With LTE in its sails and Ice Cream Sandwich at the helm, the sleek HTC One XL was the new flagship of the Android armada. At least for a little while.
Australia's early LTE-compatible handsets such as the HTC Velocity 4G and Samsung Galaxy S II 4G were bulky beasts which really felt like stop-gap measures. The slick new HTC One XL is the one we've been waiting for -- blessed with a slender build despite its 4.7-inch display.
The One XL may have become the flagship of the Android armada when launched a few weeks ago, but some would argue that this honour has since been stolen by the impressive Samsung Galaxy S III. HTC is perhaps saved by the fact Samsung has opted not to release an LTE version of the Galaxy S III in Australia, at least for now. Yet it seems unfair to review one without referencing the other, so today we've gone for an Android double-header and published side-by-side reviews of HTC's One XL and Samsung's Galaxy S III. It probably flows better to read this One XL review first before turning to the Galaxy S III.
If you're a Telstra customer with a thirst for LTE, your smartphone choices really come down to the Android-powered HTC One XL and the Windows Phone 7-powered HTC Titan 4G. They enjoy mobile broadband speeds of "up to" 40 Mbps, but if you wander too far from the city you drop back to HSDPA. We found the One XL's LTE data speeds and latency are far from consistent, but that seems to be the case with any wireless technology and doubly so with Telstra's LTE network.
A Telstra exclusive, the One XL is available from $59 per month or $744 outright. If LTE doesn't float your boat, it's worth noting that the HSDPA-capable One X is available from other telcos. The One X and One XL models sold in Australia should all feature quad-band HSDPA, supporting the 850 and 900 MHz networks used by various telcos, as well as the speed boost of Dual Cell HSDPA.
LTE is naturally a talking point, but it's the One XL's slimline design that will turn heads. It sports a generous 4.7-inch display, continuing HTC's longstanding love affair with excessive screen real estate. Yet despite this excess, the handset is pleasing to both the eye and the touch thanks to the slightly curved, slimline design. At 8.9mm thick and tipping the scales at 129gm, the phone sits beautifully in your hand. The Galaxy S III might retain bragging rights at only 8.6mm thick, but to be honest the One XL's extra girth helps it feel less flimsy than its Samsung rival.
Practically every aspect of the One XL is cutting edge, such as the bright, crisp 1280x720 Super LCD display which sees Android strike back in the pixel density race with Apple. The One XL offers an impressive 312 dots per inch which falls only a tad short of the iPhone 4S. The use of Super LCD, similar to the iPhone, offers more accurate colours, whiter whites and higher contrast than most AMOLED displays.
Android fans will be pleased to note that the One X/XL is also one of the first phones to run Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" out of the box. HTC still adds its Sense UI 4.0 skin over the top, which we prefer to Samsung's awkward look and feel. Samsung's efforts to be cute and bubbly are downright annoying. Yet HTC's range of pre-installed apps really let it down. The HTC Watch movie rental service is a welcome addition, but the inclusion of Garmin Navigator with a not-so-generous 7-day trial of turn-by-turn navigation is less enticing.
Keep in mind the Samsung comes with a full version of Navigon, Nokia bundles Nokia Drive on the Windows Phone 7 Lumia range and Apple is adding TomTom to its iPhone mapping service. HTC really needs to lift its game, not just with sat-nav but with its entire approach to its apps ecosystem.
While the One XL's pre-installed apps might be mediocre, the hardware certainly isn't. It sports 1.3MP and 8MP front and rear cameras with impressive low-light performance thanks to an f/2.0 lens You'll also find Beats Audio compatibility along with Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX for improved audio quality. Add to this 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi with 2.4 and 5GHz support as well as NFC for close-range wireless interactions. There's no micro-HDMI port, however you can buy a micro-USB to micro-HDMI adaptor. You'll also find intriguing contact points on the back of the phone which support an HDMI-enabled charge cradle.
The One XL offers a generous 32GB of onboard storage, but you're denied a micro-SD slot for expansion. The phone relies on a completely sealed polycarbonate unibody design, so there's no hope of discovering an internal SD slot or even replacing the battery. It's tempting to dismiss these restrictions as the price you pay for a slimline handset, yet the Galaxy S III is even slimmer without demanding such sacrifices.
There is also a price to pay for LTE goodness. The One XL only packs a dual-core 1.5 GHz processor with 1 GB of RAM, unlike the quad-core 1.5 GHz processor in the One X. Don't be too quick to judge though, as the One XL relies on a newer Snapdragon processor. Tested against the Rightware Browsermark for mobile devices, the One XL keeps pace with the supposedly more powerful One X.
Both the One X and XL pack plenty of firepower, yet when it comes to the benchmarks both are comprehensively thrashed by Samsung's 1.4 GHz quad-core Galaxy S III. As our Galaxy S III review reveals, extra grunt often trumps faster data speeds. The Galaxy S III also packs a 2100 mAh battery, a step up from the One XL's 1800 mAh battery.
So what's the verdict? In the first draft of this review, the One XL fought off its new rival to remain the flagship of the Android armada. It's an amazing device with a tick in almost every box and a no-brainer if you're after an LTE phone. The handset looks and feels great, plus the HTC interface is slick without being over the top. Given the choice we'd probably take the One XL. But on further consideration we have to concede that the Samsung packs more grunt, offers a better app ecosystem and has a micro-SD slot for expanding your storage.
HTC's One XL won't disappoint you. It could well be the droid you've been looking for. But, there is another.