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HTC One S Review [T-Mobile]

I know that you probably just finished up reading our HTC One X review from yesterday, but it’s time now to shift gears onto its little brother, the HTC One S. Announced at the same time as the One X during MWC in February, the One S might come off on paper as being less of a phone, however, once you use it you will realize that it is a little beast of its own. This device is headed to T-Mobile, but variations of it will arrive on other carriers – like the Incredible 4G on Verizon. So let’s dive into it and share some thoughts. 

The Good:

  • Hardware:  The One S carries an impressive set of specs for what we are considering a mid-range phone. With its 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM, this phone is no slouch. It also has an 8MP f/2.0 camera in the back (same as the One X), VGA front camera, 4.3″ Super AMOLED qHD display (more on this later), 1650mAh battery, and 16GB of on-board storage. Again, for a mid-range phone, having that processor is enough to feel a tingle in your pants.
  • Design:  The One Series of phones has been beautifully designed by HTC. This phone in particular is made using a Micro Arc Oxidation process that includes blasting and heating of aircraft grade aluminum. It should make for a more durable and reliable phone that won’t need a case to protect it. The phone I have is “Gradient Blue” and is a nice departure from the standard black phone craze. With accents in all the right places (like the camera ring), subtle logos (other than the nasty T-Mo logo on the front), and an unbelievably thin body (7.8mm), HTC has continued the design brilliance of the One X with the One S.
  • Display:  After coming from the One X and knowing that the One S only carried a 4.3″ Super AMOLED qHD display, I was initially disappointed. But from what I can tell, this is essentially the same display that the DROID RAZR has, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, HD is king these days, but in order to keep the price and size down on this phone, HTC went qHD on us. The colors are vibrant, as you would expect on an AMOLED, and actually, my better half preferred it to the One X’s when looking at them side by side. In the picture below, you can get somewhat of an understanding as to what people mean when they say that AMOLEDs look more cartoonish and vibrant, while LCDs tone things down to look more natural. It’s a preference thing, but having not noticed ghosting or other PenTile issues, this screen seems to be adequate. We also put together some macro shots below of the screen so that you can see the technology behind a qHD AMOLED.

  • Feel:  This phone is crazy light. It weighs in at just 119.5 grams and is noticeable the first time you pick it up. Is it too light? I did find myself fumbling with it at times, but that’s probably because I’m used to bigger and heavier phones. The light weight was welcomed once I got used to it. Also, with a 4.3″ display, this phone fits in your hand perfectly. I made the comment yesterday that the One X could be too big for some – that is not the case at all with the One S. If there is a sweet spot for phone size, HTC may have hit it here.
  • Camera:  The camera on the One S is identical to that of the One X and that’s a good thing. It’s ultra fast, takes better-than-average pictures for a smartphone, and records in full 1080p. I wouldn’t call this the best smartphone camera on the planet, but it certainly beats 95% of the phones available today. It rates right up there with the Galaxy S2, iPhone 4S, and other HTC phones of the last year.

  • HTC ImageSense:  Since the camera on the One S is exactly the same as the One X, including its ImageSense software, I’m just going to copy and paste what I wrote from that review – “The best part of Sense 4.0 is the inclusion of HTC’s new image software called ImageSense. This right here, is awesome. With the camera open, ImageSense allows you to snap photos in split seconds with no shutter lag, shoot video and snap full pictures at the same time without a hiccup, filter your best shots, toggle to HDR or panorama with ease, and take dozens of rapid fire shots by simply holding down the camera button. We cover this in the Sense overview video below, but wanted to express to you again how impressed we are with HTC’s camera work. Bravo.”
  • Battery:  Battery life has so far been phenomenal even with only 1650mAh of juice. While I have only had 2.5 days with the phone, which is not enough time to fully test a battery, I have yet to really worry about it dying. In those couple of days, I plugged it in once to get a full charge and then one more time yesterday afternoon. Since then, no added juice, no WiFi, some gaming, a night’s sleep and we’re sitting at 38%. Not bad at all. You can probably thank the Snapdragon S4 at 28nm for the reduction in power consumption.

  • HTC Sense 4.0 (parts of it):  Again, since this runs an identical version of Sense to the One X (4.0), I’m just going to pull from that review – “Oh HTC Sense 4.0, you and I have one heck of a relationship. In the 20-minute video overview that I posted below (which you should definitely watch), you will probably come away thinking that I despise Sense with a great passion. That’s not 100% true. There are some things about it that drive me nuts, but overall, this latest version is the best yet. It’s slightly less intrusive, yet still adds some UI flair that many will enjoy. I also love the way that Sense manages contacts, makes the camera super efficient, adds options to the lock screen, and continues to polish up widgets. I will always prefer stock Android over an OEM skin, but Sense 4.0 has come a long way in the right direction.”
  • Ice Cream Sandwich:  All I need to say here, is “Nice job, HTC.” At least someone understands that you can’t release phones in 2012 with anything but Android 4.0. If you buy the One S, you will have the most current version of Android available.
  • Beats Audio:  You could probably argue for days with an audio elitist that Beats Audio on a phone is a giant gimmick. What I know, is that if you have headphones plugged in and disable the Beats Audio on this phone, that it then sounds like garbage. Who knows what the real benefit is and how it has been tweaked to optimize sound on this phone, but to me, it seems to add some flavor – and flavor is a good thing.

The Not-so-Good:

  • [Update] Pricing:  At $199, this phone to me is a bit overpriced. With a qHD display, only 16GB of storage, VGA front camera, no NFC chip, and a smallish battery, this should have been no more than $149 on contract. When a phone is priced at $199, we tend to think of it as a flagship, but when you can get the One X (a true flagship) from AT&T for that same price, I’m officially confused at what HTC and T-Mobile think the One S is.
  • HTC Sense 4.0 (parts of it):  Between the One S and the One X, there are few (if any) differences in the versions of Sense that they run. I’m a fan of pieces of it which I mentioned above, but at the end of the day, I’m an Android fanboy and like my stuff stock. I could do without the 3D transitions and animations. Just make it simple and fluid. HTC Sense 4.0, while toned down from previous versions, is still a bit much for my tastes.

  • No LTE:  Since the phone is going to T-Mobile, it doesn’t have 4G LTE. Sure, they will tell you that they have the largest 4G network in the land, but the educated phone owner knows that this is stretching the truth. T-Mobile does not have an LTE network, so they instead rely on what amounts to an overclocked HSPA+ network that they are calling 4G. It’s not slow by any means, but LTE is the way of the future and this phone will never be a part of that.
  • Front T-Mobile Logo:  Look, I get it that T-Mobile wants everyone to know that this is their phone, but could you have toned down the logo on the front a tad? It’s silver, massive and stands out way too much. The back HTC and Beats logos are so minimal, that this T-Mobile spot on the front of the phone is beyond over-the-top.
  • No Expandable Storage:  HTC and many smartphone manufacturers have decided that phones do not need to have expandable storage. In the case of the One S, this is a bad move since they only packed 16GB inside. With phones like the One X or Galaxy Nexus that have 32GB out of the box, this is less of an issue. But if OEMs are going to drop below the 32GB threshold, then they need to give people an option to expand. It was probably a pricing move, however, we have to frown upon it. And once you look at how much storage Sense 4.0 takes up, leaving you with around 12GB of the 16GB to play with, you will too.


  • Non-removable Battery:  Non-removable batteries are the root of all evil for those that travel a lot or simply do not have the opportunity to plug in their phone on the fly. With the One S only having a 1650mAh battery inside that cannot be swapped out should you run it down, we are a little worried that power users won’t find it sufficient. I’ve poked around with the phone for a couple of days and have not run into issues, but I hardly consider myself a power user. The top rear part of the phone is all that is removable for SIM card management.

  • Bloatware:  We weren’t able to perform our bloatware count ritual with the One X since that is the unlocked and non-carrier version, but the One S is all up in some pink T-Mo. What is the final number? 15 bloatware apps. Some of them can be removed, but not all. We know that bloatware will never go away, but we like to point out our continued disappointment in carriers’ choice to make these system/non-removable.
  • No NFC: This could have been another cost cutting move, but HTC decided to leave out an NFC chip in the One S. The One X has it, but if you choose this phone, you will have to spend the next 2 years without the ability to pay for things on the go with your smartphone. All signs point to some major NFC and mobile payment happenings kicking off by the end of the year, so this is a bit disappointing.
  • Top Lock Switch and Headphone Jack:  It wouldn’t be fare if I knocked the One X for this and gave the One S a pass, so we are bringing it up again. To me, it makes sense to have lock switches on the right side of the phone where your thumb can hit it easily. It also makes sense to have headphone jacks on the bottoms of phones so that you can easily pocket them and also avoid cord issues while holding.



Sense 4.0 Overview:


Screen Comparisons:


The Verdict:

When you are given a short 2 or 3 days to review a phone, it’s tough to feel like you really got to know it inside and out. However, since the One S is basically just a smaller version of the One X, with a smaller screen and build, this was pretty easy to do.

The HTC One S is a great little phone. It’s not a flagship, but I don’t think that HTC intended for it to be (or maybe they did?). While it may not have the full-blown HD screen, tons of storage, NFC chip, or LTE connectivity, it has one of the better (if no the best) mobile processors on the planet inside. Assuming that this phone comes in at a price well below $199 , it may be one of the finer deals around (Update:  It didn’t. T-Mobile is pricing it at $199. Yikes.). You get a vibrant screen, tons of power, Ice Cream Sandwich, a phone that feels amazing in hand, impressive battery life, and one of the better cameras any smartphone has ever seen. The One S is another winner from HTC’s One Series.

For Verizon folks, this is for the most part what the Incredible 4G will be – same screen and processor, but with LTE.

*Note – We know, this is not a Verizon phone. But knowing the competition and your options is a good thing. Going forward, expect to see reviews from time to time of other major players on other networks here at DL. Who knows, some day you may find one that you can’t live without and will switch carriers. It could happen, right?

  • MeetOza

    i just loved the article and phone….. do chk this blog…. thr is HTC ONE X review….. 

  • Verizon could really use the HTC One series, but instead they’ll probably take another Motorola device in a different color or with a larger battery.

  • That kind of blows is the storage, after the OS your left with like 11gigs. Add to that 5 gigs of your music, and then pictures and videos with that 1080p cam take up the rest.

  • Dain Laguna

    Kellex: so what apps can be disabled since this is ICS?  i know alot of it cant actually be uninstalled, but if i dont physically see it, i’m more or less content. did htc disable this feature?

    •  One can always root there phone, HTC has made it easy to unlock the boot loader. Once rooted just install “root explorer” from Google play and uninstall anything you wish.

      • Dain Laguna

        true…but i shouldnt have to root a device just to get a feature thats built into the o.s. to actually work. 

        • The apps from carriers are not built in the OS they are added on by the request of the carriers to the OEMs.

  • Dain Laguna

    i freaking love this phone

  • I rarely come here because of the Verizon slant. I loved this site with my OG but have since moved to another carrier and rarely come here now. Would be nice to see this become more android based and less Droid based.

  • bsteen

    Kellex, you say this isn’t the best smartphone camera but is better than 95 percent of them. What do you consider the top smartphone camera(s)? Thanks.

  • Eh

    This is a major player?

  • Kevin Broce

    Beats audio is like cranking up the contrast on you TV, except for audio. It wows initially, it pops, it catches peoples attention. It’s not true to what the artist, the producer, and (recording/mixing/mastering) engineers presented.  It’s an EQ graph, maybe a compression algorithm and or a gain boost.  

    If this was actually an improvement, don’t you think they would just mix the song with this enabled.

    Wouldn’t Dr. Dre just mix his songs with whatever Beats changes straight to his albums? Why wouldn’t he release his albums with Beats improvements? 

    There is nothing that software on a phone can do to improve on the audio quality of an already recorded and masted song.  Companies spends thousands and thousands of dollars of recording, mixing and master equipment, a program on a phone isn’t going to make an improvement that wasn’t possible in the studio, so why didn’t they do that change then?If phone hardware makers wanted to make a real improvement to the audio experience of their devices, they would include high quality digital to analog converters. 

  • No thanks! Im due fo upgrade and going over to ATT for the One X

  • chris125

    This phone seems to be getting really good reviews on pretty much every site. I think htc has a real winner on their hands with this and the one X. Think these two could be the game changers HTC needed to get back on track to earning big profit.

  • smellyfeet

    t-mobile is for deadbeats and losers with bad credit. 

    • Dain Laguna

      or maybe people who dont want to spend a ton of money? is that such a terrible thing? sheesh lighten up.

      • Josh Groff

        I know right, only reason I switched was Verizon has better reception and my friend allowed me to go on his family plan for $60/month, pretty hard to pass up.

  • So I thought with ICS you could disable bloat.  Did they disable that feature?

    • Dain Laguna

      i was wondering about this too…kellex any thoughts

  • Lovehate

    IMO woulda been nice if they made the soft keys blue like the rezounds are red

  • RoadsterHD1

    One X has a better screen hat both of them.

  • PMAgent2013

    I didnt know keelen had a better half. As in i didnt know he was married after 2 years of reading DL. lol

  • CaptainHowdy13

    Gotta love the color. All the black phones get old. Why not release several colors to begin with? And the styling is pretty damn amazing props to HTC. Makes me feel worse on my Rezound.

    • Kinda makes you wonder what’s going on between HTC and Verizon. All our HTC phones look the same with the Rezound/Incredible design and styling. Then you get phones going to AT&T, Spring and T-Mobile, and they look super sleek with exotic materials. I wonder why we get nothing but the same ol plastic shell design? 

  • RegKilla

    no HD screen? no on-screen buttons? that sucks

    • Good_Ole_Pinocchio

      Ummmm you seen surprised about a phone thats been in announced for a littke whike.

  • Paul

    Really like the design of the S.

    • EC8CH

      me to.

      Get rid of T-Mo front logo & Replace hardware buttons with on-screen buttons and it would be the perfect phone for someone looking for a smaller screen size.

      • Noyfb

        But for what it offers at that price, is it worth being a 2 year phone with contract? That’s the main question, and I don’t think so.

        • Josh Groff

          No phone is worth a 2 year contract, I would rather pay retail and save at least $10 a month.

      • Taglogical

         Hardware buttons ftw (imo)

  • chris125

    The screen looks much better than the nexus from the comparison macro pics hopefully this is a good sign for the verizon version

    • I would have to disagree on that one. The pixel count is so much higher on the Nexus that it looks much better to me. Those black gaps in between pixels on the One S is not what I want to look at. 😛

      • chris125

        nvm I was looking at the wrong one ha. Man the one x screen crispness…DAMN

        • Franklin

          What are you smoking? Please share with the rest of the class…

          • chris125

            Macro shots check em out then maybe you would understand how great the one x screen looks. Understand now or need me to spell it out for you???

          • So you’re saying the One X ‘doesn’t’ have the best screen out of those 3? What are you smoking? Please share with the rest of the class…

            Anybody with good vision can tell that One X > GNex > One S

        • Hah it’s all good. 😛

          • Sobr0801

            How about a comparison to the rezound in both reviews.

    • Butters619

      Are you looking at the same pictures as me?  The pentile is much more obvious on the S according to those pictures.

      • Why wouldn’t it be more obvious? the S is a lower resolution after all; however you can’t argue the colors look really nice.

  • chris125

    Man you have to nit pick the littlest things for a negative since it really doesn’t have any(same with one x) no nfc? lock button? Logo? No lte maybe but I think most would stick with hspa+ and better battery life since it gets pretty comparable speeds to verizon and att lte

    • I try to say everything that’s on my mind when doing a review. And yes I nitpick, but I nitpick with all phones. 😛

      • EC8CH

        you missed…. not white 😛

    • Diablo81588

      “No lte maybe but I think most would stick with hspa+ and better battery life since it gets pretty comparable speeds to verizon and att lte”

      That’s a lie. HSPA+ will never compare to LTE. There’s a huge difference between theoretical and actual speeds. Show me a speed test where HSPA+ hit 30mb/s. Back that claim up with some facts son! Also, you have to factor in latency as well, not just pure download speed.

  • Before we get the “This should be on Android Life” comment, please read the note at the end of the review. Thanks!

    • Butters619

      I appreciate the reviews, so thanks from me!

    • EC8CH

      Well… if VZW would actual release a phone worth reviewing (ie: not another DROIZ RAZR of another color) then DL could review a phone on VZW.

      • Seriously, it has been a while for Big Red. Last phone was the Lucid and the Droid 4 before that.

        • going to stick with verizon for another year..no SGIII, then i might be forced to go somewhere else. don’t want to, but tired of verizon maximizing their profits and giving us limited choices

          • chris125

             I will stick with verizon until they take my grandfathered data away then I will look elsewhere.

          • Josh Groff

            I’m fine with my 4GB promo for now, but might grab the Sprint G-Nex or something so I can get grandfathered into unlimited.

    • zepfloyd

      That ridiculous comment shouldn’t apply anyway since the LTE version of the same device IS the Incredible 4G so it’s a free early review.

    • C-Law

      I say combine the two sites. I like getting news for Verizon, as well as the other carriers

      • MikeCiggy

        I think this is a great idea. I like getting information about all carriers. If you simply tag each post with it’s carrier name or not(if it effects everyone) that would keep it clean organized and all the information in one please.

        • Noyfb

          I read both sites of AL and DL, I think it is smart to know about cutting edge and well companies that might even move backwards or stay stagnant with their builds software and OS. Kudos, and thank you

      • InvaderDJ

        Especially because the original purpose of this site (hyping the DROID line of products) is kind of obsolete. The DROID line has gone from being the best of the best and on the cutting edge to basically a joke, at best just a designator for what Verizon makes the most money in pimping.

        Expanding DL to cover the whole Android world makes sense.

    • THANK YOU. I can’t stand the morons who complain about non-Verizon news. As far as I’m concerned, this site is about all things Android. If it were Verizon only news, might as well change the name of the site to Motorola-life. And I don’t mean that in a good way. 

    • Sure

       That would make sense if this phone actually had the qualities that would entice people to switch carriers.