It’s almost a year since HTC overtook Nokia in terms of market value. Admittedly, Nokia was in an almightily pickle at the time but hey, it’s not bad for a company that, 15 years ago, was churning out generic PDAs under the dated guise of ‘High Tech Computer Corp’.
Fast-forward to 2012. HTC co-founder Cher Wang and her husband are worth $6.8billion. The company has enjoyed success with a string of mid-range Android devices tarted up with HTC Sense, Beats audio and slinky unibody designs. But where’s the game-changer? Where’s the must-buy, must-have, smash-hit to propel HTC into the upper echelons of the market? Well, funnily enough, it’s right here. Enter the HTC One X – modestly described as ‘the one phone you’ll need’ by HTC. It certainly has the bells and whistles: a large 4.7 inch touchscreen, a camera billed as ‘on a par with any compact snapper’, Android’s zippy new Ice Cream Sandwich OS and an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core chip, ready to take on the iPhone 4S with ease. As the name suggests, the ‘One X’ is something of a response to the confusion brought about by HTC’s insatiable appetite for near-identical mid-range devices. At one point last year, they were multiplying like rabbits. It’s good to see the Taiwanese company focus its considerable energy on creating a potentially world-beating rival to Samsung’s next high-end Galaxy phone.
The first thing you’ll notice when picking up the One X is that HTC has followed Nokia and encased its flagship in polycarbonate rather than aluminium. So it’s ultra-light (another 10g lighter than the Nokia Lumia 800) and has a rather futuristic, Tron-like feel to it. There’s no nasty snap-off battery cover either as the battery’s built in. On the other hand, there’s a bit of flex in the back of the case and it seems to scratch quite easily, though we found said scratches rubbed out easily too. Overall, it’s not quite the premium feel of an iPhone 4. On the top of the phone there’s a small cover for the microSIM and a microUSB socket to the left. On the back, there’s a drilled-out speaker grill and four mysterious tiny dots – connections for a in-car dock through which you can stream internet radio.
Larger screens are now de rigueur for modern smartphones, so it’s no surprise that HTC has equipped the One X with a mighty 4.7-inch, 720p HD LCD display. It’s impressively bright in all lighting conditions and the viewing angle is near perfect. Although it’s LCD rather than AMOLED, there’s no gap between the display itself and the clear Gorilla Glass screen so responsiveness is not an issue. Combine all that with processing muscle and Google’s cleaner, smoother Android 4.0 OS (basically, it’s a lot more like Apple’s iOS) and you have a sophisticated and stable user experience. We tried – and failed – to trip it up by simultaneously booting apps. Quad-core means twice as many cores ‘doing the math’ – it’s a bit like one of last year’s smartphone’s has a drunk a lot of Red Bull. Of course, it needs more battery power to do this, though we could still get a day’s use by optimising the settings and staying away from movies. The incredibly high screen resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels means the HTC One X has one of the top displays on which to enjoy HD content. Below the screen are three ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ softkeys: back, home and task manager. You can swipe away notifications more easily, the dock can be customised and, to save battery life, Wi-Fi usage can optimised – it turns itself off when no network is available.
When designing the One X’s camera, HTC started with a blank piece of paper. It really shows. The 8 megapixel camera on the rear autofocuses in 0.2-seconds and snaps the shot 0.7-seconds after waking from sleep mode. We were impressed with the near-perfect functionality, too. It apes a camcorder, with dedicated (virtual) buttons for video and stills. There’s no more frantic switching back and forth between modes. It’s also great in low-light, thanks to its f2.0 lens, which lets in 44% more light than the f2.4 lens used in last year’s high-end smartphones. To prevent over-exposure, the software gauges how far away the subject is and sets the strength of the LED flash accordingly. What’s more, you can snap a 5 megapixel photo whilst simultaneously recording HD video. We can’t praise the experience enough. It’s ultra-smooth and when you snap a pic, it doesn’t ‘freeze-frame’ or get bogged down. The camera is fast, too – you can take up to 20 photos with one press. It’s all very well Nokia making a 42 megapixel camera phone, but we’d prefer HTC’s level of functionality.
Without an expandable microSD card slot, where can you save videos and stills beyoned the 32GB internal memory? HTC has expanded its partnership with cloud storage app Dropbox, integrating it into its Sense 4.0 software. So all customers get 25GB of Dropbox cloud storage for two years – enough for about 10,000 photos. Of course, this assumes you have an internet connection and the data package to make it work for you. A free Dropbox account on Android devices offers just 2GB by comparison.
A key USP of the HTC One X is the familiar Beats audio technology. The sound quality is vibrant, but not really audiophile quality. Watch, HTC’s music and movies download store is bog-standard and has not covered itself in glory. But credit to HTC for recognising that perhaps it’s better to integrate with more popular services such as iTunes and streaming apps than juice its customers via a lacklustre download store of its own. To that end, it’s pretty easy to sync the phone with your iTunes music library. And it can grab freshly-downloaded tracks wirelessly so you don’t have to faff with software. Even better is what you can do with your media via MediaLink HD. Swipe up and it mirrors your phone screen on any HDTV via a HDMI cable. You can show videos, run Powerpoint presentations and even share DRM content from Watch. What’s more, you can continue to use your phone as normal – the movie plays in the background. All in all, the HTC does live up to the HTC promises and it’s by far the best phone they’ve made; a joy to use with some game-changing features sure to be imitated by rivals. We also commend their attitude, which is essentially ‘give the user the freedom to choose what music streaming and download software they prefer and let the hardware and OS do the talking’. It’s an excellent Android phone and Samsung should finally be afraid…
The One X is a trail-blazing Android smartphone. It feels futuristic and has a game-changing camera. If Samsung doesn’t get the Galaxy S3 right, this could become the heir to the S2’s throne.
WHAT MOBILE TEST VERDICT: 5/5 – Editor’s Choice