HTC One X+ review

5 out of 5
£494.99

For

Glorious display, great finish and build quality, oozes power, software tweaks, front camera is impressive, higher-capacity battery and increased storage complete the package

Against

LED notification is of little use, that's about it

The HTC One X+ arrives with a minor hardware refresh, and a sprinkling of software tweaks, keeping a design that we think is rather iconic and substantial.

There will undoubtedly be some who say that the HTC One X+ is the phone the HTC One X should have been. It's an easy statement to make, but doesn't account for the fact that the One X at launch in February 2012 was fully-loaded.

The pace of change in mobile phones is now so fast, that the HTC One X found itself overshadowed by the rival Samsung device. But can this tweak make this HTC handset the one to pick? And is this a significantly better device than the HTC One X?

Design

We have a suspicion that much of what you read here will be familiar. The design of the HTC One X+ is the same as the One X. That's a good thing, because it's a solid design. The polycarbonate unibody envelops the phone, giving you a seamless finish, that's without excessive bloat wherever you look.

READ: HTC One X review

It isn't without features though. The gentle curvature of the back means the phone sits nicely in the hand and the ridges that run around the edges seem to fall in the perfect places to give grip in the joints of your fingers.

The finish of the HTC One X+ is matte all over. The original had glossy sides, for whatever reason, but we prefer the uniform finish here. It's serious, it stays clean and scuff free (from our testing) and looks contemporary and aggressive, like your favourite car was just dipped in the paint shop and emerged in a matte black coat.

There are some superficial changes. There is the red highlight around the camera lens on the back, matching the colour of the touch controls on the front, and the Beats Audio label has been changed to the logo. It's clean and simple in design, but very good looking.

We love the stealth looks of the HTC One X+. We still think the handset is well fashioned and oozes quality. There's no sign of any flex or creaking here. It might not have the practicality of a removable back like the Samsung Galaxy S III, but no one will ever say the One X+ feels cheap.

READ: Samsung Galaxy S III review

The HTC One X+ measures 134.36 x 69.9 x 8.9mm and weighs an average 135g. There's no doubting this is a big phone and for those with small hands it might be a bit of a stretch to get around the display, but in our average man hands, it isn't a problem.

Battery bonus

But lacking a removable back means you're faced with two major issues with the HTC One X+: you can't change the battery and you don't get a microSD card slot. Neither of these things is especially rare, but in a world where flexibility matters these are big points. Fortunately, they have both been addressed by the HTC One X+: you now have 64GB of internal memory and an uprated battery with a capacity of 2100mAh.

Battery performance is much better than the original HTC One X as a result. With the original phone, we'd struggle to get much past lunchtime on a busy work day before the battery got worryingly low. Now, however, the HTC One X+ sails past midday and on towards early evening, even on busy days.

The battery life of course depends on what you do with your phone, but for us, the HTC One X+ is a handset that will make it through the day. Taking lots of photos does have a fair impact on the battery -something to watch if you're a shutterbug. Occasionally we'd have to plug it in early evening, but on the majority of light usage days, we’d get through 15 hours without a problem.

Some of this is due to HTC Sense's new power saver mode. This, we found, could be permanently engaged without having much of an impact on daily usage. In bright conditions you may have to turn it off to get the screen up to top brightness, but otherwise, it just seems to extend the battery without impacting on functionality.

Hardware and display

The battery and storage isn't the only area to see a boost on the HTC One X+. There's also a bumped-up processor, a 1.7GHz quad-core Tegra 3 chipset lies in the heart of the One X+ along with 1GB of RAM.

The result is a phone that's fast in all areas. There is real snap to everything it does and combined with the latest (almost) software from Google, it is smoother than the One X in general navigation.

You get all the usual connectivity, but this isn't a handset that supports 4G. That said, we found the One X+ seemed to offer a better network connection than our One X: in the same locations, on the same network, the One X+ was more reliable at delivering all the data we like to gobble.

Elsewhere you have NFC, supporting Android Beam for sending data back and forth with another handset, and the usual collection of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 (with support for apt-X for enhanced audio), DLNA, and MHL via the Micro-USB port.

This is all topped off with a glorious 4.7-inch Super LCD 2 display. It's finished with Gorilla Glass 2 to resist scratches and comes with an impressive 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, 312ppi. This sort of pixel density rivals the iPhone 5, but not only is it sharp, but it’s also one of the best displays we've seen on current smartphones.

It is bright, with the power to stay useful on a sunny day, and it looks sensational, offering greater authenticity and colour accuracy than Super AMOLED rivals. It has great viewing angles and we're impressed by how punchy and vibrant it is, while still being able to produce nice clean whites and deep blacks. Whether it's photos, movies or websites, pretty much everything looks fantastic on the HTC  One X+.

Software

The HTC One X+ rolls out with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and HTC Sense 4+, the latest version of HTC's software, if not quite the latest from Google. This is also the same software that will be landing on the existing One X, and we've been through the differences in our extensive comparison, which is worth a read if you want all the details.

READ: HTC Sense 4.1 vs. Sense 4+: What's the difference?

Sticking to the important points, the HTC One X+ feels very complete in its software offering, with the continued refinement from Android and Sense making this the best HTC phone yet, from a software point of view at least.

It's a lighter touch than the HTC Sense of old, with the launcher being customisable to what you want, and sticking close to the native Android Jelly Bean experience. HTC's tweaking is evident at all levels, from the browser to the way recent apps are displayed, but there's little to complain about as HTC Sense now complements Android, rather than detracting from it.

 

Jelly Bean features remain in place too. A long press on the home button will fire up Google Now instantly, allowing you to get into searching or checking those cards without delay. The smoothness of Jelly Bean is here too, flicking from screen to screen and opening apps is all buttery smooth, as Google intended.

Elsewhere you get those expandable notifications, swiped away at will, keeping you informed. If we've one criticism of HTC Sense 4+, it's that it doesn't take huge advantage of the notification area. There's a link to settings, but we'd love to see some hardware toggles here, as found on the Samsung Galaxy S III.

READ: Samsung Galaxy S III review

You also get the choice of both HTC's keyboard and the Jelly Bean keyboard so you can choose which to use. Both are reasonable, but we quickly found that they didn't compare to our favourite keyboard from SwiftKey, quickly rectified with a download from Google Play.

When it comes to the browser, HTC has its own modified browser, as well as offering Chrome. We've found that Chrome is the better option and, thanks to Android's option to select which app opens on a particular action, you can easily have Chrome as the default and avoid HTC's browser entirely.

 

So the software experience is good. Everything has that precision and snap you'd expect, with core apps like Gmail and Google Maps offering the latest Android experience. That is with one exception: HTC Locations.

For a number of years HTC has been pushing its own mapping solution. In the HTC One X+ HTC Locations is the default application for finding addresses from the calendar. That means your synced Google calendar appointments will want to open HTC Locations when you're searching for that meeting spot.

Ironically, Locations is terrible at finding locations. We tapped on "Oxford Street, London" from our calendar and HTC Locations gave us a long list of places, the top being in Buffalo, New York. Seeing as we were standing on the end of Oxford Street in London at the time, it hardly seems like a service worth having any patience with.

Fortunately, you can step around this minor absurdity with an app called Select Other Map for HTC. This will then give you the option to select Google Maps and you can avoid HTC Locations permanently.

Cameras

The HTC One X+ lands with an improved front-facing 1.6-megapixel sensor. This takes advantage of HTC's imaging chip that lies in the phone and will tweak the raw images before they are output as jpegs. It's a great system and the impact this has on the front-facing camera is remarkable.

Front-facing cameras have never been that good. For low-rent video conferencing, where the speed of the connection probably has a greater impact on the quality than the capture device, this was never really a problem. But with a phone the size of the One X+ that lacks a dedicated camera button, it's nigh-on impossible to take a self-portrait using the main camera.

The improved front camera on the One X+ gets around this, offering a self timer, so you don't get wobble when you jab the button and it also enhances the captured image so you look better. Yes, the HTC One X+ is a phone that will appeal to your insecurities and result in a better looking you.

Mostly this comes down to good colour balancing and a dab of sharpening, but it gets rid of the pasty-looking slightly blurred indoor shots. Importantly is does this while avoiding the sort of smeared-in-butter effect that some rival's beauty modes offer.

When it comes to the rear 8-megapixel camera, it still offers the same sort of great performance as it did on the One X. There have been some minor tweaks to the camera app, so you can instantly switch cameras for example, as well as a read-out to show you how many more shots you can take.

It also offers fast focusing, with continuous autofocus making the camera ready to capture with pretty much no delay at all, or touch focusing if you want to be a little more precise. Capture is extremely fast and there is also burst capture, which will rattle off a continuous stream of shots as you hold your finger on the on-screen button.

The camera experience is great. Composing  a shot on the 4.7-inch display is glorious in itself and the results are impressive too. Sure, this is a phone camera and it has its limitations, but as an all-round performer, the HTC One X+ is a solid choice.

Low-light shots can be a little noisy, but we've seen far worse, and it struggles with high-contrast scenes as all camera phones do. There is an HDR mode that will attempt to preserve highlights and shadow detail by combining two consecutive shots, with mixed results.

Without HDR (left) with HDR (right)

As you can see above, things never look quite real when shot on HDR, but then that's a look you might be after, so it's worth playing with. There is also the usual run of photo effects for you to add to bring a little variety to your pictures, rounding out a great camera package.

On the video front, the HTC One X+ offers capture at up to 1080p. The continuous autofocus system is very good too, keeping things sharp as you move the phone around and finding focus without too much seeking. Again there is touch focusing too. The results are great, with plenty of detail, idea for sharing online or on the big screen.

Entertainment

The entertainment experience on the HTC One X+ is very much as it was on the One X. The Music app acts as a hub for your music rather than just a player. This allows you to add app shortcuts for all your music to one place, so you can open it up and have Google Play Music, Spotify or local music files at your fingertips.

Beats Audio is in place too and this will boost the sound performance whenever you plug in a pair of headphones (of any variety). Beats Audio enriches the bass especially and we like the results, although it's an all or nothing approach: there is no other equaliser in place.

Beats also boosts the audio of your video and, like the music player, we like the fact that HTC gives you access to your media servers through the player. If you have a media server somewhere in your house, this makes it easy to access your existing content to play it on the phone, or then send it to another compatible device.

Movies look fantastic on the big display of the HTC One X+. HTC Watch is in place if you want to buy them from HTC, and the app now includes links to a selection of other video apps, although you can't add your own so we didn't find this too useful. However, the likes of Netflix and BBC iPlayer (with the BBC Media Player app) look great.

The Gallery has had a tweak too. When you arrive at the Gallery you're now presented with all your online sources - Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, etc - or the choice to browse images and videos on the device. This saves rooting through the menus to select the image source so things are generally faster to get to.

Overall, the media entertainment experience on the HTC One X+ is great. Android now offers a huge range of choices when it comes to getting your hands on content, from Amazon to Google and everything in between. In some cases we're still waiting for improved apps in this post-Flash era, but the One X+ is a great media device.

Verdict

Is it substantially better than the HTC One X? While many of the key elements of the phone are the same, it's the battery that makes the biggest difference to us. It was the weakest element of the previous device and it's now a better performer. If you're a One X owner, this is the thing you should be envious of.

How does it compare to something like the Samsung Galaxy S III? We'd happily take either phone and the One X+ narrows the gap with the SGS3 that was there previously from the original model. 

Much will come down to preference in software: Samsung has a great range of innovative software features that HTC doesn't, as well as the flexibility of a changeable battery and microSD card. But what the One X+ might lack is the je ne sais quoi that has people talking about it in the street, which Samsung does.

And that's not quite fair, because the HTC One X+ is an excellent handset. There's little to complain about, save a minor gripe with HTC Locations, and nothing is insurmountable. The hardware, the power, the build and the design of the HTC One X+ make this a phone we'd highly recommend.