HTC One X Review
HTC One X Review
I admit that much of me was not overly excited by the thought of yet another HTC smartphone to review. Over the years the company has produced scores of phones that are adequate, impressive, but rarely at the top of the smartphone game. It is true that you cannot buy a bad HTC smartphone, but also true that HTC phones have rarely offered that emotional feedback that we seem to desire in modern mobile products.
And then the postman arrived with the One X. I was shocked, seriously shocked by the feel and look of this phone. When I first picked it up it felt completely solid in every single area. It felt incredibly thin, very light and with just enough curve to make it feel natural in the hand. The fact that it does not have a removable battery has been commented on by some and seen as a negative, but if HTC can make a phone that feels like this because of that I say bring it on.
One aspect, however, of this phone stands out above all others and that is the screen. What a screen this is! Seriously, it is unbelievable. I have spent a silly amount of time holding it in front of my eyes at every angle just to see how the images and text look. They really do look as though they have been painted onto the screen and there is no visible gap between the software and the glass. I was impressed with the screen on the iPhone 4 when it was released, but this screen is on a whole new level. In sunlight, in the dark, anywhere, it doesn’t matter. This screen brings everything to life and even Android feels different when viewed this way. At 4.7”, it is big, but still the phone feels pocketable. HTC has managed to find a sweet spot as far as the form factor goes and this has led my first impressions to be as high as they have been with any other phone. And there have been an awful lot of them.
Besides the screen on the HTC One X which is phenomenal, there is another aspect of this phone that jumps out at the user early on. It is the performance.
It would be easy to write about this phone and explain that it is the fastest I have used to date, but I can’t do that because I don’t really know what fast is any more. All of the high-end Android phones are incredibly fast and so are the iOS and Windows Phones. Slow-downs and freezes are not common at all and for most tasks, a high-end phone will have no performance issues at all. However, the One X would appear to be different and in a way that is far from easy to explain. I could say it is smoother than most phones, but it is beyond smooth. Just like the gap between the screen surface and the pixels, it is often impossible to see some things happening. You tap an icon and the app just appears, you swipe and it feels as though it moves before you even touch the screen. This sounds crazy I know, but there is something going on here that is hard to quantify.
Do you remember when the original iPhone was announced? Whether you love or hate Apple, it was a revelation and the industry followed suit. It offered something so completely different to what we had seen before and it was quite difficult to put into words what that was. The One X does a similar thing with the performance and in particular the way it works. Again I find it hard to put in to words, but it is different to the other phones I have reviewed in a very positive way. It feels more immediate than any other phone I have tested, iPhones included, and in some ways surpasses the smoothness of Windows Phone and iOS devices because it is quicker than smooth. If the smooth transitions of modern mobile operating systems do not feel like computers, the One X feels even less like one.
Tweaks & Changes
Very few Android phones are offered with vanilla Android on board and so we have to use different skins and tweaks that the manufacturers add to their devices. This often works out well and can greatly enhance the experience for new users, but at times can be confusing.
HTC has been at the forefront of skinning Android and literally hidden every aspect of the operating system on previous phones, but with the One series has stepped back substantially and Android shines through in almost every area. The software changes it has made work well and are almost all more than mere skins for the sake of it, with practical benefits included, but there is one area where I personally feel the company has jumped the gun.
Where is the menu button?
The idea of removing the menu button for phones running Ice Cream Sandwich is something we will have to get used to, but not all apps have been updated yet to deal with this. I have found myself at times struggling to interact with an app properly and having to search for somewhere to change settings etc. This is sort of manageable, but can be fiddly and inconsistent.
The other problem, and one that I notice more, is that some apps place the virtual menu button at the top of the screen. That is not a problem unless you are using a phone that is quite large, like the One X, and this causes the user to immediately jump to two-handed use. You physically cannot tap a menu button that is placed at the top of the screen with your thumb. That is unless you are an octopus of course.
This is not a huge problem and the HTC One series phones are impressing me in so many other ways, but it is an issue with Android moving up to the latest version along with the hardware design and the apps not catching up. What I would personally like to see is apps put the menu buttons at the bottom because even some of the Google offering in ICS are not doing that. I believe that Google needs to mandate this to stop people with larger Android phones struggling.
Besides the menu problem, however, HTC has managed to tweak Android sensitively and created an experience that is fast, efficient and easy to use
Media, Camera & More
There is little doubt that the One X screen is perfect or watching media. Whether it is photos, home videos or movies, everything just pops from the screen and feels incredibly natural. It is a brilliant experience and a variety of media formats are built in. You will need to download some extras to enjoy all video formats, but the process is quite quick and there are multiple options available.
The camera is one of the better ones I have seen on a smartphone and I would put it above the iPhone 4S and Galaxy S II in my tests. No matter how many snaps I took, the majority were good with only a small number struggling to cope with the light levels and the colours. Below are some examples taken on a sunny(ish) day in April, but they offer an idea of how the camera performs.
There is an oddity in that you are offered no indication that the picture has been taken. All you see is a tiny preview in the corner which is easy to miss. This somewhat masks how quick the camera performs, and it really is quick, but it would be nice to see an update in the future so that it is made more obvious when a picture has been taken. A small, but slightly annoying, design choice as is the lack of a dedicated shutter button, but this is hardly unusual these days. I don’t quite understand why the lens has to protrude so far from the rear and why it is not protected. The glass is flush with the outer skin and because you naturally place a phone face down on a surface, this could lead to damage. A case would not be a bad idea.
The external speaker is better than I have heard from HTC previous, but still weak in some areas. This is a shame because the beats audio branding suggests a device which is focussed on audio quality and you may well be disappointed by the external audio. The question, however, remains as to how important external audio is when compared to using headphones. And headphone audio on the One X is fantastic! It really is lovely and captures a variety of sounds as authentically as I have heard from any other smartphone. It is in fact the best I have heard to date.
All of the goodness described above comes through when playing games as well and so we are looking at a smartphone that is very capable in the media department. If music, video and gaming are important for you in a smartphone, this is probably the phone you want to get at this time.
The practical aspects of any smartphone are important because if done right, a phone can become a loyal workhorse that will get you through each day with ease. However, get it wrong and the phone becomes nothing more than an expensive and nice looking paperweight.
The One X is big which offers many advantages, but the fact that it is incredibly slim makes a massive difference in daily use. I have carried it in shirt pockets with no problems at all and the design highlights how advantageous low weight and depth can be in a phone no matter how big it is. Barring a slightly inconvenient picture-taking experience (which HTC claims can snap a picture in 0.7 seconds from a locked state), I have found the One X form factor to be excellent for the size of screen it offers.
Battery performance has been better than I expected as well. You can’t get to the battery to replace it, but at 1,800mAh you would expect it to last a tough day in the office, on the train and everywhere else. I pushed mine very hard for the first 2 days and still had over 30% battery left, but subsequently with the settling down of the battery and of my usage, I have been ending the day with between 40% and 50%. That is excellent for my usage and compares favourably to many other phones I have used, very favourably.
Performance, as I have noted in another part of this review, is excellent and it flies along at an incredibly fast rate and I have had no problems with memory either. I tend to ignore memory levels and plod on so it’s early days, but 1Gb of RAM and 26Gb of usable space seems fine to me. Throw in 25GB of Dropbox space for 2 years and you should have no problems keeping everything you want on this phone, and of course running multiple applications at the same time.
Build quality is excellent and the back covering seems able to take the knocks of daily life, but the dominating front screen may need protection. I say this purely because I always add a matt screen protector to every phone I use and am somewhat paranoid in this area despite the fact that Gorilla Glass is present here.
Overall, the One X manages to keep the practicality levels high despite being a large phone with a big screen. This is mightily impressive.
The emotional impact of a new smartphone may sound like something only geeks enjoy, but it is an aspect of modern mobile hardware that affects every user. When you first pick up a phone, you want to feel surprised by how it looks and how it works. As time goes by, you start to lose that feeling as familiarity increases and eventually you are left with a device that is there every day. When you reach that point, in an ideal world you still want to be able to pick it up and think to yourself how good the experience is.
To achieve the above ideal scenario, a smartphone manufacturer has to do a lot of work in the design phases to make the device as practical, functional and pleasing to the user as possible. It is far from easy and there are countless examples of high-end smartphones that miss the emotional side and go on to not sell in large numbers. People don’t talk about this side much and specifications and factual parts of a phone tend to dominate the headlines, but it is there and extremely important.
The problem is that you cannot tell how emotionally attached you will feel towards a phone just by looking at the marketing photos or video reviews. You may get a sense of what it will be like to use, but no more.
When I first picked up the One X, it hit me. Boom! It was there. That feeling that I can’t describe, but which makes me want to use a phone just for the sake of it. I wanted to keep picking it up and to just play with it, and could immediately sense that this feeling would continue. Rolling it in my hands, placing it on a table and looking at it and just having it with me. As I said, I cannot explain what is required to make a phone feel like this, but more than any other to date the One X feels great in every scenario. Despite being a little too big for my needs, I can still appreciate the effort that has gone into the design and it seems as though not just Jonathan Ive is capable of such masterful creations.
From a design perspective the One X is fantastic and practical in almost every way. Very few phones manage this in 2012 and I can only think of the Galaxy Nexus and maybe the iPhone 4S (which looks a little dated now sat next to the One X on my desk) which also achieve this. Well done HTC. You have cracked it!
At the start of these reviews I said that I wasn’t too excited by the thought of reviewing yet another HTC phone, but I was so wrong.
The One X turned out to be the best Android smartphone I have reviewed to date. Everything from the screen to the speed to the form factor grabbed hold of me and worked together so well that it made Android come to life. With some subtle changes to the operating system visuals and an emphasis on just letting you get on with your life, HTC has managed to bring a sense of understanding to Android. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that much better than the Galaxy Nexus or some of the recent Sony Ericsson phones, but the devil is in the detail and the little things that stand out make a big difference to the user.
It just feels right and it is a phone that once used is difficult to let go of and to consider competitors. The screen alone makes the biggest difference of all and is by far the best I have seen on a smartphone to date, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see others pop up very soon that match the One X in this area.
The One X resides in a very competitive market and there is no doubt that the competition will continue to improve, but this is true of all smartphones at any given time. There will always be something better around the corner and despite the One X being a little too large for my tastes, it is in my opinion the best of the Android bunch at this time. It is also probably the best smartphone in the world at this time when the sum of all its parts is considered. HTC is back, and back with a bang.