It can be hard to find a pleasing smartphone experience for under $100, let alone $50. The $49.99 HTC One VX for AT&T is an outlier, but in a good way. Included with this handset’s low sticker price are the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system and nimble dual-core processing, as well as a swift connection to 4G LTE data.
Of course the One VX isn’t perfect, as I’m sure the phone’s nonremovable battery and midrange components may prove a sticking point for those shopping for a premium Android device. Also, new budget challengers such as the $49.99 Pantech Discover boast a slightly faster CPU, plus a sharper screen and higher-resolution camera. That said, no matter how you slice it, the One VX is a compelling buy for frugal AT&T subscribers.
The HTC One VX certainly speaks the same design language as the company’s other current handsets. In style you can think of it as a cross between the HTC One X+ and older HTC One S. The phone is sculpted from similar rounded curves, with a familiar flat, oval shape and minimalist aesthetic.
Unlike the One S, however, the One VX is crafted from lightweight plastic and not carved from a single block of aluminum. The One VX isn’t molded from premium polycarbonate like the One X and One X+ are, either. That gives the phone a less expensive look and feel, though faux silver accents around the screen bezel and a clean white cover on the back lend the device some sophistication.
Measuring 5.3 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide and just 0.36 inch thick, the One VX is small enough to fit in the hand or slide into tight pockets. At 4.4 ounces, the phone won’t weigh you down either, but has enough heft to feel substantial.
A basic assortment of controls surround the One VX’s large 4.5-inch (960×540-pixel-resolution) screen: three capacitive keys below the display, a thin volume rocker on the right, and a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack on its top edge.
Underneath the phone’s battery cover are slots for SIM and microSD cards. The device’s 1,810mAh battery, however, is embedded and not user-removable.
Judging from specs alone, the HTC’s One VX certainly is no flagship smartphone. For example, the device’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system isn’t the most recent version Google can muster, namely Android 4.2 (or 4.1) Jelly Bean. The handset’s software is also pushed along by a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, not a cutting-edge quad-core chip. You also get 8GB of internal storage, much smaller than the whopping 64GB bundled with the One X+.
That said, the HTC One VX offers almost all of the latest Android capabilities that have made Google devices so popular. These include Gmail, Google+, and Navigation, along with the Play Store, where you have a choice of over 500,000 titles to download. Google Play hawks digital content for purchase, too, including books, movies, games, and music. For more entertainment options, HTC’s Watch app also serves up TV shows and movies to buy or rent. For example, I could buy the movie “Looper” for $14.99 and rent it for $3.99.
Besides the Amazon Kindle app, there’s TuneIn for free Internet radio, and SoundHound, which can tag music that’s playing around you. And beyond those, the One VX doesn’t have much in the way of useful third-party software.
AT&T, however, fills the device with its typical host of bloatware, most of which you can’t remove. It has a bar code scanner, FamilyMap for locating family members ($9.99 per month for two family members, $14.99 for up to five), AT&T Locker, which stores files in the cloud for an extra fee, AT&T Navigator, and Messages — all tasks that Google’s free software can tackle.
Sitting on top of Android is HTC’s Sense 4 user interface, which boasts HTC’s iconic weather clock widget on the main home screen plus strong ties to social-media networks. For example, a Friend Stream widget pulls all updates across multiple social-media platforms to view in one location.
Similarly, the People app will sift through your contacts list automatically and suggest any possible links between corresponding Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. Additionally, within a friend’s contact details you can view any albums your friends have posted to Facebook and any recent updates like messages or missed calls.
Just like on its other phones, HTC touts the One VX’s Beats audio processing. It’s designed to activate a special equalizer profile to match specific Beats-branded headphones. As with my previous experience with Beats, I found that it beefed up bass too greatly, crushing the mids and highs. I admit some tracks do sound better after undergoing Beats processing, especially ones consisting mostly of heavy bass notes.
One of the most distinctive features of HTC’s smartphones is what the company calls ImageSense technology. In a nutshell, it means that the One VX’s 5-megapixel camera is backed up by a dedicated image processor for improved performance. Indeed, the phone’s camera snaps images almost instantly, in well under a second. The term ImageSense is also a flag that HTC added additional photo treats such as a wide range of scene modes that offer plenty more than the average camera phone options.
Besides basics like face detection, auto smile capture, and panorama, the One VX has an HDR (high dynamic range) mode. It makes use of the handset’s back-illuminated (BSI) sensor to bring shadow detail to areas that would otherwise be overexposed. This HDR setting does tend to paint subjects in a ghostly blue brush and give colors a cartoonish cast.
A continuous-shooting mode snaps images in bursts of up to 4 frames per second, great for capturing fast-moving or uncooperative subjects like kids and pets. The One VX can also record video in 1080p HD quality, and can also grab stills both while the camera is filming and when viewing movies later. You can capture all the action using a slow-motion video mode, then play it back at a fraction of its original speed. You also have a panorama mode that combines images into one wide vista.
Even though the HTC One VX uses a relatively low-resolution 5-megapixel sensor, overall I was impressed with the quality of images the handset snapped. Under fluorescent lighting — conditions that can cause lesser phone cameras to stumble — the phone took shots of an indoor still life with accurate color and sharp details.
Outdoors in bright, though weak winter sunlight, the greens and purples of nearby foliage were lifelike, not oversaturated. The 1080p videos I shot also were clear, but I did see some jerkiness as I panned across city scenes filled with moving traffic and sightseeing tourists.
As it’s equipped with a modest 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 1GB of RAM, I didn’t expect the HTC One VX to deliver outstanding application performance. Even so, the phone felt responsive enough and managed to churn through menu screens and open apps without any noticeable delays. That said, it didn’t feel as blisteringly swift in my hands as HTC’s current ubergadget, the Droid DNA. In fact, in its handling the One VX was close to the One X+ and older One X.
The synthetic benchmark test confirmed my impressions, with the One VX’s Linpack score of 257.5 MFLOPs (multithread) being way behind the Droid DNA’s score of 401.6 MFLOPs. The One VX’s 5,291 score on the more graphically challenging Quadrant test was also much lower than the Droid DNA, at 8,165. Interestingly, the HTC One X+ managed a higher score on the same test (7,355) but a lower Linpack showing (168.7 MFLOPs multithread).
Over AT&T’s 4G LTE network in New York, the HTC One VX clocked impressively fast data throughput. I logged an average download speed of 19.9Mbps with uploads averaging 12.7Mbps.
Voice quality is another one of this phone’s bright spots. On calls within AT&T’s GSM coverage area in New York, callers reported clean and crystal-clear audio with no static or other distortions. They even went so far as to say they couldn’t tell I was speaking from a cellular line. Additionally, voices of callers on my end sound just as good through the earpiece and didn’t get distorted at maximum volume.
Audio through the speakerphone was almost as pleasing, especially if I flipped the handset over onto a table face down. Also, doing so will cause the phone to kick into speakerphone mode automatically, just as putting it up to your ear reactivates the earpiece. This is very cool.
HTC One VX call quality sample
Battery life was pleasingly long as well. The HTC One VX’s 1,810mAh battery lasted a solid 7 hours and 37 minutes on the CNET Labs video battery drain test, which involves playing an HD video file continuously until the phone shuts down. That’s a lot longer than the HTC One X+’s run time of 5 hours and 11 minutes on the same benchmark.
|Performance: HTC One VX|
|Average LTE download speeds||19.9 Mbps|
|Average LTE upload speed||12.7 Mbps|
|App download||3.80MB in 6 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||7 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||8.2 seconds|
|Boot time||15 seconds|
|Camera boot time||1.3 seconds|
I remember when $50 would only net you only an embarrassingly slow and boxy mobile device running outdated software. My, have times changed — and the $49.99 HTC One VX is a perfect example of the shift in today’s handset market.
This device does not provide a full four cores of computing power or a bleeding-edge operating system. What the One VX does offer, however, is what just six months ago was a premium Android experience, but at an entry-level price. Budget-phone seekers on AT&T should also look to the new $49.99 Pantech Discover, which, while larger than the One VX, also boasts a bigger, sharper HD screen, powerful stereo speakers, and a 12.6-megapixel camera. Though if a slim and pocketable phone is what you’re after, the HTC One VX is incredibly hard to pass up.