Software and performance
The HTC One X runs Google's latest 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich software, making it only the second Android phone in Australia (after the Galaxy Nexus) to ship with this latest software. The end result is a slick and fast smartphone that offers blazing performance. What you won't find on the Galaxy Nexus is a UI skin, but that's exactly what you get on the HTC One X. The company's Sense 4.0 UI is the latest version here and HTC says it has attempted to simplify an interface which has often been accused of being too cluttered.
The new version of HTC's Sense has removed some fancy 3D animations and redesigned other UI elements to tie in better with the vanilla Android theme. We love some of its less advertised touches. The software asks you whether you'd like to save an incoming phone number as a new contact. The four dock icons can be completely customised and automatically appear as shortcuts on the lock screen. You can automatically jump to a weather forecast when you've turned off your morning alarm. HTC's well renowned widgets, including the now iconic clock and weather widget, are still available. Best of all, there is no apparent lag or slowdown during general use. Unlike previous iterations of the software the latest version of Sense does not appear to be a greedy, resource hog.
While Sense does offer some nice touches, however, the software has continued to make changes to the standard Android interface for changes sake. The recent apps menu is a perfect example: instead of a vertical list of apps that appears as a translucent layer, Sense uses a horizontal full screen version. It looks attractive but is slower to open, only shows one app at a time and adds no real benefit over the original version. Similarly, the phone app offers excellent linking of contacts from multiple sources but the interface feels cluttered and aside from the roboto font, it doesn't achieve any consistency with the regular Android UI. The default Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard, one of our favourite features of the Galaxy Nexus, has been replaced by HTC's keyboard. It is neither better looking or better implemented and wastes valuable screen real estate thanks to directional keys on the bottom row. It comes with a handy Swype-like text input, but it isn't as accurate or effective as Swype.
HTC's insistence on capacitive shortcut keys also creates plenty of inconsistency. The Galaxy Nexus uses on-screen shortcut keys in a predefined bar at the bottom of the screen, but on the One X the menu or option key for many apps appears at the bottom of the screen in a large, ugly block that wastes screen space. To make matters even more confusing, in the Sense skinned messaging, gallery and calendar apps the menu key appears at the top. In the YouTube app the menu key appears twice, both at the top and the bottom of the screen. In some apps, this menu key doesn't appear at all.
Finally, the One X comes with so many preloaded apps that opening the app draw will surely confuse many first time smartphone users. While we like diversity and choice, does the HTC One X really need an app shortcut for Flash Player Settings, Friend Stream, HTC Hub, Personalize, Setup, Show Me, Task Manager and Transfer, amongst others? Many of these features are easily accessible through the settings menu and certainly don't need to be present in the app drawer.
Camera and battery life
One of the best features of Sense on the One X is "ImageSense", which is what HTC calls the enhancements it has made to the camera. The ability to snap a photo in 0.7 seconds with a 0.2 second autofocus makes this one of the fastest cameras we've ever used on any smartphone. From holding your finger on the on-screen shutter button to enable burst mode (up to 99 photos), to being able to take still shots while recording uninterrupted video, HTC's camera UI is near perfect. We love how there is no need to switch from camera to video mode or vice versa. Simply press the video button to immediately begin recording. We also like the ability to add a range of real time effects including distortion, vignette, depth of field and sepia.
The quality of images captured by the HTC One X aren't going to replace a stand alone digital camera, but they will suffice for those who would only ever use an entry-level point and shoot. Images we captured were well focussed and relatively sharp, but low light performance was poor and colours often washed out. Like most camera phones, images tend to lack detail when zoomed in and possess a fair bit of noise. Video recording quality is excellent, though autofocus is erratic with movement.
Sense also has a few other appreciated features. It comes with Dropbox integration and includes 25GB of free storage. The music player can sync iTunes playlists automatically. The One X also comes standard with Beats Audio qualities, a direct result of HTC's "strategic partnership" with the Beats By Dr. Dre audio company. The Beats Audio profile noticeably enhances bass and works in all applications, not just the music player. However, unlike the HTC Sensation XL, the One X is not bundled with a pair of Beats headphones.
Disappointingly, the HTC One X suffers from below average battery life. We couldn't manage to achieve a full day of use before needing a recharge, even when we turned off automatic synchronising. To be fair, the phone doesn't appear to use much power at all when the screen is off, but the 1800mAh battery certainly drains quickly whenever the screen is in use — it often accounted for over 60 per cent of battery life during our test period.