HTC One X is a huge smartphone but may not be that smart

Disclaimer: the writer of this post (me) is not an Apple fanboy.
First of all, I’m not a ‘boy’. I’m an old man with 1,000 kids. Second, I’ve been using non-Apple products my entire life and like them very much, I do think the iPhone was the biggest, most innovative mobile invention of the past few decades but it stops there: I recently bought a Mac and learned that Apple does have bad products. So Android fans, before you start commenting, please take my words as they are without suspecting I have a hidden agenda…

HTC ONE X Review - Mobile Spoon


For the past few weeks I’ve been using one of the best Android smartphones out there: the HTC One X.
It took me a while to get used to the ridiculous size of it, the keyboard, the Sense UI but after a few weeks of giving it a serious chance I came up to the conclusion that HTC One X may be one of the strongest smartphones out there but it’s definitely not a smart product.

Yes, sorry HTC fans, if this is the best device HTC could create to compete with Samsung and Apple then I wouldn’t buy HTC stocks in the near future (nor recommend on buying the One X).

So by now you probably ask yourself, how can a device by a company known for its’ years of experience in mobility, and its’ friendly Sense UI, be called ‘Not Smart’? Here are few reasons:


The size may be huge, but it doesn’t bring real advantage

When I just got the One X I didn’t know what to do with that ridiculous size of it (4.7 inches).
I mean, I’m not a small man. I’m actually pretty tall with relatively long fingers, but at first I found it really hard to operate this mini-tablet. Reaching specific areas in the screen forced me to change the way I hold the device, I found myself using two hands instead of one, or accidently touching the wrong buttons with parts of my hand I never knew existed, while stretching my finger trying to get somewhere.

After a few days with it, I started to get use to it.
Guess what? The iPhone suddenly looked too small, a bit funny even. I started appreciating the size of the new phone, and of course I appreciated the amazing design of it.

But the problem is that HTC failed to make a good usage of that screen size when it comes to the software.

Here are a few examples to how the size of the device is not being used wisely:

  • Sense UI: Sense UI is nice, but the truth is that it has widgets that existed 5 years ago in the TouchPro user interface that ran on Windows Mobile (I had one of those devices back then).
    The way the Sense UI is using the screen real-estate is a disgrace. You can barely place more than one informative widget in a page and the number of pages is still limited (the plus button doesn’t work), the result is that you cannot really enjoy the benefits of widgets and need to move back and forth to find information.
    (Information that, by the way, exists on the iPhone’s lock-screen without having to make a single action).
  • Emails: With such a huge screen you would expect not to have any issues with reading emails, right? 
    Unfortunately, it seems like there are some issues identifying the required width of each email, and so I find myself scrolling left and right in 1 out of 3 emails I read where the text expands beyond the width of the screen. This is a huge usability bug, that doesn’t exist in phones with much smaller screens. And no, you cannot “zoom-out” and make the text smaller… 

On the positive side, browsing the internet (especially with the new AMAZING Google Chrome) is much better when you use such a big device.


Great specs but disappointing results and poor performance:

Almost a year ago I explained that technical specifications should not be your primary way of selecting a new smartphone and the HTC One X is a perfect example of how great specifications do not guarantee perfect performance: this giant droid comes packed with 1.5 GHz Quad-core and things still work slowly!

  • Unlocking the screen with one of the quick app launch options takes long
  • The beautiful multi-tasking option is an eye candy but getting back to a running app takes forever and in many cases seems like it is restarting the app that is supposed to be running in the background…
  • Sense UI is simply the slowest homescreen I’ve ever worked with. There are lags when you move from one page to another, lags when using different elements of this shell.
  • The front camera (1.3 MP, 720p) might not be that bad, but the pictures it takes are seriously below expectations.
  • Browsing through photos in the Gallery app feels like it is actually challenging the device. From time to time you will notice the photo did not move as if the phone is getting tired of photo browsing.

And a word about the Sense UI and its’ performance: I mean, how many years should a company the size of HTC invest in order to make such an important product work perfectly without bugs and performance issues?
And how come the most popular topic in the forums is “how to remove Sense UI?


A smartphone UI that is not that… smart:

User Interface and UX are very popular these days, as smartphones are getting smarter every day, doing more for the user, helping him to get things done with minimal attention. HTC One X fails in the small things of the UI and it made me realize I do not enjoy using it and use my laptop (!!!) instead for simple things I used to do with my iPhone.

Some of it is Android’s fault. This OS still lacks the “magical” touch iOS has. The capabilities are the same, and actually better than iOS in many aspects, but the “how” is not the same.

Sorry Google. You are just not there yet with the UX. But hey, make everything work like that new Chrome for mobile and I promise I will stop complaining…

The main problem with the One X is that HTC customized some areas and made them worse.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Front camera: bad, bad…
    I have kids, and like any (dumb) excited parent, when they do something (I think is) cute – I want to picture it and force others to see it even though they really don’t want to.
    Once you are in the camera app - it takes 3 extremely accurate clicks (menus and stuff) to activate the front camera! That is just annoying.
    When holing kids, and trying to keep up the momentum – that is an insane number of actions to get things done. Seems like something small, but believe me, when you have kids all over you, every click counts.
  2. Lock-screen: You can only have 4 apps launched directly from your lockscreen, how about some configuration over there to make it more useful?
  3. Notifications in the lock-screen are doable, but guess what: unlocking your phone by sliding ‘missed call’ notification does not call back the person. Instead, it opens up the phone application. Why do I specifically slide down the missed call notification if it’s not for calling back to the person I just missed? Why do I need that redundant click in the upper area of the phone (which is had to get to anyhow due to the size of the screen…)?
  4. Emails: up to now, I’m not clear about the way addresses are presented in the email app. Sometimes they are shown when I scrolling up the email page – (which reveals them), and sometime they can be seen only by clicking a certain part of the email showing only the first name (taking you to a special screen with all the addressees). Weird. Inconsistent. Annoying. 
  5. Emails again: Picture this: you get an email, from a person not in your contact list. You want to copy the email address and do something with it… well. Sorry kids, you cannot. The only way to do it is by creating a contact out of this email address, edit it, and then copy the address…
  6. Keyboard: I can’t say the default HTC Keyboard is bad, but still, as the alternatives are there, I tried looking for alternative keyboards, and found that each of them had few issues that bothered me. Sometimes having too many alternatives makes you more frustrated than having just one option. Eventually I found that SwiftKey X did better job for me.

So many small things. Am I a nagger to even mention them? I probably am, however, in a world where every click counts, where Apple and Samsung are constantly searching for those small things that can make their mobile OS smarter and more productive, comes the HTC One X and proves that highly customized products often take you backwards in terms of basic usability.


Bottom line

Don’t get me wrong: HTC One X is not a bad smartphone. It is a beautiful device, it’s elegant, it is loaded with the best specs you can possibly ask for. For many people out there it might be the perfect smartphone they always dreamed of. There are days when I’m actually happy with it, but then there are those small things that drive me insane.

I think HTC can (and should) improve the software so that UI bugs, and performance are significantly improved. There are already a bunch of tweaks all over the net showing how to improve performance in the Sense UI, most of them a bit techy. HTC must release an update in order to get this beast to do what it’s capable of. I believe it will happen.

For now, I’m generally disappointed with the HTC One X. I think it doesn’t stand to the expectations I had and the potential, but I’m not switching back to my iPhone just yet. I’m going to give it some more time, look for ways to customize it some more, optimize it for my needs. Enjoy the unique features it does have (camera and sound mostly).

Who knows, maybe in a few weeks from now I will be a happy Android user saying bad things about Apple fanboys too…


Amit said…
I think some of the issues can be easily resolved with some Android customization. But I agree that Sense should have been better by now.
yaelipskin said…
That is the Android problem. You cant just buy it and use it. You always need to customize it... and then after few weeks of downloading unchecked apps and tools the os starts to crash here and there... one bug here, another there.... till you have to reset everything... while your iphone friends don't know what it means :-)
Anonymous said…
I think that HTC had it all and simply blew it!
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