HTC One S (T-Mobile)

HTC's not making it easy for us. The Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer is doing its best to convince us that the HTC One S, despite being the "middle" phone in the HTC One line — between the One X and the One V — in fact is the best phone in the bunch. And, truth be told, we're wavering.

You've read our complete HTC One X review. We've done the HTC One V. And we've already reviewed the Euro version of the HTC One S. (And I've had that one for a number of weeks, too.)

Point is, we're not unfamiliar with these phones. And neither are you after the thousands of words and (what feels like) hours of video we've brought you.

What follows is our T-Mobile HTC One S review. It has a lot in common with its European counterpart, and we'll highlight what those of us in the states have to look forward to.


The Good

This phone is a little slice of sexy. Never thought we'd call a 4.3-inch smartphone little, but the HTC One S is a mere 7.8 mm thick, and it makes it feel smaller than it really is. Has a powerful processor and great design, and an excellent camera. It's running the most recent version of Android with some nice customizations from HTC.

The Bad

The non-removable battery and lack of a microSD card will be a nonstarter for some. The display, while not bad, isn't as good as its big brother in the HTC One X. Can get pretty hot under a heavy load.

Conclusion

If you're in the market for a new smartphone on T-Mobile, you need to check out the HTC One S. It's got a great design, it's got great hardware, and the software is top of the line. And it can nearly replace your point-and-shoot camera.

Inside this review

More info

The HTC One S video walkthrough

 

The HTC One S hardware

HTC One S.

T-Mobile's HTC One S is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the international version we first at Mobile World Congress in February 2012 and recently reviewed in full. It's still got a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display at qHD (960x540) resolution. It's still extremely thin at 7.8 mm. And it's still got a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 (aka Krait) processor, with 1 gigabyte of RAM. It's got Gorilla Glass. And it's got the usual smartphone bells and whistles.

HTC One S.

T-Mobile's opted for the more traditional aluminum finish on its One S, at least at launch. That means no micro arc oxidation treatment to the metal, giving it a smoother finish. And, after spending a few weeks with the MAO-treated One S, we're pretty sure we prefer what T-Mobile's bringing. The paint job -- which HTC has told us is called a gradient paint color sheet -- feels a little smoother, seems like it'll be less prone to minor dings, and has just the right amount of reflectivity to it. By comparison, the black MAO finish tends to look more dull and shows fingerprints and oils more often.

HTC One S.

The only real visual difference difference we've been able to discern between the T-Mobile One S and the European One S is a small section just below the three capacitive buttons. Whereas the shell is a single continuous piece on the Euro version, the metal's been spliced on the bottom bezel and replaced with what feels like a very similar material. It's got a slightly different finish, however, so it's noticeable. (We're betting it's to help let some radio waves loose.) Well, that and the camera housing and internal housing are teal, and the Beats Audio logo has changed from red and white to white and gray.

HTC One S.

Otherwise, same phone. Same speaker grille and camera housings on the back. Same non-removable 1650 mAh battery. There's still no microSD card, so you'll have to make do with the 16GB of onboard storage (which breaks down to 2GB for apps, and 10GB for everything else).

HTC One S.

We've shouted from the rooftops about the display on the HTC One X. It's bigger, has a higher resolution and is Super LCD 2, compared to the One S's Super AMOLED. Side by side, it's a noticeable difference. Switch back and forth from one to the other, and your eyes will wonder what they've done to deserve that sort of treatment. But that's not to say the HTC One S display is a deal-breaker. Far from it. Hell, just a year ago a qHD display was the cream of the crop. Yes, icons aren't as sharp as on the One X, whether it's because of the PenTile makeup of the pixels themselves, or the lower resolution. Yes, we prefer the display on the One X if we have a choice. But we also can function just fine with the One S display. Going down from a 720p screen to a 540p display isn't as bad a shock as going from 480p to 320p. We'll always lean toward higher resolutions. But the One S also has something that almost no other phone has.

HTC One S.

It's ridiculously thin.

At 7.8mm, it shaves .69mm off the Galaxy S II. It's more than a full millimeter thinner than the GSM Galaxy Nexus. It's not quite as thin as the Motorola Droid RAZR (7.1mm), but then the RAZR cheats a little by getting fatter at the top by the camera. It. Is. Thin. The One S feels great in the hand. That's helped by the fact that it's a "mere" 130mm tall and 65mm wide. Back in the day that'd be huge. But not now. And the rounded edges make it feel that much better. When you hold the One S to your ear, you don't feel like folks are going to make fun of you. In fact, you kind of feel like someone's going to stop and ask why the side of your head suddenly got so sexy.

HTC One S.

HTC One S.HTC One S.

The One S design is as simple as it is sleek. The volume rocker's where you'd expect it. The microUSB port is on the left-hand side (we'd still probably prefer it on the bottom), and the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack are up top. It's got that removable panel on the back so you can get to the SIM card. And ... that's it. Slim, sleek, slick.

What's under the hood

If you're a spec nerd, you've no doubt been immersed in the battle over which is "better" -- the quad-core Tegra 3 platform, or Qualcomm's dual-core Snapdragon S4, also known as Krait. The HTC One S uses the latter running at 1.5 GHz. Some benchmarks say one is "faster," other benchmarks favor the other.

Regardless, the One S will try to do an impression of a frying pan if it's really chugging through the data or while gaming. It doesn't get surprisingly hot, but it's definitely capable of getting uncomfortably warm. (It's also not exactly a shock given how thin the phone is.)

HTC One S.

For those of you who care whether it just works, we'll answer thusly: The HTC One S flies. Home screens are fast. Sense 4 (HTC's customization of the Android user interface) is as fast as stock. 

As for data, you've got Wifi 802.11 b/g/n, and the One S works on T-Mobile's 42Mbps "4G" HSPA+ network (where it's active, anyway). So fast data is available.

We do need to have a little talk about the battery, though. Like the HTC One X and One V, the One S does not have a removable battery. You do get a capacity of 1650 mAh, which is pretty standard these days. But that's all you get. There's no swapping out the battery for a fresh one. We're not going to ding the One S for that. It's a design decision, and it is what it is. And it's not a new phenomenon. But it is something to be aware of. If you know you're going to be in a position where you can't charge your phone, you might need to look elsewhere.

We'll update with further battery findings after more use, but in initial testing we're not seeing severe drainage, and standby time is excellent.

 

HTC One S

 

The HTC One S software

HTC One S

Guess what. The HTC One S is running Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich and Sense 4. Chances are you knew that. If you're new to Android, though, we'll sum it up in a single sentence:

This is the best version of Android yet, and HTC has customized it beautifully.

Before you go any farther, make sure you've read our comprehensive guide to Sense 4 and Ice Cream Sandwich.

HTC One SAs is always the case, the U.S. carriers like to put their own stamp on things, and that's not always a good thing. T-Mobile has populated the seven home screens a little less usefully than the international version of the One S. There's the iconic HTC clock and weather widget on the main home screen, of course. It's joined by the Gallery and Internet apps, and the Google search widget. But the Google Play (nee Android Market) is relegated to a second home screen. Flip one to the right, and there it is. This is a longstanding gripe of ours. One of the first things you'll want to do with the One S — whether  you're an Android veteran or new to smartphones — is to install new apps. Why, in the name of all things holy, is Android's official app store not placed front and center?

  • 411 & More: T-Mobile's directory assistance, weather, horoscopes and sports app.
  • Amazon: Shopping from your phone.
  • Game Base: A separate app store for games.
  • Lookout Security: Provides security, backup and location services. (Will require signing up with Lookout to find your phone if it's missing.)
  • T-Mobile Hotspot: Lets your phone serve as a hot spot.
  • More for Me: One of those local deals apps.
  • My T-Mobile: Account info. Doesn't work when connected to Wifi, which is ridiculous.
  • Polaris Office: A useful office app.
  • Slacker: Internet radio.
  • T-Mobile Mall: Apps, music, games, more. Kinda like Google Play, only it's not.
  • T-Mobile Name ID: Phew. For a second there we thought we were going to see City ID on the One S and -- oh, DARN IT! It's City ID in T-Mobile colors.
  • T-Mobile TV: It's TV. From T-Mobile.
  • Where's My Water: A fun little game.
  • Zinio: The magazine app.

And those are just the extras that T-Mobile has preloaded. There's still plenty of fare from HTC itself, including the all-important Flashlight app, FM radio, HTC's excellent new car dock app, HTC Watch for movies, the ever-improving Weather app, and HTC's customized Ice Cream Sandwich browser. And don't forget that Beats Audio is on board and works with any app that outputs music through the 3.5mm  jack.

Outside of the traditional realm of applications are Wifi Direct capability, as well as T-Mobile's Wifi Calling. There's also HTC's Media Link HD, which will let you stream content to your TV. Missing, sadly, is NFC compatibility.

Maybe you don't use it, but we'd rather the option be there.

The HTC One S camera(s)

HTC One S.

The T-Mobile One S uses the same camera and app as the One X and One V. It sports HTC's new ImageSense (or ImageChip) processor as well which (among other things) gives nearly instantaneous shutter speed. (It's 0.7 seconds.) And if you haven't heard us talk about it by now, you're about to get our standard line: It's the best camera HTC's done yet. That's not to say the 8-megapixel camera is perfect. And it might not be quite as good as, say, Sony or Nokia. But if you're coming from an older HTC device, the difference is night and day. Folks with the Amaze or myTouch 4G Slide might not notice as much.

There's also a front-facing VGA shooter if you're into that sort of thing.

The camera app also has the same bevy of real-time effects that apps like Instagram have made so popular. (See our walkthrough of the effects here.)

Enough talk, though. Let's get to some samples.

The front-facing camera

The rear-facing camera

Other odds and ends

Lest we forget ...

  • Hey, this thing's still a phone. And the phone works well enough. (As per usual, you're beholden to T-Mobile's network. If it's good, voice quality is good.)
  • The rear speaker is surprisingly loud, but it's also pretty tinny. There's very little bass coming out of this thin fellow.
  • As far as hackability goes, unlocking the bootloader should be as easy as going to HTCDev.com. Rooting's already taken care of, and custom ROMs will come in due time.
  • GPS has worked as you'd expect.
  • All of the developer options remain on the phone.
  • T-Mobile's left intact the option to use the phone as a mobile hotspot.
  • The One S rocks HTC's new keyboard, and it's pretty good. Maybe not as good as some of the third-party keyboards, but it's definitely usable.

The wrap-up

T-Mobile's got itself a hell of a phone here. We know, we know. We've been crowing about the 720p Super LCD 2 display of the One X. And it is better. But let that go. Embrace the fact that the HTC One S probably the closest we've seen to the venerable Nexus One. Marvel at its thinness. Bask in its beauty. (OK, now we're going too far.)

Point is, we really are having a hard time calling the One S the No. 2 phone in the HTC One lineup. It stands on its own merits quite nicely. The design is there. The software is solid. The hardware performs admirably. You'll have to weigh whether a non-removable battery will work for you, and whether you can get by with (only) 10GB of usable on-board storage. But those are the only real hang-ups when it comes to the T-Mobile One S. We've taken to calling them decisions, not necessarily detractors. (Your opinion might well vary, and that's cool, too.)

If you're in the market for a new phone on T-Mobile, the HTC One S is a must-see.

 

Reader comments

HTC One S review (T-Mobile US)

34 Comments

My Far East model One X still has some bloatware that you can't disable, along with some that you can.

"In fact, you kind of feel like someone's going to stop and ask why the side of your head suddenly got so sexy."

I lol'd at that one.

This phone really doesn't deserve to be called a mid-range phone. I don't care if it's qHD or not.

I don't understand the placement of the charging port. If you're on the phone, you're either going to have the cord draping over your hand/face (if in your right hand) or neck (left hand). Why don't they just put it on the bottom? (or does Apple hold some stupid patent on that?)

Couldn't agree more. How come only Samsung can put their charging port on the bottom where it belongs. At least it's not on the top of the phone like the RAZR.

This one might have the Bluetooth hands-free problems with vehicles sorted out. And the capacitive buttons's light bleed. And stereo recording noise.

If the promised ICS update to the Amaze doesn't fix the BT and the video recording, this would be an adequate replacement.

I am one of those "non-starter" people. Without a MicroSD card and replaceable battery, I would not touch it. I fill my devices up with crap, err I mean Apps and photos, too fast Plus I drain the battery and do not always have a place to charge the phone.

No MicroSD is a non-starter for me as well, but I no longer have a problem with non-replaceable batteries. Just get an external battery; they come in much larger sizes than you can put in your phone and you can still easily carry them with you for the times you run out of juice. I actually find that more convenient than replacing batteries because I don't have to reboot the phone, and because I can also use it to charge my iPad and Bluetooth headset.

In ICS you can't move apps to a SD card. You can move pictures and other media. If there is a way, please let me know, because my memory card is almost empty and internal storage has less then 700MB free.

I have been running ICS for quite awhile now on my Inspire 4G and use App 2 SD Pro and am able to move most apps to the SD and back again at will. Some apps can not be moved but the ones that can be I have had no problem at all.

Really dumb T-Mo related question: I currently have a Nexus One, but my 2 year contract is up in May. If I sign up for 2 more years (and that's a big "if") will I be able to get this for the new contract $199?

I'm in a similar situation as my full 2 year renewal comes up May 1st. There is usually a somewhat higher renewing contract price than the new customer price.. With the huge issue of churn that T-mobile is experiencing they could likely be talked out of it on the phone, butwe shouldn't have to do that crap. Hopefully the pricing will be the same, but best buy mobile has it on pre-order for $199for both new and renewal customers.

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/searchpage.jsp;jsessionid=ACC94174F07F28B1F6...

Usually, yes. Usually you can upgrade without touching any of your plan features. Be sure to ask about this in the store, because sometimes the will "do you a favor" and put you on an updated, and slightly cheaper plan. Only later do you find out they set you up with something that is not quite as good as what you had.

"T-Mobile's left intact the option to use the phone as a mobile hotspot." Yeah, but they'll charge you a hefty monthly fee for that privilege.

I noticed in someone's video a "Movie Editor" app. I haven't heard that mentioned, is it a Android 4.x goodie, or a new HTC toy?
__________

Great review, Phil. As someone with the Black/Aluminum Amaze, I have to confess to some hypocrisy. The nude aluminum look is nice, feels good (though this one is coated or something), but that light blue/teal/whateverthatcoloris accents top and bottom looks, um, "pretty."

Sure, it sets off the screen bezel nicely, but I think all the cool kids want the matte, tech-a-licious MAO-coated aluminum that we saw being trumpeted so loudly in Barcelona. Sure, it may chip, mar, scratch, streak, or pick up fingerprints better than the screen, but it looks all business, like a Glock.

Shame on T-Mobile for leading with this bluebird of HTCiness. It makes it seem like the One S is a "chick phone." (diving for cover)

How much of that bloatware is actually uninstallable? I mean it's nice to be able to freeze the apps with ICS but can we actually get the space back on any of those apps?

Man, HTC really pisses me off. They build the perfect phone to replace my Nexus One, and then stick me with 10GB of usable data storage. I burn through that much some months just taking pictures and videos and recording audio, never mind trying to carry around any music tracks. I don't want to spend my evenings micromanaging the data on my phone so I don't run out of space.

I can live with the single battery, with so many decent external options being marketed, but the money I saved up for my new HTC One will go back into my pocket, except for a few dollars for things like a new battery cover with a clear lens cover to keep my Nexus One fresh. It looks like I'll be holding on to that phone a while longer.

HTC, give me a call when you release the 64GB version of the One S. If you're going to stick me with storage I can't upgrade, I'm holding out for enough to last me two years at least.

Speaking of non-replaceable batteries, by the way, what exactly is the point of carrying a really thin, light phone if you have to lug around an external battery pack that's the same size or bigger? 'Cause nothing says sexy like that pocket bulge that comes from carrying around two phone-sized objects.

Of course someone will also make a skin with a built-in battery that doubles the size and weight of the phone, so the S can look like a nerd box full-time instead of just when it's attached to its external battery dongle.

Gotta go check my closet. Hope I didn't give my cargo pants to Goodwill...

I realy REALLY wish the reviewers at android central would stop touting how great "thinness" is. Especially when the battery is non-removable! Thin is not sexy when your device can't get you through an average day & you have a dead battery. Thin is not sexy when you have to carry around an external battery to keep your phone going. I'd rather have a phone that is 10mm thick with a bigger battery & will survive an average day than a 7mm phone that is teathered to the wall. Android central editors: you are the voice for us, the android community. Please stop with the "thin is great" routine. I'm not saying that we need to go back to big 'ol thick brick phones but at some point, form has to follow function - ESPECIALLY with a non-removable battery.

I'm guessing thickness was one of the factors for leaving out the big ol' socket for removable SD as well. Thin also isn't sexy when you can't fit half the stuff from your two year old phone.

So are the European, Asian and TMobile One S identical phones, other than cosmetic surfaces? I'm headed to Thailand, and would like to get a One X (for me) and One S (for bride), then use them unlocked on TMo's GSM net.

I know the traditional frequencies are covered, but what about 3G? 4G/HTPS+ or whatever comes next - will they work on the Asian "version"?
WH

I have the Sensation and got it when it was the hottest thing out but I am due for an upgrade and waiting for the GSIII to come out. I don't think I'd ever get an HTC phone agin though because this is the only phone that's ever told me that I'm running low on memory and therefore I have to delete apps and free up space to sync....

NO OTHER PHONE HAS EVER DONE THIS TO ME.

So if you can't pull the battery...what happens when the phone freezes like they all invariably do?

Also what is the available internal memory AFTER the preinstalled stuff is on the phone?