Hands-on: HTC One S review

The HTC One S might not be the flagship in the new HTC One range, but that doesn't mean it's something that should be overlooked.

Just announced, we had the chance to play with the new phone before its launch and at the launch event at Mobile World Congress 2012 in Barcelona, to bring you a quick review of the new smartphone from HTC.

The HTC One S sports a 4.3-inch AMOLED screen powered by a dual-core Qualcomm 1.5GHz processor. Around the back is an 8-megapixel camera, while audio is provided by Beats Audio as it is across the new new devices.

But rather than just throw in the camera and the audio because they can, you get the sense that this time HTC is really trying to make the fully most of the tech that's available.

For Beats Audio that means that every aspect of the phone's audio now benefits. Whether you are watching a movie via HTC Watch, or a music track via Spotify, Beats Audio now boosts the sound device-wide.

On the camera front HTC has worked some magic too. Highlights include a camera 8-megapixel sensor which is backside illuminated and the lens is a 28mm f/2.0 unit, so it should cope better with low-light conditions than previous models. There is also the HTC ImageChip, which processes RAW data to enhance it before it becomes a JPEG and promises better results as a consequence.

Developing a new camera interface to those already seen on its previous Android and Windows Phone 7 smartphones, like the My Touch 4G Slide and the HTC Titan II (both US phones). here you get new toys to master and more control.

That "more control" includes the ability to snap shots while you take video and burst mode that involves just pressing and holding the shutter to take multiple pictures.

Other camera features include automatically setting the flash based on distance rather than just blasting anything that moves (there are seven different settings for this) and an interface we've found easy to use. We especially like the ability to change image effects quickly, Instagram style.

Messing around in the confines of an environment not ideally suited to using a phone camera, the One S seemed to cope well. Shots in dim situations looked brighter than we expected (probably something to do with HTC saying that the sensor lets in 44 per cent more light that previous models) and although we weren't able to examine them in any great detail, the pictures looked good.

Back to the specifics of the HTC One S and the software is Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich with HTC Sense 4.0 on board.

That's the new version of the company's Sense interface that sits on top of Android and different yet again from the Sense Ice Cream Sandwich version that is rolling out to the HTC Sensation XE and other older devices.

The differences are, we have to admit, very slight, mainly adding in the extra moving graphic or enhanced feature that takes advantage of the extra processing power or camera support in the phone. But it's going to be enough for you to brag to your mates that you have a spinning 3D map of the world allowing you to instantly see the weather in different cities as you flick the globe around.

From our brief play the new Sense interface sitting on Ice Cream Sandwich is simple, clean, and efficient. Those looking for the blue and black of vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich or the Roboto font will be disappointed, however HTC users will enjoy the move to a cleaner Sense with some changes.

We've not had the chance to explore everything that the HTC One S and HTC Sense 4.0 has to offer, but it's still very much HTC Sense, with plenty of modifications from native Android.

As for that 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor, likewise we haven't really been able to give it a good run for its money, but we can report it is fast. Whether it is on par with the Nvidia Tegra 3 processor found in the One X is still yet to be seen. All will be revealed in our HTC One S review once the devices come to market.

The phone will come with a 1620mAh battery. 

That's the inside, but what of the design?

Well their are two HTC One S models, with HTC and the newly formed HTC Studio, going a tad overboard in the materials, design process, and build quality of the new handset.

The first of the two is made using microarc oxidation. If you've never heard of that process, don't panic, we hadn't either. It is so niche that it's really currently only used on satellites, HTC tell us, and is made by bathing the casing in plasma and then electrocuting it to carbonise the metal.

The end result is a case that feels like ceramic and, according to HTC, is five times harder than if it was just anodised. That results in a thinner design and one that is not only strong, but also more resistant to scratches or bumps. It also has a "light-to-dark gradient fade that looks gorgeous and sophisticated" according to its makers.

We tested it with our nails and then some keys and it lived to tell the tale.

The second manufacturing technique is more traditional: graduated anodised metal. It won't have the same ceramic feel to it, and it looks more akin to the dozens of HTC handsets before it, but it doesn't change the dimensions, as far as we could tell, so it really will come down to a matter of taste on your part as to which one you want.

You can tell the difference between the two at a glance by the colour of the ring around the camera lens. The first technique has a blue one, the second has red.

By graduated, of course, it means that it has a graduated finish, rather than being uniform in colour. It looks great.

Our time with the HTC One S so far has been brief, even though we've already managed to play with it on two separate occasions. That said, this is looking to be more of the same from HTC, an evolution rather than a revolution, even though it has overhauled the manufacturing process.

The big question will be whether or not the "new HTC" can impress the public enough to say yes in the same way they said yes to previous successes like the Desire range.

Time will tell and we should have a better understanding of whether we can recommend the HTC One S after we've had the smartphone in for review.

The HTC One S is expected to launch in the UK in April.

Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich review