> The Good
A great camera, equally great display, and all the power of NVIDIA Tegra 3 that we’ve come to expect. Sense 4 meshes nicely with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Free 25GB of online storage thrown in via Dropbox. Impressive design and build quality. Battery life is pretty good.
> The Bad
That said, the non-removable battery and lack of microSD card may be a sticking point for some. The 4.7-inch phone may be too large for small hands. The protruding camera lens can be easily scratched and isn’t easily replaceable.
The leader of the next-generation HTC One series of smartphones has been a breeze to use. Android 4.0 has been improved upon with HTC Sense 4 while still retaining the overall look, feel and function of Ice Cream Sandwich, which in and of itself has an excellent user experience. The camera is a high point, Beats Audio makes music sound better, and you get a bunch of online storage thrown in for free. HTC easily has a winner in the One X.
– HTC One X Hardware –
The X is the big brother of the HTC One family. As in, it’s the svelte older brother who drives a Bitchin’ Camaro. No, really. The X looks great, runs great, and, like Lane Meyer, is a much-needed big bowl of win served up after too many bad runs. It’s also the start of a new era of design for HTC.
The One X has a 4.7-inch display, putting it into the class of “Seriously? That’s pretty darn big.” Not as big as one of those newfangled tablet hybrid things (That’s the Galaxy Note you see above, with the original Nexus One on the other side), but it’s the same size as the first phone in this new generation of Android, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The display might also be the most impressive part of the One X. In fact, we’re just going to come out and say it:
The HTC One X has the best display we’ve ever seen in an Android smartphone, and it’s quite possibly the best display we’ve seen in any phone. It’s that good.
That’s a big claim, we know. And resolution fanatics will cry out that its pixel density still doesn’t match the 326 pixels per inch of the iPhone 4S. Know what? It doesn’t. But 317 pixels per inch on a 4.7-inch display is plenty impressive. (The One X has a 720×1280 resolution.) It also bypasses the AMOLED argument, using a Super LCD 2 display. There’s virtually no space between the glass and the display, so the colors and icons seem to nearly be floating on top, also giving it some excellent viewing angles. You know those dummy phones you’ll see in some stores, with the fake displays that are really stickers stuck to a shell and that look a little too good to be true? It’s almost like that, but in a real, working phone.
And we’re not done singing the display’s praises. The ambient light sensor keeps things surprisingly bright. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a phone we can actually use outside, let alone in direct sunlight. So long as the big bright ball in the sky isn’t reflecting directly back into your retinas, you’ll be able to use the One X outdoors.
And then there’s the body of the phone. Much hay has been made over HTC using a special polycarbonate for the One X shell. At the end of the day for the end user, it’s going to still feel like plastic. It’s got a matte finish to it, and while we still miss the soft-touch paint of days gone by, the One X feels just fine to the touch. We’ve yet to experience any scratches on it in a week’s worth of pocket life, but there’s no substitute for the test of time. (Same goes for the durability of the display, too.) It is, however, subject to smudges.
Above the display you’ll find the HTC logo, the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, and 52 little pinholes for the earpiece speaker grille. (A great design touch, even if not all 52 serve as the speaker.) Neatly hidden one of the pinholes (sixth from the right on the bottom row) is a tiny LED used for notifications and charging indication. It’s very subtle.
Below the display is where you come to the first controversial bit. Being a phone of the Ice Cream Sandwich generation, the One X has shifted to a three-button scheme. But unlike the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, its buttons are capacitive and not a part of the display itself, on screen when needed and hidden from sight in apps that want to use the full screen. That leads to a couple concerns. One is that HTC is deviating from the spirit of Ice Cream Sandwich, and that sticking with off-screen buttons will lead to confusion when it comes to actually using the phone. We’ve had no problems whatsoever. Sure, you lose the little animation effects that linger on the Galaxy Nexus as your thumb lifts away from the screen, but we wouldn’t say we miss them.
The other issue is a matter of software and user interface in Ice Cream Sandwich, because there’s no longer a dedicated menu button on the phone. We go into it in more detail here, but the short version is HTC has had to come up with an interim solution. Developers should be reworking their applications to better include menu options without the need for a superfluous button. But change has been slow to come, and HTC’s addressed this by making the on-screen menu button take up a small portion of the display. That upsets some, because it means less real estate for the rest of the app. Hey, it’s a 4.7-inch display. There’s lots of room to go around, but point taken, and developers need to update their apps to Android’s new standard.
The two sides of the One X are fairly benign. On one is the volume rocker. On the other is the microUSB port.
Up top you’ll find the 3.5mm headphone jack, power button and a pinhole for a secondary noise-canceling microphone. The main microphone is on the bottom of the phone, exactly where you’d expect it to be.
Moving to the rear of the One X, this is where you find the other major design feature. (Or flaw, depending on who you ask.) There is no battery cover. Well, at least not one that can be removed. The One X has a single-piece polycarbonate shell. That gives it some extra strength, and it looks damn nice. But that also means you can’t swap out the battery for a fresh one. And there’s no microSD card, either, so you’re left with whatever internal storage the phone comes with. (Ours has 32 gigabytes of storage, but remember that AT&T’s version is only going to have 16GB.) The storage situation is mitigated by the fact that so much is shifting to the “cloud” these days — and HTC has teamed up with Dropbox to give you 25GB of free cloud storage for two years. The battery situation is what it is. The One X has an 1800 mAh battery, and that’s it. When it’s dead, it’s time to charge.
The rear-facing camera is an 8MP shooter with LED flash, a 28mm lens and an f/2.0 aperture. HTC’s pretty proud of it, and it should be. We’re a little worried about how much it protrudes from the phone, though. We can’t help but think about how horribly scratched our HTC EVO 4G lens cover became, and quickly, too. We’ve already managed a few scratches on our lens cover. Be careful is all we’re saying, because this thing’s attached to the phone itself, and you won’t be replacing it.
Near the camera lens you’ll find the SIM card tray. It’s got a little pinhole that you stick HTC’s SIM card tray unlocking mechanism tool thingy, or cousin to the battery cover unlocking mechanism tool thingy we saw on the Motorola Droid 4. In essence, it’s a well-designed paper clip used to eject the tray. It’s easy enough to use, just remember to insert your micro-SIM card face down. You’ll either need to cut down or replace your mini- or full-size SIM card. (Check out our micro-SIM tutorial.)
The final features on the rear of the One X are five gold contacts used for dock integration — you’ll recall that the One X has a killer car dock and app — and there are 44 pinholes that serve as the rear speaker. Again, great design there. Just above the speaker grille is the Beats Audio logo, and FCC information is printed beneath it.
The HTC One X is not a small phone. But neither is it setting any records for size. It’s roughly the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. In fact, because of design differences, the One X actually is just a tad thinner than the GNex over much of the body (though they both match up on paper at 8.9mm), and it’s a hair more narrow. The One X may be big, but it’s no fatty.
– HTC One X Software –
The HTC One X (as well as the other phones in the HTC One line) has the latest version of the Android operating system, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich. Specifically, our One X review unit is running Android 4.0.3.
The One X also has a brand-new version of the Sense user interface — HTC’s custom design of Android. Just as we saw at its unveiling in February at Mobile World Congress, Sense 4 perhaps is the best iteration yet. Sense 4 more gracefully lends itself to Ice Cream Sandwich, which in and of itself has an excellent, if not a little robotic, user interface. Instead of replace large portions of the UI (trading the customizable dock for the old-school Sense dock, for example), Sense 4 leaves intact the vast majority of what’s been done in Ice Cream Sandwich, improving on it in bits and pieces. A few examples:
- Folders behave the same way in Sense 4, but HTC has made adding items a little more intuitive.
- Menus are more friendly and colorful (but not in an overly cartoonish way).
- HTC’s customizable “Scenes” and “Themes” — sets of preloaded home screens and different colors for icons and widgets — add even more functionality to the ICS UI.
- The HTC lock screen with its customizable background and quick-launch apps is a major plus, though it has lost a little functionality.
- HTC has improved on the browser, which already is pretty good. You can still download the Chrome beta if you wish.
For our part, Sense 4 is pretty darn good. It’s toned things back (in particular with the launcher and app drawer) while still putting its own stamp on Ice Cream Sandwich. Not too little, not too much, with improvements in just the right places. If you’ve been using stock Ice Cream Sandwich, you’ll be right at home in Sense 4.
The question we’ve kept asking ourselves while exploring Sense 4 is “What are the haters going to hate?” When someone says they don’t like Sense, what, exactly, are they talking about? Is it the large, colorful (and often useful) widgets? Swap ’em out. Is it the dock and app drawer? Install a third-party launcher. Is it the color menus? Well, you’re kind of stuck with them, but Sense 4 has some useful themes to you can use to change that.
But that’s just the user interface stuff. Where things really start to get sexy is with the camera, and with music.
HTC in the latter fall of 2011 made a significant deal with Beats Audio that brings some fairly major audio enhancements. News in Sense 4, HTC’s made Beats available to any application that outputs music. There aren’t any settings for Beats. There’s no customizable EQ. You’ve got the option to turn it off, if you so desire, but you’re not going to want to.
The Beats enhancements are like smartly applying a sharpening filter in Photoshop. Sure, the picture might have been pretty good before. But now it’s sharper and clearer. And Beats makes everything just a tad louder, too.
By the way, you might have noticed that we didn’t mention the earbuds that came with our One X review unit. That’s because they’re pretty basic earbuds, aren’t Beats branded and really aren’t anything to write home about. If you’re OK with cheap earbuds, you’ll be OK with these, we suppose. But let’s hope we see some nicer ones in regional releases.
And all that leads us to that other major piece of software …