HTC hasn’t had a good year. Once the biggest draw on Android, a position it held through the end of 2011, the company has since given up its lead to rival Samsung, and that’s not even hardest bit to swallow. HTC, currently the target of a Nokia lawsuit, saw its net profit drop 70 percent in the first quarter to just $152 million. Ouch. The device maker clearly needs a lifeline, and as luck would have it, it might have one in the all-new One X. HTC’s shiny new smartphone combines a stunning design with a capable camera and 4G LTE connectivity, but is it enough to reestablish the company’s place at the top of the pile? With Samsung set to release its Galaxy S III, the very news of which tanked HTC’s stock last month, that’s a tall order, but I spent two weeks with the One X to discover if it has a prayer.
But before we get down to the nitty-gritty, in the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to answer a few questions before they’re asked: This is the first Android phone I’ve had my hands on since I reviewed Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus; the One X is the first LTE device I’ve had a chance to play with; and I tested the phone on AT&T in Southern California. All right, let’s go!
When I first took the One X out of the box, I have to say, I was amazed by how beautiful it is. It’s one of the only Android phones I’ve held that doesn’t feel, well, cheap. In fact, it felt a lot like the Lumia 800 I tested, which I also gave high marks for design. Both have polycarbonate unibodies, but while the Lumia sports a 3.7-inch display, the One X features a much-larger 4.7-inch screen. The HTC’s seamless exterior, which felt surprisingly solid despite its light weight, is broken up by just two physical buttons, volume and sleep/wake.
In addition, there are three soft buttons under the display. Interestingly, unlike Samsung with its Galaxy Nexus, HTC decided against using the soft buttons that were built into the OS. And I have to say, I prefer HTC’s method here.
But lest I heap too much praise on the One X’s design, I have to confess one nagging, albeit nitpicky, gripe: It’s a bit too big for my taste. Sure, it’s incredibly slim, clocking in at just 8.9mm, but sleekness aside, I’d prefer a 4-inch version.
But enough about the design. Let’s get into specifics, starting with the display. Point blank, the One X has a gorgeous screen. In fact, it’s the first I’ve seen that stacks up against the iPhone’s Retina display. Colors are vibrant yet natural, and that’s more than I can say about most Android phones. That’s because the One X uses an LCD, or what HTC calls an LCD2, not the AMOLED approach favored by most Android phones. In terms of size and resolution, as I said, the One X has a 4.7-inch screen, and that screen’s good for a high-definition resolution of 1280 x 720, which translates into 312 pixels per inch, just 14 ppi shy of the iPhone’s industry-leading density.
Speaking of the iPhone, the One X’s rear camera goes megapixel for megapixel with Apple’s best handset, capturing shots in 8 megapixels through a 28mm lens. Its front-facing camera, on the other hand, bests the 4S with 1.3 megapixels.
In terms of internal hardware, the One X has a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of on-board storage. Other major features include NFC, Beats Audio, and, of course, 4G LTE connectivity. That’s all well and good, and nothing in that list strikes me as a weak link, but these days hardware is rarely a bottleneck, so the real question is, how does it all perform in the real world? We’ll get to that shortly.
Overall, the One X’s hardware is great, and the phone is unquestionably the most attractive Android phone I’ve laid eyes on. It’s not too heavy, nor is it too light. The screen is beautiful, and the phone is thin. If I had to nitpick pick one thing besides the phone’s size, it would it would be the rear camera, which doesn’t sit flush. Rather, it protrudes a bit. But other than that, at least superficially, the One X is flawless.
I know, I know, cameras qualify as hardware, too. But considering a phone’s camera is among its biggest selling points, I figured it deserved its own section. Now, as I’ve said, the One X packs two cameras: a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera that I’ll gloss over because, let’s face it, no one cares; and an 8-megapixel rear camera that’s definitely worth your attention.
Thanks in no small part to its fantastic 28mm f2.0 lens, pictures taken with that rear camera are stunning. The One X also does colors justice. That might seem like an odd thing to point out, but you’d be surprised how many phones get it wrong, churning out clear-yet-off-color images that tarnish an otherwise decent camera. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. Colors are captured accurately — not too warm, nor too cool. So, strictly from a hardware perspective, everything’s in order.
As for camera’s software, the One X boasts some pretty nifty features. Take “burst mode,” for instance. When selected, users can take 20 rapid-fire pictures with a single push of the on-screen shutter button. Cool. The One X also features adjustable white balance, grayscale, exposure, and ISO, and face detection makes an appearance, too. But that’s not all: HTC has thrown in vignetting, depth of field, and distortion filters. What’s weird, though, is that I could only add them before I took a picture. If I wanted to add, say, a vignette after the fact, I couldn’t with the default camera app. Annoying.
But that wasn’t my only gripe: The One X has two physical buttons, and neither is tied to the camera. What’s more, when users select a focus point, the camera whines with a loud zoom that’s reminiscent of the earliest digital cameras. It’s not horrible, but it’s not ideal, either. In the end, though, the One X took great pictures, and that’s what’s most important. Unless you’re more interested in video, in which case you’ll be glad to know the One X records in 1080p.
Here’s some footage I shot at a local beach:
Battery, reception, and audio
The One X’s battery life is great. During my testing, I roamed around San Diego checking emails, taking pictures, texting, and making calls, and despite my heavy use, I was never in danger of running down the battery.
Reception was okay. I wouldn’t call it great, but it certainly didn’t ruin my experience. I was able to make calls without a problem and suffered just a few dropped calls over my two weeks with the device.
HTC boasts that the One X features Beats Audio, which supposedly provides a more “authentic sound.” If that’s a selling point for you, I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s nothing to write home about. Toggling on the Beats processing dialed up the volume and bass, but it didn’t seem to do much else, and it definitely didn’t make anything sound more authentic. Don’t get me wrong, the sound is generally good, but the whole Beats Audio thing strikes me as a marketing gimmick. Nevertheless, I enjoyed listening to my favorite music, and overall, the experience was good.
As I mentioned earlier, this is my first LTE-equipped device. My daily carry’s an iPhone 4, and my iPad’s a Wi-Fi-only model. But though I haven’t taken the 4G plunge, I haven’t been immune to the hype, either. I’ve heard from all sides that LTE’s a game-changer that must be experienced, so you can imagine my excitement when I fired up the One X and finally tapped into AT&T’s LTE network. First impression?
Two words: HOLY CRAP!
After leaning on LTE for two weeks, I’m not looking forward to reverting to 3G. In fact, it’ll be painful. In my time with the One X, speeds of 9Mbps down and 3Mbps up were typical, and I peaked at a whopping 55Mbps down and 24Mbps up. That translated into significantly better load times for websites and email –– faster even than my home network –– and sending and receiving images was nearly instantaneous.
Unfortunately, LTE wasn’t available everywhere I went. Throughout the San Diego area, I encountered multiple dead spots that downgraded me to 3G. But that’s on AT&T and its still-shoddy network, not the One X.
When I was in range, though, the combination of LTE and HTC’s One X blew my mind. Never before had I realized what a bottleneck 3G is. If you’re thinking about buying an Android phone, do yourself a favor and make sure it has LTE. Seriously. It’s that good.
Including the One X, I’ve now reviewed two Android phones, and both feature the same OS: Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). But despite the common thread, each presents its OS very differently. Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, for instance, offers ICS in its purest form, devoid of skins or extra widgets. What users see is exactly what Google intended, nothing more and nothing less. With the One X, though, HTC has overlaid its own skin, which it calls Sense.
Put simply, Sense aims to spice up the user experience. To that end, HTC has added some features, taken others away, and replaced the Tron-like look of Holo, Google’s default ICS theme, with one that’s decidedly brighter.
I just wish HTC hadn’t gone to the trouble. Frankly, I prefer the original ICS ROM. Sure, Sense includes some cool animations, and I appreciated touches like the weather widgets and task switcher, but overall, I actually found HTC’s skin to be more of a problem than a solution. And considering the issues I had with ICS on the Nexus, that’s saying something.
For example, the One X’s keyboard is terrible. It’s so bad that I used dictation, a feature I normally avoid at all costs, for the bulk of my texting. And while we’re on the subject of dictation, that could use some work, too. It proved much more inaccurate than the same feature on iOS 5, and, quite honestly, you can only repeat yourself so many times before you consider throwing your phone into traffic.
And speaking of things iOS does better, scrolling and zooming, functions every touchscreen device ought to get right, are annoyingly laggy on the One X. That’s inexcusable.
And the phone’s dismal app support did nothing to lower my blood pressure either. Despite a blazing-fast connection capable of gobbling up the biggest downloads in short order, the One X had an annoying habit of turning up its nose in Google Play. When I tried to download Hulu, for instance, the Web’s most popular streaming-TV service, I was told my device wasn’t currently supported.
Come to think of it, the One X seemed to have something against video content in general. For example, whenever I tried to play video on the Web, if Flash was on the menu, the One X preferred it to HTML5, which was fine, except the phone doesn’t yet support Flash, making its preference idiotic.
On the plus side, though, when I wasn’t scrolling or zooming or typing or trying to watch videos, the One X was fast. Very fast. Whether I was jumping between home pages or loading apps and multitasking among them, I never got the impression that the phone was struggling to keep up. And for all of iOS’s advantages, ICS’s notifications bar is superior, even in Sense form.
Notwithstanding a few minor gripes, HTC’s One X is a fantastic phone that drips with redeeming qualities and shines among its peers. Compared to Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, for instance, the only other Android phone I’ve fully probed, the One X is faster, takes sharper pictures, goes further on a single charge, and has a better display. It’s also more attractive, but I’m sure not everyone would agree.
When it comes to Android, though, my second in-depth experience wasn’t any less jarring than the first. Despite my time in the trenches with ICS on the Galaxy Nexus, HTC has slapped on so much paint with Sense that I often struggled to find my way. And what I recognized I still didn’t like. Granted, I cut my teeth on iOS devices, which pride themselves on simplicity, but I refuse to believe Android couldn’t be more user friendly. For all its options, there’s too much clutter. But if you can look past that or are accustomed to Android, I have little doubt you’d love the HTC One X.