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

This Cylon-eyed, scarlet-clad smartphone will infiltrate your pocket with ease, but some features may take you by surprise.

Brian Bennett Former Senior writer
Brian Bennett is a former senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET.
Brian Bennett
7 min read

The HTC One SV proves stunningly attractive smartphones that can find a home on prepaid carriers. Available on Cricket Wireless for $349.99, the slim, colorfully seductive One SV certainly adds spice to the provider's no-contract lineup. With its fiery red highlights and compact yet premium feel, it's one of the best-designed HTC handsets to come along in quite some time. But while this Android ICS phone is easy on the eyes and powered by a fast processor, its camera doesn't provide pleasing image quality.



The Good

The <b>HTC One SV</b> flaunts a thin, stylish look, a fast processor, and free Muve Music service.

The Bad

The One SV’s screen and camera resolution aren’t sharp, its call quality is disappointing, and though its camera is full-featured, it takes mediocre photos.

The Bottom Line

The HTC One SV’s sleek design and fast processor are impressive, but not its call quality or the pictures it takes.

HTC certainly has a knack for crafting striking smartphones and this skill shows in the One SV. With its gentle curves and rounded edges, not to mention vibrant red highlights, the One SV isn't your typical black-slab handset. Instead, the crimson metallic trim that runs around the phone is reminiscent of HTC's other premium gadgets such as the Droid DNA and Evo 4G LTE.

Measuring a wafer-thin 0.36 of an inch deep and 5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide, the device is practically petite by today's gargantuan smartphone standards. The phone manages to tip the scales at a featherweight 4.3 ounces, too, making it a breeze to carry or slip into pockets.

Of course the tradeoff is the One SV's smaller 4.3-inch (800x400-pixel) LCD display. It has a lower pixel count than the HD-resolution screens you'll find on many high-end handsets. As a result text and images appear less sharp than I prefer and viewing angles are shallow. Even so, the display does get pretty bright.

Above the screen is a long earpiece grille with five red dashes embedded within it that push the One SV's futuristic look even further. Here too is a 1.6 megapixel front-facing camera, while below the display are three capacitive and backlit keys, yes, red as well, for main Android operations.

The HTC One SV's slim, metallic-red edges are striking. Brian Bennett/CNET

HTC kept ports and buttons at a minimum with just a Micro-USB connection on the handset's bottom lip, a thin volume bar on the right, and a 3.5mm headphone jack and power key up top. Around back live the One SV's 5-megapixel main camera, LED flash, and neon-red battery cover. The cover is thin but sports a soft-touch surface that's easy to grip and repels fingerprints. Underneath you'll find an 1,800mAh removable battery, plus slots for SIM and microSD cards.

On back of the HTC One SV is its 5MP camera with LED flash. Sarah Tew/CNET

Software and UI
Running the Android 4.04 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, the HTC One SV offers a modern software experience. Sure, it's not the latest and most advanced operating system that has rolled off Google's assembly line, that being Android version 4.1/4.2 Jelly Bean. HTC has layered its own Sense 4.1 user interface on top of the OS, though. It boasts plenty of useful enhancements such as a lock screen with customizable quick-launch icons, special gesture controls, and browser tools.

To unlock the device and jump to the home screen simply flick a virtual ring from the bottom of the screen upward. You can also choose from four icons (phone, e-mail, messages, and camera by default) to drag into the ring's center, launching its associated function straight away.

Pull quick-launch icons into the unlock ring. Brian Bennett/CNET

There are seven home screens at your disposal, too, which you can fill and tweak with widgets and shortcuts to applications. Dragging items on top of each other automatically creates folders to keep your screen layout tidy.

HTC's gesture controls adds another twist. For example, instead of clumsily dragging application icons to the edge of the screen to place them on the next available home screen, just hold your finger down on a shortcut while swiping left or right. Doing so will cycle through screens until you locate an ideal spot to drop your favorite app or widget onto.

Sense also natively supports multiple social-media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The upside of this integration is that the phone will scan your contacts list and suggest possible links among these services. You can view photos your friends have shared as well and see any recent updates they've made within the People app.

The HTC One SV is a true Android smartphone and with this pedigree comes support for all of Google's popular services such as Gmail, Google+, the Chrome browser, and the Google Play storefront. There you'll find a wide selection of books, movies, music, and over 700,000 apps for download. The device supports corporate and personal e-mail accounts too, and the previously mentioned social networks.

Useful third-party applications preloaded include the Dropbox file-sharing app and TuneIn's Internet radio player. Like all conscientious wireless carriers, Cricket has thrown in its own grab bag of software, most of it of little value, such as a mobile Web app, Cricket Browser, and MyBackup, a contact-saving tool.

Muve Music, however, is another story. The free Muve service essentially lets you search for and stream or download audio tracks right to your Cricket handset. In fact, the One SV comes with a special 4GB Muve microSD Card, 3GB of which is reserved for storing Muve tunes. Don't get any ideas, though; Muve music you download is encrypted and only playable on the phone.

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

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

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

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.



Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 7