HTC One X Lightning Review: Champion Performance, Cup-Winning Camera, Mid-Table Battery

By Gary Cutlack on at

HTC's quad-core flagship phone for 2012 launches this week, bringing Nvidia's Tegra 3 chipset to mobiles and promising a leaner, meaner version of HTC's Sense user interface. Plus Google's "Ice Cream Sandwich" is onboard as the OS. It would appear to have everything.

 

What Is It?

A big, powerful phone, running Android 4.0.3 with version 4.0 of HTC's familiar Sense user interface laid over the top. The One X's 4.7" display runs at 720×1280 resolution, while the Tegra 3 processor is there to power the experience, and does so extremely well. Plus HTC's very happy with the results produced by its new 8-megapixel camera. And so are we.

 

Who’s It For?

The next upgrade for the army of Android users who came aboard thanks to HTC's great phones of yore, such as the iconic Hero, the groundbreaking and incredibly popular Desire and the many, many slightly different Android models it's released since.

 

Design

The One X still has the recognisable speaker grille we've come to expect from HTC, but it's in a much, much slimmer and lighter body than last year's whopping great Sensation XL. The unibody case is a very clever construction, giving you shiny, polished sides that look like they've been enamelled, then seamlessly curving into a roughed up back that gives the phone a matte backside for grip.

Beneath the sharp and bright 4.7" display sit three capacitive buttons, arranged in the standard modern Android 4.0 formation of Back and Home, with the all-new Recent Apps multitasking button to the right. These buttons are big, sensitive, backlit and easy to hit.

Round the back you get some big changes to HTC's usual way of doing things. The Micro-SIM card slot is hidden behind a tiny door you have to pop out with a little metal tool, plus there's a big fat bump housing the new camera sensor. We've already scratched that a bit after being a little rough with it, and there's not much protection for the glass of the lens, so that may be a worry in the long term.

Also, the battery's sealed within the One X's casing, so there's no option of swapping it. And there's no SD card slot, either, just 32GB of onboard storage, of which about 26GB is free to use.

The display is a joy to touch and is subtly curved around its edges, sinking into the case and making the whole phone feel smooth to the touch and very luxurious. It's quite similar in size and feel to that of the Galaxy Nexus, in fact.

 

Using it

This new HTC Sense interface will still be familiar to anyone who's been near an HTC phone in the last few years. The main visual change is the reworking of the floating dock at the bottom of the display, which is now a more generic rectangle than HTC's previous iconic curved array, offering four quick launch app shortcuts (and folders can be put here, too).

All key Android 4.0 features have survived HTC's Sense coating, with the most obvious being the Recent Apps button. This pops up a vertical list of your recent activity in the unskinned Ice Cream Sandwich software as found on the Galaxy Nexus, but HTC's flipped the orientation here so you get a horizontal list complete with big images of the pages you were last using. Which feels a little roomier and easier to navigate.

There's one slight inconsistency with HTC and Google's implementation of the Menu button, though. Without a specific physical Menu button on the One X, it's left to the apps to decide where to put the Menu option. And if there isn't one specified within the app, you get a full-width software Menu button appearing at the bottom of the display. Which looks a little odd and often has you playing 'Guess the Location of the Menu' each time you open a new app.

That's about it for niggles, though, as the One X is absolutely stunning in general use. The Tegra 3 chipset does the business extraordinarily well, with apps, web pages, Home screens and games all running very well. It feels nippier in action than last year's HTC Sensation, too, with Android generally fast and responsive wherever you are and whatever you're doing. Can't fault the performance.

 

The Best Part

The camera here is absolutely amazing. It opens and focuses virtually instantly, producing bright, sharp, colourful results. Even grassy, leafy, organic parts of the shot are reproduced clearly, while the continuous shooting mode with its 'Best Shot' selection tool, which pops up after you've taken a sequence of images, means you really do get the perfect picture every time.

Plenty of hipster/retro filters are available to play with (plus an HDR option for boosting your shots' intensity) and the camera app itself has a nice, clean layout with everything available though on-screen icons. 1080p video looks good, plus there's a fast shooting option for capturing slow motion footage.

It's the best phone camera out there right now in terms of photo quality and speed of use, no doubt about it, with the lock screen's quick launch option making it super east to access in a hurry, too.

 

Tragic Flaw

You're probably not expecting a quad-core smartphone with a 4.7" screen to have an amazing battery life. This doesn't have an amazing battery life. We struggled to keep it going for a full working day of constant fiddling, so you'll be needing to be a little careful, or start wearing a USB lead around your neck. It's also quite slow to take a charge, meaning you'll return to it after an hour to find it sitting there with only 37 per cent of power onboard.

Which is par for the course on today's monster phones and complaining about it feels a bit like moaning your new Ferrari isn't very fuel economic. But still. We'd rather trade a few millimetres of girth for a little more uptime for future reference, phone makers of the world.

 

This Is Weird

HTC's taken a leaf out of Apple's book for its SIM card slot, which is only accessible by poking a tiny bit of metal into the hole beside it. Obviously this helps keep the bulk down and has allowed HTC to keep its case slim, minimalist and featureless, but it'll be a bit of a pain for those who are constant SIM-swappers, who will leave a trail of straightened-out paperclips behind them.

 

Test Notes

The screen is incredibly bright. So bright that we never had to use the maximum brightness setting, as it's dazzling to the eyes when displaying at full beam. On the lowest setting it's more than usable, even outdoors.

Long-pressing on a Home screen pulls up HTC's version of Android 4.0's app, widget and shortcut installation menu, which is a very attractive and usable way of adding various shortcuts and live widgets to your Home screens. Mini Home screen icons appear above a scrolling list of available apps, then you dump the ones you want where you want them.

The music app's a pretty little thing, which includes its own separate app shortcut section in its front-end that's used to house links to music services you may have installed (or anything else you want there). HTC's pre-loaded the 7digital music shop, the amazingly comprehensive TuneIn Radio internet radio system and the SoundHound track ID tool. SoundHound's ad-supported, though, which ruins the vibe a little.

The interactive lock screen works a little differently to how it did on last year's HTC Sense models. You still get to quickly access four apps from the lock screen by dragging them into the lock circle, but instead of being compiled from a custom menu, these shortcuts now mirror those you have on the main Android dock.

When booting the One X for the first time you're prompted to register or sign in with a Dropbox account, with HTC boosting your online storage to 25GB as a thank you. The idea is you leave the app's 'Camera Upload' toggle switched on, so it automatically dumps all your photos in your Dropbox folder for convenience and use as a back-up. And yes, you can tell it to only do this over a W-Fi connection.

 

Should You Buy It?

Absolutely. The camera's the fastest and best we've seen on a mobile and the screen's very bright, sharp, smooth and responsive, while the Tegra 3 processor's power keeps everything running incredibly smoothly. It has good media playback support (even HD MKV files worked for us), looks smart and more stylish than recent HTC models and is generally fast at running apps and displaying web sites.

It's great all round. And it's hard to imagine any company making a better Android phone than this in 2012.

HTC One X

- Screen: 4.7" 720x1280
- Processor: 1.5GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3
- Storage: 32GB, no SD card support
- Camera: 8-MP rear camera with LED flash, 1.3MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: HSPA/3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DLNA, A-GPS, NFC
- Ports: microUSB (MHL compatible), 3.5mm headphones
- Battery: 1800mAh, non-removable
- Price: £495 off network