|Review: HTC One X|
Tuesday, 12 June 2012 09:00
When I was asked to review the HTC One X, I was quite excited, because there was already quite a buzz about HTC’s One series of phones.
I’ve always respected HTC - albeit from a Galaxy afar – thanks to various interactions with their small, but die-hard, local fan base.
The HTC One X forms part of the HTC One series of smartphones with the X being the high performance model. To say that I have enjoyed using it would be an understatement. It’s easily one of the best phones I’ve ever used.
My first knowledge of the One X was through a picture gallery, which immediately caught my attention. The phone is absolutely beautiful – slim, sleek, slightly curved (is this a new Android phone trend?), lightweight and it feels good in your hand. I pretty much got an overly positive reaction on its looks from friends.
Not everyone is a fan of its white body colour, but I think it adds to its beauty (or I could just be brainwashed by Apple Inc.). It’s certainly a good change of pace from the usual black/grey devices that are released in South Africa.
The back is made up of polycarbonate and has a matte feel to it. Being plastic does not in anyway make it feel cheap or inferior. This is a genuine concern for some, apparently.
Screen display is a crisp, large 4.7" HD Super LCD with Gorilla Glass protection. As a Samsung phone user, I'm accustomed to Super AMOLED displays and found the One X's screen comparable. SAMOLED is probably brighter, but not necessarily better.
The phone body has all the usual stuff: volume rocker on the side (which is unfortunately all too easy to press by mistake, as I have often done), USB socket on the other side (I would have preferred it be at the bottom to avoid awkwardness when charging and using the phone), and a Power button at the top. A loud speaker is located at the bottom bit and a camera with LED flash at the top. The very top has a 3.5mm audio jack input and microSIM slot. Unlike most Android phones, the back does not open as the battery can unfortunately not be removed.
Life in sync
One of my major attractions to Android is the ability to stay in sync with my Google account. I like having a synced address book through Google contacts, email, calendars – just to mention the basics. The advent of social networking services has further brought about the need to sync information about your contacts on Facebook, Twitter and more.
More than on any other phone I've ever used, the One X performs flawlessly in this respect. My beloved Galaxy Note needed its arm twisted before it was able to integrate my Google Apps accounts correctly, but the One X only needed a few clicks to perfectly import and continuously update all my calendars... and I was left with no weird duplicates either.
Contrary to most Android phones, the One X does not support physical expandable memory storage through micro SD, but instead offers 23GB of Dropbox cloud storage for two years. This is awesome if you have access to high bandwidth, but bad news for people like myself, who has not fully migrated to cloud storage solutions and tend to keep a tight lid on mobile data costs. That said, I found the 32GB local storage on this particular unit to be more than enough for my needs.
Android veterans tend to prefer the pure Google experience of Android, that is, not the "bloated" manufacturer User Interface as implemented by the likes of Samsung and HTC. They add their own layer or "Skin" (sometimes with apps as well) to create a unique Android experience for their users. In some cases, I believe it’s necessary, particularly for those who are new to Android. I’ve never had an issue with this form of customisation and I rather like HTC Sense on the One X.
The fireworks of tasteful transitions and animations could be seen as frivolous, but I think it provides it with a "wow" factor. The processor can certainly handle it. The weather widgets have impressed many folks to whom I’ve shown the phone. It’s the small things!
HTC has included a handy Show Me app which essentially teaches you how to use the phone. Not everything is listed, however. There are many gems waiting to be discovered.
HTC Watch is a video content service similar to Samsung’s Video Hub, but unlike the Samsung service, it’s not available locally (yet?).
Car is a beautiful app that facilitates phone usage when driving, typically when the phone is secured on a car dock. Large icons and the clock come in quite handy when you can’t keep your eyes off the road.
Notes is integrated with Evernote for note-taking and all the wonderful things that have made this service immensely popular.
There is a wide variety of standard widgets, from designer clocks to shortcuts, available to add to various Home screens. My Galaxy Note supports several gestures for Profile changes, accessing connectivity options, enabling GPS and more, so the widgets were useful to me.
The standard keyboard is well laid-out and straight-forward with haptic feedback if selected. Surprisingly, it supports Swype-like key input, but it’s not perfect.
Web browsing on the default browser is pretty ordinary and for some reason, it refused to open more than five tabs at once. Google’s Chrome beta proved to be a better alternative.
It's really fast!
Sporting a Tegra 3, 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, you would expect nothing less than blinding speed and the One X delivers. Flipping through menus and switching between apps is smooth. I didn’t get a chance to do any graphics-heavy activities, but I’ll assume that it handles that with ease.
The HTC One X has a high-rated 1,800 mAh Li-Po battery that is pretty standard for a smartphone in its class. There have been reports from local users on its poor overall battery life, but I can’t say I’ve had the same experience. With ordinary day-to-day usage (with auto-sync enabled as well), it needed to get charged every 20 - 25 hours or so, which is relatively acceptable. Using the GPS module, however, drained the battery faster than I would have liked and the phone got significantly hot.
As a person who has mostly been using smartphones with Super AMOLED variants, I found the HD screen to be more than adequate, but also no better than my usual experience. In fact, I think it’s slightly dull with regards to brightness and colour richness in comparison.
Other than its stunning looks, the camera has got to be my absolute favourite aspect of this super smartphone. It is 8MP and has LED flash. Video recording supports up to 1080p resolution. Upon first launching the camera app and clicking the on-screen shutter button, I wasn’t even aware that I’d already taken two pictures – it’s incredibly quick!
The stills and video buttons co-exist on the screen, so no extra clicks to switch from one mode to the other. It’s possible to take pictures while filming, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I had hoped. The auto-focus function works continuously in trying to keep the subject in focus, so, as you can imagine, the video is affected by this.
When viewing my video clips later, I found that the sound level kept changing. My fingers seemed to have covered the microphones on either side while holding the phone (*facepalm*!).
The camera app comes standard with a bunch of effects a la Instagram and countless other photo manipulation apps. I particularly like the available selection and how seamlessly these effects are implemented. Again, very fast!
The music default player is feature-rich to the point where I ignored my usual favourite, Winamp. It has Soundhound integration to get song information (the same on the Radio Player) and an ability to download album art, among other goodies.
An audio service called 7-Digital comes pre-installed through which music can be purchased.
The One X audio is powered by popular and high-end consumer brand, Beats Audio. The built-in speaker is quite powerful in volume and of pretty decent quality. The magic happens when headphones are used. I imagine that Beats headphones, which I haven’t used, would offer something extra to the aural experience.
HTC have smartly gone for Back, Home and Recent Apps off-screen buttons and left the rest to be handled on-screen. As a friend once pointed out to me, an additional Menu button, for instance, is repetitious and may confuse users when ICS already handles this functionality quite well within apps and in the system.
Switching between apps is flawless through the Recent apps button, where one can see, at a glance, which apps are active. If you’ve used iTunes' Cover Photo, you’ll be familiar with this interface. Simply swiping an app’s associated image upwards removes it from the list.
As you may expect, the One X has all the bells and whistles with respect to connection options: WiFi, a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, 3G+. It also has NFC and Media HD Link, both of which I did not have a chance to try out.
This is an increasingly tough smartphone market; I don’t think there has ever been a more difficult time to choose between flagship smartphones from various manufacturers. In fact, I think that the aggressive competitiveness is benefitting consumers in such a way that, if you chose either handset, you wouldn’t have made a bad choice.
The HTC One X is an incredibly tough contender, but HTC does not make a noise about it. Quietly brilliant? Yes, I very much think so.
Pros: Powerful processor and overall high performance; beautiful design; integration of social data, contacts and calendars is well done; easy to set up and transfer information from other models; feature-rich camera app; super sound quality.
Cons: Not all services work in South Africa; non-removable battery; no micro SD storage expansion option; full battery charge time is long at over 2 hours.
Price: Approximately R7,500
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