updated 12:10 pm EST, Mon February 27, 2012
hTC One series tried by us at MWC 2012
HTC undertook a full-on reinvention of its device strategy at Mobile World Congress on Sunday: it went from a flood of similar models that dragged it down and kept it from seriously threatening Apple or Samsung this fall. With the One X, One S, and One V, though, it's aiming to provide a clear strategy: there's no mistaking which one's high-end and which one's budget. We tried all three on the floor, and we've got a hint as to whether its strategy might be working.
One of the first clues, common across all three phones, is Sense 4.0. HTC has done something we'd never expected of it, or any Android maker: it stripped back. Where Sense 3 was almost over the top in the amount of customizations, Sense 4.0 is almost minimalist. You can tell it's there, but it creeps in the corners with elements like aggregation of music apps in one place, or landscape buttons during e-mail viewing. Even widgets are smaller and less ostentatious; no gratuitous cloud animations here. As fans of both iOS and Android 4.0, we see both as welcome steps.
Possibly the biggest help is the camera tweaking. At least the One S and One X can shoot stills during video, and they can adjust the power of the flash to avoid overwhelming a subject. More phone designers, including Apple, could stand to learn here.
The One X as the flagship is definitely the most beautiful to look at and the fastest. Its quad NVIDIA Tegra 3 only had a certain amount of testing, but if the interface was smooth in all but the basic browser (which Chrome for Android fixes). We've tried the Tegra 3 on the LG Optimus 4X HD, and it was fast there, if not quite as smooth as an iPad 2 in gaming.
You'd think we'd object to the 4.7-inch display, but you'd be wrong. The One X is definitely big, and possibly too big for some users, but narrow bezels and an overall thin frame make it reasonably easy to hold and pocket. That display may be worth it, too, since it's very color-rich and bright without being gaudy (as with some Samsung Galaxy phones).
The One S might be the bigger surprise, simply out of what you're not giving up. Despite dropping to 'just' a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4, it's often as brisk in 2D apps as the One X and might only suffer with games. The smaller 4.3-inch screen and overall smaller design make it a pleasure to hold, as well.
Unfortunately, the One V was behind glass, but it's at least an interesting design exercise. It's effectively an homage to the curved, aluminum unibody Legend of two years ago. A 1GHz single-core Snapdragon might leave it lagging behind its neighbors, though.
While they appear well-executed, what we like most is that HTC has done what many Android makers can't bring themselves to do: it said "no" to just adding more things. It may understand what Apple does, that having fewer, better, more clearly defined models can lead to more customers and more loyalty. This might in turn help Android and keep it from being solely a Samsung-dominated game.