There sure does seem to be a lot of 'mini-me's floating around these days. In years past, the cheaper, smaller handsets had a design and look all of their own, but this year we're swamped by pint-sized versions of the flagship models. You have the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini (not to mention the Galaxy Express), the Sony Xperia M and the Motorola Droid Mini, and of course, the HTC One Mini.
Of all the Minis, the HTC One Mini is easily the most interesting from a design perspective. HTC keep the chiseled anodised aluminium chassis from the larger HTC One and shrink it down for the miniature version, and it looks great.
In fact, it probably looks better in this smaller package than it does with a 5-inch screen. Being a man with large feet (no boasting), I have noticed a familiar phenomenon with casual shoes. A pair of sneakers that look great on the shelf in a size 8 can sometimes look like flip-flopping clown boots when I slip on the size 13.
Here, with a 4.3-inch screen, the HTC One Mini looks the part of a serious iPhone alternative. People worried about the increasing size of smartphones will love the compact design matched with the high-quality materials -- something you can't say about Samsung same-size S4 Mini.
The screen is absolutely first rate, even though it doesn't share the same 1080p resolution we saw on the original HTC One. There is enough pixels here for a 720p picture though (1280x780) and it looks superb. The image onscreen is rich and dark, which plays well with the default HTC colour scheme.
With the power button on top, next to the headphone jack; and with a USB port on the bottom, HTC has all elements of this phone in the positions we prefer. There's no challenging that this is a well-designed price of technology.
User Experience (BlinkFeed, HTC Sense)
This herald a major change for HTC, with a clean new look for its famous Sense User Interface, and the introduction of the BlinkFeed news and social media feed. Previous versions of HTC's Sense UI were certainly starting to feel overflowing with features and ideas, so it is great that HTC has gone back to the drawing board for this year's releases. But, we're still not convinced that Sense is as good as it could be.
Adding BlinkFeed is one of our chief concerns. At its core, BlinkFeed is a news service that creates a flowing gallery of the latest articles from websites and your social media feeds on the front page of the phone. It works well, despite being limited to a list of news sources that HTC provides (you can't add your own).
The problem is, that most users will want to jump into apps rather than news for the majority of times they press the power button on their phones. BlinkFeed quickly becomes a barrier to content, rather than a centralised place for it. It's no big deal of course, you can easily swipe passed it, but you have to do this every time you want to use a preferred app, and this is annoying.
There is also several other weird quirks to the UI that take some getting used to, and are not properly explained to the user. Multi-tasking, for example, is accessed by double-tapping on the 'Home' button, rather than long-pressing it as we've have done with some many Android phones in the past.
The keyboard is another areas of concern for us, especially on the smaller 4.3-inch screen. We don't think this keyboard is particularly well design, punctuation is hard to find, predictive text is hit and miss and the Swype-like 'trace typing' is the worst example of this kind of input that we have encountered. Luckily, it is easy to find an alternative keyboard on the Play Store and replace it.
Each of these elements is a small consideration, but added together, it detracts from what should be one of the best smartphone experiences available.
With all of those minor detractions behind us, the camera in the One Mini is a major redeeming feature. Like the original HTC One, the Mini has a dedicated processing chip with the sole task of handling photography. This is something that no other manufacturer is using in its camera phones today, and it makes a big improvement, especially in regards to the speed of the camera and its elements, like focusing.
The Mini also uses the same Ultrapixel camera technology we saw from HTC earlier in the year. This means that the camera here shoots 4-megapixel images, but that each pixel is larger than in other cameras, so each has the ability to capture more light: up to 300% more light, according to HTC itself.
At the end of the day, it is better to let the photos themselves speak for the quality of the camera.
Performance and battery
As we saw with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, a downsizing in processing performance is all but expected in the Mini version of a popular smartphone. As it happens, the HTC One Mini actually has the same dual-core 1.4GHz processor that we saw in the S4 Mini, but will 500MB less RAM (a total of 1GB RAM).
Thankfully, the new HTC Sense UI runs on this lower powered system quite well. It wakes from sleep promptly, and moves between the home screens without fault. You will see the dip in power once you jump into certain apps, namely the Play Store or the web browser, but it is certainly fine for everyday use.
With a 1900mAh capacity battery, the One Mini is a bit of a step backwards in battery life for HTC. On average we saw about 18-hours of mixed use from the phone (compared with about 28 hours of similar use from the more expensive models this year). It managed between 5-6 hours in continuous use tests, which is pretty reasonable, we only wish it lasted for long in standby modes.
Value for money?
As far as the Minis go, the HTC One Mini is the best of them. You get the same great design, and the same great core features as the HTC One, but in a smaller package -- which some people prefer.
Key to this is the excellent camera, and HTC's dedicated imaging chip. This is impressive technology and it is great to see it in a phone of this price. And, it is a pretty good price.
Just be sure that you are comfortable with the screen size before you buy the One Mini. We remember just a few years ago when 4.3-inch screens were the biggest in the market, but times changes, as do our preferences, and now they seem a little on the small side to us.