Wednesday, May 23, 2012

HTC One V review

HTC One V is a device that aches me. On one hand, the gorgeous design has me grabbing it each time I can. On the other, the specs just doesn't do it justice. Sure, specs doesn't mean much and I have argued in the past, but when you have a phone that is bogged down by HTC Sense, you kinda need all the power you can get. You see, Sense can have that sort of effect on me. But first let's get the specs out of the way.

  • Qualcomm MSM82552 SoC with 1 GHz Snapdragon CPU and Adreno 205 GPU
  • 512 MB RAM and 4GB built-in flash storage
  • 3.7" LCD capacitive touchscreen with 480 x 800 resolution
  • Quad band GSM and tri band 3G
  • 5 Megapixel autofocus with BSI sensor camera with LED flash and 720p video recording
  • Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11b/g/n
  • GPS with A-GPS
The One V is a tiny device. With the same 3.7" screen size and 480x800 resolution, the One V is smaller than my Lumia 800 and lasts longer too. And despite the size, the One V is all about quality. The metallic unibody design is tasteful. You couldn't have asked for a better looking mid-range device. If the engineers behind the HTC One V's design brief was to create a phone that bettered their high-end devices (in my opinion), then they succeeded.
Design aside, there are some drawbacks to the phone however. While the LCD screen delivers a pin sharp pixel density of 252 ppi, the display proves highly reflective and almost unusable outdoors under strong sunlight. I do wish the brightness level could be pumped up further. On the upside, when viewed indoors, the display is clear, sharp and provide sufficient contrast and colour saturation that rivals that of a AMOLED display, typically found on a more expensive device.

Below the display lies the now three touch sensitive ICS capacitive buttons - back, home and multi-tasking. I am not a fan of this button configuration, least of all the removal of menu button. Developers haven't been quick to update their apps to support this new design style on ICS and it annoys me having to access the menu button by pressing down the multi-tasking button and going through a couple of extra steps. The One V also features a notification LED on the top of the display, one of the few devices to have one in recent memories.
Like the HTC Radar and Legend, the lower half of the rear is completely accessible, providing access to a microSD slot and mini SIM slot. One pleasant surprise I found with the One V is that it contains a microSD slot (2GB included) to augment the built-in 4GB of storage, an odd addition because the higher end One X and One S doesn't have one. Still it is a welcome feature. Unfortunately the micro USB port doesn't support MHL with HDMI-output, but at this price point, it is excusable.

Curious enough, pulling out the rear cover will not cause the device to shut down unlike the HTC Radar. The rear cover also houses the antenna, loud speaker and microphone. On the top part of the rear part of the device lies the 5MP camera and a single LED flash. The camera is also capable of capturing video in 720p resolution with autofocus. As far as a 5MP camera goes, the One V does take some pleasing pictures. HDR mode could have been better, but overall the One V's camera is decent.
With a metallic housing, it is a fair assessment to assume that the One V would be solidly built and you aren't wrong. The device does not feature any creaks when pressure is applied and is reassuringly heavy. HTC's desire to make their devices as thin as possible also resulted in the battery being built-in. It's a trend that appears to be gaining traction among hardware manufacturers, and one that I do not completely agree with. Despite that, the One V's battery is solid. You could easily last a day of medium use on a single charge, often outlasting both the Lumia 800 and iPhone 4S.

So the hardware quality and design of the HTC One V is pretty much a win, but what about the performance? Powering the HTC One V is the modest Qualcomm MSM8255 SoC with 1GHz Snapdragon processor and Adreno 205 GPU. The MSM8255 is a very capable chipset, powering the majority of mid-range phones currently on the market, from the HTC's own Desire S and Radar to the Nokia Lumia 800/710 and Sony Xperia Play/Ray. Unfortunately unlike the Lumia and Xperia Play, the One V's deep customisation and reliant on HTC Sense does cause the device to struggle. I am not quite certain if the Sense UI is GPU-driven, but do expect occasional slowdowns and lag.
HTC Sense 4.0 appears to be a stripped down version of the one found on the One X. This is perhaps a result of the need to retool the UI to accommodate the lesser hardware. One feature removed which I found very odd is leap view. Leap view is a simple UI feature allowing one to quickly have an overview of all their homescreens by the simple method of pinch to zoom. As far as I can remember, HTC Android phones with HTC Sense has always featured leap view so its exclusion confuses me especially when it it certainly has nothing to do with the lack of power.

HTC has also removed the Windows 7-ish Aero-like multi-tasking view found on their more expensive One S and X-series. Instead you get the standard ICS multi-task menu, an improvement over the one found on the One X. The UI as a whole is pretty but messy, with options that makes no sense. For example, removing widget or shortcuts from the homescreen requires me to drag the items onto the top right corner of the screen. Fortunately the screen here is small enough that it isn't a complete nuisance.
As with most HTC Android devices, the One V comes with Beats Audio a proprietary software based EQ. No Beats headphones are bundled with One V, meaning HTC has not jacked up the price to include such monstrosity. As Beats Audio is merely an equalizer, it isn't capable of actually improving the audio quality. Fortunately for you, the One V isn't that bad. While it won't win any awards or audiophile approval, the sound quality, a good pair of headphones will go a long way.

Like all ICS devices, the One V comes with a brilliant browser. With a sharp but small 480p display, you will be relying more on text reflow, of which it handles with gusto. Other functions includes Adobe Flash, Java, offline and incognito mode. YouTube videos will play directly from the web browser, but I do find the performance here a tad disappointing. Adobe Flash hiccups aside, the browser is downright brilliant. Should the native browser not rock your boat, Android Market, sorry, Google Play offers plenty of third party alternatives including Opera, Chrome and Dolphin - each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Most Android apps will work fine on the One V, though many will need updating to conform with the removal of the search and menu button. While Android, or more specifically, Sense's UI, doesn't excite me, the OS is perfectly fine for the majority of people. If you ask me today what's the best designed smartphone currently on the market and I would struggle to choose between this, the iPhone 4/4S, Lumia 800 and the One X. It's just a beautifully designed phone. Sadly it just lacks the power it so desires.

Is the One V a worthy successor to the HTC Legend and Hero? I am not so sure about it. Priced at £231 on Amazon, the One V isn't expensive, but it is still pricey for a device which performance is crippled by Sense UI. For less you could easily get a Windows Phone-powered HTC Radar and not worry about any performance issues, or the similarly sized but more powerful Sony Xperia U - due out at the end of the month.

Many thanks to Three UK for loaning the device. It is available on their network for £22 a month with no upfront fees.


john biber said...

After using HTC One V i can say that HTC One V has Great build quality and a fantastic camera, but better-specified phones are available for only a little more money on contract.


Herman Fung said...

Great review. I just found your blog while googling to check if my HTC One V is MHL enabled. Unfortunately not! But nice blog anyway. Top result for [htc one v mhl]. Nice SEO work!

Herman Fung said...

Great review. I just found your blog while googling to check if my HTC One V is MHL enabled. Unfortunately not! But nice blog anyway. Top result for [htc one v mhl]. Nice SEO work!