HTC One S Lightning Review: Android and HTC's New Benchmark

By Gary Cutlack on at

The mid-sized option in HTC's three-pronged attack on Android in 2012, HTC's One S offers a smaller screen than the astonishing HTC One X, coupled with the same winning Android 4.0 and HTC Sense combo. And for once, smaller is better.


What Is It?

A smaller, but still pretty huge in historical terms, 4.3" Android model, which ignores the HTC One X's space-age plastics in favour of an aluminium unibody chassis. The screen technology's different too, with the One S using an AMOLED display running at 540x960 resolution, plus the processor inside is the all-new Qualcomm S4. Technically that's a dual-core chipset, but it's still astonishingly fast in here.


Who’s It For?

Those who find the 4.7" screen of the HTC One X a little too big to handle, or buyers who prefer the AMOLED display tech inside this one. Or anyone after the best Android phone money can buy right now.



It has the same familiar HTC grille as the One X, plus the new standard three-buttoned Android 4.0 control system beneath the display, but that's where the similarities between the One S and the One X end.

The One S is even slimmer than the One X, at just 7.8mm thick. There's still a bit of a camera sensor bulge, but it less so than the One X's big lump and doesn't add any significant bulk to the phone. The chassis has been roughened around the back for grip, plus this one opens up at the top, but only to pop in a Micro-SIM. Still no SD card storage here, plus the battery's non-removable.

It's also cold to touch, thanks to the treated aluminium body. If you have sweaty hands, this is the one to go for.


Using it

Android 4.0 and HTC's updated Sense interface make for a virtually perfect smartphone experience. The Recent Apps multitasking menu makes switching features straightforward, with the Ice Cream Sandwich menu system, new notifications bar and updated web browser -- complete with Chrome bookmark sync -- are all in here.

The new widget, app and shortcut interface, accessed through a long-press of the Home screen, makes managing the phone so much easier these days. Widgets all come with visual previews and an indication of their size, while bigger ones like the contacts and bookmarks widget can be resized with a long-press while in place.

The Home screens are fast and fluid, apps install and open quickly, while simple little touches like the way apps automatically add shortcuts to themselves to your Home screens underline how user-friendly Android is nowadays.

The HTC keyboard makes typing easy, too. It comes with loads of alternate characters, accessed through a long-press, plus there's a cursor key array along the bottom, making it dead easy to correct typos without having to manually pull the cursor about yourself.


The Best Part

As with the HTC One X, the camera is the highlight here. Photos emerge from the One S at 3264x1840 resolution, with great colours, detail and, thanks to the excellent continuous shooting mode, usually capturing what you were going for.

The phone can stitch together panoramas, resulting in enormous files some 10,000 pixels wide, plus, if you're a Dropbox user, HTC will max your storage space to a possible total of 25GB, allowing the worry free automatic uploading of all your snaps through a Wi-Fi connection. Dropbox and this camera really are a perfect match.



Tragic Flaw

Well, it's not so much a flaw as an eccentricity. The AMOLED display features excellent contrast levels, with super deep blacks making photos and videos appear very naturally indeed. But the AMOLED tech leaves a sort of faint mesh over the screen, similar to the pixel effect you could see when looking too closely at an old CRT TV.

Some people prefer this AMOLED effect, while some find the pixelation off-putting. It's a horses for courses scenario.



This Is Weird

Due to the way Android 4.0 has ditched the hardware Menu button in favour of using an on-screen button within apps, you'll see some weird Menu button placements in some apps. Google's Reader RSS tool, for example, comes with two Menu buttons -- one in the standard Android position of the top-right of the screen, plus a second one that sits in a black overlay at the bottom of the screen.



Test Notes

For some reason, the front-facing camera has been downgraded substantially compared with that found inside the HTC One X. All you get here is a retro VGA 480x640 resolution sensor for your video chatting. If you're a chatter, that's an odd potential deal breaker.

The music player's a great improvement over HTC's previous apps. You now get a small integrated app section, where HTC has stuck shortcuts to track ID system SoundHound, internet radio TuneIn Radio and MP3 shop 7digital. The onboard speaker's nice and loud, too.

The Snapdragon S4 processor does a superb job of running Android 4.0 here. Everything's fast and fluid, so much so that it feels quicker in use than the HTC One X. Which is quite some achievement.

The web browser's been updated to the Android 4.0 option, which comes with Google's quick controls option. This is well worth getting used to, as it removes the URL bar and menu options, giving you more screen space, with browsing controls and tabs popping in when you draw your thumb or finger in from the right edge of the screen.

Battery life is something of a revelation. After suffering some miserable times with the power-hungry HTC One X, we were overjoyed to find the One S easily cruising through a day of very heavy use with stacks of energy in reserve. Be a little careful and it'll last you two days. One of the biggest reasons to pick this one over its bigger brother.


Should You Buy It?

Well now this is awkward. So soon after declaring the HTC One X the best Android phone of 2012, we now find ourselves even more in love with the One S.

Its metallic body feels solid and even more impressively constructed than the One X's fancy plastics from the future, while the S4 processor keeps it all moving like lightning and the battery life is far, far ahead of what we managed to squeeze out of the One X.

You get the same amazing camera, the same polished Ice Cream Sandwich OS with HTC's many useful additions, and it's in a more compact chassis that's ideal for those not won over by the One X's massive form factor.

The HTC One S offers a perfectly balanced next-generation Android hardware and software experience that's simply essential.


- Screen: 4.3" 540x960 AMOLED
- Processor: 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
- Storage: 16GB, no SD card support
- Camera: 8-MP rear camera with LED flash, VGA front-facing camera
- Connectivity: HSPA/3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DLNA, A-GPS, NFC
- Ports: microUSB (MHL compatible), 3.5mm headphones
- Battery: 1650mAh, non-removable
- Price: £395 off network