Qualcomm's dual-core Snapdragon S4 and LTE trump the quad-core Tegra 3 in our definitive AT&T HTC One X review!
What more could we possibly say about the HTC One X? After several thousand words in our first HTC One X review (plus more in Alex Dobie's take, plus the countless forum threads), we already know everything there is to know about this phone, right? Right?!?
Not so fast.
As you'll recall, there actually are two versions of the HTC One X. The first, the one we've already reviewed forward and backward, is powered by NVIDIA's quad-core Tegra 3 system and is your standard GSM/HSPA smartphone. The second version is powered by a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 (you'll also hear it referred to as "Krait") and sports an LTE radio for faster data speeds. The latter version is what AT&T's rocking coming May 6, and it's known outside the United States as the HTC One XL.
They're the same phone, right? Really the only difference is that AT&T wanted an LTE version, and Tegra 3 and LTE still aren't ready to play together in prime time, right? Well, yes, and no. Let's just put it this way: One of our chief complaints about smartphones has been addressed here.
That's not to say we won't be making a few compromises with the AT&T One X. But we're also finding ourselves plenty blown away. Read on for our complete AT&T HTC One X review.
The same great design, gorgeous display and excellent improvements in Sense 4 have made their way to AT&T's One X. LTE data is fast, and battery life (without being connected to LTE anyway) is the best we've seen on an Android smartphone to date.
There's no way to turn off LTE data if you'd prefer to save on battery. AT&T's opted for only 16GB of internal storage, which stings considering that there's no removable microSD card. The battery's not removable, but that's tempered by the excellent power management.
AT&T's got itself a winner here in the HTC One X. The dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 is as good (or better) as NVIDIA's Tegra 3 platform. But it's the excellent battery life that makes this one a no-brainer.
Inside this review
Not much has changed on the outside of the AT&T HTC One X in comparison to its Tegra 3 cousin. Physically speaking, they're identical, save for an extra half a millimeter of height on AT&T's model. (That's something to be aware of as you're buying cases and what-not.) Otherwise, you're looking at exactly the same polycarbonate unibody shell. AT&T's opted for white, which we're very much digging after having spent a few weeks with a gray One X. But it is possible to pick up dirt and smudges. We've had no problem wiping them away, but they're definitely more apparent on the white body.
Otherwise, we're looking at the same 4.7-inch Super LCD 2 display with a 720x1280 resolution. It remains gorgeous, almost appearing to float on top of the glass. It's got the same capacitive buttons below the display. We've been flipping back and forth between the One X and a Galaxy Nexus (which has its buttons as part of the display itself), and the transition hasn't bothered us one bit.
AT&T's also got the same front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera out front, tucked to the right of the earpiece and its 52 pinholes. (OK, 51 if you're counting the one that's actually a hidden notification light -- look for it on the bottom row, six holes from the right.)
'Round back you've got the same 8-megapixel rear-facing camera in a slightly elevated housing. We're still a little concerned about scratching that lens, though the actual lens cover is recessed ever so slightly. The five contact charging points are here as well, as is the rear speaker and Beats Audio logo.
Up top you've got the SIM card tray, power button and 3.5mm headphone jack. The volume rocker's found on the right-hand bezel, exactly where we left it, with the microUSB port on the other side.
What's under the hood
And this is where things get interesting.
First and foremost, don't get caught up in the fact that the Tegra 3 version of the One X has four cores in its CPU, while the Qualcomm version "only" has two cores in the Snapdragon S4 processor. If the number of cores is your deciding factor, you're looking at the wrong spec. Clock speed and RAM are a wash at 1.5GHz and 1GB, respectively.
So what is it about the Snapdragon version of the One X that has us all hot and bothered? Here's the lowdown:
Stick the two versions of the One X next to each other, and the Qualcomm-powered phone is ever so slightly quicker in performing the menial tasks -- opening the app drawer, folders, etc. That's not to say the Tegra 3-powered phone lags or shows any real sign of stuttering, because it most certainly does not. And chances are you'd never know there was a difference unless we showed you. But side by side, you can tell. Barely. The Snapdragon-powered One X is just a little faster at times.
(We don't do benchmarks, but we also don't stop folks from doing them. Check 'em out here.)
But that's not really what has us excited.
Tegra 3's major selling point is that it's a graphics and multimedia and gaming powerhouse. Guess what: So's the Snapdragon S4. In fact, we've been running games that traditionally were used to promote the power of Tegra 3 -- and they've working just fine on the Snapdragon S4 platform.
And that's still not what has us excited.
AT&T's One X is using the Snapdragon platform at least in part because it's a 4G LTE device. That is, you can get 4G LTE data if you're in one of AT&T's LTE-enabled cities. Those are still fairly few and far between (Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New York City, South Florida, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Tampa, along with Cleveland, Akron and Canton, Ohio; Lafayette, Ind.; Baton Rouge and New Orleans; St. Louis; Austin, Texas; and Staten Island, N.Y., and other cites lighting up in recent weeks), but its LTE network is expected to take a pretty big leap forward by the end of the year. As for LTE speeds, they're pretty impressive. But then again, AT&T's network is still pretty young and certainly doesn't have the volume of customers that Verizon's does. That's something to keep an eye on in the months after this review is published.
And that's all well and good, but it's still not what really has us excited.
It's battery life that has us staring at the phone, dumbfounded. We've long talked about the difference between battery life and battery capacity. The Droid RAZR MAXX has ridiculous battery life because it has a ridiculously large battery capacity -- 3300 mAh. But the HTC One X has a more traditionally sized 1800 mAh battery. (Though that's still on the larger side of traditional.) HTC's squeezed in a bit more capacity by sealing the battery inside the phone's body. That's a trade-off, of course, because you're not able to swap in a fresh, fully charged battery.
But we've found battery life on the Snapdragon S4 version of the One X to be even better than that of the Tegra 3 variety, which was fairly impressive in its own right.
Actually, forget our usual review-speak. Battery life on the AT&T One X/One XL is nothing short of incredible. How much of that is having the modem on the chipset, or how much of that is software tweaks, we really don't care. So long as the donuts taste good, you can make them however you like. And these donuts -- erm, battery life on this One X -- is nothing short of magical. We all talk about having a phone that will last "all day." In the AT&T HTC One X/One XL, we've found it.
My typical daily usage, like a lot of people, involves sitting at a desk all day, with a mighty fine Wifi connection. I'll have some 3G (cough, or AT&T's "4G" HSPA) use, but most of the day is spent connected to Wifi, using the phone in brief spurts. In that case, 15 hours of use comes easy. Even better is that I can leave the phone unplugged overnight and still have enough left over to get through breakfast. And that's what you see above. A full day's use, plus overnight standby time, which was about six hours or so.
But not everybody is connected to Wifi all day. So I turned it off for a day. Now, the strength of your HSPA cellular connection will also affect battery life. So if your phone's constantly searching for a signal, you're going to have a relatively short day. In my case, though, with a strong cell signal, battery life was just about equally impressive. Again, above, you see a full day's use plus overnight standby time with the phone unplugged, again, for about six hours.
I know folks like to pay particular attention the amount of time that the screen's on. But what goes on behind the scenes when the screen is turned off is as important as what's happening when the display is turned on. And in that respect, we've found standby time to be excellent.
As for battery life and LTE, well, not a whole lot's changed there. LTE data still chews through a battery quicker than traditional 3G data. That's life. And it's disappointing that AT&T hasn't included a simple LTE-off toggle switch, or even an option in the settings.
A lot of folks have asked about battery life when not in an LTE market, worried that the dormant radio might somehow drain power searching for an LTE signal. I don't live in an LTE market, and I haven't noticed one bit. (See the examples above.)
Coming back down to Earth - skimping on storage space
Oh, but those trade-offs. AT&T has opted to go with "only" 16 gigabytes of on-board storage on its One X. That, we believe, is a mistake. Presumably it was done for cost savings. But we still want and need as much local storage as we can get for photos, movies and music. It can't all be copied to and served from the cloud. And for as great as AT&T's One X is, 16GB of storage is a limiting factor that's going to turn away some potential buyers.
That's not to say that we wouldn't recommend the AT&T One X because it's got half the storage space of other versions of the same phone. It's still a great device. But that's a spec you need to be aware of, if on-board storage is a major concern for you.
No real surprises here. The AT&T HTC One X is running the latest version of Android, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich. It's got the Android 4.0.3 build, which is a tick off the most recent build, but that's not exactly keeping us up nights.
The One X also is running Sense 4, which is the name HTC gives to its custom software and user interface tweaks on top of Android. And you've read in our full review, we're pretty impressed with Sense 4.
But we are talking about a carrier-branded phone here. And that means AT&T has added its own apps, preloaded the home screens to its liking, and done a few other tweaks. As far as the AT&T-loaded applications go, you're looking at things like AT&T Navigator (aka Telenav), AT&T Ready2Go (which is a setup app), AT&T Address Book, Code Scanner, FamilyMap, Hot Spots and Live TV, myAT&T (account info) and the YP Mobile apps. A virgin phone, this is not. But because it's running Ice Cream Sandwich, you're able to disable and hide most of these apps.
Updates are handled through AT&T's servers as well, so the Software Update section of the settings menu is in a slightly different place.
Also worth noting is that we're not seeing any of the analytics tools that we've seen recently, whether it's the Tell HTC service, or Carrier IQ, which T-Mobile is using on the HTC One S. If there is any sort of diagnostics or analytics tool, it's out of sight.
As you've probably guessed, the AT&T HTC One X camera is the same as its One S (and Tegra 3 One S) cousins in that there's an 8MP rear shooter with flash, and a front-facing 1.3MP shooter. It's all controlled by a dedicated "ImageSense" processor. Shutter speed is a mere 0.7 seconds -- nearly instantaneous -- and you can snap still images while shooting video (up to 1080p). Plus, there are all the cool effects that we detailed previously.
Warning: Sample images open in full resolution in a new window
The AT&T HTC One X front-facing camera
The AT&T HTC One X rear-facing camera
Other odds and ends
A few other musings on the AT&T HTC One X:
- Phone calls have been a little flaky in that at times they'll sound like you've pressed your ear too far into the phone, covering the speaker. Of course, that's not the case, and it's just AT&T's network being AT&T's network.
- The rear speaker has served us just fine, though.
- GPS has been quick to connect and works as it does on our other phones.
- NFC and Wifi Direct are both on board and work as advertised.
This is pretty simple. The AT&T HTC One X is one hell of a phone. We mostly knew that already, thanks to some serious time with the One X in its international GSM flavor and a Tegra 3 processor. Adding in LTE data and the incredible battery life with the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor (never mind that it's powerful, too), and this is the phone to beat.
That said, we do understand that the 16GB of storage is a turn-off for some. We'd prefer to have seen 32GB, and easily would have accepted another $50 on the price of the subsidized phone (which is a respectable $199.99).
But the simple fact is that: When the HTC One X hits AT&T on May 6, it's the phone to get, hands-down. Beautiful display, great camera, and insane battery life. LTE's a sweetener. The question is, how long before the other manufacturers start nipping at HTC's heels?