HTC One mini 2 review

The HTC One mini 2 sets off to an unsteady start, with name that's almost impossible to say sensibly, and a 4.5-inch screen that isn't really as small as the name suggests.

It's also pitching into a mid-range smartphone market that's now dominated by substantially cheaper devices. With Motorola Moto G getting a timely 4G update and costing just £149, the HTC One mini 2 has to really sell itself on its strengths: it needs to appeal to your taste in design and your desire to have HTC Sense 6.0 in your pocket to justify the £379 price tag. But in these two very areas - design and user interface - it's equipped to offer some of the top-spec HTC One M8 experience, which is very good.

So where does the HTC One mini 2 sit in the order of smartphones? Can it overcome the price-point obstacle, or is it a handset destined to struggle?

Family design

The HTC One mini 2 takes the design of the HTC One (M8) and shrinks it down into a more compact package: measuring 137.43 x 65.04 x 10.6mm and weighing 137g. Although this is a smaller device than the 5-inch flagship, there's still quite a lot of phone here.

In fact, there are only a few millimetres of difference between the One mini 2 and the original 4.7-inch HTC One of 2013; by the same measure, it's quite a bit larger than the Motorola Moto G that has the same size display at 4.5 inches.

READ: HTC One mini 2 vs Motorola Moto G 4G: What's the difference?

However, some of this additional size is perfectly acceptable because it gives you those front-facing BoomSound speakers than have become symbolic of the HTC One family of phones. It might be slightly larger than some, but compensates with excellent sound quality - certainly best in class when it comes to speaker performance.

The HTC One mini 2 exhibits the sort of savvy design and build quality we've come to expect from HTC. The curved back makes it comfortable to hold and although the finish of the brushed metal back might be a little slippery when your hands are dry, we love the look and the feel of this smartphone. It's a good size, easy to manage, with a display that offers plenty of space to play.

However, the finish isn't quite to the same high standard that you'll find on the HTC One (M8). Although it's the same look, this smaller model doesn't show quite the same precision in build. Where the M8 has metal wrapping around the sides to the display, the One mini 2 has a plastic border encircling the screen and you don't get the same zero gap construction.

We actually like the look, but it means you're touching plastic rather than metal: a subtle reminder that this isn't the best of HTC's fleet of phones.

The One mini 2 also carries the same IPX3 rating as the M8. That means pulling the phone out in quick rain shower to check Google Maps, for example, isn't going to be a problem. It can take more than a bit of a soaking.

Display performance

While the design follows the cues of the M8, this isn't a miniaturised version of the same phone. It has different hardware both inside and out, meaning a substantially different specification, unlike the more powerful approach taken by the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact. That sees the HTC handset sit firmly in the mid-range, rather than at a flagship level.

The display measures 4.5-inches on the diagonal. Whether you consider that to be mini or not is a moot point; the display has grown slightly over the original HTC One mini launched in 2013, but it's the resolution that's important here.

With 1280 x 720 pixels, it gets the HD tag, with 326ppi. That's becoming typical for devices at this level - it's the same as the Moto G, for example, but it offers a higher resolution than some cheaper devices like the EE Kestrel (based on the Huawei Ascend G6). That means there's plenty of detail and graphics are nice and smooth.

There's plenty of brightness, colours are well reproduced and the viewing angles are good too. This display isn't as capable as the full HD screens on larger devices in terms of detail, and it's lacking some vibrancy and punch to colours, but at this size there's little to complain about. We also had no problem viewing the display in bright conditions.

The hardware

Sitting under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core chipset clocked at 1.2GHz. There's 1GB of RAM supporting this and in day-to-day use there's no lack of power. Browsing through email, diving into Google Maps and such like all happen without delay, giving you every inch of the smartphone experience.

Compared to the HTC One M8 there's noticeable difference in the speed of launch, but that's as expected from this less powerful chipset. From Netflix to Spotify, things take a little longer to happen, but that's typical of this level of device and the compromise you have to accept.

If you're a mobile gamer then you'll find there's enough power in the Qualcomm chipset to handle most things. Games take longer to load, there's a noticeable warming of the phone body, but even intensive games, like Real Racing 3 for example, are perfectly playable.

It doesn't deliver quite the same slick experience that devices further up the scale do, but for the most part, the HTC One mini 2 offers a great experience. This is a 4G LTE handset too so you'll be able to gobble fast data on the move.

There's 16GB of internal storage, with the option to expand this by up to 128GB with microSD card. That gives you plenty of space for apps, games and any media you might want to carry with you. Many cheaper devices only offer half the internal storage, so at least you're getting something more from HTC for your money. Even if it does cost a fair slice of extra cash.

The software

The HTC One mini 2 launches on Android 4.4 KitKat, with HTC Sense 6.0 layered over the top. In this regard, it's very close to the M8, offering the same sort of visuals and most of the same features as the flagship device.

Sense 6.0 is the most refined version of HTC Sense yet: clutter has been trimmed and things simplified over previous versions of Sense and that makes it feels mature. We prefer it to Sony's Android res-kin and think it's slightly more mature than what Samsung offers too.-

READ: HTC Sense 6.0 review

When comparing to pure Android, there's a number of areas where HTC joins the dots, giving you a more connected experience out of the box - be that in the dialler, contacts or music experience - so you're not dependent on so many apps. We love the customisable apps tray, for example, as well as the customisable quick settings menu.

BlinkFeed is one of HTC's headline features. This service will allow you to customise content from a number of different sources to bring an at-a-glance digest of news or happenings from your social accounts. It's a nice feature, much refined in Sense 6.0 and a good way to quickly browse content. You also get the option to switch it off, so if you don't want it then you don't have to have it.

HTC provides its own browser, which adds little, but the keyboard is pretty good. It might be a little too aggressive in autocorrection, but we found it fast to enter digits, including trace entry. If you don't like it, there are plenty of alternatives in Google Play.

There's no sign of lag in Sense 6.0 on the HTC One mini 2. Like the M8, navigating through HTC's interface is swift and fast, making this a pleasure to use.

Lacking sensors

There's a big difference between the HTC One mini 2 and the HTC One M8 and that's in the sensor hub. This is something that provides some of nice features of the M8, that the mini 2 doesn't offer.

It's not entirely fair to judge the One mini 2 by some of the things it doesn't offer compared to the more expensive M8 handset, but it's important to know that you don't get tap-to-wake, or the low power sensors for sports tracking, or the motion gestures.

Also missing from the mix is the gyroscope, so this handset isn't as accurate a motion detector as some others - and with the Moto G 4G offering sensors, in this department the One mini 2 feels a little deficient. Even the Nokia Lumia 630 offers support for fitness trackers and it's a quarter of the HTC's £379 asking price.

Battery performance

One of the changes HTC made with the introduction of Sense 6.0 was to give you more power saving options, including an extreme power saving mode. This is in addition to the normal power saver mode that dims the screen and throttles the power slightly.

Extreme power saver mode will basically turn your phone into a dumb phone when you hit a particular battery level - five, 10 or 20 per cent. This means that at the end of a busy day your phone can slip into this low-power state and keep you connected for basic functions such as messages and calling, with the display switching to a simple interface.

You might need it too, because the 2100mAh battery in the mini 2 doesn't quite match the performance of bigger models. Although it will get you through a busy day, come the evening you'll find it running short of juice. Typically we found that we'd reached the end of the battery by 8pm. That's still over 12 hours of use, which is better than older generations. Of course it depends on what sort of demands you make of the battery - hours of gaming is going to considerably drain the juice.

Cameras

The camera is one of the key areas for HTC, with a lot of time and effort spent recently trying to educate people about the benefits of the UltraPixel sensor that previous One models have carried. The One mini 2, however, offers a regular 13-megapixel sensor instead, avoiding the 4-megapixel UltraPixel sensor of its brethren. 

Also, and again unlike the M8, there's no Duo Camera to be found here. Nor is there dual-tone flash, leaving the mini 2 quite a step away from the flagship.

The camera app loses some the headline features as a result. There's none of the fancy depth of field options, no post-shoot refocusing, and not even Zoe capture (although you do get to make the Zoe videos in the Gallery, which is one of our favourite features). HTC is yet to launch its Zoe network designed for sharing those videos, with an update promised for the future.

Moving away from UltraPixel has made the HTC One mini 2 camera slower than other One series models. It's still fast to focus, but tap the shutter button and there's more of a delay to capture and make that photo available to view. There's a slight disconnect at times too: shoot a frame and you'll expect a thumbnail to jump into the top right-hand corner to confirm the shot, but it takes longer than expected to appear. Most of the time you will capture the image you want, you just won't know that until you've taken a second shot to be sure.

However, the results are impressive. Given the higher resolution sensor than found in the M8 there's plenty of detail, plus you'll get more scope to zoom and crop photos after you've taken them. Low light performance is average, though, with higher ISO settings resulting in mottled mush - but that's entirely normal in almost any smartphone.

Despite not rocking the UltraPixel sensor, there are still a range of clever camera features. HTC's manual mode is here, as is HDR (high dynamic range), both of which we've always been fans of. This means you can set things like the ISO sensitivity and the shutter speed to take more deliberate shots: ideal for low-light static shots, sunsets, and more.

There's also a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, which at one point we'd have said was a little over the top for a secondary camera, but as the selfie crazy sweeps social media channels it's becoming rather commonplace. The Huawei P7 has an 8-megapixel front-facing camera for example.

The big difference between the front camera on the HTC One mini 2 and the HTC One M8 is the focal length: the mini 2 isn't as wide-angle, so is less beneficial for capturing groufies (again, see P7 review link above), but we like the countdown counter and the results are good - much better than some rivals. 

You also get full HD video capture from both the front and rear cameras. This is often limited on some mid-range devices, but not so here.

Overall, the HTC One mini 2 equips itself rather well on the camera front.

Verdict

There's a lot of good going on in the HTC One mini 2. For many it will be perfectly powerful, the battery performance is reasonable if not exemplary, and its software experience is one of our favourites in the current market.

The design and build quality is above average and there's no denying that this is a lovely phone to use and hold. The shift away from UltraPixel to a different camera - if you can accept that it doesn't offer all the features that HTC has become known for - doesn't really do the phone any damage either.

However, priced at £379, this is an expensive mid-range handset. If you're buying SIM free, then it's more than twice the price of the Motorola Moto G 4G. Although it offers some benefits, we can't see they are justified by the price difference. The HTC doesn't deliver twice the experience.

The price might be levelled when you take a network contract, but then you could be walking away with many of last year's flagship devices instead: the LG G2, for example, is only £20 more SIM free, or could  be yours for free on a £19 a month contract.

That's the biggest barrier we see to the HTC One mini 2: you have to really want that design and Sense 6.0 software to justify the price. It's a phone that doesn't do anything inherently wrong, but you can buy yourself a phone that will offer a similar experience for half the price.



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