The HTC One XL is the 4G LTE enabled version of HTC’s current flagship device: the HTC One X. The One XL is available in Australia on the Telstra 4G network and is definitely one of the better 4G smartphone options in Australia, especially if you’re buying Android.
Despite the One XL having been out for quite a while by the time we got around to finally reviewing it, it still held up pretty well. Of course there are concerns as to the One XL’s continuing relevancy in the face of approaching 4G competitors that cannot be ignored, so we decided to review the One XL as a smartphone in the current market (early November 2012), rather than as it compared to the market when it was released.
Physical Design of the HTC One XL
We usually end up praising HTC for its smartphone design and the One XL is no different. While the dull grey metallic finish was not as impressive as the sleek white polycarbonate of the One X, the One XL, compared to many other leading smartphones, is still a fairly stylish device. It should be mentioned that the One XL is also available in white; we just didn’t get a white one.
The weight and curvature of the overall design is both comfortable and reassuring, helping to make the One XL feel like a premium device before we’d even turned it on. Of course, being a larger breed of phone, the size of the One XL won’t be for everyone. But for most of us it certainly sported good dimensions.
One minor issue that we felt could be easily addressed is the location of the power button. While it’s traditional for HTC and most other smartphone manufacturers to place the power/lock button on the top, it starts to get a little awkward with large-screen devices. It would be much easier to access if it was somewhere on the side, as a fair amount of stretching or grip-rearranging is required with its current placement.
Below the display are three capacitive buttons. We tend to prefer at least one physical button for the Home key, but it’s not really an issue and entirely up to personal preference.
Overall the HTC One XL’s feel and look left us with some good first impressions. It’s not the prettiest device we’ve ever seen from HTC, but it’s a far cry from the plastic designs we’re still seeing from some other manufacturers.
Display and UI
The display of the HTC One XL is still beautiful. Being the same one that we encountered on the HTC One X it was predictably smooth, crisp and bright. Colours were vibrant, whites were clear and blacks were sufficiently dark, although not amazingly so.
Despite sporting a slower processor, the One XL was still a smooth experience in terms of UI. We did notice a tiny bit more jerkiness than we remembered with the HTC One X and its quad-core CPU, but not enough to warrant any negative marks. This is impressive, considering that the One XL runs the same Android 4.0.3 OS version as the HTC One X. We would actually really have liked to see 4.1 Jelly Bean here, but its omission was hardly a surprise.
HTC’s multi-purpose Lock screen has made another showing. We do still love the concept of jumping straight to Email, SMS, Phone or Camera if desired, as well as seeing where specific notifications come from at a glance, but it’s beginning to feel like HTC could be doing more. After all, this Lock screen has stayed the same for a while now, so perhaps it’s not too much to ask for HTC to start adding even more functionality to it.
Apps launched quite quickly and we didn’t experience any of the phantom lag issues that we were occasionally plagued with during our HTC One X review.
We have to say we still really miss the Menu button since Ice Cream Sandwich switched it to a task manager. So many applications now require the whole side or bottom of the screen to be taken up with a black bar that acts as a virtual menu button. This is just a total waste of space and takes away from what would otherwise be a fantastic experience. There really was nothing wrong with the often-employed previous functionality of holding down the Home button in order to open the task manager. This new and continuing system just feels clunky. Even adding a fourth button to the row of keys (if you’ll remember, this used to be the standard when the Search button was popular) would be better than taking up large chunks of screen real estate.
Overall images were clear & vibrant and the UI itself was smooth and responsive. We weren’t really expecting anything new from the One XL, as it’s really just a 4G version of the One X, so we weren’t in any way disappointed with the experience we were delivered.
Hardware and Camera
As previously stated, the One XL has switched out its quad-core processor for a dual-core S4 option. However, this didn’t really ever become an issue. As a matter of fact, the One XL actually functioned slightly better in some areas like its aforementioned lack of phantom lag spikes. There’s still 1GB of RAM under the hood which is more than enough to get the job done well.
Most notably, 4G LTE connectivity has been added, but more on that in the browsing section.
Battery life was actually not as good on of One XL as it was on the One X. We were surprised by this. Despite the addition of notoriously battery-hungry 4G LTE, the drop in processor power from a quad-core to a dual-core should have at least helped out with battery drain. That’s not to say that the One XL has bad battery life; it’s quite adequate. But a decent amount of 4G web surfing may leave an internet junky looking for a power socket before the end of the day.
The camera was actually really well; much better than we’d expected. Shots in well-lit areas came out with predictable clarity, but low-light shots saw a significant improvement over the HTC One X. This was really confusing, because as far as we can tell the One XL and One X both sport the same camera and image sensor. Still, the results were clearly noticeable to us. Unfortunately we don’t have any One X shots for comparison, as we parted ways with that particular device some time ago.
It should be noted that the high quality of low-light shots on the One XL was not spot-on every time. Many photos were plagued with blurriness and poor focus, but overall it was a pleasantly surprising experience.
Browsing and Keyboard
By far the biggest feature of the HTC One XL is its 4G LTE capability. 4G is an extremely fast form of wireless internet that is currently on its way to replacing 3G across Australia and various other countries. Currently the only two 4G networks in Australia are run by Optus and Telstra, with Telstra’s currently boasting the largest coverage by a significant amount.
Anyone worrying about trading off the quad-core CPU of the One X for the 4G coverage of the One XL should stop right now. 4G is far and away incredibly worth it, even for casual internet users. Even services like Facebook and Twitter become immeasurably less frustrating to use on a 4G connection. This is because 4G boasts speeds that are just as fast or faster than most ADSL2+ landline connections.
Of course, 4G coverage isn’t exactly wide-spread right now, so folks living well outside of metropolitan areas should be wary. But it’s easy enough to check Telstra 4G coverage on the web so anyone thinking of joining up can just take that simple precaution beforehand.
We even got great coverage in places that we would normally expect to receive almost none, such as in subway tunnels.
Obviously, due to the 4G speeds, browsing as a complete breeze. Websites loaded really quickly, no matter how content-heavy they were. This, coupled with the large HD display made browsing a fantastic experience.
We did find the zooming in and out of web pages could be a bit laggy. This was surprising, but not enough to really detract from the experience too much.
However, despite our love of 4G on the One XL, this is where the current market kicks in. There are already a fair number of 4G contenders on the market and with even more coming our way 4G mightn’t be enough of a perk to recommend the One XL to new users. In fact, a large number of upcoming big releases will sport 4G LTE, with an even higher percentage to come in the future.
So while the One XL might be one of the best 4G LTE options in the market at this very moment, that could change significantly in the next couple of months.
The keyboard, as always with HTC, was nice and fast. We still prefer 3rd party apps like Swype or SwiftKey, but the stock standard HTC offering is still hassle-free and more than adequate for the average user.
The larger screen once again helped out in this department, as it made typing in portrait mode a viable possibility for our large fingers. Landscape, obviously, was no obstacle.
Music and Video
Music on the HTC One XL is great. This is because the One XL runs Beats Audio, while the One X does not. Beats Audio adds just that little bit extra sound quality, as well as added bass, that enhances the audio experience just enough to be noticeable.
We will have to say that we’re not so much a fan of HTC’s most recent Music app. The top of the app is just cluttered with things we, as users, just don’t care about. It feels claustrophobic and like we’re being advertised too, even if we’re not. Music apps should be simple, intuitive and, preferably, offer images of artists and/or albums to enhance the experience.
Luckily enough 3rd party apps like Spotify are becoming increasingly popular and they, while still receiving the sound benefits of Beats Audio, are not affected by HTC’s new cluttered Music approach.
Video on the large 720p display was fantastic. HTC has had great screens for some time now and the One XL is no exception. Colours were vibrant without being over saturated and blacks were dark enough to not ruin the ambience of low-light scenes in movies. This, coupled with the quality sound, made for a solid viewing experience.
The WhistleOut Opinion
The HTC One XL is a great Android smartphone. We still prefer the Samsung Galaxy S3 in terms of interface and usability, but the 4G of the One XL is enough to make it a contender. That being said, the GS3 is available as a 4G model from Optus (although we’re yet to get our hands on one), so that’s definitely worth keeping in mind.
We’d have to say that we would recommend the HTC One XL to any Telstra customer who is looking for a great 4G experience right now. But, if you can wait a few months, you might want to stick around and see what else is on its way. It shouldn’t be too long and the One XL isn’t exactly going to get worse in the meantime.