So here we have another latest and greatest Android “super phone”, the HTC One X. HTC’s latest smartphone is an absolute beauty, with a great looking white polycarbonate shell while also sporting a massive display. The specs are nothing to sneeze at either, but in the Android market specs will always be bested by the next phone from the competition – so how does the One X differentiate itself?
HTC has been having a bit of an image problem, seeing as they were releasing new phones at a rapid rate, which eventually meant they left their existing users in the cold when it came to updates. So HTC decided to start from scratch, and simplify their lineup with the new “One” range, consisting of the X on the top, a midrange S model and a lower end V model.
The One X is a very good looking phone. While I typically believe that premium phones should have metal builds like the iPhone, the recent polycarbonate trend has made me rethink that belief. The One X is built from a single piece of white plastic, with the front dominated by glass, just like most high end phones nowadays. We loved this on the Nokia Lumia 800, and we love it here as well. Just like the Galaxy Nexus (which we reviewed a few weeks back), the One X has a slightly concave build, which sits comfortably in hand. But, unlike the Samsung, there is no “chin” – the design is beautifully simple. But back to the glass – just like the Samsung the glass is concave, but also horizontally convex, just like the Nokia Lumia 800. It is a small thing, but it really lends a premium feel to the phone.
The polycarbonate has a matte finish (except right around the edges), which is actually a little slippery, which is not great if you keep the size of the device in mind. In my medium sized male hands the phone was rather difficult to handle one handed (all because of that big 4,7 inch display), and that slippery feel basically forces you to use the device with two hands. In the current “my screen is bigger than yours” Android race, I think we have hit the limit if comfortable ergonomics.
The device stays with the times with a smaller MicroSIM slot, and a built in battery. On top you find a small sleep/wake button and headphone port, and on the right a large volume rocker button (which we will also get to later). On the left you find a MicroUSB port for charging and syncing. The bottom of the device only has a tiny hole for the microphone. One the back is the HTC logo (with a red Beats Audio logo), and a protruding camera lens. But that protruding lens protrudes for a reason – when the phone is put down on table, it causes the rear speaker to reflect off the table. The phone speaker on top of the phone is right on the edge, which takes some getting used to when talking on the phone, but it also houses the notification lights.
The front also has buttons – but the touch variety. Even though the One X runs Ice Cream Sandwich, HTC has opted away from the on-screen button standard, and stuck to dedicated buttons below the screen. Controversial choice, but we will also get to that later.
My biggest complaint with the design is how easily one presses the volume rocker – in a typical scenario where one horizontally grips the phone, you almost always press the volume buttons. Of course, over time the owner of the phone will get used to adjusting his or her grip – but I am nitpicking here.
The screen on the One X is the best display I have ever seen on a phone. While the 4,7 inch size might put some people off, the 1280 x 720 resolution means it is very close to Apple’s retina display in pixel density – you also have a tough time seeing individual pixels. What I also appreciated is that HTC stuck to a standard LCD display, which means colours are more uniform, and it can be read easily outside in sunlight, something which the Galaxy Nexus’s OLED display has some trouble with.
The display also has excellent viewing angles, but it does not have that “painted on” look that the iPhone has – HTC probably did not fuse the glass and LCD panel. Videos and photos look brilliant, but some users might miss the pure black of OLED displays. But horses for courses…
Hardware, Camera, Battery
The Android spec race is alive and well when it comes to the One X – it runs a quad core 1.5 GHz Cortex A9 processor, so the phone is theoretically a very fast device. This means that even with the HTC Sense skin over Ice Cream Sandwich, the device never feels slow. Framerates within the OS is fast, and apps load instantly. Needless to say, the Android spec race means that the recently launched Samsung Galaxy S3 might give the One X a go, but we will have to compare the two hands-on to see which one is faster. Either way – the One X delivers the goods.
The camera on the One X carries a f/2.0 lens, so needless to say the depth of field on the lens is excellent, and can create brilliant shots. It is good to see HTC punt the lens aperture instead of the 8 megapixel sensor – a move I would like to see other phone manufacturers follow as well. Images were first rate, and the HTC sense software makes the camera a treat to use. Some people might miss a dedicated camera shutter button, but I did not have any trouble. What I did appreciate is the ability to take photos while capturing a video, something I think more phones should come with by now. The Sense software also makes it easy to quickly share photos and videos to social networks. It also has quick access to features like burst shot, which I appreciate.
Videos are recorded in full 1080p resolution, and the front camera can also record at 720p. Videos looked good, if perhaps a little dark.
When it comes to the battery the One X is a mixed bag. Inside the thin case it packs a whopping 1800mAh battery, and the phone definitely lasts longer than most Android phones out there. I was not expecting this, considering the massive 4,7 inch screen and the quad core processor inside. In terms of standby life, the One X is very good – I got a full day of heavy use out of the phone, which keeps me happy. Less active users might be able to push a day and a half out of the phone. During heavy use the phone also got fairly warm, but that is to be expected from that processor.
But these days I also like to stress test the battery using Waze for my normal route to work and back – maybe it is just the way in which Waze runs on Android, but the battery got chewed up much faster than I expected on the One X. Regular Wazers might want to invest in a car charger.
With almost all high end phones now sporting big ol’ screens and big processors, the biggest differentiator between Android phones is the skin they use on top of Android. It is also the easiest way to make a phone great, or very bad. So how is HTC Sense 4.0?
The thing is, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to Android, and my past experience of skins has never been positive. I am especially not a fan of Samsung’s TouchWiz implementation, and I almost always immediately try to remove the skins on Android phones – the Galaxy Nexus just proves that Ice Cream Sandwich is pretty darn good without a skin.
But HTC’s latest skin is a pleasant surprise. HTC made their customizations fairly deep into the OS, meaning it does not always just feel like a skin. Sense is truly an enhancement of Ice Cream Sandwich in many areas, and the overall product is brilliant. A good example is initial setup, with the One X having a big list of services that the One X is ready to use like Evernote, Dropbox (which gives you an additional 20GB of storage) etc. For web savvy users, the One X setup could not be simpler. Things like switching tasks are quick and easy, and personalizing the phone with themes is very polished. HTC also does away with ICS’s software buttons on the bottom of the screen, which some users might not like. But HTC has been smart about it – the buttons don’t react to accidental button presses (like with downward sweeps) like on some Android phones. Once caveat though – the lack of a menu button means many ICS apps simply get a black layer on the bottom of the screen just for the menu button.
The overall effect is a lot more integrated than Samsung or Motorola’s skinning efforts. You don’t get the feeling that Sense is a layer running on top of an excellent OS, but rather that Sense is a great part of a great operating experience.
The One X was a pleasant surprise. The phone hardware is a real head turner (a lot of people just wanted to hold the handset), and the design is really first rate, if maybe a bit big. The performance is excellent, and the screen is a joy to look at. I am pretty sure more seasoned Android users will very quickly try to move to a more stock ICS experience, but first time Android users will really appreciate HTC’s Sense layer.
Overall I reckon this is the new king of Android phones, provided you are willing to live with the size. The newly released Galaxy S3 will definitely give it a go, but we will have wait until a proper review before we can confirm that.
Lovely polycarbonate build really gets attention. Huge 4,7 inch display looks incredible, has great pixel density. Sense 4.0 software is a massive step up from previous versions. Good battery life. Brilliant performance from the quad core processor.
Screen is very big – some users will not be able to use it one handed. That polycarbonate build is somewhat slippery.