The last Android phone I reviewed that I felt I could truly live with, that I could actually use for work and play without wanting to throw it through a wall, was Google and Samsung’s joint venutre, the Galaxy Nexus. I reviewed it right around the time it was released, so Android 4.0 Ice Cream sandwich and all the upgrades in speed and user interface it brought were fresh and new. Unfortunately, most Android handset makers have been slow in bringing Ice Cream Sandwich to their handsets. So slow that some Motorola phones are only just now receiving updates to ICS, more than 8 and half months after it was introduced.
And even when those updates do ship, they’re so heavily skinned with that particular manufacturer’s own user interface choices that it slows down what is a great stock experience with ICS. With all of that being said, I went into my review of HTC’s One X with more than a bit of skepticism.
I’ve hated every version of HTC’s Sense UI skin of Android since version 2.0. Since version 2.0, Sense has been bogged down with garish and glossy 3D animations and menus that are as ugly as they are clunky. And Sense is still present on the One X.
So was two weeks with AT&T’s One X able to convince me that this phone is worth a purchase? Read on to find out.
The One X is a beautiful phone, plain and simple, and it easily snatches away the title of my favorite Android handset design from the Galaxy Nexus. Unlike other newer Android handsets, there’s no curved display design on the One X, but HTC has done some clever design work to make that illusion. The One X’s white soft plastic body has a mostly flat bottom, but a swoop in the edges of the phone’s body running from the top to the bottom (with a thickness near the middle) gives your eyes and hands the feeling of a curved device. In short, despite the phone’s large size, the combination of that curved feeling and the soft plastic make for a great feel in the hand.
At only 8.9mm, the HTC One is also a fairly thin device for its size. It practically disappears when put in the front pocket of a pair of jeans. There are only three physical buttons to be found on the device, up top and to the right is the power/sleep button and on the right edge is the volume rocker. As HTC has done before, the camera is a large, silver hump on the back of the phone near the top and I still hate the fact that when resting on a table the camera hump comes in direct contact with that surface.
Even though Android gave manufacturers a way to do away with the annoying touch navigation buttons in ICS when it integrated those buttons into the display, HTC chose to keep back, home and multitasking touch buttons below the One X display. On the Nexus, the entire front of the device is screen, with a small division at the bottom where the operating system populates the Back, Home and Multitasking navigation buttons. What’s fantastic about the Nexus is that these buttons can be hidden to free up all of the screen real estate. Begin watching a YouTube or Netflix video and the buttons fade away giving you the full size of the display to enjoy your video. It works brilliantly. Alas, it’s not there on the One X. So I still have to remind myself to be very careful not to slip and hit the home button when playing a first person shooter or other video game, to avoid interruption.
One more design snag that really applies to all large Android phones: I still find that navigating the device can be difficult with one hand because of the sheer size of the screen. I have larger than average hands and still found tapping screen elements on the top and left side of the screen with my right thumb pretty difficult. Reaching up top to turn the sleep button off is a particular chore and when I began using my trust iPhone for again my thumb and index finger enjoyed the rest from all the stretching.
The HTC One X features a 4.7-inch super LCD 2 display with a resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p). The HD display is the best I’ve seen on an Android device. While the Galaxy Nexus had the same screen resolution, the Samsung Super AMOLED display still made pixels failry visible. Not so on the One X. Reading was enjoyable on the larger screen size and HD video looked nice and crisp. I will say I’m more of a fan of the Nexus’ color reproduction even though Samsung’s AMOLED displays tend to oversaturate colors. Images on the One X’s LCD 2 display were just a bit too warm for my taste. The iPhone’s cool-to-neutral color temperature is in my eyes still the best.
The One X’s camera takes 8MP still shots and 1080p HD video. While I found the Galaxy Nexus’ camera to be preferable to any Android handset before it, the HTC One X is by far the best option on the market for Android fans who want to take respectable shots. Thanks to HTC’s ImageChip, this is the first camera on an Android phone that I’ve used that can take shots indoors that aren’t ridden with grain. It’s no iPhone 4S, but the shooter on the One X is on par with both the iPhone 4 and the lens inside the New iPad. It’s also worth noting that the camera app, which I’ve seen take forever to open and cause a lot of slowdowns on other Android devices, opens and closes with imprssive speed. Once open there’s only a split second between shots and the One X even lets you take still pictures as you shoot video. Some sample shots are below.
What I’m most happy to report about the One X is that HTC has scaled back its Sense UI skin for Android — a lot. There are still differences in icons, menu fonts and arrangement between Sense and stock Android. Sometimes those differences are jarring, sometimes they don’t matter. In the past those differences made for a slower experience, but the new streamlined Sense feels a lot more like what it originally was: a stylized take on vanilla Android. Honestly, I don’t think it’s really necessary to “stylize” Android anymore. Ice Cream Sandwich and the new version 4.1 Jelly Bean look and feel great. Regardless, at least HTC’s take doesn’t mean worse performance anymore.
Thanks to 1GB of RAM and a quad-core processor, navigating the One X is lightning fast. Getting in and out of apps is a breeze and swiping between homescreens is buttery smooth. We’re seeing a lot less of those little hesitations that for a while simply a part of using an Android handset and once the One X and the other current handsets get Jelly Bean, you’ll see even less. (Speaking of which, HTC recently confirmed that they are working on the Jelly Bean update for the One X. Unfortunately, there’s no word on when that will happen.)
My one complaint about Sense on the One X is its take on multitasking. While it’s easily accessible from anywhere on the phone with a press of the multiasking button below the display, HTC has designed an interface for it similar to Apple’s Cover Flow, with screen previews of your recently used apps that flows to the right. It looks nice, but the problem with this is that the screen previews are tilted to look like their standing in a line and it gives you very little space to tap. That means you have to be very slow and deliberate with your scrolling. I prefer the way stock Android does it with a vertically scrolling list with large areas for each app for easy tapping.
Like any Android device with a large, HD display, battery life isn’t the best. I found that with light to normal use I was able to get about 12 hours out of the One X with a full charge. If I was out of the office and using email and Twitter a lot, that number decreased dratically to around 6-8.
As it’s been available since May, I’m a bit late with this review of the One X. But I found it important that I try it out and I’m glad I did as the design and speed of this device is substantial enough that it be considered a new standard for future Android handsets to aspire to. As the Android app selection continues to improve and device like the One X begin to consistently fulfill the need of a good camera, great display and fast spec, it’s going to be harder and harder for Apple fans to continue arguing the iPhone is the only well-designed “quality” device.
Samsung recently released its Galaxy S III. A lot of people have been waiting a long time on that device and, like the One X, it has received a lot of positive reviews. I’m using the S III now for a review next week and it may prove to be the best Android handset I’ve used. But right now that title belongs firmly in the hands of HTC and the One X. It’s just a very solid, very quick device that’s a joy to use.