Living with the…HTC One X.

The mobile phone industry is the ultimate in ‘shiny things’ thinking.

No sooner have you bought a device, usually via an expensive ongoing contract, and learned to master the complexities of the modern smartphone with its many splendours, then your contract is heading towards renewal. Your provider then entices you with another, sleeker, lighter, whizzbangier model to replace your now brick-like technological equivalent to a rusty lawnmower. Giddy with excitement at the impending device nirvana you sign a new contract and begin the whole sorry tale once more. Thus it ever was and ever thus shall be.

Your mobile phone the day after your contract runs out.
Your mobile phone the day after your contract runs out.

Or is it?

Last year I took the rather unusual step of not signing up for a contract when my old one matured. Instead I decided to buy a second hand phone, secure a cheap monthly contract which didn’t subsidise the costly device, and see how it would work out. The results have been, well, cool.

Rather than run the gauntlet of eBay I opted to pay the premium of an established S/H online store (replete with short warranty) in my search for a new handset. The iPhone 4S had recently become last year’s model so the 16GB version was available for £380. Now this is a hefty sum of course, but by avoiding the expensive monthly contract I worked out that over two years I could save around £300  – not too shabby – and of course that saving would then pay for the next phone. Suddenly I had become a financial genius. Next I plan to dabble in futures, derivatives, and no doubt impoverish my family.

In the year or so since then I’ve enjoyed my iPhone and am very glad that I took this route. So much so that I’m doubtful I’ll ever go back to a subsidised plan again. This then opens up intriguing possibilities. As we all know smartphones have advanced so much in recent years that almost any decent model will do everything we need on a day to day basis without issue. So starting to shop in the S/H markets means you can get some very good units for a lot less than your contract would demand, and if you avoid the Apple models (with their premium price tag) you can even bag a real bargain.

A quick perusal on http://www.smartfonestore.com (the site where I bought my iPhone) shows that you can pick up some terrific devices for great prices. One that I was particularly interested in was the HTC One X, which had run the iPhone close last year and which could be bought now in mint condition for just over £200. Thankfully HTC where willing to lend me one for a few weeks, thus saving me having to wipe out my savings in the interest of journalistic endeavour. So, the question was how does the One X fare a year and bit on from it’s release?

The rather splendid HTC One X
The rather splendid HTC One X

Those used to the diminutive charms of the iPhone will notice straight away that the One X is a big phone, mainly due to the 4.7 inch screen. Now I’ve been rather skeptical of the current trend of devices that can double up as surf boards, and in many ways the One X did little to persuade me otherwise, but in some instances I can really see the appeal. Over the last year or so I’ve noticed that I don’t really watch Youtube videos on my iPhone. The reason for this is that the 3.5 inch screen just feels a bit too small for this activity. On the One X it suddenly made sense. HD videos looked superb and the impressive viewing angles meant sharing the experience with friends was far more likely than with my Apple alternative.

The screen itself is gorgeous. Colourful, bright, and capacious, it made interacting with the handset a very pleasant experience. Typing is dramatically improved since my days on the HTC Desire, again probably aided by the generous acreage of space. But this expansive ocean of gorilla glass also meant that I had to adjust the positioning of the phone in my hand more than I ever do with the iPhone, and the usual habit of typing one handed while walking down the street was a much harder feat to achieve successfully.

The Android operating system, which has been upgraded to 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, is smart, efficient, but still has the occasional lag, although much improved from previous incarnations. Android has come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of years, with plenty of the top apps such as Instagram, Kindle, Facebook, Twitter, Temple Run, and the ever gorgeous Google+ being present. Actually Google’s suite of apps (Maps, Youtube, Now, Voice Search, etc…) all look great and work brilliantly on the One X, meaning that most important tasks are now easily covered. There is still the delay in top apps reaching the platform though, so if you always want the latest and greatest then the iPhone still remains the place to be.

I’d read on several forums that the battery life on the One X was a bit of a let down, but during the weeks of testing this was never an issue. With an average day including sending and receiving several emails, posting and checking social media sites, listening to an hour or two of podcasts, and even – heaven forbid! – the occasional phone call, the battery always had a bit left in the tank by the end of the day (which is often about 1am in my discipline void existence).

If there was one area where the One X lost a few points it was the camera. Now for many things it’s perfectly fine, but when compared to the iPhone (which does pretty much always have one of the best cameras available) it lacked a bit of sharpness and focus at times. That said it would be totally acceptable for everyday use and you’d only notice the difference if you had an Apple device on hand to compare it to.

That screen really is a bit special.
That screen really is a bit special.

So there it is. As the One X has now been superseded by the One X + you can expect the prices to continue to drop, which is great is you’re looking for a superb handset that offers cracking performance and will not cost you a small fortune. It might be getting long in the tooth when measured by the insane upgrade cycles that we now find ourselves terrorised with, but it’s still a terrific phone with plenty to offer.

Let the eBay treasure hunt begin!

The Day Apple Discontinued Its Users

I’d long suspected it to be true, but I didn’t want to believe it.

There had been rumours of course, whispers in the canteen, strange pitiful looks from friends as I passed them in corridors. The feeling that those around me knew something I didn’t. Something important.

Then I saw it…and my heart was finally broken. It all made sense in that moment. How could I have been so blind?

The Thin Edge of the Wedge

Perhaps the thing that hurt the most was the way in which this revelation took place.

There I was sitting on my sofa enjoying the new app I’d recently installed on my Apple TV which allowed me to watch their latest product release. Phil Schiller was talking about Macs, something dear to my heart since switching to the platform nearly a decade ago, and hinted that finally the iMac would be updated. Now, I turned forty this year and as a way of staving off the onslaught of a mid-life crisis my family had surprised me with the offer of a new iMac – because they are wonderful people. We knew that the latest model was a year old and didn’t support USB 3, so we elected to wait for the refresh we expected in June. Well, the laptops got the bump then but the iMac news remained silent. My birthday came and went with nary a word on the machine’s arrival. The summer faded, autumnal leaves began to fall, but still the Cupertino fellowship kept quiet their counsel. As the year threatened to pass away un-iMaced suddenly there was hope, an October event with the promise of rebirth.

So that’s were I was, agitated on my sofa in anticipation for the delayed deliverance. Phil said he’d built a new iMac, it was finally happening, they ran a video, could it really be that thin? Wow! That’s amazing! Fusion drive? Part SSD Part HD, cool! It seemed a dream come true. After all these years of laptops I would now, at last, return to the opulence of a huge screen and envious power. Like a giddy child I awaited the Apple online store’s reappearance and within the hour there it was. Beautiful, elegant, expensive, but worth the wait.

Until I delved a little deeper.

You couldn’t actually order the new model yet, not until November, but under the technical specifications section I found the things that would cause the pain. Those dark grey words might as well have been lipstick on a collar.

The base model (the only one I could possibly, at a large stretch, afford) retailed for £1099, but featured not a Fusion drive, instead the more standard and quickly becoming outmoded 1TB hard drive. So I’d have to upgrade if I wanted the machine to remain quick and potent for the five to seven years that I hoped it would serve. Replacing a drive in iMacs is a difficult task, even for someone like myself who holds little fear of tinkering around the innards of computers. You need to remove the large glass screen, then disassemble half the machine to access the drive bays – not exactly a straightforward job – and, of course, there’s the issue of having a dust free room to stop any buildup on the inside of the screen itself.

It takes a brave user to venture here…

Ok, it was a pain but I’d have to order the drive with the machine. But wait…what’s this? The base machine doesn’t come with the option to upgrade the HD? That can’t be right…It was right. In fact the only upgrade the base model was capable of was to 16GB of RAM. Unlike the previous model though the RAM couldn’t be changed by the user. Instead it had to ordered at the time of purchase. In fact to upgrade to a better, faster HD I’d have to step up to the £1249 model, then pay an additional £200 for a Fusion drive. I know the calculations and processing that Fusion involves might make it too much for the processor in the base model, but why not an option for an SSD? I recently replaced the HD in my 2007 MacBook with an SSD and it now works great. Why couldn’t Apple let the user decide to buy a smaller internal drive and supplement storage with a cheaper, external drive?  The answer seemed blindingly simple. They don’t want the machines to last. You’re no longer paying for top quality and durability…just looks and decent specs that will last long enough for the Applecare period to expire.

This non-serviceable trend, of which I am not an advocate, at least makes more sense to me with the MacBook Air. To achieve those tiny bodies and faster operating speeds I can just about see why you’d need to make it closed and prebuilt. But on a desktop? I don’t need wafer thin bodies and light weight machines at home, my desk is made of wood not bubbles.

Then I thought back to the announcement. How Schiller had strategically positioned the iMac at a two thirds profile to the camera so they just caught the edge of the screen rather than the bulb at the back where the hardware lives. How Jony Ive and the other senior Apple team sat on the front row grinning to themselves. That’s when it hit me. Such was their position now, their cultural currency, that hubris had finally overcome them. The user was no longer even in the equation any more. Design awards, positions in the museum of modern art, and self congratulating back slapping was the goal and reward that Apple valued and pursued.

See here? This is what we really care about…

 

I guess I’m not the customer that decadence wants. Someone who can buy the high price item only rarely, and who expects it to last and be maintained while I save for the next one. I can’t keep up with this crazy pace of changing phones, tablets, and now desktops every two to three years, so I’m being fazed out.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not the first older model with an expanding waistline to be dumped for a slimmer, younger alternative.