Thursday, 3 May 2012

Review: HTC One X LTE (AT&T)

 The march of the HTC One line of devices continues, as AT&T prepares to deliver their next LTE phone. The HTC One X on AT&T is a little different from the HTC One X that was released in the UK not too long ago, swapping out the Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset for the LTE-supporting Snapdragon S4. On the inside we’ve got a pretty different phone now with a new set of expectations to meet, and some big shoes to fill as the flagship HTC device on AT&T.

HTC One X - frontThe HTC One X is a striking array of sharp lines and interesting textures. From the smooth glass surface on the front of the phone to the matte polycarbonate surface on the back with glossy transitions on the edges of the polycarbonate casing, the phone is pleasing to just hold in your hand and run your fingers across. In line with HTC’s more recent designs, the back of the phone is actually slightly larger than the front of the phone, causing the edge of the phone to taper in as it reaches the other side. The microphone jack and the power adapter are the only open holes along the sides of the phone, and each are well placed at the top of the device.

The downside to tapering your sides is the effect on the side buttons. While the volume rocker isn’t particularly hard for me to hit, the power button is far more difficult to hit when holding the phone with one hand. For all of the simple elegance that found its way into the design of the case, the camera slowly climbs out of the back of the phone until I am intentionally overcareful when I set the phone down on the back. When you set the phone down, it is clear that the phone props up the back of the phone. I do not hold out a lot of hope for the survival of the camera lens on this phone, at least without a case.

The AT&T variant of the HTC One X has had the Tegra 3 replaced with the dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4. This decision wasn’t met with rounds of applause, as you can imagine, but the Snapdragon S4 is no slouch. Despite being a dual-core processor, the Snapdragon S4 delivers the same user experience. Benchmarks reveal that the two processors perform on par with each other, and the Nvidia chipset wasn’t able to deliver any better graphics quality in either real world usage or benchmarks. The only way that the Tegra 3 could be considered superior in is the fifth or “companion” core. In theory, the Tegra 3 should deliver longer battery life in inactive situations, for instance when the device is by your bed at night. In normal daily use, however, the UK version and the US version of the One X will perform similarly.

Battery Life

Like every other 4G LTE phone out there, the 1800 mAh battery built into the One X is only barely enough to get you through an 8 hour day. The exchange rate for blazing fast speeds and battery life are still very much at play here. If you are intentionally careful with the device, you’ll get 10 hours of use out of it. Unfortunately, you won’t be packing extra batteries for the One X, since the battery is not removable. If you are connected to WiFi or in what AT&T calls a 4G network, and not an LTE network, you will obviously get far better battery life. Connecting to WiFi will get you about 18 hours of battery life.

Even with LTE on, the One X rests very well, draining very little battery when kept off the charger overnight.


It is not easy to compete in the screen arena right now. Apple’s Retina screen and Samsung’s Super Amoled+ screens are tough acts to follow. The HTC One X screen is a 720 x 1280 Super IPS LCD2 screen, and aside from winning the title of longest name for a screen it certainly gives the competition a run for their money. If it were possible to offer a balance between the intense colors and deep blacks of a Samsung screen and the crystal clarity of the iPhone Retina screen, HTC has got it nailed. Colors show up great, but not overpowering, while text is easy to read even at a distance. The 4.7-inch screen is great for watching videos as well, giving you plenty of screen real estate to catch a movie on.
Unfortunately, the LCD screen doesn’t perform quite as well as Samsung screens outdoors. When in direct sunlight, the phone is all but unusable. This is often a problem with LCD displays, since the backlight needed in order for them to compete with the sun would ruin battery life entirely. Even when being used in a car dock, if the sun catches your screen you’ll lose whatever it is you were doing on the screen until the sun goes away.

Of all the smartphone manufacturers out there right now, HTC is clearly focused on making the cameras on their new devices the best. With the One X it shows. The backlit sensor on the HTC One X makes taking any kind of picture incredibly nice, and the marriage of HTC’s software and the Android 4.0 camera software make for a really great photography experience. The One X could easily replace your point-and-shoot for any picture that didn’t require an optical zoom. The camera app was designed for quick photos, and comes with plenty of settings to make your pictures even better. The camera app even does a great job with HDR shots.

When not taking pictures, the camcorder function has grown a few new settings as well. You can record something in slow motion, or take pictures while you record video, and everything happens in a snap with the zero shutter time capabilities of the camera. No other smartphone right now is able to do what HTC is doing with their cameras right now, and that will continue to give them a very serious edge moving forward.


 HTC and AT&T

Like all of the HTC One devices, the X is running HTC Sense 4 which is based on Android 4.0. HTC has kept the AT&T version of the OS fairly similar to the rest of the One line, but there are some subtle differences. AT&T’s suite of Android apps, such as the barcode scanner, Navigation, and AT&T U-Verse TV. Curiously, in exchange for that AT&T apps, some of the HTC embedded apps are missing. For example, one of my favorite HTC apps is the flashlight app which allows me to use the camera flash as a small flashlight. The App is nowhere to be seen on the phone, and is very clearly on the HTC One S we recently reviewed. Even the UK version of the One X has the flashlight app.

Another oddity of the software on the HTC One X is the functionality of the NFC chip on the device. When you turn NFC on, you are able to use NFC tags, and any third party app you install has the ability to write to NFC tags, but for some reason the device is not supported by Google Wallet. When you search for Wallet in the Play Store, you are allowed to install it, but when Wallet activates you are prompted with a warning that your carrier or manufacturer are not currently supported. There’s no further information available from Google, HTC, or AT&T at the moment on whether or not this will become available in the future.

Final Thoughts

The One X is a big phone. Most people will want to use two hands when handling it, as its size exists between the Galaxy Nexus and the Galaxy Note. The Galaxy Nexus is just barely comfortable in my hand, and the power button placement on the Nexus has a lot to do with that. You basically have to choke up on the phone when you want to use the power button, or use your other hand to turn the phone on and off.

If you can get past the fact that you will probably need two hands for this phone, the One X is a pretty great phone. The phone absolutely ties the Galaxy Note for the title of best Android phone on AT&T right now, but doesn’t jump out as being the best hands down. Hopefully AT&T and Google will get Wallet on the phone shortly, and I wouldn’t be caught without a case to protect that camera, but there’s no denying that the HTC One X is a very fast, very powerful handset.

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