The HTC One is the best phone in the world right now, but it’s also a hefty handset and that means it’s not going to be right for absolutely everyone. So what if you’ve got smaller hands (or pockets) but demand everything else the One offers? Why, you get the One Mini of course.
In truth only a shovel-handed troll would describe this new handset as ‘mini’ without prompting - it’s actually a smidge bigger than an iPhone 5, in fact - but it is far more compact than the original One, and while inches have been shaved, specs are still impressive, from the 341ppi screen, to the same camera sensor that’s in the original One and another outing for the brilliant Sense UI. Those with dinky digits should be very pleased indeed.
Almost as special as the One
Very rarely are sub-flagship phones designed with the same level of attention to detail and finish as the One Mini. At a glance, it doesn’t quite have the same wow factor as the HTC One, partly because of the gloss plastic that creeps around each side to the front of the phone. But it’s essentially the same smart aluminium build – from the smaller, symmetrical BoomSound speakers to the off-centre home button and (now grey and white) Beats logo. One benefit of that plastic is that while you may get the odd scratch on the back, the top and bottom edges will stand up better to wear and tear.
The One Mini’s not much shorter than the HTC One but it is lighter and quite a bit narrower, making it much more comfortable in the hand for those who struggle with the likes of the One, Galaxy S4 and Xperia Z. While we tend to lean the One in our left hand and prod the screen with our right or message with both thumbs, we can grip all the way around the One Mini, making it better for one-handed use. It’s also easier to reach the back and home buttons.
The secret IR blaster in the power button has gone and in place of a volume rocker are two plastic buttons, but all in all the unthinkable has happened – the One’s gorgeous premium design that we’re still so smitten with has trickled down to a more affordable handset. That does also mean no removable back cover for microSD slots or swappable batteries, as with the One, but the pay-off is a brilliantly crafted phone for less money than you’d expect.
HD screen for the win
Remember those fuzzy-screened mid-range phones? The ones that crop up every year with names like Ace, Youngie and High Five, promising to ape their big brothers for a cheaper price? They don’t stand a chance next to the One Mini’s superb 720p sLCD display, which really delivers on the promise in the name: resolution aside, this is every bit as good as the HTC One’s screen in terms of colours, brightness and clarity. It’s not always the easiest screen to read in direct sunlight, but then again, neither is the One’s.
Text, hi-res images and Full HD movies do look sharper on the One’s 1080p screen, but if you want a smaller screen on Android – in this case 4.3in - this 341ppi affair bests even the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini’s qHD attempts. Streams from Netflix have great contrast and wide viewing angles, and while hues just step into oversaturated territory now and then, the overall presentation is very natural.
Essentially, the One mini is a cheaper, smaller version of the flagship HTC One. In the short time I used it, I’m happy with its size and light weight (122g), which make for easy one-handed operation, unlike bigger phones. What I’m not sure of is the price. At S$688, it is priced a little close to premium smartphones, which cost from about S$800 to over S$1,000. Yet, it is clear there have been quite a few features stripped out from the original HTC One.
Living with the cutbacks
While we’re pleased HTC has stuck to an HD screen for the One Mini, it has made sacrifices elsewhere. So it is that we put on our brave face and get to grips with the 1.4 GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor and 1GB of RAM under the hood.
If you’re a dedicated megahertz-hunter this might not be the phone for you, but in truth, while a step slower than the very best out there, the One Mini’s performance is actually very reliable and more than adequate for most people. It handles multi-tasking, movie downloads and this year’s crop of killer games with minimal stutter, although you should bear in mind that some games, including Need for Speed, are yet to be made compatible with the One Mini.
We know this is in the mid-range, but it’s a shame that the Mini is only available with 16GB of storage, especially given that 5GB is accounted for before you even get it out of the box. We’re less bothered about the lack of NFC, though, especially as 4G compatibility and aptX Bluetooth make the cut.
HTC were always going to trim the One’s specs a bit, and overall we think they’ve got it just about right, as long as you’re prepared for a life less storagey.
Sense is still a winning skin
There are those out there for whom nothing but vanilla Android will do, but if you've got to have a skin (and you usually do) you might as well have a good one, and Sense is certainly that. In terms of Sense 5 on the Mini, everything we loved on the HTC One remains: BlinkFeed for news and social updates, Zoe for video and photo highlights in your Gallery, and HTC Sync, which makes it a doddle to transfer contacts, apps and whatnot across to the new handset. Running Android 4.2.2, you’ll notice some slight tweaks from the HTC One (such as a welcome change to Zoe to avoid duplicates) but it’s largely the same smooth-running, grown-up looking skin.
Return of the UltraPixels
Again, this is essentially the same 4MP UltraPixel sensor as on the original One – another bold move from HTC. The camera, which uses fewer but larger pixels, isn’t the very best of the current crop of flagships (and obviously can’t match the compact camera-killing Nokia Lumia 1020) but on a phone of the One Mini’s stature it’s a real treat.
With the same modes and settings, macro and portrait shots look bright and sharp, with accurate, neutral colours. Zoomed shots and crops highlight detail limitations, though, as well as the lack of the original One’s image stabilisation.
An issue of battery life
So far it’s little cuts here and there, but generally they’re ones we can live with. Here, though, is the Mini’s biggest flaw. We wrongly assumed that with a smaller, lower-res screen and a drop in horsepower the One Mini would outlast the One on battery.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true – with admittedly heavy use during testing it would run down before the day was through, and in our standard video battery test (video loop, Wi-Fi and notifications on, half brightness) the Mini managed only six hours and ten minutes.
If, like us, you have bedside and deskside microUSB cables ready to charge you’ll get away with it most of the time, but long days out and about are going to be problematic.
To cut the size and cut the price of the One, HTC obviously also had to cut the specs, and by and large we think its snips are spot-on. The screen - while smaller - is lovely and crisp, and the power - while lower - is more than enough for all but the most demanding of users. We’re happy to live without the IR blaster and NFC, too, seeing as the Mini’s upfront cost is about £200 less than the One on an identical £31 per-month EE contract.
There are just a couple of areas in which HTC’s been a smidge stingy, though, and ultimately the weak battery life and limited storage hold it back from the full five-star rating.
That’s still good for a mid-range phone, and if you want an HTC One but can’t quite stretch your hands or wallet around it you’re unlikely to be disappointed with the Mini. Just make sure you also take a peek at the Nexus 4, which remains the budget phone closest to the top of our list of the best phones in the world right now.