HTC lost its magic in 2011. It released too many phones, many of which were uninspired, plus it got overshadowed by Samsung with the Galaxy S II and Galaxy Note. But this year, HTC plans to reverse its misfortunes, starting with the One line of devices. The HTC One series brings forth an improved Sense UI experience, an “amazing” camera, and a redoubled attention to detail in hardware design. The HTC One X, powered by the mighty quad-core Tegra 3 CPU, is the highest-end device in the One series, and the most impressively-spec’ed Android phone to date. Is it good enough to put HTC back on track? Read our full review to find out!
The HTC One X ships with Android 4.0.3 and has a 1.5GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage (with no microSD slot for added expansion). The front camera can take photos at 1.3MP and video at 720p, while the rear camera is a 8MP shooter with a flash, and can record full 1080p video. The display is 4.70 inches at 1280×720 resolution (making for a DPI of 312), and is of the Super LCD 2 variety (which has a preferred RGB sub-pixel configuration versus pentile on the Galaxy Nexus). The phone is quadband UMTS (850/900/1900/2100) allowing it to work on AT&T in the US. You also get Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, aGPS, digital compass, and NFC. The phone is 130 grams (compared to 135 grams for the Galaxy Nexus GSM), and just 8.9mm in depth (compared to 8.84mm for the Galaxy Nexus GSM). Powering everything is a 1800mAh battery.
The HTC One X, shown here in white (it’s also available in black) is a stunning device. It has what HTC calls an “infinity display” which means that the glass wraps a bit around the edges of the phone. However, the screen itself doesn’t wrap around the device. From this view we can see that the microUSB port is placed on the left side of the device.
The earpiece of the One X looks quite precisely engineered. Behind the speaker grill is an LED notification light, which you can set to blink for new voicemails, emails, missed calls, and so on. To the right we have the 1.3MP front-facing camera.
For the first time, HTC is going with a three-button configuration instead of four. This is because not many people use the Search button from older Android phones, and also because Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich requires a dedicated multitask button. Devices like the Galaxy Nexus put the buttons on the display, which takes up about 80 pixels of vertical space. The HTC One X utilizes all 1280×720 pixels at all times because it relies on hardware buttons. That said, if you’re running a legacy Android app that requires a menu button (like Facebook, for example), you’ll see an added menu button that will take over about 80 pixels on the bottom of the screen.
HTC is going with the the microSIM standard for their One line of devices, which means that you’ll have to cut your regular SIM down to size if you haven’t done so already. It’s easy.
The One X has a sharp edge around the entire device that makes it feel very thin in-hand. Here we can see the power button, 3.5mm headphone jack, and secondary microphone for noise cancellation.
On the rear we have a polycarbonate backing that gets dirty easily, but cleans up easily as well (if that makes sense). It’s a smooth plastic that doesn’t provide the best grip, but it sure looks nice. Back here you can see a huge emphasis on the camera. Also on the back are the four contacts for the optional dock accessory. The speaker grill, placed below the Beats Audio logo, provides ample volume when in speakerphone mode.
The screen on the HTC One X has incredible viewing angles and an extremely high degree of clarity, even in the brightest sunlight. It also does a terrific job at reproducing colors.
Here’s a comparison of the Galaxy Nexus (with its pentile 720p AMOLED screen) with that of the One X (with its RGB LCD screen). On right is the Galaxy Nexus, which has a cooler color temperature, plus slightly less smooth text reproduction. In daily use, both screens are extremely sharp, but those with good eyesight will notice that content on the One X is especially clear thanks to the RGB sub-pixel configuration.
HTC Sense is HTC’s way of making its phones different. It wants Sense to be good enough to where you would choose an HTC Android phone over one from Motorola or Samsung because the Sense UI is so amazing. Unfortunately, HTC has missed the mark with Sense over the years. While it’s beautiful, it’s also heavy, touching every part of the operating system, giving you endless eye-candy even if you don’t want it.
Sense 4.0 has been toned down a lot. You still have the rich widgets for the homescreen, although as is always the case, widgets use CPU cycles and harm battery life, and a lot of the time, widgets don’t update at the right times, leaving you wondering whether it’s faster to just use a bunch of app shortcuts instead of widgets.
It was a long time coming, but in Sense 4.0, you can add or remove homescreens. Instead of having seven, as found previously with Sense, you can have as few as one or as many as seven. Woot!
Here’s an example where Sense goes a bit too far to the point of being cutesy. Here in the settings, HTC has totally stripped away the minimalism of Android Ice Cream Sandwich in favor of colorful icons, drop shadows, and various textures.
Wow, email! One of Sense’s bright points is always the email client. It’s beautiful, more functional than stock Android, and great for productivity. In particular, HTC has done some cool stuff with threaded conversations here in email. They’ve also added an intelligent syncing option called SmartSync which attempts to optimize email sync schedules based on usage in order to maximize battery life. We weren’t able to test whether this had an impact, as it works in the background.
Android 4.0 has a great way of multitasking by default. It’s unfortunate that HTC had to clutter the multitask menu with this. While it works relatively well to let you quickly switch between recent apps, it lacks the high-level view that allows you to see multiple apps at once. In this view, you can only see three apps until you have to scroll through a bunch of eye candy.
The notification shade has also been cleaned up. No longer does it display a useless list of recently opened apps. It now contains just notifications, which, like stock Ice Cream Sandwich, can be swiped off the screen quite easily.
HTC Sense goes deep. It touches the calendar, the phone, contacts, application tray, folders, and more. Ultimately, if you decide you don’t like HTC Sense, you can add a third-party launcher which will change your homescreen and app tray. If you want to get rid of it entirely, you can root your phone and install a stock Ice Cream Sandwich ROM, which seems to be still in the works over at the various Android development communities like XDA.
The One X has a Beats audio enhancement, which is essentially an audio equalizer. New to Sense 4.0 is the ability for Beats to work with third party apps like Spotify and Pandora, and not just the built-in Android music app. Does it really improve audio quality? We can tell you that audio definitively sounds better with it on. That said, it’s not a dramatic difference.
If you’re a Dropbox customer, you’ll be excited to know that buying a One X entitles you to two years of 25GB of extra space. That’s a lot of extra space, but if you use it, you’ll find yourself paying for it after two years, so in that respect, it’s somewhat of a gimmick. The great thing about Dropbox is that it works on all platforms: Android, iOS, Mac, PC, and Windows Phone. That means all of your files are available across all devices. The Android version of Dropbox is especially powerful because it automatically uploads your photos (and videos, unlike iCloud in iOS) right after you take them. So while there is no expandable memory on the One X (32GB onboard should be plenty for most), the extra “cloud” space is a nice addition.
The HTC One X is the first smartphone to utilize Nvidia’s new Tegra 3 quad-core system on a chip. In day-to-day use, the One X can feel laggy at times, especially when navigating through UI-intensive screens, like folder animations, jumping through settings, zooming in on a graphic-rich webpage, and more. If you’re not a power-user, you’ll probably find the One X to be super snappy, but those that demand that highest degree of performance from their smartphone might be disappointed.
Below are benchmark results of the One X compared to the Galaxy Nexus in parentheses. It’s likely that our benchmarking tools haven’t yet been updated to fully capture the performance of quad-core chips.
Quadrant: 4524 (2029)
Smartbench 2012: Productivity 4676 (2273), Games 2737 (1476)
LinPack Pro: 51.65 MFLOP, 1.62 Seconds (45.63 MFLOP, 1.84 Seconds)
The camera on the One X is unremarkable. Macro shots appear out of focus, indoor shots lack light, and outdoor shots are over-saturated. This is a shame because the camera application of the One X is genius: it allows for multi on-the-fly photo effects, puts the camera and camcorder toggle on the same screen, allows you to take photos while in video mode, and it has an awesome burst mode for those times when your subject is moving too quickly to capture a clear shot.
Video capture is reasonably good, but still not amazing.
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
We tested the HTC One X on AT&T in the US. Because it has the 850MHz and 1900MHz UMTS bands, this means that it can access AT&T’s 3G and HSPA+ network. On average we clocked download speeds of around 3Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up, which is slower than other AT&T HSPA+ devices that we’ve tested in this area. That said, the international One X isn’t exactly intended for use in the USA, so it’s likely that the One XL, coming to AT&T in May, will provide much faster data speeds, especially in areas that have LTE.
In terms of call quality, we’d rate the One X as above average, perhaps thanks to the noise cancellation provided by the dual-microphone configuration.
The HTC One X has average battery life. If you use the device moderately, you’ll get through a full day without needing to recharge. Heavy use, especially when gaming, will result in a rapid draining of your battery.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
Right now you can import an HTC One X from retailers across the ocean, such as Clove, for around $650 unlocked. It’s available in white or gray. In May, AT&T will be releasing a dual-core version of the One X, the One XL, which will sell for $199. Then in June, Sprint gets its variant, the HTC EVO 4G LTE, for the same $199. Finally, we’re likely to see Verizon with a similar device at some point this Spring.
+ Amazing display
+ Hardware is gorgeous with high build quality
+ Thin and light
+ Sense 4.0 is improved
+ 25GB Dropbox storage (for two years) included
+ Camera software is innovative
+ Beats audio noticeably improves audio quality
- Device is laggy at times
- Camera is just mediocre
- No microSD expansion
- No user-replaceable battery
The One X marks HTC’s attempt to undo its wrongs of last year, and it gets really close to doing just that. The hardware is stunning, the display is better than anything we’ve ever seen, and we applaud what HTC has done with Sense in making it feel less like clutter and more like an enhancement. But we’re also surprised that the One X, which is the first smartphone to have the coveted Tegra 3 quad-core chip, isn’t uncompromisingly fast. It’s just not acceptable to see stutters in various places, like when opening a folder, tapping on a setting, or zooming in on a web page. We’re inclined to encourage you to wait for the Snapdragon S4-variant of the HTC One X, which, while dual-core, is an evolution of Qualcomm’s dual-core chips of years of past, so that hopefully all kinks have been worked out. The Tegra 3 is new, unproven, and as far as we can tell, not ready for prime time.
We rate the HTC One X a 4/5.