It's no secret that phone makers pull out all of their snazzy design ideas for high-end flagship products, but we've been pleasantly surprised to see that many manufacturers aren't simply maintaining the status quo when it comes to budget devices either. HTC's mantra -- much of its sense of purpose -- circles around the design of its products, and the VX is no exception to that rule. Much like the One X and One S earlier this year, its entire body is made of polycarbonate; as a result, buyers can not only feel proud flashing it around in public, they can go about the daily grind feeling confident that their phone will make it through the long haul. As we handled the device, we were left with just one concern: we noticed some creaking and flexing when applying pressure to the back, top and bottom. Most of this likely has something to do with the removable back cover, but it still gives us pause.
Measuring in at 133.5 x 67.6 x 9.19mm (5.22 x 2.66 x 0.36 inches), the phone is quite comfortable to hold. It's pretty thin considering its budget status, and the tapered edges on the top and bottom provide us with a firm and steady grip. It's also incredibly light, hitting the scales at 4.4 ounces (124.7g).
The front features a 4.5-inch qHD display with a VGA front-facing camera, LED notification light and earpiece up above and HTC's standard trio of soft keys (back, home and recent apps/menu) underneath. The edge of the entire setup is prominently lined with a gray rim, which also comprises the top part of the phone's back side. Unfortunately, this particular setup ends up making the front of the phone look cheaper than it should.
The VX doesn't offer a unibody design like some of its brethren, but HTC still tries to keep the visual interruptions to a minimum. You'll see a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack on the top, a volume rocker on the right and micro-USB charging port on the bottom. The buttons are kept nearly flush with the chassis, protruding ever so slightly so you can push them without too much effort. It's a little better than the design method used on the Droid DNA, where the power button is completely flush and quite difficult to press, though the buttons here still gave us trouble from time to time.
Unlike some of its premium stablemates, the VX utilizes a removable back cover that provides access to the phone's micro-SIM and microSD card slots. That means the battery can be removed as well, right? Wrong. The 1,800mAh battery is embedded and isn't going anywhere unless you express aspirations to be the next iFixit employee. We reached out to HTC for more information on how the phone was designed, and were told that the battery actually rests below the board and behind the display, taking up nearly the entire horizontal space of the VX. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because the VX uses the same pyramid-like structure as the Windows Phone 8X and Droid DNA. Essentially, the reason for the back cover is to tuck away the micro-SIM and microSD slots and minimize the clutter on the outside of the phone.
Granted, a non-removable battery won't be a dealbreaker for most. We doubt very many power users will be calling this handset their daily driver, and thus won't need to swap batteries on a regular basis. Still, it's worth discussing in case this is a crucial factor for you when choosing your next phone.
The back of the VX offers a rather minimalistic feel, with the 5-megapixel, rear-facing camera and LED flash on top, HTC logo smack-dab in the center and speaker grille down below just underneath the Beats Audio branding.
The screen is of the 4.5-inch, qHD (960 x 540), SLCD variety, which translates into a pixel density of 245 ppi. Since it uses a standard RGB matrix, you won't have to concern yourself with the ugly jagged icons and texts that tend to accompany PenTile screens. Despite this reviewer's fondness for 720p / 1080p displays, the VX didn't disappoint; instead of wishing we were using a One X+ or Droid DNA, we found ourselves enjoying the experience without the burden of blemishes or pixelation. Movies played at a surprisingly high quality. Viewing angles were incredibly good and outdoor visibility wasn't much of a problem at all.
When it comes to the airwaves that make your connection to the outside world possible, the VX sports dual-band LTE (bands 4 and 17), tri-band HSPA+ / UMTS (850/1900/2100) and quad-band GSM / EDGE (850/900/1800/1900). It also takes advantage of dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n, WiFi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC. The VX is also compatible with HTC's Media Link HD and comes with 8GB internal storage -- plus the ability to add 32GB of extra space via microSD.
HTC is busily pushing Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) to most of the devices in its portfolio, so it comes as a disappointment -- though perhaps not a surprise -- that the One VX bears the previous iteration of Google's mobile OS, known as Ice Cream Sandwich. The company promises that an update to the next version will be available "shortly after launch," but AT&T could easily interpret that term differently than the rest of the human population.
Since it's an AT&T Android device, you can expect the usual eyeful of preloaded apps, such as AT&T Code Scanner, FamilyMap, Locker, Navigator, Ready2Go, YPMobile, myAT&T, AT&T Live TV, Messages and more. None of the services can be uninstalled, but most of them can at least be disabled (YPMobile being the exception).
Just as we've seen on other phones within the One series, the recent apps button can be used alternatively as a menu key; long presses are also supported so you can use the soft key for both functions.
The VX also offers the Skyfire-powered browser bar, a stock internet browser extension that's currently being flaunted on other AT&T devices like the One X+, LG Escape and Optimus G. The bar, which runs along the bottom of the screen, features shortcuts to bookmarks, social sharing tools, apps related to the current URL and offers. It shows up by default and can either be minimized with a downward swipe or disabled completely in the settings menu. While it probably sounded like a great idea on the project manager's whiteboard, we found it to be of very little beneficial use since most features can be accessed just as easily through the browser menu without the nuisance of limited screen space.
Phones that offer 8MP or 13MP cameras tend to drift toward the premium side of the quality spectrum, so it's not too hard to swallow the fact that the One VX utilizes a 5MP ImageSense camera. Naturally, megapixel count is the least of our concerns -- we're much more interested in the fact that it's backside-illuminated (BSI), has an f/2.2 aperture and records up to 1080p video. It also offers a few nice settings like HDR, ISO, white balance, macro mode and panorama.
Of course, most of these settings work exactly as advertised, and each image taken in direct sunlight is decently detailed (however, we noticed that a few were overexposed, and purple flare crept into some daylight shots). Unfortunately, white balance typically shifted toward the yellow and the dynamic range was pretty limited. Low-light shots weren't as good as we've seen on devices like the One X+, and they're much noisier than we'd like.