The HTC One XL is all about LTE. It is one of a handful of phones that EE selected as launch handsets, the others being LTE supporting versions of the Samsung Galaxy S III, iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 920, Nokia Lumia 820 and Huawei Ascend P1. Oh, and the iPad and iPad mini were recently added to the line-up.
EE was formerly known as Everything Everywhere, and is the owner of Orange and T Mobile. It has launched 4G in London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff, Southampton and Liverpool, proudly stating on its website that these cities cover a quarter of the UK’s population.
EE should have rolled out in Newcastle, Nottingham, Hull, Derby and Belfast by the end of 2012 (covering over a third of the UK population). If you live in any of these cities do a postcode check before you buy. Then again, checking my postcode suggested I did have 4G at home, and the handset reported one or two bars of signal most of the time. But I got a network communications error when I tried to run a speed test. I had to go further into London to get the full benefit.
When you can get 4G coverage you have access to speeds up to a theoretical 100Mbps though typical average speeds are much lower, hovering between 8Mbps and 12Mbps. I found access to a signal and speeds to be variable even in central London where there were some pockets with no signal.
However, when speeds were good, they were very, very good. One quick example. I downloaded J K Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy to my Kindle account from the cloud in six seconds. At home on standard 3G it took closer to nine. I made it to well over 15Mbps download speeds at times. And let’s not get too hooked up on actual speeds here - as Riyad has pointed out during his week with a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 LTE, having LTE speeds in your pocket is really liberating.
EE’s 4G is expensive. There are various plans available for the HTC One XL, the cheapest currently being £36 a month for 24 months. The handset costs £149.99 and you get just 500MB of data on that plan. If you’re prepared to pay £56 a month you can have 8GB of data and the handset costs £29.99. There are several plans in between and a range of 12 month plans too.
The HTC One XL is well made and is very reminiscent of the HTC One X on which it is closely based. That was a top-flight handset back in April and the 4.7in 1,280 x 720-pixel screen is as impressive as it was back then – sharp, clear and bright. It’s great to be able to read some websites without zooming and video looks superb. Reading that eBook I mentioned earlier wasn’t a bad experience either.
This large screen makes for chunky hardware and overall the HTC One XL measures 134.8 x 69.9 x 9.3mm. That makes it too big for me to reach across for one-handed use, and I found it a bit of a challenge to stow in a pocket too.
Still, the chassis design is neat, and that sub 10mm thinness really shines against such a tall and wide format. The camera lens is the only weak spot in the chassis design. It protrudes from the back in a little round bulge that’s not particularly pleasant to look at.
With a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, the quad-core capability of the One X has gone, but to be honest it’s not a deal-breaker. The One XL worked quickly enough for me, its 1GB of RAM clearly helping in this respect, though anyone who needs to be at the top of the specs tree might feel let down. Such people should be aware that there’s a perfectly legitimate reason for the apparent backtrack, and this is that the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 used in the X doesn’t support LTE while the dual-core Qualcomm processor used here does.
However, why the One X's generous 32GB of storage has been halved to 16GB here is not so clear. In fact, I’m pretty miffed about that, particularly as there’s no way you can add more storage. Quite simply, there’s no microSD card slot. The chassis doesn’t have a removable backplate. Your SIM, incidentally, sits in a slot on the upper edge of the casing.
With Android 4.0 on board the HTC One XL feels a bit behind the times. There are enough handsets running more advanced versions now for this to seem a little outdated and it would have been nice for HTC to have beefed things up to Jelly Bean. HTC Sense is here too, of course, and anyone who is a fan of it in other handsets will find it familiar and friendly. The Beats Audio tie-in HTC has been working with for a while now is also present, giving a bass boost to audio output.
I liked the camera on the HTC One X very much, and I like its second appearance here. Eight megapixels is not a bad standard to start with, and HTC adds some nice touches. The useful continuous shooting mode gets a repeat appearance here; the ability to shoot a still while taking a video is always welcome; and HTC has implemented an auto-upload system that’ll send photos to Facebook or Flickr and will even wait for a Wi-Fi connection to do it. I also like that it’s really easy to apply filters as you frame a shot.
The real deal-breaker is likely to be battery life. The HTC One X let me down in this respect and the One XL is, if anything, worse. Before taking the One XL for its first trip into central London I fully charged the battery. I did some Internet-based work to test 4G and then it sat in my pocket doing nothing but being switched on and collecting email as I trawled a couple of galleries. By 3pm the battery was down to about a quarter. I doubt very much that I’d get through even a pretty minimal day’s usage based on this experience.
There are things about the HTC One XL that really impress. The screen and camera are definite highlights. The battery life, however, is in this case a deal-breaker, and if I were looking for an LTE handset I would be likely to shop around for better.
Manufacturer and model
HTC One XL
1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960
4.7in, 1,280 x 720 pixels
134.8 x 69.9 x 9.3mm