Like the HTC Touch, the HTC Touch Diamond, the HTC HD2 and the HTC Sensation before it, the HTC One X is a generational leap beyond its predecessors. It features a “4-PLUS-1” architecture commonly marketed more simply as quad-core and a 4.7-inch 720p HD Super LCD 2 display wrapped by a single piece of polycarbonate into which the necessary small holes for sound from speakers have been drilled. But are the camera and music really as amazing and authentic as claimed? Does Tegra 3 deliver both the speed and power efficiency promised? And does everything come together in real-life situations to make the near £500 cost worth paying? Over the extended Easter weekend I put my One X through its paces, so read on to find out…
Design and build quality
Design has been one of HTC’s strengths since since working with and eventually acquiring One & Co. It is therefore pleasing that HTC has returned to exploiting this strength after two years of phones converging on a chunky (by today’s standards), largely aluminium 4.3-inch-screened device.
The One X looks stunning from every angle. The Gorilla Glass 2 on the front slopes near-seamlessly into the curved polycarbonate unibody – the small bump at the edge of the screen providing tactile feedback when you’ve swiped or dragged far enough. The vast majority of the space on the front of the device is taken up by the screen and yet through the wrapping around of the unibody and the curving and sloping of the screen’s edges, it certainly differentiates itself from the considerable number of large black slabs on the market.
The screen itself looks superb – pixels are virtually invisible to the naked eye, colour reproduction is as good as I’ve seen for a LCD and brightness is good too. Strangely, my One X didn’t have the automatic backlight adjustment on by default.
Below the screen are three capacitive buttons with haptic feedback. The layout of the buttons is somewhat frustrating and unlike other devices of mine with a back button. Instead of placing the back button near the thumb if holding the device in your right hand, it is actually the furthest button and not easy to reach in a one-handed grip. Instead, the easiest button to press is the less useful multitasking button. However, this is more of an issue with the direction that Android is heading in than the One X as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus has the same on-screen button layout and a similarly large screen.
Thus far the the earpiece and external speaker have remained dirt-free, mainly due to the fact the holes drilled through the phone’s polycarbonate shell are incredibly small. The volume when playing music seems good, though I have missed a few calls in noisy environments – perhaps an issue with volume but also perhaps due to the poorer than average vibration capabilities or just me not yet being familiar with the ringtone (I’ve got mine set to an interesting blast from the past).
Unfortunately the main camera is not recessed relative to the protruding metal ring around it, making it a target for scratches. Similarly, the front-facing camera is also sub-optimally designed – this time being so small and so far recessed that it’s prone to picking up dirt.
For a number of reasons I have the white version of the One X, and it is worth noting that it does pick up some dirt and colours from clothes. Nothing that a rub and sometimes a drop or two of water can’t handle though.
Finally, and surprisingly, the device is very light – lighter than the HD2 and though it’s not as light as the Touch Diamond, it feels as light. This is likely due to the lack of metal used in the phone’s polycarbonate unibody shell as well as the lithium-ion polymer battery.
I am a fan of HTC Sense – while using plain Android on my HD2 I did miss a lot of the shortcuts and functionality it that Sense provided me with as well as the high quality and uniformly themed widgets. Sense 4, which can be found on the One X, cuts out many of the nice but frivolous animations. There are still a limited number of visually pleasing enhancements such as a limited third dimension to the homescreen transitions. It is disappointing to see the ‘pinch to switch tabs’ feature no longer in the browser and HTCSense.com gone for now (I hope to see something similarly useful in its place soon). I am looking forward to testing the included Movie Editor app as I record more videos.
One annoyance which will hopefully eventually disappear is that a lot of apps, sometimes inexplicably, cause a menu button to be displayed at the bottom of the screen. This is not much of an issue when it facilitates use of an older application but it also displays when running applications such as NVIDIA’s Glowball, which appears to have no use for it. From a developer’s perspective, I suspect HTC may be checking for the presence of methods such as onCreateOptionsMenu(Menu menu) but not running them to get a return value for fear that applications could do something in reaction other than populate a menu and say whether or not it should be displayed.
Camera and Music
The camera software, as HTC will tell you, is fantastic. I do find it slightly misleading though that the default camera mode is called ‘Auto’ but never invokes features from other modes. It would be handy and not infeasible for it to automatically turn HDR on or off based on lighting conditions, turn on portrait or group portrait based on face detection, landscape and close up based on autofocus feedback and panorama based on camera motion. I did encounter one bug a number of times, though not enough to yet be sure of how to reproduce it: periodic focus hunting while recording video, as featured in the video below.
Overall the camera is not perfect and it’s still perfectly capable of taking bad photos in the right conditions, but it’s definitely a lot easier to use and takes good photos in far more conditions than any other phone camera I’ve seen. The panorama mode, for example, seems to do some matching of features in images rather than naïvely fading them into each other, but doesn’t warp the images where necessary to match both nearer and further objects. I’ve not yet been in good situations to test the single-LED flash which supposedly flashes with one of five brightness levels depending on the distance of the subject.
I must disagree with HTC over the quality of their music software. Not only does Beats Audio by definition reduce the authenticity of the music (unless the response curve of the hardware through which the audio is being played is known and compensated for) but even when I turned it off I found that my musical experience with the included earphones was inferior to that of my previous HTC devices. I found the external speaker to be more satisfactory compared to my previous devices though and quite loud. I prefer Android’s default music application to the custom music application included – as well as hiding the list of files currently playing in a popover menu (and calling it a queue, with the currently playing file being referred to as ‘Now Playing’ – something that caused me to be unable to get to the list of currently playing files for several days), the application seems to go to the ‘Now Playing’ screen if you ever leave it and come back to the application. This is particularly annoying as I like to browse through my files, searching for the next thing I want to hear, and sometimes have to leave the application briefly. Jumping to ‘Now Playing’ is pointless to me as the same information and controls are available on the lockscreen, as a widget and as a notification.
I have encountered occasional software glitches, but nothing that’s unusual these days for the first firmware version. Bugs have included the camera failing to start successfully once and the screen occasionally turning back on immediately after turning it off.
Hardware and Gaming
Few people typically use their phone in such a way that a quad-core 1.5GHz CPU is particularly necessary. Indeed, I am not amongst that few. However, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be noticed even during the most mundane tasks. Even when running Android 2.3, which it was pretty good at, my HD2 would occasionally lag for a moment before switching activities and sometimes even have to catch up with a few back button presses. However, the One X flies through all screen transitions. The browser loads with ease and smoothly scrolls through pages that the HD2’s single-core 1GHz Scorpion CPU would not enjoy loading and jerkily scroll through. The phone manages to keep this smoothness up even when it’s up to a variety of tasks at once.
Surprisingly, this speed is achieved with impressively low power consumption. Despite the larger screen and much more powerful processor, the One X happily survived a day involving a 50-minute-long train journey spent listening to music while uploading photos and videos over a HSPA-only mobile network while I also reviewed and captioned the photos and videos. Such abuse would’ve drained about half of the HD2’s battery, but only used 20-30% of the One X’s battery. Excluding the first day, as the battery takes a few charges to exhibit normal battery life, the battery has easily lasted all day for me so far despite all of the setting up, testing and real use I’ve put it through (I had a busy weekend).
Some features I have not yet tested include Bluetooth, DLNA, GPS, Wi-Fi Direct and NFC – I tend not to use these features regularly, though it is nice to have them there for the occasions when they are useful.
Thus far I haven’t had too much opportunity to explore Tegra-specific games other than Glowball, which looks fantastic though seems to be optimised for tablets. Non-Tegra-specific games are super-smooth but obviously have more average graphics. I was amused to see that Teeter was included and that (to the point I’ve played it to) it’s still the same as the original version on the HTC Touch Diamond.
Unlike most phones lately, which have been priced too highly or have struggled to stand out from the competition, I think the One X is competitively priced at just under £500 in the UK. However, if like most people you don’t purchase your phones outright and instead get them with a contract, the news is worse – most contracts in the UK at the moment that include phones are awfully priced. It’s easier to lose money relative to buying the phone outright than get it subsidised by your network. Two and a half years ago my HTC HD2, for example, was effectively £190 cheaper with a contract than it was to buy outright. This is the fault of the networks and something to be wary of in general as they clearly attempt to settle their 3G spectrum auction debts and save for the 4G spectrum auction that will hopefully happen in the next year or so.
The HTC One X is the best phone available today. But is it the phone you’ve been waiting for? Possibly.
Small-handed people would struggle to use it due to its sheer size – for these people I would not recommend the One X and I would be wary of suggesting its smaller sibling S, which has a similar height though reduced width and thickness. Of HTC’s One range, probably only One V is suitable if size is your concern. The One V is also suitable for those who don’t need the latest and greatest phone – with similar specs to the HD2 and the same camera software as the One X, it is actually pretty good despite being roughly half the price of its larger siblings.
If you need a lot of data while on the go, the lack of microSD card slot is a problem though the 32GB of internal storage is generous. PocketVM will let you store more files than you otherwise could while wirelessly letting you see them on any computer you come to. And if that’s not enough, the One X comes with 25GB of cloud storage.
Of considerable concern is what Apple and Samsung may release later this year. However, you know more about this than you might think – the pros and cons of the Android and iOS ecosystems are unlikely to change rapidly, Apple rarely varies a number of specs (e.g. screen size) and Samsung is highly likely to use an AMOLED screen.
I am unfortunate enough to live in a part of the world that doesn’t look likely to get any LTE networks at all until 2013, and probably won’t get a decent level of coverage until near the middle of this decade. However, if you would benefit from a phone with 4G capabilities then the HTC One X might not be for you. Luckily, the HTC One XL is near-identical except it’s powered by a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon, has LTE capabilities and has only 16GB of internal storage (presumably you’re supposed to store more online and take advantage of the superior mobile network speeds).
Personally, I would highly recommend the One X. It’s obviously not for everyone (hence the One S and One V), but it is certainly the phone that many people have been waiting for: it is, in spirit, the HD3.