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HTC One V review head
HTC One V review head

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HTC One V review

The final handset in HTC's trifecta of One-branded phones, but how does it compare with its bigger, beefier brothers?

The HTC One V is the third member of HTC’s One trilogy, filling in the budget slot below the One X and One S, which we reviewed in the last couple of weeks. It’s less of a mold-breaking design for the company than its big brothers though, with the distinct chin and unibody construction that has won it plaudits in the past encasing a fairly standard 3.7-inch display.

For some, though, phones with 4-inch or greater displays are just too much. It’s the reason why the iPhone still has a 3.5-inch screen, and that decision certainly hasn’t affected its popularity. However, with the One V, HTC is assuming that those who don’t want a large display also don’t care about the power of their handset. It’s a potentially dangerous decision, but does the compromise in specs affect the phone in daily use?


Hardware and design

Hardware and design

Calling the One V a budget option is something of a misnomer
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Based on the design and build, calling the One V a budget option is something of a misnomer. The aluminum body feels decidedly premium, with no give when squeezed and a curve on the back edges that makes it comfortable to hold. HTC has given the handset I reviewed a matte black finish rather than the wire-brushed bare metal that graced the HTC Legend, though there’s still a grain to the material that gives it some character.

The instantly striking feature is the pronounced chin: the bottom of the phone curves towards you by about ten degrees. It’s become something of an HTC trademark, and I’m quite fond of it — it’s a quirky design, and I think it improves the overall balance of the handset. The remainder of the front is dominated by the 3.7-inch Gorilla glass screen that protrudes from the body by around half a millimeter, which is another design choice, but one that has greater bearing on how you use the phone. The top of the glass is cut away to reveal a row of drilled holes for the earpiece, and the hard edge of the glass can feel uncomfortable when held up to your ear. Beneath the earpiece is a silver HTC logo, and at the bottom sit the three capacitive buttons that allow you to navigate around Android. These are responsive to the touch, with a backlight that's activated in low ambient light making them easily found in the dark.

On the right of the top edge sits the power / wake button, which isn’t quite flush with the body of the handset meaning that it’s easily identified by touch alone. On the left is a recessed 3.5mm headphone jack, and just next to it there’s a sliver cut away from the unibody frame. It’s barely noticeable most of the time, and conceals the notification LED which alerts you to missed calls, messages, the phone’s charging state, and more. A volume rocker sits on the right-hand edge of the phone, which is easily found with your thumb (assuming you’re right-handed), though the buttons are a little mushy and imprecise. On the bottom-left there’s a Micro USB port for charging and connecting the handset to your computer, but I’m not sold on where it’s placed. No matter how I arrange my grip on the handset, I find one of my fingers pressed against the hard edges left where the aluminum casing has been milled away. To my mind it’s ill thought-out, and can make the One V plain uncomfortable to hold.

The back holds a 5-megapixel camera and LED flash, with the HTC logo engraved in the center of the metal back. Towards the bottom the metal ends in favor of a plastic cover that conceals the mic and loudspeaker and slides off to give you access to the full-size SIM and microSD cards. It also holds the Wi-Fi and cell antennas, so while you can swap out your storage card without turning off the handset, you’ll lose connection if you do. The cover bears a fairly innocuous Beats Audio logo, and it's worth noting that there’s no way to access the battery here.

The reason for the One V’s lower price point only becomes evident when you look deeper into the specs. As compared to the multi-core powerhouses inside One X and One S, the One V is a fairly basic phone with a single-core 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 4GB internal storage, and only 512MB of RAM. But do these cropped specs show in daily use?

A great-looking design, but it has its issues
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Display

Display

One of the One V's real high points
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The display on the One V is a real high point of the phone. As mentioned before, it’s only 3.7 inches — relatively small when compared to some of the enormous handsets we see today. However, it’s bright, sharp, and vibrant, without a hint of pixellation to the naked eye. It’s also laminated to the glass front, making for superb viewing angles: even when viewing it from almost 85 degrees there’s no color shift, and text remains sharp and legible.

The actual panel is a 480 x 800 LCD unit, giving it a pixel density of around 252ppi. That’s a long way behind the 312ppi of the One X's display, but in practice I’m hard pressed to see any real difference. Only under a magnifying glass am I able to make out the individual pixels, and even in direct sunlight it remains readable and attractive. There are limitations in only having a WVGA display, though, and some 4-inch panels offer greater resolutions and pixel densities for only a marginal increase in size.

Software

Software

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We’ve already covered HTC’s implementation of Ice Cream Sandwich in plenty of detail in the One S and One X review — as ever, the company has wrapped Google’s latest OS in its own Sense skin. Sense 4 is significantly pared back over previous versions, with fewer flashy animations, and offers an experience that’s far closer to stock Android than before. Far closer doesn’t mean that it’s the true Google experience though, and HTC has still added its own tweaks that make for a slightly frustrating experience.

First, the positives: Sense 4 runs very smoothly on the One V, and there’s not a hint of lag to betray the relatively low specs of the handset. It has retained some of the more useful features of older versions of Sense, like the unlock ring which gives you direct access to the applications pinned to the launcher. You’re also able to use some of the Android 4.0-exclusive Google Apps, like Chrome Beta and the new and vastly improved Gmail app.

The One V does lack some of the bells and whistles of its bigger brothers though — there’s no DLNA support, for one, movie streaming service HTC Watch is absent, and the Sense-style app switcher also hasn’t made the jump with HTC opting to use the stock Ice Cream Sandwich version instead. All are minor changes, but surprising ones considering the shared naming scheme of the One series. I’m also left wondering what effect this will have on software updates, where different versions of Sense have to be built for each handset.

The biggest negative of the One V’s software comes in the cutesy and overly glossy design aesthetic. Factors like the volume key playing a pentatonic scale are minor annoyances, but the stark contrast between Sense and apps designed with the sharp, industrial nature of Android’s current design language Holo in mind can seem rather incongruous.

HTC still sugar-coats Android, but it's slowly weaning itself off the syrup
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Sense insensibility
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One area that HTC has improved is the relatively few pre-installed apps that come with the One V. The only third-party apps shipped with Sense 4 are Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Polaris Office, music downloading service 7Digital, and internet stream player TuneIn Radio. It’s also worth remembering that Android 4.0 allows you to disable apps that would previously have been permanently stuck in your launcher, but I’d still prefer to be able to uninstall non-critical software. Two apps come as part of the Sense suite that I’m less sure of — HTC Hub and Task Manager. I’m not entirely sure why manufacturers feel the need to supplement the Play store with their own (largely duplicate) offerings, and to see HTC perpetuating the myth that Android requires users to manually close apps is just disappointing.

Beats Audio

As with the One X and One S, the One V includes the Beats Audio "sound enhancer," a system-wide EQ which seems to boost volume more than anything else. The deeper integration is a significant improvement over previous versions of Sense, where to use Beats you’d need to listen through the stock music app, since it now allows users of Spotify and Rdio to tune their music too.

For me, it’s no more than a gimmick — I tried Beats with a pair of fairly sonically flat Sennheiser earphones and found that the music wasn’t any more enjoyable to listen to, only louder, and even increased the gain to the point of causing distortion with some tracks. The only real value I can see in the integration is for owners of Beats headphones, as the system includes profiles for each of the different models available (Solo, Pro, Studio, etc.). Since each of these includes a profile to make up for acoustic inadequacies in the product, it might be that Beats users get a better listening experience from the One V than from other devices.

Camera

Camera

The One V has a single 5-megapixel camera on the back, with an LED flash — a step down from the 8-megapixel backlit shooter shared by the One X and One S. What has been passed down to the lower-end handset is ImageSense, a new suite of software combined with the dedicated ImageChip processor that promises continuous shooting, still photos while shooting video, and zero shutter lag. While the first two certainly work as promised, I found that the One V would frequently take half a second or more between my pressing the shutter and the image being captured. For still subjects this isn’t a big deal, but it’s very frustrating when trying to frame a moving object properly.

The new modes are a mixed bag in terms of usefulness. The burst-fire best shot is a great addition, harnessing the power of the ImageChip to shoot frames for as long as you hold the on-screen shutter down. It then displays all of the images you captured, allowing you to either pick your favorite on the spot, save all of them, or scrap the lot. Video pic is less useful: while the ability to grab still frames as you take each photo is in itself a great idea, the camera shake produced as you tap the screen is easily discernible in the video. Thankfully, the feature can be used on videos in the gallery, not just while shooting, allowing you to concentrate on producing the video and worry about stills afterwards.


The images themselves are quite good — colors are vibrant without being oversaturated, and the autofocus is consistently reliable. In low light, the results are far less noisy than most phones I’ve used before now, though I found that the flash has a tendency to burn out images and leave colors undersaturated. Video quality is good, shooting at 720p, though the output can be a little grainy. There’s also only one mic, meaning that there’s no noise cancellation so wind buffeting can completely mask any other noises around you. The camera can also struggle to adjust to dramatic light changes, as shown in the video.

HTC promises zero shutter lag, but I certainly saw some slowdown
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Performance

Performance

Considering its relatively meagre specs, it’s barely surprising that raw performance is the one area where the One V doesn’t really excel. Although in everyday use you’re unlikely to feel frustrated — as mentioned above, Android itself runs smoothly, with very little lag — occasionally apps will run a little slower, or loading data might take longer than on a more powerful handset.

Quadrant Vellamo GLB 2.1 Egypt (720p) GLB 2.1 Egypt (1080p) AnTuTu
HTC One V 2,060 1,155 32fps 18fps 2,515
HTC One S 5,141 2,420 57fps 29fps 7,107
HTC One X 4,430 1,614 65fps 32fps 11,322
Galaxy Nexus 2,002 1,065 28fps 14fps 6,079

As ever, some notes about the benchmarks we use. All of the above tests are available in the Play store, if you’d like to compare how the One V performed with your current handset. Quadrant renders all of its tests at the display’s native resolution, meaning that the comparatively low-resolution panel in the One V counts in its favor. Vellamo is produced by Qualcomm, and tests the web performance of the device. GLB is GL Benchmark, a graphical test that stresses the Adreno GPU to see how well it copes under strain. The low score in AnTuTu is possibly the most telling thing here: it provides stats to see how each component of the handset performs, and it’s here that the low specs of the One V are shown most clearly.

Gaming

Benchmarks are one thing, but how does the phone perform in the real world? Games are one of the best tests of this, so I tried the handset with both Shadowgun and GTA III to see whether the handset’s hardware would show through. Shadowgun ran smoothly most of the time, though occasionally showed some frame drops and slowdown in more graphically-intensive, busier areas. I also sometimes saw some stability problems — in extreme cases, the game would stop entirely, returning back to the phone’s home screen. Besides these rare issues, it’s consistently playable.

GTA III was less successful. Although the game starts, loads quickly, and hasn’t got a hint of lag for the opening movies, within 30 seconds of gameplay beginning the frame rate will have slowed to a crawl before freezing and prompting the One V to restart itself entirely. Whether it’s HTC’s or Rockstar’s fault is difficult to tell, but I suspect that the 512MB of RAM in the phone doesn’t help too much.

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Battery life, call quality, reception, and accessories

The lasting power of the One V’s 1,500 mAh battery is beyond what I’ve come to expect — a day of fairly heavy use including phone calls, texts, constantly syncing email, Google Maps, camera use, and half an hour or so of Shadowgun left the handset with 30 percent battery, having been away from the charger for around 14 hours. This isn’t uncommon — in my time with the phone it consistently performed this well.

Call quality is generally good, and I didn’t experience any dropped calls. Occasionally whoever I was calling would say I sounded a little muffled, though this wasn’t consistent, suggesting that it’s more likely to be the line than the handset itself. The earpiece is loud and clear, and without any sharpness, though the loudspeaker is disappointing — it’s loud enough, but is muffled and muddy. Cellular reception is ok — the One V usually delivers at least a bar of signal, though it’s not as strong as you might expect considering the antenna’s fairly exposed location in the rear cover.

The One V includes a USB charger and a wired stereo headset that left me pleasantly surprised. These are the first earbuds I’ve used from HTC that are actually listenable, and even stay in my ears, though are a little lacking in bass. It's also a nice touch that the earbuds now have a ribbon-style tangle-free cable. Although HTC has recently announced that it has no plans to bundle Beats headphones in with phones in the foreseeable future, it’s pleasing to see that it's taking its own bundled accessories a little more seriously.

I'm completely in love with a number of things about the One V. Its design looks fantastic, feels hard-wearing, and is distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd when compared to most of the other handsets in stores today. It's also one of the most affordable ways to grab a handset running Android 4.0, even if it is shrinkwrapped in Sense, though software inclusions like ImageSense do make up for this somewhat.

A few things do let the One V down. Minor ergonomic niggles give the handset a sense of form over function, but more serious is the mediocre performance offered by the low specs. For the average user this probably won't matter, though for anyone who wants to use their device for multimedia or gaming, two years might be a long time to spend with an underpowered phone.

There's definitely still a demand for phones with smaller screens — I'd personally prefer something a little larger — but it seems odd that these users are forced to compromise on other specs to get what they want. If you're looking for a phone which keeps things simple and excels at all of the essentials, then this could be it.

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