If today’s supersized smartphones are too much for you to handle, the HTC One Mini ($99.99) may be your salvation. It’s a smaller phone like the competing Moto X, but still plenty roomy and powerful for the price. The thing about this size phone is that it’s easy to use with a single hand. That matters to some people, like commuters holding on to a subway or bus pole, but not to others. Some issues with reception give us pause, but if the size speaks to you, the One Mini is a smart buy at a shrewd price.
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Design, Screen, and Connectivity
The One Mini measures 5.19 by 2.48 by 0.36 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.5 ounces. It’s even easier to hold than the Moto X, since it’s almost a tenth of an inch thinner. The HTC One Mini is still nicely crafted like its larger sibling, the HTC One, although the plastic white band is polycarbonate and more prominent on this model. The back panel is still aluminum, and you can get one in either silver or black.
The 4.3-inch display offers 720p (1,280-by-720) resolution and 340ppi, which is quite sharp; even though it’s not 469ppi like the larger HTC One, text is still very easy to read. Colors aren’t as vibrant as on the Moto X, though, and blacks aren’t as deep. Typing with the on-screen QWERTY keyboard is comfortable, if not downright roomy, thanks to the smaller display panel. Dialing numbers is unnecessarily cramped, thanks to the One Mini’s UI overlay that shrinks the on-screen numeric keypad to less than half the height of the display.
The HTC One Mini is a quad-band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz), tri-band HSPA+ 21 (850/1900/2100 MHz), and quad-band 4G LTE handset with 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, and NFC. You can also use the HTC One Mini as a mobile hotspot for up to eight devices with the appropriate service plan.
Reception is iffy. Compared side by side with the ATT Moto X, the One Mini consistently struggled to hold onto an LTE data connection. And even when it had it, while download speeds ranged from 4-8Mbps down, upload speeds always struggled to break 1Mbps, whereas the Moto X had no problem averaging 6-8Mbps down and 3-5Mbps up in the same midtown Manhattan location.
Voice calls sounded okay. There’s plenty of gain in the earpiece—I maxed it out to test and almost deafened myself—but voices sound thin and a bit harsh. Calls sounded fine through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset, and I had no problem initiating and making calls over Bluetooth. The speakerphone gets reasonably loud, but sounds thin, if not quite harsh. Battery life was solid at exactly 11 hours of talk time.
OS, Apps, and Hardware
Android 4.2.2 is on board out of the box, along with HTC Sense 5.0. It looks and works the same as it does on the HTC One; it’s just a smaller phone. There’s a heavy skin; HTC seems to have modified almost every single part of Android in some way. The Moto X looks a lot more like stock Android, but it’s still heavily modified; it’s just not as obvious. It comes down to taste which you prefer.
With the One Mini, you still get HTC BlinkFeed, which is a decent but inflexible aggregator for news and social networks if you like that sort of thing (I don’t). I’m also not a fan of the app drawer, which corrals like-minded apps into different categories and scrolls vertically instead of horizontally. There’s no Quick Settings-like bar of icons at the top; it’s an extra click away on the top right before you can adjust the brightness or turn on or off various radios. ATT preloads a ton of bloatware, and unfortunately you can’t remove any of it.
The 1.4GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 MSM8930 processor is a decided step down from the quad-core CPU in the HTC One. There’s also 1GB RAM. The phone benchmarked fairly well nonetheless, with good 3D performance, although I got a low-memory warning even though I only ran a few other apps first. Regardless, you shouldn’t have any problem running most of the thousands of third-party apps in Google Play.
Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
You get 16GB of internal storage, with 10.6GB free for your apps and media. That’s a bit tight considering there’s no memory card slot, but the Moto X and iPhone 5 have the same problem. The One Mini inherits the One’s BoomSound system, which includes dual front-facing stereo speakers and a 2.55V headphone jack amplifier. Tracks sounded clear and well balanced through the speakers, and you can notice the stereo effect, but don’t expect much bass. Music also sounded fine through Plantronics BackBeat Go Bluetooth headphones. Standalone H.264, MP4, and Xvid movies played smoothly and looked sharp, if not particularly vibrant, but DivX files aren’t supported. There’s no IR remote control feature like there is on the full-size HTC One.
The UltraPixel camera is the same one that’s on the One. HTC claims it captures 300 percent more light than traditional smartphone camera sensors. Photos looked good outdoors, although the sensor was prone to washing out highlights and delivered contrast that was somewhat at times. Color reproduction was good, though. Indoor shots were well-lit just as advertised, although a little noise still crept into some photos. Recorded 1,920-by-1,080-pixel videos played smoothly at 30 frames per second and looked colorful. The front-facing camera took crisp, clear self-portraits, but recorded noisy, blurry 720p video. HTC Zoe records three seconds of video every time you take a photo.
The HTC One Mini has two obvious direct competitors: the Moto X, with its voice-activation software and quick-launch camera, and the Apple iPhone 5, with Apple’s higher-quality app catalog. The Moto X gets our nod over the HTC One Mini, thanks to the two aforementioned marquee features as well as its better reception and more vibrant AMOLED display, although the One Mini is even easier to hold single-handed and has better built-in speakers. If you’re not beholden to Android, the Apple iPhone 5 is even smaller and lighter, weighing just 3.9 ounces and sporting almost-720p resolution; it has a stellar app catalog, though, and the new iOS 7 looks to freshen the platform considerably, if not catch up to Android on all counts. Granted, both are $100 more than the HTC One Mini, which is significant up front but practically disappears when amortized over two years. If you like your smartphones small and light, it’s worth a look, but we’d still pick one of those two over the HTC One Mini.