HTC One X and One S, 10 years later: a retro view

It’s been over ten years since HTC released some of the most important Android phones in the early 2000s: the One X and the One S. At the time, I was just a 17-year-old high school student looking for my first phone. Smart fit me, and these folks instantly stood out with their sleek aluminum casing and some great hardware specs to match — something that couldn’t be said for many Android phones with the plastic glut of the era.

Ten years later, a lot has changed. Nvidia, the company that introduced the Tegra processor for the HTC One X, hasn’t been in the mobile business for a long time, HTC no longer makes smartphones (or does it?), and phones are much bigger and more powerful than we imagined back then. However, HTC One S and One X were some of the most coveted smartphones of the time, and they definitely earned their space in the smartphone pantheon.

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As such, let’s revisit the HTC One S and X 10 years after the official release date of April 2, 2012.

Design masterpieces from yesterday

Looking at the HTC One S, it has aged more than gracefully. Compared to the glass and metal panels that are increasingly assimilated today, this phone has Letter. Its one-piece aluminum design wraps around the back and front, visually balancing HTC’s signature grille on top — with plenty of bezels around the screen. The design is only interrupted by some large plastic chips on the top and bottom of the phone, providing access to the SIM card and giving space for the radio wave to pass through.


Meanwhile, the more high-end HTC One X went for a fingerprint-loving polycarbonate look with an uninterrupted back panel, but otherwise mimics the One S’s exterior design. The USB port, which you rarely see anywhere other than on the bottom off the phone these days. The batteries of the two phones were not removable, although they were among the first Android devices to start this despicable trend.


Both devices also come with something you won’t see on any modern Android phone anymore (no, I’m not talking about the headphone jack, which also includes them): capacitive navigation buttons. While many other phones of the time, like the Galaxy Nexus, just moved to onscreen buttons instead of physical buttons, the HTC One series stuck with it. Although that gave users more screen space, the solution didn’t work well with older Android apps that still depended on the options menu that was no longer there, with a large black bar appearing at the bottom of the screen in those apps that It still depends on this old interface element. Android has matured greatly over the past decade.



Back in our review of the One S, we wrote that “both devices are truly at the pinnacle of modern phone design, and mark the beginning of a new era for the look and feel of Android phones.” Looking back, I can confidently say yes, it truly is a milestone in Android product design, even ten years later. Their particularly comfortable curved backs remain unmatched today.

Looking at phones that are 10 years old also makes us appreciate how far technology has advanced. The One S and One X have 4.3- and 4.7-inch HD displays, 1GB of RAM, up to 32GB of storage, and batteries under 2,000mAh. These days, their best processors seem like a joke, with the Qualcomm MSM8290 dual-core One S processor and HTC One X’s Nvidia CPU. That’s right – Nvidia. At the time, we thought the company wanted to enter the smartphone markets with its own processors rather than just trying and failing to buy Arm.



However, at the time, I remember the One S being one of the fastest and most stylish phones out there, and it was incredibly fun to use – even if I was lucky enough to get a unit that simply doesn’t connect to mobile networks.

HTC Sense – Back when Android skins were really the highlight

I also particularly fondly remember HTC Sense, version 4.0 here. While HTC’s look was clearly taking a long time in the tooth compared to stock Android 4.0 at the time, it was a design that screamed HTC for years and was just a defining feature. I still particularly like the checkered-style default clock widget included in this UI, even though it would look incredibly out of place in today’s more restrictive design.

I know HTC Sense was particularly stressful, and not many liked it at the time. In 2012, I didn’t care much about what Android is truly It was, or how the platform differs from the skin you see — I dug into the look a lot more than Samsung’s TouchWiz. I didn’t really hear about all the hype about “stock Android” until later when I got my Nexus 4, which is of course an entirely different story.



We also have to remember that stock Android was still very barebones at the time. So, it’s a good thing HTC has added some important features to improve the experience, including a flashlight app, a voice recorder, and a notes app. HTC Sense even came with landscape mode for the car before it was cool.

Looking back at the One S review video, it’s also surprising how many design elements Google has recycled for the last few versions of Android. Sure, the scrolling overload animation in the Settings app reminds me a lot of how things went today in Android 12, and the recents vertical scroll overview is very similar to the version Google has settled on today.

Conclusion

We may not think that much has changed over the past few years in the smartphone industry, but looking at phones from 10 years ago, it’s clear that smartphones have become much more powerful and larger. It’s also shocking to see how many Android features we take for granted these days were initially just part of the look of a custom software like HTC Sense.


The HTC One S and One X both pushed the industry ahead of devices with their sleek unibody designs that were unheard of for Android phones until then. It was clearly an industry-leading device that pushed hardware design forward. Even if HTC no longer exists to make smartphones, its legacy is still very much what Android phones are built on today.


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