Up until about a year ago, if you asked me who the best Android manufacturer out there was I would have told you that my favorite, when it comes to hardware, was HTC. Their use of soft touch coatings made their phones feel great, and the company seemed to always be on the ball with the latest tech in their phones. As a G1, Nexus One, and Incredible owner, I got to see HTC change as they competed with the companies out there. Last year, with the release of the Thunderbolt, HTC seemed to lose their eye for hardware, and the quality of their devices decreased greatly with the Rezound and the Amaze 4G.Weeks ago HTC announced a reboot of their hardware line with the One series of smartphones, and a return to a design prowess I’d come to appreciate from HTC. Here is Geek.com’s comparison of the HTC One X, the One S, and the One V.HardwareHTC’s One series is their first in a line of devices to use ceramic one phone’s case. Ceramic makes the phone light, durable, and doesn’t run in to any of those pesky signal degrading issues you find with metals. The One S borders on being too light to feel in your pocket, and is noticeably skinnier in the middle, making the whole device feel razor-thin when you hold it. Being light and thin didn’t affect the durable feel of the phone one bit, as the One S also manages to feel like a solid slab of phone when holding it in your hand.The microUSB port on this device is placed along the top of the left hand side of the phone. While the placement seems unusual, it actually lends itself to making it easier for your to make calls when the phone is plugged into the wall. Both the power button and the volume rocker buttons are streamlined into the phone so you barely notice them, but the buttons themselves respond well to being pressed.HTC has changed their soft button layout on the One line, but this time to fall in line with Android 4.0. Replacing the traditional four button layout with just the Back, Home, and Multitask buttons on the glass surface of the front of the phone allows the One S to fall in line visually with the other Android 4.0 devices on the market, without the added expense of the larger screen to support the software buttons seen on the Galaxy Nexus. The HTC One S feels like the Nexus One with a massive upgrade, and I can think of no higher compliment for a phone.Performance and BatteryPacking a 1.5ghz dual-core Qualcomm S4 (Krait) with 1GB of ram, there’s not much this phone can’t handle. In fact, Qualcomm’s Krait SoC beats out the Galaxy Note, the Nexus, and the Xyboard in both loading and by having lower wait times.Coupled with T-Mobiles HSPA+ network, the phone isn’t going to be delivering the raw speed you’ll see with the Galaxy Note or the Nexus on Verizon’s LTE, but the battery life alone on the device is worth giving up that speed for some. When not in use, the One S uses almost zero battery, even when connected to HSPA+ all night. The 1650 MaH battery will easily get you through the day, on average leaving me with about 40% of the battery after 14 hours. This is great to seem since the battery on the One S is not removable at all.DisplaySuperLCD gave HTC the ability to throw out a few 720p displays before the rest of the Android manufacturers caught up, but with the One S HTC settled with an AMOLED screen and dropped to a 540 x 960 resolution. AMOLED screens are reported to consume less power, but they still deliver a brilliant visual experience. The display on the HTC One S is really fantastic, delivering nearly every viewing angle possible without any loss in quality. The AMOLED display gives off vibrant colors and deep blacks, delivering a visual experience that easily competes with the screen on the Galaxy Nexus… until you take it outside.HTC’s AMOLED display has a hard time keeping up in direct sunlight. The screen doesn’t wash out, it just becomes unusable because the it doesn’t get bright enough to compete with the light of the sun. This is one critical way that Samsung’s SAMOLED+ displays trump what HTC’s screen can deliver. While HTC’s screen does an amazing job delivering a great visual experience without blinding you in a dark room, the inability to perform outside is a real downfall.CameraHTC has been trying for awhile now to bring their devices ahead of the Android pack by offering them up as “lifestyle” devices. You don’t just have a smartphone, you have a small computer with Beats Audio and an incredible camera. Well, Beats Audio may still basically be a gimmick on HTC phones, but the camera on the One S is nothing to scoff at. The One S is one of the first phones HTC has outfitted with their own chip, designed to optimize low light photos. HTC’s ImageChip, alongside their already impressive camera app and the camera enhancements found in Android 4.0 bring the One S closer to a high-end point and shoot than I have seen in a smartphone that wasn’t specifically designed to be a camera before.The Camera App provided by HTC has been given a facelift, offering a user interface that spans the bottom of the phone when being held in portrait, and the right hand side when in landscape. Because the One S is so light, you can easily wield your camera with just your right hand and take impressive photos. If you want to apply any of the photo filters HTC has placed the navigation for this in thumbs reach, and has allowed for you to quickly pick a filter and go on with your shot. Compared to the Galaxy Note, I found that the HTC Once took much clearer shots in low-light situations, and delivered a comparable quality shot in ideal light situations. Between the interface and the quality of the pictures, HTC is well on their way to having one of the best camera apps on Android for users who want to just point and shoot.HTC Sense 4As an Android user who has evangelized the existence of the stock Android experience since the G1, I really liked Sense 3.5. It delivered just enough user customizable features, and offered more than enough visual improvements to Android that it worked very well. Sense does a great job staying out of Android’s way, and generally made the phone experience better. With Android 4.0, HTC felt the need to improve some things, and I feel like all the good will from Sense 3.5 just got shoved out the window.HTC flat out broke several points of Ice Cream Sandwich’s basic functionality in order to deliver what they consider to be a better interface. For example, in the gallery app Android 4.0 allows you to select multiple photos to share to a source, or to organize into folders. The ability to long press and select multiple items simply doesn’t exist in the One S’ gallery. And, in stock 4.0, when you take a screenshot with your phone it immediately opens the screenshot in the gallery, where you can share it wherever you choose. With Sense, when you take a screenshot you are given a preview of the screenshot, but if you want to share it you must back out of everything you are doing and go to the gallery app, where you can select the screenshot and upload it.There are points all over Sense 4 where it is clear that HTC is getting in the way, and increasing the number of steps needed to complete a tasks.HTC’s take on the Android 4.0 launcher offers positives and negatives. When you long press on the homescreen, you are taken to the ability to place widgets on the screen, something stock Android made worse by hiding the widgets in the app drawer. I find this whole experience to be an improvement over the stock experience. Just like stock Android, when you place multiple apps on top of one another they create a folder. In sense, that folder is displayed with a four pane grid, with the first four apps in the folder showing up in the grid. If you don’t have four apps in the folder, you wind up with tiny icons and blank spaces that don’t look very good. I prefer the stock look and feel to folders, but I doubt this is something that will bother most.In previous versions of Sense, you were able to choose apps that went on your lockscreen, so that you could launch apps from the lockscreen. It’s a brilliant idea, and one that I use over and over again. Unfortunately, Sense 4 gets in the way of the feature by not allowing you to choose your four apps. Instead, Sense 4 just scrapes whatever you have in the four spaces on your launcher, and makes those items your lockscreen apps. This isn’t a terrible idea, at least until you place folders in your launcher (which I do frequently). The end result is a folder on your lockscreen that doesn’t allow you to launch an app, but instead just unlocks the phone and opens the folder. Your two options for this feature are to disable it entirely, or allow it to grab the apps from your launcher, which is a serious decline in function from previous versions.My final point of contention with Sense is their new keyboard. HTC has always had a unique keyboard on their phones, often delivering great new features and improving on the existing designs for the Android keyboard layout. The Sense 4 keyboard is a strange, limited amalgam of their previous IME keyboard and Swype, the popular draw-to-type keyboard from Nuance. The Swype-like functions are a little on the slow side, and don’t offer even remotely accurate second and third guesses for words when you get something wrong. If you try to type something in a URL bar, the Swype-like function goes away entirely. Using the stock keyboard as a keyboard, forgetting the drawing functions, delivers a good enough experience, but this attempt to put Swype on their phones without actually putting Swype on their phones is pretty sad.Final ThoughtsIf you are on T-Mobile and looking for your next smartphone, you won’t find anything better than the One S. The hardware design is light years ahead of HTC’s competition, and while I am disappointed in the lack of NFC, T-Mobile hasn’t really given that technology a whole lot of thought anyway, so it’s less likely to be useful to a T-Mobile customer.Nothing on T-Mobile comes even close to competing with this phone, and hopefully that sends a clear message to HTC’s competition: they need to up their game. HTC’s Sense UI took an unfortunately turn for the less functional, but all told I’m sure users that are new to Android will enjoy the experience.The HTC One is on T-Mobile for $199 with a new contract — it’s worth every penny.HTC One S Size compareHTC One S Size compareHTC One S screen compareHTC One S HomescreenHTC One S Camera AppHTC One S Battery LifeHTC One SThe One S used in this review was loaned to us by T-Mobile.