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Small, speedy, and strong: HTC’s One Mini reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 2:51 pm 03/09/2013

The flavour of the moment seems to be big phones, with devices starting at the 4.7 inch screen size mark, and pushing all the way past six inches into phablet territory. Not everyone wants a massive phone, though, and with that in mind, HTC is shrinking its One handset to suit.

Features

Marketed as a miniature version of a handset released by HTC earlier in the year, the One Mini aims to bring the excellent performance of HTC’s current flagship to a smaller size, for hands that don’t particularly want the size of a big phone and prefer something more readily pocketable.

To do this, the screen has had a drop in size, shifting from 4.7 inches to 4.3. This change in size has affected the resolution, because while the 4.7 inch HTC One came with a Full HD 1920×1080 screen boasting a pixel density of 468ppi, the One Mini pulls it back to regular ‘ol high-definition’s 1280×720 with 341ppi.

Under the hood, the HTC has equipped a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor clocked at 1.4GHz, partnering it with 1GB RAM and 16GB storage. No microSD slot is included on this body, and the back can’t be removed.

Google’s Android is the operating system of choice, with the recent 4.2.2 version included, also known as “Jelly Bean.”

Connectivity in the handset includes Bluetooth 4.0 with support for AptX, WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n, DLNA, GPS, and 4G connection speeds running over Cat 3 LTE.

Two cameras are present in this handset, with the front-facing camera using a 1.6 megapixel module with back-side illumination on the sensor, while the rear camera is the same one out of the HTC One, the UltraPixel back-side illuminated camera with a dedicated image processing chip working alongside it.

HTC is relying on Beats Audio for the multimedia in this handset, and has included the Beats headphone enhancing technology on the phone, which also helps the BoomSound dual-speakers sitting on the front of the phone.

Few buttons and ports exist on the handset, with a microUSB below and a 3.5mm headphone jack up top representing the ports, while the buttons are taken care of through a power button on the top, separated volume buttons on the right edge, and soft buttons for “back” and “home” on the front under the screen.

The battery is rated for 1800mAh.

Performance

Even if the 4.7 inch screen size doesn’t quite match the 5 to 5.5 inch size smartphones being released by other manufacturers, the HTC One is still a relatively big handset, and that’s not what everyone wants, which is probably why HTC has put the handset on a diet with the One Mini.

In this handset, the screen drops to 4.3 inches, and effectively provides a quicker way for people familiar with the 3.5 to 4 inch iPhone size to jump over to a similar size.

It also affords iPhone users to jump over to a phone with a similar construction, which is an area we’ll touch on first, because like the HTC One, the design and build here is excellent.

While most smartphone makers seem to have an obsession with variants of plastic, HTC bucked the trend this year when it decided to use an aluminium unibody for the HTC One, going back to what we remember when it first came out with the Legend several years ago. In the smaller One Mini, it continues that trend, albeit with a slight change to the design.

That change is a glossy plastic edge, making the handset have a two-tone look (white and silver on our review device), while also making it a touch easier to grip thanks to that use of plastic.

The design is pretty close, though, and even includes the same HTC BoomSound dual-speaker configuration on the front, the two soft buttons for back and home, and the front-facing camera at the top right. The rear cameras are the same 4 megapixel – sorry, Ultrapixel – modules, but the flash location is now above instead of to the right of the camera.

Overall, we’re delighted to see aluminium is still being used, which goes a long way to make the handset feel strong and sturdy. Close up, the metal doesn’t feel quite as finished as it was in the One, and we noticed a few scratches early on (which could easily come from other reviewers using the phone before us) as well as a slightly rougher feeling from the metal speaker grill.

From an operating system point of view, the One Mini arrives with one of the latest versions of Android, 4.2.2 “Jelly Bean,” which is being rolled out to HTC One owners right now.

HTC’s modifications are all here, such as the customisable shortcut dock with app menu link in the middle, multiple home screens with widget selection, and two choices of grid size as well clock and weather forecast in the menu.

HTC’s magazine-inspired feed of news and social updates is here too, left over from the HTC One and still called “Blinkfeed.”

Support for social networks is included – such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook – but unfortunately you can still only select the news feeds approved by the service HTC relies on for Blinkfeed to work.

If you use other services, tough luck, because not only can you not add your own RSS feeds, but you also can’t remove Blinkfeed.

You can opt to not make it your default homescreen, which is precisely what we did, since it was just so frustrating that we couldn’t add news sources that we wanted.

Using the phone is just as easy as most handsets, even with the smaller screen.

The keyboard is understandably a little more cramped thanks to the diminished screen size, but HTC has left its Swype-like “Trace” mode in here, offering a way to type quickly.

The screen also isn’t quite the same level of high resolution display as what was used in the 4.7 inch Full HD HTC One, but it’s still a nice display, providing 341 pixels per inch, higher than that of the iPhone 5’s Retina display (326ppi) and equal to what Sony used in the Xperia S.

Battery life is decent for the size, with a day of life possible, but not much more, unless you resort to doing a whole heap of nothing on the second day.

Our testing included listening to music using wired headphones, making phone calls, social networking, surfing websites, sending messages and emails, and running apps, and all of that showed the HTC One Mini could reach just over a day of life.

Typically, we consider 4G smartphones with a day and a half to two days as having good battery life, but given that this is a smaller handset than its regular-sized HTC One brother and thus features a smaller battery, a day of life seems totally respectable to us, especially since the battery is 1800mAh and not the 2300mAh of its sibling.

An area that the One Mini shares with the One is in 4G performance, and this thing just flies.

Benchmarking it across Sydney, we found speeds as high as 76Mbps down and 32Mbps up, making it one capable beast.

System performance was also decent, though thanks to a different chipset, nowhere near as fast as the One.

It is, in fact, faster from a synthetic benchmark point of view than last year’s flagship HTC One X handset, but comparatively scores half the points compared from the HTC One this year. It also has 1GB less RAM, for a total of 1GB, under the 2GB sweet spot that Android seems to prefer.

That said, despite the differences in hardware, the day to day performance of the One Mini seems perfectly fine, with no obvious slowdowns if you’re browsing the web, switching apps, jumping through menus, or doing anything else you might want to do on a smartphone.

Gamers might notice the differences, but HTC has essentially crafted a smaller version of the One with slightly slower performance that can at least outpace last year’s flagship.

The rear camera appears to be just as good as the four megapixel module we saw on the HTC One, which seems to prefer low-light to many of the other handsets, while still supporting “Zoe,” HTC’s technology to capture multiple frames and let you edit sections out of them later.

We won’t go into the specifics of that – we did that in the One review – but sufficed to say it’s like having a touch of Photoshop with you if you decide to use the Zoe camera mode.

The front-facing camera has dropped in megapixels, marginally though, from 2 to 1.6.

That said, the ultra-wide angle isn’t so ultra-wide anymore, and as you can see in the images below, the One Mini doesn’t have quite the same wide capture as the regular One. It does manage to feel sharper, so that is at least something going for it.

Front-facing camera differences: HTC One Mini on the left, HTC One on the right. Both were shot by the cameras at the same distance.

The Mini also feels great, and the smaller design will accommodate some people better than the original. We quite liked the size, because even though it wasn’t a huge leap from the One, it still managed to feel mostly right in our hands.

We say “mostly right” because just like the One, the power button location can be just as trying to get to. The placement of this button in the top left position, and for such a tall phone, it can be a little awkward to get to with one hand.

You do eventually get used to it, or you change your hand-hold without thinking.

There are some things missing, though, such as the wireless Near-Field Communication technology, which makes it easy to pair compatible headphones or connect with TVs and computers, and there’s also the omission of infrared, a feature that was previously made available through the power button up top. No TV remote control for you here, it seems.

There is also no microSD slot, meaning the 16GB storage you get with the One Mini is all you’re going to get, equating to roughly 10GB of storage you get to work with when the phone is ready. That’s not much, so just be aware.

HTC One Mini on the left, HTC One on the right.

Conclusion

When HTC first started the “One” series last year, it said it was slimming down the range, making it easier to pick handsets. It subsequently released lots of handsets all featuring that naming convention, which actually did the opposite.

This year, however, HTC appears to be coming good on its promise, and with the One Mini, has effectively produced a smaller version of its much lauded One handset from earlier in they year.

It’s worth pointing out that despite the name and similarities, these aren’t the same device, and the One Mini does make some compromises to get to its smaller size.

That said, if you’re looking for a handset that is small, well-designed, and packs performance, this is one phone you’ll want to check out.

Price (RRP)

$480 outright; Available from Telstra and Vodafone on plans;

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Excellent build; Aluminium chassis; Great 4G speeds; Ultrapixel camera may not pack many megapixels, but it sure brings decent low light;

Product Cons

No NFC; No microSD slot; Infrared section missing in action, meaning you can't use this handset as a remote control; Like the HTC One, Blinkfeed lacks the ability to add your own feeds and news sites, forcing you to use its suggestions and nothing else; Power button up top can still take some getting used to;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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