Business Technology

Saturday 23 August 2014

Review: HTC One Mini

Adrian Weckler Technology Editor

Published 20/09/2013 | 18:17

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There's a lot to like about the new 'mini' version of HTC's phone, but it's not without its faults

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Phone: HTC One Mini

Price: from free on contract with Vodafone, O2 and Meteor

Rating: ***

Is HTC’s One Mini worth getting?

There is a lot to like about the concept of ‘mini’ versions of flagship smartphones. Take a top-of-the range handset with its designer styling and trim back the specs a little to make it more affordable for ordinary people. This is what Samsung has been doing lately and it is what HTC has done with its One Mini device.

In a nutshell, this device takes 80pc of the features of the marquee HTC One and shrinkwraps it in a more affordable device. Hence you have a 4.3-inch display instead of a 4.7-inch screen. And a regular 5-megapixel camera instead of the ‘bigger pixel’ camera on the larger model. And it retains a really nice, svelte, metallic unibody design. On paper, this should make it a no-brainer for those who want to be up to date and aren’t fussed with the very latest thing. So is it worth getting? By and large, the One Mini is an attractive, feature-rich phone. It has one main irritant, which I’ll get to. But there is lots to like.

IT’S GOT THE LOOKS

First off, this is a great-looking phone. In fact, along with its big brother device, I’ll say that the 122g One Mini is the best-looking phone on the market. The screen melts into the metallic frame in a gorgeous way: if Apple’s Jony Ive was designing an Android device, I suspect it wouldn’t look too different to this device.

Part of this svelte look and feel is due to the way it is made. Like Apple’s iPhone, HTC has crossed over to using a unibody design for its smartphones. There are some disadvantages to this, such as the lack of ability to replace batteries when they wane over time. (Then again, who keeps a smartphone for more than two years these days?)

 

CAMERA

In my view, cameras really are an important factor in one’s choice of smartphone. For example, there is a big, big difference between the (2-megapixel) camera on an iPhone 3GS and an (8-megapixel) iPhone 5. Thankfully, HTC has taken this element of its smartphones seriously for some time. I often used one of its predecessor devices, HTC’s One X, to take pictures for stories I was covering: more than once, they appeared across three or four columns in the newspaper. Once you have reasonable lighting, modern cameraphones really can deliver competent photographs. The camera on HTC’s One broke new ground in delivering ‘larger’ pixels. This meant that it performed better in low-light conditions and generally gave more detail than ‘ordinary’ sized pixels. (This ‘bigger pixel’ feature is one of the big selling points of Apple’s new iPhone 5S.) Sadly, the One Mini does not have this new pixel technology on board. Nevertheless, its lens is still very decent for a cameraphone and it takes great wide-angle shots. This gives it a nice edge for outdoors shots, where you’re trying to get a landscape detail into the photo. I’d sum the One Mini’s camera up by saying that it is not up to the top cameraphone models but it is clearly better than cheaper smartphones.

 

MUSIC AND AUDIO

In an era of mass market €300 headphones, the audio prowess of your smartphone is starting to matter a little more. While there is no absolute advantage anymore between top-end smartphones when it comes to jacked audio quality, HTC still remains first among equals. This is partly due to its association with Beats By Dr Dre, which gives a little extra boom to some tracks. Its external speaker does not unduly impress, but I have never yet found a phone where loudspeaker quality came anywhere close to being a deciding purchasing factor.

 

WHAT ANNOYED ME

Despite the excellent cameras and design, there are some things that, in my opinion, dampen the appeal of HTC phones. One is an over-reliance on touchscreen buttons. Another is spacing between command buttons: I found that I needed a much more accurate, dead-centre tap on function buttons than some other phones I’ve used.

I can’t recall how many times I accidentally hit the ‘change-language’ button, which is infuriatingly located right beside the spacebar. Similarly, it often seemed as if the ‘phone dial’ function just wasn’t responding to my taps. It was only after a few days that I realised that my thumb was adjudged by the phone to be marginally closer to the ‘back’ button than to the ‘dial’ button. So for me, tap commands are simply too close to each other.

Overall, the consequence of this was that I found that typing on the One Mini to be marginally less accurate than on rival devices. Even when you get to grips with it, it still affects speed and efficiency. For instance, on many phones you get to a point where you can fly through a series of clicks, taps or swipes to effect an action very quickly. And there are many times when this really matters. For instance, one might struggle to get one’s phone out of a bag or pocket. When it finally emerges with just one ring left, a mis-swipe costs you the call. Similarly, you see something and want to take a quick photo but it won’t unlock without pitch-perfect tactile accuracy. Bye bye photo. I was left gnashing many times at missed opportunities due to the inappropriate closeness of buttons on the handset.

In time, avoiding these quirks becomes routine. But for the first few days or weeks that you have it, it will annoy the pants off you.

ANDROID FLAVOURS AND ALL THE REST

Every Android manufacturer must have its own flavour to sit on top of the Android interface. HTC’s Sense used to be the best in the business. Now it’s a little bit of an irritant. Its Blinkfeed set-up, which is supposed to provide you with snapshots of all your social media and contacts, is a novelty for about half an hour before it becomes annoying (who wants to see Facebook updates from random acquaintances on your primary screen?). If you feel the way I feel about this, you’ll do what I did and customise it out of your home screen. Thankfully, this is easy to do.

In a sense, this raises another question; what is the fantasy smartphone? For me, it might be a hybrid between an HTC One and a Samsung Galaxy Note, using only using pure Android. No-frills, ultimate functionality with an amazing, gorgeous, large, slim, light chassis. But that’s just me.

 

POWER, GRAPHICS, 4G AND STUFF

We’re all fine here. This has roughly the same power specifications as an iPhone 4S. So although there is no quad-core processing muscle found in the very top-tier handsets, its dual-core (1.4Ghz) processor and 1GB of Ram really do handle most anything you’re throwing at it. I never found any lag. In addition, it’s 4G-ready. So whenever Vodafone and Eircom (the two networks scheduled to launch 4G first, within the next few weeks) release their 4G services, this phone is future-proofed.

 

BATTERY

The One Mini’s 1,800mAh battery is nothing to write home about. I found that it struggled to last a full day if I used it much for social media or camera stuff.

 

CONCLUSION

If it wasn’t for the issue I have with missing photo opportunities and some mis-swiping, I think this device could have been recommended as the top mid-range phone to get. It has superb styling, good hardware and a solid operating system. But fast, constant operation is important to me: I’m glued to social media all day and use pictures a lot. So I couldn’t recommend this phone for true smartphone addicts

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