Review: HTC One mini

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We’ve been waiting for so long for the opportunity to review the HTC One, and now we’re here – reviewing the HTC One Mini. It’s not exactly what we would have liked, but the HTC One Mini is close enough given it is basically the same as the HTC One except for the reduced size and spec sheet.

The HTC One Mini is designed to cater for the market that want either a cheaper phone that doesn’t compromise, or a smaller phone since all the flagship phones are now getting to the 5-inch-or-more screen size. In other words, the market that doesn’t want the HTC One or the recently-released HTC One Max.

So, does it do the job?

Design and Hardware

The HTC One mini can be best described by its name – it is essentially a miniature version of the HTC One. But, while it has adopted many of the design aspects of its larger sibling, the HTC One mini does not feature the aluminium unibody. The HTC One mini’s front and back are made from aluminium, but there is a thicker white plastic border that sandwiched between the two. It doesn’t feel premium, but it also doesn’t feel cheap either.

That said, I do like the design and the smaller size of the HTC One mini. It was very refreshing to have a smaller phone after reviewing phones with screen sizes of 4.5-inches-or-above.

The smaller size is due to the 4.3-inch 720p display used, instead of a 4.7-inch 1080p display found on the HTC One. However, don’t consider this as a bad point. At a smaller screen size, it’s very hard to notice when watching a 1080p movie. The screen itself is pretty darn good with excellent colour accuracy and contrast.

Like all other miniature versions of the high-end phones, this comes with lower specs. It does have a dual-core 1.4GHz processor (instead of a quad-core 1.7GHz processor on the HTC One), 16GB of storage (32GB), and 1GB of RAM (2GB). You also lose NFC, but at least you still retain 4G LTE support. However, like the HTC One, there isn’t a microSD card slot – so you can’t expand the storage once you hit 16GB.

Despite the reduced power, the HTC One mini maintains most of the features found on the HTC One. The BlinkFeed included with HTC Sense, its UltraPixel camera and HTC Zoe, and BoomSound are included.  The only somewhat-heavily promoted feature that has been dropped has been the ability to use your phone as a TV remote. That’s largely because of the HTC One mini not having an infrared sensor.

HTC Sense

The last time I fully used HTC Sense was the HTC One X back in 2012, and using that in comparison, HTC Sense received a massive overhaul. The design is more minimalist with little colour used in the interface.

The first thing you see is BlinkFeed, its news aggregator. It takes links from Twitter and Facebook, and combines them with the latest stories from hundreds of news partners. It’s meant to be a home screen replacement, but it fails on that. It’s not customisable enough. There is a small list of sources to choose from, and you cannot add your own news feeds. It would also be nice to have email added to that list, so you can see the subject lines of unread emails on your inbox. But that might be just only me.

Much of HTC Sense’s changes to pure Android are cosmetic changes – and it’s a hit and miss. I do like having the ability to change settings from the notification bar, and apps on the lockscreen to quickly access. However, I don’t like the app drawer in HTC Sense. Android already has a decent app drawer, but HTC’s changes seem weird. Navigating through apps is up-down, as opposed to left-right. You can only have folders when selecting the Custom mode, whereas my Galaxy S3 allows you to have folders even in under alphabetical sorting. They also removed access to widgets from the apps drawer.

Camera

The HTC One mini includes the UltraPixel camera that is found on the HTC One, except it doesn’t have the optical image stabilisation. For those who need a bit of a refresher, the UltraPixel camera is essentially a 4-megapixel camera with larger pixels that capture more light compared to other smartphones. The UltraPixel camera is also bundled with Zoe – which captures one second of video before, and three seconds after the photo has been taken. So if you missed that action shot, you still have it captured.

Every image I took didn’t look as sharp as I would like it to be. Each image had some level of noise. If you’re planning to upload images to Instagram, it becomes less of a problem since the image is resized. But if you zoom into the original image, then you notice the imperfections.

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Since we didn’t get a chance to review the HTC One (we did have a minor hands-on with the device), this is probably the closest we get to actually review the camera itself. However, if this is the camera on the HTC One – I would be severely disappointed.

The software, however, is one of the better things of the camera. It is pretty good; with the ability to switch between image and video capture modes with no lag. You can also apply effects in real-time, or after the photo has been taken.

Performance and Battery Life

Despite the lower specs, the phone does run pretty smoothly. There weren’t any major issues when using the phone, but I did encounter some lag when there are a lot of apps open. That said, it does run graphic-intensive stuff pretty well, such as the camera viewfinder and real-time effects.

Call quality is pretty good on the phone, if you’re in the receiving end. I did notice there were some issues when people were trying to contact me and they could not hear me. This might not be the phone’s fault. It could be my carrier (Optus) or the other person’s carrier.

The phone will last through the day under normal usage. If you are a heavy user, then you will need to charge it in the middle of the day or carry a battery pack. I should stress that my battery life results may slightly differ as my SIM card only connects to Optus’ 3G network. Similar reviews do note that it will also last through the working day, but will require a charge again if you are a heavy user.

Conclusions

  • Score:

    8.0 / 10

  • The Good:

    Performs as well as the HTC One; display is pretty good despite small size; build quality pretty good.

  • The Bad:

    The camera; some changes in HTC Sense feel unnecessary or annoying; no expandable memory

  • Bottom Line:

    A pretty good smartphone that shows that it’s not just the hardware that matters, it is the overall package.

Despite the lower specs, the HTC One mini is a pretty good phone and manages to pack a lot of the features from the HTC One – even some of the more processor-intensive things like having realtime effects when taking photos – and performs them really well. It highlights that having hardware with big numbers aren’t everything, it is the overall experience.

That said, this overall experience has a couple of flaws – namely Sense and the Camera. HTC’s changes to Android are a mixed bag of some good things and some bad. You can live with the changes, but it would be nice to have pure Android running on it. The camera, however, was a massive disappointment.

If you’re looking for a HTC One – or just a pretty decent smartphone – on the cheap, then the HTC One mini should be on your list.

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