HTC’s pimped up the unfairly ignored One X for late 2012. Is it second time lucky?
HTC ONE X+
£474 (contracts start at £31p/m)
Reviewer: Philip Brown
The HTC One X+, like its forebear, is in danger of being cruelly overlooked. It’s a shame, as it just might be the best Android phone available right now.
On paper, HTC needed to change little of the One X to stay competitive. The slick, curved design takes care of itself, and the HD screen is best in class: a new version of Android, a tweak to the processor, and you’re golden. That’s all the HTC One X+ offers really. While it remains a superb experience, I do issue a couple of caveats.
Tweaks, rather than revolution
HTC seems to have fallen into a rhythm in the last couple of years: epic new flagship phone in February, minor update seven months later. Maybe slap a letter or a symbol on the end, and give it a new coat of black and red to emphasise the added awesome.
It didn’t work so well last year; faster silicon in the HTC Sensation XE couldn’t correct the original Sensation’s thick and chunky build, letting Samsung steal a march with its Galaxy S series.
No such dangers here: the HTC One X+ is beautiful, although in its new black hue, perhaps handsome is a better way of putting it. Regardless, the dimensions haven’t changed a jot: it’s just 8.9mm thick, and a delight to handle.
It’s like a refined Nokia Lumia Windows Phone: HTC uses very similar tech to create a moulded, unibody shell with the speaker grille drilled into it. In this reviewer’s eyes, its sloping edges and matte finish make its industrial design far superior to what the Finns can muster.
Everything about the striking design points towards the screen: the curves, the thin edges and the extremely thin capacitive strip underneath which houses the Android navigation keys, all point towards the centrepiece.
Which is just as well, because the screen is one thing HTC didn’t need to change: the 4.7-inch S-LCD 2 panel is large but absolutely mesmerising, with superb viewing angles and fantastic colour reproduction, unlike the Samsung Galaxy S3, which tends to over-saturate leaving everything looking like a candy store. Don’t be put off by the size of it – it’s a perfectly manageable phone. Perhaps the power/lock button could have been better placed on the right side, rather than on the top where you’ll have to stretch to reach it.
Power, at a cost to battery life
Most of the real tweaks have been made under the hood. There’s a sharper front facing camera (1.6MP, though you’d struggle to tell, quality wise) and a higher capacity battery (2,100mAh as opposed to 1,800mAh), a quad-core processor now clocked at 1.7GHz (up from 1.5GHz) and a much larger storage boot for all your files: 64GB, like the top of the line iPhone 5.
One tragically absent feature? 4G, which would have allowed this phone to shine away from Wi-Fi. It’s all the more jarring since you can now buy a version of the original One X with 4G (the One XL – see What Mobile’s 4G feature in this issue) on EE’s network. Which sort of speed boost do you want, HTC seems to be asking: on the chip or in the air? It’s a pity we have to choose.
Still, if you’re not fussed about 4G, the One X+ flies. The phone absolutely stormed through the Quadrant Standard benchmark with scores of 7,500, outstripping both the One X and the Galaxy S3. It never misses a beat, and lag is a thing of the past.
The one downside to that extra 200MHz of clock speed is that the extra battery life is expended on it: the One X+ doesn’t run for any longer, which is to say you can easily get through a day of casual use with email sync on – but a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 will go for 12 hours beyond even that.
Android Jellybean in full flight
That speed boost is also in part down to the updated version of Android it runs, 4.1 ‘Jelly Bean’ – one of its key features is faster loading of the home screen, so everything runs smoothly.
But it’s not the only new feature: you can now pinch messages, emails and alerts in the notification tray to expand and read them there and then before swiping them away or diving in to the app. And then there’s Google Now, the voice search app that also does a good stab at predicting what you want, chucking up cards with info it thinks you might need based on your calendar, location and more.
Like Siri on the iPhone, it’s still very much a work in progress, but it’s blindingly fast and if you’re willing to let Google use your data, it’ll slowly start to surprise you with public transport times you need and the like.
Jelly Bean works much like the visually overhauled and easy to use 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”, is a delight to use. HTC’s improved on that too with its own twist on it, “Sense 4+” (which is also due to hit original One X phones before 2013). Three years on, we still love its basic premise: social networking integrated into your contacts. Call someone, and you’ll see their Facebook pic, status update, and even their birthday.
Sense has expanded to become much more than that though. Some of its more recent additions are more superfluous than others: “Beats Audio” processing is nothing more than an EQ setting designed for bass heavy modern pop music. Its movie and TV service, Watch, has been made completely redundant by Google’s own free Play Movies app.
But for every frivolous feature HTC adds in, there’s another killer app. With the One X+, HTC now lets you set up your phone’s homescreen with accounts, shortcuts and apps before you’ve even bought it, by creating an account at htcsense.com: it worked perfectly in our testing, installing them all within seconds of activation.
Now we could point out that Google has now updated Android to version 4.2, but its most important feature – multiple accounts – is for tablets only. Don’t let the “fragmentation” stick people like to beat Android with put you off: this phone is as up to date as it could be in the circumstances.
Camera sharpshooters take note
Then there’s the camera app: while HTC’s 8.0MP sensor can’t quite match the sensors of the iPhone 5 and the Nokia Lumia 920 for quality, its software more than makes up for it. This is the fastest camera app out there: it loads quickly, and you can just hit the shutter button over and over again without ever slowing it down.
Settings are easily accessed from the side, there’s the option to add your own Instagram style filters, and even shoot stills whilst filming video. This time round, too, there’s a sightseeing mode which keeps your camera screen off but in camera mode save for when you need it. It’s a fantastic selling point, if not for a serious photographer, then for a snap happy user who values over convenience over anything else.
Is the One X+ already out of a job?
After already splitting the market between the HTC One XL and the One X+ (not to mentioned you can still buy the original One X in most stores) HTC could be its own worst enemy. It has already unveiled its latest and greatest phone, the HTC J Butterfly in Japan. In the US, it has just released the Droid DNA – a five-inch beast with the world’s first full HD (That’s 1920×1080 resolution) smartphone display.
It’s a potential iPhone killer, and its conspicuous absence in Europe is unlikely to last for long: that’s all the time the One X+ has at the top of the food chain, as good as it is.
+ Stunning display
+ Beautiful design
+ Android 4.1 + HTC Sense works well
+ Expertly designed camera app
– No 4G connection
– Not the thinnest phone on the block
– Does not run Android 4.2
– HTC has new models waiting in the wings
PERFORMANCE 4 Stars
USABILITY 5 Stars
DESIGN 5 Stars
FEATURES 4 Stars
OVERALL 4 Stars
If you’re an Android fan, the HTC One X+ is one of the best smartphones on sale right now. It also feels like a placeholder, that HTC is treading water while it waits for its new high end models. All signs point to this having a short stay at the top.
OS Android 4.1 Jellybean
Screen 4.7-inch S-LCD 2
Processor Quad-core 1.7GHz Nvidia Tegra 3
GPU ULP GeForce
Storage 64GB not expandable
Camera Back 8.0MP, LED flash; Front 1.6MP
Wireless Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and Glonass
Ports Micro USB, HDMI via MHL adaptor
Audio 3.5mm audio