HTC One SV review: A gorgeous, no-contract number from HTC

Muve Music comes free with a Cricket subscription. Brian Bennett/CNET

Camera
The HTC One SV's 5-megapixel camera has a lot going for it. First, it uses HTC's ImageSense electronics, which the company says will speed up time between shots and help the phone capture images quickly. My experience with the One SV confirmed that its camera indeed fires off pictures in no time, almost instantly in fact. I was also able to cycle between shots just as fast since the autofocus locks onto subjects in a fraction of a second.

The camera app, like all of HTC's current phones, features a mother lode of settings, scene, and shooting modes, along with color effects. For example an HDR mode takes advantage of the BSI (backside-illuminated) sensor, while a Panorama mode stitches images together to create wide vistas. You also have the option to manually select the ISO from 100 up to 800.

The camera application boasts plenty of features, settings, and shooting modes. Sarah Tew/CNET

Unfortunately, all this imaging gee-whizardry can only go so far. Still-life images I took indoors had accurate color but details were flat, even blocky. The same went for outdoor pictures, admittedly shot under cloudy winter skies.

Details in still-life shots were not sharp. Brian Bennett/CNET

Colors understandably were drab in this less-than-ideal lighting. Worse though was the lack of crispness in objects, whether that be the stone bricks of buildings or leaves of trees and bushes. Switching on the HDR mode did brighten things up but also gave everything a ghostly cast or created artifacts and double images of moving subjects.

Outside details weren't any better. Brian Bennett/CNET

The HDR mode caused ghostly artifacts. Brian Bennett/CNET

The camera was fast enough to capture shots of moving kids. Brian Bennett/CNET

Performance
Despite its sleek, small stature, the HTC One SV comes equipped with a respectably potent 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus processor backed up by 1GB of RAM. While that's not a cutting-edge quad-core chip, the One SV's components helped the phone drive its Android Ice Cream Sandwich software with agility. Navigating menus and opening applications looked silky-smooth to my eyes and I never once noticed any lags or stutters.

Benchmark tests confirmed my anecdotal experience. The HTC One SV notched a high Linpack (multithread) score of 282.5 MFLOPs, which is higher than the HTC One X managed (205.7 MFLOPs).

Cricket piggybacks on Sprint's CDMA network backbone for voice communication. Test calls I made in New York unfortunately were not impressive to say the least. Callers I dialed from landlines sounded clear, but not very loud, through the One SV's earpiece even at maximum volume. People on the other end though reported that my voice was flat, compressed, and robotic.

Call conditions worsened when I put on the speakerphone, with callers saying my voice was difficult to understand and painfully muffled. By contrast, I could hear people I spoke to just fine, especially when I flipped the phone over and exposed its speaker.

HTC One SV call quality sample Listen now:

Cricket relies on Sprint's fledgling LTE network for 4G outside of its coverage area as well. That's a problem for me since Sprint hasn't rolled out its 4G LTE footprint to New York just yet. As a result I logged strictly 3G data speeds, with downloads barely cracking 0.4 Mbps and uploads averaging a higher 0.89 Mbps.

Data speeds were strictly 3G in New York. Brian Bennett/CNET

Drawing electrical power from an 1,800mAh removable battery, the One SV demonstrated a decent amount of stamina. The device persevered for 7 hours and 27 minutes in the CNET Labs video playback battery drain test.

Performance: HTC One SV
Average LTE download speeds 0.38 Mbps
Average LTE upload speed 0.89 Mbps
App download 3.64MB in 4 minutes
CNET mobile site load 26 seconds
CNET desktop site load 2 minutes 17 seconds
Boot time 13.6 seconds
Camera boot time 1.2 seconds

Conclusion
There's no questioning the $349.99 HTC One SV's bold styling, thin and compact design, and premium construction. I also find the phone easy and enjoyable to use thanks to a snappy processor and HTC's software enhancements gingerly placed over Android ICS. The camera app and imaging system show lots of promise too, with the copious settings, extra features, and fast shot-to-shot times. That's why I found the phone's blocky image quality such a letdown. The same is true of the One SV's low-res display, which is not what I've come to expect from HTC. For example, both the Droid DNA and HTC One X+ sport excellent high-resolution screens.

For its current $279.99 price after discounts and rebates, the HTC One SV is a pretty good deal, especially considering you don't need to sign a binding service contract. If you have $100 extra, I'd say springing for the $379.99 (also after rebates) Samsung Galaxy S3 would make a lot of sense, since it offers a much better screen and camera. Still, if you can live with its quirks, the lovely HTC One SV is hard to pass up.

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    About The Author

    Brian Bennett is senior editor for mobile phones at CNET and reviews a wide range of mobile communication products. These include smartphones and their myriad accessories. He has more than 12 years of experience in technology journalism and has put practically anything fun with a micro chip through its paces at some point.