HTC One V review

4 out of 5
£226 (SIM only)

For

Compact, nice design and construction, latest software, microSD card slot

Against

Old hardware means it's a little slow, some missing features could have been incorporated

The HTC One V hasn't had the same degree of attention that the One X or the One S have. As such, it's at risk of becoming the "other" phone, the one that gets ignored. But picking up the design of 2010's HTC Legend and offering a device for those who can't take the size of the larger brothers, the HTC One V isn't lacking in appeal.

Sitting at a more affordable price, can HTC's pairing of premium design and restrained specifications result in a phone you'll actually want to buy?

Design

Design is one of the real strengths of the HTC One V, especially when put alongside some of the rivals that are predominantly plastic. By contrast, the HTC One V is a solid device both aesthetically and physically. The unibody design, featuring a small chin, doesn't warp or flex in the hand, so it has a feeling of quality.

Like the One V and the One S, a ridge runs down the sides of the device, helping to provide a little more grip. The anodised metal finish of the body can be a little slippery at times, but HTC avoids the worst of it thanks to these subtle design flourishes.

It measures 120.3 x 59.7 x 9.24mm. It might not sound as though it hits the current definition of skinny, but there's little to complain about. It feels great in the hand, is easily manageable and won't cause too much of a bulge in your pocket.

The display sits slightly proud of the bodywork, which is where the affordable side of things becomes slightly more telling. It isn't flush like other HTC One series devices and although this doesn't really matter, it does mean there's an unusual ledge where the bottom of the display meets the chin.

You'd expect one to run into the other but it doesn't. Brushing this edge every time you slide your thumb across to hit the capacitive buttons makes it feel as though something isn't quite right. But that's a very minor point on a device that's otherwise very elegantly designed.

Where rivals will have cheap pop-off plastic covers, the HTC One V is a definite step ahead. As with previous HTC devices, you can't remove the body, only the plastic section at the bottom, to give you access to the internals. The battery is sealed within the handset, so you can't change it.

Controls, connections and hardware

Launching as an Ice Cream Sandwich device, the HTC One V offers three capacitive controls across the bottom of the display: back, home and recent apps. In terms of physical controls you have a volume rocker on the right-hand side and the standby button on the top. The Micro-USB connection allows for charging or data transfer.

This is the conventional arrangement for the One series devices, but on this bottom rung device you'll find another difference. The HTC One V uses a regular SIM and has a microSD card slot, so you can easily expand the internal storage over the minimal 4GB that the phone comes with.

The display is a 3.7-inches, with 800 x 480 pixel, typical for this level of device. It is a nice display and although you don't get the same sort of high pixel density as you do on top-tier devices, the 252ppi looks sharp enough. Elsewhere the display is nice and vibrant, so content looks good, even if everything is a little over-saturated.

The really telling points on the spec sheet, however, lie deeper within. The single-core 1GHz processor is now rather dated and the 512MB of RAM sets out this phone with some limitations.

Then there is the loss of the front-facing camera and the drop down to a 5-megapixel sensor on the back, also missing out on Full HD video capture. The camera restrictions are less of a limitation in the real world, but with aging hardware powering the phone, it's not going to be the greatest multimedia companion out there, something you'll perhaps notice as the life of your phone rolls on.

Software, performance

When it comes to software, the HTC One V leaves you little to complain about, landing with both the latest version of Android and the latest version of HTC Sense. We've discussed both in some detail, in our HTC One X review and in a comparison of the latest versions of Sense, but we'll cover all the important details here again.

HTC Sense, as it always has done, tinkers with just about every facet of Android 4.0. The result is that the One V feels every inch an HTC device, while still giving you access to some of the latest features. One of the biggest and most immediate changes is the arrangement of the launch bar across the bottom of the customisable home pages.

Where previously this wasn't very useful, it is now easy to customise with anything you like. You can slot in app shortcuts or create folders so you have instant access to your most important apps. These shortcuts roll over on to the lock screen too.

As this is Ice Cream Sandwich you get access to notifications from the lock screen, but the lack of the front-facing camera means no face unlock option. ICS also brings with it the recent apps feature, operated by the button we've just mentioned. In a slight twist to Sense 4, on the One V, it sticks to the original Android vertical thumbnail layout, rather than the larger horizontal screengrab of the One X and One S.

Of course, this being HTC Sense, you have a whole world of connectivity out of the box, with a huge range of integrated accounts you can sign in to to flesh out your sharing options and populate your contact's files. The likes of Flickr, Facebook, Dropbox and SkyDrive are all present and correct, offering plenty of connected options.

But this isn't as connected as other HTC devices. Head into the media offering and you'll find that the option to stream content from a home media server or sharing computer is now gone from the Gallery. This seems to be more to do with device positioning than actual power limitations, as a quick instal of Skifta let us stream video and music files without any problems.

Sense also collects music apps together into a music hub, making it nice and easy to get to everything in one place. Those that don't automatically get added can be manually included, like the FM radio for example. As this is a Beats phone, you'll also find that things sound great.

Where you'll really feel the difference, however, is in general navigation. With limited power on offer, things take a little longer to happen. Returning home from an app, opening the settings, or using the browser. Flash is supported, but isn't as nippy as more powerful devices.

The keyboard can also be a little slow to open and, although HTC's offering is pretty smart offering a respectable response and fairly clever corrections, it's easily bettered by something like SwiftKey X. It's also worth turning off the haptic feedback on keyboard, as it can't keep up and seems to lag behind.

Camera

The camera interface is one area that has seen a refresh, now offering a cleaner UI than previous HTC devices. The biggest change is to offer both photo and video buttons at the same time so you can instantly capture either. At the same time, settings have moved over to the left, so everything is tidier than previously.

You also get continuous shooting by holding the photo button, as well as continuous or touch autofocus. With plenty of options to tweak, and modes to explore, the camera is fast to focus and capture images. The results are good too in decent light, but like other camera phones, low light images get noisy quickly and the flash doesn't do much to improve things.

On the video front you're limited to 1280 x 720, rather than the full HD that some phones now offer. The results are reasonable, again with continuous and touch focusing options, although it's better suited to subjects closer to the lens: as the distance increases the quality drops off.

Overall, the camera and camcorder put in a good showing. The interface is great and the results are good for this level of phone, however it's not the best performer out there.

Final points

With a compact form and that neat chin, the HTC One V makes a comfortable phone for calling, although the top edge can be a little sharp across your ear. The external speaker on the rear - finished with the neat micro-drilled holes characteristic of the One series devices - is also loud and clear.

But one of the biggest selling points for the HTC One V is the battery life. With up-to-date software and restrained hardware, we managed to get the best part of two days out of the phone. Sure, if you use it heavily that will fall off, but where over-powered rivals will need charging every night, we were happy to leave the One V off the charger safe in the knowledge it would still have juice the next day.

Verdict

Overall there is a lot to like about the HTC One V. It is a well-designed phone, small in modern terms, but still giving you enough space to interact with the display, accepting the fact that you'll have to live with doing more zooming in webpages if you're browsing on the go.

HTC Sense is also a great UI, it pulls together a lot of what Android offers through any number of apps and for those looking for integration right out of the box, there is plenty on offer.

The immediate concern is the pricing. With this phone landing on a £20 a month contract, you could pick up a deal on one of last year's devices for around the same price. You might not get the latest software, but you could get a larger display or more powerful hardware.

The final word is that the HTC One V is a competent performer. If you're after a more compact Android handset, and as long as you accept it's limitations, it's well worth considering.