White, slim and gorgeously sleek, the One X is a seriously attention-grabbing smartphone. HTC's design may have been hit and miss last year, but this isn't reflected in the company's latest flagship. HTC doesn't break any new ground in this design; the One X is still a mono-block touchscreen smartphone, but it does manage to rediscover what can be so desirable in smartphone design, with its subtly curved display and gentle lips and dips across the body of this device.
The 4.7-inch HD resolution display is truly the icing on the cake. With superb viewing angles, great colour and 312 pixels per inch, this screen is the best we've seen from HTC to date. As with Apple's new iPad, you may find it hard to spot how great this screen looks when you view it in isolation, but it makes it very hard to go back to a lower-resolution screen thereafter.
The seamless design of the One X looks and feels great, but it does mean that you can't replace the battery.
HTC does take a risk in enclosing the phone's battery and memory within the handset, so that neither are user replaceable. But then, many of the top-tier phones that we've seen lately use a similar design, and we're guessing that only a select few will be put off by not being able to change batteries. Memory is a different matter — it's always the more the merrier — and if you don't feel that the included 32GB memory (just over 25GB user accessible) is sufficient, you will have to look elsewhere.
Just as important as the physical elements of this phone, HTC's updated Sense user experience is central to whether you love this phone, or whether you'll give it a miss. Sense is now noticeably leaner than before. The transitions and animations have been simplified, and so too have some of the system's widgets, most notably the iconic HTC clock.
Some of the changes to Sense are easy to spot.
There are more significant changes below the surface, some that only HTC fans will spot. The app drawer now scrolls horizontally rather than vertically — a change that we love. Apps are automatically separated into four tabs: All, Frequent, Downloads and Vodafone, on our review unit. These tabs can be moved around or removed, but strangely you can't add your own. You can add folders to any active home screen, which serves the same purpose, though.
The cumbersome Personalisation menu introduced in Sense 3.0 remains, but is now tucked away within the main system menu. This is a good decision that helps to de-clutter the home screens. The transition between home screens is still vaguely 3D, although it certainly feels like a smoother animation than that in releases last year.
The quad-core Nvidia processor in the One X is one of the top-line selling points for this phone, and while we've found it hard to fault its performance from day to day, it's also an extremely hard feature to test. Is this phone faster than previous Android smartphones? And, if it is, is this speed bump correlated to the Tegra 3 chipset, or do we attribute it to Android 4 or any number of other factors?
The speed is evident in everyday use, where using the One X is a pleasure. The touchscreen is responsive, and there are no perceptible pauses (or very few) when navigating around the system. Our review unit did infrequently reload the Sense Launcher when exiting apps, and while this is annoying, it's not a deal-breaking issue, in our books.
Battery life may end the love affair for some users, depending on how you use your phone each day. The One X fell short in our punishing battery-endurance tests, with results well under four hours for both web browsing on Wi-Fi and 720p HD video playback. This doesn't reflect standard use, though, where the One X managed to get through most days of moderate use, including push email. This is not a phone for heavy users, especially considering that you can't switch batteries throughout the day. Road warriors who fall in love with the One X will need to be sure that they have chargers on hand.
The 8-megapixel camera in the One X is where HTC is really hoping to set itself apart. Featuring a dedicated processor for imaging, the One X is touted as being one of the fastest smartphone cameras, a claim we'll happily agree with. The time from the home screen to your first photo would be about three seconds with deft fingers controlling the action, and the quality of the images is outstanding for a phone.
The detail in the images is good, especially when viewed on the phone's own display.
The software behind the camera packs in quite a number of features and adjustments to consider before taking a shot. Above the shutter button is a shortcut to a range of popular image filters, and in the Scenes menu you'll find an image-stitching Panaroma, Macro and HDR modes complementing the usual assortments of lighting adjustments.
Hipsters rejoice: there are stacks of Lo-Fi image filters to play with.
If we have one complaint about the camera in the One X, it's that the best results are found outside the default settings. Without tweaking the One X image settings, we found that images were both over-saturated and over-exposed, and that the quality of the shots we took were improved significantly by adjusting one or both of these options. Happily, these settings are set and forget, so if you find a custom setting you like, you can leave it that way for the future.
Colour reproduction is good, if a touch over-saturated.
Here, we have two similar photos with incrementally different camera settings.
With Beats Audio built in to the One X, the music pitch is likely to pique the interest of music lovers, although we're not sure whether this ticks all the boxes for a dedicated audiophile. Beats Audio is activated whenever music or video files are selected, regardless of which apps you choose to play then back with. Though we're probably simplifying it, the Beats software seems to act like a "Bass Booster" or "Loudness" setting found on older phones and MP3 players. So while there is a significant difference between having it on and turning it off, we're not sure it actually does much to differentiate the sound of audio on the One X, compared with its nearest competitors.
The One X is also unable to play a wide range of popular audio and video file formats out of the box. It will play standard MPEG 4, WMV, H.264 videos and MP3 and AAC audio, but don't expect it to recognise your media library full of DivX, MKV, XviD, FLAC or OGG files. This might not make much difference to many smartphone shoppers, but considering that you can buy phones that support these files, especially the high-end audio files, this does count against HTC and it's "Authentic Sound" marketing campaign.
Last year, HTC released a dedicated Media Link accessory to promote the idea of using DLNA to share music, videos and photos with a TV or home entertainment system. HTC still wants you to use DLNA, and this year has incorporated a new "three-finger swipe" gesture into its software, allowing you to create a media-streaming connection by swiping across the screen in a way that looks like you are "pushing" the media from the phone to the larger screen.
We love this idea, and any new use of gestures to control complex commands on mobile devices, but we had a lot of trouble using this to share media on devices other than the HTC Media Link. Most media-sharing tools on other machines, like an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3, require the user to create a server-client relationship before trying to stream media. The One X tries to skip this part, and we've been unable to establish media streaming to these machines without downloading a third-party app to the phone.
In many respects, the HTC One X is among the best smartphones we've ever seen. Its design is top notch, its screen is superb and it's packed with great, easy-to-use features. Some of the features of its 8-megapixel camera are unique to this phone, like the ability to take a photo while shooting video, and the camera takes great shots after a little tweaking.
The combination of the phone's Tegra 3 processor and the latest versions of Android and HTC Sense work well to deliver a smooth, painless user experience, but we're sure that there will be some who feel that it's still not fast enough, as the boost in performance from last year's dual-core systems to this quad-core system is difficult to perceive. Similarly, battery life will be sufficient for some, but it's not outstanding, and business users may find that it just doesn't meet their needs.