HTC One mini: hands-on preview

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It's an HTC One… mini! HTC's new midrange smartphone does an even better job than Samsung of translating the charms of its flagship phone into a smaller “mini” device.

I spent the best part of an hour with the One mini, and the great thing about it is that it's actually an HTC One shrunk down. The phone's body has been cheapened a little bit by using polycarbonate sides instead of wraparound aluminium, but the back is still aluminium and the build feels tight and premium – the polycarbonate fits in perfectly. It comes in silver and matt black.

I was impressed by the sharpness of the mini's 4.3in 720p SuperLCD screen. At 341 ppi, it's lower density than the 1080p flagship phones out there, but I can't tell the difference over about 330 ppi anyway. The mini has dual front-facing speakers just like the One does, so the sound from an HQ YouTube video came straight at my face. The special 2.55V headphone jack amplifier from the One and HTC's 8X Windows phone are here, too.

And the mini runs the same Android skin as the big One smartphone. That'll be a love-hate thing, because you have the non-removable Blinkfeed Flipboard clone, but that app seems most controversial among tech enthusiasts who aren't the core market for this phone.

The mini shares the One's 4 "ultrapixel" camera, which uses bigger-than-normal pixels to achieve solid low-light performance. When I shot a few pictures with it, though, I saw some pre-production firmware issues; images seemed very washed out. I didn't have that problem with the 1.6-megapixel front camera, which took very sharp photos with good colour saturation.

Since this is a unibody phone, there's no memory card slot or removable battery – 16GB and an 1800mAh cell are what you get. The mini also ditches the HTC One's IR remote, but I don't think that's a heavily used feature.

I'm a little uncomfortable with the use of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 400 processor at 1.4GHz rather than the faster Snapdragon 600, but performance is still solid here. I ran the Browsermark web browser benchmark on the phone and got a score of 2356, which doesn't measure up to the Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One, but beats other devices like the Galaxy S4 Active, HTC First and the Sony Xperia Z. Some of that score may be due to the use of the very new Android 4.2.2 on the new phone, but in any case it portends good performance.

The best thing about the mini, of course, is its size. The smaller device fits perfectly into my hand, and makes an even better one-handed phone than the One does (see the image below which shows the HTC One next to the One mini). It's about the same size as the HTC First and HTC 8X, both of which I think are about ideal, and its build is just spectacular. If you don't demand the ultimate in specs, this could be a great handset for you.

The HTC One mini goes up against the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and the Apple iPhone 4S in the middle of the smartphone range, and HTC pulls ahead of Samsung on specs at this level. The S4 Mini has been sized down to a 960 x 540 screen, 8GB of storage and a standard 8-megapixel camera, giving the One mini a tighter screen, better build quality and more built-in storage than its major Android competitor. But the S4 Mini may have longer battery life by powering its lower resolution screen with a slightly larger 1900mAh battery, and it has a memory card slot for expansion.

As we reported yesterday, HTC said the mini is set to go live in select markets in August ahead of a global rollout in September, but nothing specific has been confirmed for the UK launch date yet.