Friday, January 10, 2014

Rogers HTC One mini Review

The 2013 flagship HTC One was just about universally praised by critics and reviews across the globe. From its stunning design and build quality, to its gambles on BlinkFeed, UltraPixels and Boomsound Speakers, the One brought a lot to the table. So what happens when you take the One but shrink it down to a "mini" size? You get the HTC One mini. Today, we see check out the "miniature" addition to the One family in our review of the HTC One mini.

Overall Construction
There isn't much to say about the HTC One other than it was and still is an absolutely gorgeous device. With a build quality that Android fans had been yearning for years, the One certainly was a leader in terms of overall build quality. For this to translate to a more compact device while still using virtually the same premium materials in the One mini is great to see.

With a thickness of 9.25 mm at its thickest point, the HTC One mini pulls the same trick as the HTC One by masking its relatively thick chassis with extremely thin 2.48mm tapered edges. Being more slender and slightly shorter than the One but at the same thickness, the One mini isn't overly thin but has better ergonomics than the One. The same pyramidal stacking design is used to pack in as many components while keeping a nice profile.

While it may be hard to distinguish the One from the One Mini, an easy giveaway would be the chamfered edges on the One being replaced by plastic inserts that run around the entire device. While we do prefer the chamfered edges they were a tad fragile as some HTC One or iPhone 5 owners might have noted. So there is a bit of upside to swapping out the delicate but beautiful detailing for a less premium looking polycarbonate.

At 122g, the aluminum clad One mini feels incredibly light, and given its smaller profile it certainly still felt premium and well balanced. Another benefit from the reduced footprint is the reach to press the power button. Since the phone isn't as tall as the One the top mounted power button onces again makes sense. Overall ergonomics were phenomenal, where flagships might pose a challenge to one handed use for a lot of users the HTC One mini felt very compact and friendly to one handed usage.

Like on the larger HTC One, the One mini sports the same Dual front facing speakers that provide stereo sound which flank the smaller but still pixel dense 4.3 SuperLCD 2 display. As usual you also find all the bevy of sensors and notifications LED as well as the front facing camera flanking the top speaker. There isn't anything out of the ordinary, as far as HTC designed phones are concerned, especially if you've seen or tried out an HTC One.

Overall the One mini carries its namesake well and takes the venerable HTC One and miniaturizes it in an incredibly accurate fashion.

HTC One mini

Full HD 1080p displays were all the rage of 2013 and we wouldn't be surprised to see even higher resolution displays in 2014 but with the HTC One mini, less is more as 1080p would be overkill for a display that size. Not unlike the HTC One X with its 1280x720 HD Super LCD 2 Display, the display of the One mini was quite nice and maintains a super lush 341 DPI. While it isn't the 469 DPI we saw on the One, the mini held its own very nicely.

Like with the comparison between the HTC One and One X, the One mini's higher pixel density certainly made a noticeable difference in image quality. Text was sharper, images looked crisper and overall the experience was very reminiscent of the experience we had on the One.

In the end, colors, viewing angles, contrast and black levels were phenomenal for a smartphone in the "mini" product segment of the Android Smartphone market. While native 1080p Full HD video playback isn't going to be possible on the One mini we have no doubt that the 720p Super LCD 2 display will be appreciated by prospective buyers.

While we gave the One high praise for its machined aluminum volume rocker, it sadly didn't make it onto the One mini. However, HTC put some more traditional and rather tactile feeling aluminum buttons. So the premium feel was still there it just didn't have as unique a look as the circular pattern found on the One.

The power button, like the volume rockers, was swapped out from the black translucent IR capable button to a regular but more fitting aluminum button. While we are sad to see the IR blaster be left out of the One mini we understand that the feature be kept for their flagship phone. Also, given the phone's smaller footprint, the top mounted power button makes a lot more sense and is quite a bit easier to reach and actuate.

As with the One, the One mini simply has a Home and Back Button right below the display. While we do still see the usefulness of the multitasking key, it looks like HTC will be headed in that direction from here on out.

Unlike in our experience with the One however, the One mini's Home button doubles as a long press menu button and Google Now a swipe up from Home which we believe to be a decent compromise. Although it wouldn't have hurt to have some feedback on screen for Google Now as the swipe up motion might not be obvious to novice users.

Battery Life
With the miniaturization of every aspect of the One mini, there was certainly going to be some significant scaling back of the battery size. With less physical space with which to work with, HTC had to cut back to a 1800mAh.

In practice, it seems like the smaller display, lower powered processor and half the RAM was enough to allow for battery life to be comparable to the One. This included moderate usage, which included messaging, some browsing, two synced email and some light gaming. Typical days would start at 8AM and ended at 9PM with a charge of 20-25%. As usual, your mileage will vary on personal usage.

Internal Hardware
As expected with a "mini" version of a flagship phone, the One mini is not as stacked when it comes to the specifications of the flagship One with its Snapdragon 600 and especially the late 2013 flagships equipped with the even faster Snapdragon 800.

- 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Dual Core Snapdragon 400 Processor
- 1GB of RAM
- 16GB of Internal storage
- Adreno 305 Graphic processor
- LTE/HPSA+ capable chipset
- WiFi b/g/n
- 4 MP "UltraPixel" camera with ImageSense 2 and 1080p video recording capabilities

In synthetic benchmarks the One mini did struggle compared to the One with score of around 5000 in Quadrant and 10000 in Antutu, both score being less than half that on the One and much less than Snapdragon 800 equipped phones.

In reality however, performance was very fluid and really didn't differ all that much from our experience with the One in everyday regular usage. In 3D gaming, there was a noticeable slowdown in the more higher end games but really was still playable in games like Dead Trigger 2.

Overall, the One mini reminded us a lot of the 2012 flagship One X but performed much more like the 2013 flagship One. This is one situation where we can assuredly say, ignore the spec sheets the performance is fine.

LTE 4G Capabilities
Since the One mini is a Rogers exclusive in Canada, our speeds test results are taken from multiple areas of the Greater Montreal Metropolitan area where Rogers has some pretty solid LTE coverage.

The One mini regularly hit speeds of 12mbps, a far cry from the 50+mbps we've seen from 2600MHz LTE-Max capable handsets, but surprisingly in some pockets of plain old AWS LTE we managed to get 48mbps.

So again, experience will vary per area, so if you know you've got reliable Rogers LTE coverage, you can expect a solid double digit in LTE speeds.

Speaker and microphone
Just like on the One, the Boomsound speakers on the One mini were absolutely phenomenal. If there was one thing that we hoped that HTC wouldn't cut back on it was the dual front firing speakers and they did not disappoint. With audio clarity and fidelity comparable to the One and better than we've seen from countless other smartphones, it makes for a very compelling selling point for the One mini.

As with most HTC devices the noise cancelling system delivered some decent microphone performance and the earpiece was solid during calls.

Like with the One, HTC went with the same 4MP "UltraPixel" camera. Unfortunately the sensor is without Optical image stabilization. We already found that the One struggled mightily with sharpness and detail, so the loss of OIS was certainly a big disappointment.

Much like on the One, pictures came out fairly good, but lacked the crispness and detail the high resolution shooters like the 13MP shooter on the G2. This is worsened by the loss of OIS as shots, especially in low light, were noticeably harder to keep blur free.

Overall stills were okay and frankly will probably satisfy most people who will use their smartphone for social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We do however imagine that people who are more particular with their photo, especially pixel peepers, will sadly be disappointed. We were more forgiving on One for taking a risk, we simply can't afford the One mini the same luxury after using great cameras like the one on the LG G2.

Video quality was about on par with what we saw on the One, with 1080p recording capabilities, slow motion capture and HDR recording. Optical Image Stabilization is once again sorely missed as video were noticeably shakier than we would like, but realistically is to be expected of a video taken with a smartphone.

Zoes also make a return for your "short picture/video" taking pleasure, although we wish the Zoes toggle had a different icon as we can see many people confusing the Zoes switch with the camera shutter. Also making a return is HTC's automated highlight software which in our tests worked pretty well in taking random shots, Zoes and videos, stitching them together and accompanying them with some randomly chosen but appropriate tunes.

On the front there is a 1.6MP BSI sensor but sadly this isn't the same super wide angle camera found on the One. Selfies will sadly fit fewer friends.

Sample Pictures


Android 4.2.2 with Sense 5
As far as software is concerned the HTC One mini is just about the exact experience as on the One. From all the features that HTC Sense 5 offers like Blinkfeed to the Sense Camera enhancements that include Zoes. An HTC One owner using a One mini would probably have no issues getting around the phone as everything has essentially stayed the same.

Android 4.2.2 improvements come pre-loaded, like the two singer swipe on the notification pane to reach settings, Actionable notifications, Lockscreen widgets, etc.

For a more in-depth overview of the Sense 5 features, we urge you to check out the Software section of our HTC One review.


With the move to even larger phones in 2013 when everyone thought 2012 was the year of the "hummer phone", it was no surprise to see a phone like the One mini to be put out to market. Manufacturers are dipping their toes into the growing pools of people discontent with 4.7+ inch flagship smartphone.

Now OEMs have a few ways to attack this issue, one is to completely ignore the complains and continue to move up to higher sized displays, another is to try to keep the large sized display but reduce phone footprint, like on the Moto X, and the last is to reduce the size of the entire phone including the screen. The One mini is HTC's attempt at the latter and doing so with its flagship HTC One as the base.

Was it a success? Ultimately we believe so. While it doesn't match the One, or other smartphone flagships, in specs or in performance like 3D gaming or camera performance, it most certainly felt like the same experience as on the One which is by all accounts a positive result. If you're on Rogers and want an (almost) no compromise handset that is friendlier for one handed usability, the HTC One mini is certainly one of the top choices in this regard.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 9.5/10
- Fantastic build quality, great ergonomics. Great to see no major compromises on the Aluminum body.

Screen: 9/10
- Fantastic display, very reminiscent of the still respectable HTC One X display

Buttons: 8/10
- Good substitutions when it comes to the buttons swapped from the One to the One mini kept the premium feel

Internal Hardware: 7.5/10
- Surprisingly good everyday performance, 3D gaming was a tad slower than on newer handsets

Battery Life: 8/10
- Average battery life that will get most people through a normal day's worth of use

Speaker and Microphone: 9/10
- Dual front facing Boomsound speakers were great as expected.

Camera: 7/10
- Camera performance was a bit of a letdown. OIS was missed more sorely than anticipated.

UI Changes: 8.5/10
- Basically an identical experience to the One which was fast fluid and quite matured from the days of skeuomorphism of the early Sense UI days.

Addition Enhancements: 8/10
- Beats, Dropbox integration, Zoes carried over from the One add some nice value

Included Apps/Bloatware: 6/10
- Rogers apps are quite present on the One mini. Sad to see the regression after the progress made on other handsets like the Rogers exclusive Moto X.

Final Score: 8.1/10

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