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HTC One Mini review: Nearly flawless midrange stunner

Lighter, cheaper, and with stepped-back features, HTC's One Mini is a still a sensational smartphone for its class.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Editorial Director, Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Thought Leadership, Speed Desk and How-To. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica led CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
Jessica Dolcourt
9 min read

The HTC One Mini has everything it should to bear the chic HTC One name: a gorgeously crafted hardware and software design, with solid performance chops to match.

HTC One Mini

HTC One Mini

The Good

HTC's <b>One Mini</b> has a striking design, Android 4.2.2, terrific external speakers, and a strong midtier feature set.

The Bad

The diet version of the One has 16GB of internal storage with no option to expand, and lacks NFC.

The Bottom Line

Even with its scaled-down specs, the HTC One Mini is a go-to performer with style to match.

But don't think that "Mini" means you're simply getting a shrunken HTC One. Instead, this only slightly smaller handset steps back the internals across the board -- in video capture resolution, processing brawn, storage capacity, and extra features like the (absent) IR blaster and NFC. Make no mistake, this Mini is a fantastic midtier, midprice choice with enough stamina, speed, and style to go the distance.

The Mini sells exclusively with AT&T for $100 on contract at the full retail price, half the cost of the original One at its full retail price.

HTC One Mini versus HTC One

HTC One                HTC One Mini

Dimensions5.40''x 2.69''x 0.37''; 5.04 oz.5.19'' x 2.48'' x 0.36''; 4.52 oz.
OS        Android 4.1.2*Android 4.2.2
Display4.7-inch LCD;
1,920x1,080 pixels; 468ppi
4.3-inch LCD;
1,280x720 pixels; 341ppi
4G LTEYesYes
Wi-Fi802.11 a/ac/b/g/n802.11 a/b/g/n
IR blasterYesNo
Rear-facing camera4 UltraPixels;
1080p full HD video
4 UltraPixels;
1080p ful HD video
Front-facing camera2.1 megapixels;
1080p full HD video
1.6 megapixels;
720p HD video
Processor1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 6001.4GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400
Capacity32GB, 64GB16GB
Expandable storageNoNo
Battery2,300mAh embedded;
18 hours talk time (3G)
1,800mAh embedded;
13.3 hours talk time (3G)
CarriersAT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, SprintAT&T
ColorsSilver, black, red (Sprint only)Silver, black

Credit: Lynn La/CNET
*Upgradable to Android 4.2.2

Design and build
The way HTC presents this phone, you'd think it'd be a fraction of the One's size. In fact, HTC barely shaved down its dimensions. At 5.2 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.36 inch thick, the Mini loses only 0.2 inch in height and width compared with the One.

When it comes to body style, the Mini and One aren't exactly mirror images, but they're clearly cut from the same cloth. They share the same unibody shape, gently bowed-out back, and finely tooled details. To HTC's credit, the Mini manages to look like a premium stunner despite the introduction of a plastic rim around the face and spines, because it keeps the aluminum back and face plates. Losing some of that heavy metal makes the Mini a lighter phone as well, 4.5 ounces versus the One's 5-ounce weight.

Smaller HTC One Mini still dazzles (pictures)

See all photos

Screen size is a bit smaller, a 4.3-inch 720p display made using Super LCD 2 material instead of a 4.7-inch screen with 1080p resolution and Super LCD 3. Pixel pushers will note the Mini's 340ppi versus the One's pixel density of 468 pixels per inch.

Side by side with the One, the Mini's LCD screen isn't quite as colorful or bright at full brightness levels. The drop in resolution is also noticeable at such a close range, and colors aren't quite as vibrant. On its own, however, Web sites are easy to read, photos and videos look good, and the screen is still visible at lower brightness levels, though it isn't as punched up as it is at full brightness (of course.)

Both typing on the virtual keyboard and tapping icons did feel more cramped with the Mini's relatively smaller 4.3-inch screen, especially compared to the One and to other phones with much larger screens. I have smaller hands and didn't mind the size. For those who do, it helps that HTC will let you increase system font size, and that the virtual keyboard supports word-tracing.

Other changes are evident as well. The flash moves above the camera lens from the side, and the Mini's power button gets a different finish (since the Mini lacks the infrared beam to control the TV.) The volume rocker also splits into two distinct parts that stand out a little more from the surface; I actually prefer this to the One's shallow, ridged bar, though the buttons still weren't quite as easy for me to find with my thumb at first. You just have to know they're there.

The HTC One Mini (L) isn't all that smaller than the larger, heavier One.

Josh Miller/CNET

While the Mini uses the same main camera as the One -- with a 4-megapixel "UltraPixel" sensor with an LED flash and 1080p HD video recording -- the front-facing camera drops from 2.1 megapixels with 1080p HD recording to 1.6 megapixels with 720p HD video capture.

Beyond these tiny adjustments, the handset's port placement and dual speaker grille proportions remain the same. You'll plug the Micro-USB into the bottom of the phone and the headset jack into the top. As with the One, there's no microSD card slot for extra storage, so you'll need to make do with the Mini's 16GB.

OS and features
When it comes to software, the Mini is happily up-to-date with Android 4.2.2 topped with HTC's Sense 5.0 interface. Yes, BlinkFeed commands the main home screen by default with social networks, news outlets, and other content you set up. You can't turn off BlinkFeed in the settings, but you can shunt it to a secondary or tertiary screen. I don't mind it in as a second screen, myself, but I join my colleague Brian Bennett in wishing I could smoothly scroll through items in the feed rather than jump from group to group.

Otherwise, navigation and customization features remain the same on the Mini as they did on the original One, down to tapping the Home button twice to pull up recent apps and pressing Home to launch Google Now.

A plastic band around the spines modified the One's all-metal chassis.

Josh Miller/CNET

Those who are new to Sense from another OS or Android interface will need a little time to adjust to the look and feel, though it's fairly quick to pick up and the layout is extremely easy on the eye. Uncover settings and you can customize a lot, from app arrangement to lock screen style, to the LED notification light. Sense may not have all the gestures and toggles of Samsung or LG phones, but you won't get bogged down in features either.

You can read more about HTC Sense 5 in CNET's complete HTC One review.

As part of any modern Android experience, the Mini contains all of Google's apps and services, plus essentials like a clock, a calculator, maps with voice navigation, a music player, and so on. You'll also find an FM radio and a few preinstalled apps (like SoundHound, a personal favorite, and myVPN) that are unobtrusively grouped into folders for music and productivity.

There's an AT&T folder as well, which contains 15 carrier apps for account management and a couple of partner apps. The prearranged folders are great for keeping down clutter and reducing the appearance of bloatware, though you can also hide and disable apps to remove them from the screen.

Like the original, the Mini is blessed with HTC Beats and BoomSound for enhanced audio through the phone's twin external speakers. Music, vocals, and voices all sounded loud and rich, even with volume set midway. To compare the two Ones, I tested them side by side by playing the same song at full volume. Each phone impressively flooded the room. While the One's audio sounded rounder and fuller than the slightly tinnier Mini, the gap between the two was relatively narrow.

Although it's unlikely that the Mini's absent NFC support will turn prospective buyers away, it's a bummer that this now-basic Android feature isn't here.

HTC shuffled the flash placement on the back on the Mini and removed a decorative line.

Josh Miller/CNET

Camera and video
HTC gave the Mini the same 4-megapixel "UltraPixel" camera resolution as it did the flagship One. That means, you'll have the same layout, controls, filters, and add-ons, including HDR, panorama, and antishake, slow and fast motion, and white balance presets. You also get Zoe mode, which groups photos into 3 second snippets.

Photos captured in automatic mode were often very good, though not the best I've ever seen from a smartphone camera. However, they'll be clear, colorful, and sharp enough for your every day use. If you take the time to compose the shot and hold still, you can get some pretty impressive images. HTC's burst mode is also commendable for its fast-action shots. Other times, photos will appear off, as with the standard studio shot below.

There aren't quite as many shooting modes or effects as competitors, especially Samsung, but those who mostly take photos in auto mode won't miss them. More meticulous photographers will appreciate sliding scales for exposure, sharpness, and contrast settings. When all's said and done, an add-on called HTC Share will offer to group photos and video into bite-size collections that are easy to share.

Like the One, the Mini's main camera has 1080p HD video capture, which took smooth, colorful video that looks best in ample lighting situations. Self-shots looked fine on the 1.6-megapixel front-facing camera with fairly even exposure, though details are less defined (that de facto airbrushed look is usually a good thing.) The shooter captures 720p HD video, which is nice for video chats, though ultimately, the quality your VoIP caller sees will also depend on the strength of both your data or broadband connections.

Below are photos taken with the Mini in a variety of indoor and outdoor lighting situations.

This pup held still long enough to snap this photo outside in midday light. Click for full resolution.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Colors and contrast are both rich in this urban installation. Click for full resolution.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I focused on the blue cheese blob in this outdoor photos taken at dusk. Click for full resolution.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The Mini's low light compensation kicked in, brightening this hanging garden, shot at dusk. Click for full resolution.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Shot indoors with a mix of natural and artificial lighting. Click for full resolution.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Up close with a magnetic desk toy. Click for full resolution.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Taken in low, artificial lighting, this scene of CNET Download.com editors put the One Mini to the test.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

CNET's standard studio shot, taken with flash indoors, comes out with an icky brown cast to the ordinarily white-gray scene. Click for full resolution.

Josh Miller/CNET

You'll find a gallery of studio shots taken with various smartphone cameras here.

Call quality
I tested the HTC One Mini using AT&T's network in San Francisco (GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz.) Call quality was good overall, with strong volume at both medium and high levels. Vocal tones were natural on both sides of the line, with no distortion, peaks, or blips. I did hear a noticeable and persistent background hum that became more evident the quieter my environment and that melted into the background in noisier surroundings. On his end, my main test partner also heard a thin layer of white noise when he listened hard. On the balance, he really liked the call quality.

Speakerphone was also good when I tested the Mini at hip level, though there were a few flaws. Volume dropped on my caller's end, and he said my voice wasn't as clear as it is with other speakerphones. Volume remained fine for me, and I was impressed that speakerphone didn't make my caller's voice echoey, though he did sound slightly nasal and strained.

HTC One Mini call quality sample Listen now:

One note is that a cellular phone call overrode an ongoing Skype call. Dismissing the call also seemed to hang up on Skype, and I had to restart the call.

Performance: Data, speed, battery
Its 1.4GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor may be less brawny than the HTC One's 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 chipset, but I was still able to do everything I needed to on the Mini without delay. You may find the biggest discrepancy in gameplay, especially for very graphics-intensive titles, but casual gamers shouldn't get too hung up on losing the finest details. I had no complaints with navigational delays.

Part of the phone's overall impression of speed has to do with AT&T's blazing 4G network, which has been built up in San Francisco. The Mini delivered plenty-fast speeds using the diagnostic app Speedtest.net. Scores ranged from 3Mbps down (the outlier) up to 28Mbps, and from 2 to 20Mbps up. However, I noticed that diagnostic results weren't as high as the network's other phones, including the Samsung Galaxy Mega, which I tested at the same time as this Mini.

In the real world, Web site, photo, and other data flowed in both directions, though there are always dead zones and slower pockets to every area, and I stumbled into one from time to time. The Mini kept pace with the One when I streamed the same video from YouTube at the same time.

HTC One Mini (AT&T)
Download CNET mobile app (3.7MB)9.3 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app7 seconds
CNET mobile site load4.3 seconds
CNET desktop site load11 seconds
Boot time to lock screen12 seconds
Camera boot time3 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot timeAbout a second with auto-focus, no flash

Battery life on the Mini lasted me from morning till night on a single charge. It has a rated talk time of up to 21 hours (13.3 over 3G) and about 21 days of standby on its 1,800mAh battery. It has a digital SAR of 1.09 watts per kilogram.

Buy it or skip it?
With its classy design and strong midrange feature set, the HTC One Mini is currently my favorite smartphone in its class. Its major constraint is its limited storage with no option to expand, so skip it if you require more than 16GB total. The absent NFC and IR blaster aren't major enough omissions to turn away most prospective buyers, and though it has fewer ancillary software extras, there's no way you're going hungry. I highly recommend the One Mini.

If you're looking for a smartphone that costs $100 or less, the only question mark hanging over the One Mini is any other smartphone promotion that knocks a premium device down to the same price point. If the One is on sale for the same price, it's still the better value with its 32GB internal storage and higher-end features, although it is also the slightly larger and heavier device.

HTC One Mini

HTC One Mini

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 8