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HTC One S - gradient blue (T-Mobile) review: HTC One S - gradient blue (T-Mobile)

HTC One S - gradient blue (T-Mobile)

Brian Bennett
Brian Bennett Former Senior writer

Brian Bennett is a former senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET.

6 min read

HTC One S (T-Mobile)

HTC One S - gradient blue (T-Mobile)

The Good

The <b>HTC One S</b> manages to pack Android ICS, Sense 4, and a feature-filled camera into one of the slimmest phones on the market.

The Bad

The One S' svelteness comes at the cost of no SD card expansion slot or removable battery.

The Bottom Line

The HTC One S is the best phone you can get on T-Mobile (for now), wrapping Android 4.0, 4G data speeds, and a beautiful 4.3-inch AMOLED screen into one svelte package.

T-Moble customers we feel your pain. First it was the threat of a hostile takeover by AT&T, then it was the lack of any attractive smartphones while competitors Verizon and AT&T launched superphone after superphone such as the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx and the Nokia Lumia 900, with plenty more on the way. Well, the HTC One S has arrived, and with it comes Android Ice Cream Sandwich plus an excellent camera. Find out if it's enough to keep you loyal to TMO and stop planning your mad dash to greener pastures.

From the moment I placed the HTC One S in my hand, I was struck with how premium the phone feels. Luxuriously sculpted from a single block of anodized aluminum with smoothly tapered edges, the One S is sturdy yet manages to look finely crafted. That's a mean feat since the handset is breathtakingly thin, just 0.31 inch thick. In fact T-Mobile touts the HTC One S as its trimmest smartphone yet, edging out the Apple iPhone 4S (0.37 inch) and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (0.4 inch), but not the original Motorola Droid Razr (0.28 inch).

At 0.31 inch thick, the One S is T-Mobile's thinnest smartphone to date.

Most of the HTC One S' front is taken up by its lovely 4.3-inch qHD (960 by 540) Super AMOLED screen. It paints images and video with vibrant colors, high contrast, and deep blacks. For example, watching HQ YouTube trailers on the One S is a joy. I ogled neon signs and skyscraper lights in nighttime New York cityscapes. Details such as the folds of leathery monster skin were crisp, just how I like it.

Loaded with many multimedia goodies, the One S has Amazon Mobile, T-Mobile TV, an FM radio, a game portal, and even 25GB of free storage from DropBox.

Sporting a fancy color treatment HTC calls "gradient blue," which looks more like gun metal to me, the back of the phone shifts from light bluish-gray on top to a darker silver hue at its base. I especially like how the HTC One S' matte metallic surface repels fingerprints and provides a sure grip. Also on back is the phone's 8-megapixel camera, prominent lens circled by blue trim, and LED flash. The HTC One S keeps controls to a minimum. Below the screen are three Android Ice Cream Sandwich capacitive buttons for Back, Home, and Recent Applications. The left and right sides hold a Micro-USB port and slim volume bar. A power button and 3.5 mm headphone jack sit on the top edge.

HTC Sense and ICS
As part of HTC's new One line of Android smartphones for 2012, the One S not only runs the latest flavor of Android, version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the handset also features HTC's new Sense 4 user interface as well. HTC told me it has listened to some of the complaints users reported with the last, and most ambitious, version of Sense. Unlike Sense 3, the company says Sense 4 is toned down a bit and is designed to seamlessly integrate into ICS and not overpower its subtle, sweet taste. Gone is much of the fancy eye candy, such as the perpetually spinning carousel of home screens. The seven home screens still rotate with slick 3D animations when you flick your finger left or right but settle down at the last screen in the series.

Sense fans don't despair; many of the features you've grown to love are still here, like slick weather animations that match atmospheric conditions at your location and strong integration with Facebook and Twitter social-media platforms. The lock screen has the familiar Sense 3.0 layout, a ring at the bottom of the screen you flick upward to wake the handset, or four icons you can pull into it to jump directly to that app. By default, icons for Phone, Mail, Messages, and Camera are shown but they can be changed via Personalize area in the setting menu.

Make no mistake about it; the HTC One S is a modern Android ICS smartphone with all the trimmings. Under the hood is a nimble 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor. While the phone lacks an SD Card slot to add extra memory, the device does come with a spacious 16GB of internal storage and 1GB of RAM.

Along with the usual selection of Android staples such as Gmail, Google Plus, Maps, and Navigation, HTC offers some of its own custom tweaks. The company's Watch video store serves up movies and TV shows for rent and purchase, while the Music app aggregates Google's Play music storefront, Slacker Internet radio app, and locally stored tracks.

With a 1650 mAh battery, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage, the One S won't have any problems storing and powering all your app delights.

The phone also comes with 25GB of free online storage courtesy of the Dropbox cloud service. Polaris Office supports popular office files, and links to the HTC File app pull all recently opened documents and those stored online into one handy view.

HTC boasts the One S' integrated Beats Audio technology, which is essentially aggressive audio processing that boosts bass to complement low-end heavy music styles such as rap, dance, and electronic. Beats will also automatically detect when you connect Beats-branded headphones and equalize the EQ settings to match the particular model. It's a nice theory, but when CNET's headphones editor Justin Yu gave the HTC One S paired with a compatible headset a listen, he found the results unimpressive. Sure, bass and treble were high, but the midrange was too overpowered for his audiophile tastes.

HTC has added what it calls ImageSense technology to its new One line of smartphones, and the One S is no exception. Equipped with dedicated image processor, I can vouch for this phone's impressive 8-megapixel camera. Not only is it extremely fast, with an autofocus that locks on in a fraction of a second and nearly instantaneous shot-to-shot speeds, it boasts a wealth of extras. Besides the typical scene modes such as panorama, face detection, and macro, the One S has a continuous capture mode that snaps shots in machine-gun-like bursts. The handset's camera also features a backlit sensor with HDR mode. Both images and 1080p video I shot were clear with crisp details and accurate color as well.

The HTC One S captured natural colors and sharp details in our camera phone still life.

The HTC One S features a continuous shot mode that helps you better nab that precious smile.

In bright sunshine, the pink, red, green, and purple of these flowers were accurately captured by the HTC One S' camera.

The HTC One S is good at snapping wide angle scenes like this image shot of a park fountain.

With its HDR mode activated, the HTC One S took multiple images at once of this scene with tough lighting. After processing in real time, it created a shot that was lighter and had more detail. Fast-moving objects like cars, though, were blurred.

Many Android fanatics will likely bemoan the HTC One S' lack of a quad-core CPU. In my experience, though, the handset felt very quick and responsive. Menus, apps, and images opened with pep, and animations that give many other Android handsets trouble were buttery smooth.

Another potential sore spot is the One S's HSPA+ data connection. While I've typically found that T-Mobile's 4G is more akin to 3.5G in terms of throughput speed, my experience with the HTC One S was satisfying. Out in Queens NY I clocked average download throughput at 8.9 Mbps with uploads coming in at 2.5 Mbps. In an optimal T-Mobile 4G area in Manhattan, results were much more inconsistent. Downloads peaked at a high 12.45 Mbps but dropped below 3Mbps a few times.

While HTC hasn't yet provided a rated battery life for the handset, my anecdotal tests with the HTC One S pointed to promising longevity, especially for a phone this svelte. I managed to run a test video for just over 9 hours continuously before the device called it quits.

HTC One S call quality sample Listen now:
Call quality was in line with other T-Mobile phones I've used, with the One S delivering decent if not terribly loud audio though its small earpiece. Callers could also definitely tell I was calling from a cellular phone.

In many ways the HTC One S is the Android smartphone loyal T-Mobile subscribers deserve. It's slim, fast, and runs up-to-date software. At $199 the HTC One S may not be the most affordable handset in T-Mobile's roster. Still, as the freshest phone to hit the carrier's lineup in recent memory, it makes a very compelling choice indeed as the best it offers at the moment.

HTC One S (T-Mobile)

HTC One S - gradient blue (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 9
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