With the introduction of the HTC One Series in February, HTC has vowed to come back to the top by focusing on less designs, and better user experience. The HTC One X is right there at the top of the line-up and the international (unlocked) version that we have reviewed comes equipped with a quad-core Tegra 3 chip from NVIDIA.
HTC considers the Camera, Sound and Design to be the most important features of this phone, and although sound is always tricky to review, we’ll go over the camera, performance and overall use experience of this phone that may very well shape the (financial) near-future of HTC. But for know, you probably only want to know one thing: what does it feel to use it in the real world? Well, here’s my best shot at answering this burning question.
OS: Android 4.0 + HTC Sense 4
Display: 4.7″ S-LCD, 1280×720 pixels
Dimensions: 134.36 x 69.9 x 8.9 mm, 130g (4.58oz)
Processor: NVIDIA Tegra 3, quad-core 1.5GHz, 1GB of RAM
Battery capacity: 1800mAh
Bands: 850/900/1900//2100 MHz (Europe/Asia)
Cameras: 8 Megapixel camera, f2.0, 28mm + 1.3 Megapixel front camera
Official specifications on HTC.com (warning, may vary per country/carrier)
We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my smartphone(s): I typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all.
On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (<20), but I rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where we’re coming from…
The HTC One line of product is more than just an update in a long series of HTC product. It’s a new beginning, and a also a new hope for HTC, which was in a tight spot when it comes to industrial design. With a unified design, HTC should be able to make economies of scale and re-invest those into higher-end manufacturing processes that would ultimately yield better looking devices.
I think that the HTC One is quite an evolution in HTC’s design process. Although they have kept an “HTC look and feel”, the new line is clean and thin. They should also be fairly resistant to drops, given that the body is built with a single block of polycarbonate – an idea that Nokia has used before with its Lumia 800 and Lumia 900 smartphones. On that note, the Nokia models have a better “finish” in my opinion, but the point is that polycarbonate works, and I would actually recommend the white version, as the gray/brown isn’t as appealing in my opinion.
The result is a nicely shaped phone that promises to be as nice on the outside than on the inside. We’ll come back to the internals later, but the design is clean and except for the HTC logo and the Android buttons on the front, there’s not much of anything. Btw, I wonder why manufacturers keep using those tactile Home, Back and Menu buttons when Android 4.0 made them effectively obsolete. At the top right, you will see the 720p camera used for video calls. There is also an LED that turns on during charging.
In the back, the camera is the most prominent feature (along with another HTC logo), and if you remember our live coverage of HTC at Mobile World Congress, the company made it clear that it wants the HTC One X to be the best camera phone. We’ll come back to that a little but later.
On the left side, there’s a micro-USB port for charging (I recommend using the HTC charger, as some random charger didn’t work for me), at the top, there’s a 3.5mm jack audio connector, along with the micro-SIM tray that requires a tool, just like the iPhone. The right side only has the volume controls.
Interestingly, HTC does not promote the display at all, and I’ve seen a number of questions about it on various online forums. The good news is that it is excellent. Based on LCD technology, it doesn’t appear to be using an IPS technology, but yet looks very much like it, including very good view angles. The colors are vibrant, and I have no problem giving it an “excellent” rating. Past HTC reviews had shown that displays can be a hit or miss, but fret not, this is definitely a hit.
Some of you may wonder if 4.7” is too big or not. My advice is: try it for yourself. If you want my opinion, 3.5” is too small, and 4.7” feels great. Heck, I don’t even mind using the 5.3” Galaxy Note (requires 2 hands), so you can see that I’m open-minded when it comes to size. It’s true that I can’t reach the upper side of the display with my thumb… but this never bothered me.
Virtual keyboard (good): Ironically, despite having hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, most users sill refer to text-based communication as being the “critical” application for them. That’s why you must not underestimate the important of a virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely this element may get in the way.
HTC doesn’t use the stock Google Android keyboard, but has its own HTC Sense version, which I find very usable. If you mind the general laginess, you can make it more responsive by disabling the real-time spell check. Alternatively, you can also download Swiftkey or another keyboard if you want to.
On my wish list, I’d like to see things like up/down swipe motion to access special characters and capital letters. That is so much more efficient, and even entry-level phones from Huawei have this feature, so let’s hope that others pick this up.
Email (excellent): I really like the email client on the HTC One X (and I suppose that all HTC Sense 4.0 would feature the same). It’s clean and very readable and has all the productivity features that I would expect from an efficient email client:
- Emails are actually downloaded in the background so they’re ready when you open the app
- Search is quickly accessible
- Actions can be performed on multiple items
- Reply+All/Forward/Delete are easily accessible
- Account is easily selectable
I get a lot of emails, so this is a big deal for me, and I feel like I can actually get some work done in an efficient way with this. On a daily basis, the most important features are the search and background download. Not having a search is a “no go”, and having the app load the emails only when you open the app is frustrating. Thankfully, the HTC One X handle both case very well.
Calendar (excellent): The calendar is also very effective: first, it’s clear and very readable because HTC has done a good job with the layout and font choice. For frequent travelers, there’s also an option to display two time zones, which is really well integrated. The second time zone shows up on the other side of the screen, and takes very little place.
There’s also an Agenda mode that uses all the available display surface to only show upcoming meetings. Overall, this is a great calendar, and I don’t feel like something obvious is missing. I’ve included a photo that compares the HTC One Calendar to its poor cousin: the iPhone 4S calendar.
Facebook: Facebook Mobile is its old good self. It works pretty well, and still consume loads of bandwidth. Nothing really new to report, except that the display size makes it a little more comfortable to use than on smaller devices.
Google Maps: it is already excellent on Android, there is no question about it. The app does a great job of utilizing the extra pixels on the screen, so while the overall readability and sharpness stay equal to a regular 3.7” smartphone, you can actually see a bit “more map” on the screen, which is great. My favorite feature: map area preload that lets you download a 10 square-mile map onto your local storage. Rocks!
Skype: it works normally, which means that it is a big laggy and tends to use more CPUs that it should. With the HTC One X, the overall experience is very similar to to other high-end Android smartphones, however, I found the incoming video to be better than usual. On the other end, the outgoing video was not so great: mostly blurry and laggy (and that was over WiFi). The audio part seemed OK, however.
Video (excellent): In terms of video playback, the Tegra 3 chip can play 20Mbps files, so quality should never be an issue. All my regular MP4 files work, and the question that remains is: what about video format compatibility? The official specs list 3gp, .3g2, .mp4, .wmv (Windows Media Video 9), .avi (MP4 ASP and MP3) – but keep in mind that there are variations, so don’t expect things to work just because you see the right file extension.
Gaming (excellent): As usual with Tegra-based devices, you odds of finding great quality title are high. I recommend visiting TegraZone if you want to be 100% sure to find games that are optimized for your device. High-powered games like ShadowGun THD, Riptide GP, Zen Pinball THD run very well, and there’s no question that this handset can handle the latest Android games, so if you care about gaming, this is a top choice.
Speaker quality (excellent): This was a bit unexpected, but when HTC said that it cares about audio quality, it wasn’t a joke. The HTC One X loudspeaker is the best that I have tried in recent months. The sound is loud and despite having the speaker in the back, voices remain clear. Because of the back-speaker design, it may be slightly better to have the phone on a table to benefit from the audio “bounce”. However, it also worked really well without a back surface. I’m genuinely impressed by the speaker quality.
Given that photography is one of the most popular smartphone usage, HTC went “big” and announced an “Amazing camera” (HTC’s own words) at Mobile World Congress. Let’s check this out and see how if this lives up to the legend. Keep in mind that most manufacturers tend to focus either on having better full-size shots (noise reduction, etc…) or better web-shots (low-light). Each aspect brings its own challenges and impacts photos differently.
Photo (very good): in terms of pure image quality, the HTC One X does well, but it’s unfortunately not as groundbreaking as HTC would have you believe. The HTC One X does take very good photos, but they can also look a bit more dull than with other handsets. Obviously, it’s hard to compare if you haven’t seen the actual setting with your own eyes, but in my opinion, the iPhone 4S did a better job with these photos.
In low-light, the HTC One can get blurry pretty quickly, but no the other hand, it did a better job than the iPhone 4S with the noise and the auto-white-balance (AWB). Interestingly, the photo on the iPhone looks better on the handset display because it is brighter and crisper. However, the HTC One X photo is closer to what I was trying to capture.
Photo gallery (convenient): We typically don’t cover the photo gallery apps these days because they’re all similar, but I really liked how the HTC One gallery lets you select and delete multiple files at once.
This is a major annoyance in iOS that should have been fixed a while ago.
Update: I was wrong on this one. It turns out that Apple has added the multiple photo deletion some time ago. To delete multiple images on an iOS device, you can go to Photo App > [Album] > Share (upper right). From there you can select multiple items for sharing, or deletion. Apologies for this oversight and thanks to Corvida Raven and Jim R. for pointing this out!
The HTC One clearly wins in terms of photo management here. It never seems like a big deal, until you want to clean up your camera. Also, note that some of this could be done with Android devices over USB, which again, is not possible with iOS as the USB mount is write-only.
Burst Mode (well-done): although the absolute quality was very good, but not “amazing”, the photographic options are excellent. The burst mode is a good example. Unlike many other implementations, it is very easy to use: just keep the shutter button pressed. It sounds like a “duh”, but most cameras require you to switch to a special shooting mode, which is annoying and therefore becomes unused. The HTC One X is ready for Burst Mode out of the box.
After shooting a bunch of photos (typically to capture a special moment), chances are that you only want to keep a few of the shots. HTC makes it very easy to manage this. Right in the preview window, you can hit “Delete” and you will be given the option to select every photo that you want to get rid of in a single action.
I was able to snap a maximum of 20 8-Megapixel photos, and if you wonder, this count will not increase even if you decrease the resolution of the final photo. It’s most likely because the image is pulled directly from the sensor in high-resolution, then processed and downsized later on.
Video (very good): Overall video capture is very good and I’ve uploaded a sample to our flickr account so that you may judge it for yourself. To be honest, I think that although the image quality was very nice, the 1080p could be a little “jerky” at times. I may recommend the 720p recording to make things smoother.
The fantastic aspect of video is that you can actually take full-size photos while shooting a video without affecting the video recording, in theory. In practice, there are a few moments in my video+photo test where I was wondering if the photos were affecting the recording. However, it could just have been the “tap” motion that provoked some jerkiness in the video.
Camera conclusion: I want to set your expectations right with this: while the HTC One X doesn’t deliver exceptional photo quality, it does deliver an amazing imaging experience, thanks to a very refined camera user-interface. Peter Chou (HTC’s) CEO does take photography seriously, and I have to say that the HTC One X camera app is a success that many should learn from, including Apple.
It’s clear that despite a few years of rapid innovation, the smartphones we own are still not “good enough”, and that’s why the whole industry is cranking so hard on making them even faster. Despite what people say, performance does matter – but only if you can perceive it. We’ve run some benchmarks to see what kind of performance numbers this device was getting. Keep in mind that while Keep in mind that while interesting, those numbers don’t accurately represent real-world performance.
Antutu is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.
Antutu provides a system-wide test that measures CPU, Memory, graphics etc… However, it often comes down to sheer CPU power, and with its quad-core setup, the HTC One X (international version) has no difficulty besting all the dual-core smartphones that we previously tested.
Again, it should be noted that multi-core mainly helps you when applications are written for take advantage of many cores. Not all apps can be written in such a way, and this mainly depends on what tasks they need to perform. Some are inherently multi-core friendly, some aren’t.
Nenamark 2 is a test aimed at measuring the graphics processor performance. It is handy, but keep in mind that the latest games use much more complex techniques that are not represented in this test.
In this test, the quad-core HTC One X is again easily the fastest of the phones we’ve tested. That said, for a “new generation” handset, the win is not as impressive as one may expect, and chances are that this crown will be taken away very soon.
Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?
I have the say that the perceived performance of this phone is excellent. Even after loading it up and using it for a week, everything is smooth, and the phone does not feel bloated at all. I didn’t even try to optimize that aspect, although I definitely don’t use dozens (if not hundreds) of apps. It feels really good to have an Android handset that behaves this way. For instance my
Battery life (very good)
Keep in mind that battery life varies a lot depending on the apps that run in the background, your network reception, your local network density and the amount of time that the: display is ON. You can always refer to the Android battery report to see what is consuming the power. Finally, keep in mind that network transactions generated by apps can appear as “Android” as it is ultimately the OS that handles those transactions.
We typically like the battery depletion test because your smartphone probably spends most of its time doing “nothing” and waiting in your pocket/purse for the next session. It’s precisely with that in mind that NVIDIA has designed the Tegra 3 “5th” companion core, a dedicated ultra-low power core that handles menial tasks while keeping power usage low.
In the end, this lands the HTC One X in the group of smartphones that do well at the stand-by battery depletion game. Not that with results around 5% to 7% there is some margin for error, so you should take the differences with a grain of salt. However, you can tell that other high-profile handsets don’t do as well. Of course, those percentages are only valid for my particular setup, and this may vary considerably depending of your apps. That said, I try to keep my background app usage low, so short of shutting the 3G radio OFF, there should not be much that you can do to help.
For a 1800mAh battery, this is actually pretty good, and inline with the older Galaxy S2 (from T-Mobile), while at the same time providing a much better user experience. I can only imagine what would happen if HTC was using a 2200mAh battery like the Galaxy Note, or a 3200mAH battery like the RAZR MAXX – do you think that HTC should have sacrificed some of the thinness to accommodate a larger battery?
To make a long story short: the HTC One X is an excellent phone, and it should help HTC regain its former glory, if not financials (things have been tough for HTC recently). In this form, the HTC One X does a remarkable job with sheer performance, but also brings functionality that makes it stand up the rest of the crowd.
The imaging and email capabilities have made a great impression on me and should be held as the gold standard going forward. While not absolutely (or clearly) the “best” in terms of optical performance, the HTC One X does provide an overall imaging user experience that is beyond what most smartphone users are accustomed to. Hopefully, the industry will look – and imitate HTC in this regard.
Keep in mind that this review was done using the International version of the HTC One X, which is equipped with the quad-core Tegra 3 chip. The US version runs with a different hardware, and we should write a dedicated review shortly. In the meantime, if you want a great HSPA+, quad-core Android smartphone, look no further: the HTC One X is… the one.
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