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BW Businessworld

Back In The Game

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There I was one afternoon minding my own business, when there was a knock on the door.  A man in a blue shirt handed me a package. Just another phone, I thought, taking a quick peek but continuing my business, leaving the phone aside for some other time. Remembering it a few hours later, I opened the box  —  and out came an absolutely gorgeous phone. I picked it up and my mouth formed an involuntarily "Wow".  This was the HTC One X.

I should stop a moment to think back to last year and how HTC had a battalion of  tough-looking smartphones, the biggest of the lot, all ready to battle in the dog-eat-dog smartphone arena. But then, perhaps because of too many phones and too little branding or because Samsung just pushed it into a corner, HTC lost its growl. It really looked like we would be left with Samsung vs Apple for the near future. HTC needed to do something — and it did. Coming up with a line of "One" smartphones (the others being S and V), it surprised everyone with the knock-em-dead One X. The first impression you get when you hold this 4.7 inch smartphone in your hand is that it feels so nice to the touch, with its white polycarbonate matte finish back and curved sides and edges. It's sensual in the way that Apple products are, but with a different direction in design. It's in white, which may upset a few men who want their phones to look like their bikes, but personally I think the white adds something to the overall impression. But then I'm also largely indifferent to bikes.

The One X has an expanse of a screen (1280x720 pixels Super IPS LCD), which is so pleasing to look at without hitting you between the eyes. Flipboard, made available for Android but exclusive to the Galaxy S III for now, looks wonderful on it. Ah yes, it has quickly become unofficially available. HTC has made maximum use of the space for the screen and yet it manages to make it look minimalistic. Being a Galaxy S II user, I was and remain disoriented with the power button on the top edge. The 3.5mm jack for earphones is also on top. The volume rocker is on the side though, but it is strangely long. For a moment, I wondered if it was that long for a reason and whether it did something other than volume. The One X also feels solid, and somehow safe. At the same time, it's light and thin. A sweet spot in size vs weight and bulk. And this, by the way folks, is the way to do plastic.

There's a price to pay for the beauty of that unibody design. It's a big one. You can't change or get at the battery, you don't have an SD card option, and you have to use a micro SIM. While we're on the downside, I found the unit I used getting hot under the collar — and that's when I wasn't gaming, but Flipboarding. But well, the iPad gets warm too and everyone's got used to that.

On the hardware front, this phone is a powerhouse. The Tegra 31. quad core 1.5 GHz processor is as fast as it gets and is powered by 1.5 GB of RAM. But how fast it actually works depends on how you use it. Many users can go for years without ever touching the limits of their phone's power. Gamers can go to the other extreme and bring a device to its knees pretty quickly.

The camera is its flagship feature. It's a standard (for premiums) 8 megapixel, but has other features that take it beyond that. It has a fast burst mode that takes 20 pictures before you can blink. It can take pictures while playing or even recording video (1920x1080p). There's panoramic and HDR photography and some editing effects. The sound on the phone is fine, though not remarkable.

The One X runs on Ice Cream Sandwich and the 4.0 version of its Sense skin. If you've used another phone, it takes a little getting used to. But it feels as if every care has been taken to give the user a good experience without being in-your-face at the same time.

From being a shadow of its former self, the Taiwan-based HTC is very much back in the game, going head to head with the recently launched (but still unavailable) Galaxy S III. From what the tech media were saying at the time of that launch, you could see that the One X was coming up all the time for comparison, along with the iPhone 4S and a future iPhone 5. We can go spec to spec with these, but the real comparison will be evident when the S III comes in and is experienced. The iPhone 5, of course, is still a twinkle in Tim Cook's eye.

In the end, it takes more than just a great phone to get to the top in the fight, and even more to stay there. Marketing muscle and distribution is the least of it. So while we will see what we will see, it's nice to have another fantastic choice.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 28-05-2012)