It has been a slow start of the year for Android. To date, very few devices have managed to generate excitement for consumers and smartphone enthusiasts. Only Samsung's mammoth “phablet” (smartphone + tablet) Galaxy Note has gotten any buzz so far this year, and its weird form factor has limited its appeal. The new HTC One X  should change all that, instantly earning the title of the best Android device on the market right now.

Best-in-Class Android

This, storm troopers, is the Android you are looking for. It's a 4.7-inch screen, dual-core 1.5 GHz sleek beauty running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and HTC Sense 4 on AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Fast, powerful, functional, simple. 

Android fans will find many things to like about the One X. This device boasts one of the most seamless integrations on Android we have seen, and (for once) the skin that the manufacturer has laid over the stock version of the operating system actually enhances the user interface. Like HTC’s One series in general, Sense 4 is a pleasant departure from how the Taiwanese manufacturer has approached previous Android smartphones. HTC has added more functionality and customization choices while keeping the entire system as easy to use as possible.

One knock against Android is that the OS poses a steeper learning curve than the iPhone or even Windows Phone. The HTC One X may still challenge some consumers, but the device is definitely easier to use than other Android devices running Ice Cream Sandwich, including the flagship Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

The reason for that is Sense 4. Pure, unadulterated Android without any skin on top of it, as seen in the Galaxy Nexus, is created by geeks, for geeks. HTC, on the other hand, created its Android skin to get out of the way.

Sense 4

When Google announced Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) and its features, many people thought HTC might be in trouble. Android 4.0 brings a lot of features to the operating system itself that HTC had already integrated with Sense. How would HTC differentiate itself and rise above the pack?

Well, HTC has turned what many people thought would be a weakness into a strength. It turns out that ICS and Sense work together to create HTC's strongest offering yet. Sense 4 controls much of the user experience of the HTC One X. That includes how widgets are created on the seven different home screens, photo and video integration capture, music and sound quality, along with all media playback. It also has a driving companion that helps users perform a variety of tasks more safely when behind the wheel.

The goal of combining Sense 4 and Ice Cream Sandwich is to tie the smartphone’s software to its hardware. A good example of how that works is with the camera. The One X has an 8MP camera with optimized image sensors and a 1.3MP front camera. HTC put a lot of thought into how it processed photos and created “ImageSense,” which represents the entire set of photo capabilities on the device. HTC Video Pic lets you use HD video and also capture a still frame photo in the middle of shooting. Instant Capture is designed to get the smartphone to take pictures as quickly as possible, bypassing the locked screen and cutting shutter lag to next to nothing. The auto focus feature works well, as does the “smart flash” that determines the distance of the object being photographed and delivers the appropriate amount of light. 

A couple of sample pictures:

Sense 4’s music control comes down to one basic feature: Beats Audio. It took us awhile to figure out that Beats Audio is nothing more than a basic equalizer in the device. The built-in speaker is one of the best we have ever seen. And good speakers are a rarity in smartphones.

HTC Watch helps users consume media creatively. With the appropriate television (DLNA-enabled), users can send photos and video from the smartphone wirelessly to the big screen - it is like Apple’s AirPlay for iOS without the need to buy an Apple TV. If your TV is not DLNA-enabled, you can also use an HDMI cable with a micro-USB adapter. 

Hardware and Form Factor

This is where our field-testing comes in. After determining that the software mixed well with the hardware, we took the HTC One X out on the town to show it a good time. One of our favorite things to do in a review is hand the phone to someone and gauge their reaction. The Lumia 900 rated well in this test. The HTC One X rated better.

The slight curve of the HTC One X allows the 4.7-inch screen to appear slightly raised, like the Lumia 800/900 but quite a bit different from the iPhone and other Androids. The design, along with the pixel density (1280x720) and the form factor led people to gawk at the screen. While we think the Lumia 900’s screen may be better overall, the HTC One X is no slouch. 

It also, apparently, is quite durable. 

We handed the phone to one tester to look up photos on Facebook. In the transfer, the phone fell about five feet onto a hardwood floor. It bounced once and landed screen down. The screen was fine and there was not a dent or scratch to be seen. 

The HTC One X is designed as a one-piece device, like the iPhone. It does not have a removable back and is quite thin. The back has a ceramic coating that is supposed to make it very durable. According to reports, that also affects the edges of the device, where if you press on the screen there is a bit of screen discoloration. This was present on the HTC One X we tested. Some people also have chipped the ceramic coating when flexing the phone. We are not sure why people would “flex” their phone, but HTC has said it will accept returns of the device if users are unsatisfied. 

One thing we did notice with the ceramic back is that the white version we received tended to pick up smudges and other colors. After putting it in the back pocket of a pair of blue jeans, we found that some of the blue rubbed off on the phone. We didn’t know that was possible.

It is difficult to tell how well the speakers and camera will hold up over time, but their quality definitely puts the device in the above-average range of any other smartphone currently on the market. 

For such a big screen and overall size, the device is not heavy and fits nicely in your hand.  There are three versions of the HTC One series, two with smaller screens than the One X. The One S has a 4.3-inch screen and the lower-end One V has a 3.7-inch screen. The One S is available through T-Mobile.

Since the back is not removable and there is only the one micro-USB port, there is no expandable memory on the One X. HTC has rectified this by partnering with Dropbox through Sense for 25GB of space for two years. 

This is also the second device we have tested on AT&T’s LTE network, and the speed is impressive. With all the media capabilities of this phone and the easy interaction through LTE, users may quickly run through their data plan limits.

Who Is This Phone For?

This is the device you want if you are looking for a brand new Android that just works. If you like to customize your phone with widgets on multiple home screens, this is your phone. If you like good media playback at high data speeds, this is your phone. If you want a phone with a good form factor, enough processing power to do just about anything you want and simple design, this is your phone. 

Simply, at this point in time, it is the best Android device on the market. 

That may change later in the year. The Samsung Galaxy S III is on its way, likely to be announced later this week. The Galaxy S II was likely the 2011 Android Phone of the Year and the encore is rumored to be impressive. Yet HTC is no slouch when it comes to high-end devices. The original HTC Evo was one of the best Android devices on the market even a year after it was released. After a bit of a lull when HTC lost its way, it has come back with a vengeance with the One series. The One X is the top of the line.