HTC One Mini Review: Smaller Doesn't Mean Worse

By Sam Gibbs on at

So this is it; the smaller version of the HTC One that we've seen rumoured for ages now. "This," of course, is the HTC One Mini, but does it have the goods to condense what is arguably the best phone out there into a smaller package? It's a damn close call.

 

What Is It?

HTC's high-end beauty hit with the shrink ray. The HTC One Mini is a mid-range 4.3-inch phone that's almost as gorgeous and high-end feeling as its bigger brother.

 

Who's It For?

Those with smaller hands, of course, and those with smaller bank balances too. Or just those who want a phone that's not a gigantic burden on your pocket, but is still in the market for a bloody good handset.

 

Design

Here's where we have to start referencing the HTC One. When I say HTC hit the One with a shrink ray to make the Mini, I wasn't kidding. To the casual observer you literally couldn't tell the difference unless you put them side-by-side.

It's got the same silky aluminium back, the same glossy-black screen, the same top and bottom aluminium Boom Sound speaker grills, and even the same chat cam and sensor placement. The camera on the back is in the same place, if a little smaller, while the flash has been moved to above the snapper's glass instead of to the left-hand side.

Now that you know what we're talking about, let's look at the differences. Gone is the off-white plastic sandwiched between two pieces of metal, instead replaced with a much brighter white plastic bezel that runs all the way along every edge of the phone in one continuous band. The subtle difference makes the One Mini look slightly cheaper; not that the plastic is crappy, of course. Indeed, its high gloss and smooth touch feel premium to your fingers, so it's just an aesthetic thing.

The power button is a traditional button, rather than doubling as an IR remote, which means it sticks out a little more making it easier to press. Likewise, the volume rocker is gone, replaced by two separated volume buttons that make it easier to tell whether you're turning your tunes up or down. Somehow they're not quite as satisfying to use, but there's more utility here.

Apart from that, it's just the physicality of the Mini that's different from its bigger brother, and we're only talking a marginal difference here. It's near enough the same thickness (minus 0.05mm over the One to be exact); is just 5.4mm shorter with a 5mm thinner waistline, and has 21g taken off at the scales. The screen is just 0.4-inches shorter on the diagonal too, and while all that doesn't sound a lot, it actually makes a big difference to the overall feel of device.

Make no mistake, the HTC One Mini is smaller, it's just not quite as mini as its name suggests.

 

Using It

The HTC One Mini comes packing a well-skinned version of Android, just like its bigger brother with its Android 4.2.2 update. In fact, the whole experience is so similar with HTC Sense 5 that we're going to point you in the direction of the HTC One and HTC Sense 5 reviews to give you a better picture of what you're looking at. We'll just focus on the hardware.

The Mini has the same gorgeous feel in the hand that the One does, which means you end up pawing at it much more than you really need to -- you'll cling onto it like a coveted pet and certainly won't want to put it down. Its svelte frame cradles nicely in your palm, and because the screen is only 4.3-inches, you can actually reach all corners of it with your thumb, without having to do some sort of ungodly hand stretching. The plastic edging around the device is also nice and smooth, but provides a reassuring grip between your fingers giving the user some confidence the phone isn't going to shoot out of the hand like a bar of soap.

Talking of the screen, its 4.3-inches packs a 720p resolution, which means a PPI of 341. Not exactly the insane 468PPI of the Mini's bigger brother, but still super crisp so you'd never be able to tell. Well, if you busted out a microscope you'd probably be able to tell, but you're not that kind of nerd, right?

Viewing angles are actually better than the already-good One on the horizontal, which means you can pretty much see the screen with full saturation and detail at any angle you want to try. That'll be great for sharing videos, with the brilliant front-facing BoomSound speakers the icing on the collaborative cake.

Meanwhile, HTC's picked a screen that produces great colours and makes images really pop, but the whites are slightly duller than those produced by the One, although not noticeably so, unless you butt them up against each other.

The guts of the Mini are what have taken the biggest hit in terms of specifications, with just a dual-core Snapdragon 400 chip clocked at 1.4GHz utilising only 1GB of RAM. That's a significant down-step from the full-blooded One, but puts it right in-line with HTC's mid-tier competitors.

Does a dual-core really affect how fast the device is? Well, it's hard to truly say. I couldn't see any lag in day-to-day activities. Swiping through homescreens is as buttery smooth as you'd expect, and so is browsing and that kind of thing. I did notice that some graphically intensive games saw a bit of stuttering here and there, but only when I really pushed it. There's bound to be some restriction on intense multi-tasking with just 1GB of RAM, but I couldn't find it during my testing, so I'd say it was nothing to really worry about unless you're a serious game-player.

 

The camera

According to HTC, the camera sensor on the HTC One Mini is technically the same as the HTC One's Ultrapixel shooter, which means good low-light performance, but it lacks the optical stabilisation of its bigger brother. The result is a slightly weaker camera performance (especially if you have a shaky hand), with less dynamic range, but it's still a decent performer in the average light conditions that you'll normally face in overcast Britain (as it is today). It's worth noting that in good, bright lighting, photos captured by the 4MP Ultrapixel camera come out with less detail and a tinge of blur compared to some of the other phone cameras on the market. It's no 41MP Lumia 1020, that's for sure, but it's still pretty damn good, especially for a mid-range phone.

You can see some more sample shots of grey Blighty in the gallery up top.

 

The Best Part

It's everything you loved about the One, condensed down to a size that everyone can pull off without having to do some stretching. Honestly, even with relatively large hands it's still miles more comfortable to hold and navigate around than the bigger behemoths we're being encouraged to use by manufacturers.

 

Tragic Flaw

There's not much wrong with it, but if you were to be picky, the lack of a microSD slot is a real downer considering there's only 16GB of storage built-in. You're going to fill that up with HTC's Zoes pretty quickly.

 

This is Weird

For some reason the speaker grill aluminium is actually quite rough. It's certainly not the same as the back aluminium, or the speaker grills on the HTC One. You can even feel it when it's rammed up against your ear while you're making a call, but it's not painful, and it's not like you actually call anyone anymore, right? Still, strange.

 

Test Notes

- The BoomSound front-facing speakers are as great as ever, possibly even better than the One and absolutely miles better than any other phone or tablet out there.

- The Mini's screen is slightly banana-shaped, bowing enough so you can see a slight curvature if you place the phone flat down on a table.

- Because it's just that little bit smaller, it's much more pocketable -- you just don't notice it in your jeans or shorts pocket (what? It's bloody boiling out there) as much.

- It's still quite long for a phone; longer than the iPhone 5 and just marginally shorter than the 4.7-inch Nexus 4.

- There's no IR or NFC in the Mini, which may or may not be a deal-breaker for you. I'm thinking not.

- I found some games wouldn't install owning to being "not compatible", which included things like GTA Vice City. I suspect the Mini would be able to handle them OK; they just need to be updated to support a 720p resolution and Qualcomm's new chip or something.

- Because of the smaller screen, non-HD videos look much better, while HD ones from YouTube and the like look really vivid and clear.

- Still no proper menu button means you either have to deal with a big black bar at the bottom of your screen, or the home button has to triple up as Google Now, home, and options, which isn't exactly ideal.

- The build of the Mini is truly rock-solid. There's no creak or strain in the twist test, while there's absolutely no give in the screen -- budget phone manufacturers take note; this is how you build a phone.

- Battery life was about average-to-good for a modern smartphone. I got about a day's worth of usage out of it, which is about the same I get with the larger One. It's no 48-hour beast, but it'll do you right for a day or two, especially if you activate the "Power saver" and "Sleep" modes.

- I noticed some light scuffing around the camera, which you can see below. The marks generally came off with a bit of a rub, but they kept coming back, and it wasn't as if I was hurling this thing around. It lived in my pocket and a phone pouch in my back (yes, I actually use one of those. Don't judge).

 

Should You Buy It?

The HTC One Mini is a great phone. It could even be the best small Android phone going, but it's not quite as good as its bigger brother. The HTC One is still the best Android phone out there at the moment, but the One Mini really isn't all that far behind (hence why it's still four stars).

The best thing about the HTC One Mini is that we now have a small Android phone that's not utter rubbish, and which doesn't feel gimped because it's cheaper. I'd still like to have seen HTC squeeze the quad-core Snapdragon 600 and 2GB of RAM in there, but I can understand why it didn't.

If you want a phone that's not enormous, and which is the same size as an iPhone 5 without being saddled with iOS, then the One Mini is a great phone. The lower-end guts don't seem to have done it any harm in day-to-day usage, and the build quality is still immense. The only problem is it's not actually that cheap right now at £380, but on contract it could end up being a bargain.

 

HTC One Mini

Price: £380 off-contract
Processor: 
Snapdragon 400 (1.4GHz dual-core)
RAM:
 1GB
Screen: 4.3-inch 720p (341PPI)
Storage: 16GB
Camera: 4MP Ultrapixel sensor
LTE: Yes
Operating System:  HTC Sense 5.0/Android 4.2.2
Size: 132 x 63.2 x 9.25mm
Battery: 1,800mAh
Gizrank: 4 stars