The Pepsi Challenge

, posted: 24-May-2012 11:45

When I went to the HTC One X launch event, I mentioned that my iPhone doubles as my portable music player, and that its probably more accurate to say that I treat it as an MP3 player with communication capabilities. Upon hearing this, the HTC reps said “We’d like you to take the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ with this phone”. This is the blog post where I detail whether I can see myself switching to the HTC One X, or will be sticking with my iPhone for my portable music playing needs.The HTC One X made a strong first impression by having a 32GB capacity. I like to carry the majority of my music collection with me (there are some exceptions; namely albums I’m too embarrassed to have in my collection these days), and this means approximately 20GB of music.

Being a Mac owner and iPhone user, my music is stored in iTunes. HTC has its HTC Sync software that allows you to synchronize directly from your iTunes collection to the HTC One X, but at this stage only a Windows version of this is available. I initially copied my songs over to the phone manually, but have since started using DoubleTwist, which offers iTunes synchronization to Android phones. It also offers wireless sync via its paid version, but I’ve not yet explored that option. Once the music has been copied over to the phone, it isn’t automatically available to the music player app, but instead takes a few minutes to show up. I suspect this is due to background indexing of the music library, as there was an animated synchronizing icon showing during this time. It would’ve been good if this process was shown in the Android Notification area, including a notification once the process had finished.

The stock music app itself is pretty easy to use, and provides all the important functionality I’m used to from the iPhone music player, which I’ve always considered to be the yardstick when measuring music apps. Clicking on the Music icon takes you to a launch pad which gives you access to the songs stored locally on your phone, the SoundHound music identification service, TuneIn Radio, and the 7digital online music store. You can customize this by adding your own app shortcuts, to ensure all your usual music needs can be met from the same location. In addition to these app shortcuts, it also presents a list of the most recently played tracks and albums.



The “My phone” icon is the starting point for exploring and playing the music stored on the HTC One X. Music can be browsed by artist, album, song, playlist or genre. You can also perform an incremental search across your music collection, which will narrow down the search results as you type, matching on artists, albums, and song names.



One of the things that originally attracted me to the music player on the iPod Touch and iPhone was its “Cover Flow” view. I thought it would be a great way to browse through the albums in my music collection for those times I didn’t have a particular album in mind. In reality I find I don’t use that view too much, as it takes too long to scroll through my collection. The HTC One X uses a grid view to display all albums, and I’ve come to appreciate this approach a lot more. Because you can see multiple albums at once, it makes this a much more practical way to chose an album to listen to. At the bottom of the grid view, the song currently being played is displayed, with a button allowing you to pause or resume playback.



Selecting an album in the grid will show all songs you have from that album, and clicking any song title in that list will begin playback of that song. There is also an ellipsis button to the right of each song which will expose functionality allowing such things as playing the song, or adding it to the queue to be played later, or setting it as your phones ringtone.



There is a similar ellipsis button at the top right which allows you to add the album to a playlist, add it to the queue, or share the album information via social media platforms, email, bluetooth or Dropbox. Selecting one of the social media sharing options will initiate a post to the selected platform with the text ‘I like “” by “”. Selecting the Dropbox sharing option allows you to upload the entire album to a location in your Dropbox, and selecting the bluetooth option allows you to share the album to a connected bluetooth device.

Quite often I’ll be listening to an album when I get the desire to hear another album or song in my collection, but don’t want to interrupt what I’m currently listening to. So I really appreciate the ability to queue songs, albums, or even playlists, to listen to later. This is a feature that I used to use all the time when using Winamp many years ago, and is a feature that I’ve always wished the iPhone music app had.

The queuing feature isn’t without its flaws though. While it is possible to queue up a song or album when browsing through your collection, there is no option to add a song from the search results. Seeing the list of queued songs isn’t as easy as it could be either. The only place you can see this list is by selecting the menu when the “Now playing” screen is shown. Also be warned that if you have queued up a bunch of songs and then select one to play directly from elsewhere within the music app, the queue will be overridden based on that context. For example, if you were browsing by album and launched a song from a selected album, the queue will be replaced with the contents of that album.

One thing I really appreciate about the HTC One X are the many different ways you can control music playback from elsewhere on the device. The lock screen can show the currently playing track along with playback controls, and similar controls are available via widgets of various sizes. You are also shown the currently playing track in the Notification centre, along with a button allowing you to pause and resume playback. There is also a button on the supplied headphones that offers the same pause & resume functionality.



All this functionality would be pretty pointless though if the sound quality was rubbish. Thankfully this isn’t the case. And while you could certainly benefit from a headphone upgrade, the bundled ones perform well enough to ensure that this isn’t a mandatory requirement to effectively use the HTC One X as your full time music player. In fact, in terms of sound quality I prefer them to the standard ones that came bundled with my iPhone. Where the iPhone headphones have the edge however, is with their remote control functionality. In addition to pausing and resuming playback, you can skip tracks (both backwards and forwards), and change the volume. You can also invoke Voice Control, but thats a feature I rarely used.

HTC are putting a lot of emphasis on their Beats Audio feature. I was told that Beats Audio is designed to replace the bits that are lost during the audio compression process. Call me a cynic, but replacing information thrown away during compression algorithms seems optimistic at best, and you’d never be able to 100% accurately recreate the original source material. That being said, having Beats Audio on did tend to have a positive impact on the sound, as it made the music sound fuller, and with more emphasis on bass. I’d consider it more of an equalizer preset than a magic wand capable of restoring songs back to their pre-compression glory.

There is one problem I encountered with Beats Audio enabled. Every few minutes of continued playback, songs would stutter, with playback halting for approximately half a second. During a two hour session I had this glitch happen ten times. I have never experienced this with Beats Audio off, and because of this I tend to listen to music with Beats Audio disabled. I find the music still sounds acceptable enough without this feature, but its a shame that it does suffer from this problem, as I’d probably use it otherwise.

In addition to Beats Audio, there are a few other preset effects that can be applied to music playback. These “Sound enhancer” effects, as HTC have labelled them, are similar to ones found in other music apps I’ve used, and provide options to enhance things like bass, treble, or vocals.



Unfortunately my experience with the few sound enhancers I’ve tried so far are that they suffer the same occasional glitch that happens when Beats Audio enabled. So once again I find myself preferring to play music with no effects applied.

So whats it going to be, Coke or Pepsi? I’ve been an iPhone and iPod fan for so long, I didn’t think it would be possible to find a worthy alternative. But I could definitely see myself using the HTC One X as my primary music player. Its a shame that Beats Audio didn’t perform flawlessly, but thankfully I found that having that feature disabled didn’t significantly impact the listening experience for me. I also miss the ability to use the headphone remote control to skip to the next song or change the volume, which are features I use with my iPhone quite a bit. But this omission is offset by the ability to queue additional tracks without breaking the flow of what I’m currently listening to. And as an out of the box experience, with no equalizer or sound enhancer settings in play, I prefer the audio quality of the HTC One X over my iPhone.

Looks like I may be a Pepsi drinker after all.

About the author
Hi I'm David, a self employed software developer on the wrong side of 40, residing in Auckland with my wife and two children. I am a passionate All Blacks and Blues fan, gadget junkie, mature aged gamer, and connoisseur of fine heavy metal (and music in general). I currently own an iPhone 4, but am very open to trying new technologies, and can't wait to see what the best of Android can bring to the smartphone table. I enjoy keeping up to date with the latest technological advances in general, and am encouraged to see that the smartphone market is no longer an iOneHorseRace. I’m very interested to see how the HTC One and Ice Cream Sandwich fares in this regard.

Other related posts:
HTC One X: Bring on the Games!
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HTC One X Movie Editor






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