HTC One mini review

4.5 out of 5
£379.99

For

Fantastic premium design, great display, Sense 5 is a sophisticated user interface

Against

Choosing a smaller device means accepting a less-powerful device, battery life isn't great, some apps wouldn't run, more expensive than rivals, no NFC

The HTC One is an excellent handset, a device that puts the design of practically all other smartphones into the shade. For several months, it was the only handset that HTC had given us, as rumours swirled about a smaller model.

Off came the covers and we now have the HTC One mini resplendent on our desk, a smaller version of the One, but heralding many of the same values. It offers slick design, exceptional build quality and a sophisticated user interface.

But how does the HTC One mini fare in the mid-range? If you're looking for the One experience in a smaller package, does it deliver? We've been living with the HTC One mini to find out.

Design masterclass

The HTC One mini apes the design of the larger handset, with a slick aluminium body design, a nicely curved back and those distinctive BoomSound speaker grilles on the front.

The big difference between the One mini and the original is the waistband that encircles the edges. This plastic band finishes everything off and you can set aside any fears that this might detract from the premium sheen. On the contrary, we think it's a great effect.

The finish and chamfering of the edges reminds us of 2012's HTC One X and we like the way there's enough definition in the edges to bite into your fingers for a decent grip. Of course the advantage that the HTC One mini's smaller frame offers over the HTC One, is that it's easier for those with smaller hands to manage, more discreet when tucked into your pocket or bag.

It measures 132 x 63.2 x 9.25mm and weighs only 122g. It's certainly compact, although the speakers top and bottom mean this device is perhaps a little longer than some rivals. It's a compromise we'll happily accept, as those speakers certainly bring benefits and we like the symmetry in design that HTC has achieved.

We love the precision that the HTC One mini offers through its design, resulting in a device that doesn't look second tier. It looks like the sort of smartphone you'd willingly choose as an alternative to the larger model, rather than that decision being driven purely by cost.

Hardware and performance

With the design hitting the mark, it's internally that you'll see the changes that bring the HTC One mini into the mid range. Under the skin there's a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset clocked at 1.4GHz, with 1GB of RAM, quite a step-down from the quad-core power of the HTC One.

In the real world, however, performance isn't about numbers or benchmarks, it's about getting things done. The HTC One mini, in that sense, is perfectly capable at handling typical daily tasks, like watching movies, browsing the internet, crunching through your emails or your social networks.

Side-by-side with the HTC One, there's little difference in the speed with which you can leap around HTC Sense 5. It's snappy and responsive, so despite the difference in power on offer, the phone still offers a great experience in day-to-day use.

 

We found on a couple of occasions that the One mini would heat up when not much was happening, and this was paired with faster battery drain - we suspect from a software bug somewhere, although there's no suggesting that will affect all devices once it hits retail.

Push the HTC One mini hard and it will get warm, as many devices do these days, but we found that streaming video and playing most games presented no problem, despite that warming.

The slightly limited specs, however, might mean that you can't get to all apps, specifically games. When we turned to Real Racing 3, one of our favourite Android games, we found that the HTC One mini wasn't supported. That's the case for a number of titles which we think the One mini should be capable of playing, so we suspect this is an issue with Google Play, more than a lack of power.

Overall, we're impressed. Set the HTC One and the HTC One mini side by side and you'll notice that apps generally open faster on the HTC One thanks to its additional power, but the One mini doesn't feel sluggish, which is the important point.

The sealed body design of the HTC One means there's no accommodation for storage expansion. That's not uncommon for HTC who has typically avoided support for microSD in its high-end handsets in the past, including on the HTC One S this handset sort of replaces.

There's 16GB of internal storage which is average, but only about 10GB is available for user storage. In an HD world that won't last long.

Looking sharp

While there are some limitations on the hardware front, the 4.3-inch display brings with it a welcome attention to detail. With a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, 341ppi, the HTC One mini has a very capable display.

It's sharper than the rival Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, as well as most of the other devices with a display of this size. That's important, because when you look at the HTC One mini, you'll appreciate what the added resolution does for the content you consume and the apps you use.

 

You might just be playing Candy Crush, but it looks stunning, with plenty of detail. Font's are sharp, icons look great. They're small, especially when displayed on the cover of a folder, but the pin-sharp detail means you can still make out that everything is. The important thing is that the quality of the display makes for a great experience when using the phone.

It's not just the resolution. The display is good in many areas. It offers a nice natural colour gamut, without the excessive saturation you might find on AMOLED displays. Side-by-side with the larger HTC One, it isn't quite as adept, and the whites aren't quite as bright, but it's still very impressive.

The autobrightness works well, giving the screen enough brightness to cope with sunny days and the viewing angles are good too.

Sounding good

The BoomSound speakers are one of the highlights of the handset and rightly so. They really deliver on the audio front, offering better performance than any other device of this size. There's volume, but more importantly, there's rich bass that makes watching a YouTube clip or an episode of Luther on BBC iPlayer really good.

There's the Beats Audio logo emblazoned on the back and you'll get that distinctive rich bass when you connect a decent pair of headphones too. To be fair, most mobile devices now do a good job of sounding great through headphones, but with the HTC One mini, that's true whether you're plugged in or not.

It's a benefit that's apparent when you make a call too. The incoming caller has a wonderfully natural sounding voice and there's plenty of volume again.

If it's wireless audio that tickles your fancy, Bluetooth 4.0 with apt-X support means you'll get great quality music without the cables too. However, unfortunately, there's no NFC here, so you won't get the convenience of being able to tap to pair with speakers like the Loewe Speaker 2go or Sony BTX500.

It all makes Sense

The HTC One mini launches on Android 4.2.2. But it's Sense 5, the same as the HTC One, that provides the most interest.

READ: HTC One review

We won't go into too much detail on HTC Sense in this review, as it's the same as on the HTC One. If you're interested in learning more, we'd recommend reading the HTC One review, or our comparison piece on the differences between Sense 4+ and Sense 5, especially if you're upgrading from a device like the HTC One S.

READ: HTC Sense 4+ vs HTC Sense 5: What's the difference?

But if you've never experienced HTC Sense before, the latest iteration in Sense 5.0 is the best yet. It provides a level of sophistication that adds to the Android experience, bringing a collection of features, but without changing things as dramatically as Samsung does. With one exception.

HTC's BlinkFeed is one of the headline features of HTC Sense 5. It's a news aggregator that's designed to serve up content on your homepage. You define what it shows you, with a selection of news sources or topics to choose from, as well as with integration of social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, along with calendar updates.

These will then be displayed on your home screen in a glance-and-go approach. You can swipe to the side to access the "normal" home screen that will let you add shortcuts and widgets and so on, but you can't disable BlinkFeed. That might be an initial concern, but having used the HTC One since launch here at Pocket-lint, we've come to love the tidbits it serves us.

Importantly, BlinkFeed doesn't mess around with your launch bar (too much) so you can still load in folders with shortcuts to get to your most important apps. We'd like BlinkFeed to be more customisable, but we also understand that it could potentially get too confusing.

Elsewhere, Sense helps to join the dots in many areas. The handling of contacts and calling is very good, making for an integrated experience that was the foundation of HTC Sense back in 2009 when it launched.

Android 4.2.2 is accommodated well, the biggest thing this gives you is nice quick access to hardware controls via the notifications bar. Although HTC doesn't go as far as Samsung in offering toggles at a swipe, you'll now be able to hit the icon and get to quick controls, modified from Android 4.2.2, but very much in the same style. It's very handy.

Other highlights include the galleries, which will generate live highlight videos when in the events views. They nicely summarise your day, so if you've had a day at the beach, you've a perfect, pre-edited summary you can share with friends. There's a choice of styles and it's a great fun feature, capable of making even the very mundane look interesting.

It doesn't all smell of roses however. Our biggest bugbear in Sense 5.0 is the calendar. When setting an appointment it doesn't tell you the day when you're actually scrolling through in the selector. If your friend says "see you next Tuesday" (or whatever), you'd have to refer to a different view to find the date for that day. Fortunately, the stock Android calendar is now a separate app and can be downloaded from Google Play: if you handle a lot of appointments, it's a better calendar to use.

We also found that the modified Sense keyboard wasn't as adept as on the larger HTC One. Whether this is down to software, size or power, we can't tell, but the trace entry and predictions seemed a little sluggish. As we say in pretty much every review, a third-party keyboard will better serve you and we found that installing SwiftKey brought the speed we craved to text entry.

Cameras: snap happy

Sense also adds some interesting features to the HTC One mini's cameras. There's the 4-megapixel "UltraPixel" camera on the rear, which uses the same sensor as the bigger handset, along with a 1.6-megapixel front-facing camera.

The rear camera, HTC claims, will give you better low-light shots compared to competitors because the lower megapixel count allows for larger pixels to be used on the sensor. The theory is that there will be less noise and better performance, aided by the F/2.0 lens. The only difference from the HTC One, is that the One mini loses out on optical stabilisation.

 

The HTC One mini will give you great results in good conditions, but the camera experience is perhaps more exciting than the absolute quality of the photos it produces. It suffers the same problems as other phones: there's a risk of blowout and overexposure in bright conditions, but we like the HDR mode, even if it looks a little ethereal at times and needs a tweak in Photoshop to give the colours back their bite.

But the focusing is fast and accurate, which we really like and the interface gives you quick access to the main options, so shooting video or stills is simple, along with HTC's special Zoe mode.

Zoe is something of an oddity. It captures a stream of shots, like a short video clip, which you can either view as video, or pull stills from. It adds a little fun, and a little life to something that might otherwise be static, but really looks good in the highlight videos we've already mentioned.

In low light the HTC One mini perhaps isn't the superstar you might want it to be. Some types of obvious noise might be avoided, but backgrounds become mushy pretty quickly, as though it has simply been processed away.

The result is that the HTC One mini is very capable and a lot of fun, but it's not so far removed from other leading devices out there.

The front-facing camera is pretty good, however, and we like the countdown feature so you can get your selfie expression just right. It's great for video chat too.

Battery life

With a smaller body there's less space to cram in a battery, so the HTC One mini finds itself with an 1800mAh battery. That's perhaps a little on the small size by modern standards, but with those pared-back specs the hope is that it's sufficient to see you through the day. HTC say it will get you through 13 hours of 3G talk time.

We found it lasted about 10 hours in mixed usage. That's plenty of messaging, some browsing, shooting some photos and videos and the essential social activities. The HTC One mini will get you through the meat of the day, better than some more powerful devices with larger displays will and there's always measures you can take to try and extend this. The flipside, of course, is that the when you hit it hard, you'll run out of juice before the working day is done, a typical story for modern smartphones.

Verdict

The HTC One mini brings a lot to the party. It looks good, it sounds good and it performs well enough on everyday tasks. It's a great mid-range device, with an experience that's very much the same as the larger HTC One. It might be a little slower, it might be a touch more limited, but it's still rather accomplished.

At £379, it's not exactly bargain basement, undercut by some of its rivals, including some that are more powerful. But in return for your cash you get a handset that looks beautiful and feels beautiful and some would say that justifies the cost.

There will be those that question why there's a drop down in specs. Why is the HTC One mini build as a mid-range device, rather than offering all the power of the larger model? There may be technical reasons, like physical space or heat dissipation. We suspect the real reason is that HTC felt the need to offer a more affordable device to widen the portfolio.

The HTC One mini is a great Android smartphone. The design and built are outstanding, the user experience offered by HTC Sense 5 is commendable and the step back into mid-range specs isn't hugely to the phone's detriment. The HTC One is still the better device, but for those who want that experience in a smaller package, the HTC One mini delivers.