What happens when you create an insanely nice device but it never really takes off? If you’re HTC, you try, try again. The HTC One X hit shelves before the Galaxy S3, iPhone 5, and almost every other major flagship phone, and was better than a lot of them, but it’s not always about who’s the best. The One X was quickly forgotten in favor of better advertised, better branded competition, but now it’s back. Doubling down on its One brand, HTC has re-jiggered the inside of the One X to make it more powerful and more competitive. Is it worth your time? Maybe, if you’re on AT&T.
In mid 2012, phones like the HTC One X were huge. It was impossible to fathom standard phone screens getting larger than 4.7-inches, but HTC itself has already upped the ante with the 5-inch Droid DNA and Huawei has created the first 6.1-inch phone. By comparison, the One X+ – which has the exact same design (in black) of the One X – feels conservative and comfortable. At least, to this reviewer’s hands.
The One X+ is a beautifully built, and sturdy, smartphone. Its outward shell is built of a single piece of polycarbonate, now with a grippy black feel to it. Right up there with the Galaxy S3 and Optimus G, this is one of the most comfortable phones to hold and a good example of what HTC is capable of creating when it sets its sights high. The One X+ even has an angled edge to it, which helps you hold onto the larger phone. After all, no one wants to accidentally toss their phone across the street.
Unlike a lot of new phones, HTC has chosen to include haptic, fixed navigation buttons (Back, Home, Recent Apps) on the front of the phone.
Overall, the One X+ is one of the most comfortable phones to hold and with Gorilla Glass and a durable polycarbonate frame, it should hold up to a drop or two. But please, don’t drop it.
Last year, AMOLED screens – a technology heralded by Samsung – were beginning to take over, but this year, LCD is making a comeback, and you’ll find no better LCD screen than the one on the One X and One X+. Though it doesn’t have the silly 1080p resolution new phones have, its 1280 x 720 pixels will do you just fine. Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise. The Super LCD screen on the One X+ is perhaps the clearest screen we’ve seen. It’s gorgeous and gets some relatively deep blacks for an LCD screen.
The One X+ is running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which is an almost unnoticeable upgrade from Android 4.0. What you will notice, if you’re a geek like us, is that the phone runs smoother than the One X. Jelly Bean smooths out some of Android’s roughness.
Of course, what you’re looking at when you turn on the One X+ isn’t exactly Android as Google created it. HTC has stapled its own design on top of it. While it’s showing some age, HTC’s Sense 4+ user interface is still one of the better versions of Android for beginners and moderate users. If you’re someone who needs updates quickly and want to really experience Google’s operating system in a pure way, we recommend you opt for a Nexus device like the Nexus 4.
If you just want your phone to work, there are no major deficiencies with HTC’s Sense UI or Android 4.1. The X+ has a solid operating system.
HTC tries to make things easy on new users by including useful apps like weather, a task manager, and other simple things, but it does go overboard. There are about 40 apps installed on the phone when you buy it, many of which aren’t removable or particularly useful.
You can download extra HTC software from the HTC Hub, though we don’t recommend it. Stick to the Google Play store for now. We also don’t recommend spending money on HTC Watch, a movie service. There are other solutions out there that are not device and manufacturer specific.
Like all new HTC phones, the One X+ has Beats Audio filtering technology built in. Audiophiles may despise this (you can turn it off), but for us regular folk, we like the option and find that Beats improves audio quality at times. The HTC Music app is also much improved. Instead of just playing music, it now acts as a hub for all of your other music apps, like Amazon MP3, Google Music, Pandora, and Spotify. All of them are easily accessible from the music hub. HTC also sells a Car Stereo Clip that makes it easier to stick the phone in your windshield for navigation and music on the go.
The biggest upgrades in the One X+ are in its processing power and storage. HTC has increased the phones processing power and included four times more storage than the One X. The One X+ packs a 1.7GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 64GB of internal memory for files (sorry, no microSD), 1GB of RAM, a 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 pixel Super LCD 2 screen, an 8-megapixel rear camera, and a 1.6-megapixel front camera (a slight upgrade from 1.3MP). And, again, it runs on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, encased in HTC’s Sense 4+ UI. Common features include Bluetooth 4.0, Micro SIM, Micro USB, headphone jack, proximity sensor, digital compass, gyroscope/accelerometer, and Wi-Fi (of course).
For those who like numbers, in the Quadrant benchmark test, the One X+ performed incredibly well, scoring an average of about 5,100, nominally higher than the One X. This puts it on par with most high-end phones on the market.
If there’s “one” thing the One X and S may be known for, it’s their cameras. Using a combination of technologies HTC is dubbing “ImageSense,” the X and S 8-megapixel rear cameras produce superb photos compared to other smartphones, even eclipsing the iPhone 4S in select areas. The X has a fast f/2.0 aperture that supposedly captures about 40 percent more light than other phones, a special imaging chip inside it, a smart flash with five levels of intensity, and HDR (High Dynamic Range), which allows it to take better pictures if there is a bright light behind your subject (if you like sunsets, this is for you).
In our testing, we’ve found the One X+ camera to be fast and accurate. It has a difficult time matching the flexibility of Apple’s iPhone 5 camera, or the 13-megapixel camera on the Optimus G, but in most conditions, HTC holds its own.
One of the most innovative new features of the One series (and now one of the most copied) was the ability to snap photos while recording video. Anytime while recording, you can snap a picture of whatever is going on. It’s fantastic. If you’re watching a video, you can take screenshots of what you’re watching as well.
Outside of video mode, holding the shutter button will let you take a burst of photos as well. The default is set to a limit of 20 burst photos, but you can edge it up to 99 if your feeling particularly nuts. After you’re done shooting a burst, you can pick and choose which pictures are your favorite or save the whole batch. It’s a quirky feature, but may be very useful in some circumstances.
Voice and data
Voice calls are pretty standard on AT&T’s network. We had no trouble hearing or being heard. As always, voice calls sound crappy. No change there.
On AT&T’s 4G LTE network, we’ve experienced a mix of speeds. We’ve been bumped down to 3G several times, but due to AT&T’s branding, 3G HSPA+ speeds are still labeled as “4G” in the top bar. You only know if you are actually on 4G if there’s a little lit up “LTE” under it.
4G labeling aside, some days we’ve been getting about 8-10 megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds and 1Mbps on the upload. Today, however, our speeds are unnaturally low, clocking in at 1,600 down and .6 up. It’s not a great day for AT&T in Manhattan, New York.
We haven’t been impressed with the battery life in the One X+. HTC has upped the battery capacity from 1,800mAh to 2,100mAh, which should put it on par with phones like the Galaxy S3, but it’s not working. The battery life of the One X+ has not impressed us. We’ve had trouble making it through a full day of strenuous use and even sitting completely idle, the battery drained in about 3.5 days. While we hope you aren’t letting your phone sit for days at a time, something inside the X+ is draining its juice quicker than it should. We haven’t had particularly bad service in Manhattan either.
Though the difference isn’t huge, phones like the Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5 impress more on the battery front. We’re guessing anyone reading this review is an AT&T subscriber (this is an AT&T only phone), but if you’re itching for some real battery life, check out the Droid Razr Maxx on Verizon.
The One X+ is just about the best phone on AT&T right now. When it comes to specs, it outshines the competition, and in almost every way, it’s the best value you can get for your $200 (with a two-year contract). The battery life isn’t impressive and the design of HTC’s interface is beginning to show some age, but for anyone shopping, what you need to know is that this is a great phone with as much storage as you’ll find on a $400 iPhone 5.