We're still not completely sold on Blinkfeed; we'd prefer instead to make stock Android screen our de facto home base. The topics and services available to add to the news and social feed haven't noticeably changed (or expanded) since HTC launched the service. All told, it still feels like a protracted way for us to browse through social network content; some efforts to curate or focus on popular tweets, like Twitter does itself in its own discovery tab, would have been welcome.
On to the good stuff. HTC has refined the camera option menus making access to different settings easier and adding a new file format to its Zoe captures (a video and still-frame combination), ensuring that any Google+, SkyDrive or Dropbox account you own no longer gets filled with lots of similar-looking shots. Video Highlight options have now been expanded to include six extra themes. Even more importantly, perhaps, you can now add your own music, as BlackBerry Z10 users have been doing on BB10.
Within the camera app itself, you can also now lock exposure and focus on the viewfinder screen. Press-and-holding will fix both, and you can also unlock with a subsequent tap, expanding your options for nailing that shot. In an attempt to ameliorate the loss of optical image stabilization, HTC has added a software-based feature to reduce shakiness. Unfortunately, using it leads to a significant drop in the level of detail. We'd recommend you use the camera without it -- we did. We'd also like to mention HTC's Sync service, which stores apps, WiFi passwords, home screen layouts and more within a Dropbox file. Thanks to this, we were able to transfer our smartphone settings from an older HTC One without a hitch. This setup also offers a stress-free way of recovering your phone's layout and content should you ever lose (or have to replace) the hardware itself.
Battery life and performance
Smaller phone, smaller screen and yes, smaller battery. At 1,800mAh, we wondered where that would place the device when it came to lasting out the day. In our video looping test, with brightness at 50 percent and social networks polling at 15-minute intervals, we got just over six hours. It's a bit disappointing, frankly. While it's a half-hour less than the full-sized HTC One managed, we were hoping that a drop in resolution and screen size would translate to battery savings. Even during more casual use, we'd have to plug it in after around 10 hours' use. Be prepared to have a charger close at hand.
There's no shortage of phones to pit agains the One mini, but we settled for a competitor (Samsung's Galaxy S4 Mini) and the original HTC One running very similar software. The S4 Mini is powered by a faster-clocked 1.7GHz dual-core processor with 500MB of extra RAM, and it performed substantially better than the One mini on several of our benchmark tests. Still, as is often the case with synthetic benchmarks, other tests put the One mini ahead. In use, we found that the phone's responsiveness was mostly on par with the original One. It didn't take any more time to process video highlight clips or capture photos, despite the differences in hardware. Browsing the web on Android phones in recent years has become a more consistent experience; indeed, the One mini gave us swift page loads and responsive scrolling even on media-heavy sites.
The mini packs the right LTE bands for EE in the UK (Band 3) while also including tri-band HSPA on this European model (900/1900/2100 MHz), offering speeds of up to 42Mbps down. In speed tests on LTE, we logged downloads just short of 10Mbps, with uploads reaching about the same speeds, if not better. Voice calls were also clear, and the secondary mic helped to dampen background noise when we were using the One mini as, well, a phone.
The HTC One mini is the most appealing non-flagship smartphone we've seen in a while. And that's saying a lot: there are more choices than ever, with recent screen and processor improvements now adding incremental improvements across the board. Ultimately, it all comes down to the pricing here. The One mini is a beautiful phone that feels and often handles like a top-tier model, even if it isn't quite as classy as the One flagship. In the UK, Carphone Warehouse has priced the One mini at £380 (roughly $580), or free on contract at £27 per month. The bigger One costs only £100 more off-contract, or free from £33 per month. Is that a big enough pricing gap to win over discerning shoppers? Probably not.
All told, the mini still bests rival middleweight phones in several ways, with the similarly sized, similarly priced Galaxy S4 Mini making for an easy comparison. The One mini's 720p screen is way ahead of the qHD screen found on Samsung' Galaxy S4 Mini, while the build quality and styling is a cut above the competition. There's also the excellent camera and software additions HTC has made -- all points in the One mini's favor. For most people, the drawbacks (no optical image stabilization, IR blaster, NFC, lower screen resolution and storage) will outweigh the price saving compared to the original One, but the mini remains a strong phone in its own right. If only it were a little cheaper.