HTC One X review, Tegra 3 quad core power


I usually held back one model from the current since the review units are personal purchases, and hot of the block means high prices in our market.  However the HTC One X had a rather dramatic  drop in price, mainly due to the wifi issue, and more importantly the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S3 which seems to have trounced it most departments, except price and possibly on camera performance.

This gave me the opportunity to dispose my Galaxy Note and obtain the HTC One X, and get the first hand flavor of the quad-core Tegra 3 platform.

Initial Impression

For a phone with a 4.7″ screen its very light and extremely nice on the hand.  However just like all phones in the market, manufacturers tout low weights and they achieve this by creating unbelievable thin and skimpy back covers (hint hint samsung) or advanced constructions that sadly are prone to scratches.  The One X belongs to the second category with a unique construction that oozes class and quality, but sadly use it without a cover it shows scratch marks that will make you cry on your investment.

However going back to the subject, the phone is wonderfully  balanced and stunning design, and truly asks you should you use an external case that will hide all the great design.

The responses are blazing fast, but even with all this horsepower and running ICS there is a bit of lag, however I hear that Jelly Bean improves on the smoothness, and the One X has been confirmed to receive this update (and it should, it is just months into the market!).  And if anyone is hoping to get the HTC One V, avoid seems HTC is not going ahead with the update for the V (and not really a big surprise since that’s one of the few in the 2011 line up to feature a single core)

The camera’s super fast focus, and the lovely usability feature of the idle screen where you drag one of the 4 common apps that launches the application as the phone unlocks is super and very different.

I got the black  version but I am told the white version is simply stunning and the pictures on the net clearly indicate that.  I hope to get hold of the similar design HTC One S in white color as a phone sometime soon to see this 🙂

Display and Touch experience

The screen is a very advanced dual IPS LCD, and in you really feel the quality of the display in the colors and quality.  However if you have used a Samsung Super AMOLED screen you will feel this screen is maybe a notch below in quality, but the screen colors are very natural compared to the very high contrast in the AMOLED screens.  The screen has a coating of Gorilla glass, but unlike the S3 it features the V1 of it, the S3 being one of the first phones to feature the V2 version of the Gorilla glass, however what the real world advantages remain to be seen.

The touch sensitivity of the display is very good, and backed by the quad core its very very smooth and fast running ICS.

The display is very bright, but you need to set it to full brightness to work outside, though indoors it can be run at even minimal brightness for normal use.

Interface

This was my first HTC and I have seen many units owned by my friends, and it has one of the beautiful skins, and the standout being the very clean time widget.  The HTC Sense 4.0 on the One X did not dissapoint and the interface truly was something special, that all my former phones from Samsung, Sony could not come even close.  The level of customization on themes and the way its represented on the screen is very user friendly and cool.

The widgets are top quality and there is an immense variety of it, that one may not need to try out third party widgets for many.  However there are too many clock widgets to my liking!

The nice touch on the standby screen to drag one of the four regular used apps to start is very useful, and I wish the other phones had this feature.

Even the settings menu has been customized and the lovely touch of the toggle for switching a feature on and off is nice however HTC could make this button a bit wider for chubby fingers as it can be a bit hard to use.

Another interesting customization is how you kill an app from the current running apps.  While this breaks the standard way ICS work, the implementation is cool.  In ICS you have to long press the home button and then swipe to the right to kill the app.  Easy and most phone manufacturers have left this as standard.  However HTC has gone one step up and here you get a beautiful portrait preview of the screen, and you swipe upwards.  The usability though favors the standard ICS version, but for pure coolness the HTC implementation stands out.

A notable omission is the lack of a quick access button in the alert drop down, as found in the Samsung S3 phone and even the older range.  While this can be easily overcome using third party widgets such as Power Controls  or Notification Toggles, with such high interface customizations I expected something special from HTC in this area as well.

Size and Handling

It can be an 4.7″ but it feels so much smaller and lovely to use and feel. One of the best balanced and nicest phones I have come across on size and handling.  It simply feels so light, and the touch of that ultra cool design is very very addictive.

Processing and Storage

The 1.5Ghz quad-core Tegra 3 is fast on most benchmarks, and I believe  there is a lot more optimizations to come for that chip since its early days.  It did blow the benchmarks until the quad-core Exynos processor came along, and the S4 Krait dual core units, after which the Tegra 3 though fast is not the quickest in some of the benchmarks.

One area touted is the 5th core, supposedly to handle the idle processing and hence ensure decent battery life from the monster processing unit.  However how much the 5th core comes into play is a bit questionable since the battery life of the One X is not exceptional, and according to reviews inferior to the more powerful Samsung S3 unit which does not have any power saving option. However the S3 (32nm compared to the Tegra 3 40nm) does have an advantage its hardware die is made using a new method that inherently make it more frugal on power aspects.

From memory aspects the One X comes with 1GB which is only featured on the higher end phones currently and definitely required for ICS and beyond which are proving to be memory hungry.  But with ICS known to be memory hungry (as ICS with just a few apps running has a tendency to use around 600-700MB of RAM, and with Chrome now available its going to be using even more), most of the mid level phones are also now featuring 1GB.  Possibly understanding this Samsung increased the ante on this with the S3, as it rolled out with 2GB giving it the edge.

The phone comes with 32GB in-built storage, but there is no expansion ability as there is no microSD card. Though 32GB is a sizeable amount, the One X is marketed as a multimedia phone with BeatsAudio enhancement, etc hence large amounts of music and video files are definitely going to fill up that memory.  Add to that the full HD recordings will also take space hence the lack of expansion is definitely a major let down considering the rival S3 having a microsd slot. In Asian markets people have an obsession to share using the sd card, since they rarely carry cables with them to allow them to use the mass storage mode, and hence lack of a memory card slot really impacts their normal sharing patterns.  Sadly not only HTC but even Sony has fallen into this trap, and Samsung seems to be understanding the market better.

Voice quality

The voice quality was very good, with clear and natural sound that really made you like the phone.   The speakerphone is loud and clear, definitely among the best I have used in recent phones. However for a BeatsAudio branded unit the loud speaker volume is definitely a bit low though its refined, and that’s something the Sony Xperia range does better.

Camera and Multimedia

One of the areas strongly marketed is its camera,  boasting a F 2.0 lens, the fastest in the market besting the Apple  4S and Xperia S (F 2.4) and has its own Image processing chip called HTC ImageChip. The lens is also quite wide at 28mm and also packs a very quick auto focusing unit.  Sadly camera phone focus drops from there, with no hardware shutter button for the camera, or a focus assist light as found in the N8.

The autofocus is extremely fast, but under good light, and slows down understandably under lower light conditions.  So check one for HTC one that.

The camera interface is superb, one of the best I have seen and really makes it easy for an user to add special effects, etc.  The downside is that it can also be a bit limiting on finer control points for advanced users, as there are no options to control things too much.

The picture quality is where things started to go down hill, the camera has a ugly habit of loosing the depth in the photos towards the edges, and seems to be a processing issues than hardware as photos taken using the CameraZoom app did not have this problem.  The end result of the photos is that it has the effect that one might see with the Nokia fixed focus camera units.

Another low was the amount of noise in the images, this is specially noticed indoors of if you take  a photo of a color document.  The resulting images don’t do justice for the special lens, and one wonders if the actual camera sensor is a below par compare to rivals from Samsung and Sony.

The protruding out lens may help work low light, but sadly the design makes the glass very scratch prone and this will definitely take the toll on long term use, and a scratched glass is something you really hate.

The headset that came with it was not a Beats unit but it was also something much better than normal headsets.  I compared it against headsets provided with the Iphone 4, Sony Xperia Ray, and my standard Koss and I found this to be far superior.

The front camera sadly is an atrocious quality for a flagship its miserably dark indoors and slow that it seems to be a token inclusion.  The front camera in my Xperia Ray and Xperia P though of the same resolution are far superior, but the top spot here goes for Samsung. The one one the Note is pretty good, and front what i have read the on the S3 is fair replacement for a rear camera of many cameras.

Browsing

The native HTC browser is fast when its working properly but the interface is very clunky for some basic uses.  For example if you want to switch tabs you have to go to the Menu, select tabs and then you are shown a preview to select the tab ,which is extremely cumbersome.  The browser also has the habit to sometime get stuck in processing and you have to reload pages to complete the page load.

I opted to use Opera and Chrome which were far superior to the native browser on the phone.

Battery

Based on forums the battery life was an area the One X had fallen short, and the unit I had was already updated with a fix in firmware to improve this.  I am a person who connects to the net on need and don’t have it permanently connected, and for my usage I actually could managed around 1.5-2 days. Yet when you switch 3G one and start browsing the battery does deplete quite fast, much faster than the Galaxy Note I  had, and getting 1 day would be a challenge in such usage patterns.

While the argument of the replaceable battery goes on, I feel that’s not a big deal since you have to power on and off the phone to get the new battery in.  I am sure a 20-30$ investment in an external charger (I use a tine 1300mAzh unit from Duracell) would be the solution than having to replace batteries.

Connectivity options

First the phone joins the Iphone band with a micro SIM.  Micro SIMs are not yet popular in most markets, and with us switching between phones this is a royal nuisance until this becomes  a standard.  Looking at the design I feel this was a market move than a requirement as it could have fielded a normal SIM.

However the biggest omission I feel that lets this phone down is the lack of microSD card.  If HTC could have a protruding lens on their camera, why not just tweak the design there to allow the expansion as in a world of full HD, 32GB is now just bog low.

Network Connectivity

The unit I had was said to be impacted by the wifi issue, and I was able to come across this.  I had my wifi unit placed two rooms away (brick walls) and the distance was around 30 feet and I lost signal, something I had not come across in any of my devices.

Further another problem I noticed was that when I had the phone in my pocket it also lost signal,  again something that I had not faced before.

These were signs that something was wrong with the network connectivity both 2G/3G and WIFI.

Benchmarks

I have compared the One X to the fastest phone I had prior to that which is the Galaxy Note.  Both feature similar resolutions, though the Note has a larger display.  However it gives a good idea to compare one of the 2011 best dual-core units against the Tegra 3 quad-core.

Antutu is a benchmark that has been tweaked for multi-cores and you can clearly see that impact of the additional cores in that.  With applications getting tweaked for multi-core the impact of the multi-cores will definitely make their presence going forward so this is a clear sign how much more the quad-core can do.

However Nenamark results shows that the extremely powerful Mali GPU on the Note can hold its own against the Nvidia Geforce GPU, and benchmarks of the newer Mali unit on the S3 outpaces the Tegra 3 by a fair degree.  However one area the Tegra is strong is on game compatibility since most developers favor the Nvidia platform on Android.

HTC One X (ICS 4.0.3) Samsung Galaxy Note (ICS 4.0.4)
Linpack single 51.9 48.9
Linpack multi 147.8 80.9
Antutu 2.8.3 10518 6475
Quadrant Standard 4126 3547
Nenamark 2.3 54.1 42.4
Vellamo 1.0.6 1535

Conclusion

The phone design was truly something special, and the build also excellent.  The audio quality is very good, and the processing definitely very powerful and outclassing the dual core units (bar the Krait units that power the HTC One S for instance).

The user interface is truly superb and something that makes the phone even more special, and that’s one area the HTC definitely remains above the rest.

The low light performance of the camera matches the F 2.0 lens but sadly the image quality is a let down, and the video is also not that great.

The lack of an micro SD may not be a big issue for some, but I feel 32GB is not quite enough for a flagship phone, and featuring a microSD expansion would have been optimal.

However the issues with WIFI and network connectivity and the image quality issues was a big let down for me.  I am keen to try the HTC One S which is similar to see if this resolves this problem that that current flagship seems to suffer.

Photo Gallery

Some pictures taken during good lighting conditions.  When going through the image gallery i found that many were not sharp, and have chosen examples that were sharp.

Some taken indoors or under poor lighting conditions.  Here the lens definitely making its presence, but the photos taken with flash sadly were lacking in sharpness and focus.  Again i have taken good representatives, but the chances of getting such were less than 20%, definitely not in the class of a N8.

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Samsung Galaxy Note GT-N7000 Gingerbread and ICS review


I decided to see if I could switch from a Tab + Smartphone to a single device, and that’s where the Galaxy Note came into the equation.   So off went the Sony Arc, and in came the Galaxy Note.

With the arc running ICS, the first thing I wanted to do was to update the Note the recently released ICS version, however I found that the update was not available for the CSC code of my phone.  So the elementary move was to see if I could change the CSC code and get the update, and the option was available and this is the time I also came across the warning of the eMMC bug which was randomly effecting Galaxy Note phones, though the issue was supposedly in existence in many of the Galax Note devices due to a hardware issue which required a particular flag to be disabled (impact being slower access to the internal memory).  Still uncertain is that fact if the 4.0.4 update has fixed this issue, as Samsung has not formally confirmed a fix as to date.

So like it or not I had to be stuck with Gingerbread on my Galaxy Note, and though ICS has many issues with application compatibility what is clear is that it does improve the browsing and usability on devices that have the hardware to harness it, and the Galaxy Note is definitely one of them.

UPDATE July 2012: Subsequently i tested devices owned by my friend with ICS 4.0.3 and the got myself a new note device that had 4.0.4 running out of the box. Review has been updated to reflect these findings.  The latest update also brings a lot more features to the Note including the formerly Galaxy S3 exclusive pop-up video feature.  A note only feature introduced in 4.0.4 is the signature unlock that leverages the stylus.

Initial Impression

A big phone for a phone, and many may shy from directly using it as a phone without a hands free or headset.  However while it was a bit awkward I had no problem using it like a typical phone.

One good thing is it does not heat up like the Sony arc for long term use, or when browsing, though it does get hot on long use.

The proximity detection feature that is also there in select Samsung models, where  when you take a call to shut the display is very useful as it does reduce the “ouch I put the call on hold, or damn I just cut it/ dialed someone else) in addition to saving  the battery by cutting out the display.

Display, Touch and Stylus experience

Switching from the 800×480 resolution of the Arc to the higher 1280×800 on par with many of the tablets I had used immediately made its presence with more real estate on the screen, and the Samsung AMOLED screen on the Note was extremely vibrant even at its lowest setting. The Galaxy Note is also special for a 2011 phone that it has the higher resolution that only started to get used on the Samsung built Google Nexus, and recently launched Samsung Galaxy S3 (however there are select variants of the Galaxy S2 also having this resolution in some markets).

The AMOLED screen is superb making it excellent for video and internet use. The text is clear and the higher resolution combined with a larger screen area makes it even more effective. I recently switched to a HTC One X, and also tried a Galaxy S3, no matter what you say the 5.3″ of the Note is still more important for any video or internet browsing user than a 4.7/4.8″ screen.

The Exynos processor coupled with the Mali 400MP GPU has a substantial increase in the fluidity and part of the reason must be also the larger amount of RAM on this (1GB).  While there was some lag in some screens in Gingerbread in ICS this has been reduced that one feels why you need a quad-core at all!

The much touted Stylus was something I had to try, and I tried it with the S-Memo application.  The default pen thickness to me is a bit too thick and does no justice to the what can be done.  Making the nib thinner makes it quite ideal for writing quick notes or scribing a sketch.  However when I used it on Gingerbread I felt that the application was lagging and lacking in smoothness.

Subsequently when I tried it on an ICS running Note I found that the writing was super smooth and  vast improvement over the Gingerbread version.  I am not sure this was entirely do with the ICS, or if the version included in the ICS build was far more optimized by Samsung.  On ICS the pen application seriously has very good potential for drawing, diagram creation, and for taking notes though the Samsung applications usability to be frank is rather dismal and bordering crap!

A major use of the pen was also to take screen captures,  where it proved to be a bit more usable than using the power and volume key combination for ICS native screen captures.

Interface

This was the first time after my Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 that I was coming in contact with the Touchwiz interface. While the interface is quite slick and has some interesting features,  it also brought in a lag, and subsequently resorted to using third party launchers for a more slicker navigation.  However due to the Galaxy Note having a thumping hardware spec even Touchwiz is more than bearable for me!

I used the Nemus launcher on my Note, though I find Apex to be better launcher for ICS.  Both these launchers maybe less full of eye candy compared to ADW or Go launcher, but seems to be far more tuned and lighter.

Size and Handling

While the phone is rather larger for a phone, it can still be used for taking calls but one handed operations are extremely hard for a normal person to use.  However the device is superb for use in landscape mode with both hands, making it ideal for gaming, reading, browsing, etc.

Processing and Storage

The dual-core Exynos processor from Samsung has been something that set the trend as the best of the breed in 2011, and even into mid 2012, its manages to compete well against the quad-core Tegra, and the quad-core Exynos.  The dual core S4 krait seems to be the unit that is breaking records, but the unit is more than capable of providing the required power not for this year but for the next if you hope to hold on to the device for a long term.

Another thing that makes the Note still a worth purchase is that unlike most phones in 2011, it comes with 1GB RAM, which is definitely required for ICS and Jelly Bean which require a lot more RAM than Gingerbread.

The Note comes with a fair amount of internal storage 16GB (some variants have 32GB), and it also comes with a microSD slot that can take up to another 32GB, providing ample storage.

Voice quality

The voice quality when using the phone is quite good. However for for its size I expected better from the in-built speaker phone. I felt that the Galaxy SII speakerphone was louder than the Note.

Multimedia

Samsung is known for bundling hardware support for practically all popular video formats, something many other manufacturers shy from.  Hence the default video player can handle all formats, but here again I prefer to use the MX Player for its better usability.

The Samsung music player is cool, and one of the features I like which I did not find in my Sony or HTC I the folder view, which is very useful when playing your music.

The camera unit seems identical to the Galaxy SII and its excellent for a camera phone. One of the key advantages that the Note and Galaxy S2 phones have is that they use a very very powerful flash, coupled with a fairly fast lens and decent sensor (for a camera phone) they produce top notch photos that even are hard to improve by the newer models such as the Galaxy S3 or the HTX One X/ Xperia S.  The video is also very good, and the Note is all ready to do 1080p, something that other brand phones only brought into the 2012 range!

The speakers on the Galaxy Note are adequate, but for the larger size I expected better.  Having tried both the Galaxy S2 and the Galaxy 7.7 tab I find that the speaker unit is either identical to the S2 or worse.  The worse could be due to the form fact or design that muffles it,  hence its not that loud.  My former Sony Arc thumped a fair bit of sound when it comes to music than the Note.

Battery

If you look at the battery life tests, this device just stands out for voice calls due to the extremely large capacity battery which is at least 50-80% more than what a normal phone battery is in the top of range phones.

However once you start to use the screen a lot for browsing or reading (and remember AMOLED is not very efficient when the screen is entirely white, a major problem when it comes to browsing or e-reading), the battery drain is greater than a smaller screen with an smaller battery.

However with general use similar to my Arc I can easily take the device over 2 days, something very hard to accomplish with most smart phones, though heavy internet users (one of my colleagues who owned a Note falls into this category), and in his case the battery ran dry in less than a day.

Connectivity options

An aspect that I did not write or consider much in my past reviews were on the SIM type, since the micro SIM is something we mainly associated with Apple.  Well seems like more and more of the newer crop are joining the micro SIM band.  Fortunately the Galaxy Note still uses a normal SIM, very useful when you suddenly need to remove and use the SIM on an older phone.

Benchmarks

I had the luxury of using my version of the Note running Gingerbread and also subsequently try the device of my friend which had been upgraded to ICS.  Here is a quick summary of standard results.  Nenamark results have shown explosive increments with ICS across all phones i have tested so it seems to be either some tweak on ICS or how the benchmark works.  Reasons for Antutu dropping so much has baffled me, and when i compared the CPU scores had dropped, but power saving was definitely disabled, and i had also stopped any background applications.  I will try to rerun that test and see if that had been a freaky result, since the overall graphical interaction responses of the Note with ICS had improved vastly compared to Gingerbread.

I again got myself a Note, and this time it had ICS 4.0.4 running, and performance had improved beyond the Gingerbread version and much better than the ICS 4.0.3 firmware.

Gingerbread 2.3.6 ICS 4.0.3 ICS 4.0.4
Linpack single 65.0  48.9
Linpack multi 90.5  80.9
Antutu 2.8.2 6280  5210  6475
Quadrant Standard 2819  3415  3547
Nenamark 2.2 27.0  41.7  42.4

Even Vellamo scores for web rendering related had dropped in 4.0.3. Here are the two captures for Gingerbread (above) and ICS (below). However with the 4.0.4 update the figures are back indicating the initial ICS release was not properly tweaked.

Impact of power saving on the Galaxy Note

When I first ran the results on my Gingerbread Note, I was rather disappointing if i had got a dud unit since the results were very poor.  Then I realized the reason was that I had the default power saving enabled.  Here are some results showing the impact of the power saving on tests

No power saving Power saving enabled
Antutu 2.8.2 6280 3898
Quadrant Standard 2819 2264

Conclusion

Many laughed at the size, and all expected it to crash just like the Dell Streak. But how wrong people were, including myself, the device has a niche, and a large niche at that which seems to be growing, and the upcoming 5.5″ Note 2 and the sales numbers for the Note tell the story of its success.

With smart phones growing in size, the current flagship phones are touting 4.7/4.8″ screens that are not too far shy of the Galaxy Note, indicating that people want screen space, something that the Apple phones are now loosing out on, and this is where the Android devices are hitting hard.

The story is not just resolution, its also about the screen space, and with more and more users now moving to texting, browsing, and video calls coupled with seeking to use the phone as a multimedia device, the Galaxy Note has hit a spot and unlike past device its comes with superb hardware, an excellent screen that matches anything in the market, and the stylus that has its uses. It has not fallen into the trap of compromising on its multimedia and comes with an excellent camera that produces superb photos and videos.

So if you own a Note, or want to own one don’t think big is stupid, trust me it is note, and many in office who had a laugh when they saw me using it have purchased the same and are very happy as it does cater to the modern generation!  My kids pediatrician who is a techno geek, has a Note, and thought he upgraded his day phone a S2 with the S3, he still has  the Note indicating the more powerful S3 with the larger screen still cannot replace what the Note can do!

Galaxy Note as a Phone

For many the Galaxy Note will be far too large to use it as a normal phone, since it is far to large for single handed use, and also too large in size to be keeping it to your ear in size and weight (can also impact your clown factor in office!).

However if you are a Bluetooth headset user, this issue completely vanishes, and the larger battery and practically of the Note makes it a superb device.

Also if you are rare voice caller and mainly  text person, who also wants to browser or view videos, then look no further unless you prefer a larger size in a tablet format either 7/7.7/10″.

Galaxy Note as a carry along Tablet

While the Note is large, my belief is that its suitable for browsing but falls short on the e-reader department as its just too small for long term reading.  The size is also too small to be comfortable for long term use, and this I where the 7/7.7″ format comes into use.

Hence if you are into texting and take only a rare call, then the 7.7/7 in tabs are far more suited as they have the ideal reading size, and usually also come with better battery life and equivalent hardware.  I also got the opportunity to buy and use a P6800 Galaxy 7.7 tab and believe this suites such users far more than the Galaxy Note for heavy e-reading and movies than the Note.

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