HTC One X+ review

When HTC unveiled the One family at MWC earlier this year, the simplified line-up was meant to represent a new beginning for the Taiwanese firm. One range of phones for the entire world was supposed to be the result of a shift of focus from quantity to quality, and overall they impressed us. When we reviewed the One X back in August, we concluded that it was a stunning phone and confidently pointed towards a bright future for HTC. Sense aside, HTC could be in a position to become market leaders. But then things changed.

Surrendering to the wills of various carrier partners, mostly in the United States, HTC’s production lines began to churn out even more devices. Since that impressive MWC launch in February, no fewer than 10 Android devices have been launched by the company in various parts of the world, many of which did not bear the One family name. The most recent of these – and the company’s new European Android flagship – is the One X+ which, at first glance, looks no different to the original One X. How does it fare against its latest rivals, and, with new devices just around the corner at CES and MWC after the turn of the new year, is it worth your money? Read on to find out.

Video Review

This is our August review of the original HTC One X. The One X+ adds red accents to the polycarbonate body and some additional internal tweaks.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgP9TXoiZno]

Hardware

I’ve said quite confidently before that the One X was one of the best designed smartphones ever, and HTC chose not to mess too much with their winning formula on the One X+. As with the Sensation XE, the only noticeable aesthetic change to the original is the addition of red accents around the camera lens and on the soft keys, adding a splash of colour to the otherwise monotonous matte black polycarbonate body. The rear has a rubberized texture which grips like a dream, and the body is adorned with the same array of ports and keys as its predecessor, including an MHL port on the left, volume rocker on the right and a 3.5mm headphone jack, microSIM tray and awkwardly placed power button on top. As it has become the norm recently to place power buttons on the sides of our ever-growing devices, it is unusual to see HTC standing firm with a top button, and re-adapting to this placement can take a while. Despite the size of the phone, my hands were easily able to reach every corner of the screen and, as previously noted, the profile of the phone is barely larger than many 4.3″ devices. The back of the device also plays host to an array of Pogo pins, although there are very few accessories capable of utilising these, and an NFC chip is built in for contactless payments and Android Beam support.

The front of the device plays host to drilled speaker holes with a hidden notification LED, the upgraded 1.6MP front-facing camera, back, home and multitasking capacitive keys and it is dominated by the same 4.7″ 720p Super LCD 2 panel as the One X, remaining every bit as gorgeous as before. While not the most pixel dense panel we’ve seen recently – that honour still belongs to HTC with the 5″ 1080p Super LCD 3 panel on the J Butterfly and Droid DNA at 440 pixels per inch – but 312 pixels per inch and a full RGB sub-pixel layout ensure that text is crisp and colours vibrant. While not as bright as many AMOLED screens, the One X+ more than holds its own against AMOLED panels from Nokia and Samsung.

It’s when you get inside the phone where the differences start to become evident. HTC traded out the 1.5GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset for a 1.7GHz variant and the results of this are impressive. The quad-core chipset keeps things ticking over very nicely, although there were a few jitters when flicking speedily through the widget-laden homescreens. While performance appears essentially identical to its predecessor, our usual array of benchmark tests show the extra clout that this higher clock speed provides over other Tegra 3 devices and the American variant of Samsung’s Galaxy S III, powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor.

Device Chipset Quadrant AnTuTu NenaMark2
HTC One X+ 1.7GHz Tegra 3 7652 13546 57.0 fps
HTC One X 1.5GHz Tegra 3 4602 9795 54.7 fps
Asus Nexus 7 1.3GHz Tegra 3 3734 10426 55.3 fps
Samsung Galaxy S III (US) 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 5325 7373 48.7 fps

Once again HTC has chosen to eschew a microSD slot and removable battery, but these blows are softened with further internal upgrades that are the most convincing reasons to go for the One X+ over its Android rivals. The internal storage is doubled from 32 to 64GB, and HTC pairs Google’s standard 5GB of Drive cloud storage with a Sense bonus of an additional 23GB of Dropbox storage for two years, although the latter offer is not available for American customers buying this on AT&T’s LTE network. As for the battery, HTC has not included wireless charging as found on Verizon’s Droid DNA and Windows Phone 8X, but its capacity has been increased from 1,800mAh to 2,100mAh, with the company promising up to 50% more battery life and 6 additional hours of talk time. In our tests these promises appeared (unsurprisingly) very far-fetched, although it was a noticeable improvement over the woeful results of the original One X.

The European model of the phone (as tested) sports the same HSPA+ radio as before, and as such has identical reception to the original One X. For customers in the US, AT&T is now offering the phone with support for its LTE network, making it the first Tegra-powered LTE device to hit American shores, but UK customers wishing for a slice of EE’s 4G action will have to settle for the One XL, a phone identical to the original One X save for the added support for British LTE bands.

Software

The One X+ comes with Android 4.1.1 on board, but this version of Jelly Bean is given a bitter taste by the presence of HTC’s new Sense 4+ skin – one that we have already tested on the standard One X. Jelly Bean’s new features such as Google Now, Project Butter and expandable notifications do improve the user experience greatly, even over Ice Cream Sandwich, but every minute I spend with the One X+ makes me yearn for stock Android even more.

Despite Android 4.0 replacing the traditional green accents throughout the operating system with blue ones, HTC didn’t seem to get the memo. Green lingers in almost every corner of the device, from the Gingerbread-like settings app that appears to serve better as an art gallery than anything else to the mouthpiece of the phone icon, while brushed metallic textures are never far behind when the One X+ does stick closer to the Android design guidelines. Even their world-famous clock widget is endowed with a concentric circle pattern not too dissimilar to that of the back of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime. While not entirely unpleasant, it seems unnecessary and such stutters are not present on stock Android builds on devices like Asus’ Nexus 7.

The most grating things about Sense 4+ are also two of the things that I find I use most frequently when I am on an Android device: the notification shade and the multitasking menu. Both feel far less intuitive and user-friendly than their stock counterparts, and again we meet the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Expanding notifications is done by default in stock Jelly Bean, but Sense 4+ requires an awkward multitouch gesture, while removing an app from the excessively flashy recent apps list requires a heavy upwards swipe which is far less convenient than the stock sideways flicks. While Sense is thankfully not as extreme as in previous iterations, installing a custom ROM such as CyanogenMod 10 would give a far better user experience, but for those people not willing to flash their phones and void their warranties, third party launchers such as Nova and Apex will aid the user experience greatly.

HTC has not confirmed its plans for software updates to Android 4.2 and beyond, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a software update notification appear during my testing period. My hopes of an atypically prompt update to Android 4.2 were in vain, but this firmware update did offer bug fixes and optimisations.

Camera

The One X+ comes with the same 8MP f/2.0 rear shooter as seen on both of HTC’s recent flagships, the One X and Windows Phone 8X, while the front camera has been upgraded with a 1.6MP sensor capable of 720p video at 30 frames per second replacing the 1.3MP sensor in the One X. Both cameras perform admirably, and HTC’s ImageSense software and dedicated camera chip – the latter of which is now available to the front-facing camera for the first time – help to improve the photographic experience, acting as a welcome change from the rest of HTC’s superfluous software tweaks. The dual shutter system works incredibly speedily and the ability to take pictures while filming and viewing captured video is very welcome. You can view a gallery of our shots with the original One X here.

Conclusion

On the surface, the One X+ is just the One X that we know and love with a few red accents and in any colour that you want as long as it’s black. Internally, however, it is a different beast entirely. Looking at the hardware alone, this is undoubtedly the best Android phone available today, but HTC’s lavish software modifications cause occasional performance issues and the lack of expandable storage and a removable battery could prove a dealbreaker for many consumers. I really do love the One X+, but this late in the year, with the Nexus 4 available for half the price with a more satisfying user experience right out of the box and the original 32GB One X which can be overclocked for the same performance increase now receiving significant price cuts, I find it very difficult to recommend to anyone.

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