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.
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.
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.
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.