HTC One SV review

The HTC One SV picks up on the One name, following 2012’s X, S and V in what was designed to be HTC’s simple line-up of Android handsets.

Unlike the other One models, it doesn’t share the unibody design, and with the Desire line still rolling along, the SV is somewhat awkwardly placed. Is it a variant of the One S? The One V? Or is this handset more like the Desire S of modern times?

The raison d’être for the handset seems to be 4G and affordability, and that governs where this One SV lies. It’s set up against the Huawei Ascend P1 at the more affordable end of EE’s line-up of UK handsets and also sits on Cricket in the US.

But should you opt for this HTC model, or does it fall short?

Design

The HTC One SV carries many of the typical design features we’ve come to expect from HTC. It has the micro-drilled speaker holes on the rear sitting above the Beats Audio branding. But the front of the phone makes a departure from HTC’s regular good form.

The ear speaker looks like someone forgot to insert a grille in front of it - almost like there’s a piece missing. Where other handsets in the portfolio have micro-drilled holes, the One SV just seems to have a trough, which will attract any sort of debris you might have languishing in the bottom of your pockets.

But apart from that and the perhaps odd sandwich of black front, silver waistband and white back of our review model, it’s well proportioned. The handset measures 128 x 66.9 x 9.2mm and weighs just 122g, noticeably lighter than the Nexus 4 we have in the other hand.

Lift the HTC One SV and the curved rear of the phone sits comfortably in an average-sized hand, with soft corners meaning there are no sharp edges around the back, but we found that the top edge on the front was a little uncomfortable against the ear.

The back of the phone is plastic and it’s rather slippery. It’s strokeably smooth, but we found with dry winter hands it was all too easy to lose grip on the handset. However because this isn’t a huge phone, that’s less of a problem than it would be on a larger device.

Although the backplate is plastic and rather thin, it doesn’t leave you with a creaking flexible phone. Like the Samsung Galaxy S III, once the back is in place, you probably won’t be concerned that it’s rather on the thin side.

The hardware and connections

But having a removable back on an HTC phone means two things. First, it’s a hallmark of cheaper devices these days, with HTC’s leading phone having sealed unibody designs. Secondly though, it brings the advantage of being able to access everything within.

There may only be 8GB of internal memory, which isn’t bad on a budget, but here you get a microSD card slot for expansion too. You also get access to the 1800mAh battery inside it, so you could, feasibly, carry a spare to swap-out on long days. The phone takes micro SIM.

Driving the whole thing is Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core chipset, clocked at 1.2GHz with 1GB of RAM. There is a fair amount of power on offer to keep things running along smoothly: movie playback was smooth and diving into a session of Riptide GP didn’t cause it any problems.

You can see the impact of that hardware loadout in the performance. While navigation is pretty slick and smooth, the HTC One SV isn’t the snappiest phone around. Put it alongside something like the Nexus 4 and the impact of the less powerful core and older version of skinned Android at things feel a little on the slow side.

That said, the HTC One SV didn’t fail at any of the challenges we set it: it might not have range-topping hardware specs, but it’s still a phone that will give you the complete Android experience.

In terms of connections, you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone socket on the top alongside the power/standby button. There’s a volume rocker on the right-hand side, and the Micro-USB on the bottom.

On the wireless front this is a 4G LTE handset, naturally. It also offers the expected dual-band Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX support, NFC, GPS, bags of sensors and everything else you’d expect from a modern smartphone.

Display

So far the HTC One SV is hovering somewhere in the mid-range, but it’s the display resolution where you’ll notice the biggest indicator of this device’s affordable credentials. It’s a good size at 4.3-inches, but the resolution of 800 x 480 is rather low by modern standards.

That gives you 216ppi, the sort of pixel density that we were looking at on top phones back in 2011. In reality, although the Super LCD2 display isn’t as sharp as you’ll find elsewhere - including on the bargain basement rival the Huawei Ascend P1 - for the majority of apps and tasks, that presents no problem.

If you’re coming to the device from something sharper, like an existing 3G Android phone, then the softer lines might make you want to step-up to something with a higher resolution. However, the only time we really have cause to complain about the resolution is when it comes to viewing webpages, because the finer details just don’t render as well, so you’ll have to do a lot more zooming.

The display is a little on the warm side in terms of colour: the whites have a yellow tinge to them but given that this is an affordable handset, that’s perfectly acceptable and you’ll never really notice unless you compare it to a more advanced device. Fire up a movie on Netflix or one you’ve sideloaded to the device and it looks good; it might not have the impact of larger, higher resolution, devices, but then you’re not paying for that either.

Battery life

The battery life is one of the appeals of the HTC One SV. The 1800mAh cell might sound a little on the small side, but the restrained hardware drawing from it obviously doesn’t drain it as fast as some of the higher spec phones.

The result is that we managed to get through a typical day with the One SV without battery being a worry. Of course, fire up music, the 4G hotspot and video camera and you’ll drain that battery quickly. But stick to your normal checking emails, a glance at maps here or there and dialogue with your social networks and it’ll see you in good stead.

Android 4 meets Sense 4.1

The HTC One SV lands with Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich, so is just behind when it comes to the latest Google OS. But this hides behind HTC’s familiar skinning with Sense layered over the top. Sense tweaks just about every aspect of Android, from the visuals in the menus to the way the Recent apps button works.

HTC Sense 4.1 is the same version that the HTC One X launched on, a stage before the minor refinement of HTC Sense 4+ that landed with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on the HTC One X+. You can see a comparison of the two skins in our article, if you’re interested.

READ: HTC Sense 4.1 vs. HTC Sense 4+: What's the difference?

As we’ve said many times before HTC Sense wants to wrap all the core smartphone features into HTC’s shell. You get all the core Android offerings, such as Gmail, Google Maps, and so on, but HTC gives you a skinned browser, keyboard and calendar.

 

In most cases, HTC’s changes make sense (pardon the pun), giving you easier access to settings or changing views, for example. In many cases, Sense takes the integrated experiences and offers that upfront. For example, you sign into all the integrated services - Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Evernote, Dropbox, SkyDrive - and you’ll get, for example, all these image options appear in Gallery (as appropriate).

There’s one big thing we don’t like about Sense, and that’s the insistence on pushing HTC’s own Locations service over the class-leading Google Maps service. There’s an app to bypass Locations called Select Other Map for HTC, which we’d recommend as the first download on any HTC device.

The HTC browser tweaks the stock Android browser, but it’s not as fast or as clean as Chrome, which we’d recommend you use in it’s place. Naturally, 4G connectivity means it’s lightning fast when out on the road.

HTC’s keyboard offers a host of corrections and predictions, but it feels cluttered alongside more progressive third-party keyboards, such as our favourite SwiftKey, which offers a better experience. There is no option for the stock Android keyboard in this version of Sense, although it’s easy enough to install from Google Play.

 

Sticking with Sense’s theme of integration, you also get access to media servers through the Gallery, so you can share any content you might already have on a different device, or send that content using HTC Media Link HD, if you have the hardware connected to your TV.

The HTC One SV will play your HD content nicely, although not all formats are supported, so you might have to invest in an alternative media player if video is one of your main interests. As this is a Beats handset, the sound quality through headphones is good, sitting towards the bassy end as you’d expect. You don’t get to tinker with Beats, it’s either on or off.

This is 4GEE

As the HTC One SV is available on the EE network in the UK, you also get access to some of the unique offerings of that network, such as EE Film. Through this app you can access the EE movie service, streaming a range of movies to your handset, as well as picking those 2-for-1 cinema tickets, formerly Orange Wednesdays.

The fast data connection also doesn’t disappoint. We found that as we were marauding around London the phone consistently offered good connection speeds. That meant that practical things, like uploading a photo to Facebook, happened in a flash, rather than grinding to a halt. This won’t be the case for everyone, of course, so it’s worth checking coverage before signing up to any contracts.

READ: EE: Everything you want to know

We found that call quality was good, despite this not being the most comfortable phone against your ear.

Cameras

The HTC One SV features a 5-megpixel camera on the rear, again, a step down in resolution from current flagship HTC devices. HTC Sense works its magic on the interface, giving you nice big buttons to instantly capture photos or video with minimal messing around.

Focusing is nice and fast and if the autofocus doesn’t work for you then touch focusing is also offered, as it is in 1080p video capture. It’s fast to capture those shots, offering 4fps continuous shooting if that’s what you’re after.

The lens is a F/2.0 28mm and the results we’ve got from it are reasonable in good light, but it lacks the punch of the phones higher-up the ladder in HTC’s selection. Detail gets mushy in the distance which isn’t uncommon from a smartphone, but we like how easy it is to control focusing so macro shots work nicely.

The front camera doesn’t offer the same great performance as the HTC One X+: it’s fixed focus and the results are pretty soft and lacking detail, but it works well enough for video chatting in a service like Skype, or for a quick self portrait, but you won’t look your best.

Verdict

There are always going to be compromises in the mid-range. The HTC One SV makes some to be more affordable which we can live with: it’s powerful enough for daily activities and the screen resolution, although lacking the wow factor, is enough for most things.

Naturally 4G is appealing, but this phone does start to look rather expensive when you attach the tariff to it, as EE’s pricing is currently rather aggressive. The real question is whether it’s the fastest network performance you’re after, or the best device, as you may well be able to pick up a better HTC phone, without 4G, elsewhere.

READ: Huawei Ascend P1 LTE review

Sitting parallel with the HTC One SV is the Huawei Ascend P1 LTE on EE, which is also worth considering. The design might not be as nice, but the screen is sharper and the battery is a mite higher capacity too, which might appeal to some. The HTC gives you the convenience of Sense (if that's what you're after) and a better looking device.

Overall, the HTC One SV isn't a bad phone, but it does have weaknesses and, as this is sitting on EE, you could pick up a much better handset for £30 when you take out your contract, making it something of a hard sell.