Very nice review. Well done.
Both the dual and quad-core versions of the HTC One X signal a new generation of Android phones. While on paper, they’re not all that different from last year’s model; they’re actually much faster, have much more capable cameras, the best screens I have ever seen plus they’re running the most mature version of Android yet. As awesome as the One X is, the 4.7” screen may be too big for some. Sometimes more is less.
Here’s where the One S fits in. It packs the same processing power as the as the faster dual core One X, the same camera capabilities, same amount of storage, RAM, etc into a smaller, more manageable package
While the HTC One X isn’t exactly a fat phone, the One S feels noticeably thinner. The past 2 years has been a race to see who could build the thinnest phone with the narrowest bezel. The problem is that super thin phones are not always comfortable to hold while skinny bezels are hard to use.
While the One S is both very thin and has a narrow bezel, most of the time I’m able to use it just fine. In fact, the ergonomics are outstanding. Unlike the One X, I’m able to use the One S with one hand just fine. The thinness of the device and narrowness of the bezel allows my thumb to reach further across the width screen while at the same time I can hook my pinky/4th finger and middle finger on the other side of the screen. The screen is a little bit too tall for one handed use but most of the time I’m fine with just one hand. Typing with one hand is do-able but you're better off using 2 hands.
Most of the body is a single piece of metal. It’s much more scratch and scuff resistant than the One X’s polycarbonate (plastic) body. It’s also a lot more satisfying to hold.
Like the One X, the One S has physical menu buttons instead of the silly on-screen menu buttons like the Galaxy Nexus.
micro USB connector
power button, headphone jack
Besides the camera, there is a SIM card slot located behind the cover at the top
There’s a LED that lights up when it’s charging along with the front facing camera.
The One S has a 4.3” 960 x 540 display - that’s pretty standard stuff. What’s interesting about this display is that it’s a Super AMOLED display, the same type and brand of screen that Samsung uses in many of their Galaxy S line of phones.
It’s arranged in a pentile layout (like the Nexus One, Galaxy S, Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S III, Nokia Lumia 800, etc). Pentiles are a bit controversial because they appear to be less sharp than a regular display with the same resolution. A regular 960x540 display will look sharper than a 960x540 pentile display. Here’s a close up of a regular display and a pentile display.
Generally speaking, you’ll notice that the edges of text on pentile displays is a little grainy. You also notice that areas that are the same colour are kind of ‘dotty’ looking.
Probably, the most important thing when you’re talking about pentile displays is that you’ll probably see them if you look for them or if you have a non pentile phone and compare them side-by-side. So they’re very noticeable if you put the phone up to your nose or if you have 2 phones. The thing is, most people don’t use their phones like that. To me I don’t really notice them when I’m holding my phone at my usual distance (around 15” away) and even though I usually have a couple of phones with me, I don’t use them at the same time that often.
So while the whole pentile discussion is quite interesting, really it’s not that important. Still, all else being equal I’d pick a regular display over a pentile one.
The display has excellent viewing angles. There’s almost no off-axis colour shift until you’re at around 170 degrees. Black levels are extremely deep. It works great outdoors even when it’s sunny.
Compared to the HTC One X display (the quad core one), the One S colour tones are a little cooler. To my eye, the S looks more neutral because the X seems a little red. However, the difference isn’t that big so you probably wouldn’t notice unless you had them side-by-side. I also find that the X’s display is a little washed out compared to the S’. It’s a case of the X display actually being a little washed out and the S being very saturated.
Under the Hood:
Under the hood is Qualcomm very fast Snapdragon S4 dual core processor. It’s similar to the processor found in the LTE HTC One X on Rogers. You get 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage of which a measly 9.9GB is available. To compound this problem, HTC has taken many steps back, by not including a micro SDHC card slot. It’s really annoying because the One S comes with a very capable camera which chews through storage at an alarming rate.
I copied some files from my computer via USB and saw speeds of around 11MB/s. That’s a little above average.
Like the One X, the One S has a dedicated camera processor and it shows in its speed. It focuses really quickly and has the fastest shot-to-shot speeds I have ever seen from a camera phone. You can even take pictures while you’re shooting a video.
There’s a best shot feature which takes up to 20 pictures at a speed of around 4.5fps. To use it you just press and hold the shutter button. Afterwards you choose which picture you want to keep or you can just keep all of them.
Normal shot to shot speeds are impressive. You can keep tapping at the shutter button and snap pictures at around 1.5fps - even when you’re shooting video. The speed is just insane for a camera phone.
I have a toddler who never stays still and the One S camera (along with the One X) are the only camera phones which I have used that can keep up with her. The iPhone 4s and Nokia N900 come close but the HTC’s blow them out of the water. It’s a different type of performance that can be ‘captured’ by taking pictures of resolution charts and that sort of thing. Note that I cropped the 2 pictures of my kid.
While the One S is able to crank out photos at a crazy pace, the image quality isn’t top-notch. Images aren't as sharp as say the Samsung Galaxy S II or Galaxy Note and they tend to be noisier. If you take a lot of pictures and have time to stand there to hold your camera very still while you wait for it to focus you might want to consider them instead. For me, the key here is that while it’s not as sharp as some camera phones, the One S camera is able capture many sorts of photos that would just be a blur or an empty frame on other phones.
I love how you can shoot video or still photos from the same mode. You don’t have to switch between camera or video mode like you do on the iPhone or Galaxy S. Another feature I really like is that the One S doesn’t crop the center of the sensor when you shoot video.
Video quality is good as is quality of captured audio.
Software-wise, the One S is more or less identical to the One X; so most of this part of the review is lifted from my One X review. If you’re already familiar with the One X’s software you can skip this section.
Like all HTC phones, the One S has HTC Sense on top of Android. Everything is customized so that the only way you can really tell the One X is an Ice Cream Sandwich phone is by the lack of a physical menu button.
The keyboard works great, I prefer it over the default Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard. My only complaint about it is that the number shift key is on the right side of the keyboard - I’m not used to that. The keys are nice and big - typing and the autocorrect are intuitive, like on the iPhone or a Windows Phone. There are direction keys at the bottom of the keyboard and while they’re nice to have, I don’t think they’re that necessary because Sense makes it easy to place your pointer.
Sense comes with lots of widgets including many clocks, social media widgets and widgets to turn features like WiFi, Bluetooth, screen orientation on/off. There are also useful shortcuts built into the menu. For example you can pull the notification area to
Pretty much all aspects of the One S are customized. Earlier versions of Sense were pretty weak but it’s been getting better and better. Now it permeates all aspects of the phone, yet at the same time I never feel like it’s overdone or cheesy.
Anyone remember the first version of Sense on the HTC Touch?
The only feature I wish Sense had, is an orientation lock button when you pull the notification area down like on Samsung Touchwiz or like how when you double tap the iPhone’s home button and swipe left. I use this feature a couple of times a day on my iPhone and Galaxy Note and am always very annoyed when I have to use a device that lacks a fast orientation lock. While there is an orientation lock widget, I don’t like to use it because then I have to keep track of what home screen it’s on or put it on every home screen.
I like how the One X has a Mass Storage Mode option when you connect it to your computer. With a fast camera and only 10GB of storage the One S’s storage fills up incredibly quickly. The mass Storage Mode is an essential feature that my Galaxy Nexus doesn’t have.
The browser has a nice feature where it automatically centers and reflows text when you double tap on it. It has some extra menu animations that the stock Android browser doesn’t have. While they’re nice, they lower the One X’s benchmark scores. To me, that’s not important at all but remember this when you’re checking out the One X’s scores.
The Gallery app allows you to view pictures and video you’ve taken but it also has integration so you can view and upload pictures with Facebook, Flickr, DLNA, Dropbox and Picasa.
There is support for Beats Audio. At first,I thought it meant that the One S would ship with an awesome built-in speaker and have a super loud and clear headphone amplifier. Turns out, it just means that there is a special Beats setting. Unlike the X I reviewed a while back, the S uses the stock Android music player so it lacks the various equalizer settings that the X uses - still, it’s no loss as I preferred the stock setting.
The built-in speaker isn’t particularly loud - it’s only useful in a quiet room so skip the S if you need a loud speaker.
I tested the headphone amplifier with my Grado SR325IS headphones. Compared to the X, the S’ headphone amplifier is slightly louder than my X’s. Sound wise, the X is a little more ‘full sounding’ though at times the S is more agile - occasionally the X’s more full sound makes it sound a little clumsy.
HTC One S 1519.5
HTC One X (dual core) 1550.9
HTC One X (quad core) 1705.4
Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE 2482.9
Apple iPhone 4s 2222.8
Blackberry Bold 9900 2484.5
HTC Titan II 6545.8
The Qualcomm MSM8260A is a beast when it comes to SunSpider. It outscored all other devices I have tried regardless of platform save for the HTC One X dual core which has a similar processor
Vellamo is another Android browser benchmark. It’s broken into different test. What I find is a lot of devices usually can’t run every single scores which results in lower scores. I actually run Vellamo for every Android phone I review but I don’t post the numbers because most of them score zero on one or more tests.
HTC One S 2456
HTC One S (quad core) 1644
LG Optimus LTE 1171
Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE 906
The first thing that struck me is that the One S is able to finish all the tests. The second thing is that the One S just creams the competition including the Tegra 3 powered HTC One X. It’s interesting to note that while the One S’ score is double or more what you on other devices, a lot of it is from the Vellamo ‘Surf Wax Binder’ test where it outscored the competition by around 700+ points.
GL Benchmark is an OpenGL benchmark that runs on both Android and iOS. What’s cool about GL Benchmark is that there is a off screen option which runs the test at 1280x720. That way you can compare various devices regardless of their resolution.
GL Benchmark Egypt Standard (higher is better, test is run at device's native resolution)
HTC One S 6525
HTC One X (dual core) 5571
HTC One X (quad core) 5434
Apple iPhone 4s 6555
Sony Xperia S 3178
The One S is a huge step up from devices powered by older Qualcomm Snapdragons (the Xperia S). The fact that the One S doesn’t have a HD display works in its favour - It has the same GPU as the One X but about 40% less pixels to push. Conversely, devices with a higher resolution are at a disadvantage here.
GL Benchmark Egypt Offscreen (higher is better)
Apple iPhone 4s 8255
HTC One X (quad core) 7227
HTC One X (dual core) 6318
HTC One S 5812
As for the off screen test, I’m at a loss why the One S doesn’t score the same as the One X dual core. Regardless, The One S should be sufficient to run any 3D Android games smoothly in the near future.
Basemark is another OpenGL benchmark. It runs at whatever the device’s native resolution is so you should only compare the One S’s score with other devices with a 960x540 display:
Motorola RAZR 12.59
HTC Raider 18.9
HTC Amaze 4G 27.04
HTC One S 45.85
Again you can see what a huge increase in performance the One S’s Adreno 225 GPU brings to the table over the Adreno 220 in the HTC Raider and Amaze.
I test battery life by charging the battery, turning off all wireless settings (including WiFi and GPS), maxing out the brightness and then playing video until the device turns off.
Mins (higher is better)
Samsung Galaxy Note 329
HTC One X (dual core) 268
HTC One X (quad core) 263
Motorola RAZR 242
HTC One S 190
As an alternative, I’ve also started using AnTuTu battery benchmark as an alternative. I’m still benchmarking my various devices so I’ll have more scores in a future review.
AnTuTu Battery test scores (higher is better)
Samsung Galaxy Note (LTE) 580
HTC One S 342
Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE 332
Incoming sound quality is a big disappointment. While most phones have some hiss, the One S’ hiss is pretty loud and noticeable. Another problem is that the earpiece goes completely dead when the person on the other end is not speaking.
Outgoing sound quality is much better.
RF performance is excellent. It’s very similar to my iPhone 4s in this regard.
As far as competition goes the first 2 phones that come to mind are the Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE and the Sony Xperia S. Both those phones have higher resolution displays. The Samsung adds LTE and removable storage while the Sony has a camera with more megapixels (though it's not a very good camera). On the other hand the One S has a much faster processor (which you may or may not notice) plus it ships with Ice Cream Sandwich. The Sony is supposed to get ICS soon while the Samsung will get it later.
While the One S is not HTC’s flagship device (that would be the One X) I think it’s a better overall package. Its metal body is more satisfying to hold while the smaller size makes it easier to use. While not as sharp as the One X’s display the S display is still excellent. It has roughly the same processing power and audio capabilities.
Clearly, the One S is more than the sum of its parts.
user friendly size
storage not expandable
incoming sound quality
speaker isn’t loud
Are screens getting too big? Compared to the One X’s 4.7” the 4.3” seems to be the sweet spot.
Last edited by howard; 06-03-2012 at 08:37 AM.
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Very nice review. Well done.
I am @guamguy on Twitter.
This all good but I suspect once we all have the GS3 in hand on June 20, the game will probably change a great deal. I personally have never liked HTC design and I find there screen not as nice as other manufactures. I need a new phone and will wait for the GS3.
Howard ... your daughter, is frickin' ADORABLE.
And that was a wonderful review.
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Great review as always Howard.
Just want to point out in the review you say "Here’s a close up of a regular display and a pentile display."
I expected a picture but I'm guessing you forgot to put it in.
The screen on the One X is better than the GSIII, the build quality is superior, and really it comes down to software preference of Sense vs. TouchWiz.
Howard, in your conclusion you said that the Xperia S has removable storage as well, but that is not the case, just wanted to point that out.
"As far as competition goes the first 2 phones that come to mind are the Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE and the Sony Xperia S. Both those phones have higher resolution displays and removable storage."
Nice review. I'm loving my One S right now. I feel like its one of the best, if not the best, designed smartphones. Of course I'm a little biased now though =)
The iPhone's outgoing RF is terrible.
Just throwing it out there.
To test this, try speaker.
Thanks to you Howard i got myself a new HTC One S
Thanks Howard for a very insightful review. I ended up pulling the trigger and picked one of these up yesterday because the price was right (and the seller was awesome, too).
I moved from an LG Optimus T which I'd been using for about a year now (my first Android phone) and man does this phone fly in comparison. My only gripe is that htc chose not to have a microSD slot on the phone. I mean, I had an 8GB card in my old phone and still had lots of room left but when 6GB of space is already used by the htc one s, a touch under 10GB isn't much especially when the camera is 8MP and takes safety shots.
If that's my only gripe, I'm happy though. Thanks again.