Review of the HTC One X (LTE)


There are actually two completely different versions of the HTC One X released at the same time. They carry the same name and they look more-or-less identical, but their guts are quite different. One is a quad-core Tegra-3 device that supports HSPA+, but not LTE. The second, which is the subject of this review, uses a Qualcomm dual-core processor and supports LTE.

Last Updated: 01-May-2012

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

Iíve learned my lesson from my previous experience with the Sony Xperia S and I made sure I had a SIM for this one. The One X uses a Micro-SIM, as will many newer phones as time goes on. For that reason I bought a Micro-SIM and an adapter so that I could use it in my Galaxy S2 LTE and in any new phones that needed a Micro-SIM. As it turned out however, the phone I borrowed from Howard Chui came with a demo line SIM, but it was just as well Iíd gone to the trouble of getting my own Micro-SIM for future reviews.

Also see Howard Chui's review of the One X at Howard Forums.

Audio

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, an how to interpret it.

Overall the sound quality during incoming calls is quite pleasant, but not especially stellar. The phone seems to exhibit more background noise and harmonic distortion than the direct competition over at Samsung. The tonal quality is a bit on the tinny side with a certain degree of harshness that is quite evident in some male voices in particular.

The volume of incoming calls however is very good, and is louder than my Samsung Galaxy S II LTE by a notch or two. The volume is more than adequate to make up for faint callers, or for using the phone in a noisy environment.

The quality of your voice is about average, but like many phones that attempt to mask background noise using dual microphones it introduces some very odd-sounding damage to your voice to achieve its goal.

The speaker in a smartphone serves multiple purposes. It can be used during a phone call to turn the device into a speakerphone, it plays the audio for various multimedia applications, and it provides the phoneís ringer. In the case of the One X, the speaker has a fairly nice tonal quality, though itís still far from the tinny end of the spectrum. Maximum volume is a bit disappointing, ranking well below that of my S2 LTE. As always, the maximum volume of a speaker directly affects the maximum volume of the ringer, and so the One X rates only average when it comes to the audibility of ringtones when the phone is used in a noisy environment.

The One X includes a tie-in with headset manufactured by Monster (under the names Beats Audio). This means the phone includes a pre-configured audio equalizer that is custom-designed for specific models of Beats headsets. I donít own a Beats headset, and so I canít comment on how well it works with one. They do offer a setting for any other headset, but the effect is not particularly pleasing. For the most part it just makes the music sound boomy.

I donít know which audio chipset the phone uses, but itís certainly better than the Yamaha chip in the recent Samsung Galaxy S offerings or than the Texas Instruments chip in the Galaxy Nexus. I compared it to an X-Fi Xtreme sound card in my desktop computer (using identical MP3 files) and it came out sounding very close to this one.

Display

Without a doubt, the screen on the One X (or more specifically on the dual-core version) is probably the best out there. It measures 4.7 inches diagonally and sports a resolution of 1280 x 720. This resolution is no longer anything special, as a number of phones support it, including the Galaxy Nexus and Sony Xperia S, both of which I have reviewed. Like the Sony it used an LCD display, but in terms of quality it blows the Sony completely out of the game.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the display (seeing as itís an LCD type and not an AMOLED type) is that it doesnít matter what angle you view the screen, the colors and contrast remain consistent. Because of this youíd swear that it was an AMOLED display, but itís not. I had a chance to quickly compare this to the quad-core version of One X and that phoneís screen suffers from fading and contrast issues as the viewing angle is increased, suggesting that HTC does not use the same screen technology on the both versions of the phone.

Itís really bright, so you wonít have any trouble seeing it in directly sunlight. Like the Sony Xperia S it is noticeably brighter than the Super AMOLED Plus display of the S2 LTE.

Curiously, one of the complaints concerning Samsungís Super AMOLED displays is that they look over-saturated. If thatís your opinion however, then you may find the display on the One X a bit of a shock, because it over-saturates the colors even more. This makes pictures ďpopĒ, but if you compare them to the real colors of the objects in the photographs they donít look especially natural. Grass in particular looks lime green, rather than the darker green that it actually is.

To power its graphics, the One X uses the Adreno 225 GPU, which is a step up from the Adreno 220 in the S2 LTE. However, the One X has 2.4 times more pixels to manipulate than the S2 LTE and the extra performance of the 225 over the 220 just about makes up for this. You can see it in the GLBenchmark test results, in which the One X scores approximately the same number of frames-per-second on the tests as the S2 LTE.

The Sony Xperia S, which I recently reviewed, uses the Adreno 220 on a display thatís 1280 x 720 and it suffers accordingly. As I noted in the review of the Sony, they cheat in some places by limiting the number of colors displayed. The One X doesnít need to stoop to this, and so it always used full 32-bit color. See my review of the Sony Xperia S to find out what kind of trouble limiting the colors can generate.

So the over-saturated colors aside, the display on the One X is about as gorgeous as youíre going to get in the current crop of smartphones (circa May 2012). Itís big, bright, super-sharp, and everything looks so wonderful on it. Without a doubt this is one the biggest selling points of this model.

Processor and Chipset

The LTE version of the One X (as sold by Rogers here in Canada) comes with the Qualcomm MSM8960 dual-core process clocked at 1.5 GHz. This particular processor is a Snapdragon S4 chip, whereas the MSM8260 in the S2 LTE is a Snapdragon S3. Now Iíve read a number of reviews by perfectly sane people who seem to think that S4 is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I canít say Iíve seen any evidence to back up these claims.

In various synthetic benchmark tests the One X doesnít seem to fair any better than the S2 LTE, and in particular the Antutu results were better on the S2 LTE than on the One X. The scores were fairly close (6498 on my S2 LTE and 6210 on the One X). A quick analysis of the breakdown in the scores shows that the LTE S2 got markedly better scores on integer math, 2D graphics, and RAM. Whereas the One X picked up a win was in the access speeds for the internal Flash memory. The One X got better scores (albeit only slightly) on database access and floating point math.

But synthetic benchmarks donít always tell the true story, and so I ran countless apps on both phones to look for smoother or faster operation on the One X vs the S2 LTE. In some situations I MIGHT have seen SLIGHTLY smooth performance from the One X, but I had to stare might hard to see it and the differences were so small that they werenít really significant (same as the slight differences in benchmark numbers).

Now interestingly the One X runs Ice Cream Sandwich, while my S2 LTE only runs Gingerbread. If youíve read any of the fanboy stuff concerning ICS youíd think that it alone would result in a buttery-smooth phone compared to one running Gingerbread. If that were the case I should have seen a huge improvement in the smoothness of the One X simply because it ran ICS, but I didnít. I also talked with a friend who owns both a Galaxy Nexus and the dual-core One X and he admits that his Nexus seems slightly smoother than the One X.

The bottom line is that come the end of the day the slight differences in performance between the One X and other dual-core phones on the market today are mostly imaginary. That doesnít mean that the One X isnít a fantastic performer, but at the same time it canít walk on water and it puts its pants on one leg at a time just like other smartphones (okay, thatís a weird analogy).

As for RAM, the One X comes with 1 GB, just like virtually every other high-end smartphone on the market. It has been adequately demonstrated that 1 GB is an excellent amount of RAM for an Android phone. Any more would be virtually pointless, and any less would begin to cause performance issues. When it comes to Flash storage however, the One X may be a bit disappointing to some. It comes with 16 GB of build-in Flash, but thatís it. There is no MicroSD slot, and so the memory cannot be expanded. Oddly the quad-core version, which also doesnít have a MicroSD slot, comes with 32 GB.

Data Speeds

The One X supports LTE, and so if you have LTE in your neck of the woods youíre in for a treat. The newest generation of LTE support (courtesy of the Qualcomm MSM8960) provides a number of clearly demonstrable benefits over the chipset in the S2 LTE. One of them appears to be an astounding increase in upload speed.

The fastest upload speed Iíve clocked with the S2 LTE is 19.5 Mbps, though on average it tends to be more around 11 Mbps. On the One X however, I usually saw at least TWICE the speed during any given test and I observed many upload tests that were in the 25 to 30 Mbps range.

Download speeds on the other hand were a rather puzzling mixed bag. Whenever I was quite close to a site (and thus the LTE signal was super-strong and super-clean) I would always get slightly better speeds from the S2 LTE than from the One X (to the tune of 5 to 10 percent). However, as the signal became weaker the One X would manage to provide speeds that were usually 10 to 20 percent better than the S2 LTE (sometimes even more if the conditions were right).

Ping times were fairly similar on both phones, regardless of the conditions. HSPA+ transfer rates and ping times were pretty much the same on both phones (under all conditions).

However, if there is a fly in the ointment, it came in the form a rather nasty issue that I experienced frequently with my test phone. I have no way to know for certain if this is a flaw in the phone I tested, or a bug in all One Xs, but my guess is that itís a universal issue. About once every hour or so Iíd loose data connectivity, even though the status bar continued to show that I had an active LTE or WiFi connection.

Most often the problem would occur while I was doing the upload portion of a speed test, though it also occurred a couple of times during a talk session on Zello. The data flow would suddenly stop and I couldnít do anything with the phone that required an internet connection. Background apps that maintained a connection to a server would suddenly report a loss of connection and it would stay this way for 20 or 30 seconds, at which time everything mysteriously went back to normal.

The fact that it occurs on WiFi as well as LTE suggests that itís an issue with the TCP/IP stack somewhere above the transport layer. Iíve never seen this happen on a phone before, including the Galaxy Nexus, which also uses Ice Cream Sandwich.

GPS

Like the Sony Xperia S, I tested the accuracy of the GPS chip by installing SportsTracker Pro on the One X and I used it to track a bike ride (as I do all the time with my S2 LTE). When I played back the track of the ride it initially looked good, but then things went bad quickly. The overall accuracy was at least as poor as the Xperia S, and buildings had a much more profound affect on the positioning than in the S2 LTE (or even with my old Captivate). It often suffered from long-running offset errors of as much as 5 to 8 meters off of the true course.

For use in car navigation it is questionable whether the inaccuracy of the GPS will be of much concern, but if you use your phone to track your rides, runs, or other fitness stuff you will find the accuracy of the One X rather disappointing.

Camera

Spec-wise the camera on the One X is extremely close to the camera on the S2 LTE. They both shoot 8 megapixel stills and can take 1080p 30-frame-per-second video. The quality of their still images is very close. In fact, it comes down to a similar situation as we have with the processor performance. You can find differences if you look hard, with some aspects being better on the One X and others being better on the S2 LTE. The bottom line is that neither phone wins hands down

When it comes to videos that same is true, though in one respect the One X does win out over the S2 LTE, while in another the S2 LTE wins out over the One X. The S2 LTE (when shooting in 1080p only) uses only the center portion of the sensor and looks ďzoomedĒ, while the One X uses the entire sensor so that the shots do not look zoomed. Oddly the S2 LTE uses the full sensor for 720p videos, but nonetheless a win for the One X. However, the auto-focus on the One X is hideous in video mode. In fast pans the camera will lose the focus, and then it takes an agonizingly long time to recover, leaving you with out-of-focus subjects. The S2 LTE has been criticized for the auto-focus on its videos, but itís nowhere near as bad as this, and so we have a clear win for the S2 LTE.

Both phones shoot great-looking stills and take pretty good videos (for the most part). However, neither of them can hold a candle to a video from a dedicated camera or camcorder, so donít expect to replace yours with either phone.

The One X does benefit from running ICS, which means it snaps photographs very quickly. Unfortunately this can sometimes result in poor focus (as has been pointed by others in reviews of the Galaxy Nexus).

Conclusions

While the One X is certainly NOT the greatest thing since sliced bread, itís a fairly serious competitor to the high-end Samsung models, which is exactly what HTC needs at this point. It has an exceptional screen, great multimedia audio, terrifically fast LTE speeds, and a pretty good camera. Beyond that however, nothing about the phone really stands out. If the Snapdragon S4 really is faster or more power-efficient than the Snapdragon S3 (used in the S2 LTE), then I certainly couldnít detect it in real-world situations. Contrary to other reviewers, the phone IS NOT noticeably faster or smoother than the Galaxy Nexus (which also runs Ice Cream Sandwich), nor than the Galaxy S2 LTE (which still runs Gingerbread at the time of this writing, on a Snapdragon S3 processor).

Thereís no question that this is a worthy high-end phone and if you happen to be a big supporter of HTC then youíre going to be extremely happy with this offering. I canít comment on whether the quad-core Tegra 3 version of this phone would be any better (except perhaps as a gaming device), but I did get a chance to play with the quad-core version for a short period of time and I couldnít find any evidence to suggest it was any faster than the dual-core version reviewed here.

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