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HTC One S review: T-Mobile's new shining star

April 18, 2012 05:01 PM ET

Under the hood

The HTC One S is powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor along with 1GB of RAM. The processor is actually the same power chip used in the upcoming U.S. version of the One X phone; while the international One X model has a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, the AT&T version uses one of Qualcomm's 1.5GHz dual-core chips instead.

We can talk all day about gigahertz, cores and all that fun stuff, but here's what really matters: The One S is fast -- really fast. The device is as zippy as any I've used, with snappy transitions, lag-free animations and stellar multitasking performance. Apps load instantly, home-screen swiping is fast and fluid, and Web browsing is speedy and smooth.

The One S has a 1650 mAh battery, which, in my experience, was more than capable of keeping the phone powered through the day. Following full days of moderate to heavy usage, my device consistently had around 30% of its charge remaining. The One S's battery is not removable, however -- likely a tradeoff for the device's thin profile -- so if you're hoping to swap out for a larger battery or to keep a spare nearby, you're out of luck.

The One S comes with 16GB of onboard storage. Once you factor in HTC's operating system partition and any preinstalled software, you're left with about 10GB of actual usable space. Like many other recent devices, the One S does not have a microSD slot, so you're limited to the internal space and any cloud-connected storage you choose to utilize. (The One S does come with a two-year subscription for 25GB of cloud-based storage from Dropbox; after those two years, you'll be defaulted back to Dropbox's free 2GB level unless you opt to pay a minimum of $10 a month or $100 a year for a higher-level plan.)

Unlike the One X, the HTC One S does not have near-field communications (NFC) capabilities. In practical terms, that probably doesn't mean much for most people at this point. In the future, though, contact-free payments -- through services like Google Wallet and carrier-backed alternatives -- may become more prevalent, as may contact-free device-to-device sharing, which NFC chips also enable.

The One S uses T-Mobile's 4G HSPA+ data network. I had no problems with data connectivity or voice quality; in my tests, people I called sounded loud and clear, with no distortion or echo. Callers on the other end reported similarly good-sounding quality with my voice.

Cameras

HTC has worked hard to differentiate its One line of phones with high-quality cameras, and the One S is no exception. The One S has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with 1080p HD video recording. The camera uses HTC's new ImageSense technology, which means it has a dedicated chip -- called, fittingly, the HTC ImageChip -- along with an f/2.0 aperture, a higher-end sensor and specialized software to create a top-notch image-capturing experience.

HTC One S
Images captured with the HTC One S look fantastic, with bold colors and crisp details.

That all sounds impressive enough, but the real test is how well it works -- and the HTC One S doesn't fail to deliver. Images captured with the phone look fantastic, with bold colors and crisp details. They're easily among the best I've seen from any smartphone. The One S is capable of taking ridiculously fast "burst" photos, too: Holding down the on-screen shutter button causes the camera to take rapid-fire snapshots; once you release the shutter, you can look through the pile of photos and pick the ones that best capture your scene.

HTC's custom camera UI is fairly easy to use and provides plenty of options for getting the kinds of shots you want. The phone's software includes integrated tools for editing and manipulating images as well, though the tools' placement actually struck me as somewhat less intuitive than the configuration in Google's stock Ice Cream Sandwich setup. Some effects are accessible via the Camera app itself, applicable only while you're taking a photo, while others are available in the Gallery and can be applied after the fact. I found this split to be a bit arbitrary and confusing.

The One S has a front-facing VGA-quality camera for self-portraits and video chat. That's another area of distinction between this phone and its One X sibling: The X model has a higher-quality 1.3MP camera with 720p video capture on its front.

The software

HTC's One S runs Google's Android 4.0.3 OS integrated with its own Sense 4 software. The result is a heavily modified version of Ice Cream Sandwich that combines many of Google's base features with HTC's own customized interface and feature additions.

With Sense 4 and the One S, HTC has come a long way from the over-the-top OS modifications of its past. The company's Ice Cream Sandwich modifications add a number of interesting and innovative features that provide extra value to the user. That said, most of the added features could be accomplished via third-party apps, and many of the customizations add clutter and muddy up the newly simplified interface Google created with Android 4.0.



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