HTC is bringing its A-game in a big way. The One S was good, but the screen and radio were weak links. The One X aims to fix that. It brings a bigger, more beautiful screen, and LTE connectivity. It's beautifully designed. But is it enough to eclipse the best Android phones—or even the iPhone?
Why It Matters
The One X is the flagship of the new HTC One line. The company went for broke on this one. It has a 4.7-inch screen, Qualcomm's newest 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, and it runs Android 4.0 with HTC Sense 4.0. It's on AT&T's superfast 4G LTE network. And the materials, physically, look and feel cool and futuristic. Seriously, this thing is gorgeous.
The first thing you'll notice is the screen. By the beard of Zeus, the screen. The 4.7-inch Super LCD2 is simply the best screen on a mobile device. Ever. Yes, at 312 pixels per inch (PPI) it doesn't quite reach the iPhone 4S's 326ppi, but it more than makes up for those 14 missing pixels (which you won't see anyway). It's bright enough to be clearly visible at high noon, colors are rich and accurate, and the pixels are all but invisible. Plus, the viewing angle is just insane on this thing. It looks like it's printed on a glossy magazine page. It's awesome.
The form-factor is excellent. It's different from the cold, hard aluminum of the One S, but the machined polycarbonate unibody on the One X feels plenty strong. Plus, it's a freaking machined polycarbonate unibody—it feels like the future. There is a nice, brushed feel to its blend of soft curves and sharp lines. The camera juts out of the back a little, but because of the phone's subtle curve it sits perfectly flat on a table. Just superb attention to detail here. On top of that, it's very thin (.35 inches) and very light (4.55 ounces). The screen is a bit big for small hands, though.
In general Ice Cream Sandwich with HTC's Sense 4.0 is a very smooth and quick experience. As stated in the One S review, it's both an improvement and a step back compared to stock Android. It has Beats by Dre audio, which gives a little bass boost, but it's not particularly remarkable. The One X's camera has all but non-existent shutter-lag and it captures very good photos. The HDR mode is pretty good. The panoramic mode is very good. It holds its own against the iPhone 4S, though the HTC's video quality is definitely not as good.
The screen and the design are amazing. You will want to rub it on your face.
The radio on this phone has superpowers. In NYC, it hit speeds up to 33.7Mbps download and 19.2Mbps upload. It's got an NFC chip (unlike the One S), which will be good if the mobile payment revolution materializes.
Battery life is excellent. Despite abusive usage (tons of gaming, web surfing over LTE, shooting a gajillion photos and videos, and lots of emailing, texting, and calling) it always made it though the day. Really impressive, considering how big and bright the screen is.
Call quality was very good, though not as good as Sprint's HD Voice, rolling out later this year. Sense 4.0 actually makes some improvements over stock Android, in the lock-screen, multitasking, and the camera software. Over all, the phone just provides a great user experience. It's nice for reading and games. It's nice-looking. It's just nice.
The U.S. version of the One X has the exact same dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor as the One S (the Euro version of the One X has the quad-core Tegra 3). Despite that, the One X is actually not as fast as the One S, which has fewer pixels to drive on its 4.3-inch qHD screen. You might prefer the dope screen over the speed, but it's an unfortunate tradeoff.
There is no camera button. Really? The upcoming HTC Evo 4G LTE on Sprint (which is almost a twin of the One X) has a camera button. Why the awesome camera with no camera button? There's no expandable storage, so you're limited to the 16GB.
Some elements of HTC Sense 4.0 are not as good as the Ice Cream Sandwich OS. The worst tweak is the keyboard—it's buggy, and generally not pleasant to use. With SwiftKey X, or another replacement keyboard, the phone becomes much more usable. The calendar app is another example. There's no weekly view, and the monthly view shows you no information at all. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That said, this is by far the most usable incarnation of HTC Sense.
Last, despite having NFC, Google Wallet gave an error message, saying it was not yet certified for this device/carrier. Pay for a pack of gum with cash? What is this, 2011?
Should I Buy It?
Totally. The one caveat is that you must like big phones. They're not for everybody, and that's a totally respectable position. If you do like big phones, though, this is easily the best Android phone on AT&T, and very possibly the best Android phone period (the other current contenders are the HTC Evo 4G LTE and the Samsung Galaxy SIII).
You could argue that the HTC One X is better than the iPhone 4S. Yeah, you heard that! The screen is most definitely better, the rest comes down to personal preference. Also, at $200 on contract, this thing is a steal.
(A note on ranking: if this phone is as good as the iPhone 4S, why is it only 4 stars, when the iPhone is 4.5? Because we're adjusting for 2012. In the revised rankings the iPhone 4S would be 4 stars as well. Brave new world.)
UPDATE: After more extensive testing there's something a little weird going on. You'll probably only see this while gaming, but there's a little bit of stuttering that happens. You really notice it in games like Temple Run, where the processor seems to get a little overloaded and it misses a finger-swipe which kills you dead. (I tested it with a Galaxy SII, to make sure it wasn't the game itself, and it didn't have that problem.) There are some other anomalies, too. In Samurai II: Vengeance, when you're in a melee battle with a ton of enemies, sometimes the controls get "stuck" which sends you walking endlessly into a corner until you restart the game. Or sometimes it just misses key strokes.
It's troubling. If we had to hazard a guess as to what's going on, it seems that the new Snapdragon S4 processor may be the culprit. While it doesn't really have this problem with the One S, it has many more pixels to drive on the higher resolution One X and the EVO 4G LTE screens. It seems to strain under the weight of driving those pixels while handling a lot of graphics processing at once. If you don't game of your phone, you'll probably never notice this issue, but the big, beautiful screen just screams to be gamed on, so it's a shame. We're looking into it and will follow up.
OS: Android 4.0
Screen: 4.7-inch Super LCD2
Processor and RAM: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 / 1GB RAM
Storage: 16GB (no SD slot)
Camera: Back: 8MP, Front: 1.3MP
Weight: 4.55 ounces
Battery: 1800 mAh Li-Po
Price: $200 w/ 2yr contract
Giz Rank: 4 Stars
Featured music: "Slumber" by Sycamore Drive