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Tuesday, 01 May 2012 10:16

HTC One X put to the test, with 1.28 software

Written by Fuad Abazovic

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Review: One X to rule them all...


We have a confession to make. We got an HTC One X sample on launch day and, just like any other HTC One X that hit retail, it shipped with 1.26 software. We learned that 1.27 was a reviewers’ version of the software and that 1.2x will come to address bugs known from reviews and forums. We were asked to wait for new software and as of a few days ago, 1.28.401.9 was available as a 30MB update. You might wonder what’s the big deal, after all it is just a software update, but it has fixed some performance issues and extended battery life, as you will see in our review. First things first though - let’s talk about the phone and specs.
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We were lucky enough to get the white version of the phone as it looks a tad more appealing to us. There is a black version of the phone and while it also looks great, we prefer the white one. Of course, this is a matter of a taste - you won’t go wrong with either. The retail package is appealing and the One X comes in hard cardboard package and a paper wrap that tells you some basic information.

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Inside you will find a charger (UK version in our case) with USB cable and headset, all in white. The headset is going to let you answer or finish you calls or control the music player. It is a decent quality headset, but it is by no means spectacular. The surprising part is that you can hear that difference when playing a music via Beats, but having some music background and even spending some time in a semi-professional music studio, it feels like beats is a well balanced equalizer. To an average Joe’s ear, it will make a difference. Although many will view it as a gimmick, it makes a difference. However, spending $300 million for a part of Beats was questionable to say the least. The bottom line is that once you turn beats on or off you will hear the difference, but only via 3.5mm plug as the internal speaker doesn’t support it, which we find odd.

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The phone boasts an incredibly good 4.7-inch screen in 720p, powered by Super LCD 2 panel. There is none of that pentile nonsense, the display boasts 316ppi pixel density and the first impression is that it creates a wow effect, similar to the iPhone 4 Retina screen a couple of years back. Retina is still great, but at 4.7 inches and really nice brightness even some iPhone lovers we have around us have admitted the HTX One X just looks better. The screen is vastly superior to the Super AMOLED display used in the HTC One S and frankly it is surprising how much better the One X looks.

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For some reason HTC doesn’t advertise it, but the phone is protected with Gorilla glass that might prevent some scratches as plenty of people are careless and tend to drop their phones every now and then. As we’ve come to expect from HTC, build quality is second to none. Although some users might prefer metal or ceramics, the polycarbonate finish is really impressive. It helps keep the weight down, but at the same time it does not feel plasticky. To the contrary, the One X feels like a very robust piece of kit indeed.

The phone feels good in the hand and it’s definitely not too thick, although it is a bit chunkier than the One S. However, the 4.7-inch screen results in a quite big phone, but the white color and the lavish polycarbonate body feel nice. Although many consumers are accustomed to metal in high end designs, the One S doesn’t feel cheap, not even close. 

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Let’s talk numbers. The One X features a quad-core Tegra 3 processor (4 plus 1), it measures 134.4 x 69.9 x 8.9mm, or 5.29 x 2.75 x 0.35 inches and it weighs in at 130 grams or 4.59 oz. We already mentioned the 4.7-inch 1280x720 312ppi SLCD2 display and the 1800mAh battery makes sure the spacious screen and 40nm processor have plenty of juice. It ships with 1GB of DDR2 memory and 32GB of internal storage, along with a great 8-megapixel camera with 1080p video support and f/2.0 lens. NFC support, Bluetooth 4.0, dual band Wifi with 802.11 a/b/n, quad band radios and network speeds up to DC HSPA+ 43Mbits a second are also worth mentioning. Also, let’s add that there is a FM tuner that works when headphones are plugged on and that naturally phone has GPS that looks really fast. Two things that some might miss are lack of a removable battery and lack of microSD slot for expansion.

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HTC has solution for additional storage, as it offers 25GB of free Dropbox storage to anyone who gets this phone and Dropbox offers automatic photo and video uploads for your convenience. Let’s add that 32GB of internal storage are extra fast and it takes less than a second to install a 1 to 2 MB application from the Play store. This is the fastest install that we’ve seen on a phone so far.

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We can easily get stuck in the never ending discussion on screen size. Some may say a 4.7-inch screen is too big for a phone, but we know many people that love their 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, but most people still stick to smaller devices. It is becoming evident that you are either the 4.3 to 4.7 inch form factor is the sweet spot. Some users might want something more compact, while others will go for a 5-inch behemoth, but most users will stick to the middle. You will have to make that choice for yourself, but people with big fingers can definitely type better on 4.3-inch or larger screens. My experience of going from a 4.3-inch to a 4-inch screen was a bit frustrating, but I got used to the 4.7-inch One X in no time.

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As you can see, the One X is not that bigger than the One S, but you will notice the extra bulk.

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The phone comes with Android 4.0.3 and HTC Sense 4.0. As far as we are concerned, Sense makes sense ever since the first version and the latest iteration looks nice, too. We didn’t mind the vanilla Android 4.0 on the Galaxy Nexus, tested here, but for us HTC Sense 4.0 is an improvement over vanilla Android. Once again, it is a matter of taste, some people simply dislike Sense.

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We like the weather widget and ability to unlock to directly to the dialer, mail, messaging or camera, but we miss the feature to optimize the HTC lock. Unlock to browser or unlock to maps sounds like a good idea. It is annoying that you need to unlock HTC sense and then type a password, or pin or pattern, in case you don’t use your face unlock feature. This should merge at some point, would make life easier.
It takes roughly a minute to boot up the phone first time around, but every other boot takes under 10 second, courtesy of HTC’s fast boot feature. This might affect some applications as they might not like to hibernate, but it will also get you a chance to be the first to make a phone call in no time.

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The phone itself has four touch sensitive surfaces (let’s not call them buttons) that can take you back, home or to the task manager. HTC has its own version of Android task manager and its super easy to kill apps that sit in your fast cycle. A simple flick of a finger down or up and the app goes to meet its maker. Just below the task surface is the microphone opening. The top of the screen hides a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera, HTC logo and speaker.

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The right hand side houses the volume rocker, the micro USB 2.0 is on the left, while the top hides the power button, micro SIM slot with small opening and 3.5 mm stereo headset. The back side is dominated by the 8-megapixel f 2/0 camera with flash and we have to say that this is the best phone camera that we had a chance to play with. Pictures can easily match cheap point and shoot cameras and of course there is an LED flash that can help in the dark. One thing is lacking though, a dedicated shutter button would have made it even better.

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The Beats Audio logo is placed just above the speaker that doesn’t actually support it and there is a 5-dot connector that will help you charge your phone in the desktop dock. This definitely sounds like a nice feature and it looks like the cradle will also play sound and sync data automatically, naturally if plugged in a PC.

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Let’s get back to Sense for a second. Android 4.0 definitely reinvents the user interface and makes it more modern and enjoyable, but face unlock, one of the new features, tends to drive us crazy. Even with taking some additional photos of ourselves with headphones on, in different light, it failed to recognize us way too often for everyday use. Once you enable VPN the face unlock feature disappears as its „disabled by administrator, encryption policy or credential storage.“ It sounds like it was disabled by Larry Page and Andy Rubin. This bug is a known android bug that refuses to die. We also found that L2TP VPN also didn’t work at least with provides we used.

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Back to important things, both the stock browser and Google Chrome worked like a charm. Chrome had some issues with 1.26 when it tended to drag the whole Sense into a crash, but this has been fixed in the 1.28 software update. Chrome beta can use an accelerometer to slide the tabs, left and right and this surely looked nice. Some nice features like new incognito tab or show desktop site are great as this phone has better resolution than most netbooks and tablets.

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The sad part is that Chrome Beta doesn’t support Flash as Adobe has stop developing it for new products. Flash users will have to stick with the Android stock browser.

The mail client is nice and we like the fact that it groups the emails in conversation. It works well with multiple accounts too. We had some issues getting used to the Sense 4 keyboard as we would end up hitting the dot instead of space as four our taste, the space should be larger. This is something that you will get used to, but overall it worked well.

Sense 4.0 is super fast. This probably has something to do with the 1.5 GHz processor and we are happy to report that we haven’t experienced any performance issues or stuttering with the new software version. It is fast and it works lit it’s supposed to. We like the fact that pressing and holding the screen will let you place a widget on a screen. Dropping an application on top of it will create a folder but unlike iOS, you will have to name it yourself. Wifi was one of the fastest we’ve seen on a phone, delivering up to 27Mbit a second in speed test apps. The HSDPA on Orange Austria network got us to 7Mbit a second and not more than that. The phone could probably work even faster least the spec claims. This could easily be due the plan or network limitation. 

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This brings us to the camera. The camera is practically the same as on the HTC One S that we tested here and it is nothing short of magnificent. HTC claims it takes just 0.7 seconds to start up we usually had it up and running within a second. We like the fact that you can record 1080p video and take pictures at the same time, this is a first time we saw it on a phone. To make things even better you can take snapshots from pre recoded video. This is all courtesy of ImageSense technology that makes this camera so great.

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You can take up to 99 photots in a burst mode and the phone will present you with a few best ones to save, or you can save them all if you need them. Naturally there are some filters that will make your picture more instagramy or pixlr-o-maticky and they make some decent looking changes to the pictures. They do their job well making you camera shots looking fancier. If you care about phone camera, this is the best one we’ve seen but let me remind you that HTC One S has identical back face camera with a difference that front face is only VGA for the One S. Someone wise once said that the best camera is the one you have on you.

The flash can help you out in the dark, but its range is limited, which goes for every phone camera out there. If you are close enough it will deliver decent results even in dark conditions. We found that the sensor can take decent pictures in relatively dark conditions even without flash. Naturally when you want to take a picture of your significant other dancing in a club, you will be forced to use the flash to cut exposure times and reduce blur.

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A front facing camera is also on board and it does a pretty good job, too.


Performance, Battery Life


Let’s talk about Tegra 3 for a second. Despite its 4-Plus-1 core configuration, or quad-core with companion core in more technical terms, it can get this high-end with big screen to more than 24 hours of continuous use. This of course is only relevant for people who tend to sleep in these 24 hours. During our testing especially with 1.28 software, we could easily get 24 hours or heavy use, a few hours talk, few hours browsing, some gaming before the phone dropped to 20 percent battery.

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With a busy day when you play less with your phone and concentrate more on your work or school you can get a day and a half if not even more. This is the best result we’ve seen on a superphone so far.
The companion core really saves a lot of battery when idling and the phone can last for a few days with minimal use.

The main battery killers are benchmarks, as they create unlikely scenarios and run the processor at high clocks creating a huge power and heat drain. The phone gets noticeably hot in demanding games and some benchmarks. Half an hour benchmarking can drain 20+ percent of your battery which is unlikely to happen with any normal application. GPS navigation is also power hungry and it will eat trough you battery within hours, especially if the screen is on all the time, and it usually will be.

Running a video or just having the screen on will burn the battery in a matter of hours, 6 to 7 is what we've seen, but in gps car mode, you better get a car charger.
The best answer on battery life is it will get you between 15 and 30 hours depending on your habits. In very heavy use of the I-am-bored-and-all-I-have-is-this-phone variety, you can burn it in some 6 to 8 hours, which is a great score.

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One clear advantage over the competition is Nvidia’s Tegra Zone. THD games will only run on Tegra hardware and despite the fact that some chimpakers have better graphics than Nvidia on Tegra 3, at least in some cases, THD games run just on Tegra. Nvidia and it’s the way it’s meant to be played program help developers make THD games look a bit better. Shadowgun THD is a good example as the Tegra 3 version looks better than vanilla. You get water and some water effect in Raptide GP you get water splashing effects and motion blur.

Sprinkle also looks better on Tegra hardware and knowing Nvidia they will keep trying to differentiate itself from the rest of the market making the THD sticker meaning a better looking game. Since 4.7 Super LCD 2 1280x720 screen is great match for some nice gaming, this is definitely a big advantage that Nvidia has over Qualcomm S4 and HTC One S, Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy Note or Sony Xperia S phones. All these phones are great but won’t run THD games. If you are gamer THD might be a thing to win you over.

We played Zen Pinball THD, another good looking game, Dungeon Defenders and we saw that Demolition Inc sounds a super fun game. Gamers will benefit from Tegra 3, as Nvidia is to only to have special games optimized for its hardware and make games looks better.

Now for some figures. To be honest it took us a while to get up to speed when it comes to benchmarking phones. Even developers seem to be struggling to keep up with the pace of development, as mobile chip designs are advancing much faster than more traditional x86 or GPU architectures. All of a sudden we are talking about single-thread optimize apps that don’t like many cores, vendor optimized apps, and no realtime demo game benchmarks. 

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We decided to pick a few benches and you can clearly see that the 1.28 update makes a big difference. In Quadrant it doesn’t score that much better but it very close the One S, based on Qualcomm’s latest S4 8260A 28nm chip. In Antutu the new software delivers a 15 percent boost from 1.26 and clearly leaves S4 in the dust. Nenamark gets Tegra 3 to 58.8 leaving S4 slighly faster while GL benchmark scores in offscrene mode gives Tegra 3 a clear lead.

In most tests Tegra 3 ends up somewhat faster than the S4 and it has a clear lead in browser tests. The big problem is that it is hard to notice a 10 percent difference in loading websites.

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CF benchmark and AndEbenchmark leave S4 in the dust as they are multithread optimized and Tegra has twice the number of cores. Bear in mind that Samsung’s upcoming Exynos 4412 should also do well in these tests. Overall, with the 1.28 update Tegra 3 ends up a bit faster in most tests than the S4, which was not the case with 1.26 original One X software release. Frankly we were a bit surprised to see a seemingly minor software update make such a difference and we can only wonder whether future updates will also boost S4 performance.

Conclusion

The HTC One X is fast, super responsive, well designed and has a significantly better screen than the One S, and for us that is enough to win the battle.
It feels comfortable for browsing, gaming, be it Shadowgun or Angry Birds, and video on YouTube HD will look great. Sound quality is also good and music freaks will appreciate the 32GB of storage.

Compared to Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy Note, this phone rocks a vastly superior camera that can take very good videos and photos. It even beats Sony’s Xperia S and its 12–megapixel snapper.

Some might not like lack of microSD or removable battery but we guess 32GB should be sufficient for most and battery with 24+ hours should again be enough for most. The starting price of €599 feels to steep but HTC enjoys the primacy with a great phone with great performance, battery life and the best camera and want to cash it out.

Bear in mind that many mobile provides in Europe will charge you anywhere from zero euro for a two-year contract to €100 or more with some other providers, depending on country. Getting this phone for €100 or even €200 doesn’t sound like a lot, getting it for free on €30 monthly contract (2000 + 2000 mins, 1000 texts and 4GB data) sounds like a great deal.

If you are after a spacious screen, superb performance, gaming prowess, great battery life, you will not go wrong with the One X. Basically what we are looking at is the best high-end Android phone to date. It easily brushes aside the competition, but Samsung’s new Galaxy is coming in a matter of days and it will not have an easy time going up against the One X.

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 May 2012 09:50
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