HTC One SV review a middleweight performer that's not just a pretty face

HTC's One SV has arrived, and joins a plethora of above-average-spec handsets vying for your money. Available on Cricket in the US and EE in the UK, the 4.3-inch, LTE-ready device fits into the One series between the low-end V and, you guessed it, the better-equipped S. It's a curious release for HTC, given the One VX has just launched with almost identical specs, apart from the 4.5-inch, qHD (960 x 540) screen slightly besting that of the SV. Based on our quick hands-on time at CES, you may have already gathered that it's not a powerhouse built to wow you with raw benchmarks scores. But how, exactly, does it compare to its bigger brothers in the series? And, what does it offer people who are more concerned with their budget than 1080p displays or octo-core processors? Head beyond the fold for our full musings.

Gallery | 23 Photos

HTC One SV review

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HTC

HTC One SV

Pros

  • Solid performance
  • Attractive design
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Low-res
  • Somewhat awkward to hold
Summary

The SV is a solid option for people who want an LTE device on the cheap.

Hardware

As with most HTC handsets that cross our paths, the One SV is certainly nice to look at. In particular, it's almost identical in appearance to its slightly lower-spec relative, the Desire SV. A one-piece sheet of Gorilla Glass 2 covers the entire face, with three capacitive keys positioned below the screen. A small, silver HTC logo rides just above the display, with a wide oblong ear speaker over that and the front-facing camera just off to the right. This particular device, courtesy of the UK's first 4G provider EE, has a matte, off-white back panel and capacitive-key illumination to match.

The piece of plastic protecting the battery is smooth but grippy, and is thankfully uncluttered, too. The rear camera sits vertically below its companion flash in a black pod high on the back; a sunken black HTC logo is stamped in the center; and at the bottom is a neat loudspeaker grille with small 4G LTE and Beats Audio brands on top and underneath, respectively. (It's worth noting that the camera doesn't protrude, so it won't grind on surfaces in the way the One S and X do.) Even the faux-metal plastic rim connecting the front to the back isn't nearly as offensive as the phrase "faux-metal plastic" suggests.

A micro-USB port and the primary mic can be found at the base of the device, a volume rocker on the top-right edge, and just round that corner is the power button followed by the secondary mic and headphone jack. Although the plastic back cover survived several encounters with keys and other miscellany in pockets and bags, it's not infallible. After prolonged use, we're sure it would pick up battle scars, but in our experience, minor blemishes are more or less hidden by the uniform white color.

DNP HTC One SV review a middleweight performer that's not just a pretty face

So what's it like in-hand? The back panel is slightly curved so it rests snugly in your claw, and conforms nicely to the palm. In a world of flagships with 4.7-inch screens (like the One X), the more manageable 4.3-inch One SV is a welcome reduction, at least for this particular editor. As a point of reference the One SV is 6mm taller, about the same width and 4mm thinner than the EVO 4G (HTC's 4.3-inch US flagship from 2010). It's interesting how perspectives change -- the EVO 4G was the Galaxy Note of its time; now the One SV is considered small. It feels very solid and well built, and despite our best efforts, we couldn't pressure it to squeak or creak. That isn't to say it's heavy, at 122 grams, and there aren't any detectable balance issues. Overall, the handset doesn't have any high-end flair, but you certainly wouldn't describe its appearance as cheap.

The handset doesn't have any high-end flair, but you certainly wouldn't describe its appearance as cheap.

Flattery over: it's time to balance the good with the bad. One minor design hitch we identified early on is the ear speaker recess at the front. It's a magnet for pocket shrapnel, and you might find yourself tempted to blow debris from it like you're fixing an SNES cartridge that didn't load the first time around. Luckily, the tiny notification LED hidden in that recess is a subtle embellishment which somewhat excuses its penchant for grit. Now for our major gripe. Full dimensions of the One SV are listed as 128 x 66.9 x 9.2mm (5.04 x 2.63 x 0.36 inches). However, the back of the device is slightly bigger on all fronts than the face, meaning the rim tapers inwards at an angle. Both sides of the phone are thin as it is, and while the back panel sticking out slightly from the rim makes it easier to get fingernail leverage, this also means that sliver of plastic is the primary point of hand contact. It puts an irritating amount of pressure on the skin; it's not unlike gripping an oversized credit card. That's seemingly a trivial point, but it registered as an annoyance every time we held the phone. If you're considering a year or two with the SV, it might be worth fondling one in-store to see what we mean.

Display


DNP HTC One SV review a middleweight performer that's not just a pretty face

There's no dodging the figures here. When 800 x 480 resolution is stretched across a 4.3-inch screen, you're going to notice the low 217-ppi screen density -- individuals pixels can often be seen at work, especially on the diagonal. That being said, pixelation on the One S is much worse despite packing more pixels (960 x 540, to be exact) into the same dimensions. Sense 4.1's clean UI is appropriately scaled to give a 4 x 4 grid of icons in the app menu, so everything looks a little bigger than on higher-res handsets, but in general the visuals remain preserved.

Obviously, text isn't super-sharp, but in everyday use it's definitely adequate. As with the 720p One X, Super LCD-2 is the panel technology employed here. The blacks aren't quite as deep on the SV as they are on its older sibling, but being near-perfect is hardly a bad thing. We have no qualms with the whites, and the colors are rich and vibrant. Viewing angles and outdoor visibility are impressive, too. With a WVGA resolution, it's no surprise that the screen doesn't do certain types of media justice. High-def video is horribly stretched (not to mention a tad jittery), and some games lacked the detail normally afforded by a greater pixel count.

Software


DNP HTC One SV review a middleweight performer that's not just a pretty face

Probably the most important thing to start with is that the One SV runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box, with Sense 4.1 layered on top. This means all the sweetness of Jelly Bean -- Google Now, for instance -- is missing. No official update plans have been announced, but surely a brand-new handset can't stay relevant for long without at least a boost to 4.1. Let's hope HTC is thinking the same thing. If you're unfamiliar with the latest version of Sense, we've given it a comprehensive review, but some key visual points are that it's simple, uncluttered and easy to navigate.

This minimal-frills approach suits the One SV. As we mentioned, Sense is formatted correctly for the resolution and never challenges the device's hardware, so movement through the menus is fluid and hiccup-free. Fortunately, the bloatware on our model was light and subtle, hiding in the menus and easily ignored. Sense 4.1 isn't stock Android, but you can't accuse it of needless vanity. Like a loyal sheepdog, it's efficient, quiet and reliable on the One SV. Oh, and it loves you, obviously.

Gallery | 8 Photos

HTC One SV software screenshots

Camera

DNP HTC One SV review a middleweight performer that's not just a pretty face

A modest 5-megapixel shooter may adorn the back of the One SV, but HTC didn't skimp on the bells and whistles: autofocus, backside-illuminated sensor, f/2.0 lens, ImageChip, HDR, burst capture, simultaneous video and snaps, slow-mo recording... the lot. We had high hopes with the amount of catchphrases attached to the camera, and on some levels, it delivers. You can take some nice pictures, including macro shots, with the best results occurring in decent natural lighting. Colors and exposure are commendable, especially when using the HDR setting. Indoor performance, however, is a little lackluster. Trying to get clever with the white balance settings proved fruitless in all scenarios, including outdoors. On auto, it's pretty accurate, but you may as well be applying filters to the viewfinder with all the other options. Low-light performance is acceptable, as long as you've got a steady hand.

We had high hopes with the amount of catchphrases attached to the camera, and on some levels, it delivers.

One thing we had trouble with was the "smart flash" feature, which adjusts the light's intensity depending upon distance from target. It's wildly erratic and during testing, couldn't be tamed. We mostly skipped digging into the deeper settings, but ISO, exposure, contrast, saturation and sharpness adjustments are all available to the compulsive tweaker. We did tinker with the sharpness slightly: it seems too high by default. Panorama mode is quite the challenge. We never succeeded in taking a full five-shot stitch, as we imagine only a robot arm is capable of maintaining the panning accuracy that it requires. Oh, and a quick note on the digital zoom: don't use it.

To its credit, the camera app opens quickly, and the shutter speed is extremely fast, as evidenced by the burst-capture feature. Recording video was a slightly different story. The one-second initialization time felt like an eternity compared with the hustle of stills. Light levels were pretty accurate and the slow-motion mode captured high-FPS clips at the expense of quality -- a fun feature to play around with. One issue you may notice in the example clips below is that the autofocus stutters fairly regularly. This occurred while recording video and while framing single shots. In general, the 5-megapixel cyclops is perfectly usable -- it's just not in the same league as those on the One S or X. Self-portrait photographers and video callers could do worse than the 1.6-megapixel front-facer provided.

Gallery | 36 Photos

HTC One SV sample shots

Performance and battery life

DNP HTC One SV review a middleweight performer that's not just a pretty face

Keeping everything moving under the hood is a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus with Adreno 305 GPU (MSM8930) and a lone gig of RAM. Don't worry about the thrifty 8GB of storage, because a microSD slot supporting 32GB cards can be found under the back cover above the removable battery, and next to the micro-SIM cavity. For connections, it's got all the radios up to LTE, 802.11a/b/g/n -- both 2.4GHz and 5GHz -- Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC.

If the One SV were a cookie to crumble, general performance would be its chocolate chip. We've said it before -- moving through the menus is a breeze. It doesn't cycle through screens quite as fast as the beefier One X, but it didn't freeze or skip once while we were swiping at an almost unnatural speed. Waking the device from full slumber takes around seven seconds (plus another seven or eight for everything to wake up), and app-loading times are swift, with most apps ready for use in less than a second. Browsing was a joy, and websites appear in the stock browser basically as fast as your connection allows (Chrome is a smidgen slower, but not much).

In all, we're surprised at how snappy the handset is given the internals.

GTA III was our resource-hogging game of choice, and the initial boot-up time reflects the higher demand. It takes as long as five seconds to fire her up, which often resulted in us crashing the game due to impatience. It's perfectly playable on the low-to-medium graphics settings; anything higher and the One SV begins to struggle, but keeps it running at lower frame rates nonetheless. Riptide GP, a good-looking racer released more than a year before GTA III, runs smoothly with maxed-out visuals. In all, we're surprised at how snappy the handset is given the internals -- the WVGA screen is partly responsible, for sure.

Head to the display section for an overview of video playback (spoiler: it's not great), but here, let's briefly talk audio. Beats branding isn't left off the One SV, of course, and enhances the sound within the stock music player, as well as third-party apps like YouTube. However, it doesn't work with the loudspeaker, which throws out noise of average quality and volume. Still, it'll be enough to annoy people on public transport if that's your bag. Call quality is clear (not HD, mind), although we can't deduce any noise cancellation at play. WiFi and cellular connections are unproblematic, and let's not forget, the handset has all-important LTE. EE's fledgling 4G network is still a little underdeveloped, and in this editor's South London area, high-speed data reception is patchy. When we got the opportunity to run speed tests, though, scores ranged from a tasty 25 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up, to a delicious 40 Mbps down and 15 Mbps up.

One SV (int'l) One VX (AT&T) One V One S (int'l) One X (int'l)
Quadrant v2 4,718 5,242 1,636 5,053 6,369
Vellamo 2.0 1,491 1,268 1,155 2,452 1,638
GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt 1080p Offscreen (fps) 12 12 N/A N/A 9.7
CF-Bench 7,518 7,423 N/A 9,547 13,750
SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms) 1,418 1,504 3,215 1,743 1,274
AnTuTu 3.1.1 10,871 10,552 N/A 7,067 11,030
SunSpider: lower scores are better.

Number crunching time! As with humans, no handset is exactly the same as its neighbor, but still, there isn't much difference between our One SV and the recently reviewed One VX. Identical S4 Plus chips can be found in both devices, and many other specs are also shared, though the One VX has a larger 4.5-inch display housing 960 x 540 pixels. Benchmark scores show performance is very similar between the two, and the AnTuTu figures put them almost on par with the mighty One X. Comparing the One S with the SV, both have bragging rights depending on the measure you're looking at. Something interesting we found when running SunSpider was that the above number was recorded in the stock browser, with Chrome getting significantly worse grades.

We ran our battery test on the One SV's 1,800mAh pack as we usually do: with a video looping, 50 percent brightness, GPS and WiFi on but only LTE connected, one push email account and a couple of social networks updating at regular intervals. The phone died after almost exactly eight hours of runtime. While that's nowhere near the 10-plus hours some devices are capable of, it survived more than an hour and a half longer than the VX, but went quiet up to 60 minutes before the V, S or X. Experiments are useful, but how did it fare on the daily grind? Acceptable, but not outstanding. It can handle a full waking period of moderate-to-frequent use, including some browsing, picture taking, status updating and light gaming, but no more. The One SV doesn't escape the nightly recharging ritual we're all accustomed to, and as much as we wanted to believe it was coping fine throughout the day, that semi-conscious reaction to a dwindling gauge made us more economical with screen time, come the evening. You won't be disappointed with the battery life, necessarily, but don't expect it to last more than one day if you exercise your thumbs regularly.

HTC One SV for Cricket


DNP HTC One SV review a middleweight performer that's not just a pretty face

As mentioned above, we've also been testing the US version of HTC's One SV which is available exclusively on Cricket's CDMA / LTE network for $280 contract-free (after $50 mail-in rebate). LTE is available in select Cricket markets, including Las Vegas. Our review unit conveniently landed on the last day of CES, which allowed us to run a few speed tests before returning to CDMA-only San Francisco (not a native Cricket area). The One SV also supports Cricket's Muve music service, but our handset didn't ship with the requisite Muve microSD card.

Gallery | 21 Photos

HTC One SV review (Cricket)

While the US model shares the same design and materials as its UK sibling, it receives a custom paint job. Around the back, white gives way to a striking "Flame Red" color (an almost orange shade of red) and the silver finish around the edge turns metallic red (this includes the power / lock button and volume rocker). Cricket's logo replaces the plain "4G LTE" label above the rear speaker. In front, the capacitive buttons are red instead of white (both the stencil and the backlight) -- ditto the mesh inside the earpiece grille. This helps the phone stand out, but it's tastefully done.

Spec-wise the One SV for the US market is identical to its UK counterpart, save for the radios. Both devices feature LTE but Cricket's version is compatible with band 4 (AWS 1700MHz). It also supports CDMA / EV-DO (tri-band) instead of GSM / EDGE / UMTS / HSPA+ (there's no sign of this being a global device). Performance and battery life match what we documented with the UK model. Call quality is decent but data speeds leave a lot be desired: we only recorded maximums of 7.3 Mbps down and 3.3 Mbps up on LTE in Las Vegas and peaks of 2.2 Mbps down and 900 Kbps up on EV-DO.

DNP HTC One SV review a middleweight performer that's not just a pretty face

Pre-installed software includes Block Breaker 3 Unlimited, Cricket Navigator, Cricket 411, the aforementioned Muve Music, MyBackup, Storefront (Cricket's curated app store) and UNO. Two bookmarks come pre-loaded in the app tray: Mobile Web and My Account, the former pointing to the carrier's web portal and the latter linking to your Cricket account. Sadly, none of these apps and shortcuts can be uninstalled. Overall, HTC's One SV for the US market offers the same delightful experience as its UK stablemate -- it's a budget phone that doesn't look or feel cheap.

Wrap-up


DNP HTC One SV review a middleweight performer that's not just a pretty face

The One SV is all about compromise. Its specifications aren't going to wow anyone into an impulse purchase, especially in a world spoiled by quad-core chips and 720p displays. Still, performance is more than adequate. However, a fast-loading 5-megapixel camera will allow for some opportunistic shots, even if it won't ultimately satisfy more advanced photographers. You're dealing with an 800 x 480 display, and we wouldn't recommend it to anyone who plans on using their phone to consume high-def content or play detailed games. Still, we would choose it over the One S's denser-pixel screen 10 out of 10 times. You'll definitely get a device that's dressed to kill, but it feels slightly awkward to hold, with the slim, tapered sides digging uncomfortably into the hand at times. Booting up a brand-new phone only to see Ice Cream Sandwich running in the background is also a bit of a bummer, and one would hope a Jelly Bean update is in the works.

We're sure many will be interested in the One SV, at least in the UK where some still consider 4G a myth, and where Everything Everywhere is offering the handset free on a two-year contract (£36 per month). It's the cheapest deal the network is offering, matched only by identically priced plans for the Nokia Lumia 820 and Huawei Ascend P1 LTE. If you're in the market for an inexpensive Android device with high-speed data capabilities, that leaves you two choices on EE. Huawei's Ascend P1 compromises on different things than the One SV, making both flawed but worthy options. Those who like the biggest or the best aren't going to want a One SV; it's not a heavy-hitter, and that's that.

It's obligatory that we mention the HSPA+ Nexus 4 here, which'll get you much better specs for £240 or $300 (8GB model) depending on your location. If, however, you've been aching to get on 4G and have realistic expectations of what the handset does and doesn't do well, the One SV is a good-looking phone that's got a reasonable amount of smarts. Most importantly, the monthly charge won't be extortionate if you manage your data allowance well. The SV is half beauty, half geek -- it ain't no prom queen, and it doesn't have a perfect GPA, but it'll more than suffice for people seeking LTE on a budget.

Myriam Joire contributed to this review.

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