HTC One X Vs Sony Xperia S Review Battlemodo

Two premium Android smartphones eye each other off nervously before entering into the Battlemodo arena. One sells itself on its insanely high resolution screen; the other on its insanely fast camera. Only one of them can be our preferred Android superphone — which one will it be?

There's absolutely no shortage of Android handsets in the market at the moment, but in the premium space the air is a little more clear. Most vendors aren't insane enough to launch multiple true high-end models and needlessly confuse the market, instead setting up a single "hero" phone that's intended to exemplify everything that's great about the brand and design.

That's where both the Sony Xperia S and HTC One X sit, but it's not the only similarity both phones share. They're both phones that are carried by Vodafone and Optus, but not Telstra. They're both also firsts; in Sony's case this is the first "pure" Sony phone following its buyout of the joint venture with Ericsson. In HTC's case, its the first phone they've offered up with Ice Cream Sandwich and Sense 4.0.

Hardware

The version of the One X that we get in Australia comes with a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, while the Xperia S is only utilising a dual-core processor. Straight victory to the HTC One X, right? Not so fast. While there are more cores present under the One X's skin, and that leads it to a commanding technical benchmark lead — for those that like such things, the Xperia S managed a score of 2967 in Quadrant, while the One X managed a score of 5034 — the functional effect on real-world day-to-day use isn't as pronounced as you might think. They're both functionally quick phones, but the One X is a touch nippier. It'll be interesting to see whether that lead is maintained once they're on the same Android platform.

It's much the same story with the display screen. On paper, this should be an easy victory to the Xperia S. Its 1280x720 4.3-inch display screen is smaller than the 1280x720 4.7-inch HTC One X, but the much higher pixel density of 342ppi on the Xperia S (higher than the iPhone 4S) should equate to sharper images. They're very good, but the perceptible difference isn't that great, and the HTC One X's screen had a more neutral colour temperature; like many with the Xperia S I noticed a slight yellowish hue to the display when held at certain angles.

In terms of physical design, there's quite a bit to both like and loathe in both handsets, but physical observations for smartphones are highly subjective and always will be; I'd strongly recommend any purchaser of either handset get some in-store hands on time with either phone before buying or signing a contract.

The One X clearly looks like an HTC phone; even without the HTC logo on it, the rounded corners are evocative of previous HTC designs, and that's a matter of whether it's to your taste or not. Strip the Sony logo off the Xperia S and you'd be hard-pressed to pick what make of phone it was — again, that's a taste thing whether that's good or bad. I quite like the stark design notes, right up to the clear bar at the base, although only aesthetically.

One thing that irked me with both phones was the way that both HTC and Sony have chosen to approach buttons — or the lack thereof. In the case of the Xperia S, a thin clear bar at the base carries the logos for the standard Android options — but they're not the actual buttons themselves. Instead, a small capacitive area above each symbol is where you've got to press. Even after a couple of weeks testing, I find myself tapping the bar when I should be tapping the area — annoying.

Equally annoying is HTC's decision to use capacitive buttons at the base of the One X's screen. This isn't a symbol location problem in the same way as the Xperia S, but an Ice Cream Sandwich one, as it makes for a somewhat jarring app experience. For some Ice Cream Sandwich apps it makes for an inconsistent experience, with menu options sometimes displayed at the base, sometimes at the top, and sometimes missing altogether, presumably because the app would work fine on a phone such as the Galaxy Nexus, where the buttons are purely a software function, but on the One X they've got nowhere logical to go.

Both the One X and Xperia S feature sealed batteries, no expandable storage and microSIMs. Obviously, expandable storage would be a plus for either phone, at least as an option, but when it comes to the microSIM slot, HTC inches ahead, simply because it uses a simple microSIM tray. Sony's opted for an entirely removable back instead, in the style of older smartphones. Once you introduce a sealed battery into a phone, though, why would you want to take the entire back off? I can't really see why Sony didn't opt for a slot or tray for the microSIM instead.

Both the One X and the Xperia S are NFC capable, even though there's a dearth of Australian NFC applications to date. That doesn't make it a worthless technology, but I'll give the nod here to the Xperia S, simply because in Australia, Sony includes two NFC tags in the box, giving you the opportunity to use NFC for profile switching; stick one in the car (as I did) and you can set the Xperia S to switch to silent with Bluetooth sync, for example.

Software

Again, this is one of those areas that might seem like a slam dunk for the One X, which is rocking Ice Cream Sandwich, while the Xperia S toddles along on Gingerbread. There's no doubt that Ice Cream Sandwich is a sweet enticement, but the interesting thing across both phones is that both Sony and HTC seem to have learnt lessons regarding skinning Android phones. Where once you'd see heavily redesigned interfaces that gave you plenty of bonus lag, there's now a light touch that offers options rather than mandatory experiences. Sony obviously trades heavily on its in-house entertainment apps here.

HTC's Sense is similarly cut down from the Sense experiences of the past; while, like the physical design it's undeniably an HTC product, large clock icon included, it's also rather more subtle and less of a burden on the system as a whole, with more thought into making a better Android experience overall. Some of it may come down to taste — the real appeal of Android in the smartphone space is exactly how modifiable it all is — because these are both pretty snappy handsets.

Camera

The camera fight between these two phones was particularly interesting. Again, on paper the Xperia S should carry the day given Sony's particular focus on camera sensors, as well as the 12MP to 8MP gap between the handsets.

But that's only part of the story — and remember, you should never just judge a camera by its megapixel count. One of HTC's big selling points for the One X is the speed of its shutter, and the ability to take multiple photos exceedingly quickly for a smartphone. This works quite well, although you may find yourself filling up memory with additional shots if you hold the camera button on the front face down for too long. With a camera sensor this swift, that's rather easy to do. It's also quite handy to be able to shoot video and take stills at the same time.

The one thing I really didn't like about the HTC One X's camera capabilities lies in HTC's decision not to put a physical camera button on the phone itself. That means taking any shot must be done via tapping the screen, which easily introduces shudder and makes getting focus a little harder. Taking still shots side by side with the Xperia S and HTC One X I was more easily able to get satisfactory shots with the Xperia S simply due to the presence of a physical button.

Sony's camera software includes the ability to take 3D panoramas, which can then be played back through the HDMI port on the side of the phone. For whatever it's worth, Vodafone will ship the phone with an HDMI cable, but Optus apparently won't. In any case, it's not worth getting excited about, because with only a single lens, it's forced to create a simulated 3D image. For every single 3D image I tried, the results were the same, and can be summed up with the words "absolute stinking rubbish".

Still, 3D isn't the point of the phone, and while it's very close, I'll give this round to the Xperia S over the HTC One X.

Battery Life

HTC crams just a little more battery within the One X than Sony does with the Xperia S; 1800mAh to 1750mAh. But I'll award the crown here to the Xperia S in any case, and for one very simple reason; it's not just about the numbers on a sheet of paper, but how well they operate in real-world testing. The One X often struggled to get through a full day's testing — quite possibly a function of that larger screen and more demanding processor — while the Xperia S rarely did. Obviously this could be mitigated with a desk charger for either phone, but not with external batteries, as they're both sealed.

Verdict

Both the Xperia S and HTC One X are exceptionally fine phones, but you'd expect that from a "hero" phone. As with any purchase, it'll depend on your own usage preferences, but I'll give the nod to the HTC One X; it's an exceptionally fast phone with an up-to-date operating system that, for once, isn't hobbled by vendor crapware.

Sony Xperia S

OS: Android 2.3.7 (Android 4.0 to come) Screen: 4.3-inch 720x1280 Processor: Qualcomm MSM8260 Snapdragon 1.5GHz RAM: 1GB Storage: 32GB Dimensions: 128mm x 64mm x 10.6mm Camera: 12MP rear (1080p HD video), 1.3MP front Battery: 1750mAh Weight: 144g

HTC One X

OS: Android 4.03 Screen: 4.7-inch 1280x720 Processor: Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core 1.5GHz RAM: 1GB Storage: 32GB Dimensions: 134.4mm x 69.9mm x 8.9mm Camera: 8MP rear (1080p HD video), 1.3MP front Battery: 1800mAh Weight: 130g


Comments

    Thanks for this.. I probably won't get either of these but it's nice to know what is out there.

    I've come to realise that while the camera function SHOULD not be a main feature of a PHONE.. it is very much important to me. I used to have to lug around my camera if I wanted to take decent photos.. but with my SGSII, I am happy with the vast majority of the images I get with it.. not all of them but definitely most of them. So these days, when I consider a new phone, the camera performance will be a deal breaker for me.

      Actually.. SONY has better camera than samsung. :) Even the iPhone4s uses SONY's camera.

        It uses a Sony backside illuminated sensor, but obviously the processing plays a huge role in camera performance too. I'm still yet to sample pictures from any comparable smartphone camera that beats the 4S, but it would be good to see some sode by side comparisons with both these Android phones to see how they compare (same goes with 1080p video as the 4S has excellent image stabilisation and a very sharp, natural picture.

    If only I could get the One X on telstra next month when I renew my contract.... I Wish they'd just come clean with what they're getting so I can choose what I want.

    Good review, Thanks :)

      I spoke to someone at the Adelaide Rundle Mall store today and they said the One X will be released the 28th of May

    Why is 4.7 inches better than 4.3 inches? Surely a smaller phone would be much better?

      Really? Does that mean that a tiny phone with a 2-inch screen would be far better than either of these?

      Screen size is a personal preference thing, and it probably comes back to what you use your phone for. If you have fat fingers, or if you watch lots of movies or read lots of books on your phone, a big screen is generally better. If you have small hands, or if you wear lots of skinny jeans, a smaller phone might be more suitable.

      i see what you did there

    Reading through the review, I thought you were leaning towards to Xperia S being the superior of the two as frequently stated that it's not just better specs but how they perform in the real world, but yet you opt for the HTC One being better?

    Alex, those NFC tags that come with the Sony sound really interesting.

    Any chance you can give us the low-down on how they work, and how the phone could use them? Could even be a LifeHacker crossover article.

      This is speculation here - but I would imagine their a blank NFC card. While Android doesn't have NFC profile switching out-of-the-box; I'd be guessing that Sony would have bundled their own app which lets you configure this (Similar to NFC Task Launcher in Google Play). From there it'd be case of set up what options you want in your profile, and which NFC card you want to activate the profile in question.

      They are simple to use, basically you get the app and once open will detect the tag when it's touched.
      From there you can pick and choose what happens when one is activated for eg, sounds, apps, net, bluetooth, alarms etc etc...

    asked a guy in Telstra on weekend when they would be getting the one XL .. he smirked and pauzed like it was a secret then finally said well a HTC rep is coming in to train us on it this week

    I appreciate the review but being a Xperia S owner how ever I think you miss a few important features 1 being the speaker quality and I'm curious to know whether the review on the screen was done with the backlight on. I tried to replicate the yellowing colour on screen but could not (could it be related to the yellow screen issue caused by the heat?)
    The other major fact that you missed is that the HTC is almost $200 more.

    I have already tried with mixed success to use Tasker for enabling profiles (sounds, WiFi, BT) in various locations but this seems to be a pretty decent solution that would be very easy and cheap to implement. Where's a good place to get hold of the tags?

      klaw, my experience with it so far is theoretical, though I'm looking to get something happening with this shortly along with adding an A2DP BlueTooth module hooked up to the aux in on the stereo.

      This will probably help

        Keep in mind you're going to need a phone that is NFC enabled (like a Nexus S/Galaxy Nexus).

      I highly recommend Llama, it is more focussed and straightforward than tasker.. learns which cell towers denote locations like "home" , "work" , "mum and dads house" etc and can alter all sorts of conditions as well as changing conditions on a time schedule.. its very cool, when Im going 100 on the road above my work place (a freeway, its all good!) I see it chuck me into work mode for about 8 seconds.

    Picked up the HTC One X yesterday (from an iPhone 4). Aside from the usual Android weaning issues (my problem), the smoothness of the phone is just insane. Still tinckering with it, but I'm so far impressed.

      Planning on the same exact switch at the end of the month. Glad it's going well for you!

    It's weird, I visited my local AllPhones as I really want to give the Xperia S some in-store testing time before I purchase it on a contract, however the staff won't let me, citing the fact that the phone is so new. Could anyone elaborate on this?

      Yeah, your Allphones sucks.

    First thing that immediately jumps to mind is the bottom being a curved surface. There's a functionality fail there. So much for one finger browsing while it sits on the table - I want a phone, not a spin the bottle replacement. But hey, it looked good in design.

    On the button for the camera issue, on my One X if i press and hold the photo button it takes a shed load of pictures very fast, i have found i can take photos, move around an object and then pick the best shot. that and it sounds awesome when you do it

    I bought an Xperia S on Saturday and it's broken already. Will not recognise any SIM that goes into it.

    It's going back for a replacement tonight. I'm mighty impressed with it already though!

    There is a known bug with the one day and battery life basicly HTC out a file in the song folder and now the tegra 3 processor doesn't use its power saving features hence the poor battery life hopefully HTC will release a fix for this soon for those who are rooted you can fix your self just Google it for the file that needs to be moved

    At $450 outright, how can you go past the Sony.

    I'm thinking of ditching my iPhone for the Sony Xperia S. I think it looks awesome and I love those NFC tags. But I'll need more convincing to jump from iOS to Android.

    Got the One X a few days ago and it is gorgeoussss! Feels very nice in my hands, the screen looks really really nice and it runs like a dream. There are a few bugs and I think they made a mistake with not having a dedicated camera button and the lack of a search and options button on the bottom but hey, no phone's perfect!

    I've been waiting for the Xperia S to be released since I first heard about it months ago. My desire for this phone has, in the past, only been challenged by the Galaxy Nexus, and more recently by the One X. The Nexus ultimitely failed to impress the critics (so i believe) and I discounted that one fairly quickly. The One X , on the other hand, has given me real pause for thought. After scouring the reviews, I'm still keen on the Sony, but now that it has been on the market for a bit, I thought someone might be able to provide some everyday user feedback. I'm satisfied that I can live with the capacitive buttons on the bottom of the screen, but can anyone tell me about these yellowing issues. I have read that it is an effect of the screen and it's production of white colouring. I'm thinking perhaps an effect of ambient light on the display as well - as not all users seem to raise this issue as a problem. I would also appreciate some feedback on the web browser ie. does it work! My experience with the Sony Erricson Satio has continually been challenging to say the least. Any other feedback would be most welcome.

    i cant decide between either of these. i live in USA so it basically will come down to whichever is releaed first. becaue the galaxy s3 will come out a few months later and supposevly blow anything in its path away. the one x is quad core but the sony seems to have a better battery and acessories . so confused. need more help lol

    I had been eagerly waiting for the HTC One X and as soon they released it, got one out-right. The phone has not disappointed me so far. I love the light weight, great design and the finishing. Apart from the great HTC Sense overlay, I love how the phone feels on my hand and every one who has seen the phone has fallen in love with it. The camera is pretty awesome as i. it is a 2.0 - which means it takes great low light images and ii. it can take images whilst shooting video. The speed at which the cam focuses it amazing .
    www.WeddingPhotographerofSydney.com.au

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