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HTC One mini review

HTC One mini

The smartphone market is a confusing place. On one hand you have the ever-increasing screen sizes of top-of-the-range models, such as the huge 5-inch Sony Xperia Z and Samsung Galaxy S4, as well as monstrous phone/tablet hybrids such as the Asus FonePad and Samsung Galaxy Mega. On the other, you have some brave 4-inch hold outs, such as the iPhone 5, and the trend started by Samsung with the Galaxy S3 Mini: compact versions of larger handsets. Now HTC has launched its own diminutive version of the range-topping HTC One, the One Mini, which goes head to head with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.

While we appreciate smartphones with huge, high-resolution screens, we're also fans of smaller displays. Smaller screens mean smaller handsets which are easier to slip into your pocket, are more comfortable to hold when talking and are much easier to use one-handed. However, we were worried that mini phones would also have mini specifications, leading to handsets that are pale shadows of their award-winning bigger brothers. Fortunately, while the cheaper HTC One Mini has some corners cut compared to the Ultimate award-winning One, it's still a seriously impressive phone in its ownright.

The One Mini is a good-looking phone. We like the silver chassis and white sides, and even the plus-sized speaker grilles at the top and bottom of the phone work with the design, making it look pleasingly skinny. It also has a metal rear, which we prefer to the plastic of Samsung's S4 Mini. The screen has 1,280x720 pixels, which is plenty for its 4.3in size. The display has a pixel density of 341ppi, which is significantly higher than the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini's 275ppi and is even slightly sharper than the iPhone 5's 325ppi.

The screen's high pixel density makes text sharp and clear, and means the One Mini is fantastic for web browsing. It's possible to read text on web pages when fully zoomed out, which is not really possible on the S4 Mini without squinting. We were also impressed with the image quality from the LCD screen. Whites are pure and blacks are deep, and there's little sign of graininess. This is in contrast to the Galaxy S4 Mini's screen, which has a blue tinge and visible grain. While the full-size One has a hugely powerful 1.7GHz quad-core processor, the One Mini's dual-core 1.4GHz chip is significantly less meaty on paper.

However, the One Mini is certainly not slow. In the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark, which is a good indicator of web browsing performance, the phone scored 1,521ms, which makes it slightly faster than the Samsung Galaxy S3. It's not up there with the Galaxy S4 Mini, though, which completed the benchmark in a hugely fast 1,008ms. The HTC One Mini felt significantly faster than the Galaxy S4 Mini in normal use. The app tray feels smoother and more responsive, and there's a big difference in web browsing performance. When looking at a complicated web page, such as the Guardian desktop site with comments turned on, the One Mini can scroll up and down smoothly without missing a beat, while the S4 Mini jumps and jerks. The difference was less noticeable when we switched to Chrome, but the HTC One Mini still had the edge for smoothness.

HTC's software appears to be very well optimised, but there's one snag. The One Mini comes with HTC's Sense interface, which is one of the most far-reaching Android customization there is. If you're used to stock or mildly-customized versions of Android, such as those on Sony and Motorola handsets, you may find it all a bit much. By default, the main homescreen is a tiled feed showing stories and updates from news sites and your social networks; you can show updates from Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter, and news from sources such as the Guardian, FT and various music and entertainment sites. The homescreen is a news feed, but you can have a normal Android screen if you wish This is a useful news digest, but you may prefer the usual Android mix of icons and widgets. It's easy enough to fix, though, as the other four homescreens are standard Android versions, and you can set one of those as the default rather than the news feed.

We're not so keen that the app tray's icons are so widely spaced that only nine can be shown on-screen at the same time, as this leads to plenty of scrolling if you have lots of apps installed. Like the full-size One, the One Mini has what HTC calls an Ultrapixel camera. This means that, while its sensor captures just four megapixels, each pixel on the sensor can be larger and so capture more light. In low-light conditions, this arrangement certainly pays off; the One Mini produces excellent low-light images, with little noise. However, we weren't so impressed with its daylight photos, which were hugely overexposed in bright conditions.

The full-size HTC One was a beautiful handset, and well deserving of its Ultimate award. However, it was, and still is, expensive, at over £500 SIM-free and only free on £30-plus contracts. The Mini is around £130 cheaper SIM-free and can be had for free on a £26-per-month contract, and is also significantly more compact. Its camera may be better suited to low-light than bright conditions, but other than that it's a phone with few compromises.

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