HTC One S, the sidekick who outguns the flagship

The HTC One series, has brought HTC back into the market after a series of bad runs for HTC with the past models mainly with the fact that the designs were not new, and that the rival Samsung phones were featuring far more powerful hardware.

The One series was launched in 3 forms the X, S and the V.  All featured very cool designs, with high quality build that made it a more classy and better proposition than the highly popular Samsung Galaxy series phones.

The One S was a bit of a wild card, as it featured the next generation Krait processors, albeit a dual-core unit paired to a Adreno 225 graphics.  With the One S also having a slightly less pixels than the flagship One X, the benchmarks showed an unusual situation that the One S practically demolishing the One X in most benchmarks, and it did even better that it left the so called powerhouse the Samsung Galaxy S3 also behind!

I am not sure if pressure from Nvidia caused HTC to go and tweak the One X heavily and the newer One X firmware restored the flagship as a “superior” device.  The firmware updates to the One S has been slower, and seemingly not as optimized possibly to keep the the newer HTC One X+ from looking silly!

HARDWARE

The HTC One S featured the difficult the Krait range of processors, also known as the S4 Snapdragon.  These were hard to come buy for all Android phone manufacturers since Apple had locked most of the suppliers to supply them for the Apple IPhone 5.

The Krait range offered a huge bump in performance, coupled with the newer Adreno 225 GPU the One S blew the rest of the Android phones running older dual-core units, and even flew past the Tegra 3 competition, and the power house quad-core Exynos developed by Samsung as well.

The One S also featured 1GB RAM giving it sufficient juice to run ICS as well as Jelly Bean without any lags.

The result of this was that even ICS responses were super fast, even more than the HTC One X.  The browsing performance was superb, and so was the gaming capability.

Design

The HTC One S featured similar design and construction material, however the black and the silver versions were made using different materials (one a ceramic finish, the other anodized aluminum) and hence were quite different to hold and feel!  The One S design had a removable flap at the top, which housed the SIM, and would have been also ideal if it had housed an microSD expansion, which HTC sadly had opted against.  This was more favorable than the IPhone like SIM tray design the HTC One X had, but it did mean that a bit of squeaks was possible, compared to the HTC One X.

The One S was slimmer and lighter, and the 4.3” meant it was ideal for one handed operation, and the Granite Black version felt awesome to hold.  The phone begs to be used without a case, as it feels great to hold, and the amazing thinness makes it far nicer to hold than even an IPhone 5 🙂

The black version comes with the camera lens having a red background which looks cool and classy and adds to the total design of the phone.

Display

The HTC One S also surprisingly opts out from using the the Super IPS LCD2 screen, and gone Samsung style with an Super AMOLED Pentile display.  Not surprisingly switching to an AMOLED means excellent contrast and brightness and wow type of color, but you loose out on that HTC sharpness that one sees on the One X screen.  Use of a pentile AMOLED as Samsung did with their S3 meant the sharpness of the display is not the best.

The One S comes in a 4.3” screen, and for some reason (maybe not to match the flagship again!) it comes with a 540×960 display as opposed to the One X 720×1280.  HTC should have opted for the higher resolution as it would have made the One S absolutely great, since the 4.3” screen size to me is near perfect for a smart phone.

The screen also comes with Corning’s Gorilla glass for added protection.

On the whole the screen is super bright, and gives the phone with its excellent design a super boost, shame that it could not have come with a 720 display, and avoided using a Pentile AMOLED screen.

Camera and Video

The HTC One S does not compromise on this department, and features a F2.0 lens just like the One X, and the dedicated image processing chip.  This means you get the burst photo feature of the One X, and identical photo quality and video capability.

The camera has the cool interface i saw and liked with the One X, and offers good picture quality even under low light conditions for a smart phone.

However HTC like Sony, has the problem that the pictures don’t have the sharpness as you see on a Samsung phone, but the colors are superb.

One feature i absolutely liked on the HTC is the HDR photo option. when faced with daylight photos with testing exposures (very bright background, and dark foreground), using the HDR feature gives me instant opportunity to get a decent photo rather having to take two photos with different exposure values and having to merge it on a desktop.

The One S also features a front camera, which is VGA as opposed to the 1.3MP of the One X, but both are not that great, and since one is unlikely to be taking photos using the front camera the extra mega pixels will not make difference.

Video playback and sound

The stock video player accessible as part of the Gallery feature, does a decent job with all multimedia file formats i tested it against.  Based on other reviews the codec support is good, and HTC seems to have learnt from Samsung to include more codecs unlike Sony who skimps on this area!

The sound quality on the headset and loudspeaker is good and music in particular does well with the Beats Audio enhancement.

HTC had shipped it with their own headset, and i loved the design and simplicity.  The headset is not the in-ear type, and i love this as the heavier head makes sure it does not get dislodged easily and the sound quality is very good for a bundled headset.

Storage

The One S comes with 16GB on-board, which maybe half of what the One X comes with but should be sufficient for most. Like the One X the One S does not feature a microSD slot, which is a shame when the competing phones from Samsung all have this feature to expand storage and also switch content easily by switching the microSD card.

The top cover removal means HTC could have easily designed one as opposed to the One X unibody design, so shame on HTC on missing this.

Battery

The One s has been brought down by supposed poor battery but it is based on the type of usage.  If you are a heavy web browser on the phone, the AMOLED and small battery will suck the juice since AMOLED screens hate white backgrounds that the web pages have.

However take this out, the phone does well and you can easily do 1-1.5 days on a full charge which is pretty standard for most smart phones, and considering the power the One S packs this is definitely great.

Issues noted

The phone i had ran the infamous 4.0.3 firmware, which had a few annoying bugs. Sadly my phone was an unlocked Orange phone hence the Jelly Bean rollout did not happen during the time i had the phone with me.  Surprisingly the HTC One X i had which had this same version did not show these problems.

  1. Pressing the home soft button caused the screen to go haywire as it kept shifting between the 5 desktop view and the desktop, for a random period before the phone got back to normal.  This problem is now called the HTC helicopter effect, and the fact that HTC did not respond to users quickly made a lot loose faith on this phone.  When such happens and you were on a call at that time you have no option but to ignore the screen behavior until it sorts itself out.  Supposedly the 4.0.4 update never fixed this ,and the Jelly Bean update has sorted this out is what i have noticed on several forums. The problem according to many online is attributed to when the network signal is low, the phone tries to boost the signal and this causes this behavior.
  2. Sometimes the phone would loose network connectivity for a moment and regain it, again this is a reported problem and been fixed in 4.0.4 onwards
  3. Using the stock browser for over 10 mins locks up the phone (freezes), and you have to do a hard restart (hold the power button for over 5 secs).  Using an alternative browser such as Chrome does not show this problem
  4. Data stops even though you have data enabled, and you have to switch data off and on to get it working.

Performance

The tests using the older 4.0.3 software shows how much more potent it was against its big brother, and also how competitive it was against the Samsung S2 and S3.

Nenamark shows how good the Adreno 225 graphics are, though it must be told that One S and S2 have less pixels for the graphic card to push compared to the S3 and One X.

However Antutu and Quadrant show that the dual-core Krait is more than capable of keeping up with the Tegra 3 and Samsung Exynos quad-core, so the quad-core Krait units that are due on phones (starting with the LG Optimus G) are sure to set things into another scale.

  Android Vn Antutu 2.8.x Antutu 3.0.x Quadrant Nenamark Vellamo 2.x
HTC One S 4.0.3   10558 4707 61.0 1535
HTC One X 4.0.3 10518   4126 54.1 1519
Samsung Galaxy SII 4.0.4 5375 10279 3093 48.0 1133
Samsung Galaxy S III 4.1.2   11596 5195 58.9 1684

Conclusion

The phone definitely caused quite a wave not to the competitors but for HTC as well, when the industry benchmarks showed it outdoing its bigger brother the One X in most of the benchmarks.  The lighter and cooler design also made this phone a hot favorite, but limited availability, and poor marketing and slow times to provide fixes to problems resulted in the One S popularity not achieving what it should have.

To me this was one of the best phones in design and handhold, with the HTC One X the next best on my usage in recent times. However HTC opting to use a Pentile type AMOLED and not rolling out the updates in the same frequency and speed HTC One X is letting down its client, as it showed the Krait based One X sold in markets requiring LTE were far more capable than the Tegra 3 versions, and the One S could have been the seller for HTC if it had given the same amount of marketing and focus as it did to the Tegra powered One X.

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3 thoughts on “HTC One S, the sidekick who outguns the flagship”

  1. I will say this phone is amazing and super fast but the android updates are awful. I have been waiting more than one year for the jelly bean when everybody have it even lower quality phones, I know this is fault of the carrier and the manufacturer but I am sick of dealing with these problems. This is the last phone loaded with bloatware I get, from now on I will get nexus or iphone because they get the updates very fast and don’t bring all that trash. Also I forgot to mention the htc one s have a super laggy keyboard.

    1. Yes carrier phones tend to delay updates that frustrate owners, since the intention of these carriers also maybe to have you upgrade your every year. However the Nexus and IPhone don’t have the limitation, but the question comes if these phones fit your need. The Nexus with lower multimedia capabilities (the Nexus 4 though seems to be much better compared to past 3 in the series) and the IPhone with the ITunes limitations that Android users may not be happy are the other side of the story.

      Well most standard keyboards are rather poor, with the recent Xperia keyboard being one of the better ones. I however tend to rely on SwiftKey 3 which has proved to be a super keyboard, and worth the 0.25$ i paid when it was on special offer.

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