If you're of the view that bigger is better, the HTC One X will put a massive smile on your face. With its whopping 4.7-inch display, it's heading towards mini tablet territory.
This is not a device to be quietly squirrelled away in a trouser pocket. Frankly, being trousered is the last thing on the One X's agenda -- this beast wants to be slapped down on the pub table to bellow its challenge to the competition.
Lift the gigantic lid and the theme of big is beautiful continues. The One X packs a quad-core chip -- the first device from HTC to do so. It's also got Android Ice Cream Sandwich on board, slathered with the latest version of HTC's user interface software: Sense 4.0.
SIM-free, this beast will currently set you back a wallet-battering £500. It's possible to get Apple's new iPad for less. To get the One X free on contact you'll need to sign up for a two-year tariff costing around £30 to £35 per month -- which puts it at the very top tier of handsets. At this price, the One X is lining up against Apple's iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy Note -- and not much else. At least not until the Samsung Galaxy S3 is released.
Should I buy the HTC One X?
People with small hands and modest desires, move along: this is not the phone for you. The One X is an Android powerhouse with so many cores that HTC chucked in a fifth for all the tasks that won't stretch its first four. The use of four-plus-one chip architecture could been seen as a tacit admission that a phone doesn't need so many cores -- but the One X is not about need, it's all about want, want, want.
The average user certainly isn't going to tax the limits of the One X, so the first question to ask yourself is whether you're one of the many or one of the few? If you're in the power-hungry minority, then read on.
For everyone else, the One X has way more welly than you really need, and worse battery life than you'll want, so unless you need an enormo-phone with a gigantic 4.7-inch display, your money would be better spent on a more modest Android powerhouse that won't run out of juice so quickly.
Alternative Android phones to consider include the HTC One S, the Sony Xperia S or even Samsung's long-in-the-tooth but still highly capable Galaxy S2. Or of course there's Apple's iPhone 4S -- which still offers the most polished experience and richest app ecosystem of any smart phone.
Battery life and performance
The One X's battery life was poor during initial testing -- running down so quickly it would be unlikely to last even a day of moderate use. At this point, however, I was testing it with the screen at full brightness, and before I'd had a chance to fully discharge and fully charge the phone. In this state just over two hours of use drained around half the battery, with the screen accounting for well over half the drain.
Dialling down the brightness helped improve battery performance, as did fully discharging the battery and fully charging it -- but it's difficult to assess battery performance as HTC has said there is a "niggle" with battery life, which it hopes to fix via a software update (I hadn't received this at the time of publication).
The battery is rated at 1,800mAh, and strangely HTC hasn't yet provided any official battery usage times. I'll be updating this review once I've had a chance to see whether battery life improves after the update and adjust the score if appropriate.
During testing the One X was generally fast and responsive, with apps loading quickly and homescreen menus zipping around, fancy 3D graphics and all. However there were a few instances where the device appeared to hang on wake up -- showing a 'loading' screen for several seconds when it should just have landed directly on the homescreen.
Again, this happened during testing with a review unit that did not have the final software build running on it so it's possible it's another bug HTC is ironing out. Again, I'll be updating this review once I've had a chance to see how stable the final build is.
Quad-core chip and apps
The jewel in the One X's crown is definitely its 1.5GHz quad-core chip. In Android benchmark tests I ran, it topped out the charts -- scoring a whopping 10,827 on AnTuTu's benchmark (the Xperia S scored 6,301) and besting the Asus Transformer Prime tablet-cum-laptop's score. On Quadrant's benchmark, the One X scored 4,904 -- beating the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and scoring more than double the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. In the Vellamo benchmark it scored 1,630 -- beating every other device in the current comparison chart.
I also ran GLBenchmark 2.1.2's standard Egypt test -- the One X tackled this test at 52 frames per second, not far off the rate achieved by Apple's new iPad (59fps). So there's no doubt the One X has bags of graphical clout at its disposal. But whether you can find bags of apps that adequately tax its engines is a far more pertinent question.
HTC claims the One X's quad-core chip means "web browsing and games run more smoothly and are quicker to respond". In my experience, web pages certainly load quickly and scrolling is undoubtedly very nippy, but for general web browsing there isn't a huge performance bump over and above a 2010 device such as the HTC Desire, which has a single-core 1GHz chip.
The One X does handle rich HTML5 sites better than the Desire. Web pages generally load a fraction faster, scrolling up and down is much faster, but pinching to zoom is actually smoother on the Desire. Where the Desire smoothly scales web content up and down as you expand and pinch the screen, the One X behaves erratically, sometimes scaling smoothly, but frequently vanishing large chunks of webpage until you stop moving and then realigning the page after the fact. It looks unsightly, but also makes it tricky to zoom in on the particular bit of page you're after because it's all too often temporarily vanished from view.
It's possible the One X's browser has a bug related to pinch to zoom -- although a similar issue afflicts Chrome for Android when running on the One X, so there is a chance it's a foible of the larger screen dealing with shifting more pixels. Again, once I've had a chance to test pinch to zoom on the final software build, I'll update this review if there's any change.
Quad-core processors typically excel in multi-tasking environments and for rich 3D applications such as gaming. But despite the One X's ample size, it's seemingly not being touted as a laptop replacement -- a la the Motorola Atrix -- so your multi-tasking is likely to be limited to lots of tabbed browsing, playing music in the background, and switching between apps. In other words, nothing a dual-core chip can't handle, which once again raises the question, are quad-core phones really necessary?
On the 3D gaming front, you should investigate the quality of games in the Google Play shop before investing in the One X. It's lining up against powerful dedicated gaming portables such as the PS Vita -- which also packs a quad-core chip, and is cheaper -- so hardcore gamers might prefer to spend their pennies on dedicated gaming gear.
Ice Cream Sandwich
The HTC One X runs the latest incarnation of Google's Android OS, Ice Cream Sandwich -- meaning you get ICS-specific features such as Face Unlock and the ability to download Google's Chrome for Android browser (only available on ICS).
It's not pure Android by any means, however -- because it has the newest incarnation of HTC's Sense software running atop it. HTC claims Sense 4.0 has been "streamlined" -- to pare back some of the graphical flourishes that burdened previous versions and got in the way of doing stuff on the phone.
Fine words, but in truth Sense 4.0 still has a fair few flourishes. The One X is certainly far from a vanilla ICS installation, with barely a corner of Android left untweaked, however lightly, by HTC. All these software tweaks mean the next time Google releases an Android update -- hello Jelly Bean, ahoy there Key Lime Pie -- HTC will have lots to do to make sure everything knits together nicely, which usually means a longer wait for your update.
HTC also still has some work to do to truly streamline Sense. Often, it's the small things that niggle. For instance, if you set a PIN code to secure your phone, there's a redundant requirement to click 'OK' after you've entered the PIN on the unlock screen (also true of vanilla ICS) -- an extra button click that doesn't exist on the iPhone.
Similarly, if you want to pull some photos off the phone to your PC using USB, you have to go to the settings and select the 'Connect to PC' option and then specify 'Disk drive' -- selecting 'Done' afterwards (another redundant confirmation button). If you leave 'Disk Drive' as the default type, you don't have to drill into the settings in future, but why include that requirement to specify in the first place? It's not exactly plug and play.
All that said, I have a lot of time for Sense -- it's easy on the eye, and a doddle to use. And running on the One X it feels fast and responsive. It's certainly a good place for a first time Android user to dive in as it does a lot of hand-holding -- offering overlays of hints and tips and a thorough walk through to help you set up the phone. But it's unlikely to appeal to hardcore Android geeks who will probably add a different Launcher to the device.
On Sense 4.0 you get the same limit of seven homescreens to load with your favourite apps and widgets, as on the previous iteration of Sense. The familiar HTC clock-plus-weather widget came preloaded on my review device, along with a selection of HTC's other widgets, but as per usual you can delete these and replace with widgets of your choice. Homescreen panes can also be removed if you don't want to use all seven. And there's a choice of widget-ified lock screens -- including weather, photos, social network updates, contacts, shares and more.
HTC has bested the vanilla ICS Recent Apps menu by taking a leaf out of webOS's book and giving it a 3D deck-of-cards appearance. An idle finger flick lets you zoom through recent apps or flick them off screen to close it. It's a lot zippier and snazzier than the thumbnail stack you get in vanilla ICS, and is an example of how HTC's overlay adds a touch more class to standard Android.
HTC's camera software has also had an upgrade in Sense 4.0, with loads of settings that can be tweaked manually, plus the ability to shoot a rapid-fire burst of up to 99 continuous pictures by holding down the shutter. You can also add a range of effects to your shots direct from the camera interface -- including vignettes, depth of field, greyscale and various Hipstamatic-style filters to distort and degrade the shot to give it a trendy retro look. The software also lets you snap a photo while shooting a video -- in a best of both worlds approach.
The native browser has some smart new touches. If you swipe downwards across the bezel at the bottom of the phone it brings up a mini menu -- letting you quickly access tabs, bookmarks, and add or access articles saved for later reading. Tapping on the menu icon at the top right of the browser brings up a more fleshed-out menu with various handy options including the ability to view the desktop version of the website, enable Flash Player and 'Find on page'.
Best of all though, being as the One X runs ICS, you can download Google's Chrome for Android browser, which offers unlimited tabbed browsing in a fancy deck of cards-style interface, selected website pre-caching and more.
HTC has added a feature called hubs to Sense 4.0 -- gathering various music apps into a 'Music' hub and pulling some video content into the 'Watch' hub, perhaps taking inspiration from Microsoft's Windows Phone.
The Music hub includes a link to 7digital's MP3 store, which offers songs from around £0.99 each and albums in the range of £4.99 to £11.99. The Watch hub points you to a video store with films to rent or buy -- prices range from £0.49 to £3.49 for rentals, to around £6.99 to £9.99 to buy. The hubs are pretty basic -- more like themed folders -- but can provide a short cut to accessing related content.