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HTC One Mini review: Nearly flawless midrange stunner

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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.

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