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HTC One XL Review: The Best Is Getting Better

HTC’s One X is an excellent phone, but it’s currently only available for Optus and Vodafone customers. What happens when you take an excellent phone and add 4G to it?

Telstra hasn’t yet launched the One XL in Australia just yet; the model I tested with was an import provided for review by MobiCity where it currently sells for $829. As such, there’s a couple of little tweaks you have to undertake to get it running; changing the APN to telstra.internet, rebooting and then setting it to seek LTE networks. The one oddity you’ll encounter here is that, unlike Telstra’s existing handsets — the Velocity 4G and Galaxy S II 4G – you won’t get a 4G indicator at the top of the display; it reports as LTE instead.

Why It Matters

As it stands — and without having had proper hands-on or review time with a Galaxy S III — the HTC One X is the phone to beat in the Android arena. So a phone that promises just about everything that the HTC One X does (more on that later) should be a really great phone. At the same time, I couldn’t approach the One XL as an entirely “new” phone; after all, I’ve already reviewed the incredibly similar One X, and for the most part, my views on that phone apply here.

What I Liked

It shouldn’t be a huge shock then that the things I liked about the One X apply to the One XL. The camera is really good, HTC’s lightweight approach to HTC Sense sitting on top of Ice Cream Sandwich works exceptionally well, and things zip along at a very nice pace on the One XL’s bright and clear display screen. I like the colour of the provided unit; while that’s a purely aesthetic thing, I could never quite bring myself to personally like the all-white One X. Gunmetal grey isn’t the sparkliest of colours, but it’s solid and it works within the frame of the One XL’s body.

There’s a slight concession to LTE in the One XL, because the quad-core Tegra 3 under the skin of the One X doesn’t offer LTE support. For that reason it’s using a dual-core Snapdragon processor instead. The good news here is that the actual performance impact is minimal; while I no longer had the One X to do side by side testing, in observational tests it’s still a very snappy smartphone. As I’ve noted before, I’m not a huge fan of huge phones, but if you are, this is a very tempting option indeed.

What about the LTE aspect of the One XL? I’ve noted before that 4G coverage — even within supposedly 4G zones — can be an incredibly spotty experience. When it’s up, it’s great, but when it’s not, it’s sometimes worse than comparable 3G phones at the exact same time. In my tests, the One XL’s performance was mostly — but not entirely — exceptionally good.

As with other mobile broadband tests I’ve performed, the One XL was tested outside a 4G region to get a baseline score, and then within Sydney’s CBD to get some 4G scores, using the Android version of the Speedtest.net application.

Location Average Ping (ms) Average Download (Mbps) Average Upload (Mbps)
Hornsby
97
6.22
2.56
Wynyard
40
35.92
18.47
Circular Quay (Outside)
45.67
42.67
22.8
Circular Quay (Indoors)
50.33
13.65
10.97

Our offices are notably poor for any kind of mobile signal, but even here the One XL excelled. As with any mobile device, that’s not to say that it’s flawless; there were situations (especially when inside our office) where it struggled for any kind of signal. Still, in terms of upsides, the One XL positions itself well.

What I didn’t like

LTE data is great when it’s fast, and the One XL is very fast. But you can’t get something for nothing, and in this case, it’s the battery life of the One XL that suffers. I’d noted in my original review that the One X could eat its way through its 1800mAh battery within a day on moderate usage. The One XL has the same battery capacity, but the added strain of LTE means it’s even easier to run out of power if you’re performing battery hungry data tasks.

As with the original, I love the quality of shots you can get from the camera, but I’d love it even more with a dedicated camera button; without it, it’s all too easy to wobble the One XL in your hands when taking a shot.

As noted, the switch of processors doesn’t have a large measurable effect on handset performance — which suggests there’s not much out there pushing the Tegra just yet — so that’s a compromise which isn’t too hard to live with. The memory compromise is another thing altogether; if you opt for the One XL over the One X, you’re looking at exactly half the memory. There are other handsets out there with 16GB onboard, but many of them offer expandable storage; the One XL is a sealed unit, so the 16GB onboard is all it will ever have.

Should You Buy One?

Undoubtedly, when the One XL officially reaches our shores, an HTC spokesperson will talk about how direct import phones are in some way inferior. It could be that they’re missing some kind of bundled service — but how much you’d want telco bundled apps is always an interesting question — or some kind of vague statement about optimisation of local handsets. From my own testing, I can’t see any reason not to buy the One XL right now if you’re regularly within 4G zones, can live with the annoying memory compromise and you were planning on purchasing it outright anyway. Those who require contract options will have to wait.

Specifications

HTC One XL

OS: Android 4.03
Screen: 4.7-inch 1280×720
Processor: Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon 1.5Ghz
RAM: 1GB
Storage: 16GB
Dimensions: 134.4mm x 69.9mm x 8.9mm
Camera: 8MP rear (1080p HD video), 1.3MP front
Battery: 1800mAh
Weight: 129g

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