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HTC One mini 2 review

HTC has downsized both the physical size and the specs of its flagship M8 for the One mini 2. Is it a perfect cut-price flagship or a cut too far?

With its new flagship One (M8), HTC has further refined the award-winning design that started with the original HTC One, the M7. Expansive aluminium still features heavily of course, but this time round the plastic edge insert has gone and the metal curves around beautifully to meet the screen. The M8 feels a million dollars just as much as its rival, the Galaxy S5, feels disappointing. The challenge for HTC is to bring this premium design and build to a lower price point (and a smaller physical product) in the refreshed One mini.

When HTC released the original One mini, it had the same challenge – to translate the M7’s design to a cheaper segment of the market. The route it chose (and followed with the phablet-sized One Max too), was to trim the whole edge of the
device in plastic (white plastic on the silver model). While it might have reduced the manufacturing cost, it was a compromise too far from a design and feel perspective.

Thankfully, the One mini 2 doesn’t make the same mistake. When you pick up a M8 in one hand and the One mini 2 in the other, they feel extremely similar and the inevitable design tweaks are far less noticeable than on its predecessor. While the M8’s aluminium unibody wraps right round to the edge of the screen, the One mini 2 (in signature gunmetal grey) has a black plastic strip that sits between the front piece of the device and the back piece. As it is inserted between the two and doesn’t protrude, it doesn’t compromise the overall design and feel this time round.

There are a couple of other design differences between the One mini 2 and its bigger brother. The 3.5mm headphone port is on the top instead of the bottom and the power button’s location is also slightly different. Unlike on the M8 it’s not transparent as there is no IR blaster. On the back of the device, the duo camera with dual colour flash is replaced by a regular 13-megapixel shooter and single colour flash.

Overall, HTC has done an excellent job with the design of the One mini 2 – it feels every bit a high-end product. The curve on the back from the centre to the edges does a good job of hiding the fact that the phone is actually relatively chunky by today’s standards – 10.6mm in size at its thickest point. The device will be available in Amber Gold and Glacial Silver as well as the grey – the same hues as the M8.

The One mini 2 includes a 720p screen and while it is lower resolution than the 1080p flagship, it is more than adequate for a 4.5-inch device. The display is very sharp and, as is often the case with HTC products, it is a very good screen indeed. When held alongside the M8 the blacks aren’t quite as deep and the colours aren’t quite as vibrant, but it is still excellent overall.

The One mini 2 is designed to target a price point between the low to mid-range Desire devices and below the M8 flagship and so it’s inevitable that compromises will have been made in the specifications. The biggest difference is that the phone features a Snapdragon 400 quad-core CPU at 1.2GHz and 1GB RAM. Although less horsepower is required to drive the lower resolution display, this is still a significant change.

The One mini 2 has a 2100mAh battery, up from 1800mAh on its predecessor. Generally speaking battery capacity is governed by the physical size of the device, so it’s no surprise to learn that it has a lower capacity than the 2600mAh cell in the M8, although HTC claim that the two should have similar stamina. The Snapdragon 400 equipped Moto G has a 2070mAh unit, albeit without LTE support that the One mini 2 includes.

HTC seems to have discovered some sort of magic of late that makes its touch panels incredibly sensitive. We saw it before on the M8 and we can see it again here – the overall responsiveness of the device belies the more humble internals. Navigating around the device is impressively snappy out of the box and in day-to-day use you’ll be hard pressed to find complaint about the overall performance. Of course, there are some situations where you can push the phone to its limits and sometimes it’s not when you expect it. While intense gaming can unsurprisingly be less fluid than on more powerful devices, applying particularly active live wallpapers too can slow down the launcher and home screen, which is a little disappointing.

The reality is that for all but the most demanding of power users, the Snapdragon 400 does keep pace with day-to-day life and coupled with the smoothness of HTC’s modern software builds, the experience is largely a pleasure.

The same really applies to the One mini 2’s battery life. When the device isn’t too hard pressed and particularly in standby, battery life is very good – not quite on par with the M8, but very good for a device of this size. When worked hard however (for gaming and other processor intensive tasks), the battery gets depleted more quickly, which is typical when a lower performance processor is included.

The One mini 2 ships with Sense 6 on top of Android KitKat 4.4.2. Almost everything from the M8 is included, with the main exceptions being the innovative motion launch features (which are not possible on the One mini 2 due to the lack of a dedicated motion co-processor) and the IR remote features. The lack of the co-processor also means no built-in step counting for Fitbit. Also worthy of note is that the One mini 2 won’t have a ‘dot view’ case like its bigger brother, which is a shame.

In use, the version of Sense 6 on the One mini 2 is virtually indistinguishable from that on the M8. All of the signature features are included – the updated and excellent BlinkFeed, the easy-to-use but powerful camera app (although slightly simplified), HTC’s backup and migration tools and all the tweaked and improved system apps such as the Calendar, Contacts and Dialer. Sense 6 introduces a colour coding and theme system that is also present on the One mini 2 – it’s clever and has great potential for when we start to see third-party themes arriving.

Probably the most controversial aspect of the One mini 2 is the inclusion of a 13-megapixel camera with f/2.2 lens instead of the Ultrapixel unit included on the M8. It sends HTC off its message that pixel size is more important than pixel count and, regardless of how good the camera is, for a device that’s part of the flagship range, that’s sure to create some confusion.
In reality, the switch is both a blessing and a curse. While the M8 camera can at times be great, in optimal shooting conditions the lack of megapixels can be frustrating, leading to a lack of detail in photos. The flip side is that when light is poor, the M8 excels. To a degree, the reverse applies to the One mini 2. In ideal conditions, it really is a surprisingly good camera. A good level of detail is captured, autofocus is very quick as is the capture itself. In low light, the One mini 2 is slightly less impressive, although it still doesn’t do a bad job. Expect the One mini 2 to ignite a lot of debate about the merits of the Ultrapixel.

‘Selfie’ mode as it is branded in Sense 6 is present, utilising the front-facing five-megapixel camera. As you’d expect, the images are better than almost any other front-facing cameras that have gone before. Video can be captured up to full HD resolution with slow motion and Fast HD options available. The Sense 6 software can create Zoe highlight videos on the One mini 2 (with an updated Social Zoe app to come in the summer, as for the M8) but the Zoe capture mode, which captures a few seconds of images before and after a shot, is sadly missing.

Without question, the One mini 2 is a much better attempt at creating a cut down flagship than the original One mini. While the specs have been trimmed, quite significantly in some places, the overall experience is still very enjoyable and still feels very high quality.

There is a problem though and that is price. Initial pre-pay pricing looks to be around the £360 mark (with contract pricing TBC), which is far from a budget phone. This puts the One mini 2 in a very competitive price bracket where customers really need to buy into the premium design and experience.