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HTC One X review

HTC reboots its image, and we're putting the new look to the test

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HTC One X
HTC One X

Batman Begins. The Muppets. James Bond in Casino Royale. What do they have in common? They’re all examples of franchises that got better after a reboot (some will disagree on Casino Royale, but I’m standing my ground). For HTC, that’s exactly what the One series represents: a thorough reboot of the company’s image, philosophy, and hardware. Conservatively speaking, One’s announcement is the most important event in the company’s history since the release of the groundbreaking Evo 4G, and I think you could make the argument that it’s far bigger than that — it’s not just about three interesting new phones, it’s about a new way of doing business. These devices ooze HTC from every nook and cranny: there’s no superfluous, counterproductive meddling in the design process from carriers, no ridiculous names like “Galaxy S II, Epic 4G Touch.”

There were too many cooks in the kitchen, as they say — and with the One X, S, and V, HTC has shooed most of those cooks back into the dining room.

Today, we’re looking at the global version of the One X, arguably the most important of these first three One devices. It’s certainly the most powerful, thanks to a 1.5GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, a 4.7-inch 720p display, an 8-megapixel camera with some aggressive specs, and 32GB of storage. Of course, we’ve learned countless times that all the specs in the world don’t make for a great device — it’s a marriage of hardware, software, and ecosystem. Let’s find out whether HTC’s “reboot” passes the test.

P.S. — Once you're done with the One X review, make sure to read our One S review for the other half of HTC's Ice Cream Sandwich double-header.

Video Review

Video Review


Hardware

Hardware

It can't be overstated what a beautiful device this is
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If a phone were judged by its physical design and materials alone, the One X would've been an instant winner before I ever even turned it on. It can't be overstated what a beautiful device this is: it looks (and feels) as though it's a culmination of everything HTC has learned over the years about the way consumers handle their phones, and it also does a good job of framing the beefy hardware underpinning it. I think that making a phone look "reasonable" becomes progressively harder as the display gets larger, but there's nothing unwieldy or awkward about the One X — it's just a great-looking phone from top to bottom. It's a quantum leap beyond any HTC in recent memory; put it next to something like a Rezound or a Vivid and you get the same feeling as when you put an iPhone 3G next to an iPhone 4.

But let's talk specifics. The One X adopts a curved profile reminiscent of the Galaxy Nexus — hold it sideways and you'll notice how the top and bottom edges very gently curve up. The majority of the case is a seamless matte plastic that feels glossier (that is, more slippery) than it looks, but not enough to raise any particular concern about dropping it. It has a similar appearance to the material that Nokia has started using on its higher-end devices, though HTC's has a little less texture to it. We tested the white version of the phone; it looks absolutely fantastic, but I'm a little worried about staining. The case had a tendency to show and retain dirt very easily. In carrying it around for a day in the back pocket of my jeans, I found that a good deal of blue dye actually transferred to the case from the pants. I couldn't rub it off, though I was able to remove it with a damp cloth. This may be why most white phones are glossy, even when other colors of the same device are matte (the aforementioned Nokias, for instance) — a glossy surface is less likely to pick up grime, and that becomes more important when the color doesn't hide it.


The physical details of this phone are exquisite, and it's clear that HTC's designers fussed over each and every one of them at length. Take the glass covering the display, for instance: it technically has a bezel, but it's black, glossy, contoured, and only about a millimeter thick; in other words, you can't see it unless you're really looking for it. The earpiece and loudspeaker grilles are microscopic — laser drilled, I'm assuming — and are so well-integrated that you can't feel them if you run your finger over them. The camera, which is surrounded by an attractive matte silver ring, is raised just enough so that the loudspeaker picks up a "megaphone effect" when you've got the phone sitting on a table; furthermore, the design prevents the camera lens (which is flush with the top of the ring) from getting scratched this way.

Looking at the sides, you've got an MHL port on the left (which serves both as your Micro USB and HD video out connections) and a volume rocker on the right. The rocker, like virtually every other hardware detail on this phone, is almost perfectly designed: it's exactly the right length and texture, making it easy to detect and operate with your thumb (or index finger, if you're left-handed) while on a call. The primary microphone hole is along the bottom right, while the noise-canceling secondary mic is on the top left next to the 3.5mm headphone jack. The power button is in its usual location for virtually every manufacturer but Samsung, the top right. Notably missing, though, is a dedicated camera key. For whatever reason, this seems to be a losing battle — manufacturers are rarely heeding the call for a proper two-stage shutter release. It's a strange omission, considering how hard HTC is pushing the One series' camera chops.

The top of the phone, of course, is dominated by the 4.7-inch display. The surrounding area — an amalgam of black glass and white plastic — is thin enough so that it doesn't seem wasteful or excessive. One exception might be the hard buttons along the bottom: I don't think most buyers will mind in the least if they're coming from an older Android device, but having used a Galaxy Nexus extensively in the last few months, I've definitely adapted to the soft buttons. To me personally, the thick black bar with three permanently-etched icons on it simply seems like a waste of space (there are also some software concerns related to this, which we'll get into a little later in the review). The least HTC could've done to spice things up is use the neat rotating button tech that it debuted back on the Incredible S.

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There's a notification LED embedded underneath the earpiece grille which is quite bright and easy to make out in any light, but it's not very versatile. In Settings, you can configure it to blink for email, new messages, missed calls, and so on, but all of the notifications are green (except for charging, which is orange). The LED doesn't appear to support pulsing (or "breathing," as Nokia calls it) and it isn't a true RGB light, so it can't be configured to blink any color you want like the Galaxy Nexus can using a utility like Light Flow. In fact, we weren't able to get Light Flow working correctly at all on the One X, even in the HTC-specific "Direct Mode."

And make no mistake, the One X is thin. It's easy to be lulled into believing that it's not, considering that it was announced at the same time as its One S stablemate which clocks in at an outrageously skinny 7.8 millimeters. The fact is, though, the global version of the One X is still a sub-9mm device — 8.9, to be exact (the AT&T version is a little thicker, around 9.1mm). It's perfectly balanced in the hand and never feels remotely chunky (again, all bets are off if you've had a chance to play with the One S). And as with many HTCs in recent memory, the One X features a sculpted shell that makes it look and feel even thinner than it actually is.

Display

Display

This screen flirts with perfection

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The One X's display is, without a hint of hyperbole, the best I've ever seen on a phone. Full stop. Seriously, I'm struggling to find fault with it in any way: it's got a near-perfect 180 degree viewing angle and perhaps the most accurate color reproduction and color temperature available. At 720p, it falls well into "retina" territory where the individual pixels become invisible to the naked eye. It also lacks the infamous pentile subpixel arrangement commonly employed on high-resolution AMOLEDs like that found on the One S, and it runs circles around the Galaxy Nexus's 4.65-inch Super AMOLED for overall quality.

Historically, one of the big reasons manufacturers have chosen AMOLED over LCD is because AMOLED is thinner — it's self-illuminating, so there's no need for an external lighting arrangement. Considering that the One X packs its SLCD into an 8.9mm shell, though, that concern has all but evaporated (compare it to the 720p Rezound, for instance, at a beefy 13.7mm).

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Battery life, reception, and audio

Battery life, reception, and audio

Surprise: Beats Audio is still a gimmick
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BATTERY LIFE

Initially, I thought that battery life was going to be a major concern for this phone. After all, the notion of four Cortex-A9 cores (in the global model, anyway) spinning at up to 1.5GHz paired to a dazzling, bright 4.7-inch display doesn't exactly instill confidence that you're going to make it through a day on a single charge. In fact, I didn't at first — I was getting 6-7 hours with almost no use whatsoever. Fortunately, HTC pushed a software update during our review process that more or less quashed the issue. In my stress test with continuous streaming video at maximum loudspeaker volume and maximum screen brightness while connected to both Wi-Fi and 3G, I got four hours and 22 minutes of usage before the phone turned itself off. In a more reasonable test involving "normal" usage, the One X yielded 13 hours and 38 minutes, including a half hour of continuous Riptide gameplay (which looks amazing on this processor and display, by the way) and well over a dozen benchmark runs of various types. And the AT&T-specific version of the phone with LTE and a dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor fared quite a bit better — see the results later in the review.

That said, the global One X can get very warm if you're pushing the Tegra 3 silicon to its hairy edge. It's never so hot that it's uncomfortable, but it can get quite noticeable right below the camera on the back and in the same area of the display. I'm used to newer mobile devices developing hotspots on the case when you're gaming, but the notion of the display getting noticeably warm as I tapped and swiped is new to me. Devices that stay perfectly cool are a casualty of the processor war, it seems — moving to smaller transistors helps significantly, but it's always counterbalanced by higher performance.

RECEPTION

3G reception was unremarkable for me in my testing throughout Chicago; it was neither particularly good nor particularly bad. A true sign of a reception champion is when a phone can pull down an AT&T signal in my Faraday cage of a condo without connecting to my MicroCell, and the One X — like virtually every phone I've tested — cannot. (That's more of a knock on my condo's design than it is on the One X.) As for Wi-Fi, I didn't have any problems either with reception or speed, but I noticed something that I've also observed on Samsung's Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus: the signal strength indicator tends to run low, even when you're standing just feet away from the router. In other words, don't worry if you're showing just one or two bars — odds are good the connection will work just fine.

In testing the AT&T version of the phone (once again in Chicago), LTE was mostly excellent. Not once did I drop below four out of five bars of LTE service. Speeds varied widely from a minimum of 2.2Mbps down in the business-heavy Loop district in the middle of a weekday to a mind-boggling 30.4Mbps on the weekend, but at no point did it feel slow or unresponsive — even at its "slowest," it was still miles ahead of AT&T's HSPA+ performance here. Ping times ranged from an acceptable 81ms to 120ms.

If I had a complaint, though, it would be AT&T's use of circuit-switched fallback, which shares circuitry between the LTE and HSPA+ radios. The benefit is reduced complexity and improved battery life, but the chief disadvantage is that LTE is automatically disabled whenever you're on a call or the phone rings. In practice, what this meant for me is that my mobile hotspot tethering to my laptop would be unceremoniously interrupted whenever I received a call — and worst yet, the phone frequently wouldn't reengage LTE after the call ended without toggling airplane mode on and back off again to "reboot" the radio. That's particularly bad in Chicago where AT&T's HSPA+ network is next to useless during business hours.

AUDIO

Audio quality on the One X is superb across the board. The earpiece offers clear, loud calls, and the rear-mounted loudspeaker does as well — for whatever reason, HTC's managed to make this placement of the loudspeaker work far better than Samsung did with the Galaxy Nexus, which produces exceptionally quiet, easy-to-muffle sound. Callers reported that I was easy to hear even in significant background noise and wind, a good sign that this phone's dual-mic noise canceling system is really well tuned.

The 3.5mm headphone jack outputs clean, noise-free music — clean enough that I was easily able to pick out the depressingly low bitrate of Rdio's tracks. Of course, the One X carries the Beats Audio branding, as most HTC devices are now expected to (HTC owns 51 percent of Beats, after all). I find it ironic that the One series' tagline is "Amazing Camera, Authentic Sound" when Beats' audio processing is anything but authentic — in fact, if anything, it intentionally diverges from the artist's intentions. Every time I hear music with Beats enabled, it just sounds like bass boost to me, which is a trick we've seen in various forms in portable audio products for at least 30 years.

I'm not saying some users don't appreciate Beats — it definitely makes music more "exciting" sounding — but if you're looking for "authentic" music reproduction, Beats definitely isn't the answer. Personally, I'll be leaving it turned off. And fortunately, it's easily toggled either from Settings or from the notification tray while music is playing. It should also be noted that Sense 4.0 (and Sense 3.6 as found on HTC's Android 4.0 upgrades for older devices) makes Beats processing compatible with any audio app, which is a big improvement; previously, it only worked with HTC's baked-in apps.

Camera

Camera

Does this camera deliver? Yes and no
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Along with audio performance, photographic muscle is the other part of the One series' "Amazing Camera, Authentic Sound" catchphrase. Does the One X deliver? Yes and no.


On the software side, I believe that the One X's camera functionality — ImageSense, as HTC calls it — is the best and easiest use of any Android device on the market. In some ways, it runs circles around the benchmark-setting iPhone 4S as well. I really love the fact that HTC has integrated photo and video modes into a single viewfinder — there's no switch you need to toggle, then wait several seconds while the camera changes modes. You're simply always in both modes at the same time: if you want to take a still shot, you press the shutter button, and if you want to start recording a video, you press the video button. Both operations happen more or less instantaneously, and HTC's managed to quash almost all shutter lag in the still mode — that was a big deal with the Galaxy Nexus, so it's good to see the One X follows suit. And unlike the Nexus, the One X's autofocus is consistently fast and accurate.

ImageSense turns out to be a stellar software experience

Likewise, burst mode and still capture during video recording are two features that work really well and can be extraordinarily valuable in some situations. I was worried that there might be some compromise to the quality of the photos I took while shooting video, but that's not the case — they're every bit as good as if you weren't recording.

As for image quality, I can't confidently say these are the best cameraphone photos I've ever seen, which was what I was expecting considering what a big deal HTC had made about it when these handsets were announced several weeks ago. I was hopeful that the shots I took would be indistinguishable from a decent point and shoot, but at 100 percent crop, the One X's stills are easily identified as coming from a cameraphone. They're not bad, they're just not the game-changers I'd been led to believe they'd be. Low-light performance didn't blow me away — you'll still need a flash to stave off noise and motion blur in even moderately-lit situations. And it's a similar case for video: the quality is decent for a phone, but you won't be replacing a real camera.


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Software

Software

As I've said, the One line represents something of a philosophical rebirth for HTC, and that's as true in the software — Sense 4.0 — as it is in the hardware and the branding.

First off, there's an overall "toning down" of Sense. HTC made it clear to us that there was a conscious effort to turn down the volume a couple notches, to integrate Sense more tightly with the platform and to make it less of a bright, overdesigned, in-your-face experience than it's been in the past. There are places where this effort has succeeded, and will be pretty obvious to users upgrading from Sense 3.0 or 3.5 devices: take the notification tray, for instance, which has finally ditched the recent apps list to make room for more notifications. And of course, with Android 4.0's task switcher, there's less need for an icon-based recent apps list than ever before.

Another major improvement is the redesigned home screen dock, which dispenses of the silly immovable Personalize and Phone buttons — clearly, most users are going to want a Phone shortcut somewhere on their home screen, but not a giant one taking up three-quarters of the dock, especially when voice calling is a secondary smartphone function for many users these days. The new dock functions more like stock Android 4.0 and many of the third-party home screen replacements that are on the market — with the exception of the center button (which launches the app drawer), every icon can be replaced at your discretion. Conveniently, the icons you place here also automatically become the four app shortcuts on your lock screen.

Sense 4.0 is better, but it doesn't go far enough

But there are places where Sense 4.0 simply doesn't go far enough, or changes stock Android functionality or design simply for the sake of changing it without any tangible benefit. Android 4.0 was itself a major "toning down" of the platform with a significantly deeper, more consistent design language, and I feel like any failure on the part of an OEM to acknowledge and respect that in the design of their own skin is going to be more painfully evident than ever before.

And let me be clear, there isn't any single glaring deficiency in Sense 4.0's design, but rather a series of minor (in some cases trivial) missteps that combine to detract from the experience as a whole. Let's start with an easy one: there shouldn't be a Task Manager app included in the ROM. The fact that anyone feels this is a necessary inclusion perhaps speaks to a deeper issue on HTC's or Google's part, because under no circumstances should an average phone user ever need to actively manage the apps that are occupying RAM — especially on a device with 1GB of it. The obvious response is, "that's fine, just don't use it then," but that's a bad answer. Any app in ROM out of the box that isn't necessary and adds no practical value to the average user's experience is, by definition, either bloatware or crapware.

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Other annoyances include Sense's odd checkboxes, which are considerably more difficult to read than stock Android's; they're light green on white by default, so they've got very little contrast. The One X's task switcher — which takes up the full screen of the phone and only lets you see one app thumbnail at a time — is a marked downgrade from stock Android's. As in older Sense versions, the Messaging and Gallery apps (among others) are restyled with no apparent benefit. HTC's customized browser hides the status bar (not a particularly big deal, since I'd recommend all users download the superior Chrome for Android beta as soon as they crack open the box). And strangely, other apps — Downloads, for instance — are virtually untouched and totally break with the design aesthetic HTC's trying to achieve. In fact, Downloads even uses Google's stock checkbox design, not Sense's.

Sense 4.0 includes a revamped keyboard, but I can't recommend it. For some odd reason, HTC has decided to include a row of directional keys at the bottom, which makes the keyboard take up very nearly half of the One X's 720p display when open. The inclusion of Swype-like T9 Trace input is nice and works quite well, but unless you intend on making it your primary input method, you're better off grabbing a third-party option from the Play Store like SwiftKey or one of the several stock ICS keyboards available.

The One X, like many Android 4.0 phones, has gone with a physical row of three buttons below the display rather than using on-screen soft buttons like the Galaxy Nexus. But throughout the platform, I get the vague sense that Google didn't anticipate that manufacturers would continue to go with hard buttons on native Android 4.0 devices. Many apps still require access to a menu button; it's a behavior that Google is trying to nudge developers away from, but it seems it'll be a while yet before it's totally dead. In the meantime, devices with soft buttons solve this by neatly showing a menu icon (three vertical dots) in the right corner of the soft button row; press it and you get the menu pop-up. Easy, no mess. On the One X, though, the need for a menu button necessitates that it add an entire black row to the bottom of the screen simply to accommodate it, since there is no soft button row otherwise and there's really no other place in the UI to put it. In practice, that means that many apps —Twitter and YouTube come immediately to mind, among countless others — lose maybe a hundred or so pixels of screen real estate, never mind the fact that it simply looks bad.


Getting 25GB of Dropbox storage with your One purchase is a nice perk — I'd personally started using Dropbox on a daily basis long before this phone ever hit my doorstep. It's a great service, and it's the kind of thing where you really can't get enough storage. HTC advertises that Dropbox is "integrated" with Sense, but don't be fooled — the extent of the integration is very light, and you can get all of the same functionality on any other Android device. Apart from being able to sign into your Dropbox account immediately when you turn on the One X for the first time as part of the setup wizard, Sense 4.0's only other integration point is the automatic upload of photos and videos, but it's just the same feature that's already in the Dropbox app you can download from the Play Store. And confusingly, even on the One X, you need to set this up from the Dropbox app even though automatic upload to Facebook and Flickr are managed from the Camera app.

I can't lodge a single complaint about the One X's performance, though — this phone screams, and it has the benchmark scores to back it up. I used the phone as my primary device for a full week and can't recall a single incidence of lag or stutter anywhere in the user interface. That's saying something, because Android phones that initially appear to be fast have a tendency to "bog down" over time and during certain operations like app updates and account syncs, but not the One X — it was smooth sailing at all times. Looking at the raw data from the benchmarks we've run, it seems to do a little better than the Snapdragon S4-powered One S in gaming (no surprise, considering Nvidia's graphics roots) and a little worse in browser performance. In typical use, though, you're simply going to notice that this phone is fast regardless of what you're doing.


Quadrant Vellamo GLB 2.1 Egypt (720p) GLB 2.1 Egypt (1080p) AnTuTu
HTC One S 5,141 2,420 57fps 29fps 7,107
HTC One X (LTE) 4,925 2,346 57fps 29fps 6,681
HTC One X (Global) 4,430 1,614 65fps 32fps 11,322
Galaxy Nexus 2,002 1,065 28fps 14fps 6,079
Update: AT&T model with LTE

Update: AT&T model with LTE

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Since originally publishing this review, we've taken delivery of the AT&T-branded model of the One X which has three major hardware differences: LTE support, a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor like the One S (the global One X has a quad-core Tegra 3), and a storage downgrade from 32GB to 16GB. Physically, the two versions appear identical — the AT&T model is technically about a fifth of a millimeter thicker, but it's completely imperceptible unless you're holding the two right next to one another. The AT&T branding is appropriately understated; it's a silver logo above the display that replaces the "HTC" logo on the global model, so the net increase in branding (so to speak) is zero.

In the hand, the AT&T model benefits from the same design elements as the original — the curves make it feel even thinner than it actually is, and the large display helps push the surface area-to-thickness ratio in the right direction. I'd expected that HTC would probably include a higher-capacity battery in this version to accommodate the LTE radio (and the thicker shell would seem to back that up), but that's not the case; both are rated at 1,800mAh.

And is battery life a concern without a higher capacity? Absolutely not. In fact, short of Motorola's outrageous Droid Razr MAXX, this is the longest-lasting smartphone I've seen in recent months. With two and a half hours of hotspot use in LTE coverage, about 40 minutes of heavy-duty benchmarking, and a 40-minute phone call, I still managed some seven hours and 14 minutes before it gave up the ghost. With less abuse — something more akin to my average usage pattern — I was able to go a full day and into the next morning before getting a low-battery warning (note, though, that this was while connected to a 3G MicroCell most of the time, so LTE was disengaged and the HSPA radio was likely in a relatively low power state). At any rate, Snapdragon S4 seems to be a battery champion, which is something we'd also observed in our One S review. Sure, there could be some software tweaking involved and the Tegra 3 model simply isn't as optimized yet, but the benefits of Nvidia's so-called "companion core" — intended to reduce drain when the phone is in an idle state - are definitely called into question.

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What's funny is that HTC and AT&T have both been coy about the fact that this phone isn't using Tegra 3, probably because the term "quad-core" is considered a major marketing advantage this year. That's really unfortunate, because everything I've tested so far indicates that Snapdragon S4 is a superior processor for most users. The hardest-core gamers will probably prefer Tegra 3's advanced capabilities and exclusive titles, but S4 uses a more advanced architecture, sips power less aggressively, and offers a UI experience every bit as smooth as Nvidia's chip. I'd even suggest that it seems to run a bit cooler, which makes sense — it's built on a 28nm process, whereas Tegra 3 (in its current form) is a 40nm part.

On the software side, AT&T's One X is filled with the usual expected assortment of carrier crapware. None of it can be uninstalled, but most of it can be disabled. Unfortunately, that's not universally true (which goes against Android design chief Matias Duarte's claim at Android 4.0's launch): two examples include Internet — HTC's name for the default browser, which you'll want to replace with Chrome for Android — and something called AT&T Ready2Go, a tool for configuring your phone's email accounts and settings through a web portal on AT&T's site. Notably, stock Dropbox integration has been removed in this model (a prominent talking point at the One series' global announcement earlier this year), though you can still get the same level of functionality by downloading Dropbox's app from the Google Play store. HTC tells us these customers will still be eligible for the free 25GB upgrade promotion, too.

This phone is a battery champion

But the software buffoonery doesn't end there. In an effort to enforce Wi-Fi offloading, AT&T's "attwifi" Wi-Fi SSID can't be removed, so the phone will connect to the carrier's hotspots whenever Wi-Fi is turned on and you're in range. On a slower HSPA phone that might not be a big deal, but on the One X, it is: not only is AT&T LTE faster than its Wi-Fi hotspots (sometimes by an order of magnitude), but if you're walking around an urban area and passing by Starbucks or FedEx Office locations, your data service will keep dropping and reconnecting as you transition from cellular to Wi-Fi and back to cellular. If you're in the middle of browsing or listening to streaming radio, it's a pretty serious monkey wrench. And one final insult: AT&T has for some reason requested that the name of the carrier you're currently connected to (normally AT&T) be displayed in the status bar whenever there aren't any notifications, which is an annoying and useless design element — "AT&T" is constantly appearing and disappearing as you get emails, texts, and so on. An easy fix is to use a weather app that keeps the current temperature in the status bar, but obviously, you shouldn't need to do that.

Fortunately, the software issues aren't even close to pushing us away from a recommendation. Put simply, this is the best Android phone you can buy on AT&T right now and perhaps the best end-to-end Android phone you can currently buy on any carrier in the United States — it's lightning fast, LTE generally works like a charm, and it's one of the more attractive smartphones ever to hit the market. I'd still prefer stock Android, but the Snapdragon S4's speed minimizes Sense 4's hassles — and odds are very good we'll start seeing excellent third-party ROMs within a few weeks anyway.

Update: we've also reviewed the One X+, which provides a modest spec bump to the One X. Be sure and check out our review before you decide which AT&T phone to buy.

This is the best Android phone you can buy on AT&T right now
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HTC has done something pretty special with the One line

On a couple occasions during my week-odd endeavor to make the One X my primary phone, I installed and used Apex Launcher, an excellent home screen replacement that starts with stock Android 4.0 as a foundation and adds a handful of useful features. It doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel, it doesn’t fight Android’s natural grain — it just takes a great product and makes it a little bit better.
And it got me to thinking: why isn’t this exactly what Sense is trying to do? HTC should be building its software story around unique functionality. To a large degree, it is — take the excellent ImageSense, for instance — but in the process, it’s also tossing in an entire layer of questionable design. Not bad design, necessarily, but it’s still design without purpose, design that needlessly overwrites Google’s really cohesive (and superb) Android 4.0 user experience. I understand HTC’s inherent need to “make its mark,” but with the One X, it’s already doing that by creating perhaps the best phone hardware I’ve ever used.
So yes, I think Sense can do better, but there’s still a lot to be optimistic about. Looking back on Sense 3.0 and 3.5, Sense 4.0 is a big step in the right direction, and HTC’s new commitment to bootloader unlocking through the HTCdev program means that intrepid owners who feel as strongly about the user experience as I do should expect to see replacement ROMs from the community in short order. And even without any modification whatsoever, the One X isn’t just one of the best Android phones I’ve ever used — it’s one of the best mobile devices I’ve ever used, period. Seriously, HTC has done something pretty special with the One line, and I’m encouraged that Peter Chou and company appear to be back on the right track.
Just give me a One X running something closer to stock Android 4.0, HTC, and I believe you’ve got the best smartphone ever made.

HTC has done something pretty special with the One line

On a couple occasions during my week-odd endeavor to make the One X my primary phone, I installed and used Apex Launcher, an excellent home screen replacement that starts with stock Android 4.0 as a foundation and adds a handful of useful features. It doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel, it doesn’t fight Android’s natural grain — it just takes a great product and makes it a little bit better.
And it got me to thinking: why isn’t this exactly what Sense is trying to do? HTC should be building its software story around unique functionality. To a large degree, it is — take the excellent ImageSense, for instance — but in the process, it’s also tossing in an entire layer of questionable design. Not bad design, necessarily, but it’s still design without purpose, design that needlessly overwrites Google’s really cohesive (and superb) Android 4.0 user experience. I understand HTC’s inherent need to “make its mark,” but with the One X, it’s already doing that by creating perhaps the best phone hardware I’ve ever used.
So yes, I think Sense can do better, but there’s still a lot to be optimistic about. Looking back on Sense 3.0 and 3.5, Sense 4.0 is a big step in the right direction, and HTC’s new commitment to bootloader unlocking through the HTCdev program means that intrepid owners who feel as strongly about the user experience as I do should expect to see replacement ROMs from the community in short order. And even without any modification whatsoever, the One X isn’t just one of the best Android phones I’ve ever used — it’s one of the best mobile devices I’ve ever used, period. Seriously, HTC has done something pretty special with the One line, and I’m encouraged that Peter Chou and company appear to be back on the right track.
Just give me a One X running something closer to stock Android 4.0, HTC, and I believe you’ve got the best smartphone ever made.

A step up from the One X, but a modest one

The One X+ portrays itself as a spec monster, with 64GB of storage, that fast quad-core Tegra 3 processor, and a larger battery with the same great screen we loved on the One X. The result is an impressive and good-looking Android phone, but not one that's significantly better than the other devices on the market. It’s definitely a better purchase than the original One X, but nless you're feeling severely pinched by storage space, there's no reason for current One X owners to upgrade.

Compared to other LTE devices on AT&T, the One X+ certainly deserves to be considered, but it's not really the slam dunk it might look like on paper. Choosing between it and the Galaxy S III, against which it's clearly designed to compete, will require you to balance your feelings about their respective Android skins, aesthetics, and whether a replaceable battery is important to you. For most people, the GSIII probably deserves a slight edge, but I like the look and feel of the One X+ better. The fact that an underdog like HTC has made it a toss-up is commendable, but at some point the company needs to show it can produce a runaway hit.