In spite of all the hype surrounding a certain competitor, the HTC One X was a very strong entrant in the high-end smartphone space earlier in the year. Many of our editors own it. If you’re reading this, there’s an above-average chance you do, too. Though lacking in mindshare compared to the Galaxy S3, the One X remains a formidable smartphone, even besting Samsung’s flagship in many areas.
But as the year draws to a close, it’s time for a successor, as part of HTC’s annual fall product refresh. Last year the Sensation XE built upon the strengths of the Sensation, with a larger battery, a faster CPU and enhanced software. And later this month, the One X will undergo similar augmentation, with the resulting device coming to market as the HTC One X+. Read on for an extensive preview of HTC’s flagship Android phone for late 2012.
First things first -- the One X+ still looks like a One X. To the untrained eye, the external differences are easy to miss. The exquisite polycarbonate chassis returns in the same shape as the original, with the same dimensions. The chassis itself is dark grey, and we’re told that this will be the only color of One X+ available in Europe.
The front is dominated, as ever, by the sublime 720p, laminated SuperLCD2 display -- the same panel used in the One X. Back in April this emerged as one of the best smartphone displays available, and so it remains today. It may lack the sheer pixel density of the iPhone 5, but it makes up for it with a 4.7-inch diagonal measurement. It’s big, bright, and vivid, and in truth, we’d forgotten how stunning HTC’s SuperLCD2 was to behold in the months since we last saw the One X.
The main frontal distinction between the One X+ and its predecessor is its red capacitive buttons. As in the Sensation XE, HTC has adopted a bolder design aesthetic, and red accents are also present around the camera lens, and in the new, larger Beats Audio logo around the back. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but after using the device in person, we found these design changes gave the device a more distinctive appearance.
Despite the prominent Beats branding on the device, HTC will unfortunately not be shipping urBeats headphones with the device as standard. Certain carriers, however, may offer certain Beats products with the device as part of promotions, as has been the case with many past HTC phones.
But it’s the internal hardware that’s changed the most since the original One X. The CPU has been upgraded to a 1.7 GHz quad-core Tegra 3 (AP37) CPU. RAM remains at 1GB, and there’s still no removable storage, but internal storage has been cranked all the way up to 64GB, along with the same 25GB of free Dropbox cloud storage. There’s a new battery on-board too, a 2100mAh unit, replacing the 1800mAh battery of the original. This, combined with the more efficient Tegra 3 CPU, should make for markedly improved battery life in the One X+. This is going to be a big deal for the many people who, like us, were less than impressed with the original's battery performance.
Although there are no Beats earphones included in the box, HTC has improved the rear speaker on the phone, adding a built-in amplifier similar to what’s found on the Windows Phone 8X. And software is included to enable “tap and go” playback through NFC on the range of Beats-ready Bluetooth speakers.
With the exception of its snazzy red trim, the rear camera assembly remains unchanged from the One X -- it’s an 8MP unit with an f/2.0 lens and BSI sensor, paired with HTC’s ImageChip/ImageSense technology. The front-facing camera has undergone some minor upgrades, though. It’s now a 1.6MP shooter, and has the ability to use the ImageSense chip just like the rear camera. There’ve also been some software improvements specific to the front-facing camera. When using the front-facer, it’ll switch by default to self portrait mode, enabling a number of image enhancements described by HTC as “beautifying.” In addition, there’s now a countdown timer by default when shooting using the front-facer, to allow you time to check your hair and strike a pose.
These software tweaks are part of HTC’s new version of Sense, Sense 4+. This is based on the latest version of Android, 4.1 Jelly Bean, meaning the One X+ delivers the latest software from both HTC and Google. Sense 4+ will launch on the One X+, and HTC plans to upgrade the One S, One X and One XL to Jelly Bean and Sense 4+ shortly after the One X+ comes to market. The official line is that everything on the One X+ that doesn’t require additional hardware will be back-ported to these devices.
Visually, Sense 4+ closely resembles the version of Sense we’ve been getting to know over the past six months. HTC says it’s worked hard to ensure Google’s “project butter” enhancements work well within Sense, and during our time with a pre-release unit, we found it to be as fast and responsive as any smartphone we’ve used. The redesigned Jelly Bean notification area is present, as is Google Now and the new Google Search, which can be activated at any time by long-pressing the home button. In addition, Google Chrome comes pre-loaded alongside the HTC browser, as it’s now part of the standard collection of Google apps.
Aside from Jelly Bean, Sense 4+ sees the continuation of Sense being enhanced by minor (and sometimes major) software tweaks here and there. “Sightseeing mode” lets you easily jump in and out of the camera app when you lock the phone. Lock the One X+ with the camera open, and when you press the power button again, you’ll immediately return to the camera app, ready to take pictures. The Gallery app has been enhanced with the ability to view content by event, date or map location, and Twitter and Facebook connectivity has been baked in.
Similarly, HTC Watch 2.0 will make its debut on the One X+, though this wasn’t available on the handsets we played with. The new version of HTC’s movie portal will come with the ability to feed in content from other sources like YouTube, ESPN, the Daily Mail and Eurosport. The One X+ is fully PlayStation Certified, too, meaning it’ll be able to play PSOne and other PlayStation Suite titles on the device. PlayStation also works with HTC’s MediaLink tech, meaning you’ll be able to wirelessly stream PlayStation games to your TV from your phone, assuming you’ve got all the right equipment. The relevant PlayStation apps weren’t pre-loaded onto our demo units, so we’ll have to wait and see how this functionality works once the phone’s released.
HTC will also launch new online services alongside the One X+, including the ability to set up and customize your home screens online before purchase, then have your customizations downloaded to the phone when you sign in with an HTC Sense account. We weren’t able to demo this feature, but it’s nice to see some attention given to the pre-purchase experience. If you’ve ever waited impatiently for a shiny new smartphone to arrive, we’re sure you’ll appreciate this feature.
The HTC One X+ will launch in the UK in early October with 3G/HSPA connectivity, and in the United States with 4G LTE support.
Stay tuned to Android Central for more One X+ coverage as the phone approaches release.