HTC One X+ vs HTC One S
There is really no better way to evaluate a phone than to load it up and take it on a trip. You tend to push a phone more on the road, and that’s really what the whole “mobile” thing is about anyway. So on my latest trip I took 3 phones: my personal daily driver the Incredible 4G on Verizon, the One X+ on AT&T, and the lovely One S on TMobile. If you’re familiar with these phones, you know that this would boil down to a size and packaging test, since most of the guts are the same. The Incredible display is 4″, One S is 4.3″ and the One X+ is 4.7″.Although all of these phones were released more than six months ago, they are still available, and at discounted rates. Because they’ve been around a while, we now know what it’s like to live with these phones, which is what a real review should be all about. Hit-and-run spec and benchmark tests or unboxings don’t really give us any idea of what it’s like to endure the length of a contract with a phone.
Here is the spec list for the two phones
One S One X+
dimensions 131x65x7.8mm 134x70x8.9mm
display 4.3″ AMOLED 4.7″ Super LCD2
resolution 960×540 1280×720
weight 119.5 g 135 g
processor Qualcom Snapdragon S4 nVidia Tegra 3
1.5 ghz dual 1.7 ghz quad
storage space 16 gb 64 gb
RAM 1 gb 1 gb
SD? no no
rear camera 8 mp 8 mp
front camera vga 1.6 mp
battery size 1650 2100
nfc? no yes
FM? yes yes
The One S is positioned somewhat lower than the One X+ in the overall HTC One lineup. It has a smaller screen and battery, and what some would consider a lesser screen technology (AMOLED instead of IPS LCD2). It is also only available on T-Mobile, a carrier that doesn’t carry the same clout as the One X+’s AT&T. For these reasons, I think the One S is a phone that has largely slid under the radar of most mobile blog wonks, and the rabid mobile “commentariat” fanboys. Still, it’s a worthy device that I’m glad to give a deeper look here, in comparison to the One X+ and my benchmark standard comparison phone, the Incredible 4G.
The body of the One S is just stunning. When I pulled it out of the box, I just admired it for probably 15 minutes. Some of the subtleties are difficult to appreciate in pictures, so let me walk you around the device. When you look at the One S, you should start by looking at the side view. From the side, the phone looks curved. It even appears to have a bit of a “dog-bone” shape to it, being bigger on the ends than in the middle. Measuring the phone with calipers shows the bottom to be 0.349″ thick, the middle 0.320″, and the top (to the side of the camera ring) 0.364″, and on the camera ring 0.383″. The phone definitely rests on the camera ring when placed back-down on a table, which some people do see as a detractor, although it’s more a of a theoretical issue than anything. This case is sturdy enough that resting it on the camera ring isn’t going to damage anything. The ring is a very nice anodized blue aluminum, which nicely matches the gray-blue color of the body.
Now that I’ve mentioned the color of the case, the next thing is to turn it over and look at the back. You may not see it right away, but the color on the back of the device fades from a light gray at the top to a dark gray on the bottom. I know of no other phone that has a similar feature. The body of the phone is a molded aluminum, finished with a combination of anodization and paint for the fade.The finished metal feels great in the hand, but when it comes to holding onto the device, I felt it was too slick. I came close to letting it slip out of my hand once or twice. If I owned this phone, I would get a minimal bumper cover for it. I might even trim down a full-coverage bumper so that you could see the beautiful finish of the body of the phone, while adding some grip and cushioning to the sides and corners.
If I haven’t said it yet, I think this phone is a great example of beautiful product design. The shape, lines, color, and materials of the body are stunning. It is different from anything else that you will find from other phone manufacturers, and even different from other current HTC devices. The only part of the appearance that I didn’t really like has to do with the top and bottom covers on the back. The top cover in the back is removable to allow access to the sim card. This part is a cheap plastic, and it feels and looks that way. If you look at the gap between the aluminum and the plastic, you see some inconsistencies, particularly around the sides. The color of the plastic also doesn’t match the aluminum perfectly. I would have chosent a contrasting color rather than risk a slight mismatch, so the contrast at least looks intentional.
It’s tough to criticize HTC for the aesthetics on this phone, which clearly take a bit of a risk, and to me are well beyond what any other manufacturer has done with phone design. I don’t think HTC gets enough credit from critics or from the general public on their design effort overall. Motorola seems to reuse the design of 1980′s calculators, while Samsung seems to reuse the design of 1960′s kitchen appliances.
While the phone looks great, holding onto it is a different story. In the hand, the edges around the phone are a bit sharper than they should be, especially the edge up near the power button. These edges (essentially the mold parting line all the way around the body) could be polished down a little more without changing the overall design. From a functional point of view, the design might have benefited from some overmolded rubber grips on the sides and/or back, or at minimum some soft touch painted areas. Putting a rubber bumper case over this beautiful phone should be a crime, but from a functional standpoint, you would be excused for doing it.
Other things I liked about the One S were the size, and the overall pocketability. 4.3″ is a nice compromise size between the too-small 4.0″ and the pushing-it 4.7″. I could almost get used the feel of the 4.7″ phone in my hand, but always felt better about the 4.3. There aren’t that many (modern, main-brand) phones using mid-size screens. Motorola Razr M, Sony Xperia, HTC 8X (WP8), a new LG L7 and HTC One SV are the current or new 4.3′s that come to mind. I think this is the size that makes the most of the compromise between portability and usability, and I wish it were more popular among high-spec phones.
Both the One S and the One X+ have nicely finished glass. The glass curves around the edge of the top side of the phone to meet the bezel in a way that doesn’t catch your fingers as they slide constantly over the front of the device. My Incredible 4G does not share this advantage, it has rather sharp edges at the sides of the display. Nothing you’d get hurt on, but it’s just not a nice flowing curve the way its two big cousins are built.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot to recommend this phone aside from the outer appearance. There are several things lacking, such as NFC, wireless charging, call forwarding, no removable battery, or SD card slot. The small amount of storage space (16 gb) is also an issue for some. I also found that when you view the AMOLED display from an extreme angle, the color shifts noticeably to the pink, then blue. The most objectionable part of my experience with this phone, however, was coverage from the T-Mobile network. Network speeds tested with the Speedtest app were consistently well below both AT&T and Verizon. Sometimes it was tough to get a signal at all. This obviously has to do with my location, but the results were the same in major airports and and cities where I traveled.
While the resolution of the screen on paper doesn’t break any records (960 x 540), I didn’t find it distracting in actual practice. Of course my eyes are crowding 50 years old, and admittedly, they aren’t what they used to be. The qHD display is big enough to see just about everything, and sharp enough to look good.
Both the One X+ and One S have the ImageSense chip, so the cameras are great. Burst mode was particularly useful, as were panorama options, touch-to-focus, depth of field settings, 2.0 f stop, and 28 mm lens. If you’re concerned about more than that from a camera, maybe you shouldn’t be using the camera on your phone. These cameras are more than adequate for the kind of pictures I take.
I strongly dislike the Mail and Calendar apps that come with HTC phones. Mail lacks batch options, links in emails, and certain navigation tools. I replace it with K9 mail, free from Google Play store. K9 is much more configurable, and more powerful overall. The standard HTC Calendar widget doesn’t seem to display scheduled events. I replace this with Jorte again free from the Google Play store. Jorte is not exactly a dream either, but it does work if you set it up correctly, and it does everything I need it to do except interface with meeting requests from Outlook.
Most of what I have written about the One X in a previous review also applies to this phone. The X and X+ share the same outside dimensions, the same body, the same display. The one difference is that the X+ has a black body, and the X was white. I think I would prefer maybe a silver body, because the white just got too dirty from hands and color rubbed off of jeans, and the black makes the beautiful design too hard to see. The main differences between the One X and the One X+ are processor (1.5 ghz Snapdragon S4 dual core vs 1.7 ghz Tegra 3 quad core) battery (1800 vs 2100 mah), storage (16 gb vs 64 gb), front camera (1.3 vs 1.6 mp), and color (white vs black). Remember that the US and international versions of the One X were very different, with the US version making several concessions to get the LTE in there.The polycarbonate material with the soft touch coating of the One X+ just felt better for every day use than the aluminum of the One S. I think this was because the aluminum conducts heat too well, so it either felt cold or hot, depending on if the phone was being used or not. For these same reasons, I’ve never cared for the feel of the iPhone, plus the fact that the iPhones have a sharp and impersonal feel. (Notice that a lot of iPhones wind up in ugly bumper cases.) The soft touch plastic is comfortable in all situations. The One X+ did heat up significantly when using it to play 3D games. Not surprisingly, it would also burn through the battery rather quickly as well.
The One X+ was the device I chose to use most of the time when on my trip. This was because the screen was bigger and easier to read than my 4″ Incredible, and because the body was easier to hold on to than the One S. For this trip, I carried all 3 phones without cases. TSA found that entertaining.
Because I was using the One X+ more extensively, I also customized it the most. Since these phones are not mine, I can’t really just root them, but I did the next best thing, which is to put a launcher on them. I used Nova Launcher Pro. I’ve used other launchers, like Go and ADW back in the Gingerbread days, and Apex more recently. Nova seems the most flexible of these, in my non-scientific testing. The reason for a launcher is just to get a wider range of interface options, and the launcher is much easier to deal with. Most people couldn’t tell the difference between a custom launcher and a custom ROM. So you can see I went to a 6 x 6 grid, which I do even on my 4″ Incredible. I think the Nova Pro launcher combined with the native capabilities of this phone really made a nice combination.
The speed of the AT&T network is better than T-Mobile, but nowhere near Verizon. In the cities I have visited with these phones, Verizon blows them all away, speed-wise. I’ve seen the Verizon network get as fast as 36 mbps on 4G in my area, while AT&T peaked at about 13 mbps and T-Mobile only 8.8 mbps. Even on the same WiFi network, the One S could only manage 7.7 mbps while the others were around 17. This indicates that the T-Mobile network, even across a land-based internet connection, is still the bottle neck.
Also, while we’re comparing benchmarks, the One X+ is the fastest phone I’ve used yet. Quad core processors may be entirely overkill for what most people use their phones for, but the Tegra 3 quad does beat the Snapdragon S4 dual, without much question. The age-old video demo test of revving the home screens with your finger to see how fast a processor is seems a bit silly, but you still see guys even on the big mobile sites do it. The only apps I have that really tax the processor on my phone are 3D games, and 3D video is part of the benchmarks (Antutu and Quadrant).
The 64 gb of storage on the X+ almost makes me forget that it doesn’t have an SD slot. Of course, no matter how much storage a phone has, an SD card makes it easier to move a picture, movie or music library around between phones easily. Moving that much data over a wire or WiFi connection can take some time.
The display is wonderful on this phone. In fact, it’s so wonderful, that if you view pictures that are less than wonderful, you will notice that immediately. On other phones with less detailed displays (like the One S), you can get by with pictures that are slightly blurry, but this phone makes bad pictures look bad.
The biggest downside of this phone would probably be the battery life. Gaming is something you should do while tethered to a power source. If you play a game for more than 15 minutes, the phone will heat up uncomfortably. If you do it for two hours, you’re going to need to plug in. The screen looks great at full brightness, but it also chews battery.
Between these two phones, the one I’d rather live with is clearly the One X+. It has more power, more space, more battery, more screen, more little options, and just an overall better livability quotient, whatever that is. I think I do like the 4.3″ display size better than the 4.7″, but that’s a close call, and doesn’t outweigh the other differences between the phones. The One S shows that HTC has some design chops, and is still willing to take risks to make great looking, well constructed phones from premium materials. The shortcomings of the One S may be attributed to cost cutting for the T-Mobile network. These days, it all comes down to hardware, because software is for the most part replaceable.