HTC is trying very hard. It’s not Apple or Nokia or Blackberry or even Samsung in terms of brand kudos but the One X has been designed to address that. You see, if we are honest, HTC has been lagging behind like an old Orange SPV in a bad signal area for the last few years. Good products, well executed and nothing particularly wrong but just lacking the sort of wow factor that makes early adopters queue up all night on Regent Street.
. All that said, just take look at out Gizmobird ratings and you will see it is the first device we have ever given a score of 9.0/10 too – making the One X the top smart phone of the moment! HTC is trying very hard. It’s not Apple or Nokia or Blackberry or even Samsung in terms of brand kudos but the One X has been designed to address that. You see, if we are honest, HTC has been lagging behind like an old Orange SPV in a bad signal area for the last few years. Good products, well executed and nothing particularly wrong but just lacking the sort of wow factor that makes early adopters queue up all night on Regent Street.Rating:9 out of 10
Overall: 9 out of 10
- 1. Style
- 2. Build
- 3. Display
- 4. Processor
- 5. Imaging
- 6. GUI
- 7. Social
- 8. Games
- 9. Music
- 10. Business
- Huge screen with true high-def 720p video
- Speedy quad core power, awesome surfing
- Sumptuous good looks, like the reviewer
- Makes a tablet redundant, shocker!
- Abysmal battery life. 8 hours! Come on HTC!
- Touch screen occasionally reluctant to comply
- Pictures artificial looking, grim in low light
- Ooops it slipped out of my hand, again.
Enter the HTC One X in a white-jacketed flourish, complete with the hottest quad-core 1.5GHz processing around and a gorgeous screen the size of a five aside football pitch. Well, a whopping 4.7 incher with a screen resolution of a true HD quality 1280 x 720 pixels. That gives it the same sort of drop-dead stunning pixel density and detail as the iPhone 4S but on a screen that you can surf on without the aid of a Sherlock Holmes style magnifying glass. And like the 4S this is a backlit LCD screen rather than an AMOLED as chosen by the likes of Samsung and Nokia’s latest goodies. It is colourful, bright and handles sweeping pans like the screen is on rails yet lacks the OMG contrast and black levels that makes the AMOLED posse look so lush.
The One X also runs the very latest version of Android OS, namely 4.0, otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich for no easily explainable reason. As I lived through my school years feasting on many such sweet and bready comestibles, I can only hope that this operating systems won’t give you a shooting pain over the eye. I also doff my fedora to HTC for including a Beats Audio sound system to boost its music playing credentials and a hot 8MP camera with 1080p video recording. Top all this with stunning good looks and genuine hand-held style and this latest HTC could actually be a real contender. Move over Galaxy S2 – the One X is coming through.
Hey, good looking
Straight out of the box in its matt white shell the HTC One X is frankly drop dead sex on a stick gorgeous. Sat next to my trusty iPhone 4S it exudes the charisma of an Aston Martin V12 vantage against the iPhone’s Ford Focus RS. I have seen the grey version of the One X and it really doesn’t cut the style mustard but the white is truly lush. And, damn it’s a big beast. If you like the dimensions of the Galaxy S2, then the One takes the concept further with an even bigger screen, slimmer case and weighs in at a few grams lighter too. The sheer acreage makes the phone feel even lighter in the hand giving the impression of a sleek slab of buffed plastic to the iPhone’s chunk of metal and glass.
At 135mm x 70mm, large palms and the fingers of a pianist are a pre-requisite of using the One X in one hand. I passed the One X to a young lady colleague of pixie like dimensions and hands that would not look out of place on a Barbie doll. Despite my thoughts she had no problem with the One X and using it in landscape mode with two hands she described it as tactile and useable. However, I found it takes some holding and the smoothly rounded edges give it all the gripability of a bar of soap in the shower. Ten minutes in and the thing had hit the deck twice already. A tacky soft shell case is absolutely essential if you don’t want to bounce the One X on a daily basis.
The new camera lens protrudes markedly from the rear panel which is the first of several double-edged features of the One X. While this means there is much less chance of you having an ill-placed digit over the lens when you try to take a picture, it makes the lens itself rather prone to damage. The second of my initial fumbles put a small scratch across the clear plastic. Thankfully this was just outside the angle of view of the lens but it does rather highlight the potential problem with a sticky-out lens. Overall the One X stood up well to these impromptu build tests and it feels made to last if not exuding the metal robustness of some of its peers.
Hard keys are simply a power button on the top and the ubiquitous see-saw volume control on the upper right edge. No hard camera shutter button works for me as it saves me filling the memory with images of my palm, the inside of my briefcase and the fluff in my shirt pocket. You get a single micro USB socket, SIM Card slot and a headphone socket. The unibody design means no second battery and the phone’s built-in 32GB of internal memory is your lot because there is no memory expansion slot. OK 32GB is better than say Nokia 800’s poultry 16GB but its not exactly copious space compared to, say a 64GB iPhone 4S. As downloading Transformers via HTC’s own portal came in at nearly 2GB on its own, you can see why one will have to be rather selective on, say, a long haul flight.
Mind you, that would only be a long haul flight with a power socket in the seat because the One X’s battery life marks a new low for the smartphone ilk. From a full charge at 5am, two hours as a sat nav and music player followed by 3G and Wi-Fi surfing saw a battery warning pop up by lunchtime. By 2am it was with the dodos. OK, I am in an office, with half a dozen USB ports on every desk, but that’s not really the point is it. A smart phone that can only be smart for half the day is not really that smart at all.
For the first time on a device that purports to be predominantly a phone, you can watch a movie in true high definition. OK, 1280 x 720 is actually only just HD and not quite your TV’s 1080p quality but, lumme, it’s good. From the moment you turn the One X the bright colours and seamless animations take your breath away. No it hasn’t got the inky blacks of the AMOLED crew but the brightness and smooth detail is utterly addictive. The resolution makes text readable at very small point size and, combined with the sheer screen size and ultra-wide viewing angles, makes this the most genuinely useable phone screen on the market.
Play a movie and the result transcends the portable device blues like no other phone I have yet tried. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, downloaded on a cheap deal from HTC’s own Watch portal is simply stellar. It looks great, is finely detailed and the motion is super-slick as action pans across the screen. The space scenes have a real 3D-like depth to them and the overall movie watching experience is pretty much best in class. Switch to web browsing and the size, detail and general screen sumptuousness allow for near iPad-like browsing experience. I would go so far as to say that this phone would get pretty close to making a bigger screen tablet a pointless addition to your gadget armoury. Praise indeed, from someone who has to be surgically separated from his iPad by the wife most bedtimes. It really is a superb browsing tool and all those extra processing horses make the whole web experience blisteringly quick.
Interestingly the screen does not rotate quite as speedily as one might like, and certainly not with the surety of purpose of Apple’s latest devices. Its not slow, it’s just not spectacularly quick either. In fact, the HTC-modified Ice Cream Sandwich GUI is so sleek it makes very minor foibles like the rotation ever more noticeable. The home screens scroll with a sort of iTunes-like 3D leaf rotation and with a single press and hold you get a row of home screen icons across the top to fill with apps and widgets from lists below. It is probably the easiest Android OS to get to grips with and customise yet and HTC’s modifications and tweaks have really iced the ice cream sandwich cake, as it were.
Pop up the keyboard and you will note that all the secondary functions are listed above the primary keys. This divided opinion in the office but as a serial two finger typist I think it is a great idea. However the predictive text and predictive spelling are a long way shy of Apple’s best so you need to be pretty accurate with your digits lest you start typing complete drivel (and, we are used to that here at Gizmobird…). There are other little niggles with the touch screen too. On a number of occasions the relevant icon simply did not register being pressed requiring a second firmer stab. I am sure you would get used to the required high accuracy aiming and the heavier screen presses in time but again it just isn’t Apple-slick. Sadly the reticent screen means the One X’s GUI slips a point or two from perfection in our egg rankings.
It’s all about the image
The HTC’s 8MP pixel sensor is just part of its imaging story. And it is a story with happy bits, dark bits, and drama sequences of Eastenders proportion. It’s a mixed bag. There is no hard key for shutter release so it is old school find the icon, open the app and press the soft-key to get that fleeting shot of that rare… oh, damn, it’s gone before you took the picture. There is an effects menu for the terminally bored but once you have used them once you probably won’t use them anymore. On the plus side there is a very effective HDR mode to get a balanced shot with high contrast scenes, a ubiquitous panorama mode and a rather handy best shot mode. This is essentially a bracketing feature that alters exposure settings and allows you to pick the best shot of the bunch. There is also the usual single LED flash with all the power of a glow-worm with flu.
I am fussy with my phone imaging these days because I have stopped carrying around my digital compact camera. While I don’t expect the quality of images one might get from a pro DSLR set up the One X is a little wide of the accurate imaging mark. While the pictures are bright, colourful, well focused and regularly well exposed, the processing adds a big fat wodge of vivid dynamic enhancement. Take a picture of grass on a sunny day and you will get such a verdant and vivid lawn it begins to look like The Sims. The huge screen makes it easy to compare the real world with the picture and it is as if the image has every possible enhancement ramped up a notch. Put the image on your PC and the effect is not quite so sublime, indicating the screen having a fair bit to do with the gung-ho levels.
However, at this point it is only fair to note that the missus told me I was being far too picky and she actually preferred the slightly enhanced version of the shots anyway. So while the camera is sharp and vivid all that extra pizzazz is a matter of taste so I can’t give the imaging top marks for accuracy. At night things go downhill rather badly too. Using either artificial light or the built in LED, the low-light performance of the camera sensor is Hubbish. Honestly, you would need to go to farmyard to see more grain than in a picture taken on the One X at night.
The lush 1080p video ability fairs a bit better qualitatively although the grain thing shows up again, particularly in low contrast scenes. Put the footage onto a big screen TV and you won’t really be in the running for an Oscar for best picture, that’s for sure. Actual motion handling is top-notch though, presumably thanks to the extra processing power, and there are number of good fun features such as slow motion and the ability to snap a still whilst recording in HD. The HTC’s overall imaging abilities are OK but they fail to really get out there and set the benchmark for a smartphone. With such a great screen and processor on board that is an opportunity lost.
In car shenanigans
And then there is the One X’s ability as a sat nav. Hmmm, well this is a mixed blessing every step of the way, HTC managing to combine inspiration and frustration in pretty much equal measure. From the outset the phone won’t simply run the navigation app or Google maps in the background, you have to put it into ‘car mode’. This disables pretty much everything else including messaging, presumably because the makers would assume those driving and navigating wont be text messaging at the same time. Yeah right. Of a two and half hour journey into a client’s office twice a week I spend approximately 45 minutes each way absolutely stationary in traffic, at traffic lights, waiting for octogenarians to cross the road on wheely zimmer frames with squeaky bearings or, seasonally, waiting for my neighbours herd of cows to ruminate there way across the road dropping around 5 metric tonnes of manure per cow on the tarmac in front of me. All this I would suggest gives one plenty of time to do other things with your phone when it is car mode.
And woe betide you try and pull out of car mode. Three days I tried to find the right combination of finger sweeps, gestures, button presses and eventually mashing my forehead repeatedly into the screen in order to get the One X to go back to normal mode. No idea. Having failed the first time to either turn it off or silence it, I walked through a major high street with my pocket still shouting directions to anyone that cared to listen. If by some lucky combination of finger acrobatics you do switch back to normal mode, perhaps to check emails for example, when you return to car mode all the sat nav functions are cleared so you have to put the destination back into the device.
It’s not all frustration and cow pats thoug. That screen is one of the best of any normal sized phones on the market for navigating. It’s big, clear and bright and does not suffer too much with sun shining in through the side window of your chose carriage. The tie in with Google maps works better than any other phone incarnation I have tried and it is more than possible to navigate seamlessly while using the satellite photo terrain maps rather than simple road maps. This brings a degree of interest to regular journeys as you can peer around the area as you go along. Er, obviously while concentrating on the road as well.
The voice activated control works as good if not better than any sat nav system I have tried too, be it dedicated in-car fitment, stand-alone like Tom Tom or phone based nav software. Half a dozen different journeys and the One X got precisely the correct address at my every intonation – even when I tried navigating to the supermarket using my best comedy Caribbean voice. The turn by turn directions are pretty good with plenty of advance warning but the system is a little sluggish mid-manoeuvre. While it is happy to tell you that you need the third exit from the roundabout with 500 metres to go, you will be round the junction and 50 metres up the road before it tell you to actually turn. And why, oh why, is there no speed display on the main car screen? No idea. Other than that, its makes for a pretty peachy navigation performance and the car mode does allow you at least to make/receive calls and play music.
If media be the food of love
And speaking of playing music, Beats Audio enhancements are pretty good for a suite of EQ tweaks. Bearing in mind most people will be using in-ear bud style headphones and probably of pretty reasonable quality ones at that, engaging the Beats Audio mode adds a suitably impressive amount of punch, sparkle and dynamic range to the sound. Swapping between the iPhone 4S and the One X with Beats engaged, the One X absolutely romps home in enjoyable presentation, making the iPhone sound rather bland by comparison. Now don’t get me wrong, these are not audiophile enhancements here, but the effect in everyday use is to make your music sound bigger, punchier and more detailed and I am all up for that.
OK, I must gripe again at the limited 32GB of internal, non-expandable memory. I have half a terabyte of lossless music sitting on my NAS at home and even compressed to rubbish sounding 128kbps that is 50GB plus of space required on my music playing device. And that is before you use any space for apps, widgets, video, contacts etc etc etc. While I am a great fan of cloud based storage, data downloads on mobile devices is expensive unless you are near a free Wi-Fi connection and simply doesn’t work in the car while you are travelling due to too many dead spots. Yeah, yeah, the FM radio is a nice touch but 32GB of storage is still not cutting it for me. Then again, to put that in perspective, the wife has been using an 8GB Nano for years using 256kps coding and really enjoys swapping around her music. Hey, I guess if I had a choice of 64GB of space and standard sound or 32GB and the Beats Audio enhanced sound, I’d probably go for the One X – and that makes it a pretty damn awesome music player indeed.
The sound goes a long way to making the One X’s already stunning game-playing abilities really top notch. As regular readers will know I believe life is too short for video games on mobile handsets (you need a big PC, Eyefinity and three large widescreen monitors…) but I could definitely be turned by the One X. That screen has all the power and impact of the Nintendo and Sony handheld gaming devices and for the first time I can see those products being rattled by a smartphone. Could this be the same death knelll for handheld games machines as it was for still cameras and stand alone sat navs? Could be, because the One X is fabulous gaming tool. OK the limit remains the games that are available on the Android platform but with products like Anomaly Warzone Earth HD that is not really problem. Trust me, if you are a busy person who has precious little free time don’t go anywhere near the One X and Warzone…. Ooops there goes another three hours. Brilliant.
Which rather brings us to functions that are key smartphone stuff; contacts, calls, social media and business-like applications – and no that doesn’t include playing Angry Birds under the table whilst in meetings. HTC has always been a more business orientated brand and that is reflected in the excellent contacts and messaging management system that seamlessly integrates all your social media streams. You can even bag up contacts in easy groups for mass messaging if required.
Part of the improvement is thanks to Android 4.0 with a contacts layout that is very easy to scroll through with just a deft sweep of the finger or an alphabet slider bar for those with hundreds or thousands of contacts. The system seems to search for your contacts’ best quality picture if they have multiple feeds (Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in etc) and the whole set-up is just superbly easy. Before you know it friends you haven’t heard from for years, buried at the back or your contacts list will ring accompanied by a high-res picture of what they currently look like. Shudder. If there was ever a phone to best allow you to avoid calls from errant ex’s girlfriends/boyfriends this is it.
Business application for Android are still in their infancy although I really, really don’t know why. Come on you developers, don’t let iOS, Blackberry and Windows capture the entire serious end of the market! I am sure the One X would be a fabulous Word and Excell editor and could probably pull off a mean presentation when attached to a corporate projector in the board room. But there is nothing convincing within the phone or available on Marketplace to make me want to do that when I have a Nokia 800 in the back pocket with all the MS goodies on it ready to roll. Again, I think this is another opportunity missed for HTC and while there are plenty of second rate Android business apps out there (IMHO) something slick and available on the One X from the outset would have really elevated this phone’s corporate cred.
I have left making calls to the end, mostly for the irony of it. The HTC is a very good phone, surprisingly enough. It pulls a solid signal and through our regular village dead spot (we don’t name the village as they couldn’t handle the upsurge in tourism) it dropped the call at the usual spot but recaptured the signal quicker than most and about a week before the iPhone 4S. Call quality is pretty good too and even on a ropey mobile-to-mobile call, voice intelligibility was markedly better than the 4S on the same network. Result!
Damn that battery life because the One X could well have been the star phone of the first half of 2012. It is powerful, good looking, slick as an oiled panther, a great music player and is a blisteringly quick surfing and communication tool. I am loving the whole concept although it is not without its little niggles. The sticky out phone is asking for trouble of the scratched lens variety, the screen ignoring some pokes until it is re-poked harder is frustrating and the camera system is a little off the pace of its peer group. The sleek, light and slim body is great but if HTC had only made it slightly thicker and 20g heavier we could have probably had properly useable battery life too. OK, our tests really drive a phone to its limits and I suspect most people will eek out a One X full charge for a whole day, but if you want to use the phone for all its worth – make sure you are near a charging point by lunchtime. How annoying is that?
All that said, just take look at out Gizmobird ratings and you will see it is the first device we have ever given a score of 9.0/10 too – making the One X the top smart phone of the moment!