I've been interested in the One series for a while so I was pleased to be able to get my hands on a Mini 2. The build quality is superb, on removing it from the box there was an immediate wow factor usually reserved for Apple products. It's a lot lighter than it looks, despite having a brushed metal back. It feels great in the hand, though a little smooth, and is not too wide for my medium sized hands.
The volume switch is on the right hand side, above which is a removable tray for a microSD card (up to 128 GB!) On the opposite side is a tray for the nano-sim card. On my phone these do not fit entirely flush with case, though I've not been reminded of this in normal use. This is a very picky observation as otherwise the materials are excellent. They were very easy to open with the small tool provided.
The Mini 2 case is mostly metal or glass with a thin plastic strip between the front and back which only widens at the top where the power button and headphone jack are. I would rather have the power button at the side, as it is difficult to reach for with one hand; I can imagine me fumbling and dropping the phone trying to reactivate the screen without using both hands. On a smaller phone this wouldn't be a problem, but on a phone this size it's an ergonomic nightmare unless you have very long fingers. On the subject of its size, it's not really "mini" at all; it's just smaller than its bigger brother the One M8. It's larger, for example, than my other phone which is a Moto X. If I didn't know better I would have guessed this to be the larger of the two, simply based on the quality of the materials. I imagine there have been no compromises in build and that the Mini 2 is not just a shrunken version of the M8, but a design in its own right. On the bottom right is the micro-USB socket. There are two front-facing speakers, more on these later, and a front-facing LED indicator. Everything else is fairly standard - front and rear cameras, rear flash and microphone. The rear doesn't come off and the battery is not user-replaceable.
Set up was easy, although the first boot with the sim inserted took quite a long time. But then everything went smoothly as I find it normally does with Android phones. There is an option (buried in the settings menu) to get content from another phone, which involves installing the HTC Transfer Tool on the old phone. This worked a treat for transferring a few photos and music files, but as most of my content is in the cloud I didn't really need to use it. It is similar to the Motorola Migrate app which I used to transfer content to my X.
The screen is nice, but nothing out of the ordinary by today's standards. At 720x1280 it's difficult to see individual pixels, and I'm happy with the resolution and wouldn't need anything higher. I do prefer LED screens however, and this one is LCD. Blacks are dark grey and colours to my eyes look just that little bit washed out, but that's only in comparison to what I'm used to. It still looks nice.
As we would expect it comes with the latest Android 4.4.2 KitKat, with HTC's Sense 6.0 UI on top. This is my first experience of Sense, and from what I'd heard, I was expecting Android to be almost unrecognisable. But in fact it feels only lightly skinned, so I'm pleasantly surprised. Many options, like the pull-down settings menu, are slight improvements on vanilla Android, other changes I find annoying, unintuitive and unnecessary. For example, I had to look up on how to add widgets to the home screens as they are not accessible from the apps list. All things considered so far I would say that Sense is a slight overall improvement on vanilla, but it's not quite won me over yet. A major part of Sense is Blinkfeed which merges all social media in to one place. It looks good and can be turned off, though I can't comment further as I'm not big on social media. Facebook and Twitter come pre-installed but cannot be uninstalled. I have to say that I find that a little bit annoying, though they probably don't take up much space. Also good news for vanilla fans is that stock alternatives can be used in place of many HTC specials like the calendar.
I've already mentioned the physical presence of this phone, but there is one other area in which it shines very brightly: its sound quality. This is the best sounding phone I have ever had, and that includes a Galaxy S4. There is a built-in amplifier, called BoomSound in the menu, which can be turned on and off. It works with the two front speakers and the headphone jack, but not over bluetooth. It's like turning up the loudness knob on an old valve hi-fi. Coupled with a nice audio application like Poweramp and some quality earbuds, it sounds incredible. With a possible 130 GB+ storage, and a 50 GB cloud offer from Google which comes with the phone, the Mini 2 is ideal as a portable music player. This makes me more disappointed that it doesn't have a cutting-edge screen to match the audio. Techies reading this review might want to know what DAC the Mini 2 uses - so far I've not been able to find an answer. The original One Mini used a built-in Qualcomm DAC. Call quality is very good and so far it hasn't dropped a single call.
Back to the design - the two front speakers sound very impressive but when not in use I can't help but feel they are wasted space. Below the screen there is a good 2 cm of logo and speaker that don't do much when the phone is quiet, and another cm above the screen. And as the speakers are grey not black, they are very noticeable. If you don't watch video or play games, or mainly use earphones, you'll be wanting a phone that is maybe 3 cm shorter.
The cameras are very good. 13MP at the rear and 5MP front. Pictures are excellent and good in low light, and the camera UI is OK. The full sized HTC One M8 has different camera technology, so if pictures are a priority I would advise checking out that phone too.
Battery life so far is OK. I can get through the day with normal use and still have a bit left for the evening. It charges quickly, so I can sometimes charge it in the morning when I'm getting ready for work. Battery isn't a strong area for this phone, but I would say it is adequate. The CPU is quad-core 1.2 GHz and everything is smooth. I've tested a few video apps like Netflix, iPlayer, TVCatchup and MX Player Pro, and they all work fine.
In summary, no-one has yet made what I would call a perfect phone, but this isn't far off. I listen to a lot of music and the Mini 2 sounds fantastic. It has a very good, but not cutting-edge, camera. Storage is potentially huge with support for 128 GB microSD cards. The screen is good but not my preferred tech. Sense 6 is mostly intuitive and where it's not I can live with it. Battery is just OK. If I could I would combine the audio features of this with the screen and special features of my Moto X, but I'm still not sure about the space taken up by the front-facing speakers. There might be better value phones at a lower price so it depends on priorities, but overall a 5-star phone.