HTC One S for T-Mobile Review

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Introduction and Design
Introduction:

Strangely, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a top-shelf Android powered smartphone for T-Mobile. Yeah, the carrier has been blessed with quality devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC Amaze 4G, but they’ve been available for some time now – with nothing particularly “fresh” put out by them in the last few months. Now that spring is in full swing, the wait for something special will soon be over, as the highly anticipated HTC One S is set to shake things come April 25th.

Over the big pond, our friends in Europe have been taking pleasure in experiencing the beauty and wonder surrounding the middle child of HTC’s One family. And soon enough, T-Mobile customers will be able to partake in it as well – thus, delivering a device that boasts the most up-to-date version of HTC’s Sense UI on top of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Priced at $199.99 with a 2-year contract, some might question and wonder if it’s valid enough to accept wholeheartedly, even more when Sprint’s beefier HTC EVO 4G LTE is confirmed to flaunt the same price point. Regardless of that, let’s dive in and find out what all the commotion is all about surrounding this bundle of joy.

The package contains:

  • microUSB cable
  • Wall Charger
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Product and Safety Information


Design:

Simply put it, T-Mobile’s version of the HTC One S is an exact facsimile to the European one we reviewed recently – well, the sole difference is the T-Mobile branding it’s sporting below its earpiece grill. Aside from that, the anodized aluminum unibody design of our review unit remains intact to the tooth, and more importantly, it’s remarkable that HTC has managed to produce something so skinny (0.31” thick) and lightweight (4.22 oz) without compromising its choice of materials. Of course, we’re mesmerized even further by its streamlined construction, though, its overall styling reminds us of a pancaked Google Nexus One – since it employs some familiar design traits from the original Nexus.

Overall, it’s extremely comfortable to hold in the hand, thanks to its chassis boasting a fairly narrow and elongated profile. Without question, we’re blown away to by the compact look for a device donning a large 4.3” display, and easily makes previous offerings like HTC Amaze 4G appear spaced out and chunky in overall size. All in all, the HTC One S is just one of those devices that looks beautiful as a rendered image, but as it makes its transition to a physical object for us to hold and touch, we’re emphatically impressed to see the wonder and intrigue still intact.



You can compare the HTC One S with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Becoming a standard with HTC’s set of Android smartphones, the One S opts to employ a trio of capacitive buttons beneath its display – as opposed to being a part of the interface, much like other ICS devices. Above the display, micro dots line up in unison for its narrow ear piece grill, while a front-facing VGA camera sits next to it ready for those occasional video chatting sessions.


Unfortunately, its dedicated power button and volume rocker are a tad bit too flat for our liking, but at least they exhibit a reasonable amount of tactility when pressed. Also, around its sides, we find its noise cancelling microphone, 3.5mm headset jack, microUSB port for charging/data connectivity, and standard mic.


Around the rear, its 8-megapixel auto-focus camera juts out from the surrounding surface and its lens is outlined with the same blue accent. Being one camera friendly device, it features an F2.0 aperture lens, backside illuminated sensor, LED flash, 1080p video recording, and the ability to snap photos while shooting a video. Prying off the top plastic cover surrounding the camera, we gain access to its microSIM card slot. On the opposite edge, another set of micro dots converge together to forms its speakerphone grill. Just a reminder to you folks, this beauty lacks both a removable battery and expandable microSD slot.



Display:

Indeed, it’s not as awe-inspiring as the display on the HTC One X, but nonetheless, the 4.3” qHD (540 x 960) Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen of the HTC One S is an appreciated upgrade when compared to the previous offerings available with T-Mobile. Being an OLED variety, we’re treated to the usual set of visual eye candy normally associated with this kind of panel – such as wide viewing angles, cooler looking colors, and a high-contrast level. Despite utilizing the PenTile RGBG matrix arrangement, which is noticeably evident with the icons and text located in the notifications area, we’re humbled about being able to discern most things without any problems, even more when it coughs up a respectable pixel density of 256ppi. Having been spoiled by HD displays, it’s obvious that we’re not going gaga over the HTC One S, but rather, it’s still a pretty one to look at when it comes down to it.



HTC One S 360-degrees View:





Interface:

Rejoice T-Mobile fan, that’s because you’re finally getting in with a device sporting HTC Sense 4.0 on top of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Getting the notoriety of being the first device to offer it on T-Mo’s lineup, we’re certain people will appreciate all of the incremental improvements and visual eye candy littered throughout the interface. Naturally, we won’t be spending too much time talking about it, since you know, we’ve gone through it in great detail already with the HTC One X. As a whole, we’re favorable to the overall cleaner approach taken by HTC this time around. However, it isn’t necessarily a great departure from previous versions of Sense – therefore, veteran users will easily adapt to this one.

Functionality:

The main goal for HTC in terms of the interface has been to simplify it. Indeed, previous versions of the UI had so much options and personalization stuff, that it could easily throw the more inexperienced users into confusion. Indeed, we do find Sense 4 to be significantly streamlined. Well, you still get the characteristic weather clock and big widgets, taking up a whole homescreen page, but HTC wanted to remain recognizable among the ocean of Android handsets on the market. However, gone is much of the eye-candy that was present in the previous version of the software. For example, you no longer get the spinning carousel when you energetically switch between homescreens.


The main menu is also different now – the apps are arranged in a 4x5 grid pages, which are scrolled horizontally, instead of vertically as in previous versions of Sense. The new experience is probably simpler this way. The good thing for us is that the handset is moving pretty swiftly now, with no hint of lag or choppy animations. We're not sure how much of this is to be attributed to the optimizations done to the interface, or the Snapdragon S4 processor, but anyways – the result is a perfectly smooth UI, and that's what we care for.


No doubt its on-screen keyboard layout pales in comparison to the one found with the HTC One X, but despite that, we still find it bearable to type messages – though, the set of directional keys seem to clutter things up. Of course, we’ve always been fond of the Sense keyboard, seeing it provides us with some numbers and punctuations directly from the main layout by performing a long press.  Consistently typing at a fast pace isn’t a problem, but we sorely wish for those directional keys to disappear entirely.


Of course, every way of using email known to humankind is available on the HTC One X. In addition to custom POP3/IMAP accounts, you can also easily set-up Exchange ActiveSync, Gmail (now, that's a surprise!), Yahoo! Mail and Microsoft Hotmail.



Processor and Memory:

The lighter HTC Sense feels rather peppy now, powered by the latest dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chipset with “Krait” cores, in its MSM8960 reincarnation with HSPA+ radio and the new Adreno 225 GPU. Exactly like the European version, the phone has the usual 1GB of RAM, which enables it to run flawlessly with most tasks. Running a few benchmark tests, T-Mo’s version of the HTC One S establishes average scores of 4,867 on Quadrant, 7,019 with AnTutu, and 60.7 FPS running NenaMark2. For the most part, the scores reflect the same results we saw with the European version, but most importantly, the handset simply runs extremely swift.


Quadrant StandardAnTuTuNenaMark 2
HTC One S4867701260,7
HTC One X48481102447,4
Samsung Galaxy S II3113607651
Samsung Galaxy Nexus2000550324


As we’ve pointed out already, there’s no expandable memory with this one – meaning, you’ll need to be more conscious in what you load, seeing that storage out of the box breaks down to 9.93GB for phone storage and 2.21GB strictly for apps.

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Internet and Connectivity:

As expected, the HTC One S delivers a tasteful web browsing experience that’s capable of appeasing even the most demanding users out there. Finding all the same features and miniscule quirky things with it, such as the flickering that goes on when adjusting the zoom level, we’re content by its high level of performance. Not only do pages load up in a timely manner under T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network, but the experience is further complemented by its buttery smooth navigational operation – and even better, it doesn’t stutter in the wake of Adobe Flash content.


With this particular version of the HTC One S, it’s outfitted to set sail on T-Mobile’s specific AWS band – where it’s theoretically capable of getting speeds as fast as 42Mbit/s. Besides that, it packs the same set of connectivity options such as aGPS, Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA functionality, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and mobile hotspot functionality. Sadly though, it lacks an NFC chip inside of it – much like its overseas sibling.



Camera:

Calling all trigger-happy photographers out there, the HTC One S is stocked to the brim with features and various modes to draw out that wannabe professional shooter inside of you. As we’ve mentioned in our review of the European version, the HTC One S features an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash and a dedicated HTC ImageChip, which circumvents the default chipset manufacturer’s DSP. The result is an extremely snappy, sub-second camera, when we refer to the amount of time it takes to start the app, focus and take a picture. Additionally, we also have a number of new Instagram-style effects and different scene modes, like Group Portrait and Closeup to choose from, as well as HDR, panorama, face and smile detection modes, and geotagging, making the One S a pretty versatile shooter.


Armed to the teeth with its expansive shooting modes, we’re left a bit underwhelmed by the handset’s image quality. Now don’t get us wrong, it produces some acceptable shots worthy enough for printouts, but when compared to other photogenic handsets on the market, it doesn’t quite exhibit the qualities we deem as above average in the category. For starters, shots tend to display some noticeable over-sharpening, while macro shots are a nightmare since it has the same difficulty focusing on close objects. Even though it maintains the same fast focus and shutter times under low lighting, details generally appear to be a bit too grainy for our tastes – albeit, the LED flash compensates things thanks to the new brightness setting of the LED flash, which is based on measuring how close the subject is.



Previewing our 1080p video recording, we’re flattered by the results, but not entirely compelled by it – mainly because it’s plagued by the same idiosyncrasies we’ve witnessed on other recent HTC smartphones; like the Titan II. Of course, we do like that it shoots at the smooth rate of 30 frames per second outdoors with great lighting, while balancing things out with its good contrast level and accurate colors. However, it’s plagued by some recognizable levels of artifacting when panning – despite having activated video stabilization. On top of that, we notice the results being a bit over-exposed, with details being of the soft side – so yeah, it’s a valiant effort, but not a home run.

HTC One S for T-Mobile Sample Video:



Multimedia:

The music player sports a polished interface with the works – cover art, tunes categorization, equalizer presets and visualizations. Since the HTC One S is a Beats Audio phone, we also get the plumped base sounds when listening to music through the headphones. Conversely, the internal speaker lacks the oomph to its punch, as it clearly sounds lackluster and on the flat side.


As far as video playback goes, the One S ran everything we threw at it, DivX/Xvid included, out of the box, and at up to 1080p definition – so yes, it’s a pleasure to watch videos on. Yet again, we’re treated with the same set of features as before, which consists of brightness adjustment, screenshot capture, locking the controls, and has a sound enhancer mode, where you can choose from HTC presets, including Beats Audio in headset mode. Oh yeah, did we mention that there’s a basic trimming option as well?


For those of you with DLNA compatible devices, you’ll surely appreciate the wireless option of sharing multimedia content. Oppositely, we like that a wired option is available as well with the aid of an optional MHL adapter, which of course, you’ll need to purchase separately.


Software:


Being the T-Mobile bound device it is, it’s is preloaded with the usual assortment of carrier branded apps – such as 411 & More, Game Base, More for Me, My T-Mobile, T-Mobile Mall, T-Mobile ID, T-Mobile TV, and Visual Voicemail. As for the other culprits, they include Amazon, Dropbox, Lookout Security, Polaris Office, Slacker, Where’s My Water, and Zinio. Indeed, there’s a lot of bloatware found with it, but that’s just the way of the game at this point.





Performance:

Following in line to its sibling across the sea, T-Mobile’s version handles well in the calling quality department, as voices on both ends of the line are robust in tone and noise-free. Switching over to the speakerphone, its extremely weak output tends to make voices inaudible – forcing us to constantly tell our callers to speak up.

Testing it out primarily in high coverage areas, signal strength hovers around the -85 dBm mark – with few instances of it fluctuating. Additionally, we didn’t experience any dropped calls during our testing in the greater Philadelphia area.

Lastly, there’s the 1,650 mAh battery tuck away inside its skinny frame – inaccessible by our touchy fingers. Luckily, it’s ample enough to provide us with a solid one day of normal usage out of a full charge. In fact, we find it at slightly above the 10% mark the end of our night, therefore, it’s pretty much average by today’s standards.

Conclusion:

Remembering all of the recent fond memories we’ve made with the European version of the HTC One S, T-Mobile’s version also delights us in many ways. Finally, T-Mobile customers will have an updated HTC offering that’s delivers that great balance of performance and features – even better when it flaunts one eye-catching design that rivals some of the best smartphones out there. Certainly, it’s rather difficult to classify it as a mid-range device, especially when it’s positioned in between the HTC One X and One V, but as we’ve blatantly mentioned before, it’s more in line as being an upper mid-range device.

For all of its worth, the one thing that irks us more than others, is the $199.99 on-contract price it’ll be flaunting come launch day. As we’ve come to realize, the $200 price point is no longer associated with top of the line devices, but rather, it has been pushed up and over the $250 mark. Knowing that Sprint’s version of the HTC One X, the EVO 4G LTE, will be sporting the same price, it’s undeniably hard to justify T-Mobile’s reasoning.  Don’t get us wrong, the $200 price point still seems fitting based on its killer industrial design and impeccable performance, but there’s simply an obvious disparity between the two – even more when the HTC One X is classified as a higher-end model.

Therefore, if you’re okay with the price, you’ll find a handset worthy enough to tangle with some of the big named smartphones on the market. Blessed with one immaculate design, you’re bound to get some looks as you show it off in public. Of course, if you’re willing to wait longer and jump ship, you might find more value in the variants of the HTC One X that are expected to hit our shores soon, but if not, this is easily one of the best handsets coming to T-Mobile in the foreseeable future.

Software version of the reviewed unit:
Android Version: 4.0.3
HTC Sense Version: 4.0
Build Number: 1.53.531.16 CL47441
Kernel Version: 3.0.8-01053-g5dc1dc4

HTC One S for T-Mobile Review:





Pros

  • Superb design and solid construction
  • Super-fast shutter speed
  • Consistent speedy performance
  • Maintains clarity at various viewing angles

Cons

  • Lack of expandable memory
  • Inability to focus with macro shots
  • Somewhat pricey at $200 on-contract

PhoneArena Rating:

8.0

User Rating:

9.7
10 Reviews

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