The HTC One X has a lot going on under the hood: it runs Android OS 4.0 on a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, and is the first phone that includes HTC’s Sense 4 user interface. According to Quadrant, the One X has a benchmark score of 5012, which is quite healthy. I didn’t experience any slowdown at all, and no crashes when running apps and using the phone as heavily as possible over the course of a week and a half.
I’ve long been a fan of HTC’s Sense UI, which makes the entire experience so much richer and smoother — imagine upgrading to a premium Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar instead of the generic store-brand your cheap roommate buys when it’s their turn to do the grocery shopping and you’ll understand what I mean. From the app switching interface to the custom widgets you can add to your home screen, Sense 4 makes everything Android better (more on this in the relevant sections below).
I do need to make one note about the setup however; in order to prepare the One X for use, you must go through AT&T’s Ready2Go setup process, which requires a computer. There’s no doubt that the online service makes setting up your new device fast and painless, right down to customizing the home screen, installing apps, and even choosing the news services and other sites you want to bookmark in the mobile browser. But it is rather ironic: it wasn’t that long ago that iPhone users were tethered to a computer for initial setup as well!
In my testing, the One X performed somewhat disappointingly as a phone, though I lay the blame partly on AT&T as a carrier in my area and partly on the device itself. Test calls came through OK, though certainly not great; one of my test callers complained that I sounded somewhat muffled. That could be considered not such a bad thing, as I was walking next to a busy street when I called him, with trucks whizzing by and a loud construction site on the next block. I don’t mind giving up a little voice quality in order to get rid of background noise, though I do expect more than that from HTC.
No complaints whatsoever about data speeds, however, according to the Speed Test app I got download speeds from 18082 kbps to 22407 kbps, upload speeds from 7577 kbps to 12493 kbps, and pings from 53 to 63 ms. WiFi and Bluetooth work as expected, and I should also note that the One X is equipped with NFC, but I don’t have any way to test the full functionality it offers without another compatible device or service.
The email experience was a little strange at first, since there are quite a few differences in Android 4 and Sense 4 verses their predecessors, but after I got oriented, I found it to be delightful. Everything has been streamlined, so it takes just a tap to switch between labels, create a new message, mark a message unread, search your inbox, etc. The new mail widget for the homescreen is easy to use and ensures that you’ll never miss an important message, and you won’t even have to launch the Gmail app to check.
The web browser is also a joy, with lightning-fast page loads and extremely useful bookmark tiles that show you some of the relevant pages, making it even faster to navigate if you let your intuition be your guide. The best feature is the automatic reading view with text reflow; it works just like the Reader view in Safari on the iPhone, except that you don’t have to tap on that tiny little box in the address bar. Just double tap on the text of an article on any given web page, the One X takes over from there, reflowing everything around the relevant illustrations (not the ads!) and enlarging the text so it’s easy to read.
Social networking is just as great as I expected, thanks to Friendstream. Log in to your social networks once (Facebook and Twitter being the main attractions here of course) and all of the latest updates will be consolidated for you–no more jumping from app to app just to keep up with everything! Unfortunately Google+ isn’t part of Friendstream, so if that’s your preferred social network, you’ll have to use the separate app that is pre-installed on the phone.
All of the standard Android apps are here, such as Calendar and Contacts, plus Tasks and Notes for your to-dos and memos. They’re all perfectly functional, but they’re very attractive too, with clear layouts and little extras like integrated weather forecasts at the top of your daily agenda. I appreciate the enhancements added by Sense 4.0, and am glad that they’re subtle and useful without changing everything too much (like the Calendar app on the Galaxy Note). A basic calculator app is also included.
I was surprised to see that there wasn’t any sort of Microsoft Office-compatible app included with the One X. I’m not sure if that’s an actual shortcoming or if it was perhaps left off or accidentally deleted from the loaner device that I received. There are several alternatives available in the Google Play store, of course, but it would be nice to see a solution that can be used straight out of the box without any additional download/setup required.
If you’re the type who is always getting lost, you’ll be glad to know that you’ll have both the Navigation app and Google Maps at your disposal, in addition to the added AT&T Navigator app. They all work fine, though if you don’t want to pay extra monthly subscription fees, you’re better off using Google Maps. The same is true for location sharing; Google Latitude is included with the phone, as is AT&T FamilyMap. Either one is a great way to keep up with your spouse and kids, but FamilyMap is an extra $9.99 to keep tabs on two family members, or $14.99 for up to five, as long as everyone is on the same AT&T account.
If it’s video you crave, you’ve got two options: Play Movies, where you’ll find the movies that you’ve rented from the Google Play store and the movies you’ve taken yourself with the One X camera, and HTC Watch, which is another source for movies and TV shows that requires a separate account. As I mentioned previously, movies do look great on the HTC One X, so you just might find yourself watching a lot more video on the go than you have in the past.
The Music app that comes with the One X is more than meets the eye — it’s actually an umbrella-style app that consolidates all of your music-related activities and services into one app. Tap it to launch and you’ll see small icons for the music stored locally on your phone, for SoundHound (music identification and lyrics), TuneIn Radio, and MOG Music. You’ll have to add Google Play Music manually, but that’s just a couple of taps on the menu. After that you can switch from one to the other quickly and painlessly, so you can spend more time enjoying your music and less time fumbling for it.
Sound quality is fairly good from the extrernal speaker, though it can get a bit distorted at higher volumes. I was expecting a bit more from a phone with integrated Beats audio, but it seems that you can only reap those rewards if you plug in your own headphones, and to get the best possible quality you’re expected to plug in Beats headphones. I happen to have a pair of Beats ear buds, and when I plug them into the phone my music does sound pretty spectacular, but the quality improvement between the Beats ear buds and my regular ear buds with the HTC One X is about the same as it is when I run the same test on my iPod Touch.
There aren’t any included games or even game demos, which is a slight disappointment, but you will find a couple of apps pre-installed that promise to help you find (and buy) high quality games for your phone. GameWorld is provided by Openfeint, and it offers a new free game every day in addition to promotion other featured games that you can buy. There’s also a Top HD Games icon on one of your home screens that takes you straight to GameLoft’s online store, where oddly enough I was directed to games for my HTC Evita.
One of the best features of the HTC One X is the camera, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The phone is equipped with an 8 megapixel camera on the back and a 1.3 megapixel one on the front. Those specs don’t sound terribly exciting at first, since they’re similar to many other currently available smartphones, but everything has been so beautifully optimized and designed that the photography experience is far better than I expected. For starters, the camera loads up and lets you start taking photos almost instantly, with barely a hint of a delay — you won’t have to worry about missing a single shot.
While the various settings are perhaps a little more hidden than I would like (and I really wish that I could zoom with the volume button, rather than having to drag my finger on the screen), there’s a lot of power behind the scenes. There is a self-timer function, along with the ability to set ISO and white balance. You can shoot continously if you like, which is great for taking several quck photos of sports, animals, or kids so you can choose the best shots later, when the action is complete. And while it may not seem like much, one of the niftiest features is the fact that both the camera shutter button and the video capture are on the main camera screen right next to each other, and whichever one you tap is what happens. You don’t have to change between “camera mode” and “video mode” (which is a major pain on the iPhone).
One more nifty tidbit — when I logged into my Dropbox account on the One X, it automatically recognized that I was using that particular device, gave me a ton of bonus space for the next two years, and automatically set up a special Camera Uploads folder in my account. Every single photo and video I take with the One X is instantly uploaded, which saves a ton of time. I know that you can do the same thing with other devices and other services, but it was very cool to see how seamlessly it happened and how perfectly it works — this is the sort of thing that our regular Brighthand readers may not get all that excited about, but the average consumer can really appreciate.
Of course none of that matters if the picture quality isn’t good enough, but the One X camera takes really nice shots. I won’t say that every single photo is perfect, because it isn’t, but for general everyday shooting, the One X is great. The only slight issues were due mainly to exposure issues in areas with bright sunlight and deep shade in the same shot, and on zoomed-in shots where I didn’t hold the phone perfectly steady. For the vast majority of shots, from architectural detail to people, flowers, and even close focus shots of colorful gummy bears, I’m very impressed with what the One X can capture. I personally wouldn’t hesitate to make it the only camera I carry on vacation. And most people won’t need a standalone camera in addition to the One X unless they’re extreme photobugs or professional photographers.
This is a one day phone, and it might even give nervous types a few extra gray hairs. I found that I was always able to get through a full day, no matter how much emailing, social networking, mapping, and gaming I did. The problem is that the battery meter is like a roller coaster — you think you’re fine most of the ride, until that giant drop right at the end that you weren’t expecting. The One X battery meter doesn’t move at all for most of the day, much like a stuck fuel gage on an old car.
Then it starts dropping precipitously at the end of the day and you start getting warnings that make you think you won’t be able to keeping playing your latest gaming obsession for the entire commute home. You’ll probably make it (I never entirely ran out of juice), but it is disconcerting to feel like you can’t quite trust the battery meter on your phone.