Hi, everyone… this is Craig doing my first review for the Gadget Gurus. I hope you enjoy! (Note: Click title link to see all photos.)
Last week Mike asked if any of the GG fans lived in NYC and could pick up a test unit HTC One X for a review. Thankfully, I live in Queens and thus was able to head into the East Village to snatch one up. The event was held in the Crosby Hotel in Manhattan, i.e. pretty swanky place.
I was so absorbed playing with my review unit that I actually missed lunch (props to HTC and ATT for some seriously good smoothies). I got a good demonstration of Sense 4, the new Beats audio software, and a couple of the One X accessories, so stay tuned.
The Phone Itself…
…looks like a standard HTC slab of a phone upon first glance. 4.7” screen, slightly bowlegged (rounded on the left and right). Feels good in the hand – it’s slim, light, and has the slightest pebbling of the “high-tech polymer” that the phone is made of. I think HTC is taking a little bit of Apple’s unibody design to heart here; the entire polymer/plastic is a single piece machined out of one block of plastic.
The earpiece and external speakers are drilled out of the block instead of separate grilles attached to the body. The HTC rep said that this reduced much of the tinny sound that comes from smaller speakers. The speakers do sound better, plus they look better than the normal wire mesh for a speaker. All in all, this phone is pretty sexy. My only complaint about the look is that the phone I was given is white…:
…which looks as ugly as sin to me. The black is a lot more attractive in my opinion. I work as a used car parts sales guy during the day, and the white smudges pretty easily. Granted, it does clean off easily.
The screen is incredible. I’m normally running a Thunderbolt, which has a good screen but nothing amazing. This is a full HD screen running about 317 pixels per square inch. It isn’t quite up to the level of Apple’s Retina display, but it does look amazing. Many are saying that it’s the best screen on an Android device and I’d have a hard time arguing with that. I didn’t even notice how much clearer and sharper everything as at first. Initially I wasn’t really impressed, but the more I use it the more I appreciate how excellent it is. It’s bright enough to use in direct sunlight, and the colors really pop out when you’re in standard indoor lighting. Sometimes the colors are so bright and saturated that it almost hurts to look at. The Gorilla Glass seems pretty tough, and I’m rough on phones. Two weeks with me and we’ll really see how tough it really is.
Room for Improvement
There’s really only a couple of small defects in the build that I’ve been able to find: the SIM door on the back (right under the power button) doesn’t really seem to sit right and the volume rocker slides around a little bit. Using the enclosed SIM Door Tool (or a paperclip) to unlock the SIM card door makes it look a bit better, but like I said it does not sit completely right. I think the proper word for this would be sloppy.
Break time for a Public Service Announcement
And We’re Back with a Special on Buttons
As for the external buttons, the volume and power buttons feel a bit mushy to me. What I mean is that it is hard to tell when you’ve pressed a key and it’s easy to press one without meaning to. The placement of the volume buttons is a head-scratcher too – they’re about a third of the way down the phone and I’m used to them being a lot higher up. This has resulted in me pressing the Up volume button thinking “Why am I hitting the Down and blowing out my eardrums?”
The three hardware buttons at the bottom light up when the phone is in use and in a dark environment. I’m not a fan of the non-existence of a menu button, though that’s just an ICS “feature” so I can’t dock the One X for it. I say that if you’re going to have the hardware buttons, then have all four. If one of them has to use up screen real estate, just make them all on screen. A minor complaint, to be sure. But still.
The camera (along with the audio) is what HTC focused on for this phone. The UI has been changed in that looks different, but it’s not difficult at all to get used to. I do end up hitting the filter button instead of the shutter button. There are a ton of Instagram-esque filters…I don’t use them, and now that Instagram is on Android I’m sure they won’t be used by too many people. In addition to the normal options (flash, timer, front/back camera), many options like ISO and exposure have been added to increase the usability for more advanced users (a.k.a. not me, but enjoy these nevertheless:)
The video camera is great, recording in 720p. To me, the coolest thing about it is that is has the ability to take stills WHILE taking video and the ability to hold the shutter button on the still camera to take 4 pictures a second for five seconds. When you finish with these burst photos, you can pick the best one and delete the rest. You can also take stills from a video that you’ve shot but the quality will be slightly degraded.
I attempted to upload a three minute video, but the upload took well over twelve hours…not sure if it was a network thing (tried on both WiFi and LTE) or an actual bug, but it sure took forever. The video was defaulted to private also. The camera app always starts up quickly, which is a huge boon for those who always miss their shots like I do. You can load the app from the lock screen by bringing the camera app into the unlocking ring, instead of swiping the ring upwards like normal. By doing this, you can use the camera without unlocking the phone. This also works if you use unlock gestures, passcode, or facial unlock.
Sense 4: Addition by Subtraction
Sense 4 is a great improvement over earlier versions. HTC listened to many of us who complained that Sense was too bloated and needed to be slimmed down. The widgets are still present and very functional, but many of the pointless animations and less-used features have been removed. Along with the improved 1.5Ghz dual-core Qualcomm processor, this phone blazes along with nary a hangup or any lag to be seen.
HTC included a couple of task manager features: apps can be closed one by one in the “Recent apps” view by swiping up, and another more more intricate one under your app list. Many people don’t think that Android devices need an task manager; apparently HTC disagrees. I personally like having the ability to close an app, but I prefer to let Android manage most tasks.
The stock apps are actually pretty good- the browser in particular is great for a stock browser. The mail app finally has threaded messages (I use the Gmail app though, so I avoided this). The messages app doesn’t seem to have changed much but it still isn’t as good as HandcentSMS. The stock keyboard now has Swype-like motions that are pretty accurate. I’d have to say that it is one of the best stock Android keyboards around. The browser now supports a sort of Readability knockoff, stripping most pictures and ads in order to just get you the content of whatever articles you are reading and also has a builtin Pocket/Instapaper offline article reader. All of these work great, but with the lack of real tabs like DolphinBrowser or most other third-party browser apps, I don’t use it.
The Real Question: Does It Function As a Phone?
One thing I tend to ignore when considering phones is how well it works for making phone calls. I can attest that this is a HUGE improvement over the Tbolt. The audio is a lot clearer than any ATT phone I’ve ever had and is considerably better than my Verizon Thunderbolt.
ATT has made huge improvements in its New York network, which is good because it used to suck hardcore. At the end of my 3GS’ lifespan, I wasn’t able to make phone calls that lasted more than 5 mintues without dropping the call. Their LTE network is amazing: I got speeds of up to 33mb/s downloading, and 14 on the up. That is considerably faster than Verizon’s network, but it isn’t very widespread. Once you get out of the city itself and into more suburban areas, you revert back to 3G/HSPDA+. ATT still calls it 4G (coughliarscough) and the phone only shows 4G when on HSPDA+, but says 4G/LTE when on a real 4G network. Their 3G/HSPDA+ speed is pretty good compared to their old 3G. I’ve been averaging about 3mb/s upload and between .5 and 1 on the upload. I’ve found that running on HSPDA+ is pretty harsh on the battery; I’m assuming it’s only because the phone’s LTE antenna is still seeking out signal and burning a lot of battery power that way.
My two biggest worries for the phone were the nonremovable battery and the Beats audio. The Beats audio was something I wasn’t sure was going to work: full disclosure, I loathe Beats headphones. You’re just paying for bass and looks. Apple gets crap about making expensive stuff that looks good, but at least it all works well. Beats headphones sound terrible and are way too expensive. But I digress…
The HTC reps stated that the audio portion of the One series has been one of their biggest improvements. The phone recognizes when you have a Beats product (over the ear cans or earbuds) or a non-Beats audio device plugged into your phone. If you have a Beats device, it recognizes which one and turns on a pre-installed set of equalizers and a “sound profile” for that headphone. If you’re not rocking a Beats audio solution, there is still a Beats equalizer that automatically turns on… too bad it sounds like crap. All it does is boost the bass, treble, and volume a bit. Sounds good when you listen to whatever top 40 hit is popular today (“oh, snap!” – my girlfriend), but if you’re looking for nuance in your music choices, avoid the Beats software like the plague. The phone audio is my biggest gripe about this phone; the Beats “profile” sounds awful but I’m sure it’ll sell well since I’ve seen so many people wearing those awful headphones around NYC. Come at me bro.
The battery was a huge concern for me. A non-removable battery is okay as long as you put a huge battery in. The One X battery is only 1800 MaH, which is big but not as large as I’d like a battery to be. Supposedly Sense 4 was written with performance in mind: both running more smoothly and not being such a battery drain.
I’m happy to report that HTC has hit it out of the park with this one, too! The battery lasts all day with medium to heavy usage, such as LTE most of the day and HSPDA+ and a couple of hours on WiFi. I unplugged the phone at 7:32AM and it was at 33% at 813:PM. So, nearly 13 hours later, and still having a third of the battery life leftover… that’s pretty good. I had drained it down to 7% by the time I went to sleep at around 11:30PM. Usage was mostly streaming Pandora and Slacker Radio on LTE, some GPS usage, lots of texts and Google Talk, Twitter and G+ usage, internet browsing, a couple of short phone calls, emails, camera shots; really just a normal day’s usage for me. That’s about three times as good as my stock Tbolt battery though, so I’m not complaining. I really don’t forsee the battery being a huge problem while the phone is new. But, once the phone starts to age a bit…I’m just wondering how long the battery will hold the full 1800mah charge. If you switch phones more before your two-year contract is up, I wouldn’t imagine it being a problem. If you use the entire two years, not so sure there.
I got a short demonstration of a couple of accessories designed for the One Series. The most impressive was the MediaLink dongle that attaches to any HDTV. If you have the device and use three fingers to swipe upwards, whatever’s on your phone’s screen will be projected on the television screen. The link is either through the wifi network or a Peer-to-Peer DNLA link. There was only a small amount of lag a couple of times. Most of the time, however, it was a quick link to the dongle and no lag when switching between photos or videos. Quality was amazing and I’m pretty impressed with this device. The presenters stated that most photos and videos would simply mirror whatever’s on the screen, but certain things would be shown on the screen but controlled on the phone (slideshows, Powerpoints, etc). I asked if there is/would be an APK for devs to design apps around the MediaLink device, but that hasn’t been decided upon yet. I thought it would be great to use the phone as a controller for games or just as a keyboard to use the TV as a monitor. While the MediaLink looks great, the ATT-only Beats wireless speaker is a joke:
While wireless speakers are cool, this one sounded terrible. You can’t dock your One X with it, only connect via wireless. You can, however, dock an iPhone/iPod with it. How does that make any sense? And to top it all off, ATT will let you have this hideous speaker for the low, low cost of $400!
Drumroll for the Final Verdict…
All in all, I’d have to give this phone a 9/10.
The updates to Sense, amazing screen, fantastic processor, and ICS make this phone a true joy to use. I can only really dock it for the cheap plastic construction that’s a bit shoddy, buttons that aren’t well placed and don’t have any click to them, and of course the blasphemy called Beats audio. These “imperfections” don’t take anything away from using the phone and are just nitpicking items that I don’t like. When your biggest complaint about a phone is where the volume rocker is and if it has Beats branding, that’s really just showing how great it is.
Personally, I find this phone to work so well it’s nearly impossible to pick one thing out that’s awesome about it. Everything simply meshes together well and… the phone just works like a great phone should. If only there was some way to keep this phone without the GG getting some serious heat from HTC!
I Can Haz Fone?
The HTC One X is a blast to use, and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity that I was given to test this phone out and write a review on it. If there’s anything else you want to know about this phone, just let me know. I’ll do my best to answer you.