HTC One X (Tegra 3) Review: It Does Everything But Make You A Sandwich (Coming In Android 5.0)
In recent memory, there are only 2 phones I've been as excited to lay my hands on as the One X, and those are the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S II. There's a good reason for my excitement: this is the first phone to pack Nvidia's excellent Tegra 3 CPU. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, really; other touted features - such as the amazing unibody design, ultra high-quality camera, and beautiful screen - help build upon that excitement.
For those of you who have been waiting for the next wave of phones to drop, it's here. And it's amazing.
- 1.5GHz quad-core Tegra 3 CPU (“4-Plus-1” – meaning quad-core, plus an fifth companion core for low-power situations)
- International release: April 2, 2012
- Android 4.0.3, with Sense 4.0
- 1 GB RAM
- 32 GB internal storage (25 GB available)
- 1800mAh battery
- 4.7” 720p (1280x720) display with Gorilla Glass
- 8MP camera with 1080p video (including slow-motion video capture)
- 5.29x2.75x0.35” (HxWxD), 4.6oz
- Beautiful, durable design. There simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe it.
- The screen is absolutely outstanding. It’s big, bright (even on automatic brightness!), super crisp, and has the best viewing angles I’ve ever seen outside of actual printed paper. Outdoor viewing is the only weak spot.
- Sense 4.0 is actually pretty good, and I like it (though it would be nice to have the option to switch to stock ICS).
- The camera is incredibly quick to open and snap photos - and they're pretty damn good photos, at that.
- Great battery life, even when running automatic brightness (which is refreshingly bright).
- Outstanding performance - it's very, very rare to experience any hiccups at all, no matter what you're doing. Even in the browser, "heavy" webpages rarely hiccup.
- Devoting screen real estate to software buttons when the phone already has capacitive buttons is really, really annoying.
- A little finicky with (admittedly, very) few apps. This could be the result of using an international phone on AT&T's network, though, as the apps I had problems with were Pandora and Speedtest.
- I don’t care what you kids say, 4.7” is too damn big. I’m nearly 6’ 1” with hands to match, and I can’t reach every corner of the screen while one-handing it. Every now and then, that becomes a problem.
- The speaker isn’t especially loud, and headphone volume, while adequate, isn't great either. That’s not to say it’s quiet, but when one of a phone’s advertising points is its audio capabilities, I don’t expect an average amount of sound output. I expect a lot of sound, and this doesn’t have it.
- Beats audio is a gimmick. Does it kinda-sorta work? Only if your definition of “working” is “turning up the bass.” I quickly turned it off – and left it off.
- No expandable storage will make some people unhappy.
In a sentence: Despite a few minor quirks, the One X is an amazing piece of hardware and the best damn phone on the market, bar none.
You should buy this phone if: you're in the market for a new phone on a compatible network, there is no competition.
Design and Build
To put it simply: the One X is outstandingly built. So well built, in fact, that I’d be fairly confident that the X is more drop proof than most other devices, due in no small part to the aluminum unibody design. The back is a sort of rubberized aluminum that’s exceptionally grippy yet smooth. It also doesn’t scuff or mark – even dragging the sharp edge of my nail across it, any marks that are left behind are easily just wiped off. It’s an impressive party trick, to say the least. And though the design is indeed unibody, the edges of the phone feel like a separate strip of plastic because they’re especially grippy and shiny. The front of the phone is protected by the new Gorilla Glass 2, and the sides of the glass are rounded slightly to flow with the design of the phone. As the original Gorilla Glass was quite impressive and did an excellent job of protecting against day-to-day scuffs and scratches, you’d expect the follow-up product to be impressive – and it is.
Around the edge of the X, you’ll find a microphone on the bottom right, a volume rocker around the right side, the power button on the top left and the headphone jack and second microphone on the top right, and the microUSB port on the left. On the back, the camera is up top (with an LED right beside it), the speaker is on the bottom, and there are 5 pogo pins along the right edge.
There are three capacitive buttons below the screen – Back, Home, and Recent Apps – and unfortunately, that’s brings us to the first flaw. I prefer capacitive keys to software keys, but either one individually is preferable to both. And “both” is exactly what you get when a phone with capacitive keys runs an OS designed for software keys. In some apps, the software key bar will show up just for the menu button. That alone is ridiculous – the Menu key should be down with the other capacitive keys, or they should all be software. What makes it worse is that even in some apps that already integrate the action bar, it shows up once again.
Buttons on the bottom of the phone, buttons on the bottom of the screen, buttons on the top of the screen. At the same time.
It's likely that this comes down to the developers as it only appears in some apps, but that's really not an excuse - the issue stems from the decision to only include 3 of the 4 buttons as capacitive. Luckily, XDA has come to the rescue (as usual).
The display of the One X is undoubtedly one of the high points. It’s incredibly crisp, and while it shares the same resolution as the Galaxy Nexus, it (sometimes) packs a little more information on the screen thanks to the (sometimes) lack of on-screen buttons.
Colors are bright and vibrant, and viewing angles are mind bending – the best I’ve ever seen on a phone. Automatic brightness works well (some people have even tweaked it to be less bright, though I think it’s spot on – a refreshing change, since I usually feel most automatic brightness is too dim). Even outdoors, the display is gorgeous and easily readable. And as touchscreen displays go, the One X is surprisingly smudge-proof, too.
On paper, Sense 4.0 looked like a refreshing step back; earlier versions of HTC’s UI had grown more and more bloated and cumbersome. When Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) was released with a beautiful UI, many Android fans felt that manufacturer UIs just weren’t really needed anymore. From an aesthetic standpoint, I’d agree. From a functionality standpoint, I would not.
So how does Sense 4.0 play out with all that in mind? It goes a bit of both ways. It looks better on paper than it does in person - for the first hour or so I just wanted to get rid of it and go AOSP. But after using it for a bit, the visual appeal grew on me, and I think I'll be keeping it for the time being. My personal opinion has always been that Sense provides necessary functionality improvements, and I’m happy to say I feel the same after using the latest version. In fact, I think the functionality aspects are improved. As HTC has made it a point to tone things down, the HTC apps and widgets that are bundled in with Sense feel better. As always, old functionalities remain, such as HTC’s dialer (which remains a step above stock) and the ability to manually link accounts across the system. The browser, too, is as excellent as ever, offering a buttery-smooth experience (thanks to hardware acceleration).
That’s not to say that the newest revision of Sense is perfect. The biggest complaint in my experience is that the status bar is translucent on the home screen but changes to solid colors in other apps and menus, as can be seen in the pictures. Not a big deal at first – it switches when the app/menu opens, so it’s unnoticeable unless you look. But go back to the home screen and it takes a second for the task bar to switch back to the translucent style. It’s a minor complaint, but it’s something that bugs me every time I see it.
Sense also allows for customization options, as always. Included is the ability to change general format based on your most common usage situations (work, play, social, etc.) for the homescreen and lockscreen, and you can customize color and texture variations.
All told, Sense 4.0 replaces Android 4.0’s Tron-esque feel with a more elegant, clean UI. While the UI itself - or the compromises it makes - may not be for everyone, HTC certainly hits the nail on the head in a lot of ways, and manages to differentiate itself in a meaningful way.
As my One X is unbranded, it shipped without carrier bloat (you’re jealous, I know). However, HTC’s goodies came pre-loaded, and truth be told, I’m rather happy about that fact. The device ships with genuinely useful apps like Mirror and Flashlight, as well as crowd-favorites such as Facebook and Twitter. All told, there’s little bloat to speak of from HTC’s end of things – that’s usually left up to the carrier.
One highlight of the software that ships on the One X: HTC’s Car Mode. When docked with the official dock (which uses the pogo pins), the phone automatically opens up car mode. And car mode itself is extremely clean, simple, and easy to use.
I should point out that shortly after I received the One X, WiFi wouldn't work and I had some 3G connectivity issues. As both worked fine before the latest OTA update (.28), it's possible that somewhere along the update things went moderately wrong. After wiping the phone, I had the latest OTA and my issues have gone away. Still, I'd be remiss not to mention it.
Benchmarks, Performance, and Battery Life
Popular sentiment as of late seems to have swung in favor of Qualcomm’s new dual-core S4 Snapdragon (Krait) CPUs and against Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 CPU. I’m not quite sure why that is; while the S4 undoubtedly offers better dual-core performance and battery life in some circumstances, the T3 remains a major powerhouse that can provide both points equally as well. Given the two extra cores of the T3 and the fact that Nvidia is majorly committed to pushing quad-core apps and games, I think it’s safe to say that there’s more long-term potential to be found in the Tegra 3 variant.
No benchmarks are perfect, and specific benchmarks can be run to make either CPU look like the stronger contender. Yet lately, it seems like the Tegra 3 has been winning the majority. TechnoBuffalo ran a few, pitting the One X (Tegra 3) against the One S (Krait), and the T3 came out the victor. And a few weeks ago, a YouTuber benchmarked the T3 and S4 variants of the One X with AnTuTu - once again, the Tegra 3 reigned supreme.
Unfortunately, I don't have any other comparable phones handy to compare the One X to. Still, the following numbers can certainly serve as a reference to those found elsewhere:
Please note: please don't tell me what your rooted, ROMed, overclocked phone/tablet/refrigerator scores. It is not relevant.
Benchmarks aside, battery life on the One X is impressive. As always, I used WiFi whenever possible and left brightness on Automatic. With moderately heavy use - frequent music playing (via headphones), some gaming (Cut The Rope), a good bit of web browsing/reddit, and numerous texts, emails, and calls – and my One X ended the day at about 9% after being unplugged for 17 hours – without WiFi. Subsequent experiences played out pretty much the same (as of writing, I'm at 31% battery life after 14 hours of moderate use).
The short of it: both processors offer outstanding performance and better battery life than ever before – though personally, I’d put stock in the one with twice as many cores.
The good: the camera loads quickly and takes pictures with very, very little delay. Given the speed and the fact that we're talking about a camera on a phone, I think it takes damn good pictures. That said, it doesn't take the best pictures of any camera phone on the market - but, crucially, other phones tend to take much, much longer to snap the shot.
Believe it or not, these photos were taken back-to-back, seconds apart.
In my book, when you consider all the factors, the One X is the best camera found on a phone. Not because it takes the best pictures - though they're very good - but because you can open the app and snap a picture in under a second. Even in difficult lighting situations, there's incredibly little shutter lag.
Truth be told, there is no competition for the One X on the market today. I know that some will cry “Samsung Galaxy S III” in the comments below, but the key is "on the market today." How many people held out on great hardware last year waiting for the SGSII – only to end up waiting months and months? The gist is this: there’s always new hardware around the corner, especially in the smartphone market. At some point, you have to take the jump and buy, especially when the future is so uncertain – and with the outstanding build, screen, power, performance, and camera of the One X, you can't find a better phone on the market today.
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