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.
Camera and video
HTC made a big noise about the importance of the camera to its new One Series lineup -- adding a new image chip, f2.0 aperture, 28mm lens and backside-illuminated sensor to improve snapping in low light. The One X has an 8-megapixel snapper with auto focus and a variable LED flash that adjusts its range depending on the distance to the subject being snapped.
The camera is generally very good -- albeit, like many camera phones, it can struggle to tackle scenes with a variety of lighting conditions. In those tricky circumstances it has trouble producing an even exposure, meaning portions of the shot end up washed out or too dark.
But the One X can certainly turn out a very impressive snap indeed, as this shallow depth of field shot of pool chalks shows.
Colours are a strong point -- being typically true-to-life, rather than over-saturated (or washed out), and while the One X's lens unsurprisingly struggles with very dingy conditions, as you'd expect, it handles low-light environments pretty well -- with minimal noise and reasonable levels of clarity.
The flash is also good, adjusting to the relative distance of subjects so it doesn't wash them out. The focus can be a tad fiddly to lock on, but more shots come off the camera in focus than not. There's also an impressive range of settings for you to play with, should you wish -- including ISO, white balance, exposure, contrast and saturation. And, as previously mentioned, the camera software lets you add a range of after effects to the shots you take -- from the subtle to the psychedelic.
HTC has also added a burst mode so you can clack-clack-clack up to 99 shots in one sequence simply by holding down the shutter button -- handy next time you're at a wedding and definitely don't want to miss the cake cutting.
It's quite easy to trigger continuous shooting by accident because it's all too easy to be a bit tardy in taking your finger off the screen. The software then prompts you to choose whether to keep all the shots or only the 'best shot' (selected by HTC's algorithm). Again, this is a handy feature, but if you never intended to take more than one shot it's just an irritating break. Fortunately, you can turn off continuous shooting in the settings.
HTC has also added the ability to snap photos while shooting video -- just tap the shutter button during filming and a still will be added to your gallery.
The One X shoots video in up to Full HD 1080p. Video quality at this setting is excellent, with high levels of detail, exposure responding promptly to light changes and good audio.
The One X has a whopping display: 4.7 inches of glossiness that falls away in gentle curves at two sides. The screen dominates the face of the phone -- with all but no bezel at the left and right sides and only a thin margin of plastic bookending the top and bottom. The surface of the screen is ever so slightly concave to give marginal protection from scratches should you carelessly slide the phone's face over some sandpaper.
The capacitive touchscreen is fairly responsive, but I found there can be a small lag before it picks up your finger movement. The touch keys also aren't always hyper-responsive to being tapped.
A more serious issue, though, is caused by how close the screen is to the edge of the phone. The lack of an adequate bezel means it's possible to accidentally activate something on screen just by holding or squeezing the phone. There's also a degree of flex in the screen at these two exposed sides -- if you run a fingertip along either curved edge, the flex manifests as interference on the display, with discoloured patches of pixels tracking your fingers. It's ugly, to say the least.
So it appears that despite this curved edge of the screen being unlit, a portion of it at least is active -- which in turn means that a particularly tight squeeze can trigger an on-screen action you weren't intending. It's likely that this problem is made worse by how small my hands are relative to the phone's large size, because I have to grip it tightly with fingers, rather than being able to gently nestle it on a palm, so people with larger hands might not find this a problem. Regardless, it's still an unfortunate screen design flaw.
Visually, the Super LCD screen is bright and colourful. There are 1,280x720 pixels crammed onto the One X's display -- the same resolution as the Sony Xperia S. Pixel density is not quite as high, however (312ppi vs 342ppi), as the One X's screen is slightly bigger -- thus the screen is not quite as crisp and dazzling. The viewing angle is also not as acute, because the surface of the display is not as close to the surface of the screen.
Like many a smart phone screen, the One X doesn't perform amazingly well in very sunny conditions -- you'll need to dial the brightness up to maximum.
Away from the glare of the sun, the large physical size of the screen and the sharp resolution means that if you have good eyesight, it's possible to read lots of the text on a text-heavy website such as the BBC News site without having to zoom in first.
Design and build quality
The One X's design is dominated by its massive, 4.7-inch display, with very little else on show from the front. The slab-shaped handset has rounded edges, high-gloss sides and a soft-to-the-touch back which -- unless you have sweaty palms -- is very slippery indeed.
I generally found the One X awkward to hold, firstly because it's so big (and my hands aren't), secondly because it's so curvaceous, with rounded edges every which way you turn it, and thirdly because the plastic is so very silky smooth. I had to battle the urge to stick some gaffer tape on the back to give it a bit of grip. The rounded, smooth aspect of the phone does make it comfortable in the hand though so, unlike the Sony Xperia S I could mention, you won't get hand ache during a long phone call.
The One X is relatively thin, especially considering how large it is. It's also surprisingly lightweight -- 130g. The weight has been kept down because HTC has chosen polycarbonate (which feels like plastic) for the casing, rather than its more traditional metallic finish. Despite all this plastic, the One X definitely doesn't look cheap -- attention to detail such as drilled speaker holes help to give it a premium, classy atmosphere.
On the looks front, it's unmistakeably an HTC handset. Indeed, it could be the gigantic progeny of the HTC Desire. It has the same basic rounded oblong shape, but it's bigger, sleeker and a whole lot more handsome. Gone are clunky front-facing buttons, replaced by a trio of subtle touch-keys sitting beneath the screen.
On the back is a very large 8-megapixel camera lens, which protrudes slightly from the casing but is protected by a smoothly sloping, raised metal collar. At the bottom is a Beats Audio logo, stamped above a grid of speaker holes. There's also a row of pogo pins for connecting a dedicated conference speaker dock (sold separately).
Ports-wise you don't get much at all: just a 3.5mm headphone jack up top and a micro-USB charger port on the side. The battery is non-removeable, so to get to the micro-SIM slot you have to prise open a small indent which slides out to reveal a tray -- like the iPhone.
Physical buttons are also kept to a minimum, with just a power key up top and a volume rocker on the side. There's no dedicated camera button, which seems a shame, especially as there's no shortage of space on the side. In my view, the volume rocker is also a little too long -- and its placement, just above the middle of the side, is awkward. I found I was always pushing it by mistake, because it sits exactly where I wanted to grip.
My review sample was the white One X, but there is also a dark grey option in the range. The white device picks up marks easily, so if you're worried about your phone getting grubby you'll want to go for grey.
Storage and NFC
HTC has partnered with Dropbox for the One-series devices, so they all come with 25GB of Dropbox storage, free for two years. On board storage is 32GB, but there's no microSD card slot, so the only way to expand your allotment is by making use of your virtual Dropbox-branded cupboard in the clouds.
Once you've connected your Dropbox account to the phone, you can turn on automatic syncing so that any photos and videos you take will be auto-uploaded. It's not as fast as grabbing files from the phone via USB, but as a peace-of-mind background back-up it's pretty nifty.
The One X also supports contactless NFC technology so you could theoretically swipe this beast over a contactless reader to buy your morning coffee -- but I reckon you'd feel pretty silly trying to pay with a whopping slab rather than a contactless debit card (or a handful of coins).
All HTC's new One-series phones have Beats Audio technology inside -- for sound "enhancement" purposes. The One X carries the Beats stamp on its rump, just above the speaker, but it won't come with Beats Audio headphones in the box, so if you want 100 per cent Dr Dre you'll have to pony up for some branded cans too.
The main speaker is sited on the rear of the phone, just before the plastic slopes away to meet the bottom edge. This placement isn't exactly ideal, as it's easy to muffle the speaker with your palm when holding the phone to browse. But, when unmuffled, audio quality is clear and more than pleasant on the ear, for a phone.
Call quality is also good -- I had no problems hearing the person I was speaking to, nor they I, despite testing the phone outdoors, walking alongside a busy road. I didn't experience any dropped calls during testing either.
For me, the One X is overkill, with a huge screen, more raw power than any phone really needs and a whopping price tag. The cost (other than to your poor credit card) appears to be terrible battery life -- and a quad-core chip without any juice to rev its engines isn't going to get you anywhere. It's possible battery performance will improve after an HTC software update, however, and I'll update this review once I've had a chance to test the final build of the software.
The One X is certainly a phone for a specialist group of gadget fiends who have huge hands, big wallets, very high power requirements and an insatiable lust for impressing their friends with cutting-edge tech specs. Most people don't need to shell out for such a whopper when there are loads of great dual-core phones that are more than adequate for their needs.
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