Review by Dan Seifert on Wednesday April 18, 2012.
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T-Mobile is the first carrier in the U.S. to launch a version of HTC's new One S smartphone, which will arrive for the carrier later this month. T-Mobile's One S is very similar to the international version that we recently reviewed, save for its support for the carrier's HSPA+ 42Mbps network and the apps that come pre-installed out of the box. Fortunately for us, that's a good thing, because the One S is an impressive smartphone that offers a fast experience and a solid camera.
The One S has a gorgeous hardware design, and the version offered by T-Mobile is nearly identical to the one available to the rest of the world. T-Mobile decided to opt out of the fancy Micro Arc Oxidation (MAO) process for its One S, so this version has a grey color instead of black and has a much smoother finish than the MAO model. The unibody frame is still aluminum and the One S is put together really well, so I don't think that T-Mobile customers are losing much by not having access to the MAO-treated model.
The thing that is most noticeable about the One S is its thin and light frame, and at 7.95mm thick and 119g, it is quite striking. The One S's tapered edges go further to make the phone feel even thinner than it actually is, and the One S has a tendency to make other smartphones appear downright portly. Despite the thin dimensions, the One S features a 1650mAh internal battery. It is not user accessible, but I was able to get the One S to go a full day in between charges, so I don't think that will be a concern for most users (T-Mobile quotes up to 10.5 hours of talk time or 13.2 days of standby for the battery).
HTC opted to use a Super AMOLED panel for the One S's 4.3-inch display, which has a qHD (540 x 960 pixel) resolution. The screen's colors are vibrant and viewing angles are good, but it unfortunately uses a
Other hardware curiosities with the One S include its capacitive keys for back, home, and multitasking, as HTC has forgone Google's recommendation to use on-screen virtual keys for these tasks. In theory, HTC's layout offers more screen real estate to apps and actual content, but in practice, many apps have to show a virtual button row to accommodate the legacy menu button, so any advantage is wasted.
Under the hood, the One S features Qualcomm's dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor clocked at 1.5GHz and paired with 1GB of RAM. The S4 processor is smoking fast, and it benchmarks off the charts. More importantly, however, it lets users accomplish everyday tasks without any stutter or hesitation from the One S - something that can't often be said for Android smartphones. One thing I did notice about T-Mobile's One S that wasn't apparent in the international version was a tendency to run rather warm when used for an extended period of time. It's not something that would cause alarm for most users, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention it.
On T-Mobile's 42Mbps HSPA+ network, the One S can hit some impressive download speeds in the range of 20Mbps. The only problem is that T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 coverage is still pretty limited - despite the carrier's claims of 181 markets with the faster service. Without HSPA+ coverage, the One S attains much more pedestrian network speeds, ranging anywhere from 1.5Mbps to 6Mbps on the downlink.
The One S runs Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich and HTC's new Sense 4.0 interface out of the box, making it one of the first smartphones in the U.S. to launch with Android 4.0 since the Google Galaxy Nexus came out for Verizon Wireless last December. HTC's new Sense 4.0 is much nicer than older versions of the company's custom interface, but it still has its issues. Though it is much less intrusive than before, there are areas where HTC didn't fully theme the OS and Google's own Android 4.0 interface comes peeking through. These kinds of situations (noticeable in dialog boxes and even some apps, like the native Downloads app) make it feel as if Sense 4.0 is still incomplete and HTC has more work to do to finish it. Fortunately, Sense does include a really solid email app (in addition to the native Android Gmail app) and an attractive and useful SMS client.
T-Mobile isn't helping matters with the abundance of apps and widgets it has pre-installed on the One S. Out of the box, there are no less than 10 T-Mobile specific apps on the One S, and the homescreen is littered with widgets of questionable usability. The carrier has deemed it necessary to include everything from a Groupon clone to a redundant music hub, and it is unfortunately not possible to remove any of the pre-installed apps from the One S.
The One S features HTC's exclusive Beats Audio integration, and while it is more useful on the One S than on older phones with Beats since it can be used with any music app and not just the stock player, I don't think it adds much in terms of actual audio quality. It seems to be more of a volume and bass boost than anything else, and it only works when using headphones, limiting its usability.
The web browser included with the One S is very fast and comes with convenient toggles to switch between mobile and desktop sites and turn Adobe Flash support on or off. It loads pages quickly and is fast when pinch-zooming or scrolling, but it has issues with intelligent zooming and properly re-flowing text when you zoom in. Since the One S runs Android 4.0, we suggest buyers check out Google's very capable Chrome Beta for Android browser, which offers a better browsing experience than the stock browser.
Since the One S is is a One series smartphone, its camera is a big focus, and the One S's 8 megapixel shooter with backside illuminated sensor and f/2.0 lens is impressive. HTC's camera app is really fast and features quick access to live filters and other settings, as well as dedicated buttons for video and stills. The camera's shutter lag is practically non-existent, and it is possible to snap pic after pic without any slowdown. Tap to focus works well in most situations, but it can have trouble with close-up macro focusing. Images taken with the camera in both good and poor lighting are impressive and sharp, with a good amount of detail, proper white balance, and the right amount of saturation.
The One S can also shoot 1080p video at 60 frames per second, and it features the unique trick of being able to capture full resolution stills while shooting video, which can be very useful. Audio capture is very good and the One S never skips a beat when snapping stills during video. The One S can also shoot slow motion video clips, but they are at a much lower resolution and require a lot of light to look good.
T-Mobile plans to offer the HTC One S for $199.99 on April 25. We can safely say that the One S will be the best smartphone available from the carrier when it becomes available, and it will likely hold that title for some time. For more on the HTC One S, be sure to check out our full review of the international version.
Dan is MobileBurn.com's Editor-in-Chief. Based in Poughkeepsie in New York, Dan can be found on Twitter as @DCSeifert.