First Class – HTC One X review

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HTC’s vision of a perfect smartphone has grown bold, both in terms of design and features. The name itself – One X – should tell more than anything that HTC is confident that this is the smartphone you need in your life. Can this flagship droid deliver on these promises, and not only meet the expectations of HTC fans, but also manage to impress the world?

 

Built to perfection

HTC’s newly shifted focus on quality rather than quantity has permuted almost every aspect of One X. The flagship from HTC shows a meticulous attention to detail while still retaining a number of recognisable traits from company’s previous line of products. Its razor accurate, industrial design is augmented by the impressively slim waistline and polycarbonate unibody that easily trumps most Android phones currently in the market. There are no visible breaks on the shell that would betray its seamless, almost organic look, which sadly also means that the battery is fully enclosed and non-removable. In hand, the One X feels pleasantly light and rigid, and it’s clear that HTC did their best to make One X as compact as physically possible for a device with a massive 4.7 inch screen. Having said that, the One X obviously won’t fit into every pocket, and users with smaller hands might experience some trouble holding the phone comfortably during an extended call.

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The curved, thick glass panel protecting the display almost seems to spill over edges of the phone, leaving the impression that there’s no bezel at the left or right side of the screen. It only takes for the HD screen of 1280 x 720 pixels to lights up, and it becomes immediately clear, that the One X is in a league of its own. Simply put, the screen looks gorgeous no matter what angle you look at it, displaying bright and accurate colours as well as coping relatively well under direct sunlight. You would be hard pressed to spot any rough edges on the screen, as its size easily envelops your view, leaving you fully immersed in the experience.
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Just like company’s previous line of products, the HTC One X lacks any physical buttons below the screen. Instead, the trio of traditional Android keys – back, home and the tasks key – are touch-sensitive. These keys are somewhat small to our liking, but on the upside they are very responsive, and there’s also the haptic feedback to let you know you actually triggered them. This narrows down the number of actual buttons to just the power/ lock key at the top, and the slim but comfortable volume rocker on the right side of the phone. Both of these important controls are just enough raised form the rest of the phone to make them easy to locate without looking. There’s a bit of an issue with the microSIM slot though – to access it, you will need to push the tray out using a supplied eject tool. We understand it’s done in the name of a seamless design, but it’s nevertheless annoying if you ever find yourself in a need to quickly change your cards.
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The One X, of course, isn’t a flagship merely because of its good looks – it is also the first smartphone from HTC to roll into the age of quad-core processors. With four 1.5 GHz cores pounding as one, and Nvidia GeForce GPU on board too, the One X is a solid player in the high-end arms race where only milliseconds decide the ultimate winner. The jury is still out whether quad-core phones are of much use for most consumers: aside from graphics intensive tasks such as 3D games (like the ones obtainable in Nvidia’s own TegraZone store), the real performance gain, especially when compared to dual-core flagships of last year, is dubious. In the high-end class, however, the rules are different. It’s no longer only about satisfying the basic needs – it’s about compressing everything in one neat package, and sending it off with a few extra pair of jet-engines for a more dramatic effect.
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he absence of a microSD card slot means that users will have to be content with the 32 GB of built-in memory, which in most cases should be enough. The microUSB port in One X is not just for charging and local data transfers as it can also act as a TV-out. Being able to process video content of up to 1080p resolution is a good way to showcase the powerful hardware of One X, but, unless your TV set supports DLNA wireless streaming technology, you will be required to buy an adapter to enjoy that feature on a bigger screen.The all-inclusive connectivity package should be a fairly standard game for most flagship phones by now, and HTC One X is no exception. Aside from the earlier mentioned DLNA support, local wireless connectivity on the One X is also covered by Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (4.0), all the while quad-band 3G with HSDPA (speed up to 21Mbps) handles the long distance communication. And, finally, HTC One X also joins the growing number of phones that come with NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, which, among many other things, allows users to quickly exchange content or pay bills wirelessly.

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Powered by its built-in Li-Po 1800 mAh battery, the One X managed to soldier on through the day of moderate usage, and some bit more if you stick with the rather aggressive auto-brightness settings. Advanced Android users, or simply the people who intend on watching movies for a prolonged amount of time, will, no doubt, have to reach out for a charger before the day is over.

 

A matter of Sense

The One X rolls forward with a new and improved version of Sense UI that is HTC’s graphical overlay specifically tailored to its Android products. To reflect on the scrupulously crafted exterior of One X, the stock Android 4.0 was treated with an overwhelming amount of tweaks and additions, little and big, that HTC believes will improve the OS. But while Sense UI is more tightly integrated than ever, the company also made the effort to leave plenty of room for users to customise their experience with One X.

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The lockscreen is probably among the first things that users will encounter on the One X. It appears simple at first, but just like the rest of Sense UI, it holds plenty of little details that are fun to discover and explore. You’ll notice the small ring shaped object at the bottom edge of the screen, and, as you drag it upwards and release, the phone gets unlocked. It’s a simple, swipe based gesture that is widely used on other smartphones, yet even there HTC has managed to create something special and memorable. There are 8 different lock screens in total, and each with a distinctive direction like productivity, photo, weather or friends.

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The layout of the homescreen is also deeply customisable with what HTC calls Scenes. By default, there are five pre-set Scenes, and these will not only change your application shortcuts, but also the wallpaper and active widgets. You can either download additional Scenes or choose to create your own, in which case you will be presented with a blank homescreen.

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Skins is another way to personalise Sense UI by offering a more substantial visual overhaul to the menus and some of the finer details of the interface. Just like with Scenes, there’s a handy option to download extra skins.

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The rest of the software package on One X is also pretty substantial. We were particularly impressed with the built-in ‘People’ app that appears like a typical phonebook, but is actually a hub for social networks and online sharing services. What keeps this phonebook from overflowing with information is that you can easily filter the list of contacts according to the different online accounts that you’ve added – be it Google, Hotmail, Facebook or Twitter. What’s more, the phonebook will also come up with contact link suggestions when it detects duplicate entries, so it can consolidate all the known online profiles of a person under a single phonebook entry when necessary.

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Since HTC One X carries the Beats Audio branding, the music player has been treated with extra attention, both from visual and technical standpoint. Its main view holds several shortcuts for well-known music services, including TuneIn Radio and SoundHound, where the latter is used for track recognition. The built-in equaliser lets you choose from multiple presets to better suit your musical needs, and there are even settings that tailor the sound to specific Beats branded headphones. There’s virtually no area left unattended here, as the music player also comes with its own homescreen and lockscreen widget.

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The video-player is built into the Gallery app, and supports popular formats including AVI, WMV and MP4. As mentioned earlier, it can handle videos of up to 1080p resolution, and sound enhancements via Beats Audio are also present.

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On the productivity side, the One X sports the brilliant Polaris app, which is capable of both editing and viewing Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. It’s fully integrated with Dropbox and SkyDrive online services, so you can easily keep backups of all your work. As an HTC customer, you will also get 25 GB of free storage with Dropbox.

The overall impression from the software side of One X is that it is a more mature, considered device, but not without its pitfalls. While users already familiar with HTC previous handsets will be quite comfortable with the latest version of Sense UI, those who aren’t will often find themselves lost in a maze of menus doing the simplest of tasks. HTC implemented overlays of tips and hints as you navigate through the menus for the first time, but the learning curve is still quite palpable and time consuming. Furthermore, there are also some isolated areas where, for some odd reason, HTC didn’t re-skin the interface, consequently disrupting the consistent user experience that it worked so hard to establish. If you’re ready to overlook tiny annoyances here and there, and don’t really mind Sense UI accompanying your every step, in return you will get one of the most comprehensive and adapted software packages that was ever released on Android.

 

Camera is A-OK

HTC made it clear that with the birth of One Series phones, the imaging capabilities have become one of the major priorities for the company. Indeed, the fairly large 8 Mpix backside-illuminated camera sensor with f2.0 aperture and 28 mm lens signifies a serious leap forward from the previous HTC phones. The One X manages to impress with life-like representation of colours and lots of detail, although on closer inspection some photos tend to suffer from a high level of noise.

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The software side of camera has also been significantly improved, and there’s now a single, uninterrupted interface for making still camera shots or recording video. The beefy quad-core processor of One X is deftly put to use in the continuous shooting mode – by holding down the camera trigger key, the phone captures multiple frames of moving objects with virtually no shutter lag. After releasing the trigger, you’ll be promptly asked which shots you wish to keep, or you can select the ‘best shot’ option to let the phone choose it for you.

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Despite the greater attention on camera features, the manufacturer has again decided against including a physical shutter button. Capturing a moment with a phone camera should be spontaneous, and we certainly miss the simplicity of just taking the phone out of the pocket and snapping away. The One X is also capable of shooting videos with stereo sound in Full HD (1080p), and you can even take photos with no visible drops in quality during the recording.

 

A born leader

HTC One X is a shining example of how fierce the battle for supremacy among Android phones has become. When compared to its natural adversary, the equally brilliant Samsung Galaxy SIII, the decision of who gains the upper hand literally comes down to the finest of details. The One X offers a slightly better screen (RGB vs PenTile matrix), amazing polycarbonate unibody and sound enhancements with Beats Audio. On the other side of the spectrum, the Galaxy SIII outmatches One X by some margin in CPU and GPU performance tests, as well as beating its opponent in the camera and battery departments. But make no mistake, the HTC One X is a born leader, jam-packed with extra features and raw power to hold its ground against anyone who questions its authority. And, perhaps more importantly, the One X marks an exciting new direction for HTC, where a great product is not merely made but perfected – one phone at a time.

(This review, written by me, was originally posted  on Fonehouse)

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