually cause confusion if people just skim through the article ;)

By the way, great preview!

Duffin says:

No. No no no no no no no! I get that it's smaller, but I will NOT purchase a phone that doesn't have a removable battery. There's no excuse! I budged on my rule of not buying a phone that doesn't have a removable SD card, but this is definitely not something I will EVER budge on. I'd rather have an extremely thick phone with a battery I can change before I'd buy the thinnest phone ever that doesn't.

It's a freaking shame because I planned on getting this once my contract was up for renewal.

hoosiercub says:

Well with the way things are heading in the smartphone industry, you might want to start looking towards going back to a dumb phone/feature phone.

It's going to start being a trend, and whether we like it or not, it's going to be the way things are moving towards.

rhauer says:

How will this phone compare to the Rezound. Besides ICS.

I want a comfortable phone, and I can't understand why Thin, thin, thin is so important. Its not like any of these phones are a brick. And, I agree, removable battery and SD are important. I would like a keyboard but thats not happening.

Phil does this phone support AT&T 3G or only edge? It looks only to be a tri band GSM.

Jon_Doh says:

The important question is whether or not HTC has finally fixed the antenna/reception problem that has plagued their other phones.

JonJJon says:

If this is like the Desire S with it's Metal aluminium body, the wifi probably won't be great :-/

Also the fact it has no microSD slot and also has a micro sim (which although isn't really a problem I just can't be bothered with the hassle of cutting or getting a replacement sim) is a negative for me. The non-removable battery isn't a huge problem but is a disappointment, but a lot of phones are going the built in battery now, the iPhone has gotten away with it for this long so I'm sure Android phones can outshine it with their non-removable batteries.

Still because of the negatives on the HTC One S for me, I am very much liking the Sony Xperia Ion much more as it has a microSD card, a drop dead gorgeous screen, beautiful camera quality and I think a normal sim card size, I am looking forward to seeing if there will be any changes to the AT&T version when it is released in the UK :)

hmmm says:

Wow, thin as the razr without a gigantic camera hump?

aakbari1024 says:

You guys need to do your research. It's 7.8mm thick, not 7.1

DrDoppio says:

Sexy. I prefer the One S to X, mostly due to the ceramic shell, but also because I'm a bit tired of large phones. The fact that it's gonna be slightly cheaper helps to tilt the scales, too.

HTC should have one hell of a year ahead of them!