That's a lofty claim, isn't it? Isn't there a new "next generation" every year? Well, to answer that last question, not always. But technology is evolving at such a rapid pace in the mobile world that we can scarcely buy a phone today without something better coming out a month later. And today, just days from Samsung's announcement of the next Galaxy phone, everyone is watching with bated breath to see what comes next.
But in the here and now, HTC's One X will be within your wallet's reach in those same, few short days. The "next big thing" won't be around, likely, for months. So let's stay focused on the present, shall we?
The AT&T variant of the HTC One X will be known internationally as the One XL, and aside from some minor carrier bloat, is literally the exact same phone as the XL. Now, don't let the name confuse you - the XL (and by relation, the AT&T One X) is no bigger than a standard One X. It's not thicker, heavier, or in any way visually distinct. But once you start digging around inside its silicon guts, things are different between the XL and the standard X. If this is all terribly confusing, I understand, they haven't exactly made it easy with the names. Let's clear all this up now.
The AT&T One X is for all intents and purposes the One XL, powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor with LTE. The European One X is a Tegra 3 variant not available on any carrier here in the US. The primary differences are that the European One X does not have LTE, has 32GB of storage (instead of 16GB), and is using a quad-core Tegra 3 processor. If you're looking for a review of that device, we have one here. While there are obviously going to be more minor hardware variations resulting from the use of two different chipsets, they're really not worth going into because I'd probably just fall asleep. Anyway, let's get back on message here.
The AT&T One X is a phone you can buy today and be truly happy with for quite a while. It's solid, fast, and has what I believe is the best display to ever grace a smartphone - not to mention the much-lauded rear camera. And with LTE support, you'll have network performance that outmatches most home broadband in the US. While the One X isn't without its drawbacks, they aren't enough to stop me from recommending what is truly an excellent phone.
HTC One X: Specifications
- Price: $200 with 2-year agreement, off-contract price $730, available May 6th, 2012.
- Processor: MSM8960 dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 at 1.5GHz
- GPU: Adreno 225
- Operating System: Android 4.0.3 with Sense 4.0
- Display: 4.7" Super IPS LCD2 (720x1280, 312DPI)
- Memory: 1GB RAM / 16GB internal (12GB usable - 2GB for apps, 10GB for storage)
- Cameras: 8MP rear / 1.3MP front
- Battery: 1800mAh, non-removable
- Ports/Expandable Storage: microUSB port, HTC dock contacts / none
- Thickness: 8.9mm / .35"
- Weight: 130g / 4.6oz
- For the first time, a plastic chassis almost sort of works on the One X - the entire body is one piece, so there are no unsightly seams or panel gaps. It just looks pretty cool, too, especially in white.* (*see "Not So Good" for one caveat.)
- It's fast. Really fast. Android has never been smoother.
- The display. Oh. My. God (insert "valley girl" twang). This is the best display I've seen on a phone in the history of ever. Wow - colors are so true and accurate, and viewing angles are unbelievable (almost no distortion). Want.
- This is the only LTE smartphone I've ever used where I haven't had to worry about battery life. Idle drain is very low, and I suspect most people will easily make it through a whole day with the One X.
- The rear camera is quite awesome, easily the best on any Android phone today.
- Did I mention the display is really, really pretty?
The Not So Good
- HTC has seen fit to equip the AT&T One X with only 16GB of storage (like the One XL). For most people, it's probably enough space, but I guarantee that will be the complaint-in-chief about this device.
- That awesome white color? Yeah, it's a matte finish, and it picks up pretty much every spec of dirt, grime, and oil on your hands, in your pocket, and basically anything else it comes into contact with. If you're OCD about cleanliness, this might drive you completely insane - so maybe buy a case, or better yet, the gray version.
- Plastic is plastic, and my One X review unit already has a few creaks - fewer than most phones, though, and it generally feels more solid.
- <Insert complaint about Beats Audio being useless.>
- Sense 4 may run very smoothly, but some people just won't like the look of it.
Build Quality / Design
The One X is a pretty phone. Particularly in white. In fact, I'd say it's probably HTC's best-looking phone ever, including the upcoming EVO 4G LTE, which is a little too industrial for my taste. The One X's lines are simple and understated, but the seamless, gleaming white body makes it something a little wondrous to behold. It looks very modern, clean, and tasteful - something that can be said of few other (if any) Android phones. If nothing else, HTC will have made a name for itself with the purposeful and focused design philosophy that is so clearly an integral part of this phone. It really is gorgeous.
That white matte body has one major drawback, though: it's eager to soak up oil, dirt, grime, and anything else it comes into contact with. I've cleaned my review unit numerous times since receiving it, and the thought of how one of these phones would look after 3 months of use is one I try to avoid. If you use your phone with a case or skin, this probably won't matter. But if you're a clean-freak, or just a little OCD about things like that, it's going to bug you. Luckily, it comes in a gray finish as well, so if you're concerned about the grime issue, just get it in the alternate color. All that said, the white one just looks so cool. I honestly am considering buying this phone myself, and the hardest part of that decision will probably be convincing myself I'll have the discipline to keep the white version clean.
The size of the One X may be a concern for individuals with smaller hands. I'd prefer if HTC had kept it down to 4.5", but hey, the market has spoken, and it seems people want bigger phones. Is it too big? Go to an AT&T store and hold it for a few minutes, and you'll have a custom-built answer to this question, because frankly, I can't answer it for you. For me, a guy who is 6'1 with long fingers, it's a bit of a stretch, but not so much that I'd call it "too big."
As far as sturdiness, plastic is plastic. I really wish we could start making phones out of more exotic materials like carbon fiber (which can be painted and finished with scratch-resistant coatings) that don't exhibit the creaking and flexing of plastic, but do allow strong radio reception. Unfortunately, it seems we're just not there yet - while the EVO 4G LTE will have an aluminum unibody chassis, the standard One X/XL is stuck with good 'ol polycarbonate. It creaks when flexed, but when you're using it, I have to say it's really not all that noticeable. For a plastic phone, it feels solid and well put-together, and the lack of seams makes the materials choice much less of a long-term liability.
In terms of hard buttons, the power button is simply too far recessed. It's hard to press, and I don't like it. I don't think anyone could like it - it really kind of sucks. That said, that's not going to stop me from liking this phone. The volume control is also quite recessed, but provides far better press action.
Hardware / Performance
The One X (and XL) is powered by one of Qualcomm's newest dual-core setups, the MSM8960. All of the wireless components (Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE/3G/2G/etc.) are integrated on the MSM8960 chipset, a first in mobile. It's built on a 28nm process similar to the new ARM Cortex A15 design (though not technically the same), increasing performance 60% over the previous-gen S3 dual-core, while at the same time generating less heat. Its cores are smarter, too, using technology that allows each core to be managed fully independently at the hardware level, further reducing power consumption, especially while idle. There truly is a lot of new technology (for the mobile space) packed into this chip, and I think it represents the biggest mobile processing leap in quite some time.
It's also packing an Adreno 225 GPU, a fairly powerful little chip, leading to many benchmark comparisons between the S4 and Tegra 3 versions of the One X. I typically stick to GLBenchmark's offscreen 720p Egypt test for GPU benchmarking. Here are the results:
- Samsung Galaxy S II: 4727
- DROID RAZR: 3202
- HTC One S: 6326
- HTC One X (S4): 6330
- HTC One X (T3): 7164
As you can see, the Tegra 3 version of the One X does seem to outgun the S4 when it comes to raw GPU horsepower. That isn't exactly surprising, though, considering NVIDIA has focused heavily on optimizing GPU performance in its Tegra chipsets. More importantly, you can see that its GPU performance is entirely comparable to its smaller sibling, the One S. I've seen the S4 beat Tegra 3 in more computing-intensive benchmarks, but benchmarks are always something to be skeptical of in the first place, because it's difficult to transpose them onto real-word performance.
There has also been considerable confusion about the differences between the S4 chipsets in the One X/XL and One S, leading to a lot of misinformation. The One X uses the Qualcomm MSM8960 S4, while the One S uses the MSM8260A. To set the record straight: in theory, the One X and One S should perform identically in objective benchmarks - their processors, RAM, GPUs, and any other internal hardware components that would impact benchmark results are identical. To repeat: there is no substantive difference that would cause the S4 One X to be "faster" than the One S. In fact, the One S's lower resolution might even make it seem quicker than the One X in certain situations. The only difference between the chips is the integration of a world LTE modem on the 8960, which the 8260 lacks. That's it.
And as far as real-world performance goes, the One X is fast. I've never seen Android move this smoothly or quickly (except on the One S, of course), and I absolutely love it. Sense doesn't seem to weigh down Android 4.0 or the S4 processor - everything moves like a knife through warm butter.
Oh boy, I can already feel the comments coming: 16GB isn't enough, and not having a microSD slot is sacrilege. Bring out the torches and pitchforks. The One X has 16GB of advertised storage, 12GB of which is usable. 2GB of that is partitioned for apps, and the remaining 10GB for storage. The Tegra 3 One X, by comparison, has 32GB, 26GB of which are usable.
Let's have a candid conversation about storage, shall we? More storage is better, and so is the option to expand it, but are these complaints really going to stop a significant number of people from buying this phone? No, they aren't. Millions of people every month around the world buy 16GB iPhones and, I know it's hard to believe, manage to live happily with that puny capacity. And even if the AT&T One X had a microSD slot and 32GB of storage to start, I don't think either of those things would help to noticeably boost sales.
Regular consumers just don't care as much about this stuff, and while that's bad for us enthusiasts, HTC has to look at this phone from a business standpoint, and those added features cost money. Not much, but enough that they're a material economic consideration. I know for a fact I can live with 16GB of storage. Would I like more? Yes. Is not having more going to stop me from enjoying the phone? No.
I'll wrap up this section by saying this: if the capacity and no expandable storage really are deal-breakers for you, I understand. But, you're probably already well-aware the EVO 4G LTE will meet your needs in that regard, so this phone probably wasn't something you were seriously considering in the first place.
Calls / Wireless / Sound
Network coverage and performance brings us to yet another topic that stirs up emotions. I was an AT&T customer for 3 years, and the first thing I'll say is this: AT&T's 3G/HSPA+ 4G provide the best balance of coverage and speed of any carrier in the US. On the One X, I averaged 5-10mbps down and 1mbps up on AT&T's HSPA+ network, which basically has the footprint of AT&T's 3G - and that footprint is big. Those speeds are a far cry from the woefully slow CDMA of Sprint or Verizon, with much better coverage than T-Mobile's HSPA+.
And AT&T's LTE, while not heavily utilized at this point, is stupidly fast. 20-30mbps down and 10-20 up are easily achievable in areas with reasonable coverage, which for AT&T's LTE network mostly means large cities throughout the US for now. While AT&T's LTE footprint is significantly smaller than Verizon's at this point, if you're in a covered area, AT&T's will probably be a little quicker.
To bring us full circle, if you're on the fence about choosing between the EVO 4G LTE and the One X, know that the One X will provide the superior national network experience - period. And that advantage will likely continue for the duration of the device's life.
Call quality on the One X was reasonable, and while the speaker was finicky about positioning, it was nice and loud when I got it right. People on the other end appeared to be able to hear me just fine. I dropped no calls. The Wi-Fi radio, like the one on the One S, is very fast (and gets good signal), and you of course have Bluetooth 4.0 onboard, which supports all Bluetooth legacy devices, as well (including BT3.0HS - important for audiophiles).
An HTC device review wouldn't be complete with a mention of Beats. Beats Audio is really just equalizer profile options. That's it. The headphone amp on the One X was good, if a bit quiet (a concern if you want to use large, on-ear cans). Sound was clean and undistorted (when Beats was turned off), and I'm generally of the opinion that when we're talking about using earbuds, there are no "excellent" headphone amps - there are good ones that do it right (clean, clear, undistorted), and there are bad ones that do it wrong (static, pops, hums). The One X's does it right. In terms of Beats, the most noticeable addition it brings to the One X is the logo on the back of the phone.
HTC's notification light is still basically useless, though it is a bit easier to see on the One X than the One S, for whatever reason. Perhaps it's that white finish. Anyway - it's nearly impossible to see unless you're looking straight down at the phone, mostly because it's incredibly tiny (one hole on the upper speaker grille). I've always wondered why HTC doesn't come up with a better solution (read: bigger hole), but I rarely rely on the notification light anyway.
Note: much of this portion of the review is taken from my review of the HTC One S, for reasons that should be obvious.
Sense 4. If there's one thing that has stirred up emotions about HTC Android phones since the days of the Hero, it's Sense. Love it or hate it, Sense is HTC's branding of choice for Android, and it invades almost every nook and cranny of the OS. The thing about Sense is this: talk all you want about its "ugliness" or "bloat" - it doesn't slow down Android a bit on the One X. Personally, I think it adds a number of enhancements over stock Android, and I find I'm pretty neutral on the aesthetics.
I'm not here to convert anyone, though, so here are some screenshots of Sense in action - make your own judgments.
I'm a big fan of the Car app (large landscape screenshot), as well as the interface for adding apps or widgets to homescreens (center shot in the bottom row). HTC also eschews the standard Android app switcher first introduced in Honeycomb for its own paginated system, which I can't say I see the point of. Still, like many of HTC's changes to Android - it doesn't really affect how you use your phone, Android is Android is Android, it just looks and feels a little different on the One X.
In case you've forgotten, HTC includes 23GB of additional Dropbox space (for 2 years) on all of their Android phones, which is a definite plus, and getting this extra space is made very easy - just sign into the app and click on a confirmation email.
The lockscreen is one part of Sense I really don't like. Too often I find myself accidentally hitting one of the four quick-launch buttons instead of the unlock circle, but that could just be a result of the fact that I'm not accustomed to reaching so far down on the screen to unlock my phone. On the One X, I find the lockscreen is easier to use than its smaller sibling's, if only for its larger display.
The keyboard included with Sense is probably the best HTC implementation yet, but it's definitely imperfect, and takes a lot of getting used to. The spacebar is just too small, and this results in accidentally hitting either the period or enter key far too often, and attempts to enter a comma hit the inexplicably poorly placed hide keyboard button on the lower left. On the One X, this problem is less pronounced than the One S, but it still occurs.
Additionally, the accuracy of the keys themselves is very average - if you prefer to type out all your words key by key, you're far better off with a 3rd-party keyboard. The HTC keyboard's saving grace is its prediction engine, which is extremely good. Since most people prefer to type using prediction engines, the spacebar and punctuation placement become less substantive gripes. Still, it's sad to see that no Android manufacturer seems to be able to make a software keyboard with the accuracy of the iPhone's - the Galaxy Nexus is the closest I've seen any device come to Apple's implementation.
At the end of the day, most people will like the look of Sense, and the changes it makes to Android, especially people who are new to Android or smartphones generally. Power users may lament the bloat (there are about 10 preinstalled AT&T apps, 9 of which can be disabled), and the outdated looks (the dialer does look pretty awful), but it all works pretty well, and more importantly, makes Android a little more "user-friendly" - and that's what really matters.
It's amazing. Just forget everything you've heard about every other phone display. This is better - I guarantee it. The One X has the best screen of any smartphone on the market, and I don't see that changing particularly soon. It's that good.
Where to begin? Perhaps we should start with its shortcomings, as they are few and of little consequence. First, it doesn't get as bright as something like what Motorola uses on the DROID 4, but that's really only useful for burning out your retinas, so I'm hesitant to even call it a flaw. Secondly, it's not the world's best display in sunlight. SAMOLED+ and Super IPS+ both outmatch the Super IPS LCD2 on the One X in that regard, but again, it's not by any huge margin. The One X is perfectly usable in sunlight, it just so happens that a couple of display technologies are a little better at it.
Beyond those very small complaints, there's nothing not to like. The One X's display has the truest colors I've ever seen on a smartphone (even more so than the iPhone 4), bar none. Hold the One X up to a standard, properly-configured LCD (not LED) or CRT computer monitor (which are the best at reproducing colors accurately), and you'll see what I mean immediately. The colors are almost a dead-on match. This means you'll see content the way it was meant to be seen.
Greens, which PenTile matrix displays tend to ruin, and SAMOLED displays to oversaturate, are represented with startling accuracy and contrast on the One X. Reds aren't hot - they're perfectly balanced (despite the photos - that's my camera, not the screen). This is particularly good for taking photos - you'll see your shots as they will appear once you upload them and look at them on your laptop or desktop PC.
Viewing angles are extraordinary - and that's thanks in some part Corning's newest iteration of Gorilla Glass, which is found protecting the One X's display panel. Gorilla Glass 2 provides the same level of protection of the original, but requires a thinner sheet of material to do so. This means less distortion at extreme angles, and that the pixels are actually physically closer to the surface of the display. The result is a screen that, as my colleague Aaron Gingrich put so well, "has the best viewing angles I’ve ever seen outside of actual printed paper."
The resolution, 720x1280, may sound like "standard fare" for a high-end smartphone these days - but you'd be completely and utterly wrong to think that. The key to the One X's ultra-crisp display, which renders text so beautifully and cleanly it almost hurts, is that it actually gives you all of those pixels. There's no subpixel rendering trickery going on here - you get all 720 dots, in their full unadulterated glory, going from the left to right side of the screen, and it's amazing. You get all of them going up and down, too, just to be clear.
There is no better smartphone display out there right now, end of story. I honestly don't even think Samsung will be able to top this panel with the next Galaxy phone - I could never go back to the hot, cartoonish hues of an AMOLED display after seeing what SLCD2 is capable of.
And now for the section you've all (presumably) been waiting for. LTE and lithium-ion cells have always been bitter foes - and it was a fight that LTE usually won. I own a Verizon LTE device (a BIONIC), and the battery life is, for lack of a better word, depressing. The idea of burdening it with a mega-battery-pack sickens me.
So, has the One X finally thrown off the yoke of 4G juice-oppression? It seems like it, actually. Even with that huge 4.7" display, a dual-core processor, and LTE radio, the One X, I can say with confidence, will get the majority of people through a whole work day and then some quite easily. My usage was as follows:
- 3 push-synced Gmail accounts (50-100 messages per day, total)
- 1 Facebook account (sync default)
- 1 Twitter account (push sync)
- Multiple other synced apps
- Automatic brightness
- Wi-Fi off
- No Bluetooth
- GPS on
- Mobile data on
Even with this, I was able to unplug the One X at 12PM on a Friday, and have it last me all the way until 3PM the next day with a few solid hours of heavy usage - that's over 24 hours. As I write this review, I've had the One X unplugged since 8AM this morning, and at 5PM today, it's still going strong at 35%.
HTC has been very aggressive in marketing the camera on the One X and One S (they share the same hardware), and rightfully so.
The One X shoots photos crazy fast - at least one per second. The rapid shot mode, initiated by holding down on the capture button, shoots a burst of photos in extremely quick succession, and lets you pick (and also suggests) a "best shot." There are a myriad of camera settings, too, including ISO, filters, lighting, adjustments for exposure/saturation/contrast/sharpness, and flash behavior.
The real questions you have, no doubt, are about quality. So, onto the samples (unedited, uncompressed, unaltered). As a note, the first 6 or so were taken near dusk, so lighting wasn't ideal, either.
As you can see, the camera on the One X loves to saturate colors, and in good lighting, the effect is actually quite nice. While the tint of the sky in some of the images is less than vibrant, greens and reds "pop" very well. Sometimes the red exposure gets way too hot, though:
After spending time with both the One X and One S, and their identical cameras, I feel like my opinion of them on the whole is unchanged. They're the best on any Android phone, and for most people, excellent point and shoot replacements. Still, I feel like the iPhone 4S's camera is a better all-rounder, while HTC's has its various strengths and weaknesses.
The One X is a fantastic piece of hardware - there's just no other way to put it. Combined with AT&T's excellent network (say what you will - it is), I'd have to say that the One X is the best all-around Android phone you can buy in the US today. A beautiful phone with an excellent camera, great performance, solid battery life, and a jaw-droppingly good display add up to something truly great.