Time moves quickly in mobile. So much so that a sequel to a 2010 phone can seem like a blast from the past. The HTC One V is just that, a reminder of a time when Android phones weren’t just about the biggest screen size, at the expense of potential customers who weren’t NBA basketball players. It’s even brought HTC’s old trademark “chin” along for the ride.
Remember the HTC Legend? At the time, it was one of the best Android phones ever made, in part thanks to its vivid AMOLED screen, but mostly down to its absolutely gorgeous aluminium unibody frame.
That design was used and reused until it fell out of fashion (In case you didn’t get the memo, we’re living in the polycarbonate casing era right now), but HTC’s brought it right back again with the One V. And it’s refreshing to have Android 4.0 in something this size.
I can’t pretend that the HTC One V is quite as stunning as the iPhone and iPhone 4S, but it’s not far off. Although its screen is ever so slightly larger at 3.7-inches, you don’t notice: it feels like a small smartphone in the same way Apple’s device does. After reviewing magnum opuses like the huge Galaxy Nexus and HTC One X, it comes as quite a change.
The curved edges at the top look beautiful, and yes, iPhone-esque. Everything is sensibly placed, including a power button and audio jack in easy reach on the top. But that jutting chin, even without a trackpad this time, is all HTC, and a definite Marmite moment. Either you love it, or you hate it. I can live with it, although I do find myself wondering what the HTC One V would look like if it weren’t doing a Jay Leno impression, and if it were straight all the way down the front.
If the screen were any bigger, the 480×800 S-LCD 2 touchscreen display would start to show its grain, but at this size, it’s sharp enough, with solid colour reproduction and viewing angles. Given HTC Sense’s heavy reliance on black, it’s never going to look as vivid as an AMOLED screen, where black pixels are actually powered off, rather than illuminated dark grey, but just as many prefer LCD’s less supersaturated colour palette.
- HTC One X review
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- HTC One S review
If there’s a flaw with the design, it’s not the muted Beats Audio logo on the back, it’s only that the join between the chin and black capacitive buttons below the screen isn’t entirely smooth: you can feel that one lies above the other. All in all though, if it wasn’t for the rest of the One Series, this would be the most beautiful device HTC has crafted in 24 months.
Android 4.0 on the small side
I’d yet to see Android 4.0 running on a phone of this size, but I can confirm it’s as pleasant an experience as you could hope for.
Ice Cream Sandwich’s new features work perfectly here. Being able to swipe away individual notifications from the tray is a blessed relief, and Google’s Chrome browser (which only works on Android 4.0) is by far the best Android web browser out there.
Some of HTC’s addition are welcome too, particularly the camera app. I can’t pretend that the shots the five megapixel camera churns out are class-leading, but it is fast, and I love the continuous shooting and ability to take stills and video at the same time. As I touched on in my HTC One X review, HTC’s got the software right, just not the hardware.
For one thing, the keyboard is still inexplicably rubbish. HTC’s had years to fix this now, or at least ink a deal with a competent third party (SwiftKey springs to mind), and still fails to. Considering how much it’s prepared to spend on cloud gaming companies and even child-friendly software, it’s a glaring oversight. Still, it’s one that’s easily remedied with a trip to the Google Play Shop.
The other: this isn’t quite the same HTC Sense skin as found on the HTC One X. The multitasking button brings up the regular Android app-switcher rather than HTC’s fancy one. The 3D graphics for swivelling through the homescreens are gone. There’s no front facing camera, so Face Unlock is out. And one curious thing: while HTC Locations, HTC’s useful offline mapping service, is present, HTC’s movie rental service, HTC Watch, is not.
All of this, you can live with. But the lag is noticeable. Too noticeable. The 1GHz MSM8255 processor is 2010 tech, sadly, and it can’t quite cope with HTC’s skin atop Android 4.0. This is a phone that’s crying out for the Trebuchet launcher, which mimics the default one Google provides in its Nexus series of phones. But you need to root the phone to pull that off, so that’s not really an option for most people.
All in all, HTC may be charging a bit too much for a phone that brings that “familiar Android lag” back from the dead – not helped by the lack of internal storage (just 1GB). But with the right apps from the market, and a Micro SD card from Amazon, you can erase it once more. And there’s an upside too: a battery life of around a day and half of real world use, rather than less than one.
If you love Android but don’t care for epic phones, the HTC One V is a refreshing Google-equivalent of the iPhone. It’s small, sexy and every bit as app-packed – it’s just a shame HTC clearly sees this form factor as a niche market now, and can’t spare a more powerful processor for the job. Go right ahead if you love the form factor, but do be aware that a few replacements – launcher, keyboard, browser – from the Play Shop will boost your mileage a long way.