Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Meet the new HTC One X. It is kind of a big deal.
This is HTC's flagship Android smartphone for 2012. In this one device, they have tried to cover all the angles. Innovative design and materials, a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual core processor, a bright 4.7 inch 720p HD LCD screen, a 8 megapixel camera that's capable of shooting multiple frames a second and that can also shoot 1080p HD video and take photos simultaneously.
Then there's the inevitable Beats Audio technology, LTE high speed data, NFC (Near Field Communication) all squeezed into a thin handset with a sharp yet minimalist design that makes it arguably one of the most desirable devices in the market today. Hit jump for a full review and demo video.
The HTC One X comes to Rogers today for $169 for a 3-year plan but those who want to buy it, unlock it an use it on other compatible GSM carriers will need to pay the $624.99 no contract price.
In terms of design, it is a beautiful device to look at and to touch. The matte polycarbonate body is sturdy and feels like it was sculpted out of a solid piece of resin and buffed to perfection.
Choosing poycarbonate over aluminum keeps the weight down significantly plus this is likely better for all the radios and sensors on board. The One line is HTC's way of unifying their product line, at least in terms of Android smartphones.
The HTC One X is slim, light yet feels solid thanks to unlbody construction. The closest smartphones to it in terms of that sexy but tough feel are the iPhone 4S and the Nokia Lumia 800 which are similarly sealed-in devices.
While the front and back are done up in a matte finish but the sides of the HTC One X are glossy but not slippery and lend continuity to the slick contoured Gorilla Glass screen, which seems to take on 90 per cent of the HTC One X's front.
Slightly curved in form and not unlike the Galaxy Nexus in terms of dimensions, the HTC One X's design has various little details that users will appreciate.
HTC's design heritage is strong and present in the HTC One X, you can see hints and nods to previous standout HTC smartphones. The ones that come to mind are the famed Nexus One as well as various HTC Desire models from the past.
The HTC One X feels natural to hold. The sculpted corners have good texture and make it easy to pick up and use. Being a large smartphone, one handed operation will be a bit of a challenge specially for users with smaller hands.
HTC has focused on features that matter most to users. The LCD screen is large, bright and well saturated without being as synthetic looking as earlier AMOLED screens. Play back some video or even fire up a game and you are rewarded with a truly remarkable and clear display.
The HTC Sense UI is quick and responsive and doesn't seem as much as a memory hog as previous versions.
The camera is stellar in terms of quality and functionality. Everything from Instagram-like filters, advanced controls and various ways to share photos through numerous social networks is built right in.
Note that since this is a sealed in design without any expansion. You can't pop in a new battery and neither can you expand the 16GB memory that it comes with. Once the battery needs replacing, you will need to send the unit to HTC for service.
To make up for the 16GB storage ceiling, HTC has teamed up with cloud repository service DropBox so they have bundled in 25GB of free cloud storage for two years.
I have to mention that European variants of the HTC One X ship with 32GB of onboard storage, these also feature a quad core processor instead of the dual core version we get in North America.
Life isn't fair, I know.
The Quad Core processor is apparently incompatible with LTE networks so that is why it didn't make it to America and Canada. I don't know why they scrimped on the storage or why there aren't two variants with 16GB or 32GB to choose from.
Our review unit, possibly a pre-production model, did exhibit the dreaded screen flex flaw and this is unfortunate. When you push down on the edges of the screen causes the screen to flex and show discoloured pixels on the screen.
The overall feeling is that things are not glued together quite right. Earlier reviews from other outlets confirmed the same flaw with other pre-production review units as well but HTC said this issue should be corrected for retail units.
If you're buying one this weekend, it might be a good idea to fire it up in the store and check to see you don't have the screen flex flaw.
I definitely recommend getting a case for this smartphone. It is thin, smooth and easily slips through your fingers. If you want to be horrified, just take a peek at some drop tests that the HTC One X has been subjected to.
LTE speeds on Rogers's High Speed network was consistently fast and quite impressive.
This is one of the fastest smartphones I've tested this year in terms of network speeds and it received consistent 13Mbps download speed as well as 15 Mbps upload speeds which is impressive.
My Galaxy Nexus on HSPA+ peaks at 7Mbps upload and 2Mbps upload speeds, the difference is truly noticeable.
Surfing the web on the go with the HTC One X on LTE is a pleasure. Chekcing out nearby restaurants, perusing thier menus (still using Flash!) as well as managing various apps like Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and DropBox was just so much faster.
Battery management, even with the LTE connection on all day, seems to be above par and far better than past HTC devices we have used.
We managed a whole day of calls, constant web use and uploading of various photos, files and even a blog entry or two and still had 60% battery by 9:00 PM (unit was unplugged at 7:00 AM).
It is remarkable that such a thin and light device could muster such an impressive battery life. Feels almost as efficient as a tablet, which is crazy considering it is smaller than many tablets in the market.
LTE and the availability of Ice Cream Sandwich today (and not some time in the near future) are two key advantages that the HTC One X has over the competition today and would be the two reasons that would make me consider this device as my next Android smartphone if I was a Rogers subscriber.
Innovation in Bunches
The HTC One X has also made the transition to MicroSIM, just like the iPhone 4/4S and the Nokia Lumia 800. This means if you are coming from a regular SIM enabled smartphone you will need to get the new MicroSIM that's compatible with LTE.
We noticed the subtle Beats Audio logo on the back of the device and were told during our briefing that the HTC One X is the first smartphone to feature Beats software and hardware technology. Let's not get too excited here, this isn't a pocket boombox.
The Beats Audio wizardry only kicks in when plugged into a headset or external speakers and offers users various ways to enjoy their music. I am ambivalent about anything with Beats branding on it because it is generally overhyped.
But, I can't deny that there is some sound science involved and this should make for a more pleasurable audio experience when using any high quality headset or external speaker.
HTC has also developed a Music widget that stores all music related services and apps in one place, which is convenient and also shows the importance they place on entertainment.
Our review unit did not come with any headphones but I expect that the ones in stores should come with simple Beats headphones at the very least, specially since HTC is majority owner of Beats Audio.
In terms of software, we get a scaled-down version of the HTC Sense overlay running on top fo Android OS 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) that gives the HTC One X a decent amount of customization without being too obnoxious or obtrusive.
There is a good collection of HTC-specific widgets and applications but it is up to the users to turn these on. There are animations, slick transitions and a seemingly endless selection of widgets to populate the smartphone's multiple screens with.
I can see how some users might feel like they've outgrown HTC's Sense UI, or any skin overlay for that matter. One of the constant issues with Android and the dreaded F word (Fragmentation) has been the extra step of making the latest Android OS release work with third party overlays or skins. It has been one of the perennial excuses for not getting the latest OS out in time to existing models.
While overlays like Sense were beneficial two years ago when Android's user interface was somewhat primitive and dull, it just seems unecessary now.
Having used stock Android 4.0.3 and 4.0.4 smartphones on a daily basis, I can attest that Ice Cream Sandwich offers a far more enjoyable and stable user experience that some may find superior to any overlays and skins.
Smartphone manufacturers should really focus on the hardware and give users the purest OS experience possible without adding in their own stuff. At least make it an option and not a default feature.
For users who love the HTC One X's specs and features but want to run stock Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, this is going to be a problem.
The HTC One X requires the HTC Sense overlay which is tightly integrated with a lot of the functionality and it is doubtful that this is going to change, so look elsewhere if you want Pure Google on an LTE device or just make your peace with the Sense UI.
Call quality is above average and very clear even in noisy surroundings like restaurants or pubslic transport.
Note that this unit is still bone stock, I have not installed any of my regular apps or set it to run my various email and social media accounts. I have a few weeks to really test the day-to-day battery life on the HTC One X with real apps installed, but so far so good.
A Kickass Camera
HTC has really upped the camera hardware and software of the HTC One X. As a result the rear camera comes with a 28mm lens featuring an f/2 aperture and 8 megapixels with smart LED flash, and a Back Illuminated Sensor that auto focuses in 0.2 seconds and can take four digital photos per second while watching videos or movies.
HTC One X HTC ImageSense, a new suite of camera and imaging features that set the device apart from other phones.
The wide aperture and back illuminated sensor means more information gets captured and more light is used which is optimal for lower light conditions.
HTC Sense has also added various effects and features to the camera application and many Instagram users will have many familiar settings available for their pictures.
In terms of quality, the HTC One X's camera is superb and fun to use.. The photos below show it does a good job in most conditions. This camera can easily replace your point-and-shoot camera and will do a decent job taking videos.
The camera's speed is very fast thanks to HTC's ImageChip processor and new software. The combination of fast startup and the insane rapid fire mode makes taking pictures on this smartphone a breeze.
I only wish it had a dedicated camera button because using the HTC One X outdoors during a bright Spring morning does pose some challenges as the screen isn't always bright enought to see and it is reflective. Still this is a smartphone camera that people are going to want to use, it takes great photos and videos quickly and is designed for sharing them in various ways. Isn't that what we do with photos these days?
Another feature that fell a little short for us was the panorama setting which wasn't as responsive as I expected and I didn't manage to get it to work. I have some more time with the device and will see if I can figure this part of it out.
I think the fact that the HTC One X can shoot 1080p and take 8 megapixel snapshots at the same time is brilliant. People who cover news and events will be able to put this feature to good use while recording an event and grabbing snapshots of highlights simultaneously.
The HTC One X is a superb choice for a high end Android smartphone. Design and features are compelling and there's a feeling of newness to this new line of devices. The One X stacks up favorably against its leading competitors and even surpasses them in some areas.
HTC needed to come back big in 2012 and remind the industry just what they are capable of as an innovative, design-focused handset maker and this device will certainly get some attention. The HTC One X is definitely a top tier smartphone with premium features that will suit the need of HTC and Android-loving users.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
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