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HTC One VX (AT&T) review: A sleek, feature-packed smartphone deal

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The Good The affordable HTC One VX for AT&T serves up a modern Android OS, a dual-core processor, and a feature-rich camera. The phone also delivers rock-solid call quality and long battery life.

The Bad The HTC One VX lacks quad-core processing and a removable battery.

The Bottom Line It may not be a fire-breathing superphone, but the HTC One VX offers plenty of Android goodness for under $50.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

It can be hard to find a pleasing smartphone experience for under $100, let alone $50. The $49.99 HTC One VX for AT&T is an outlier, but in a good way. Included with this handset's low sticker price are the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system and nimble dual-core processing, as well as a swift connection to 4G LTE data.

Of course the One VX isn't perfect, as I'm sure the phone's nonremovable battery and midrange components may prove a sticking point for those shopping for a premium Android device. Also, new budget challengers such as the $49.99 Pantech Discover boast a slightly faster CPU, plus a sharper screen and higher-resolution camera. That said, no matter how you slice it, the One VX is a compelling buy for frugal AT&T subscribers.

The HTC One VX certainly speaks the same design language as the company's other current handsets. In style you can think of it as a cross between the HTC One X+ and older HTC One S. The phone is sculpted from similar rounded curves, with a familiar flat, oval shape and minimalist aesthetic.

Unlike the One S, however, the One VX is crafted from lightweight plastic and not carved from a single block of aluminum. The One VX isn't molded from premium polycarbonate like the One X and One X+ are, either. That gives the phone a less expensive look and feel, though faux silver accents around the screen bezel and a clean white cover on the back lend the device some sophistication.

Measuring 5.3 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide and just 0.36 inch thick, the One VX is small enough to fit in the hand or slide into tight pockets. At 4.4 ounces, the phone won't weigh you down either, but has enough heft to feel substantial.

The HTC One VX sports a very svelte profile. Sarah Tew/CNET

A basic assortment of controls surround the One VX's large 4.5-inch (960x540-pixel-resolution) screen: three capacitive keys below the display, a thin volume rocker on the right, and a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack on its top edge.

Underneath the phone's battery cover are slots for SIM and microSD cards. The device's 1,810mAh battery, however, is embedded and not user-removable.

The battery is embedded but there is an SD Card slot for more storage. Sarah Tew/CNET

Judging from specs alone, the HTC's One VX certainly is no flagship smartphone. For example, the device's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system isn't the most recent version Google can muster, namely Android 4.2 (or 4.1) Jelly Bean. The handset's software is also pushed along by a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, not a cutting-edge quad-core chip. You also get 8GB of internal storage, much smaller than the whopping 64GB bundled with the One X+.

That said, the HTC One VX offers almost all of the latest Android capabilities that have made Google devices so popular. These include Gmail, Google+, and Navigation, along with the Play Store, where you have a choice of over 500,000 titles to download. Google Play hawks digital content for purchase, too, including books, movies, games, and music. For more entertainment options, HTC's Watch app also serves up TV shows and movies to buy or rent. For example, I could buy the movie "Looper" for $14.99 and rent it for $3.99.

The One VX runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich, not Jelly Bean. Sarah Tew/CNET

Besides the Amazon Kindle app, there's TuneIn for free Internet radio, and SoundHound, which can tag music that's playing around you. And beyond those, the One VX doesn't have much in the way of useful third-party software.

AT&T, however, fills the device with its typical host of bloatware, most of which you can't remove. It has a bar code scanner, FamilyMap for locating family members ($9.99 per month for two family members, $14.99 for up to five), AT&T Locker, which stores files in the cloud for an extra fee, AT&T Navigator, and Messages -- all tasks that Google's free software can tackle.

Sitting on top of Android is HTC's Sense 4 user interface, which boasts HTC's iconic weather clock widget on the main home screen plus strong ties to social-media networks. For example, a Friend Stream widget pulls all updates across multiple social-media platforms to view in one location.

Similarly, the People app will sift through your contacts list automatically and suggest any possible links between corresponding Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. Additionally, within a friend's contact details you can view any albums your friends have posted to Facebook and any recent updates like messages or missed calls.

Beats audio is onboard. Sarah Tew/CNET

Just like on its other phones, HTC touts the One VX's Beats audio processing. It's designed to activate a special equalizer profile to match specific Beats-branded headphones. As with my previous experience with Beats, I found that it beefed up bass too greatly, crushing the mids and highs. I admit some tracks do sound better after undergoing Beats processing, especially ones consisting mostly of heavy bass notes.

One of the most distinctive features of HTC's smartphones is what the company calls ImageSense technology. In a nutshell, it means that the One VX's 5-megapixel camera is backed up by a dedicated image processor for improved performance. Indeed, the phone's camera snaps images almost instantly, in well under a second. The term ImageSense is also a flag that HTC added additional photo treats such as a wide range of scene modes that offer plenty more than the average camera phone options.

You'll find lots of camera options on the One VX. Sarah Tew/CNET

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