HTC One X review

Last year (2011) the battle for Android superphone dominance was fought between the HTC Sensation and the Samsung Galaxy S2, with the Galaxy Note joining the fray later in the year.

This year HTC and Samsung face off again, with both the HTC One range and the Samsung Galaxy S3 set to become widely available across South Africa’s mobile networks in June 2012.

On paper the HTC One X looks like a monster of a phone: 4.7-inch 720p IPS S-LCD 2 display, 1.5GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, and 8 megapixel camera running on Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”.

The real question, however, is on what HTC has managed to achieve with the impressive set of components.

Design and build quality

A logical place to start is the casing and industrial design of the HTC One X which, to put it simply, is gorgeous.

In their review of the HTC Sensation last year, Anandtech wrote: “It’s a device with perhaps the strongest and most bold design language of any HTC phone to date.” This is a tradition HTC has kept alive not only with the One X, but in the rest of the One range as well.

The HTC One X looks and feels like an evolution of HTC’s previous top-end devices, while the design language of the One S and One V resonate with the HTC Desire and Legend.

Its curved Gorilla Glass screen is reminiscent of the Nokia N9 (and Lumia 800), a device praised for its beautiful design.

HTC One X front showing bottom and left edge
HTC One X

That said, beauty is hardly an objective measure, so let’s get down to the facts.

At 130g, the HTC One X is light, yet combined with the materials the casing is made from it still feels substantial. Although it fits comfortably in the hand, the device’s size is an awkward fit for looser pockets, with the phone threatening to fall out if you recline at too great an angle.

The HTC One X has done away with a removable cover in favour of a uni-body design, opting instead for a SIM tray, much like the iPhone. There is no way to remove the battery or insert a microSD card to expand the storage beyond the 32GB that comes on the device.

The HTC One X also uses a micro SIM now, joining the ranks of the latest devices to adopt the standard.

Walking around the edges of the device: the SIM tray, power button, and headset jack are found on the top edge, the micro USB port on the left, and the volume rocker on the right.

As with the HTC Sensation before it, the bottom edge of the HTC One X is bare but for the microphone.

Display comparison: Galaxy Nexus, HTC One X, iPhone 4S - Super AMOLED, IPS S-LCD2, IPS LED
Galaxy Nexus (Super AMOLED) vs HTC One X (IPS S-LCD2) vs iPhone 4S (IPS LED)

Display

A massive 4.7-inch screen adorns the front of the HTC One X, boasting 720p HD resolution (720×1280). That’s just shy of 313 pixels-per-inch for those who care about such things.

What really sets the display apart, however, is the use of In-Plane Switching (IPS) with the Super LCD (S-LCD) 2 technology.

This is similar to the type of display used on the iPhone 4 and 4S, and it looks fantastic.

The combination of the display, graphics hardware, and software also make the device feel responsive, unlike so many of the predecessors of the HTC One X.

HTC One X back
HTC One X

Cameras

On the back of the HTC One X you’ll find a 28mm F2.0 camera lens protruding from the case. Although not quite as pronounced as the camera on the back of the Nokia N8 it still seems like it can get scratched easily.

Next to the lens is an LED flash which HTC markets as a “smart flash” that automatically adjusts its intensity based on how far you are from the subject you’re shooting.

Once the light makes it through the lens and into the device, it is captured by a 8 megapixel BSI (backside illumination) sensor.

The HTC One X takes decent indoor and low-light shots, but the test shots shown here took some fussing with the settings to get right.

Ghost House: HTC One X low-light test shot
Ghost House: HTC One X low-light test shot

As many comparisons online have shown, the main camera on the HTC One X is excellent. Just be aware you won’t necessarily get the great results shown in reviews without playing with the software.

The default camera software HTC bundles with the One X is called “HTC ImageSense” by the Taiwanese manufacturer.

In addition to Instagram-like filters the software lets you record video or take photos without changing mode. While recording video you can also take photos in the software’s highest quality mode (8MP – 3264×1840).

Photos are taken almost immediately with no perceptible shutter lag.

HTC One X panoramic at twilight
HTC One X panoramic at twilight

The camera software also supports automatic high dynamic range (HDR) and panorama photos, and starts up in a fraction of second.

There is no dedicated camera button, but HTC lets you fire up the camera straight from the lock screen.

Worth noting is that the “viewfinder” image sometimes appears grainy under low light conditions, but the actual image captured usually looks better.

The front-facing 1.3MP camera is not worth writing home about: it does the job for video calling, but produces grainy self-portraits.

HTC One X camera test: auto (top), low light (middle), HDR (bottom)
HTC One X camera test: auto (top), low light (middle), HDR (bottom)

Software

The rest of the software included on the HTC One X is fairly standard fare for HTC Sense. There are some tweaks to the skin and widgets, but going through them all would be an article in itself.

Suffice it to say that of the OEM customisations to Android, I still rate HTC Sense as the best, and that’s still not saying much.

There are some changes and strange occurrences worth pointing out to the prospective buyer, however.

First and foremost, the HTC One X runs Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”, the latest version of Google’s Android mobile operating system.

When I booted my One X for the first time it was updated from software version 1.28 to 1.29 and is currently on Android version 4.0.3.

Version 1.29 was the latest version firmware for the HTC One X at the time of writing, suggesting that for the time being South African devices are in step with overseas update releases.

HTC One X front, with the screen on
HTC One X

The device supports the usual set of new Android features, including the new home screen folders, resizable widgets, photo unlock, and swiping to dismiss notifications and running apps.

One of the changes introduced with the new Sense is a new launcher bar. Gone is HTC’s old curved launcher with the three fixed buttons and in its place is a more conventional, customisable launcher.

Some strangeness introduced with the new launcher is that it is linked to the icons displayed on the lock screen. This means that if you’ve dragged icons into folders on the launcher those folders will be shown on the lock screen.

Should you unlock the device by dragging a folder into the ring you are dropped onto your home screen with the folder open rather than an app being launched.

Though this is a sensible default, it would be great if you could customise the lock screen icons independently from the launcher bar.

HTC One X screenshots: lock screen playing music (left), app drawer (middle), Sense widgets (right)
HTC One X screenshots: lock screen playing music (left), app drawer (middle), Sense widgets (right)

Another strange customisation is the removal of the “tabs” button from the menu of the default browser. To switch between tabs you either have to swipe down (i.e. scroll up) for a bottom toolbar to appear, or you need to select “Tabs” from the browser’s menu.

Much has been written about HTC’s more aggressive task management which apparently kills apps running in the background far quicker than Android normally would.

For the most part this isn’t really noticeable, but some apps really suffer for this decision, which HTC has reportedly defended.

The browser is a prominent example of an app affected by HTC’s changes to Android’s default task and memory management.

If you open a page in the browser, switch away to do something else, then switch back to the browser, it will more often than not result in the page needing to reload.

Although annoying, I haven’t noticed the change breaking anything yet.

HTC One X battery usage interface screenshots
HTC One X battery usage interface screenshots

Battery

The HTC One X also faced battery life concerns after initial reviews of the device claimed to not get a day’s usage out of it.

These issues didn’t seem to be present in the device I reviewed at all, as it delivered more than acceptable battery life.

It comfortably lasted a day under average use, even running location-based services such as Google Latitude all the time.

However, as may be expected from a smartphone with such a large screen and resolution, the display accounts for the most drain on the battery.

If you’re using your phone for tasks that require the screen to be on for long periods, such as gaming or watching videos, it will drastically diminish the battery life.

For instance, a looping video test using a 720p movie (h.264/AAC in an MP4 container) yielded around 5 hours of continuous playback on the HTC One X.

HTC One X specs
Display 4.7″ 720p (720×1280) IPS S-LCD2
Camera, primary 8MP
Camera, secondary 1.3MP
Storage, internal 32GB
Storage, expandable No
RAM 1GB
Processor 1.5GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 (quad core)
Graphics ULP GeForce
Battery 1,800mAh
Cellular data 21Mbps HSPA+
SIM type Micro SIM

Hardware (and accessories)

No Android review is complete without a hardware performance benchmark, and the HTC One X doesn’t disappoint.

With an average score of 10,608, the results of the AnTuTu (v2.8) benchmark are the highest we’ve ever seen by a significant margin.

According to the AnTuTu rankings the only other devices in the same league as the HTC One X are the Asus Transformer Prime and the Samsung Galaxy S3.

One hardware design choice worth noting is that HTC has decided to address its internal phone storage using the expandable storage interface provided by Android.

Instead of having a single block of 32GB available storage, HTC has segmented it into a “system” (or internal) and “user” (or phone) storage. This lets you use the “phone storage” portion like a normal USB flash drive.

However, a part of every app must be installed to the internal storage, meaning that it is possible to run out of space on the system partition if you install a lot of apps.

The HTC One X has a total of 2.11GB internal storage and 25.24GB phone storage.

Two features of the HTC One X worth mentioning that we weren’t able to test are Media Link HD and Beats Audio.

Media Link HD is HTC’s answer to the closed media sharing ecosystems offered by manufacturers such as Samsung and LG. According to HTC, the receivers that you plug into your TV via HDMI aren’t available in SA yet, but will be soon.

HTC One X front and back
HTC One X front and back

As for Beats Audio: sound quality on the One X is good, both when listening to music and making calls. However, there was little perceptible difference between it and other high-end devices, except for a little extra bass.

However, I did encounter an interesting audio artifact when a headset was plugged in. Any touch on the display, whether to select something or launch an app, caused a soft noise to come from the headphones for a second or two.

If you don’t have a set of of over-ear or noise cancelling headphones plugged in it’s unlikely that you’d notice, though.

It should be noted that the review was conducted without a set of “Beats by Dr Dre” headphones, but did include some time with Bose QuietComfort 15 noise cancelling cans.

The verdict

The HTC One X is a worthy contender in this year’s high-end smartphone battle royale.

With the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S3 around the corner, you may want to wait for the pricing comparisons and reviews to roll in before making an upgrade decision, however.

That said, the combination of great hardware, beautiful screen, competent camera, and good software are unlikely to leave you disappointed.

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HTC One range in SA: more details

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HTC One X review