HTC One X Review
Despite its cons, HTC One X is the absolute best that Android has to offer
Quad Core CPU
32GB internal memory
Mediocre battery life
Some software niggles
2011 was an interesting year for HTC, full of ups and lows. With the launch of high end devices like Desire HD and the Sensation line up things were looking pretty great. However with much fan following HTC lost its way a little by the end of the year. There were simply too many devices and too little innovation. In the space of only a few months we saw three different Sensation models and none improving on its predecessor. The acquisition of Beats Audio didn’t help matters either with the technology receiving mixed reviews. Similarly the once loved Sense UI was also becoming a little long in the tooth.
But you know what they say, you cannot hope to improve if you don’t accept and recognize your mistakes. And although it look a bad quarter financially for HTC to do so, I’m glad they finally did. Less phones and more focus on quality is the new motto for the company and the result of it is the new line up of smartphones dubbed the One series. This includes One V, S and X the latter being the top dog and the phone we will be reviewing today.
According to HTC One X is the phone we’ve been looking for. Let’s find out if that is indeed the case or not.
There’s no thinking twice over this; HTC One X is simply one of the most beautiful looking phones I’ve ever used and it is easily the best looking Android phone ever made. HTC has really done its homework regarding overall finish and looks and the result is this breathtaking piece of polycarbonate. It was only a few weeks ago where I called N9 one of the best looking phones I’ve ever used, well the One X has nearly taken the mantle from N9 when it comes purely to looks and feel.
A 4.7-inch LCD dominates the front of the phone. It’s protected by Gorilla Glass and is ever so curved just like the Galaxy Nexus is but a lot more conservative. On top is a front facing camera and very finely drilled speakerphone holes. I’m inclined to believe these are laser drilled because of how fine these are. Under daily use you can barely make them out. One of these holes also houses a notification LED. I cannot stress on how useful this LED is and the fact that most manufacturers chose to leave it out makes the One X even more of a thoughtful design. On the bottom are three capacitive buttons for back, home and multi-tasking.
The back cover is non removable and has a matte finish. On top is the camera lens which is raised slightly and is surrounded by a matte silver ring with a LED flash. Camera is one of the most touted features of this phone and it rightly stands out from an otherwise plain looking back. Just above the camera is a micro SIM tray which can only be accessed by pushing in a thin paper clip or the included pin. On the bottom are finely drilled speaker holes similar to the ones found on the front. These holes might be fine but they produce loud and clear audio with a hint of bass. A barely legible Beats Audio insignia is printed above.
While the polycarbonate shell on the back has a matte finish, the sides of the phone have a glossy finish. I’m not sure why HTC opted for a glossy finish but it doesn’t deter too much from the overall design scheme of the phone. The volume rocker is big and has a distinct feel. Unlike HTCs previous offerings this one is neither too stiff nor too soft; just about perfect. It’s the same case with the power button which is housed on the top, hard to miss and very easy to press. On the left is an MHL port which doubles as a Micro USB port and HD video out port. Also included is a five pin connector on the back for dock connectivity. Unfortunately for a camera centric offering, HTC decided against a dedicated shutter key.
What about general handling then? Well considering it has a 4.7-inch screen you should expect a rather large phone, and it is. One X is amongst the largest smartphones available out there. If you think something like a Galaxy S2 was big then wait till you hold this in your hands. However what this has and Galaxy S2 or any other smartphone of similar size doesn’t is stellar built quality and stunning looks. There’s simply no going around this fact. Apart from sheer size there’s nothing here I can complain about. The phone feels ridiculously light despite weighing 130g and fits perfectly in the hand. There’re no cracks under pressure or no loose vibrations here. This is a top quality device inside and out and it has raised the bar for other smartphones to come. Any Android smartphone after using One X feels like a massive downgrade in built quality, finish and overall looks.
HTC has been criticized heavily in the past for the quality of displays they’ve used in their high end offerings. The Sensation XE, for example, which was HTC’s best offering before One X, suffered from washed out colors and poor viewing angles. With the competing phone offering technologies like Super AMOLED and Retina Displays, it was about time we saw something from HTC in this regard, and boy have they delivered.
HTC One X has, without a shadow of a doubt, the most stunning display ever used on a smartphone. It’s hard to express in words what HTC has accomplished with this flawless screen. At 1280×720 we’re talking pixel density over 300PPI which is well within ‘Retina’ territory. This means unless you have a microscope for an eye, there is no way you’ll be able to identify individual pixels. There’s no pentile matrix crap being pulled off here, this is regular RGB matrix/pixel arrangement. Viewing angles nigh on perfect at 180 degrees. The display seems to be glued on the glass just like Nokia does with their Clear Black displays. This gives an impression of the text ‘flowing’ onto the screen. Color accuracy is faultless. Whites are pure whites and blacks are deep. Watching HD movies is a surreal experience and one that needs to be actually experienced to believe.
It’s hard to explain what joy it brings using this smartphone due to its screen alone. It puts the Super AMOLED+ display on Galaxy S2 to shame and makes the iPhone 4S looks primitive. It is just that damn awesome.
HTC copped a lot of flack for their implementation of Sense 3.0, and rightly so. Too many useless animations, too much bloat all resulted in bogging down decent enough hardware. With Sense 4.0 they’ve taken a slightly different route. Sense 4.0 is not a complete redesign, but a mere evolution from Sense 3.x and it comes preinstalled with Android 4.0.3.
What’s great about the software on HTC One X.
Immediately upon restart you’re greeted with the awesome lock screen HTC introduced with Sense 3.0. Nothing has changed here, you know what they say about not fixing it if it ain’t broke? Moving onto the home screen it’s evident that HTC has refined Sense UI quite a bit. Gone is the launcher where the phone button took three-fourth of the space, or the ridiculous two button implementation we saw in Rhyme. The new launcher is Ice Cream Sandwich influenced where you get five shortcuts, four of which are customizable with the menu button being irreplaceable.
You get a maximum of seven home screens, which can be rearranged or removed if not needed. Quickly switching between home screens will not activate the carousel effect, thank goodness for that.The widgets implementation has been tweaked as well. Now you get a visual representation of where your widgets are on all screens when you’re choosing a new one. They’re also placed into different categories so you no longer have to scroll between hundreds of them to get the desired one. Of course this being Ice Cream Sandwich you get resizable widgets too.
The notification menu has also gone under Ice Cream Sandwich treatment. You can swipe to erase individual notifications. Unfortunately HTC chose to remove the quick toggles. The app drawer has remained unchanged. The settings menu however has gotten a slight makeover. Its got a white theme and new over-scroll effects.
The rest of the UI has remained unchanged for the most part. You get your run of the mill music player, Beats Audio included. Fortunately this time you can completely turn off the sound enhancers. The video player has gotten a slight refresh, it now supports subtitles and trimming. The loudspeaker on the back is impressive and pumps out a decent amount of sound. The sound quality through headphones is a bit of a mixed bag though. The cool looking HTC weather animations are also included.
What’s not great about the software on HTC One X.
One X is HTC’s first phone that comes with Sense 4.0 and Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s also their first phone powered by a quad core Tegra 3 chipset from nVidia. This all should theoretically make for an ultra smooth user experience. However the reality is a bit different though. While HTC has gone to great lengths to strip Sense of all its useless glory, the fact remains that it is still the biggest performance hog in the phone. It fares better than how Sensation did with Sense 3.0 but with the amount of time HTC has taken to come up with the ICS/Sense 4 combination I was expecting better.
Put a live wallpaper and you’ll see animations starting to lag somewhat. The live wallpaper implementation itself is flawed; every time you scroll between home screens, there’s a slight pause in the wall paper animation.
Another flaw I found has more to do with Ice Cream Sandwich than anything else. Any application thats not updated for Google’s latest and greatest, which as of now is effectively all applications, will have an ugly looking menu button at the bottom taking away precious screen space. This is as a result of Google stripping Ice Cream Sandwich of hardware menu button support. This needs to be fixed yesterday!
There’s no way to directly access settings from the home screen. Since there isn’t any menu button, you have to open the app drawer to access the settings menu. A work around is to make a shortcut on the home screen but this is a big step backwards in functionality.
The built in video player consistently failed to play HD movies properly. I think it’s got something to do with codecs because the video always worked fine, it’s the audio part that barely ever worked.
The Sense keyboard. I never liked keyboards on Android, and I have particularly never been a fan of HTC’s keyboard. You’d think with such a big screen typing would be a breeze, well it’s anything but. Too cluttered, too many useless arrow keys HTC, too many. Make it simple, ala iPhone or Windows Phone.
Sense 4.0 is a big step forward from its previous iterations. HTC has actively listened to criticism and has come up with a very nice looking custom skin for its new Android smartphones. I am, and always will be a stock UI fan, but if I were to choose a custom UI it would probably be Sense 4.0. There are a few niggles here and there but nothing that a software update cannot fix. What I also like about Sense 4.0 is that HTC has not completely killed of the native ICS UI. You get glimpses of it in places such as pop up menus. The phonebook is also similar to what you get in stock ICS. Over all on the software front I can, perhaps not totally convincingly, say that I’m satisfied. I can complain about preferring stock Android UI, but I know that’s never going to happen on a HTC handset, at least not by default. Despite its flaws, it remains, by far, the best custom UI on any Android smartphone.
HTC One X is the first smartphone that comes with a quad core CPU. The CPU in question is part of the Tegra 3 chipset and is clocked at 1.5 GHz. The phone comes with 1GB of RAM. Since this is the very first quad core powered smartphone, benchmark figures are kind of meaningless since there isn’t any competition. However just for future reference lets have a look at a few.
The 8MP camera on HTC One X is one of its most touted features. HTC has made big claims about the image quality of this phone. The new ImageSense chip in this phone is responsible for the nearly zero (0.7 actual) shutter lag. And it really works wonders. Under normal use you’ll barely encounter any delay between pressing the shutter button and the phone taking the image. Another stellar feature One X offers is the ability to take pictures when recording videos. This can come in extremely handy when recording an occasion and suddenly finding a capture worthy moment.The camera interface has also been redesigned and as a result is quite clean without too many unnecessary buttons.
What about image quality then? Well to be honest with the claims HTC made I was expecting One X to surpass the iPhone 4S in terms of image quality. To me the iPhone 4S is currently the benchmark for image quality in mainstream cellphones. Unfortunately the HTC One X falls short. While the image quality itself is quite decent, it pales in comparison to the iPhone 4S. Macro shots on iPhone turned out to be consistently clear. White balance and exposure was also handled a lot better by the iPhone. Images taken from One X had too much saturation for my liking. I can safely use an iPhone 4S as a point&shoot replacement. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for One X. Make no mistake, the One X takes very decent pictures, but the reason I have to be harsh here is because HTC made far too big a deal out of its camera.
Battery and Sensor Performance
HTC One X comes with a 1800 mAh battery which is not removable. On the specs front the phone is a monster. The quad core CPU and the monstrous 4.7″ display can really suck the battery dry; and they do. Under moderate use you’re looking at almost a day’s worth of performance. Start doing anything slightly more intensive, like watching a movie or games and you’ll be charging your phone well before the end of the day. It’s not surprising. Android phones have never been battery efficient and the rate at which we’re seeing number of cores and screen size increase, I doubt that will change anytime soon. What’s worse is that you’re stuck with this tiny, non removable 1800 mAh battery. I say tiny because the competition has already packed in a 3000+ mAh battery in a thinner shell. 1800 mAh was last years top end, it just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Things are a lot rosier at the WiFi and GPS end. These are two aspects of a smartphone HTC has always excelled in. The Sensation XE I tried had a very accurate GPS receiver. With One X it gets even better. It gets a stable lock quickly and accuracy under an open sky went as low as 1m, which is the best I’ve seen on a smartphone.
The WiFi antenna is equally as strong. Not only did it manage to keep a stable connection throughout my home, it also showed my neighboring access points which my iPhone never detected. Where the iPhone showed only 1, which was my own access point, the One X showed an extra 2.
The few weeks I spent with HTC One X, there really is just one conclusion I kept on coming to. This, in my opinion, is without any doubt what so ever, the best Android smartphone ever made. It simply obliterates the competition simply by the virtue of its design alone. This is a side of HTC we haven’t seen before. No longer can the company rest on the laurels of its past successes. One X is a testament to this fact. This is HTC at its absolute best. It took them a few missed opportunities to get here, but boy have they arrived. One X is a slam-dunk, a whole in one!
It’s absolutely stunning looking with an almost unrealistically good looking screen. The software, though with its faults, is the best custom UI you’ll find on any Android phone by far. Is HTC One X worth buying? Absolutely! I’m not going to argue whether its better than any Windows Phone or iPhone, but if you’re on the lookout for the best Android experience, HTC One X is indeed the phone you’re looking for.