Name: HTC One S
Price: $200 (w/two-year contract)
The Back Story: We caught our first glimpse of HTC’s new flagship Android phones, dubbed the One series, a few weeks back at Mobile World Congress 2012. Needless to say, both the HTC One S and One X stole the show. Sharing uniform spec sheets (minus the screen size and LTE coverage), the two devices are highly anticipated amongst T-Mobile and AT&T users. With expectations riding extremely high, "America’s largest 4G network" looks to heat things up this summer by unleashing the One S onto the mobile scene before Ma Bell drops its One X. And judging from the early impressions, HTC has defied the odds once again.
The Taiwanese giant's first major release of the year is toting a new version of our favorite UI, Sense 4.0, Android Ice Cream Sandwich, Beats By Dre Audio, and some insanely fast processing and data speeds. However, it is HTC's new camera technology that takes precedent here, and believe us when we tell you, it's a game changer. So does T-Mobile finally have its killer Android phone of 2012 or does the carrier's recent heavyweight champ, the Sensation 4G, keep the title?
• Amazing camera: Mobile photogs and Instagram mongers should have the One S (or One X) on their wish list. HTC’s ImageSense technology is a stunning feat in mobile camera development that's capable of some amazing tricks. There is a continuous shot mode that lets you quickly shoot photos by persistently hitting the shutter button. Insane, huh? That’s nothing. The shooter can also simultaneously snap pics while shooting video, plus it has the quickest shutter speed of any smartphone ever created, estimated at 0.7 seconds. It doesn’t stop there. The auto focus targets objects immediately and stays locked in when shooting subsequent images. How’s all this possible? HTC built a new image processor that handles all camera duties and lets the phone’s dual-core chip breathe easy. Images look vibrant, 1080p videos are crisp, and the additional camera modes (HDR, Panorama, etc.) enhance the experience.
• Ice Cream Sandwich & Sense 4: Android purists get the best of the both worlds as the One S comes bundled with ICS and HTC’s new UI. As we mentioned when testing the Galaxy Tab 2, Google’s granted manufacturers the freedom to make customizations to its skin, which HTC clearly takes advantage off by creating a cleaner interface, ditching useless icons, and tweaking menu options. Sense 4 is loaded with a variety of cool widgets (100 in total) ranging from social media to email, media playback to phone settings. The One S adapts to the ICS haptic key form, leaving three under the screen for command purposes, but keeps some of its Sense goods intact such as the circle ring lock screen.
• Enhanced Beats By Dre audio: The HTC/BBD marriage has proven to be a successful one thus far, having birthed a smartphone with the audio kick mobilephiles have yearned for with the Rezound. We’re not sure what BBD did to enhance the sound quality in the One S, but it easily supersedes its Verizon counterpart. Pairing the headset with any Beats headphones will obviously provide a boost in sound, but you can still hear the loud bass levels and sound clarity from any non-premium headphones. With Sense 4 at the helm, users can enjoy Beats Audio on all multimedia platforms: music, video, and games.
• HTC’s thinnest and most attractive phone: Simply put, the One S is a mobile dime piece. Estimated at 0.31 inches thick and 4.22 ounces, it’s a featherweight that sits comfortably in any pocket or backpack. The dimensions alone make the device a breath of fresh air to carry in comparison to some of the market’s more ginormous offerings (Samsung Galaxy Note). The gunmetal paint job and royal blue accent circling the camera lens makes for an awesome color scheme that gives the phone serious swagger. It's worth noting the matte metallic surface is fingerprint-proof, too.
• T-Mobile’s fastest handset: An HSPA+ phone pulling LTE-like speeds—surreal. Out here in the Tri-State area we topped download speeds of 22.96Mbps and 2.30Mbps for uploads. In terms of the former, that’s nearly 6Mbps lower than the Motorola Droid Bionic and 9Mpbs more than T-Mobile’s last true high-speed device: the Amaze 4G. Most reviewers have knocked the One S for delivering speeds best described as 3.5G, but that wasn't our experience. All we know is Google Play transactions were quick and web pages loaded promptly. Either way, it's still T-Mobile's fastest phone.
• Processor and storage: Qualcomm’s zippy 1.5GHz dual-core can be found under the hood. Game and media files played lag-free for the most part, while navigation and app launches ran smooth. HTC’s also equipped the One S with 16GB of on-board memory and 25GB of free DropBox storage. That should do for now.
• Low-res screen: The 4.3-inch qHD AMOLED produces good visuals and viewing angles, but there are some issues here with color saturation and text visibility. Not to mention, this elite smartphone is rocking pixel resolution (540x960) that we saw in second-gen Android phones. We recommend increasing the brightness settings because the phone can be a little difficult to view outside.
• Susceptible to damage: As great as the One S looks, the metallic aluminum coating is slippery and makes it unstable to hold at times. The screen is coated in Gorilla Glass, but since it extends towards the edge of the phone's casing, it's still vulnerable to breaking.
• No SD card slot or removable battery: Once stocking the device with your entire iTunes library and depleting DropBox storage, consider all expandable memory options kaput. And like every new Motorola phone, there is no access point to the battery port. That basically means you'll be shopping for a new phone or shipping it back to the manufacturer if power issues arise.
Final Say: Consider the Sensation 4G dethroned as T-Mobile’s best smartphone, as the One S bogarts its way to the crown. At $200, you’re getting a sexy piece of hardware laced with great software, dope audio output, solid call quality, and a powerful dual-core processor that generates strong benchmarks. We can’t forget the insane 4G-like speeds, which is astonishing considering we’ve never encountered an HSPA+ phone that pulled such velocities. Most importantly, HTC’s new ImageSense technology pushes the boundaries of mobile photography and sets the standard for what cameras on new smartphones should perform. But as much as we praise the One S for being nearly impeccable, no smartphone is perfect. A majority of today’s premium handsets sport screens that dish out 1280x720 pixel-resolution: including the soon-to-be-released One X. So why was the One S shafted? No one knows. The missing SD card slot might be another issue for media-centric users. Still, these vices aren’t deal breakers. Whether it’s upgrade time or you’re making the switch to T-Mobile, the One S should be your first choice. Nuff said.