HTC One S

The choice of mobile phones on sale today is simply mind-blowing. There has never been a better time to be looking to spend some money on a mildly expensive mobile phone. A year ago you would ask yourself one question “Can I afford an iPhone 4S?” if the answer was “yes” then you would skip merrily down to the Vodashop, or MTN Store, and buy an iPhone. If the answer was “No” then you would get a BlackBerry, as even the high-end Bold is cheaper to run than the data hungry iPhone. Things have become much more complicated in the mid to high-end cellphone market.

The Apple iPhone is still a safe bet; no one is ever disappointed with an iPhone. BlackBerry on the other hand has the South African Smartphone neatly tied up, owning 44% of it – so if simply communicating effectively and efficiently is your criteria than a BlackBerry is still a serious contender. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Windows Phone owning a minute portion of the market but making serious strides with the Nokia Lumia range.

And now right onto the HTC One S, the recently launched Android Ice-Cream Sandwich device with their all new Sense 4 interface. The HTC One S is being launched with its big brother, the One X (see our review here), into a hotly contested market, with Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Sony and Motorola all vying for dominance.

The Screen

To credit Apple, the iPhone 4 stepped up the game for screen quality. It has taken some time but the market has finally responded. The One S has 4.3-inch 960 X 540 Super AMOLED display – this translates into a sharpness and clarity that has to be seen to be believed. Both inside and in direct sunlight the screen performs beautifully, however the touch accuracy when using the One S at certain angles, such as sitting slightly slumped, was below par.

That said, because HTC are using Gorilla Glass Version 2 at every other angle typing and navigating on the One S proved to be a smooth, fluid experience. The benefit of Gorilla Glass Version 2 is twofold; it places the capacitive touch surface closer to your fingers which results in improved touch accuracy and sensitivity, it is also more scratch resistant than say the more standard glass used in the iPhone 4S.

The Inside Story

Here in the office Steven is using the One X and I am using the One S. I maintained the dual core Snapdragon processor in the One S is faster, in the real world, but using the 5 core holiness of the NVidia Tegra 3 chip in the One X Steven has its advantages.

In some informal tests I found that I was wrong and the One X is substantially faster. The trade-off however is that with both devices being unplugged from charge at 6am, come 6pm the One X is in need of some juice, while the One S is humming along with around 40% battery remaining. This is extremely impressive, especially when the competition, who’s insides are not even half as powerful, would only get to around 4pm before needing a bit of electricity.

The 8mp camera, the same one as is the One X, is superb. The images are sharp and always in focus this is thanks to some image processing trickery by HTC. Even in low light the camera excels, using the flash only when necessary and unlike the Nokia Lumia 800’s flash that appears to whitewash the image, the One S’ flash improves quality in low light immensely.

The media player, which has a Beats Audio equaliser, is excellent. The sound quality is crisp and the bass is deep. Personally, the quality is not quite in the same league as the iPhone 4S, it sounds far closet to the Nokia Lumia 800. Overall I was very happy with the One S’s sound quality; the iPhone just edges it out by being a bit clearer and sharper sounding. HTC do not have a mac client which would help make managing media on your device easy, as a result I had to manually copy music and podcasts across to the device – archaic, when all of the competition have clients for both Windows and Mac.

The OS

The One S is running Google’s latest iteration of its Android OS – Ice-Cream Sandwich (ICS), or Version 4. Google have polished up Android immensely with ICS, from resizable widgets, improved text input and spell checking, and better Facebook and Twitter integration. Many of these features were incorporated by HTC into their previous devices with their Sense version 2 and 3 overlay. With Sense 4 HTC took all of these improvements in Android and incorporated them into their new Sense 4.0, simplifying and cleaning up the user interface immensely. What this all means for you and me is a leaner, meaner, faster, and easier to use interface.

ICS with HTC Sense 4 is now as slick, stable and sexy as iOS – no question about that. I still found that iOS is far more conservative with its data use. ICS may have improved on many elements but conserving data use was clearly not on Google’s agenda – the One S is thirsty! Bank on a gig a month if you are a moderate to heavy user.

Aesthetics

While the One S will be available in black, our review unit is grey, well grey and blue. Sort of like a sad rain cloud. Although the design of the One S is somewhat austere it feels and looks beautifully sculpted. The One S sports a unibody construction, evolved from last year’s HTC Sensation and it feels absolutely brilliant in the hand. The back of the One S is curved ever so slightly to allow it to sit at the correct angle for interacting with the device and the screen feels smooth and silky; it is something you just want to touch. HTC evidently put a lot of thought into the design, while the iPhone 4S feels architectural, the One S – like its big brother the One X – feels organic, and sculpted. This is in part thanks to a unique micro-arc oxidation technique to finish off the body. What HTC did was blast the aluminium case with 10 000 volts to give the aluminium a ceramic feel rather than cold metal.

Conclusion

The One S is hard to fault, it is superbly built with an almost obsessive attention to detail, the screen is spectacular and it is more powerful than a small African country. What this does is give the consumer choice; it is no longer “If I can afford an iPhone, I will buy an iPhone” now it goes “if I can afford an iPhone, or a Nokia Lumia 800, or a HTC One S, I will buy…” Personally out of that trio I would get the Nokia Lumia 800 but that’s the thing, the devices in the mid-to-high-end mobile market have become so good it is now down to personal preference. So go out there and try a One S you may be very surprised.

Specifications – via HTC

Brendon Ambrose – Managing Editor | About Me – Scared of: Clowns, spiders and Hilary Clinton; Dream Wing Man: Jacob Zuma; Started Writing Tech: 2005 for Gadget.co.za; Favorite cereal: Frosties; Find me on: Twitter & Facebook
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