(T-Mobile) of HTC One S

Thursday, April 19th 2012. | Gadget News

T-Mobile HTC One SHTC has finally launched its first Android smartphone to ship with Ice Cream Sandwich—and it’s a winner. The HTC One S packs a next-generation dual-core processor, a vibrant screen, an unusually capable camera, and fast HSPA+ 42 data speeds, all into one of the slimmest and lightest designs we’ve seen. Despite a few minor issues, the HTC One S is our favorite new smartphone on T-Mobile and a clear Editors’ Choice.

Design and Call Quality
Slim and light, the HTC One S measures 5.15 by 2.56 by 0.35 inches (HWD), with a thinner 0.31-inch portion in the center, and weighs roughly 4.2 ounces. HTC doesn’t provide an official weight figure, but the One S is slightly lighter than the 4.9-ounce iPhone 4S we had on hand. HTC’s high-end handsets typically feel expensive, and the One S is no exception, with its rounded, gray aluminum body. This one goes several steps further, though. First, it’s almost impossibly slim, thanks to its unibody design—the Verizon Motorola Droid RAZR is slimmer still at 0.28 inches, but the difference is largely academic given how good the One S looks. The gradient anodized finish also lends an extra dose of class, not to mention durability. A prominent volume rocker sits on the left side panel, while the top edge houses the Power button and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.

The 4.3-inch, 960-by-540-pixel, Super AMOLED glass capacitive screen looks beautiful at first glance, with vibrant color, a bright backlight, wide viewing angles, and deep blacks. It’s also very responsive; typing on the on-screen QWERTY keyboard is an absolute joy. HTC’s own keyboard layout is present, and you can switch on Swype if you prefer that. There’s only one issue with the screen: It’s a PenTile display. That means the arrangement of subpixels results in mild stippling that many people don’t mind (including me), but others find irritating. Mainly, it surfaces in fuzzier-than-typical text, and on dark gray backgrounds; you can really see it when it’s next to a phone without a PenTile display. Suffice to say it’s worth a look in person to see what you think.

The HTC One S is a quad-band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and tri-band HSPA+ 42 (900/1700/2100 MHz) device with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. Download speeds generally landed in the 4 to 7 Mbps range—good, but not the best we’ve seen for HSPA+ 42. Ping times were often just over a second—though a few results were normal, at under 100 milliseconds—and upload speeds struggled to break 1Mbps, with most landing in the 500 to 700Kbps range. T-Mobile says our otherwise production review unit isn’t provisioned yet for HSPA+ 42, and that by the time consumers get them next week, they’ll all be operating at full speed.

Call quality is excellent for a T-Mobile phone. In my tests, voices sounded clear and crisp, if slightly thin, in the earpiece, with a surprising amount of gain considering there’s precious little room for a speaker. Transmissions through the mic were clear and well defined, although a good amount of street noise made its way in. Calls sounded perfectly clear through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129, 4.5 stars), but voice dialing didn’t work at all over Bluetooth, which is a bizarre omission in a 2012 phone. The speakerphone sounds tinny at maximum volume, and isn’t loud enough for outdoor use. There’s a 1650mAh battery that we’re in the process of testing. We’ll post the results as soon as they’re available.

Hardware, OS, and Apps
The dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm MSM8260A Snapdragon S4 processor is undeniably powerful, benchmarking considerably faster than the Samsung Galaxy S II ($229.99, 4.5 stars) by roughly 20 percent, and the HTC Amaze 4G ($149.99, 4 stars) by about 30 percent—and both of those are dual-core phones.

We can credit at least some of this speed to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) as well. HTC seems to have struck a nice balance between Android 4.0’s various UI refinements, and its own, lighter-than-before HTC Sense 4.0 UI layer and widgets. In testing, the phone felt quite responsive, and raced through day-to-day tasks without so much as a hiccup. Frame rate tests stayed consistently just above 60 frames per second in several benchmarks, making this a superb phone for gaming.

While HTC devoted the bulk of its customization work to the camera and music apps (more on those below), there are some other nice touches throughout. Email conversations are threaded, and a sliding Recently Used Apps view lets you switch tasks with a finger swipe and tap. There are HTC’s trademark clock and weather widgets, the latter of which now shows a spinning globe for tracking world time and weather. A beautiful Car Mode pops up a landscape display with large icons for navigation, music, Internet radio, and phone calls, and customized one-level-down interfaces for easier access while you’re behind the wheel. You can’t change up the main icons, though; it would have been nice to pop in a shortcut to iOnRoad Augmented Driving (free, 3.5 stars), but that’s nitpicking.

Otherwise, there are over 400,000 third-party apps in Google Play, most of which should run just fine on the One S, given its up-to-date OS and relatively common screen resolution. You also get free voice-enabled GPS navigation standard. There’s a good amount of pesky T-Mobile bloatware you can’t remove like Game Base, My T-Mobile, T-Mobile Name ID, and T-Mobile Mall.

Browsing is very fast, although you can see the PenTile display issues on Web pages with small fonts, and Flash-encoded pages I tried didn’t work. HTC’s own SmartSync app is smart enough to learn your email checking habits, and then reduces push and polling accordingly to conserve battery power.

Music and Video Playback
Inside, there’s 2.21GB of free app storage, and just under 10GB free for media. But there’s no memory card slot, thanks to the unibody design. You should be able to sync media via the new HTC Sync Manager, but when I tried to, it took me to a website that said that the program wasn’t available yet, and to use the older HTC Sync for now. You can also drag files back and forth to the One S, as it lets you connect as a mass storage device.

Music tracks sounded clear through Plantronics BackBeat Go Bluetooth earphones ($99, 4 stars). The music player displays large album art graphics, and is simple to navigate. HTC’s Beats Audio algorithms work to improve the sound of all media audio, be it music tracks, videos, or streaming radio. I’m not a fan of the effect, though. Compared with it off, music sounded more compressed, and you could hear the compressor pumping in and out as it maximized the sound of every effect, and lowered the sound of the drums to compensate. The 3.5mm headphone jack can detect if you’re running a line-out to external speakers, and will boost the signal accordingly for improved sound quality.

Google Play offers free streaming for up to 20,000 tracks that you upload or buy through the service. It’s a little buggy, though; I bought a track on Google Play and tried to listen to it, but it said several times that there was a problem with my music and it couldn’t play it. On the fourth try, after a lengthy “waiting to sync” dialog, it cued up not the track I bought, but one that was already on my account—which proceeded to then stop playback after seven seconds. On the plus side, carrier billing now works with books and movies in addition to music inside Google Play.

Standalone videos looked absolutely beautiful in full screen mode, and played perfectly, right up to 1080p. XviD and DivX files worked without a problem. There’s no HDMI port, but if you buy HTC’s Media Link HD receiver, which HTC says will arrive sometime this month for an unknown price, a three-finger swipe on the One S’s screen will fling any video or other media over to an HDTV. I couldn’t test it since it’s not out yet, though.

Camera, Camcorder, and Conclusions
The f2.0, 8-megapixel autofocus camera features a 28mm wide lens, as well as an HDR mode, which helps compensate for out-of-balance lighting, among other things. HTC revamped the UI for simpler, faster photos. The dedicated chip enables continuous shooting of 4 frames per second. Shutter speeds were virtually instantaneous—less than 0.1 second—and autofocus generally added less than a second. You can also snap still photos while recording 1080p video, thanks to the dual touch buttons on the right side of the screen. Having grabbed a still shot of a running dog from a video this weekend with a different phone, this is a welcome feature. The light sensor also detects different levels of ambient brightness, and can fire the flash accordingly.

Test photos looked detailed, razor sharp, and colorful outdoors. The sensor did a particularly good job in balancing out the light, so that a sunlit sky with clouds didn’t become a white blob. Indoors, the camera fared almost as well, with some blurriness on a few test scenes, and roughly average line resolution considering the 8-megapixel sensor. The HDR mode wasn’t amazing; it exaggerated the colors, as if I turned up the contrast all the way on an old CRT; the iPhone 4 and 4S do better on this particular test. Despite the minor flaws here, it’s a top-notch phone camera.

The HTC One S recorded sharp videos, maxing out at 1920-by-1080-pixels (1080p) and a not-quite-smooth 24 frames per second with stabilization enabled. When I turned off image stabilization, the frame rate increased to 27 frames per second. Dropping back to 960-by-540-pixels (the screen’s native widescreen resolution) increased the rate further, to 29 frames per second. All recorded videos looked sharp and colorful. The video stabilization helped smooth out jerkiness even when walking, although the effect was still a little wobbly—it can’t work miracles, apparently. There’s also a VGA front-facing camera for video chat.

It took just six short months for the HTC One S to make T-Mobile’s other phones seem ancient. Its two top competitors on the carrier, while still excellent phones, are no longer quite as competitive. HTC’s own Amaze 4G ($199.99, 4 stars) matches up the closest, with the same screen size, resolution, camera, and HSPA+ 42 data speeds, but it’s considerably bulkier and heavier than the One S, and it runs the older Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) OS. The Samsung Galaxy S II ($229.99, 4.5 stars), our previous Editors’ Choice, is smaller than the Amaze, but still larger than the One S. It also has a lower screen resolution, lacks Android 4.0, and feels a bit flimsy thanks to its all-plastic body construction. As long as the PenTile display doesn’t bother you, the HTC One S is your best choice on T-Mobile right now.

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