A high-end smartphone is an expensive piece of hardware that should pay dividends in usability over the course of its lifetime. The original HTC One didn’t sell very well, but if you bought one you shouldn’t need to replace it soon.
Which brings us to the companion, or perhaps successor, device: The HTC One Mini. On paper, the Mini really isn’t that much smaller than the original: Both measure 5.19 x 2.48 x 0.36 and 5.40 x 2.69 x 0.37 inches respectively. In practice however, this small amount of downsizing makes a world of difference, good and bad.
In terms of usability, I found that I was able to comfortably navigate the Mini’s display and operate its volume and power buttons with one hand: something that was impossible with the original HTC One. This reduction in size (and a greater reliance on plastic in the Mini’s case) also resulted a weight reduction of .52 ounces. Yet, despite its being lighter and nominally less sturdy than the full-sized HTC One, the Mini never felt like a cheap piece of hardware when I handled it.
It’s a reassuringly solid-feeling piece of hardware, in part because HTC elected to leave the smartphone with the same rounded aluminum back as the original HTC One. This sense of quality carried over well to a number of the handset’s other features as well.
Like its larger sibling, the Mini comes equipped with front facing stereo Beats Audio speakers, which when paired with HTC’s BoomSound software, allowed for one of the best smartphone listening experiences I’ve enjoyed to date. I found that the handset’s call quality was praise-worthy as well: the sound of the folks I spoke to on the phone was crisp, warm and markedly better than what I’ve enjoyed while using an iPhone 5s or Nexus 5. Of course, your experience, depending on cellular reception, may vary.
HTC’s take on the latest iteration of Android also proved to be largely enjoyable, insofar as skinned versions of the operating system go. While my preference is to use the OS as Google intended it – unaltered and stripped bare to the bone – I found the latest incarnation of HTC’s Sense interface to be both stylish, and after a few minutes of fiddling, easy to navigate. Even its rear-facing camera, which I expected to be underwhelmed by, proved a pleasure to use, thanks largely to HTC’s exceptionally clever camera software, which made taking full 1080p photos with the phone a pleasure.
Unfortunately, as the three weeks that I used the HTC One as my primary phone wore on, it became obvious that the device’s reduction in size came at the cost of both power and features.
For starters, a smaller phone means a smaller overall display. The One Mini comes equipped with a 4.3 inch display, which would be agreeable were it not for the fact that it was only capable of reproducing images and video at 720p. Compared against displays found on handsets like the Sony Xperia or iPhone 5s, videos and pictures on the One Mini appeared washed out. Add to this the fact that HTC packed a lacklustre 1.4GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 and single gigabyte of RAM into the handset and you’ve got the making of a smartphone that a year from now will seem underwhelming compared to new handsets entering the market. Considering that most people will obtain an HTC One Mini on a two year contract, this is disappointing to say the least.
Users may also be frustrated by the fact that unlike many Android phones, the HTC One Mini doesn’t boast upgradable storage, and only has 16GB of onboard memory – a good chunk of which is already filled with HTC’s tweaked software, a full cohort of Google apps and some carrier bloatware many of us could do without. With HD content become the norm instead of the exception, such a small amount of space can be filled up in no time at all.
I was also disappointed by the performance of the handset’s 1800mAh battery. No matter how I used the One Mini during the course of my day, I found that I couldn’t make it to bedtime without having to plug the phone in and charge it.
HTC has recently made claims about getting out of the high-end of the handset business, and returning to its roots as the discount brand. When assessing the Mini, it seems possible that this device is an early half-step in the cheap direction. Those looking for a compact smartphone should carefully consider whether the HTC One Mini’s uninspiring specs are worth enduring in light of its diminutive size.