HTC One X+ from AT&T Review! [video]

December 19, 2012
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Months ago, HTC released their highest-end smartphone in the One X and it quickly became one of the most prolific devices in the Android market. With a fast dual-core processor, a very capable camera, and sleek design, many were torn between it and the other new popular kid on the block, the Samsung Galaxy S3. Personally, it was among these two phones and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The Nexus device eventually became the choice because of updated Android and eventual rooting/flashing ended up being most important to me.

But that didn’t mean I lacked smartphone envy – the HTC One X still stands as one of my favorite looking phones ever. I always enjoy HTC’s design on their devices; and before the LG Optimus G, which now stands right alongside the One X in my personal rankings, I was always hoping that one day I might be able to use one and enjoy it.

Well, with the new trend companies seem to be adopting with updating their devices mid-year, HTC has decided to do the same and bring an updated version of their best phone yet. With a faster processor, twice the storage, and a color scheme that seemingly blends the two available from before, the One X+ has arrived. Does that simple plus go the extra mile? Find in this review and my video found at the end.

Build and Design

As I mentioned before, the HTC One X (in white) has remained as one of my favorite designs for a phone. With its sleek unibody finish and large, incredible screen, it was definitely a stylish piece of hardware. Now, HTC has taken its newest, updated device and given it a new coat of paint and a few new shades. While I loved the white version of its ancestor, this nearly all black design makes the One X+ look pretty sleek.

The matted material felt here and red trim (found on non-AT&T versions) is reminiscent of my first Android phone, the HTC Incredible. Back in the days of Froyo and Gingerbread, the Incredible was near the top of the Android game – and today, it seems that HTC has hearkened back to those days by making their newest device echo its look.

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The 4.7 inch Super LCD Gorillia Glass display is surrounded by a black border that has soft keys on the bottom and a notification light at the top, above the logo of this AT&T locked version and right next to the phone speaker grill. The trim all around the edges and throughout the sides and back are made of a matted polycarbonate that gives the phone a very smooth feel while maintaining good grip. At 135g, this phone definitely has a little weight to it. This isn’t a bad thing at all, as the material all around the phone already makes the phone easy to handle – the weight simply adds to this.

Large volume rockers are on the right side, directly opposite the microUSB charging port. At the top are the power button, headphone jack, and the tray for the microSIM card that can be removed with the help of an included tool. HTC continues to have their power buttons on the top, which is something that seasoned Samsung and now LG users might have to get used to. A little bit of phone gymnastics might be required to get from waking the phone back down to neutral grip, but it is really not that big a deal.

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Having the charging port on the sides rather than the bottom seems to be more of a trope for HTC than pretty much anyone else, and while this was a bit of a pain with my original Incredible, which had the port near the bottom on the left side, at least the One X+ has it closer to the top. This makes the handling a little bit easier when charging.

The back of the HTC One X+ has the ‘htc’ logo centered while the Beats Audio designation along with the speaker grill is below. Up top is the 8-megapixel camera and flash diode, popping out just a tad. As I mentioned before, this AT&T version does not have the red trim and instead makes everything black. It still looks great and makes for a phone that is both a sight to behold and a joy to handle.

Screen and Display

The One X was already lauded as having one of the best displays in the world of Android when it first came out and has been able to keep up to this day – a notion that is fully supported by HTC because it has included the very same display on this updated device. The 4.7 inch screen is capable of 1280×720 resolution and continues to be a wonderful front line in the phone’s experience.

Colors pop beautifully, text is crisp and sharp, and the brightness is very good. The slightly curved design of the Gorilla Glass panel does lend itself to a number of good viewing angles, making this display easy to view in just about any way. Under direct sunlight, it isn’t hard to see everything you need on the screen, though even a small boost of brightness definitely helps in that regard.

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HTC did well to continue its roll with the One X’s previously well-received and glorious screen. By including it in the One X+, it isn’t failing to keep up, it is holding confidence in its already proven engineering. And that confidence is not unfounded.

Hardware and Battery

HTC’s updates to the One X might not be too many in number, but they are almost all significant. This hardware section will first deal with the bolstered memory – from the previous 32GB, this model has twice as much, at 64GB. Upon looking at was actually available to the user, I found that about 57GB of the space was free. Even without the option of expandable memory, you have to admit – that’s a hell of a lot of space. I don’t see anyone really complaining about running out of memory with this phone. Seriously, that’s a pretty massive amount.

The lack of expandable memory is due to the unibody design which doesn’t have a detachable cover or parts. Thus, there are no slots found anywhere around the phone or any able to be accessed within – this also means that the battery is not replaceable. The bigger battery, at 2100mAh, does its job quite well in taking typical moderate usage and going the distance – after about 12 hours, I still had about a quarter amount of life left.

A battery drain, on the other hand, yielded a bit of a different result. Playing a slew of video files in succession on the phone at full brightness and connected to my home WiFi made the phone drain about halfway in three and a half hours. That would mean that the phone would die at around the 7 hour mark. Even with the companion core that is supposed to kick in for single-core usage and resulting battery savings, the 7 hours consisting of just video playing was a little disappointing.

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This unfortunately continued while doing more intensive tasks – heavy 3D games like Mass Effect: Infiltrator did seem to result in faster draining. After just about 15 minutes of gaming, I was knocking close to 10 percent out of the battery life with ease. As fun and as crisp as the game would be on a phone with these kinds of specs, taking advantage of the full quad-core performance of the NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor and GPU definitely has its disadvantages.

Ultimately, the greater memory and processor do well to make this phone breeze through its tasks but it all makes the battery seem to only break even compared to its predecessor – when doing much more intensive tasks, the battery life actually feels a bit weaker than before.

Performance and Connectivity

While still much like the previous processor found in the One X, this updated device has the AP37 variant of the NVIDIA Tegra 3 chip that is a quad-core graphics/processor combo. This is an update from the AP35 that was in its ancestor and is now clocked at 1.7 GHz rather than the 1.5 of before. The result is a very snappy experience that is among the best found in the market today. Despite there only being 1GB of RAM in this device (half of that found in the other top-tier offerings), I found no problems running multiple apps at once and speed remained very good.

I do have to mention one thing, however- because HTC puts its own UI over the included Jelly Bean 4.1, the performance experience of this phone is nestled somewhere between the actual hardware specifications found in the phone and the optimization found in the operating system. While I might perceive some parts of the phone as a bit of a slowdown, this may not be the full story – while I do believe that the Nexus 4 feels just a tad smoother and snappier, it probably has more to do with how the operating system presents its content and its transitions than the raw power. I noticed this mostly in the recent apps screen – while in the Nexus 4 and its vanilla Jelly Bean selecting an app brought me right back to where I left off, the One X+ instead often opts to reload it.

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Even if it does drain the battery quite quickly, gaming is a blast on this phone. The crisp display makes all the 3D gaming look wonderful and you are thus not going to have a problem enjoying current games – this AT&T model came with Mass Effect: Infiltrator and proved to be a great way of displaying this phone’s power. I witnessed little to no slowdown in the games performance, and I played for about an hour, despite the hit it dealt to the battery life.

I would venture to say that the HTC One X+ is definitely comparable in speed to its top-level peers – it is just how HTC Sense presents itself in a different manner that I originally perceived as slowdowns. As far as benchmark tests go, my assertion is backed up by scores that are definitely in league with some of the best that Android has to offer. According to charts in AnTuTu and Vellamo, the One X+ is right below the Samsung Galaxy S3 and cedes the top to the LG powerhouses of the Nexus 4 and Optimus G.

As far as connectivity goes, the HTC One X+ on AT&T is capable of LTE speeds that are as fast as one would expect. While AT&T doesn’t quite have the same coverage that Verizon has, you can be sure that you will get the speeds you want in the areas that are supported. Because I only have a T-Mobile SIM and this phone is locked on AT&T, I was only able to borrow an AT&T microSIM card from a friend for a little while – nonetheless, the speed I experienced in the Los Angeles area was definitely as expected.

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WiFi, of course, is available alongside the bevy of different connections available to most smartphones of this caliber – GPS, Bluetooth, NFC – but there is also the inclusion of HTC Media Link. With a separate module that plugs into your TV via HDMI, the One X+ (and a few other HTC devices) is able to connect to the Link via WiFi and send content to the TV via a three finger swipe upward. This all sounds great, but I obviously don’t have a Media Link to test it out. I did hear before that it displays only up to 720p on the television, so that is a bit of a drawback.

Software

Which brings me to HTC Sense, the UI skin plastered all over the included Jelly Bean 4.1. While Sense, like other manufacturer’s own UIs, deserves its own in-depth review, I can go into some length with this HTC One X+ due to its inclusion of Jelly Bean 4.1. This is significant, given that some current phones still sport their own companies’ versions of Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.4. With software almost always a big part of the phone-buying decision process, HTC gets some credit for making a little headway in the updates department – even if we Nexus users are already a couple steps ahead again with Jelly Bean 4.2.

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However, HTC also come a long way since the days of the Incredible in their new UIs – they really seem to have found its groove in the design department. Aspects that set Sense apart from other operating system skins return here, like the instantly recognizable weather clock found on the main screen. This is the very clock that spawned a number of different custom apps that looked to replicate its clean and pleasing design.

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The lockscreen retains the ring unlock motion, while four application icons can be swiped from for direct access, as well. I personally never really got into this particular fashion of unlocking the phone, but the snappy performance of the One X+ makes this screen an afterthought – it is really just a quick swipe up and you’re on your way. Music apps and other contextual tasks show up as widgets in the lockscreen.

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The almost all black design of the menus, app drawer, and even dock make navigation easy on the eyes – and on the bottom you will always have any options and pages available for easy selection. When selecting pretty much anything within the phone, there is a button effect instead of the typical color wipe. Going too far up or down in menus doesn’t result in the vanilla Android blue hue at the top or the bottom, but instead all of the options singularly separate to give a unique feeling to the bounce-back.

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One nice feature of the One X+ is the ability to change the behavior of the recent apps soft key, so that pressing it is like a dedicated menu button and holding it brings it to the recent apps screen, or vice versa. Speaking of the recent apps screen, it also deviates from the vanilla Jelly Bean style and is instead akin to a cover flow.

Some other options make this stock Sense quite customizable. Though other manufacturer UIs might have more options, the ones found here are still welcome. In the Personalize area of the settings, users can change general skin of the Sense interface to different color scheme options. The lock screen style has quite a few different options nestled within, as the widget found above the ring can be a clock, an ongoing display of photos found in your phone, or simply nothing at all.

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All in all, Sense is a very pleasing interface that brings new options, new aesthetic, and overall has come a long way. It does have to be mentioned, however, that the inclusion of Jelly Bean specific functions makes the interface feel a little bit like a hybrid than an entirely overhauled system. Google Now is the main example – accessed by holding the home button, Google Now retains its look found across all devices and thus doesn’t seem to fit in with the Sense UI. Either this hybrid experience will remain or HTC (and other manufacturers) will eventually find a way to skin pieces of Google’s official interface to better fit in.

Beats Audio

Beats Audio was marketed quite heavily in the original One X, and while it objectively did result in a sound quality boost, many thought it to be pretty minimal and ultimately a negligible portion of the phone that didn’t deserve all the attention. Luckily, this is not the case with the One X+, as the Beats Audio settings might have been simplified but its effect has been greatly enhanced.

Now, for the life of me, I could not find where to change the Beats Audio profile – I looked everywhere and was unable to tweak the resulting sound when it is enabled. I know this was possible with the original One X, but after some searching, I found that other users have been unable to do the same with both it and this updated model. As such, perhaps HTC looked to enhance the quality enough so that such options were probably not needed anymore. To enable Beats Audio, just insert some headphones and enable it in the notification dropdown.\

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Even if it’s just a simple activation, Beats Audio does wonders for the music experience. When turned off, music at extreme quality in my Spotify sounded about as standard as you could get – I have a pretty good pair of Nuforce IEMs, so bass remained powerful without fully draining out the highs and mids.

The story changed quite drastically once Beats was enabled. The most noticeable change is the pretty big increase in overall volume – whereas on other devices I would have the volume just a couple notches below 100% for my own personal enjoyment, I got to that level just above half way on the One X+. But the volume isn’t the only improvement, as the highs and the mids suddenly blasted into my ears, keeping right up with the powerful bass and lows of pretty much every song I listened to.

Of course, a good pair of headphones is paramount to in-device enhancements, but this is certainly a portion of the One X+ that deserves a lot of attention – certainly more than was given with the original. Bass lovers will undoubtedly have a great time with the music experience here, but the Beats Audio enhancements make all music powerfully rich and full – you can easily drown out the world and become immersed in the sound. Grab your best headphones and feel it for yourself with some dubstep (if that’s what you’re into – just about any kind of music will suffice).

Camera

I am going to start this portion regarding the cameras on the One X+ by focusing on the front facing optics first. The front facing camera is of a higher resolution than the one found in the One X, at 1.6 megapixels, but I have to say that as a section of smartphones that generally get a brush-by, this one deserves a mention. The quality of the front facing camera is sharper and more detailed than pretty much any other one I have used, and that is quite a nice feat. You can make you friends jealous with your image quality during those mobile Hangouts.

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Now, remember how I said in my LG Optimus G review that smartphone cameras have been and will continue to improve? Well, the camera on the HTC One X was the other aspect that caused me much phone envy before. To this day, I don’t know any Android phone that included a camera marketed with its actual optical specifications. As an avid photographer myself, hearing that the One X had a 28mm f/2.0 lens was a real revelation. I have a lens for my full sized camera that is 28mm at f/2.0!

Okay, I’m done photography geeking out. The camera found in the One X+ is the very same as the one found in its predecessor and thus has just about the same quality. The interface may not be the fully touch and swipe one found in the newest stock Jelly Bean 4.2, but it most definitely has a better aesthetic than the previous one found in Ice Cream Sandwich. And at the standard 8 megapixels, it is a very admirable performer. I took a few shots at different degrees of light and all of the resulting pictures were nice and usable.

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Click to see the full picture.

The aperture of the included camera, at f/2.0, means that the low light performance should be pretty good (the lower the aperture is, the better it is in low light conditions). However, the flash diode included is also quite good and has a neat feature built in – the flash will change its power based upon how far away the subject is. This is a pretty nice effect that works well in practice – the two pictures below show how the flash reflects right off of the object when close up but floods the area adequately when farther away.

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Click to see the full picture.

The fast processor allows for some quick snaps in the camera – I was able to get off half a dozen pictures in just a few seconds. Other options included with the One X+ camera include VideoPic, which allows for the capture of a 6 megapixel photo while up to 1080p full HD video. Speaking of video, a built-in image stabilization helps ensure the video you’re getting is nice and smooth. Image stabilization is quite a feature to add into a smartphone camera and is a testament to HTC’s commitment to their One line.

Given that I never really had the One X I always wanted, it is obvious why I was excited about the LG Optimus G’s camera. However, now that I have the One X+ at the ready, I can safely say that this is one of the best cameras I have ever had the pleasure of using on a smartphone.

Conclusion

At $199.99 on a two-year contract with AT&T, the price alone is suppoased to designate this device as a significant upgrade from the HTC One X. Is it? I think if you have already used (or still own) the original One X, then there isn’t too much here to make you put down that price. A slightly different look is predicated by twice as much memory, a slightly faster processor that unfortunately brings down the battery life a bit, and the inclusion of a greatly improved Beats Audio. Music lovers, rejoice – the rest of you, maybe not so much.

That isn’t to say that the HTC One X+ isn’t an incredible phone – it is just more of sequel than a whole new spin. Compared to other offerings found in the Android market, this phone definitely holds up, but that just means that the other options are just as good. The Nexus 4 brings the Snapdragon S4 processor that makes the Tegra 3 found in this phone a little dated, and the Galaxy S3 has been able to maintain momentum despite the original One X’s popularity.

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As it always is with technology, the choice lies in your personal preference. If you have experienced the One X, then this isn’t going to feel like a drastic change. If you don’t want change, then by all means, the One X+ will remain as great and as fun as your previous experience. New users will find a lot to love with HTC’s updated device, if not just from the look and feel alone.

If anything, HTC’s penchant for style is something all other manufacturers should take notice of – as with the Incredible, the One X+ isn’t just a powerful phone – it is also pretty damn cool. Let us know what you think about the HTC One X+ in the comments below, and check out my video review above.

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