HTC One X review: a real Hero to lead the quad core charge. [UPDATED 20120420]

htc one x black and white

Summary: An absolutely wonderful device on nearly all counts- it’s fast, it’s beautiful and the design as a whole (including the new Sense 4.0)  is thoughtful, intuitive and perhaps more importantly- less cluttered. The One X delivers on its camera quality claims and takes some of the most beautiful photos a smartphone (bar the N8) can take and does it with speed and style- bringing up the camera and taking a snapshot is just superfast. While Beats audio output across the phone is a very good feature, in itself, it’s “just” an equalizer preset that by all means, improves sounds and music to a certain degree depending on the genre. Battery life could be a big minus for some but regardless of the number of reviews saying how bad it is, it’s too early a stage to pass meaningful judgement because batteries need time to settle. Reviewers having had the device for one or two days or even a week (possible by now) are likely not seeing the full picture. Worthy of note is that Tegra 3 really goes to lengths to use a minimal amount of battery for lightweight tasks and switches to full blast only when absolutely necessary. There are some very minor software glitches here and there but none are detrimental and detract anything from this amazing next-generation device experience. What’s uncertain is whether HTC can follow-up with frequent updates that provides bug-fixes and overall functionality improvements- something they’ve not been particularly good at in the past. This is important because most of the mentioned negatives can be fixed with a simple software update. Now that HTC has curbed their number of models with the new One series, let’s hope this means they will focus on all aspects of their aftersales service (I emailed them on the 5th April and the 10th but still have not received a response).

The White HTC One X on amazon.com

The grey-black HTC One X on amazon.com

Note: there are two versions of the One X- One X is the International Tegra 3 version and One XL is the Snapdragon S4 version, suitable for use with AT&T if you’re in the US. Allegedly the S4 dual core version hugely outperforms the Tegra 3 version in benchmark tests.

In trying to keep the review short(er) and concise, I had to break off a part regarding HTC One X’s Menu button design. Head over to my blog if you’re interested: HTC One X’s Menu button fail?

htc one x sense 4.0 home screen

goods

+++ Display- beautiful high resolution screen with vivid colour reproduction. Contrast is not OLED-like, but colours are never over-saturated and viewing angles are quite amazing. One thing this beats OLEDs is its visibility in direct sunlight. This is probably helped by how close the screen itself sticks to the Gorilla Glass 2. The display glass itself curves around its edges with a tiny bulge off the chassis for an almost seamless integration- similar in a way to the gorgeous Nokia N9 (or any phone that’s come out in the recent months). Gone are the days where you’re getting a flat slab of glass recessed into the face of a phone chassis (hello galaxy S2; S3 design team take note)- that just feels so yesteryear.

++ Screen- the physical size of the screen feels perfect. The trend of huge phone screens is on the rise- the S2’s 4.3 incher felt big at first but…when the monstrous 5.3 inch Galaxy Note, it began feeling small. The One X stands at 4.7 inches, a hair bigger than the Galaxy Nexus and it feels like the perfect bridge between the S2 and the Note.

+++ Sense UI 4.0- is most excellent. It has to be one of the most elegant skin implementations known to any Android. As a reference, TouchWiz when put right next to it ends up feeling overly playful. The many styles of Lockscreens available have one thing in common: it enables you to have 4 app shortcuts- these are the same icons you dragged onto your dock- but they can be disabled completely should you feel they can be triggered too easily by accident.

htc one x lock screen weather version

++ Thoughtful and functional camera UI- the UI is kept to a minimum here. With BOTH the snapshot and video button existing together- while this is very much a convenience and allows fast access when alternating between the two is needed, it’s there because it also has a function.

htc one x snapshot video record button

++++ Camera- the 8 megapixel shooter is very very fast to startup and very fast to snap a picture meaning you’re unlikely to miss anything due to having to wait for things to load. the photo quality is good and on par with the Galaxy S2 and night shots exhibits some noise but is still very acceptable. As mentioned above, both the Camera and Video modes are available for immediate access, it can also take snapshots simultaneously WHILE a video is being recorded in FullHD. Videos on the other hand does not have the same quality standard but are still very good. Just for fun- there’s slow motion video recording and it does so at 768×432. The quality is good enough for youtube but you won’t be able to film your own John Woo slow motion action sequences. Worthy of mention is that music carries on playing in the background even when the camera is activated- I can’t recall the last time I had a phone that could do this- certainly not the Galaxy S2 anyway.

One X video sample- slow motion capture

One X photo samples- daylight, indoor, dusk and Close up/Macro. CLICK to for original size.

htc one x photo sample indoor lighting sushi hirohtc one x photo sample victoria parkhtc one x photo sample didi the doghtc one x photo sample wan chai waterfronthtc one x photo sample victoria harbour

++ Responsive keyboard- aka HTC Sense Input has to be one of the most responsive keyboards in existence. While this doesn’t really affect functionality, it makes typing a complete joy. Even Apple’s keyboard has to slow down to think on rare occasions, but not this one.

++++ Multitasking and multitasking gestures done right- the WebOS way. The One X has a dedicated multitasking button. When pressed, it brings up a full screen page of recently used apps- coverflow-style. Tap on one to switch to it, you may or may not realise they’re merely thumbnails pictures designed to fool (that’s the name of the UI game) you into thinking they’re really all running in the background just as you left them. Well it’s not, not exactly anyway but it doesn’t really matter- you can resume your whatever you were previously working on no problem. The real gem here is how you can close these apps one by one, by simply flicking them upwards into oblivion a la the Palm Pre/ WebOS way. Very easy, very intuitive and very satisfying.

htc one x webos multitasking

+++++ super scratch-resistant exterior all round- Aside from feeling surprisingly light at 130 grams (totally not expected of a HTC considering its past) it has not taken the S2 route and used light but strong plastic for its body. HTC made no compromises in picking polycarbonate in favour of its aluminium blocks in the past, and then coating it in god-knows what to withstand some pretty extreme scratches. When I made my purchase, I made a tough decision to pick the grey-black version thinking it’d weather better in the long run but I may have been wrong. Similarly the display is made of Gorilla Glass..second generation apparently- there is not a lot of difference between the two’s durability, only difference is their thinness with the second gen being 20% less. I was not crazy enough to do a scratch/drop test on my own device. That’s something I’ll hand over to Staceymobiler’s capable and daring hands:

+ Tegra 3 is a specsheet wetdream- quad core 1.5 Ghz and 12 *TWELVE* core ULP geforce. a note about the cpu cores.. I’m still not sure whether it runs 1.5 ghz in single core mode or full quad core 1.5ghz. Nvidia states that they run at 1.4ghz in quad core mode and then 1.5ghz in single core mode. Sources here and here. One thing’s for sure, the phone does reach 1.5ghz.

+++ battery-saving effort- is absolutely commendable, if CPU Spy is to be believed. It seems Tegra makes use of every CPU step accordingly all the way from (GASP! is this even possible? the Galaxy would just refuse to wake up at this speed) 50Mhz to 1500Mhz. And since I hadn’t been gaming on the day I took this screenshot, it’s quite possible we’re mostly witnessing the Plus One core at work?

htc one x cpu spy companion core plus one running at 50mhz

[updated 20th April]

After having spent 10+ days with the phone, with the battery sufficiently settled- I took down the following statistics on a day with typical usage. I think these stats support the fact that tegra 3 is a chipset that does a good job at preserving battery. As with all phones, if you’re gaming on them non-stop, you’re not going to end a day without a second charge in between.

Test conditions: stock unmodified OS, constant Wifi, auto brightness, lots of music via bluetooth stereo headset and typical usage- emails and various other notifications without any gaming.

In short: 17 hours with 20% remaining.

Battery life statistics- click to enlarge

htc one x total battery lifehtc one x detailed total battery usagehtc one x detailed total battery usage landscape modehtc one x screen on timehtc one x wifi radio on timehtc one x phone radiohtc one x music and bluetooth usagehtc one x zdbox battery life estimation

+ No sign of voice actions and voice controls and whatnot anywhere- all except a brief mention of Google voice search in the One X’s help files (in an app called Show Me). For me, this is a bit of a relief having had voice control rammed down my throat by Samsung (via non-removable double press of the S2’s Home button). Is this a good thing? Everyone will have a different opinion here.

bads

— Battery life- if I can judge a new device’s battery on the first few days of ownership (which I don’t anyway) I’d have to say it sucks. I’m usually a frugal user and don’t usually leave radios on idle. The One X lasted me around 10 hours on its first day. considering the amount of trouble Tegra 3 goes through to minimize battery usage, I’d say it’s disastrous. Yet quite noticeably the battery improves little by little as time goes by. And if we have faith in HTC’s aftersales service, we’d expect them to put out a patch to address battery issues in time. [update 20th April- the battery life is actually great- see above for battery usage stats]

– scroll lag- sure a very minor issue but the One X doesn’t scroll like the S2 does (yet?). sad but true. Very noticeable in certain places because it even lags. Is this something we should expect of a quad core phone? sure the resolution and PPI is high but 12 graphical cores? hmm.

— Glitchy UI- not so minor but bear in mind it’s all fixable with an update from HTC. The UI has glitches here and there. For example if you open the default browser, you’ll notice that it runs in fullscreen mode and forces the notification bar away. But then the notification bar doesn’t want to go away so it pops back into view after a while so you end up with some overlapping monstrosity in your palm. HTC, go fix it.

htc one x browser full screen notification bar glitch

Just avoid loading your webpage that way. –Peter Chou

htc one x graphical glitch in default browser

Cool graphical effects. Now give me back my browser. (Users on the XDA forum may have found a workaround for this issue)

– No expandable memory or user-removable battery- as is the trend nowadays. But it doesn’t mean you should do it. Is it justifiable from a design standpoint? to take away user flexibility? granted, the device does come with 32gbs of internal storage and 25gbs cloud storage (for 2 years, courtesy of some agreement between HTC and Dropbox).

– With Beats audio, but without any Beats Audio headphones.

— Notification bar shortcuts- unlike Samsung, there isn’t the luxury of quick shortcuts to most used toggles like wifi, autosync, rotation etc. Instead HTC only provides a Settings shortcut.

htc one x galaxy s2 notification bar shortcutshtc one x notification bar shortcut settings button

Left: how is ought to be. Right: How it is.

– Physical power button takes some getting used to- since the phone’s back is slightly curved, the power button sits a little bit flushed or at least somewhat shielded from your finger especially if you’re using it one-handed in your right hand. On the other side of the coin, yes it’s a bit harder to hit accidentally.

The White HTC One X on amazon.com

The grey-black HTC One X on amazon.com

Note: there are two versions of the One X- One X is the International Tegra 3 version and One XL is the Snapdragon S4 version, suitable for use with AT&T if you’re in the US. Allegedly the S4 dual core version hugely outperforms the Tegra 3 version in benchmark tests.

Summary: An absolutely wonderful device on nearly all counts- it’s fast, it’s beautiful and the design as a whole (including the new Sense 4.0) is thoughtful, intuitive and perhaps more importantly- less cluttered. The One X delivers on its camera quality claims and takes some of the most beautiful photos a smartphone (bar the N8) can take and does it with speed and style- bringing up the camera and taking a snapshot is just superfast. While Beats audio output across the phone is a very good feature, in itself, it’s “just” an equalizer preset that by all means, improves sounds and music to a certain degree depending on the genre. Battery life could be a big minus for some but regardless of the number of reviews saying how bad it is, it’s too early a stage to pass meaningful judgement because batteries need time to settle. Reviewers having had the device for one or two days or even a week (possible by now) are likely not seeing the full picture. Worthy of note is that Tegra 3 really goes to lengths to use a minimal amount of battery for lightweight tasks and switches to full blast only when absolutely necessary. There are some very minor software glitches here and there but none are detrimental and detract anything from this amazing next-generation device experience. What’s uncertain is whether HTC can follow-up with frequent updates that provides bug-fixes and overall functionality improvements- something they’ve not been particularly good at in the past. This is important because most of the mentioned negatives can be fixed with a simple software update. Now that HTC has curbed their number of models with the new One series, let’s hope this means they will focus on all aspects of their aftersales service (I emailed them on the 5th April and the 10th but still have not received a response).

The White HTC One X on amazon.com

The grey-black HTC One X on amazon.com

In trying to keep the review short(er) and concise, I had to break off a part regarding HTC One X’s Menu button design. Head over to my blog if you’re interested: HTC One X’s Menu button fail?

If you are in need of some free Android apps recommendations, have a look at my two-part series HERE and HERE.