My love of Android phones has come and gone, and come again. My earliest Android handset was an HTC Magic (the G1 didn’t really count) and I loved it — it had a great form factor, good function, and it worked really well. My next HTC device was the Nexus One, and it was a stellar phone. I had, and used, the Nexus One for a good twelve months before the battery started to fade, and it never missed a beat.

Unfortunately, my experience of HTC handsets soured after this. While I didn’t mind the HTC Wildfire, I used a number of far less satisfying handsets after this that really had me looking elsewhere. HTC Sense was a truly horrible experience, and I felt that rather than contributing to the Android experience, it just ruined it. The Desire HD was a similarly uninspiring phone, and the Desire Z was equally bland.

I pretty much avoided HTC entirely for awhile, until I experimented with the HTC One XL earlier this year. I didn’t write a review of the One XL for Ausdroid — Buzz had that duty — and while his review was upbeat, it was only with longer term usage that he discovered how awful it was. Battery life, software design, both were terrible and left a fairly ordinary taste in one’s mouth. My experience was similar — a full day’s usage was virtually impossible, and the multi-tasking (or complete lack of it) made for a very unusable device.

So here we are with the HTC One SV. Announced in November 2012, and just recently released in the Australian market, the latest in the HTC One lineup promises to be a mid-range handset with plenty of power, satisfying performance and good battery life.

I’ve volunteered to review this device (those who’ve followed Ausdroid awhile will know I don’t do reviews too often anymore) because I want to look — objectively — at whether HTC’s One SV is a real improvement over some of the other HTC devices I’ve used in the past.

There are some real pros about this device — there’s some things about it I immediately liked and commented on before really using the phone. Unfortunately, there’s a few real cons too, and while they aren’t deal breakers, they’re certainly not all that promising.

Pros

  • Good form factor.
  • Nice bright screen — bright whites, good colours.
  • Interface is nice and responsive — HTC Sense really doesn’t lag too much.
  • Battery is removable — you can carry a spare.
  • Battery is 1800mAh — not all that large, but it lasts for ages.

Cons

  • Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich at release.. in 2013 this is bordering on inexcusable.
  • Related: There’s no word on Jelly Bean coming to the One SV.
  • Low resolution — 480 x 800 (213 ppi pixel density). While the screen’s nice and bright, the resolution is a big let down.

Hardware

Note: This will be one the first reviews published using a set of new headings, so we’re avoiding specifically stating what we like and don’t; rather, we’re looking at what the phone offers across a range of categories and commenting on each.

Performance

My usage pattern might not be representative of most, but I’ve put the One SV through my ‘normal’ usage, including web browsing, social networking use, listening to streaming Internet radio, installing apps while listening to music and otherwise using the handset, and I only really noticed minor slow down here and there; it was certainly not prevalent, and not annoyingly noticeable.

While it’s only partly a hardware issue, the awful multi-tasking I’ve seen on the HTC One XL is not repeated on the One SV — switching between apps is smooth and fluid, and works as well as any other Android device.

Camera

The One SV sports a 5mp shooter, which is probably on the lower end of what you’d find on mobile phones these days, but at the same time, if you’re concerned about high quality photography, what’s in your phone is probably not a huge concern to you.

The One SV camera focuses and shoots quickly, and takes reasonable quality photos. You can see some sample photos taken with the One SV below.

The video performance isn’t too bad, however as with most hand-held video cameras, it suffers from jitter and shake, and the HTC One SV doesn’t correct for this. I’d put the camera in the class of “good for Instagram and happy snaps, not for much more”.

CPU power

The One SV is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 System-on-Chip (MSM8230) running at 1.2GHz. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs are in most modern Android (and other O/S) devices at the moment, and they’ve earned this privilege — they’re powerful processors that are delivering the goods in the mobile space. While 1.2GHz is a little slower than what I’ve been used to lately (the RAZR M clocks at 1.5GHz), the 300MHz speed difference is not something that I’ve honestly noticed.

As noted above under performance above, I’ve not noticed any slowness in the One SV, and undoubtedly the performance of the Snapdragon S4 is responsible for this — it’s well mated to the One SV hardware, and performs well under a variety of circumstances.

Battery performance

When I first read that the One SV had a 1800mAh battery, I was concerned. My daily driver — the RAZR M — has a 2000mAh battery, and even this has been a bit variable. Some days, I can extract a full day’s usage, some days I’m scrambling for a charger by noon.

While my rantings about battery performance are somewhat well known, I’ve come at the One SV with an open mind. To give it a comparison against the RAZR M, I’ve installed the same apps on the One SV that I use on a daily basis on the RAZR M, and I’ve made the following observations over a few days:

  • The One SV sips battery very lightly when the screen is off.. and I mean REALLY lightly. As you can see in the screenshots (thanks to BetterBatteryStats) this thing is getting down to 1% usage per hour. Can you say 100 hour (or a bit over four days) standby time? I can, now.
  • While using cellular data uses more power than WiFi, the battery usage is similar for both — turning off WiFi didn’t do much to change the 1% per hour battery usage over a three day period.
  • Even under reasonable use, it seems to hover below 8% battery use per hour.
  • Unlike some other handsets, the battery / phone doesn’t get hot under higher loads.

The battery in the HTC One SV is insane. Considering its small size, the battery life HTC have managed to squeeze out of this device is nuts. Doing nothing apart from receiving mail / calendar / Facebook / Twitter notifications, with the occasional use, the HTC One SV lasts over three days. Under more normal use, one to two days is possible.

On the battery use side, at least, I’m in love.

Display

Initially I made a mistake in considering the display on the One SV. I looked at it from my perspective, and I was a little disappointed. With a resolution of 480 x 800, the One SV display is not what I’d describe as high-resolution, and with a pixel density of 213 ppi, some apps look larger and ‘dumbed down’. I know this is all in my head; it’s just a function of the lower pixel count, the apps work just the same regardless of resolution.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and the display on the One SV is no different. This is a mid-range handset, and it’s not all that expensive, meaning that it’s accessibility to the masses is greater than (say) a high-end handset with a much higher price tag. Pricing aside, the display actually works for the One SV here. Not everyone has 20/20 laser vision, and not everyone wants to squeeze as much as possible onto a screen at one time. This is a handset that will be more accessible to people with larger fingers, people with differing vision, and people who (for example) may use glasses for reading, but who have enough visual acuity to read this phone’s screen unaided, instead of needing glasses.

The lower resolution to one side, there is one annoyance with the display and this is a function of the HTC Sense software (discussed below). The status bar atop the screen is quite wide and it takes up just enough space that it left me thinking that HTC really could have designed this status bar to take up LESS room, to fit a little more on the screen. It’s not that it would make a huge difference, but it’s a perception thing — the status bar LOOKS thick, and thus you perceive the display to be unnecessarily impinged upon.

Software

Android 4.0.4 operating system

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again here. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich has been around since December 2011, and it now being January 2013, it’s hard to really justify releasing handsets running such (relatively speaking) old software. In saying this, I must acknowledge that the RAZR M launched with ICS as well, and (at the time of writing) it hasn’t yet received an upgrade.

The difference, of course, is that we know the RAZR M will get an upgrade to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (and maybe even 4.2), whereas absolutely nothing has been said about the One SV receiving 4.1. There are a number of newer features on Jelly Bean which ICS simply doesn’t have, and without hacking your phone, can’t support, such as Google Now, the new gesture keyboard (which is pretty great), and a revised / re-imagined notification operation that just makes things look and work better.

The real possibility that the One SV won’t get Jelly Bean is — for enthusiasts, at least — a good reason to look elsewhere. However, for everyone else this really doesn’t matter.

I think it’s likely, however, that the tried-and-tested Android 4.0 is part of the reason the One SV can draw such little battery use.

HTC Sense

I have always preferred a more ‘vanilla’ Android experience to those interpretations offered by HTC and Samsung. To me, front-ends like Sense or TouchWiz get in the way of the Android experience rather than enhancing it, and while Motorola’s Blur has (in the past, at least) been equally bad, Motorola have at least figured out in their latest releases that a minimal front-end, retaining much of what Android offers, is what works best.

The version of HTC Sense on the One SV (version 4.1) appears to me to be no different to that I found on the HTC One XL. It’s not too bad, and really need not get in the way. The app drawer is fast and responsive (in the past, this has been a bit of an issue) and the HTC Sense widgets are bright, well designed and work well, as expected. The notification drawer is a bit clunky, but this is as much a function of the Android 4.0.4 version as it is of the HTC Sense design.

Carrier-branded apps

The review handset was supplied with Optus branding (and, as the One SV is an exclusive Optus release for now, this really isn’t surprising). The branding is apparent in two main areas on the phone; the first, during boot-up is a brief animated Optus logo, and the second is the smattering of Optus-branded applications throughout the application drawer.

Whilst these ‘bloatware’ apps can’t be removed (unless you go down the path of rooting the handset and deleting them from the system partition), you can disable these apps thus preventing them from appearing in the app drawer by going into the Settings app, and disabling the apps in the Apps sub-menu.

Some of the Optus applications are simple shortcuts to web sites (e.g. Optus App Store, Games and Music Shop) whereas others are more fuller applications that actually do things that you might consider useful, e.g. the My Optus app which shows usage and account details, and the Smart Safe app which allows you to back up important details to your Optus online account.

I’ve never been a fan of carrier bloatware, but at least with advances in the Android operating system, most of the bloat included on carrier-exclusive handsets these days is easily disabled and hidden from view if you don’t plan on using it.


HTC One SV

  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.2GHz
  • 3G Networks: HSDPA 850, 900, 1900, 2100
  • 4G Networks: LTE 1800 and 2600
  • Size: 128 x 66.8 x 9.2mm
  • Weight: 122g
  • Display: Super LCD2, 480 x 800 pixels, 4.3″
  • Memory: 8GB on board, 1GB RAM, takes up to 32gb Micro SD
  • Wireless interfaces: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
  • Battery: 1800 mAh

Conclusion

How do we wrap up the HTC One SV?

HTC’s One SV is targeted in the mid-range, and it’s a good performer. The physical size and weight of the phone is well and truly in the middle of the market; there’s phones smaller and larger, and the One SV appears to be in that sweet-spot where it’s just the right size to be used one-handed, though the top location of the power button (as opposed to Samsung/Motorola/etc who move it to the side) makes turning the screen on from sleep a little tricky.

That aside, the software — Android 4.0, alas — performs well and delivers enough power for pretty much anything you can throw at the phone, from streaming internet radio, streaming video from a Plex home media server, and playing your favourite games.

The combination of hardware and software delivers an extremely usable and encouraging handset, with a surprising battery life to boot.

If you’re after a high-end phone for 3D gaming, this might not be your handset, but if you’re a social media consumer, and you want a pocketable device for photos on the go and keeping in touch with friends and family, this phone will have you doing that for a full day (if not a bit longer) and it will meet those needs.

For those looking for a customisable phone, look elsewhere. HTC’s stance towards developers is (apparently) becoming increasingly hostile, and the chances of this phone in particular receiving a huge amount of developer support are incredibly slim.

The HTC One SV is available exclusively through Optus (and Virgin Mobile) on a range of plans, or you can purchase it outright for $529 from AllPhones or other choice retailers.

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  • Andrew

    Sounds like a phone for the less-techy part of the population. Not bleeding edge specs but still reasonable, with great battery life. Although the spec-heads would shake their spec-laden head at the screen resolution, 200+ppi still isn’t too bad compared to what flagships were just 2 years ago. I think this would be an appropriate phone for my parents especially since it comes on a nice cheap plan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.sagi.9 James Sagi

    This is a great in depth review.

  • Ronnie Beck

    Dude, proof read your stuff before publishing it. There are lots of mistakes here. Also, why does it look so bad on android devices? Some sections of the article are in a large font and others in a tiny font. It looks fine on a PC but from my Nexus 7, it was horrible.

    • http://ausdroid.net/ Chris (Deputy Editor)

      Hi Ronnie, we do have our reviews proof-read, and having re-run the article, I found only one typo, which I’ve amended. Where are these “lots of mistakes”?

      As to why the review page renders oddly on the Nexus 7, you’ve got me beat. I can replicate this, but I can’t explain it. There’s nothing wrong with the CSS (at least, not that I can see) and doing remote USB debugging of Chrome on Android shows that it it should, in theory, be rendering the font sizes the same. We’ll work on this.

      • Nick Fletcher

        Yep I agree with Ronnie. The first sentence has two mistakes.. “Android” should be HTC, and the first “and” should be “has”? Also that first sentence is poorly constructed..you might say something like that out loud, but writing it in an article is a bit weird. The rest of the article seems to follow this colloquial style which gives it an unprofessional feel in my opinion, but I guess the writing style is your choice in the end.

        • http://ausdroid.net/ Chris (Deputy Editor)

          The first sentence had one mistake. The first ‘and’ should have been a ‘has’. You’re correct, there. But why should Android have been HTC? I meant what I said. My love of Android phones has come, gone, and come again.

          The colloquial style is what countless Ausdroid readers have told us they love about our reviews. That’s why we use it.

  • StuartM

    Sounds like a contender for a replacement for my incredible s when it dies. Shame about ice-cream sandwich being the is version, but I think the battery life is a decent trade-off. Also, HTC keyboards have had gesture input for some time now, you just have to turn it on in the keyboard settings.

    • Guest

      I’m in a similar situation to this…but the Optus bloatware is a con for me as well..

  • samsung

    the htc one xl is much better with jellybean, its like a totally new phone

  • http://twitter.com/gfieldew geoff fieldew

    If I don’t analyse the specs of this phone (it’s target audience is less likely to do this) but simply take it in hand and use it’s features day to day I suspect I’ll enjoy it. The 10 minutes I had with it in an Optus store were enjoyable.

    I definitely think Jelly Bean’s aim to maintain a smooth 60fps interface has led to a bigger hit on the battery. I’ve updated a few phones from 4.0 to 4.1 & 4.2 and found the battery life diminish some.

    I wonder if the lower resolution displays allow phones without the very latest processors to perform a little better than those with higher res displays and older processors.