clock menu more-arrow no yes
htc one s review_1020
htc one s review_1020

Filed under:

HTC One S review

HTC steps into the Ice Cream Sandwich limelight with its new One series

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Note: Our original review was of the unlocked, GSM One S. We've updated the review with impressions and tests of the $199 (with contract) T-Mobile model as well. Check out the Hardware, Connectivity and Software sections to see the biggest differences between the two devices, which are generally quite similar.

When I first saw the HTC One series, in that top secret subterranean bunker where HTC likes to preview its phones, my attention and desire were immediately drawn by the One S. I didn't care about the 4.7-inch, quad-core One X and its supposed flagship position, I wanted to know more about its 4.3-inch ultrathin brandmate. That’s no knock on the One X, which ticks all the boxes for a legitimate Galaxy Nexus competitor, but the 7.8mm thick One S offers a much more mainstream form factor and price point, while also being the thinnest smartphone that HTC has ever made.

That sort of instinctive reaction is exactly what HTC is going for with its 2012 range of Android phones. It doesn’t want customers to think of distinct tiers of devices, it’s trying to pitch us options A and B — or One X and One S, in the company’s vernacular. Sticking with the theme of singularity, however, most buyers will only have the budget to own one Android 4.0 handset, so which One should it be?

Video review

Video review


Hardware

Hardware

The One S as a whole won’t survive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, but part of it might

T-Mobile's version of the One S isn't quite so futuristic. Its aluminum body doesn't undergo the microarc oxidation process, but instead has a "gradient anodized" finish, and a very slight shift from light to dark gray as you look up and down the phone. It's still nice to hold and feels great, but unfortunately your phone's creation story won't be so impressive. The ring around the camera lens is also blue rather than red on T-Mobile's One S, and your opinion on the change will be purely an aesthetic one — though we like it.

The phone’s sides curve in from the rear toward the display, which reciprocates by sloping off the lateral edges toward the back. The overall effect is one of coherence and unity — something sorely missing from the patchwork-like rear cover of the Sensation. I’m reminded of minimalist running shoes by the gentle curve along which the One S’ display and aluminum case meet. Having the glass reach out to the edge of the phone and beyond makes it look sumptuously modern, while also softening that edge and improving feel in the hand.

Industrial Design

The One S is among those rare few phones whose design moves the whole mobile industry forward. In chronological terms, this is just a higher-spec successor to the 4.3-inch HTC Sensation, but its look and feel are wholly fresh and original. The side-mounted Micro USB port and qHD display resolution are the only remnants of yesteryear’s handset.

Everything has been rethought, optimized, and streamlined: the aluminum unibody case is now an incredible 7.8mm thick, the speaker grilles have been micro-drilled into the overall shell (rather than fronted by discrete metal plates), and the black One S variant has even been treated with a super-futuristic process called microarc oxidation. That’s something usually reserved for satellites having to endure the inhospitality of space, and involves plunging the aluminum into a plasma bath and electrocuting it with 10,000 volts, thereby carbonizing the material and converting it into a ceramic. The One S as a whole won’t survive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, but part of it might.

Htc-one-s-one-x_92
Screen size Dimensions
Galaxy Nexus 4.65 inches 5.33 x 2.67 x 0.37
HTC One X 4.7 inches 5.30 x 2.75 x 0.37
HTC One S 4.3 inches 5.15 x 2.56 x 0.31
Sony Xperia S 4.3 inches 5.04 x 2.52 x 0.42
Motorola Droid Razr 4.3 inches 5.15 x 2.71 x 0.28
Apple iPhone 4S 3.5 inches 4.50 x 2.31 x 0.37

Conversely, the top edge is a little too sharp, and although the One S is styled almost identically to the larger One X, it feels harsher and less welcoming. That’s in part down to the aforementioned microarc oxidation treatment, which gives the surface a rougher feel. Despite being 1mm thinner and 10g lighter than the One X, the One S isn’t more pocketable or portable. The difference in height is also negligible — the One S has plenty of vertical bezel — but it’s the narrowness of the One S that makes it an easier phone to handle than its bigger sibling. 4.3-inch phones have been growing in usability ever since HTC introduced the first of them in 2009 and the One S keeps that trajectory going. You might not fall in love with its austere metallic surface or some of its edges, but there’s no denying that its ergonomics are as good as we could previously expect from 4-inch devices and below.

INTERNALS

HTC’s emphasis on thinness with the One S leads to a number of internal sacrifices. The battery is enclosed and not removable by the user, there’s no microSD card slot, and the SIM card required is of the Micro SIM variety. Swapping Micro SIMs can actually be done without having to reboot the phone, but good luck trying to open up the compartment where the card resides. Every time I’ve managed to pry it open, the act required a lot of force and felt like I was breaking the phone.

On the plus side, Qualcomm’s all new Snapdragon S4 is the dual-core chip powering the One S, whose centerpiece is the 28nm Krait CPU that should ensure this handset’s 1.5GHz of power will go further and last longer than previous generations of chips. There’s also 1GB of RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, an MHL / Micro USB port, Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA, 802.11n, Beats Audio integration, an 8-megapixel camera with f/2.0 lens, 25GB of free Dropbox cloud storage for two years, and a couple of kitchen sinks sourced directly from Peter Chou’s Taipei office suite.

Htc-one-s-cover-off
Display

Display

Htc-one-s-display

The HTC One S comes with a Pentile Matrix Super AMOLED display. The "Super" part of the name is what allows HTC to fit all those components behind the screen — it denotes that the touchscreen digitizer and AMOLED panel have been fused into one, which together with the lack of a backlight (unnecessary with self-illuminating OLED displays) makes the screen supremely thin. It’s the Pentile Matrix aspect that most people have a problem with.

"Pentile" has become a dirty word in our industry because it describes a pretty shady practice: using an RGBG (red, green, blue, green) subpixel arrangement instead of the standard RGB to build cheaper, but also lower-quality, displays. The main problem with RGBG is that you get color fringing on high contrast edges (e.g. white text on a black background), which tends to get in the way of displaying crisp edges and fine detail.

Htc-one-x-one-s-display-compare

Most icons on the One S exhibit a fine sliver of green subpixels on their left edge and a similarly slender string of red subpixels on the right. Admittedly, you’ll have to look closely to spot these inaccuracies, but once you do, they’ll be impossible to unsee. It’s the same thing as noticing you can hear a weather presenter’s intakes of breath — once you’re aware of it, the only thing you’ll be paying attention to is his next breath, not what he has to say.

Other phones that feature Pentile displays include Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, Nokia’s N9 and Lumia 800, and the Droid RAZR / RAZR Maxx from Motorola. The Galaxy Nexus manages to hide its shame by having much higher pixel density, whereas the Nokia handsets’ use of the accursed technology is more (though not entirely) forgivable because of their age.

The One S might very well be using the same panel as found in the RAZR — both phones have 960 x 540 resolution and measure 4.3 inches diagonally. That means you’ll see rich color saturation and great viewing angles, but also a blue-green tinge when you look at the screen off-center and a consistently inaccurate color temperature. The latter issue is most starkly felt when you place the One S next to the One X. Whites and grays on the X unit’s 720p Super LCD appear as they should, whereas the One S shows them with a hint of blue that’s characteristic of AMOLED screens.

Overall, the One S’ display seems like it was built for a showroom. It will wow casual onlookers with its vibrancy and brightness, but long-term users will quickly find it deficient in a number of important areas.

If you didn't like the Droid RAZR's screen, we've got bad news for you...
Htc-display-side
Battery-icon
Play-store-icon
Beats Audio

Beats Audio

Never in the history of man has so much noise been made about so little

Htc-one-s-soundgarden

Htc-one-s_earpiece

Beats-audio

What’s Beats Audio? Does it work?

Those two questions have been unfailingly asked by every person to whom I’ve shown the HTC One S and / or One X. The Beats label is an understated little marking on the back of the phone, but it’s also the only insignia it carries besides HTC’s own logo. Beats integration is a big deal for HTC.

My answer, as consistent as the question, has been simple: it’s a marketing gimmick. Beats Audio boosts the bass and volume on whatever you're listening to, but doesn't actually make it sound any better. And if it's not better, why bother doing it?

While the bass is most noticeably amplified, there are also some tweaks to the high end, which resulted in a couple of odd spikes in songs like The Chauffeur by the Deftones. I wouldn't say the Beats Audio processing is unpleasant — the popularity of the standalone Beats headphones is based almost exclusively on the modern listener's preference for exaggerated bass — but they just seem to make the music different, not better. If you want the most natural and realistic rendering of your music, you'll probably be keeping the Beats setting switched off.

Boost Audio would be a more fitting moniker

That would be a massive shame in HTC’s estimation, after it worked hard to make Beats Audio compatible with any audio-generating app, including third-party streaming services like Spotify and Vimeo. I’d have more sympathy for the company, however, if the branding exercise had some real substance behind it. Jimmy Iovine’s blusterous promise of "music as the artists intended it" is nowhere near being fulfilled by these Beats Audio handsets and HTC is running the risk of alienating users by selling them a feature of dubious value.

As to the question of audio hardware, the loudspeaker on the back is neat and unobtrusive thanks to the clean new design, but its output is pedestrian. Sadly, the Beats Audio crew haven’t yet figured out how to "reengineer" speakers. HTC also throws in a nondescript pair of ear buds with an in-line mic, which is a change of course from its previous habit of including higher-quality Beats-branded ear buds. My best advice for the ones in the One S box is to leave them in the box.

Battery life

Battery life and reception

2012-04-02_00-22-41

My immediate reaction upon seeing that the One S has a 1,650mAh battery was that it wouldn’t be enough. Running a 28nm Snapdragon SoC may help efficiency, but if you’re going to record 1080p video as this phone is capable of doing, you’ll find a battery of that size running out of juice pretty quickly. Sure enough, the Android battery-tracking chart fell off a cliff while I was doing my camera testing, which was a mix of still and video capture with the screen kept on most of the time. Nonetheless, even with a 40-minute photography session included, the One S managed to go a full 24 hours between charges for me, which is reliable endurance by anyone’s smartphone standards. Just be warned that pushing that 1.5GHz dual-core processor to its maximum won’t take you as far as other, less powerful, phones might.

Both the HTC One S and One X impressed me with their data connectivity. In a spot where I would typically get 5.4Mbps download speeds with the Nexus S, the One S consistently generated 6.4Mbps, reaching as high as 8.2Mbps on occasion. On the other hand, a couple of my speed tests showed the One S dipping to 4Mbps as well, so its performance was definitely better, but also somewhat mercurial. T-Mobile's HSPA+ network offered the same experience: at points incredibly fast, but wildly inconsistent. Over the course of a day of network testing, I saw download speeds as high as 14Mbps and upload speeds up to 13Mbps, but far too often speeds fell into the 75-100Kbps range. Normally we'd blame the network, but across different countries and carriers it's a little troubling, and it gets really frustrating waiting 90 seconds for a page to load when the last one loaded instantly.

This was also borne out by my experience with voice calls. When the connection is good, audio in both directions is loud and clear, however there were a number of instances when the One S failed to maintain a clear line in areas where I'd expect it to. Calls were never dropped, but sound quality deteriorated badly.

The new Snapdragon shows off its efficiency
Htc-one-s-battery-use
Camera

Camera

The best suite of camera software you'll find on any phone
Htc-one-s-sample912

SPECS AND FEATURES

The HTC One S and One X share the same camera system, which is composed of an f/2.0 lens, a backside-illuminated 8-megapixel sensor that can shoot 1080p video at 30fps, and a dedicated HTC ImageChip processor. If you’re counting cores at home, that means the Tegra 3-equipped One X is up to six processing cores (and that’s without counting its 12-core GPU!). In any case, the ImageChip is designed to sit between the raw photonic data captured by the sensor and the usual JPEG software compression, in order to both accelerate and improve the processing of photos you take. Frankly, the One S was always going to be a fast performer thanks to its screaming Snapdragon processor, but this extra bit of specialized processing power isn’t going to waste. Taking a picture with this phone is a lightning-quick affair.

Never one to miss a branding opportunity, HTC has a name for this holistic overhaul of the camera: ImageSense. Only part of it is hardware, however. HTC has made huge strides on the software front, the biggest of which is that it now pairs video and still recording modes into one, no longer forcing you to switch between the two. The buttons to capture either still or moving images are sat right alongside one another, which may seem like a small convenience but actually makes photography with this phone so much easier and more pleasurable.

You know what's better than 1080p? 1088p

The good vibes are compounded by the ability to shoot photos while recording video or to pull out still images from recorded video after the fact. In practice, I found only the second implementation of that feature useful. Tapping the screen to shoot a photo in the middle of a video inevitably leads to camera shake, plus the processing overhead for pulling out that picture actually leads to skipping in the resulting video (see the second half of the sample video below for an example). The frames you get out of videos aren’t full-size 8-megapixel shots, they’re the same size as your recording resolution, meaning that the best you’ll get out of them are 1920 x 1088 images (HTC overshoots by eight lines of pixels).

HTC puts the dedicated ImageChip to good use in a couple of other ways. Firstly, there’s now an automated burst mode, which you can activate simply by holding down the onscreen camera shutter button (the one that confusingly looks like an aperture instead of a shutter). The One S will then take up to 20 images and offer you a choice of selecting the best one or saving all or some of them as a sequence, handily contained within just one file. Other phone makers can only hope to emulate the same effortless experience as offered on the One S. The other Chip-harnessing enhancement is the addition of new filters to HTC’s preloaded set of artificial camera effects. You now get a selection of Instagram-aping image treatments, including Vintage, Country, and Mono color options. They’re surprisingly good additions and do a neat job of filling the gap left by Instagram’s absence on Android.

Update: Well, that absence didn't last long. Instagram is now finally available on Android as well as iOS. Doesn't make these filters any less attractive, though!

With its abundance of utility and versatility, HTC’s ImageSense software is my choice for best camera app on any platform. It keeps all the familiar options like tap-to-focus and white balance adjustment, but layers on features we’ve not yet had from any other phone maker. I did see the app crash once during my time testing it, but its operation was otherwise consistently quick and painless thanks to the processing power built into the One S.

ImageSense is refreshingly rich on features you'd actually want to use

IMAGE QUALITY

As good as the software may be, every camera is ultimately judged on the quality of the images it produces. In that respect, the One S acquits itself rather averagely. You can get stupendously good-looking photos under the right lighting conditions, but the company is still guilty of over-processing images, blurring out fine detail in its efforts to reduce noise and consistently oversaturating colors so as to give a more vibrant look to photos. Both signal that HTC is prioritizing image quality on the phone’s display and on smaller web formats over the full 8-megapixel size it advertises. I’d be disappointed if this wasn’t so virulently popular a practice among smartphone makers.

Htc-one-s-sample-photo

In spite of HTC’s best efforts, noise and graininess do sneak into photos taken with the One S, mostly under low-light conditions. My biggest problem with the camera output is illustrated by the photos of red London buses in the sample gallery above. They appear to be a uniform crimson in color, whereas in reality their exterior is blemished by dusty grays and affected by the sunlight, resulting in a great many shades of red and pink interplaying across the surface. None of that is recognizable in the over-processed images from the One S.

HTC carries over the same processing algorithms to video recording, where they’re more effective thanks to the lower resolution of the output. In simple terms, you’re never going to see the finest details in anything you shoot with the One S, which HTC hopes won’t trouble the vast majority of users who just want simple, unobtrusive operation. That much is guaranteed by the One series and ImageSense, although the One S design is such that your left hand’s fingers will often stray onto the lens. Another handling issue I encountered with it is that the two microphones for stereo audio recording are placed at the very top and bottom edges of the phone, which makes them neatly symmetrical but also means they’re cupped in my palms when shooting video.

The HTC One S records 1080p video at 9.6Mbps, roughly two thirds of the bitrate of the Sony Xperia S (14Mbps), though the results still look good. Not spectacular, but good. HTC includes a software image stabilization feature for video, which works well and allows for smooth panning across a scene. The other sort of motion that can trouble phone cameras — that of subjects moving quickly through the frame — is handled admirably well by the One S, as the sample video will attest.


HTC also touts a newly-developed intelligent flash, which will reduce its light intensity when it senses a nearby subject so as not to overexpose it. It works decently well, but we’ve seen this feature on a bunch of (if not most) recent phones and can’t give the company as much credit as it seeks for it. It’s useful, just hardly unique. Also consistent with current-gen technology, the front-facing camera on the One S produces a dire mix of noise and smudgy noise-reduction blur, reducing it to the usual function of Skype facilitator and nothing more. If there’s one way in which this front-facing camera differs from most, it’s that it can be a real magnet for dirt and dust because of how deeply it’s recessed behind the aluminum frame.

Software

Software

How do you improve on something as excellent as Ice Cream Sandwich? Sprinkles?
Htc-one-s-chrome
2012-04-02_00-14-03

And now, to the main event. As with cameras and image quality, smartphones are judged primarily on the quality of user experience they offer, which starts and ends with the software. HTC is building atop a fantastic base with the One S by using Google’s latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich. The Galaxy Nexus has shown how blindingly fast and fluid this OS can be, and there are already significant app-related advantages to being on the latest platform. Google’s updated Gmail app and the Chrome for Android beta are both available only to users of Android 4.0.

SENSE 4

If you ask us, HTC should ship ICS in its bone stock variety, only adding legitimately worthwhile alterations like ImageSense where their value is easily demonstrable. Alas, HTC operates in a world where hardware differentiation alone won’t suffice and, like every other major Android manufacturer, the company goes to the trouble of sculpting out a comprehensive software skin for Android, which it calls Sense.

Sense 4 has been formulated as a direct response to the public outcry against Sense 3.x, which was too frilly and ornate. Gone are the superfluous animations and flourishes, the chrome has been trimmed down, and most of the faux 3D effects have been dispensed with. When viewed as a solution to the troubles of the previous Sense, this new software can be classified a success. But you know what solves all the problems of the older Sense? Ice Cream Sandwich.

It’s not impossible to improve on Google’s Android 4.0 UI, it’s just that HTC hasn’t done it. The company has taken a modern, harmonious piece of software that finally offers a level of polish heretofore unseen on Android and is dragging it back to the dark ages of 2011. The dialer is unnecessarily convoluted, the icon design clashes aesthetically with both ICS and internally within Sense, and instead of onscreen software buttons, we’re given the old capacitive keys. No big deal, you say? Well, the soft menu button still needs to make an appearance now and again, which it does discreetly on the stock Ice Cream Sandwich and crudely on HTC’s version. Because there’s no software key bar for it to show up in, the menu button generates the entire bar for itself, with its three vertical dots stood stranded in that vast expanse of space. It’s an untidy eyesore that doesn’t need to exist.

Externally cohesive, internally conflicted

Another salient example of taking a step forward for Sense and a step back from ICS is the onscreen keyboard. The Sense 4 keyboard is the best HTC has yet offered on a touchscreen device, thanks in large part to the widened second row making for a more comfortable typing experience than on previous versions. It has decent haptic feedback and reprises the T9 Trace input option available since Sense 3.0. Those are its good aspects. The bad is that the lower left corner is still occupied by an inexplicable button for pulling down the keyboard and a language-switching toggle. I happen to text in multiple languages myself, yet have never felt such a sense of urgency about alternating between English and Bulgarian as to desire a dedicated button. That’s an option you could easily relegate to the settings menu without alienating your users, which is the route taken by most phone makers and Google’s stock keyboard.

Htc-one-s-kb

Htc-one-s-home

Other than the praiseworthy ImageSense camera suite, HTC does two further things well in the Sense 4 software. The first is the switch of the multitasking menu from the vertically scrolling one available in stock ICS to an isometric card view that can be scrolled horizontally. It works identically to what you’ll find on the Galaxy Nexus, but gives you a different view unto the apps. This sort of superficial modification fits right into the overall theme of Sense 4, which has been designed to duplicate what’s already in Android 4.0 with an added coat of HTC paint.

The other, more tangible, software enhancement is HTC’s gesture-based DLNA interaction. Once you pair your One S with a nearby DLNA-capable TV (or one connected to HTC’s Media Link HD wireless adapter), you can send data to it from the phone via a simple three-finger swiping gesture. You can stream video off the phone wirelessly and simultaneously continue using it for other purposes, and a three-finger downward swipe will nullify the connection when you’re done. It’s a useful capability that can easily become a favorite for those who like to store media on their phone.

Although ImageSense and the DLNA gesture control are laudable, both could have been introduced without the ruination of Google’s Android 4.0 design language. And HTC didn’t just make ICS look worse, it’s thrown in a couple of usability problems of its own. Among the most basic is the fact that app icon labels don’t have enough of a shadow behind their white text, resulting in light backgrounds making those labels unreadable. Another is that the lock screen habitually shows the weather widget even when I’ve quite deliberately set it to not do that. The weather widget still features an unwanted animation and, more importantly, obscures the usual four-icon launcher that lets you unlock the phone directly into one of those apps.

The only changes in T-Mobile's variant of the device come in the form of bloatware — lots and lots of bloatware. The carrier preloads nearly a dozen apps, all identifiable by their pink icons: from "411 & More" to "T-Mobile TV," plus a few third-party options like Polaris Office, Where's My Water, and an app for the Amazon Store. Most are unlikely to get much use, and nearly all are impossible to remove; you'll just need to train your eyes to not see pink icons in your app drawer.

In summary, HTC has rejected Google’s latest Android aesthetic in favor of a tired UI design whose iconography is over two years old in some parts, it has layered in change for change’s sake, it has made some aspects of the UX worse, and it’s brought no substantial improvements to the experience of using an Android phone.

Performance

Performance

Now here's a device truly worthy of the name HTC Flyer

In spite of shooting itself in the foot with classically dubious skinning decisions, HTC hasn’t been able to prevent the combination of Ice Cream Sandwich and Snapdragon S4 from working like a dream. UI lag is nowhere to be found and apps pop open with a satisfying quickness. Even the most basic tasks like loading up the camera and taking a quick snapshot, browsing through your galleries, or finding a destination in the Maps application are tangibly improved by the One S’ combination of software and hardware. Google’s latest OS is simply much more responsive than anything that’s come before it and Qualcomm’s newest processor generation is equally ahead of the company’s earlier efforts. The benchmarks below bear out my experience with the One S in full.

Htc-one-s-vellamo-chart
Quadrant Vellamo GLB 2.1 Egypt (720p) GLB 2.1 Egypt (1080p) AnTuTu
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

A few quick notes are merited with respect to the benchmarks used herein. Firstly, GLB stands for GLBenchmark, which, like all the other tests, is available from the Play store. Biases and limitations exist in all of these scores: Quadrant runs its 3D tests at the device's native resolution (favoring the lower-res One S), while AnTuTu is partially constrained by the 60fps frame cap on the phone (limiting its final score). Vellamo is also a Qualcomm-produced benchmark, so it should come as little surprise to see the Snapdragon leading the pack there. Taken as a group, however, these data points provide enough evidence to reliably conclude that the HTC One S and One X share the crown as the fastest Android smartphones out today.

When it comes to first impressions, the HTC One S is an instant winner. It marries thinness with a subtle, exquisitely refined design, and its AMOLED display is exactly the sort of vibrant eye-catcher that attracts people in stores. It almost sounds like the perfect premise for a device that's all style and no substance, but that's not the case with the One S. Sure, on closer inspection that Pentile display can drive you to distraction, but I'm learning to forgive that downside for the rich upside on offer from the dual-core Snapdragon S4, ImageSense camera suite, and Ice Cream Sandwich OS.

This wouldn't be an Android phone review, however, if I didn't bemoan the state of HTC's custom skin. Sense 4 is an improvement on the company's previous efforts, but that's not saying much. The skin sits like a lumpen deformity atop the sleek Ice Cream Sandwich and breaks up the otherwise quick user experience with frustrating design choices and a few instabilities all its own. The One S' qHD screen resolution is also quickly going out of style and rather lets down the rest of the top-notch spec sheet.

If all you want is the best HTC phone you can own today, the easy answer is the One X and its superlative 720p display. There's a reason why HTC prices it at €100 more, after all. But if you're after the best Android or overall smartphone user experience, you'll have to look to the familiar suspects: Google's Galaxy Nexus and Apple's iPhone 4S. Until Android OEMs wise up and stop handicapping their products with ill-advised skinning efforts, we'll be stuck repeating this mantra.

When it comes to first impressions, the HTC One S is an instant winner. It marries thinness with a subtle, exquisitely refined design, and its AMOLED display is exactly the sort of vibrant eye-catcher that attracts people in stores. It almost sounds like the perfect premise for a device that's all style and no substance, but that's not the case with the One S. Sure, on closer inspection that Pentile display can drive you to distraction, but I'm learning to forgive that downside for the rich upside on offer from the dual-core Snapdragon S4, ImageSense camera suite, and Ice Cream Sandwich OS.

This wouldn't be an Android phone review, however, if I didn't bemoan the state of HTC's custom skin. Sense 4 is an improvement on the company's previous efforts, but that's not saying much. The skin sits like a lumpen deformity atop the sleek Ice Cream Sandwich and breaks up the otherwise quick user experience with frustrating design choices and a few instabilities all its own. The One S' qHD screen resolution is also quickly going out of style and rather lets down the rest of the top-notch spec sheet.

If all you want is the best HTC phone you can own today, the easy answer is the One X and its superlative 720p display. But if you're after the best Android or overall smartphone user experience on T-Mobile, look no further than the One S. It's better than the Galaxy S II, myTouch 4G or Amaze 4G, and is easily the most compelling phone available from the carrier today.

Gaming

Best gaming laptop in 2021

How-to

What’s the best student laptop? We asked students

Reviews

Levels Health review: optimize your fitness with a $400 glucose tracker

View all stories in Reviews