Uninspiring products. Confusing line-ups. Bloated software. The criticisms levelled at HTC as 2011 drew to a close were echoed in falling profits and a slide from their lofty position as Android superstars. The company appeared to lose its way just as their competitors really started to step up their game.
It’s quite incredible to think that it’s nearly 3 and a half years since Google, HTC and T-Mobile announced the first Android device to the world - the G1 (aka the HTC Dream) pictured above - and it’s been a wild ride. While HTC had been doing very nicely out of their Windows Mobile devices, it was their enthusiastic adoption of Android that really fuelled the changes from unknown ODM to a household name.
One could argue that the meteoric rise was always destined to end in a stall, but if there’s one thing we can all be thankful for it’s that HTC have been smart enough to see that things weren’t right with their product portfolio and they're doing something about it.
Enter the One series.
Announced at MWC in Barcelona earlier this year, the One series is the reinvention of their product range that’s aimed at addressing the criticisms above and getting HTC back at their very best. Uninspiring products? How about an aspirational product range built around a core set of values. Confusing line-ups? One product line with 3 devices. Bloated software? Instead we have a foundation of the latest Google has to offer with a layer of HTC’ness carefully added to bring genuine improvements, but not at the expense of the Android user experience, speed nor battery life.
If the product delivers then HTC should be back on track... but does it? Read on to find out.
HTC & me
My association with HTC devices goes waaaaay back. My first smart device after I defected from Nokia communicators (Nokia 9000, 9110 etc.!) was an Orange SPV running the Smartphone 2002 OS... also known as the HTC Canary. Since then I’ve probably owned or used just about every HTC device in between, but three of my recent ‘long term’ devices (hey, I’m talking relatively here!) have been Samsungs. First came the Nexus S, then the Galaxy S II and my device of choice before the One X arrived was the Galaxy Nexus.
Despite being somewhat indoctrinated into Samsung of late, switching to the One X feels a bit like coming home. I’ve always been a proponent of HTC Sense (I’m a firm believer in the fact we’re not a one-size-fits-all world and although Sense might not be your cup of tea, it works for lots of people) and there’s just something about the build, finish and overall ‘feel’ of HTC devices that I really like. Something that I can’t put my finger on... the ‘character’ of a device I guess is what I’d call it.
If you think this means the One X is going to get a review biased in its favour however, you’re wrong! As well as being one of HTC’s biggest fans I’m not scared to be one of its harshest critics too... and HTC and I have had a few scrapes over the years I can tell you.
Anyway, enough of the introduction... let’s get started.
My review device is production hardware and was supplied running ROM version 1.26.401.2, which was updated over the air to 1.26.401.7.
In the box
The actual contents of the One X box will vary by region, in that some territories will include Beats headphones in the box and some won’t. My device shipped with the handset, microUSB cable, mains adaptor (5V, 1A), SIM removal pin and getting started guide.
Hardware - Overview
Let’s begin by getting the raw specifications out of the way. The new One line consists of 3 devices, starting at the low end with the One V, moving up to a mid to high end positioning with the One S and topping out with the flagship One X that we have here. As you’d expect on a flagship device, the specs are pretty much as good as they come in the market today. The device comes in White and Black flavours... you don’t even need to ask do you - mine is white!
- Google Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich with HTC Sense 4.0
- NVidia AP33 (‘Tegra 3’) 1.5GHz + XMM6260 HSPA+ modem
- ROM: 32GB eMMC
- RAM: 1GB
- 4.7” inch, 16m colour Super LCD 2 HD720 resolution
- Corning Gorilla Glass
- Capacitive touch screen with multi-touch capability
- HSPA/UMTS quad-band (850/900/1900/2100MHz)
- GSM/GPRS/EDGE quad-band (850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
- HSDPA / UMTS 3GPP Release 7 compliant (21Mbps peak rate)
- HSUPA (5.76Mbps peak rate)
- Standalone GPS
- Internal GPS antenna
- Motion G-sensor
- FM Radio
- Digital Compass
- Proximity sensor
- Ambient Light Sensor
- Gyro Sensor
- 8 megapixel camera with auto focus, smart LED flash, BSI sensor (for better low-light captures), F2.0 aperture, 28mm lens and 1080p HD video recording
- 1.3 megapixel front camera (720p for video chat)
- Dedicated ‘ImageSense’ imaging chip - capture a photo in the midst of recording HD video, continuous shooting mode captures multiple snapshots, auto flash smartly determined by distance from your subject, video stabilization, high quality slow motion video capture and playback
- Power LED flashlight
- Volume up/down button
- Power button
- Home key (virtual)
- Back key (virtual)
- Recent (virtual)
- One bi-colour (Green & Amber) LED for notifications and charging status
- Built-in dual microphones for noise reduction and stereo voice recording
- Loudspeaker for hands-free support
- Bluetooth with aptX™ enabled (Bluetooth® 4.0)
- Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compliant, support 2.4GHz/5GHz
- 5-pin micro-USB
- USB 2.0 with high speed client
- Mass storage support
- MHL for HDMI out
- Pogo pins - 5 pin for charging and audio out
- 3.5 mm audio jack
- Beats Audio™
- 1.8/3V micro USIM/SIM card slot
- 1,800 mAh battery
- AC adaptors
- AC input: 100 ~ 240V AC, 50/60 Hz, DC output: 5V and 1A
- Machined polycarbonate construction
- 134.36 x 69.9 x 8.9 mm
- 130 grams
It’s fair to say you’re not left wanting for much specification wise! Positive points are easy to find but as for negatives, they have to be the lack of microSD and the non-removable battery, both very much trends in the current device market (as is the microSIM).
Hardware - around the device
Let me give you a little tour of the device starting with the front. The front of the device is predominantly the 720P SLCD 2 screen of course, which is coated with Corning Gorilla Glass (version 2 I believe) for added toughness. The screen actually curves slightly towards the edge of the device, which is a nice design feature, although the screen itself is not curved top to bottom in the style of the Nexus S / Galaxy Nexus. Above the screen, on the polycarbonate casing is the speaker grille (which has the notification bi-colour LED behind it) and the forward facing 1.3 megapixel camera. Below this, on the glass, is the HTC branding and the various proximity / light sensors. Below the screen sit the 3 capacitive buttons - back, home and recent. Unlike the Galaxy Nexus, the One X doesn’t use on screen buttons (well, except for the legacy menu button). Myself and the team are somewhat at odds as to whether this is a good thing or not, I argue that it gives you more screen real estate for actual content, but you do lose a lot of button flexibility of course!
On the back of the device at the top you’ll find the microSIM slot (which uses a pin and tray mechanism), beneath which sits the camera and LED flash. The camera actually protrudes from the device a fair bit and I do worry that this could leave it susceptible to being scratched when placed face up on a surface. The silver HTC logo adorns the middle and at the bottom is the new, much shrunken beats audio branding, speaker and some FCC etc. graphics that would previously have lived on a sticker under the battery. On the right of the device are 5 pogo pins for connecting to charging / sound docks.
The top of the device is home to the power button, secondary mic (for noise cancellation / stereo sound recording) hole and 3.5mm port. The left of the device has the MHL compatible microUSB slot (in an ‘upside down’ position ¾ the way up the device), the right of the device has the volume keys (my preferred position). The bottom of the device has only the main mic hole.
The top of the One X showing the secondary mic hole, 3.5mm headphone socket and power button.
The left of the One X showing the microUSB port.
The right of the One X showing the volume control.
The bottom of the One X showing the mic hole.
At 130g with its polycarbonate construction and its 8.9mm depth, the One X feels thin in your hand. It’s tall (fractionally shorter than a Galaxy Nexus) and wide (fractionally wider than a Galaxy Nexus) and, as with any device sporting a 4.7” screen, you probably need to use a device of this size in person to decide if it’s for you. Extreme corners can be a stretch when used one handed but, well, it IS nice having such a large canvas.
The One X is one of those designs that feels thinner than it is. All of the edges are curved as is the whole profile of the device and since it’s so tall and wide, it’s quite deceptive. In a good way!
The One X is the first HTC - actually, the first non-Nexus device - to ship with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on board. As a MoDaCo reader you probably already know that the latest iteration of Google’s operating system is a significant step in taking it from a geek’s toy to a slick, polished operating system for the masses. With this in mind, one could argue that the need for a manufacturer to give it a facelift is much reduced. Some manufacturers appear to disagree (look at the disaster that is ICS for the Galaxy S II), but thankfully HTC are taking a different approach.
While the One X does of course include HTC Sense, it includes version 4.0, a significant rework of what has gone before. In the spirit of the aforementioned soul searching, HTC’s stated approach with version 4 was to simplify Sense, to slim it down and remove some of the ‘visual fluff’ that was met with such disdain by the hard-core Android fans.
So what does Sense 4.0 look like? When you turn the device on for the first time, you get HTC’s customised setup wizard. You can immediately see that little UI elements have been skinned in the customary HTC green - toggle buttons, check boxes and the like. I think they look nice personally! There is an interesting effect instead of the ‘over scroll’ we see in stock Android or from other device makers, instead lists of items ‘expand’ as you over drag them (as shown in the screen shot below)... it’s quite smart and definitely different to what other manufacturers *cough* Apple *cough* are doing!
The lock screen is a key feature of Sense and is feature packed in version 4 too. A number of different lock screen styles are available - wallpaper, productivity (notifications), Photo album, Friend stream (HTC’s social networking client), weather (HTC’s favourite!), people, clock and stocks. All of these also have the 4 shortcuts along the bottom that can be dragged to the unlock ring to instantly launch an application from the lock screen.
These shortcuts actually mirror the shortcuts you have defined across the bottom in the launcher, which is another key element of Sense (this has some interesting implications potentially if you use a third party launcher). The launcher supports up to 7 screens (which you can add and remove as desired) and can feature shortcuts, folders of shortcuts and both Android and HTC widgets. The grid is a 4x4 configuration (which does seem a little wasteful) and only supports portrait mode. The app drawer itself is a horizontal scrolling affair, with tabs for all apps, frequently used apps and downloaded apps (although you can disable the frequent and downloaded tabs should you desire). A search button is present, as is a one-click link to the Play Store. Apps can be shared directly from the launcher menu and downloaded apps can be uninstalled too.
The Sense lock screen and Launcher are both superior to their stock Android counterparts in my opinion... HTC 2, Google 0.
Previous users of Sense will remember that the pull down shade in the notification bar in earlier versions included a tab labelled ‘quick settings’ for toggling WiFi, Bluetooth and the like - this is now absent from Sense 4.0 as part of that simplification. The pull down is virtually identical to stock Android with only a Settings button (and a clear button as required).
The settings app itself is virtually stock in arrangement, albeit with the usual HTC stylisation and icons. There are a few HTC added categories (such as ‘Personalisation’ and ‘Dock Mode’) but if you’ve used stock Ice Cream Sandwich you’ll know where to find things and if you’re coming from a previous HTC device the look will also be familiar.
One enhancement in Ice Cream Sandwich is the ‘recent’ button. This button brings up a list of recent apps, much in the same way as holding the home key on pre-ICS Android releases, but with smart looking app thumbnails so you can see more easily what you are switching to. On stock Android these are presented as small thumbnails in a vertical list but in Sense 4.0 they are much larger snapshots that can be scrolled horizontally with a nice effect. They can still be ‘swept away’ in order to close the application. Again, I actually prefer the HTC implementation, as the screen views of the applications are much clearer.
So that’s the Sense ‘non-apps’ experience... what about the applications that have been replaced in Sense by HTC’s versions? Let’s talk about those.
Working through them in alphabetical order, first up is 'Calculator', which is simplicity in it’s extreme, with only basic scientific functions in landscape mode. If you want a decent calculator you really aren’t going to use the built in one.
The 'Calendar' application offers month / day / agenda and invite views by default, however a week view can be added using the same ‘tab management’ system that we saw earlier in the launcher - this UI paradigm seems to be consistent across many of the HTC apps. Calendars can be viewed individually or in a combined view, pulling in Google calendars, people’s birthdays from your contacts, Facebook events, Google Task deadlines and much more. Within your Google calendar you of course have the granularity of individual sub calendars. As you add additional accounts to your device they appear here... if for example you add a HoTMaiL account in the e-mail application, that calendar and task list appears as an option too. In the day view you can view the weather forecast for that day at the top (simple but it looks very slick!) and in all views one button press takes you to the ‘Add’ dialogue, which is clear and simple with a nice conflict checker feature. There is a button at the top of the Calendar screen that takes you straight to today. A secondary time zone can be configured in the settings menu, where that weather feature can also be disabled should you desire.
The 'Camera' application, which is pretty basic in stock ICS, has of course been given a major overhaul... but we’ll come to that later as it’s such a key function of the phone.
The 'Clock' application includes a slick ‘Google Earth’ like world clock, alarms with sound, repeat and vibrate options per alarm and configurable volume, snooze duration and side button behaviour across all alarms, stopwatch with lap / split and a countdown timer. The tab UI is again present with the option to reorder or remove tabs should you wish to do so. All in all the clock app is pretty simple but it does the job.
The 'Gallery' application again feels like it’s been simplified from the HTC apps of old from a UI perspective, but without trading out features. As well as viewing content on your phone, the Gallery can view content from Facebook, Flickr, DLNA servers, Dropbox, Picasa and Skydrive all from a simple drop down menu. Individual albums (folders) can be easily hidden which is nice... it is annoying when a game’s asset folder always appears in your gallery! Images can be shared / deleted individually or in bulk as well as played in a slideshow on your device or via DLNA. When viewing an image the item can be set as a contact icon, favourite, footprint or wallpaper, viewed on a map or edited and you can view the EXIF details. Selecting the edit option allows you to crop the image, rotate the image left or right and apply various effects to the image. Effects include auto enhance, cinnamon, high contrast, sepia etc. etc. as well as adding simple frames (e.g. polaroid) to the image. As well as the predefined effects, custom filters can be added adjusting white balance, levels, exposure, contrast, brightness, saturation, sharpness, grain and vignette. Multiple filters can be applied if desired, and filter configurations can be saved as presets for you to easily apply to other images. When an edited photo is saved, it does replace the original image, which is something you need to bear in mind! Videos can also be edited in the gallery. The editing is limited to simple trimming however.
The 'Browser' application is labelled Internet in HTC’s launcher and it is an enhanced version of the browser shipped with ICS. Flash is preinstalled on the device, which is good, as to be honest the only reason you’re likely to be using the Android offering is when you need flash, due to the Beta release of Chrome, which is probably a superior browser. All of the usual features are present - tabs (including incognito tabs), desktop user agent switching and bookmark syncing with Google. Once again the familiar configurable tabbed UI makes an appearance, with bookmarks, most visited, history and saved tabs shown by default, to be ordered / removed to your heart’s content. The browser supports printing by virtue of the pre-installed JetCet Print application... but only if you have a Canon, Epson or HP printer. A sweep downwards towards the bottom of the browser screen reveals 4 buttons - Add To, Bookmarks, Saved and Tabs. The interesting one here is the ‘Add To’ option. As well as giving the option to add a link to the home screen or bookmarks, you can add a page to your reading list. This then drops the page in the aforementioned ‘saved’ tab for coming back to later. A real gem here would be ReadItLater sync or similar, but sadly this is not present.
The stock ICS 'Mail' app (which I think is rather good) is replaced with HTC’s own, which supports Exchange ActiveSync, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, HoTMaiL and other POP3 / IMAP services. The application is quite nice, it offers a nice UI, HTML mail viewing, search, push mail and everything else you would like to see but for me I think the Gmail-alike UI of the stock ICS app is a little nicer - more concise and more productive perhaps. Thankfully, the stock ICS app can be easily installed without any ROM hacking to allow the best of both worlds.
The 'Messages' (SMS / MMS) application is in the usual HTC style and offers a number of features over and above the stock ICS equivalent. SMS can be backed up to your internal SD or via e-mail and (obviously) restored from internal SD too. Messages can be sent to groups you have configured in your contacts (including groups that sync across from Google), which is a nice touch. When composing a message delivery / read reports can be configured on a per message basis. Unlike the stock app, message templates are not available. As well as the usual attachment options (picture / video / audio) you can also attach an app recommendation, location, contact (vCard) or calendar entry (vCalendar) which is handy.
The ‘Music’ application is an interesting case not least because, if like me you use Google Music for streaming, then the inbuilt client is effectively no use to you! It’s pretty shiny though. On launching the application the user is presented with shortcuts to the music stored on their device, a SoundHound link (for music identification) and a TuneIn Radio link (for internet radio). Additional links to other applications can be added (e.g. to Google Music should you desire!). Below this sit the recently played items. A menu option allows connection to a DLNA server. When playing a track SoundHound integration is present (for getting additional information about a track), sound enhancer can be configured (HTC enhancer if using headphones, Beats enhancer too if using Beats cans) and album art can be updated directly from the application. The application is fairly basic but does what it needs to. I’ll stick to Google Music though!
In line with previous versions of Sense (and now ICS), contacts live in an app labelled ‘People’ which is integrated with the dialler. Phonebooks can be viewed individually or merged (note that Facebook contact sync support is included by default, unlike stock ICS!) with the application intelligently highlighting contacts that it thinks should be linked together to remove the duplicates in your contact list. Hopefully this won’t populate the ‘notes’ field with junk like previous versions, but that remains to be seen! When viewing a contact their photo / status etc. is included from social media services if configured. You can set ringtones per contact, block individual callers and set default contact methods. A thread tab allows you to view recent messages, e-mails or calls and an updates tab links into FriendStream to show their social status updates. A gallery tab pulls in their images from Facebook. I have to say I’ve long been a fan of how HTC does contacts, and Sense 4.0’s implementation is no exception. You can of course search across contacts, send contacts and configure various options such as whether to show contacts without a phone number, sorting and view mode. The application also includes a feature that will automatically search for contacts’ accounts on Facebook and Twitter and bring them to your attention.
The Phone dialler itself is standard HTC fare. Favourites appear at the top and you can ‘Smart Dial’ names on the keypad, a feature that is strangely still missing from stock Android. A ‘Voice Search’ button is available but, well, like most voice search features, it doesn’t work very well for me! Press-hold-number speed dials can be configured, and you can also configure blocked callers from the main page, adding either contacts or simple numbers. Finally, SIP calling is included if you use an Internet calling service.
HTC have replaced the stock Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard with their own ‘HTC Sense Input’. This is a multilingual keyboard with bilingual prediction and both regular and swipe modes. It also supports Chinese input. I will admit that when I first started using the device I was tempted just to install SwiftKey - my keyboard of choice - but that wouldn’t really be giving it a fair test would it... so I persevered. Thankfully, the keyboard is very good. It has 4 rows with long press for numbers / symbols and a bottom row with arrow keys. There is a button for switching languages, which can be held for Voice Input. As with previous versions of HTC's input method, 20 key and 12 key options are also included. The swipe feature doesn’t really work well for me personally (nor does Swype), but on the whole the keyboard is definitely a worthy replacement of the stock item.
While we’re talking about text input, I’d just like to mention the cut / copy / paste functionality. This is very similar to previous HTC devices, and in my opinion is superior to stock ICS. There are two reasons for this. The first is that stock ICS has strange icons where it isn't immediately clear what they do for all users and the second is that the little flags that you drag to mark the start and end of a text area just seem to work so much better on the One X, aided by the magnifying glass view.
That just about covers what HTC have replaced in stock Android... so what have they added?
First up is a '7Digital' online music store, which lets you buy albums and individual tracks for download to your device.
Next is a 'Car' mode, which will of course come into it’s own when used with the forthcoming car dock (which connects via the 5 pogo pins on the back of the device). The enlarged UI has buttons for phone, navigation, music and internet radio as well as showing the current time. Options include auto-playing of music when connected to Bluetooth audio and configuration voice / audio out devices. It’s fairly basic, but you probably don’t want anything too complex if it’s supposed to be used in car!
'Dropbox' is preinstalled on the device, in a special HTC version that will furnish you with an extra 23GB of storage (making 25GB in total for a new account), with the additional space being available free of charge for a 2-year period. This is deliberately in line with the longest phone contracts on which the One X will be sold. We like Dropbox, so this is good.
'Flashlight' is exactly what it says, a Torch. Seriously HTC, how about some UK localisation? The Torch (I’m going to call it that) has 3 steps of brightness and of course uses the camera flash LED. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
One of the things I like about HTC devices and that is infuriatingly missing on stock Android (even if they have the required hardware) is the 'FM Radio'. As with all FM radio implementations the headset is the antenna, although you can use the internal speaker as output too. The radio supports RDS and has presets, which can be auto-scanned, manually saved and renamed as desired. One feature that is really cool and I’ve not seen before is that the FM radio integrates with SoundHound (preinstalled) for doing song recognition directly. It works great! I know a lot of readers will say ‘FM radio? Nobody listens to that any more’ but, well, I do. So there.
'Friend Stream' is HTC’s own social media client. The application supports Facebook and Twitter viewing and posting with optional merged or individual timeline views. Flickr integration is also included. The app itself is fairly basic with few settings, but it is the backbone that drives social media integration across the device, in contacts, widgets, lock screen etc. so it is a nice to have. Most of the Facebook functions aside from simple viewing hook into the Facebook app itself and if you’re a power Twitter user you’ll probably need something more, but for the ‘average person’, it’s easy to use, pretty and has just about the right number of features.
With the recent demise of HTCSense.com, I was surprised to see ‘HTC Hub’ alive and well on the device, as I assumed they were integrated. Apparently not! HTC Hub is effectively a simple ‘HTC Store’, where users can find applications, themes and the like. Application downloads actually link back to the Play Store, so it is simply an app discovery tool. Personalisation downloads however (such as sound sets) do download directly, so it’s the place to go for those. The Personalisation section only seems to contain sound items at the moment, although I expect scenes and wallpapers to follow shortly.
‘Locations’ is HTC’s navigation application, which is built on Route66 (now owned by TomTom). 30 days of free Premium Navigation is included (on-board - the maps are stored on your device) and you can also use the application to record your favourite places using the ‘Footprints’ feature. In my experience while the integration of Locations is nice, Google Maps Navigation is of course a great free off-board solution while Co-Pilot is probably a better off-board alternative. Premium access for the UK in Locations costs £3.99 for 30 days, £17.49 for 1 year and £26.99 for unlimited. Traffic and Safety Cameras are also additional paid options, with 1 year of Safety Cameras priced at £5.49.
The ‘Mirror’ application is exactly what it sounds like - it lets you use the front facing camera to check you look beautiful.
An inbuilt ‘Movie Editor’ creates ready to share masterpieces on your device. You can choose from a limited number of themes (Birthday, Formal, Travel) and add up to 50 items, which can be either photos or videos. You can specify background music at a volume of your choice but, well, that’s it! Simple but ultimately of limited use. The resulting footage can be saved at 360p, 540p or 720p resolution. Be aware that processing the video to 720p on device can take quite some time. Although the movie editor doesn’t allow you to edit videos, this can be carried out in the gallery as mentioned previously. Again, if you felt the stock ICS Movie Editor was more to your taste, installation alongside the HTC version is straightforward.
The ‘Notes’ application, which first debuted on the HTC Flyer, is - as you’d expect - a note taking application that syncs to the Evernote service. Notes can be sorted into multiple notebooks and can take the form of inputted text, sound recordings, drawn pictures or camera photos. Notes can be printed or shared directly from the application and also have calendar entries attached. I’m not a big Evernote user myself, but the online sync option does make it a compelling solution for taking quick notes!
The ‘PDF Viewer’ on the One X is separate from the ‘Polaris Office’ application, both of which integrate with ‘HTC Files’ for viewing local files or files from Dropbox / Skydrive. Word / Excel / PowerPoint documents can be created on device and saved either locally or to Dropbox. I find Polaris Office OK, but if you require Google Docs integration or more advanced features there’s almost certainly a better solution for you on the Play Store.
‘Show Me’ is a collection of how-tos to help users get the most out of their device. It is extremely comprehensive!
‘SoundHound’ is the music identification tool that integrates with the FM Radio and Music applications. The free version is included, however if you own the premium version and install that (disabling the free version) the integration still works correctly.
‘Stocks’ is HTC’s stock tracking application, which is powered by Yahoo Finance. A custom list of stock tickers can be tracked and refreshed at a user-defined interval. As mentioned previously, the stocks application integrates with one of the custom lock screen options (homescreen widgets are also included).
‘Task Manager’ allows you to view and terminate currently running applications as well as viewing used / free memory. You can also choose to have the application alert you when free memory falls below a certain level (the default setting is 10MB). We all know you don’t need a Task Manager though right? ;-)
‘Tasks’ on the other hand you may well need. It is, as the name suggests, a Tasks application. I have to be honest and say I didn’t expect much from this application, but it actually integrates with Google Tasks (or HoTMaiL if you have it configured) and is quite slick. Tasks can be viewed in a list that can be filtered based on due date or priority and added with all the fields you would expect. The application also includes some basic functionality around assigning tasks to a particular location, however this is only accessible when creating tasks locally on the device as Google Tasks does not support this functionality.
‘Teeter’ is the long-standing HTC game of ‘rolling a ball bearing around a maze’, updated with HD graphics. Simple but quite fun!
The ‘Transfer’ application allows users to bring SMS and calendar data from their old phone to the One X via Bluetooth (depending on their previous phone’s capabilities).
‘TuneIn Radio’ is an Internet radio application that integrates with the Car and Music applications. Again, the free version is included but if you own the premium version and install that (disabling the free version) the integration still works correctly.
‘Voice Recorder’ is a very simple voice recording application.
‘Watch’ is HTC’s movie store application. At the time of writing, all of the top 10 movies are priced at £9.99 to buy and £3.49 to rent, and can be played either on the device or via the MHL port to a HDMI equipped TV. This should also be available wirelessly to the Media Link HD accessory. I’m going to confess to not having splashed the cash to test this feature!
Finally we have the ‘Weather’ application. Powered by Accuweather, the application provides now, hourly and 4-day weather forecasts for worldwide cities of your choosing. It also provides the weather integration across the device such as lock screen, home screen widgets and calendar. The weather features are actually more ‘low key’ in Sense 4.0... I think perhaps HTC realised they were getting a bit carried away with their weather obsession!
And that just about sums up the software in the device. Of course, the Google experience (GMS) applications are also included... Gmail, Google+, Google Maps, Google News & Weather (Genie), Play Books, Play Movies and Play Store (yes, it’s Play Store out of the box), Talk and YouTube. Twitter and Facebook are also preloaded.
It’s something of a given that not all the preinstalled software will be used by everyone and over the years the term ‘bloat’ has been coined for this. Really, it refers more to software carriers load for commercial reasons, but rightly or wrongly it’s something HTC have taken grief for.
The One X doesn’t really have any bloat (in my opinion), but there are a few apps people might not want and thankfully, there’s a solution.
With the advent of Ice Cream Sandwich came a user interface option in the apps menu labelled ‘Disable’. The functionality behind this wasn’t new, the concept of disabling packages has always been there, but up until now the user had no access to it. What disabling packages does is leave them installed but completely disable them. They don’t appear in the launcher, they don’t run, they’re just there. This is quite a nice solution as there’s no irreversible changes being made to the device (they come back after a factory reset) and in addition the user is still notified if the application is updated in the Play Store after which they may choose to give the application another try.
On some devices that have shipped with ICS already (the Transformer Prime being one example) we’ve seen that a lot of the preinstalled software can’t be disabled, but thankfully on the One X that is not the case. Don’t want the official Twitter app? Disable it (I have). Own the premium versions of SoundHound and TuneIn Radio? Disable the free ones (I have). Don’t use that wonderful FM radio? Disable it (I’ve not). And so on. It works great, and whether it’s a deliberate inclusion by HTC or happy consequence of the move to ICS, we should be thankful!
Before I talk about the overall experience of using the device, I’m going to focus on the camera, as it’s one of the key features of the phone.
There’s no doubt the specs tick the right boxes - an 8 megapixel camera with auto focus, smart LED flash, BSI sensor (for better low-light captures), F2.0 aperture, 28mm lens, 1080p HD video recording and a dedicated ‘ImageSense’ imaging chip - capture a photo in the midst of recording HD video, capture multiple snapshots in continuous shooting mode, auto flash smartly determined by distance from your subject, video stabilisation and high quality slow motion video capture and playback. Phew!
It’s no surprise that the camera app looks great and is packed with features. A single initial view is presented for either video or photo capture which is launched by the shortcut icon on the lock screen or home screen / launcher. I’m pretty disappointed that on a phone touting it’s camera credentials there’s no dedicated camera button but there you go!
2 buttons on the right allow you to either snap a picture or start a video, an image below the buttons previews your latest shot and takes you to the gallery, while a blue ‘blob’ at the top allows you to choose live effects. The effects are pretty neat - effects include distortion, vignette, depth of field and dots as well as the more common ones like sepia, rescale negative etc. Each of the effects also has a slider to customise the level of the effect... it’s pretty neat. On the bottom of the screen is a finger slider for digital zoom while the left of the screen has a toggle flash button at the top, the main settings button and the mode button at the bottom.
Touching the screen anywhere tells the camera to focus on that point, which it does, very quickly indeed!
Tapping the flash button toggles between auto, on and off modes. Tapping the mode button allows you to choose between slow motion video, auto, HDR, panorama, portrait, group portrait, landscape, whiteboard, close up and low light modes. It’s worth noting that if you select the slow motion video option you’ll be recording at a 768x432 resolution, not full HD (even though the settings UI suggests you are still set to full HD).
The settings menu allows you to switch between the front and rear cameras, set the self timer between off, 2 seconds and 10 seconds, set the image resolution to 8M, 5M, 3M, 1M or VGA, set the video resolution to Full HD, HD, High (VGA), Low (QVGA) or MMS (176x144), set a review duration from off, 3 seconds, 5 seconds and no limit (the default is off), adjust exposure, contrast, saturation and sharpness, set the ISO level to 100, 200, 400 or 800, set the white balance to Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Daylight or Cloudy, enable continuous shooting, toggle face detection, toggle auto smile capture, widescreen or 4:3 resolution and geotagging (for photos), toggle stabilisation, toggle audio and stereo recording (for videos), toggle the grid and shutter sound and toggle auto Dropbox upload. So there’s no shortage of options!
The camera launches extremely fast and the application is extremely responsive. The speed with which the device focuses and takes pictures is INSANE. Even faster than the Galaxy Nexus... and that’s fast!
Judging picture quality is always somewhat subjective, so in the camera samples below I have included a number of pictures taken with the One X alongside the same picture taken with the Sony Xperia S so that you can judge for yourselves. I’ve found the pictures to look good overall (excellent colour reproduction, well focused etc.) but with a slight lack of detail and some oversaturation when viewed at full resolution.
The caveat I have to insert here HTC tell me there are still some software tweaks to follow that will further improve the pictures, but I have to say that while doesn’t necessarily set a new benchmark for picture quality (as yet), it is good and the speed is incredible. Did I mention the speed?
The biggest problem I have with phone cameras really isn’t that the picture quality isn’t good enough (although that can be the case), it’s that they take too long to focus, too long to take the shot and the convenience of having a camera right there with you is virtually lost. The camera on the One X does get around this. As I mentioned above, for the sample pictures i've been walking around with the One X and the Sony Xperia S and taking pictures of the same subject at exactly the same time (pressing the shutter buttons at exactly the same time with one phone in each hand). Here's one picture I took of the cat... speed really is everything!
The cat really is more lazy than it appears in the second picture.
The included visual effects are smart (in real time and at full resolution) and the features like face detection work well.
With regards to video, I have again posted a sample below, but I found that for most videos I took I got better results with image stabilisation off. Unless you are planning to try and keep the camera still while recording (e.g. at a sports event perhaps) or pan along 1 plane, then I’d probably recommend you do the same. One nice feature of the One series is that, thanks to the ImageSense chip, the camera can take full 8MP stills while recording video with no detriment to the video itself. This is a cool feature and works well!
I really like the One X camera, even if the image quality isn't quite as stellar at full resolution as i'd perhaps dreamed.
OK, so that’s specifics... let’s talk about what the One X is like as a day-to-day device.
As a piece of hardware it’s pretty unusual. It’s polycarbonate body with matte covering feels different in the hand to what I’ve had before and as mentioned already, its design makes it feel thinner in the hand that it really is. The device is pretty logically laid out for me. Although I prefer microUSB slots on the bottom of the device at least it doesn’t have a silly rubber flap or anything like that. The power button is well placed and offers decent feedback, likewise with the volume buttons, which I prefer to be on the right hand side of a device. The power button does take a little bit of getting used to due to the way the top of the device slopes down slightly, it doesn't quite 'feel' like you expect at first. The microphones are perfectly placed for stereo video recording and the microSIM slot isn’t really any bother (don’t lose that pin!). The speaker on the back could probably be better placed for me... I find that when gaming it gets covered by my hand (like the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S II), I guess a speaker half way up the back cover isn’t a viable design option though! The LED notification in the speaker grille on the front is kinda tiny and I’m a little bit disappointed that it’s not RGB. 3.5mm socket on the top? The only place for it in my opinion!
The capacitive buttons on the front are very responsive to the touch. They have a white backlight that only comes on in dark environments, and they are always ‘portrait orientated’ - I wonder why the innovative rotating buttons setup on the HTC Incredible S was never adopted for other devices? While the capacitive buttons leave the entire screen available for your content, there is a downside and that comes in the form of applications that were created for pre-Ice Cream Sandwich Android and require a menu button. With no menu hardware button, a software version appears at the bottom of the screen and takes up a fair bit of space (as shown here). This will become less of an issue as apps migrate to the ‘new world’, but initially at least its a little bit annoying.
The screen on the One X is stunning. When I first saw the device it blew me away and when I switch back to my Galaxy Nexus from it now it makes the Nexus look like the worst screen in the world. The screen is almost Lumia 800 like in how the image feels like it’s painted on the surface of the phone with fantastic brightness and wonderful clarity. The screen is set to auto brightness by default and it’s very effective and completely unobtrusive. Its gradual change of the brightness is so subtle that I had wondered if it even worked at all. I think it does.
The sound on the device using the inbuilt speaker is a pleasant surprise. It’s louder than many deivces, but of course very limited when it comes to bass. Output to the headphones sounds good, although I have a tendency to avoid Beats EQ and Beats phones. The ‘Beats’ audio enhancements work with all headphones, not just Beats headphones it seems. The loud on-board speaker of course extends to speakerphone calls, which are loud and clear.
Phone calls on the device are again of excellent quality and volume, in contrast to some devices of late, which have been criticised for their low call volume. The noise cancelling system resulted in callers being impressed with the call quality from their end.
Phone reception is a another thing that is hard to quantify as it will very much depend on your network, what signal is like in your area etc. but for me, I’ve found the One X to have excellent reception. Its polycarbonate body should definitely lend itself to good radio performance and I’ve found that to be the case, both on the mobile network and on WiFi, where the One X outperforms any of the other devices I currently own!
You may have spotted in the specifications that the One X features Bluetooth 4.0 LE with AptX support - this is good news. Bluetooth 4.0 LE is a low power Bluetooth specification that should rid the technology of its power hungry nature. Although Bluetooth 4.0 devices are currently very limited in numbers, Casio’s Bluetooth 4.0 equipped G-Shock watch which displays notifications from your device (only available in Japan currently!) has a 2 year battery life with a single CR2032 battery! AptX is great news for audiophiles, allowing Bluetooth audio with lossless playback in contrast to the rather over-compressed A2DP standard. Sadly I own neither a Bluetooth 4.0 device nor an AptX device to give you real world feedback!
With a quad core Tegra 3 processor on board, you would expect the One X to be super smooth in operation - and it is. There is zero lag when using the device, heavyweight games run perfectly and there’s little that can trouble the device. This smoothness in operation of course extends to all HTC’s inbuilt apps and is another reason why perhaps the accusation of bloat that has been levelled in the past doesn’t apply any more.... I can’t really think of anything that is more troublesome or slower to do on the One X than a ‘vanilla’ device.
One of the downsides of Ice Cream Sandwich is that, with its one contiguous on-board memory, there is no option to connect this to your computer as good old ‘mass storage’. The One X gets around this by partition it’s memory in two blocks - the old style ‘/data’ partition which comes in at 2.11GB (where your apps and data go if you don’t ‘move to SD’) and the virtual / sdcard partition totalling 25.24GB, which can be accessed via mass storage! Personally, I can’t decide whether it’s better to have that one big space and be limited to MTP or to have this solution... but for people wanting to easily drop content on their device, mass storage is definitely a big plus.
Nvidia have stated that Tegra3 has been designed to use as little power as possible when in standby by virtue of it's '+1' core and this matches what i'm seeing on the One X. It positively sips juice when sitting idle - using less than most devices i've ever used, potentially leading to extremely long standby times.
Of course, once you start using the device and harnessing the quad core CPU the battery takes a hit, although in line with what we're used to for high end phones. It's early days for me as I condition the battery and i've been using the phone a lot preparing for the review, but it seems as though the battery on the One X will outperform my Galaxy Nexus.
I also feel like with some clever tweaking there's great potential for making the battery life even better (i'll elaborate on this in due course!)
Watch this space for future updates.
Is the HTC One X a triumphant return to form for HTC? All things considered... I would have to say yes, it's a fantastic phone!
The One X packs cutting edge hardware and software that strikes an excellent balance between the best of stock Android and HTC’s own enhancements. Oh and that lightning fast camera is just the icing on the cake.
What is also interesting is competition from within HTC's own portfolio - the One S looks also to be an impressive phone and more perhaps suited to those who prefer the 4.3" screen size. Stay tuned for our review very soon!
This is my new favourite phone... but there is that elephant in the corner... the impending Galaxy S III. The One X sits at the top of the Android tree, but for how long...?
Pros and Cons
- Great specs
- Awesome screen
- Speedy, smooth operation
- Superfast camera
- Sense done right
- Unlockable bootloader
- It’s still a big phone
- Battery life is an unknown
- There will be phones that take better pictures (slower)
- No microSD
- Fixed battery
- The Galaxy S III is coming and might be better
Roots and ROMs
The HTC One X is supported at launch for bootloader unlocking via the HTC Dev site. While solutions are in development (by me and others) for rooting the retail devices, they are not available as yet.
The One X is certain to be very well supported by ROM developers.
The particular device I am using seems to have an issue with 'fastboot boot'ing images, which I have reported to - and am working through with - HTCdev at the moment, I will update in due course.
Bugs and issues
I have found some bugs in the ROM release tested, namely a couple of typos and an issue with the initial orientation sensing on the Camera application.
Have Your Say
Do you have a HTC One X? Do you agree / disagree with my review? Post below!
The One X front top, camera, rear branding and with the good old G1. Click to zoom.
The One X sized up against the Galaxy Nexus (standard battery). Click to zoom.
The Sensation XE joins the party! Click to zoom.
The Xperia S joins the party! Click to zoom.
I have included a selection of camera samples below. The samples are taken on the HTC One X and on the Sony Xperia S, both completely stock latest ROMs with default settings, by pointing both devices at the subject and pressing the shutter at the exact same moment. You can click on any image for the full version.
HTC One X
Sony Xperia S
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