HTC One X: flagship like Titanic?

There is no doubt about superior features and sexy design of that smartphone. No doubt that user experience of Sense 4.x theme, which is much faster and lightweight, is appreciated by HTC lover as well as its reach and consistent user experience. No doubt reviews glorify this handset even though Samsung Galaxy S3 performs a little better from hardware perspective. It is sad however how quality assurance, both production and warranty service, is a nightmare for HTC One X buyers. While WiFi antenna problem was officially acknowledged by HTC, hardware-related malfunction of GPS module is left unsaid. Ironically any flagship without working GPS can turn into Titanic hitting an iceberg. I did not give up though, however it took me two months to fix this critical feature and my One X works perfectly right now. It was worth it.

One X or One S?

On my reconnaissance of new smartphone I rejected SGS2 and reviewed my needs again. Sadly speaking I could not get rid of love to Sense UI with user experience better than other competitors or pure Android. I knew I have to choose HTC as I could use either Sense theme or one of plenty of custom ROMs, which is not possible other way around (non-HTC devices cannot use Sense UX as it relies on hardware features). I had no clue which handset to choose though. Initially I stuck with idea of handy medium screen size and turned my sight towards mid-range models: Evo and Sensation.

Once I grasped One S and One X and felt their light weight I changed my mind. The new series was also more stylish and way better from technical perspective: excellent display brightness and hardware-accelerated cameras, features on top of my list. Handset as light as feather comes at a price of irreplaceable integrated battery assembled in unibody. Based on reviews, especially of those who applied system updates, battery life was not that bad and even better than my HTC Desire; as I am urban animal I have virtually constant access to power sources so that drawback was less relevant. Missing SD card extension was worse case: One S comes with built in 16GB of flash memory (and only 11GB of user space, 5G taken by the system) and One X with 32GB (25GB user space). Combining this limited capacity with high-end multimedia capabilities – HD video recording (10-40MB/sec) and replaying (big screen for watching movies while traveling) or the great sound making the handset a MP3 player – all these features mean serious load to storage space. Adding my navigation needs (another 2GB of the whole world maps) concluded: One S is a “no go”. Free of charge 25GB of dropbox.com storage in a cloud is not a relief for frequent travelers left without speedy and free of charge networks.

Relaxing storage requirement, as a thought experiment, One S starts competing with One X again: it is thinner and taller so easier to grasp and operate in one hand. Add to it more power-efficient Quallcom Snapdragon S4 processor in One S, same 8Mpix sensor and image processing chip. When you take closer look at the display then One X wins again: even though both have super bright screens, easily operating in full sun, resolution and matrix structure makes One X winning again. I am not against pentile display used in One S as I have one in my Desire and honestly I did not know it; the One S however has red pixels easily noticeable on the edges of shapes due to much higher brightness than Desire as well as bigger pixels (One S resolution is only 960×540 on 4.3″ screen comparing to 800×480 in 3.7″ of Desire).

Hard-shell protecting camera lens

What One S and One X share is camera window design flaw: the lens cover glass frame is not embossed enough and shuffling handset on the desk leads to micro scratches (the cover glass is definitely not a gorilla glass as the display glass is). I made tinny scratches just first day of testing on one of the phones using it only on my wooden desk (!).  Scratches can be easily prevented using hard-shell case like HC C700 that makes camera window moved back a bit; do not bother however, even serious scratches are invisible on the pictures and do not lower quality of images.

Price without rate plane is killing: official list price reaches nearly 600 euro. At the same time new phones on auctions services are up to 30% cheaper; most of them are phone upgrades from telecom companies or devices imported by individuals. Unfortunately white case model that I preferred is less popular hence more expensive than black/gray one. As soon as I found a bargain offer for 440 euro from my city I made a deal, especially that the reason the owner wanted to get rid of it was “slower charging from computer USB than discharge while gaming“. OK for me as I do not plan gaming on smartphone at all. Couple hours of testing features one by one made more fascinated by its shape, weight, superior display and top performance.

GPS antenna failure

Excitement evaporated after first drive in car with navigation installed – on my route to destination I was frequently informed on route changes and recalculation and breaching speed limits that had no place. On red lights problem was even worse: current location on the map was jumping all over the streets nearby even hundred meters away! That was first time I googled out serious GPS problems described as wandering or jumping of pointer around real position that intensifies when the GPS receiver stops moving.

Wandering GPS

The more I googled the worse situation appeared to be, from both power users perspective (see xda-dev forum thread) as well as normal users on telecom company news groups (see here, here or there). I found reports of people getting new device replacements with the same issue!

Problem was even worse as most traces led to hardware problems as no software approach was able to fix it: I have updated software to the latest version, tried hard resets, clearing GPS A-DATA, running in safe mode for tests, disabling all connectivity to avoid radio-waves interference etc. some of them softened the problem but did not eliminated it.

To visualize how serious problem was I measured it with My Tracks application by Google. Handset placed on the window ledge, to have satellites from a half of hemisphere available, was able to record over 1000 meter of journey within distance of hundred meters away from location after just 10 minutes of work! That meant GPS was completely unusable and in fact making phone unusable for me.

I was hesitating whether trade the phone or try to fix it. Despite bad opinions on Regenersis Poland, the official repair service, I turned a blind eye on it because usually posters are unhappy users sharing their frustrations. I decided to give it one chance and I have sent the handset under warranty conditions. To avoid routine steps in servicing phase I have attached detailed description of my attempts to solve issues. Couple days later they sent the device back with annotation “software flashed” and problem marked as “WiWi/WLAN“. Returned handset had the same software version as before and behaved the same way. Regenersis turned to be blatant and incompetent: their employees ignored problem description as well as detailed idiot-proof guideline just to choose “standard procedure: whatever happens, flash software first, send hardware back and see if customer just goes away“.

Regenersis sucks

Regenersis call center operator was confused when I described my case and he simply told me “that was a mistake, please resend device“. At the same time I have send very vivid opinion to HTC which result with customer care contacting me back to assist me; they did not have any arguments despite asking politely to try again send the phone to Regenersis. That was enough for me though and two days later I traded the phone at the same occasional price I bought it.

I started looking for One X from local resellers: sometimes they do not even allow to turn on the device (sic!) and the rest asked if I can install GPS software the answer was always “no“. So I decided to leverage “extended consumers’ rights” which means ability to return device bought remotely without any explanation in 10 days from the date of purchase (yeah, this is not the USA; sellers do not welcome any attempt to return, customer care is still usually secondary measure after the profit itself).

Second One X for 430 euro was imported from Switzerland, Orange branded and SIM unlocked. I ignored QWERTZ keyboard instead of QWERTY for my locale as there was only “Polish (switzerlan)” in list of choices. I just planned to flash some other ROM provided the hardware is OK. The window ledge test gave unclear results. Without taking foil of the screen I did the car test. High hope vanished quickly: I started to drive without waiting for GPS fix, it was never a problem for HTC Desire as it took 1-2 more minutes go catch satellites signal. Not this time however. Even though I was stopping many times in jammed streets or red lights under the open sky in suburbs, fix was not caught in 20 minutes! When it finally got a fix, it was just pure fun: constant car speed of 50km/h was giving results from 20-100km/h on GPS, frequently leading to speeding warnings from navigation software. The icing on the cake was getting 130km/h while staying on red right. The day after handset was formatted, packed and sent back.

Third One X with ADHD

Third device came again from polish local distribution but different shop. I have received the black model by mistake of sender and that was a chance to make a quick test before sending back to get the ordered white one. Just a window ledge test was enough to see the wandering, less intense then two previous handsets while still unstable.

Fourth handset came just a few days later just to make me burst out laughing: in a window ledge test it could not get a fix for long minutes and after it got it, the map has shown me that I am in … Nigeria, Africa. The same after reboot. It was extra funny as I actually was in Nigeria much earlier. I suspected the device was already turned on so that I cleared A-GPS data and restarted GPS to get a correct fix that time.

My balcony is a teleport to… Nigeria

Wandering test results were best of all so far but I was unrest — is the quality of modern GPS modules worse then two years ago? Meantime I found HTC HD2 users complaining about similar problems, should I just accept this imperfection? The black spot below gorilla glass I found this time sealed its fate; cleared and packed handset was sent back.

Fifth device was a last resort. By that time I found that GPS problem was in fact GPS antenna connection problem with the same root cause as of well-know WiFi issue. One has claimed successful application of hardware fix: lifting up connection pins on motherboard (watch the movie) to let them firmly touch antenna pads when unibody is closed. While there are no stickers/markers that will obviously void your warranty, opening unibody is tricky enough and requires dedicated tools. Along with the fifth handset I ordered 3 pieces of thinnest plectrum to use them as a pry tool to open up a unibody. Yes I was enough desperate to hack the device.

GPS hardware fix – lifting up connecters for better contact

Fortunately “third fifth times lucky” had place and to my surprise the last phone is working perfectly; a window ledge test got only 30 meters of movements in 15 minutes, mainly in first 2 minutes while getting precision. Car navigation test was perfect. Comparing to faulty GPS that could catch 3-4 satellites constantly switching them, now in the same conditions it easily fixes 7-9 satellites in a dozen or so seconds. The other hardware test were successful too. No more searching, at last.

Conclusions

While at the prototype phase of design such failures can have a place I am terrified with the low quality assurance in mass production: 4 of 5 devices had faulty GPS just due to easy-to-fix casing design flaw and no predictability which series is faulty; I tried devices from local international non-branded distribution (s/n HT23XW) and Swiss Orange distribution (s/n SH26TW) to get properly working device from international distribution (also s/n HT23XW).
The silence of HTC officials is irritating at least. Tinny problem, huge blame on HTC, massive return of devices and loss of fans and profits. I do not get HTC complaints on loosing the market share if they get spanked by such a dummy issues. Wake up HTC and get your hands dirty fixing QA instead of marketing punchlines.

Next step: software tuning

Properly working hardware was just a half way to the final setup. I already knew I have use custom firmware to deal with some obvious problems like: waking up with power button holding device in one hand, better HD video recording (only 23fps with stock software), better support for multitasking limited by Sense 4.x design, better battery life, more customizations of task bar, lock screens, quick settings etc, overclocking and undervolting, and so on.

To be continued.

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One Response to HTC One X: flagship like Titanic?

  1. momers says:

    Excellent review and detailing of the problem. I just got my One X 2 days ago and i use navigation extensively. Used it yesterday and was shocked to find this issue.

    Read up the threads and the thought running in my mind was, with such poor quality of basic features in a flagship handset, maybe its no wonder they are poorly performing. And they blame it on less marketing spend. Had they spent the money and this issues came up it would have been curtains for them.

    Just cleared AGPS, and now heading out hoping that the GPS issue is gone. Fingers crossed. If not then I am dreading the poor customer service i expect from the retailer/distributor.

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