The long-awaited launch of HTC's next mainstream superstar phone is upon us and its name is the One S. Eschewing the tired motifs that have characterized HTC design over the past year, the 4.3-inch One S looks bold, distinctive, and extremely slim. Its software is right up to date, shipping with Android 4.0 plus added Sense 4.0 skinning, it features a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, and its 8-megapixel camera is the same as on the HTC One X. Combining an f/2.0 lens with a backside-illuminated sensor, it's as close to the cutting edge as the One S' 7.8mm thickness.

Camera performance has been a real priority for HTC with the One series and all three of its newly launched Android handsets come with a selection of important optimizations. Firstly, a dedicated imaging processor has been added to allow the One phones to manipulate pictures before compressing them to JPEG format. HTC expects this to result in lower image noise, greater color accuracy, and higher overall quality.

Most of the improvements in the One cameras actually relate to speed. Startup time of the camera app is said to be 0.7 seconds and autofocus takes a blistering 0.2 seconds, making it quicker than the blink of an eye. Holding down the onscreen shutter button (you'll find no physical camera keys on these phones) automatically flips you into burst mode, with an intelligent selection menu then allowing you to pick the best shot of the bunch and discard the rest. There's no longer any need to switch between video and photo modes — the software buttons for capturing stills and video sit right next to each other now, and HTC's neatest trick is that it also allows you to snap photos while recording video. And if you want to pull out a still from a video recording you've already made, HTC lets you do that too.

The richly enhanced camera software seems to have been HTC's answer to demands for more meaningful Android customizations and the rest of Sense 4.0 also looks to have taken past criticism on board. A lot of chrome and animations from the old skin are now gone, and a more two-dimensional look to UI elements underlines a shift toward utilitarianism. A good example of this can be seen in the new overscroll animation, which is reminiscent of the one on the PS Vita. Other software niceties include 25GB of Dropbox storage for two years, Beats Audio integration for all applications, and an updated HTC Sync that can now wirelessly sync with desktop programs like iTunes and Windows Media Player.

Being the middle child in the One family, the One S bridges the gap between its siblings very well, with a potent processor and a qHD (960 x 540) resolution Super AMOLED display. Its unibody aluminum frame is toughened using microarc oxidation, a process of bathing the metal in a plasma field and then electrocuting it, which instantly carbonizes the material. Rated as five times more resilient than anodization alone, this process is completely new to HTC and typically reserved for the harshest environments — such as a handbag with a set of keys in it.

Like the HTC One X, the One S will require a Micro SIM card, doesn't allow user access to the battery, and doesn't have a slot for microSD memory expansion. Unlike the One X, however, this handset also lacks NFC, so it misses out on Android Beam, Google Wallet and any other applications for contactless chips that Google may dream up in the future.

The HTC One S launches across Europe in early April with two color options: grey, accented with a baby blue around the camera module, or black with a red highlight. Pricing will be up to carriers to determine, though the good news is that there'll be no operator exclusives getting in your way if you're in Europe. Vodafone is one of the early birds announcing that it'll carry the One S and One X in the UK "soon." T-Mobile is the US carrier for the One S and will look to offer it with HSPA+ connectivity at some point within the next 60 days — that's how much HTC is giving itself to get these phones out to market.