Bargain hunters may be shocked by the HTC One VX's price tag. For just $49, this attractive Android smartphone features a fairly large 4.5-inch display, impressive 4G LTE speeds and a camera that's so fast that you'll never miss a moment. As you might expect from an HTC handset, the One VX also has Beats Audio on board and Sense software--although in this case it's running atop the older Ice Cream Sandwich OS. Find out why this sub-$50 phone truly is a steal.
The One VX cuts an elegant shape, with rounded edges and a smooth and sturdy band of aluminum surrounding the 4.5-inch display. The AT&T logo above the screen is subtle enough, while three capacitive buttons (Back, Home and Recent Apps) line the bottom of the bezel.
The white plastic back cover, decorated with a silver HTC logo and smaller Beats Audio logo, was easy to remove, providing quick access to microSD Card slot and SIM Card. Unfortunately, the battery is sealed and is not user-replaceable.
A power button and headphone jack sit on the top side of the phone. The right side of the One VX houses the volume rocker, while the micro USB port is on the bottom.
The One VX is more compact than the One X+, which makes sense given that the latter phone has a larger 4.7-inch screen. The VX measures 5.2 x 2.6 x 0.36 inches and weighs 4.4 ounces, compared to 5.3 x 2.8 x 0.36 inches and 4.8 ounces for the One X+. The Motorola Atrix HD (5.25 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches, 4.9 ounces) is noticeably heavier than the VX despite having the same size display, but it also sports a stronger Kevlar backside.
Overall, the One VX is sleek, but those with smaller hands may prefer a smaller screen. We had to stretch our index finger a bit to reach the power button, as well as our thumb to reach the left edge of the keyboard when typing with one hand.
The One VX's Super LCD 2 display has an odd combination of size and pixels. At 4.5 inches, the screen is fairly large, but the 960 x 540-pixel resolution makes the panel less sharp than more premium 720p devices such as the Atrix HD and One X+. The pixel density is 245 PPI, compared to 326 for the $99 Atrix and 312 ppi for the One X+.
When viewing websites such as NYTimes.com, text was sharp, but the One VX's screen didn't wow when viewing the same high-quality "Iron Man 3" trailer on both this phone and the One X+. Robert Downey's skin looked smoother on the latter phone, and his gloved metal hand showed more detail.
On the plus side, the One VX's display is even brighter than the One X+, registering 471 on our light meter compared to 451 lux. The Atrix HD notched an even higher 561 lux, but the VX still runs circles around the Galaxy S III in terms of luminosity (210 lux).
While the One VX's back-mounted speaker gets fairly loud, the sound could be cleaner. When streaming Audioslave's "Like a Stone" from Spotify, Chris Cornell's vocals sounded harsh. We enjoyed a better audio experience once we plugged in a set of RHA SA950i headphones. Beats Audio kicked in automatically, with more thumping bass and present vocals. Some may find the lower end to be too overpowering, but you can always toggle Beats on and off just by swiping down from the top of the screen and tapping a button.
Software and Interface
For now, VX owners are stuck with Android Ice Cream Sandwich, with HTC's Sense 4 software running on top. We're pretty bummed that HTC and AT&T didn't ship the One VX with the latest Jelly Bean OS, especially since both this handset and the One X+ hit the carrier at around the same time. Because the VX runs the older ICS software, you won't be able to enjoy features such as Google Now (a supercharged, voice-enabled search tool and personal assistant) and offline voice typing. Jelly Bean also offers performance enhancements.
As with other HTC Sense phones, the One VX lets you unlock the device to any of four applications with a swipe. The same shortcuts sit on the bottom of the display when you unlock the phone, so if you swap one out for another it will appear on the lock screen, too. You can also choose from multiple Lock screen themes, such as Productivity (for glancing at notifications) and the trippy Friend Stream (which floats tiles with your friends' social updates).
The VX comes with three home screens standard, but it's easy to add more so you can populate them with widgets. For example, we added a Contacts widget for quickly contacting family members. HTC's iconic Weather Clock populates the main home screen. Tapping the time takes you to a World Clock, where you can set the alarm and use features like the stopwatch, while tapping the temperature takes you to an animated weather forecast. Swiping up or down changes cities.
Too bad HTC's Sense software buries most of the settings. While Samsung's Galaxy S III and LG's Optimus G let you toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and more from the notification area, on the VX you must enter the settings menu and then find what you want to tweak. Alternatively, you can place a Power control or Power dashboard widget on one of the home screens.
Smartphone newbies will appreciate some of Sense's features, such as the 3D carousel presentation of recent apps. Just swipe up on one of the thumbnails to close the app. HTC also takes pains to use text instead of icons on buttons in apps such as Email, so you never have to guess what's Forward and what's Reply All.
We've said this before, but the App Screen on HTC Sense phones looks almost too simple, though the large text is easy to read.
Once AT&T and HTC upgrade the VX to Jelly Bean, users will also be able to enjoy the latest Sense 4+ software. New features will include a Tap and Go function for connecting the phone to Beats speakers with a tap and a video hub for getting all of your video apps in one place.
We typed at a decent pace on the HTC One VX's 4.5-inch screen with minimal errors. Fortunately, the keys are fairly large and they offer a good amount of haptic feedback. (If you feel like the vibration is slowing you down--like we did--you can turn it off.) We also appreciate the ability to long press on letters to enter numbers and symbols, and the dedicated suggestion area above the layout. The keyboard supports Trace input, so you can draw a line from one letter to the next to enter numbers; this comes in handy when typing with one hand.
As you might expect in this price range, the One VX has a dual-core processor under the hood along with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal memory. You can expand the storage up to 32GB via microSD.
The 1.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU in the One VX turned in solid results in benchmark testing. For example, this HTC phone notched 3,977 on the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, compared to 3,055 for the category average. However, the $49 LG Escape for AT&T, which has the same CPU, scored 4,756. The 1.5-GHz Snapdragon chip inside the Atrix HD registered 4,856.
On the Quadrant benchmark, which measures CPU, graphics and I/O performance, the One VX outpaced the Escape and Atrix HD, scoring 5,333 versus 5,069 and 4,581, respectively. The smartphone average is 3,336. The quad-core One X+ is in a different league, scoring 7,568, but it should be for its $199 price.
In everyday use, the One VX offered mostly snappy performance. The camera app opened in about a second, and we quickly paged through home screens--though it wasn't as buttery smooth as the Jelly Bean-infused One X+. The One VX was also a tad slower than the One X+ when changing screen orientations in the browser when we flipped the phones around, but not enough that you'd likely notice when using the handset by itself.
The One VX had no problem handling the graphics-intensive "Dead Trigger" game. Even with multiple flesh-eating zombies on the screen, controls remained responsive as we blasted many a head to gory smithereens.
4G and Web
Tapping into AT&T's growing 4G LTE network (134 markets and counting), the HTC One VX delivered some of the fastest data speeds we've seen from a smartphone. In New Jersey, the VX offered download rates as high as 39 Mbps. (Seriously). Overall, the phone averaged a blistering download speed of 17.6 Mbps in New York City and New Jersey and uploads of 15.1 Mbps.
Websites loaded briskly as well. The mobile versions of CNN, ESPN, NYTimes.com and Yahoo all popped on the screen in 2.6 to 5.2 seconds, while the desktop versions took an average of 10.6 seconds.
The bundled browser includes AT&T's Browser Bar, which slides up from the bottom of the display to let you share articles on Facebook and Twitter, as well as share via other apps. Swiping to the left presents another set of options, including shortcuts to popular pages, as well as links to Yahoo News, Sports and Entertainment. You'll also find a shortcut to "special offers" by Blue Kangaroo. Those annoyed with this bar can either disable it or load an alternative browser such as Chrome.
AT&T puts its own apps front and center in a folder on the first home screen, including AT&T Locker (cloud storage), Messages (a unified inbox for texts, calls and voicemails), AT&T Navigator (premium navigation you don't need), myAT&T (for managing your account) and Wi-Fi Hotspot. Within the App Menu you'll find a couple of more AT&T apps, such as Code Scanner, FamilyMap, and Ready2Go for setting up your phone.
HTC's app selection includes some useful options, such as the Evernote-compatible Notes app, which supports voice recording. You'll also find a Music Hub that integrates multiple music apps, including SoundHound, TuneIn Radio and other apps you download, such as Spotify. HTC Watch provides more entertainment goodness in the form of premium movies and TV show downloads. During our testing we found such recent titles as "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Trouble with the Curve" for $3.99 (rent) or $14.99 (buy).
All the usual Google apps are on board here as well, from Google+ and and Gmail to Maps and YouTube. And, of course, there's hundreds of thousands of apps available in the Google Play store.
Camera and Camcorder
The 5-MP camera on the back of the One VX is quick on the draw and can capture up to four frames per second. In a couple of shots we took of flowers near a window, images looked sharp and colorful but some brighter areas looked blown out, making it difficult to distinguish between some of the petals.
We'd call the One VX's 1080p camcorder just fair. While the yellow taxis we captured in New York city popped, we noticed some pixelation when panning around, as well as slight stuttering as cars moved towards us. Wind noise proved slightly distracting, but at least the mic is sensitive. VideoPic lets you shoot stills while you're recording video.
The One VX lets you tweak everything from ISO and White Balance the scene mode, with choices ranging from HDR and Portrait to Panorama and Close up. What you miss out on versus the One X+ are features such as Auto Portrait mode (which detects faces via the front camera) and Sightseeing mode for bypassing the lock screen and launching the camera. You should expect to these and other enhancements once HTC and AT&T upgrade the VX to Sense 4+ software.
Annoyingly, the VX wouldn't let us make Google Talk video calls over 4G LTE. Over Wi-Fi, our caller said our skin tones looked warm and that we were well lit, even though video occasionally froze.
Battery Life and Call Quality
Despite not having the highest capacity, the 1800 mAh battery inside the One VX offered pretty strong endurance. In the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over 4G LTE on 40 percent brightness) the handset lasted 6 hours and 58 minutes. That runtime beats the smartphone average by about an hour (6:05) and the Motorola Atrix HD by more than two hours (4:52).
When using the phone periodically to surf the web, download apps, run Speedtest.net and test the camera, we were down to 40 percent juice remaining at 4 PM after unplugging the handset at 7 AM. That's pretty good staying power.
During test calls to both mobile phones and landlines, the One VX proved to be an average performer. While the sweet spot on the earpiece could be broader, we could easily hear another caller while on a noisy moving bus. Some words got cut off, but for the most part voices sounded natural on both ends of the line.
The HTC One VX is one heck of a deal, offering an unparalleled combination of features and design for just $49. Yes, we'd like to see Android Jelly Bean added sooner than later, but otherwise the VX has everything you could want in a budget smartphone. It boasts some of the fastest 4G LTE speeds we've seen, a bright (though not HD) display and a very capable camera. We'd much rather carry this device than the similarly priced LG Escape, which looks plain by comparison and has a dimmer display. Those with more to spend should step up to the quad-core $199 One X+ on AT&T, which runs the latest Android OS and has a sharper 720p screen, but if you're on a budget the VX is a superb choice.