In the Android world, there's a constant (borderline tiresome) game of one-upmanship. But the HTC One X, offered through AT&T for $199, has all the makings of a flagship phone with serious staying power. It all starts with a stunningly big and bright 4.7-inch HD screen. And inside this beast resides a 1.5-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, the fastest camera we've ever used and Beats audio for enhanced sound. HTC has also redesigned its Sense software, promising a lighter touch on top of Android 4.0. So is the One X the one for you?
Plastic is the new aluminum. Following in the footsteps of the Nokia Lumia 900, the HTC One X eschews the typical metal chassis in favor of a unibody polycarbonate body that feels strong and looks sleek. We say skip the gray version in favor of white, which has a more modern vibe. When viewed from the side, the One X curves slightly upward toward the edges of the design, which looks elegant.
Although the 4.5-ounce HTC One X feels light for a phone with a large Gorilla Glass 4.7-inch display, those with smaller hands will need to stretch their fingers just to operate this device with one hand. (Note to manufacturers: Our paws aren't getting any bigger just because you keep building 4.7-inch phones.) At 5.3 x 2.8 x 0.36 inches, this phone is slim but slightly wider than the Galaxy Nexus (5.3 x 2.7 x 0.37 inches), but we'd still prefer to carry this HTC because of its higher-quality build.
Just keep in mind that the One X doesn't feature a microSD card slot for expansion, nor does the device have a user-replaceable battery.
The One X features three capacitive buttons beneath the display (Back, Home and Recent Apps) instead of going the all-software route like the Nexus. But otherwise HTC took a pretty minimalist approach. The right side houses a narrow volume rocker, there's a power button up top, and a microUSB port lines the left side. Around back is a raised silver circle surrounding the 8-MP camera, a silver HTC logo and a small speaker with the Beats Audio logo just above it. Five gold contacts on the back are there to accommodate an upcoming car dock.
If you're going to make a screen this big, it had better wow. And the Super LCD 2 panel inside the HTC One X does just that. The 1280 x 720-pixel display is razor sharp and boasts some of the widest viewing angles we've ever enjoyed on a phone. The One X registered a very impressive brightness reading of 525 lux, which is more than double the Nokia Lumia 900 (256 lux) and well above the smartphone average (311 lux). The iPhone 4S is a slightly brighter 549 lux.
When held next to the iPhone 4S, Apple's screen had a cooler appearance compared to the One X's warmer, slightly more yellowish tone. However, the One X fit a lot more text on the screen at once when viewing The New York Times' homepage because of its larger size. When we zoomed in, we didn't see any pixelation. When watching "The Avengers" YouTube trailer in HD, we could easily make out The Hulk's popping veins as he crashed through a glass wall.
Beats Audio and Music Hub
HTC has made its Beats Audio technology much more versatile on the One X versus previous phones. Instead of being limited to the built-in music player app, Beats can boost the sound on any number of apps, all of which reside in the new Music Hub once downloaded.
When we fired up Slacker and played Pearl Jam's "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," with a pair of Nuforce earphones plugged in, a Beats Audio alert appeared at the top of the screen. Swiping open the notification shade allowed us to turn Beats Audio on or off. Engaging the setting didn't make a huge difference to our ears; Eddie Vedder sounded slightly more present. On Young the Giant's "My Body" the bass definitely kicked up a notch.
Out of the box, The Music Hub includes My Phone (the default music player), SoundHound, TuneIn Radio, and MOG. When you download other apps from the Play store, they automatically get added to this hub, but can still be accessed via their own icon shortcuts.
Sense 4.0 and Android 4.0
In response to lots of feedback, HTC has simplified its Sense 4.0 software for the One Series. No more fancy 360 carousel animations when you flip through your home screens, and no more non-removable Personalize button on the dock. At the same time, Sense 4.0 retains several features users have come to appreciate while adding some enhancements Android 4.0 doesn't have.
Similar to earlier HTC phones, you can unlock the device using one of four shortcuts. By default, these choices are Phone,Messaging, Internet, and Camera. You can easily switch out these options by changing what shortcuts reside on the home screen dock. However, you can't place a different set of shortcuts on the lock and home screens, which is a bummer.
As you might expect, the Weather Clock widget is front and center on the main home screen. The clock portion provides quick access to your alarms and stop watch, as well as a slick 3D globe where you can see the latest weather conditions around the world. The weather section of the widget brings you to an app that shows the forecast but is limited to four days. Other widgets include mail, Friend Stream (social networking updates), bookmarks, and calendar.
HTC attempts to add value in other ways, with mixed results. The Recent Apps button displays apps you have open in a vertical carousel. This treatment makes it easy to see what's what but involves more scrolling than the stock ICS method of stacking them.
Because some developers haven't yet updated their apps for Android 4.0, and awkward menu button appears inside a long bar at the bottom of the screen inside many apps. On the Galaxy Nexus, the menu button is placed right next to the software buttons for Back, Home and Recent Apps. That's one of the trade-offs you make for dedicated capacitive keys.
Overall, Sense 4.0 is an improvement over earlier iterations and certainly adds value, but in some cases stock Android is simply better.
On the plus side, the One X's keyboard offers light but satisfying haptic feedback. The large keysenabled us to type quickly and accurately, whether entering Web addresses or responding to emails. A trace option provides Swype-like functionality, allowing you to trace a lines between letters between words. This option made it easier for us to type with one hand, but the keyboard exhibited more lag in this mode than the official Swype layout.
Our biggest beef with the keyboard is the space wasted by the four arrow buttons at the bottom of the screen. It demonstrates a lack of trust in the touch accuracy. Some may prefer to download a more compact keyboard from the Google Play store.
Specs and Performance
The One X for AT&T paris a 1.5-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 (MSM 8960) with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal memory. This handset offered smokin' performance in various benchmarks and in real-world use--with some minor exceptions.
On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the One X notched a score of 4,885. That's nearly double the Android phone average and much higher than the Samsung Galaxy S II (3,035). The HTC One S, which has the same CPU, scored a similar 4,994. The Galaxy Nexus scored 3,164.
On the An3DBench graphics test, the One X performed well but didn't amaze, registering 7,138. That's only slightly higher than the Android average (6,976) but lower than the Galaxy Nexus (7,802) and One S (7,314).
In everyday usage, the One X was quite snappy. The camera app opened practically instantly, and switching between apps was nice and smooth. The phone also had no problem juggling six tabs in Google Chrome while streaming Pandora.
We did notice some lag, however, when opening some of HTC's own apps, such as Mail and Calendar. The screen would go dark briefly before these programs launched. But this only happened some of the time.
The HTC One X includes an NFC chip for reading content from compatible tags and using features like Android Beam to share content. AT&T doesn't offer a mobile payment service yet, so you'll have to wait if you want Google Wallet-like functionality.
4G Data and Web
The HTC One X taps into AT&T's 4G LTE network in 35 markets and counting, compared to more than 200 for Verizon Wireless. But where coverage exists the speeds were fantastic. In New York City, for example, we saw average download rate of 9.8 Mbps and equally impressive upload rates of 9.5 Mbps when using the Speedtest.net app.
When surfing the Web, mobile sites such as CNN and ESPN downloaded in 3 to 4 seconds and the full desktop versions of NYTimes and Laptopmag took only 8 to 9 seconds. Those are among the fastest speeds we've seen.
HTC's browser includes a Read button that strips out ads and prevents a cleaner view of the content. Too bad it also removes photos from articles.
Swiping up at any time reveals the address bar up top, Back, Read and Menu, and down below you'll see four additional buttons (Add to, Bookmarks, Saved and Tabs). We especially like the Reading List option within the Add to menu, so you can read articles offline.
One particularly frustrating weakness of our One X was its unreliable Wi-Fi performance. Both in the office and at home the phone would connect to our router but offered much slower speeds than an iPhone 4S and HTC One S connected to the same networks. We suspect this could be a problem with our particular unit and will update this review once we'd tried a second device.
The HTC One X's camera combines blazing speed with excellent photo quality and adds in tons of features, resulting in the best all-around imaging experience on a smartphone. Having a dedicated ImageChip certainly helps, which helps reduce noise and lets you capture up to four frames per second in Continuous Shooting Mode.
This Android phone had no problem keeping up with an 8-year-old riding her scooter. Even better, you can select which image you want to keep and discard the rest with a couple of taps. Want Instagram-like special effects? Just press the dedicated button above the shutter and choose from such fun options as Vignette, Mono and Country Warm.
Other goodies include multiple scene modes, ISO and White balance adjustments, face detection and auto smile capture.
When compared side by side with the iPhone 4S, the One X held its own. Outdoors, a shot of a rooftop patio had more contrast on the HTC, but the iPhone shot delivered more detail as we zoomed in on a far-away wall. Indoors, the iPhone 4S took brighter photos with the flash off. Despite Apple's device having an edge, we'd gladly use the One X as our everyday camera.
Camcorder and Video Chat
The HTC One X's camcorder captured vibrant footage of New York City traffic on a sunny day. The yellow cabs really popped on the screen (and when played on our desktop), and the sensitive mic picked up the cars whooshing buy with ease (with some wind noise).
In a separate clip of a four-year old coming down a slide, we took advantage of the One X's ability to capture stills while shooting video, a very convenient feature. We had a bit of fun with the slow-motion video recording feature. It was amusing to see people walk buy at a snail's pace, but the footage was a lot blurrier.
Sadly, the front-facing video camera on the HTC One X doesn't support Google Talk calls over AT&T's 4G LTE network, just over Wi-Fi. (We're awaiting confirmation). Over Wi-Fi the other caller said we looked somewhat blotchy, but the colors were accurate. Unfortunately, the Skype app doesn't yet seem to support the HTC One X, so we couldn't test video call quality with that app.
HTC and AT&T certainly don't hold back when it comes to pre-loaded apps on the One X. AT&T bundles its Code Scanner, FamilyMap, Navigator, and Ready2Go (for "easy" set-up). HTC apps include Car, Downloads, Contacts, HTC Hub, Music, and Movie Editor.
We especially like Notes, which integrates audio recordings and syncs with Evernote. HTC Watch gives users a movie store for downloading flicks such as "Young Adult" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" ($3.99 to rent, $14.99 to buy), but we assume most people will opt for Netflix or another service for which they've already set up an account.
Although HTC doesn't have its own cloud service, the One X does come with 25GB of free Dropbox storage for one year. You can use Dropbox to automatically upload photos and videos over Wi-Fi or 4G, which worked well in our testing.
Amazon Kindle, Top HD Games (a Gameloft portal) and YP Mobile are among the third-party apps.
Call Quality and Battery Life
In our testing in New York and New Jersey, the HTC One X delivered good call quality. During one call to a landline, the other caller said we sounded clear. Her voice was very distinct, and we didn't notice the typical fuzziness that often pops up during pauses. Voices sounded somewhat distorted coming through the speakerphone but were plenty loud.
Equipped with a 1800 mAh battery, the HTC One X has pretty good endurance for an LTE smartphone. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over 4G, the device lasted 5 hours and 59 minutes. This runtime is better than the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket for AT&T (5:43), and Galaxy Nexus for Verizon (3:40) but is still hours behind the class-leading Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx and its 3,300 mAh battery (8:25).
HTC has created a mini accessory ecosystem for the One X, which includes the Media Link HD ($90). With a three-finger swipe up you can mirror anything that's on your device on your TV. Or you could connect the device to a projector to give a presentation. During a demo, "Angry Birds" played smoothly at full screen.
HTC will also make a Car Dock ($60) available that automatically launches a car mode when your phone is connected. Last but not least is the Beatbox Portable, a $399 Bluetooth speaker with Beats audio technology built in.
The $199 One X for AT&T makes quite a strong statement for HTC, which couldn't come at a better time given the upcoming launch of the Samsung Galaxy S III. The screen is stunning, and the camera combines best-in-class speed with better image quality than the Galaxy Nexus. And, unlike some other 4G LTE phones, this one's battery will last you through a good part of the day. Beats Audio is a nice bonus, even if the effect isn't dramatic.
Our two chief complaints about the One X are its slightly large size--4.7-inch phones simply aren't for everyone--and the spotty Wi-Fi reception (which we hope is limited to our review unit). Android purists will want to opt for the Galaxy Nexus, but this phone wasn't designed for that crowd. Overall, the One X is an Android device that's both powerful and satisfying to use.