The HTC One (M8) knocked our socks off a few months ago, so can this compact version impress as much as its big brother did?
On the face of it, Taiwanese manufacturer HTC should be in the doldrums. Samsung has the sales, Apple boasts the enduring fanbase and the company has upstarts such as Huawei to contend with. It’s no wonder HTC recently slipped out of the top 10 global smartphone sales chart.
All this despite a spate of great devices. This year, the HTC One was awarded best smartphone of 2013 at Mobile World Congress, and we picked out its follow-up – the One (M8) – as the greatest flagship of 2014 so far, at least until the LG G3 arrived this month.
So we’re pleased to see HTC pushing forward with new devices. Its latest is a compact version of the HTC One (M8), the One Mini 2. Let’s hope it performs to expectations.
Like its pricier sibling, the design is top-notch.
The compact handset retains the One M8’s unibody metallic style, with just the horizontal rubber bands on the back disrupting its continuity. The handset also has a rather large bezel that contains dual, front-facing speakers that deliver its superior “BoomSound”.
At 4.5 inches, the display is still bigger than the four-inch screen on the iPhone 5s, but half an inch smaller than the One (M8).
The back of the device is also slightly different to its larger predecessor, as it ditches the duo-lens, duo-sensor rear camera, instead opting for just the one 13-megapixel camera and a single LED flash on the back.
There is also a decent five-megapixel front-facing snapper inconspicuously housed in the upper bezel next to the upper speaker.
Additionally, the vibrant themes and wallpapers you can use to customise your home and lock screens further illuminate the premium-looking device, especially when the brightness is turned up.
Overall, this is a beautiful compact with a design that justifies its price. We were left expecting the same premium features in the phone’s hardware. As we soon found out, to our disappointment, that wasn’t always the case.
Apps and software
Let’s start with a positive. The One Mini 2 comes with some decent built-in apps that – unlike the clutter of tools on Windows Phone devices – are actually useful.
Among them is Blinkfeed, a social network and news aggregator that sits on your home screen. It’s a good standalone service for news stories; just don’t cram it with too much information using its customisation options.
For example, we synced it with our social networks alongside the news feeds and found that most of the info displayed was from our dense social network timelines.
It left us wishing we had used it just for news updates, while sticking to standalone apps for social networking.
Elsewhere, built-in productivity apps are welcome additions. These include the Polaris Office app – which can be used to open and view documents – and the Scribble notepad app.
The latter is a playful improvement on other simplistic, note-taking apps; we particularly liked the calendar options and colourful designs of the various notepads.
There is also the Zoodles Kid Mode function, which helps parents to customise the device for children, who are increasingly using smartphones for educational features – as well as to play games, of course.
The 1.2GHz quad-core processor is where things start to get a bit unpredictable. Not all general tasks run as smoothly as you’d expect.
We tested app performance first and it was a mixed bag. Twitter, for example, took a few seconds to display images in the timeline or profile pics.
Facebook had similar problems, with slight lag when loading web links, images and videos on our timelines, along with profile pics.
Instagram, on the other hand, fared better, probably because it relies on one source of content: pictures.
An image, video and GIF-heavy app like Tumblr, however, was a strain on the device’s relatively-weak processor. The content on the app took too long to load and the GIFs themselves suffered from considerable lag and reduced frame rates during playback.
Web browsing was decidedly better, with sites and pages loading quickly through both the in-built browser and Google Chrome.
Bearing in mind the mixed performance of the HTC One Mini 2, one area in which we thought it might suffer was gaming. Thankfully, we were proven wrong.
We tested the powerful Real Racing 3 and frenetic zombie shooter Dead Trigger 2. Both ran smoothly and neither suffered from any noticeable lag.
The same went for less demanding titles such as Jetpack Joyride and God of Light.
The 720 x 1,280-pixel screen on the One Mini 2 is the same resolution as on the older Sony Xperia Z1 compact, and less than the similarly-priced
Huawei Ascend P7, which boasts an impressive 1,980 x 1,020-pixel resolution.
Still, it is sufficient for viewing videos and looks crisp and detailed.
It’s just that there is better out there for a similar price, so if you’re obsessed with image quality and video playback resolution, then you have other options.
The camera is one of the better features on the HTC One Mini 2.
For the compact version of its flagship, HTC has done away with the Ultrapixel camera in favour of a standard 13-megapixel rear-snapper and a surprisingly powerful five-megapixel front-facing snapper.
The camera comes with a host of clever functions that are hidden away under the settings icon to avoid on-screen clutter.
For those who enjoy manually tweaking their images, you’ll find ISO, exposure and white balance tools, alongside HDR, night mode and panorama options.
Additionally, like many modern handsets, including the LG G3, there is a make-up option that can help you touch-up any blemishes or rough edges on your pics.
Aside from all the gimmicky smartphones out there that offer 13-megapixel front-facing cameras – and Huawei’s Ascend P7, which offers an eight-megapixel panoramic lens for group selfies – the five-megapixel snapper located on the front of the One Mini 2 is outstanding.
The amount of detail came as a pleasant surprise, mainly because we’re used to the standard two-megapixels on front-facing cameras. It made for a positive change, and should really be the default option on more devices – particularly considering the popularity of selfies.
Your opinion of the HTC One Mini 2 will come down to what you mostly use your phone for; we’re heavy users of social networking apps, and it didn’t fare particularly well with these during our testing, mainly due to the sluggish chip.
But if you can overlook its processor problems, the HTC One Mini 2 is a well-designed unit that can handle high-end games and web browsing, while offering a variety of useful features.