Review

Review: HTC One XL; a Snapdragon S4 sacrifice?

You might remember previously that I have in fact already reviewed the HTC One X, and scored it quite well for that matter. However in HTC's One Series there is also another very similar device that is worth taking a look at, and of course I'm talking about the HTC One XL.

Yep, I'm reusing my photo of the One X because the two devices look identical

A great deal of this device is the same as the HTC One X, but internally there are a few changes present in the One XL. The big change is that the quad-core Tegra 3 chipset of the X has been replaced by a dual-core Snapdragon S4 to accommodate the LTE radios, as NVIDIA has not yet been able to integrate LTE support into their Tegra line. Depending on whether you get the One XL or the AT&T One X (essentially the same device) you'll get LTE on bands for your region. Also, the AT&T version gets a reduced 16 GB of internal memory for some reason.

As pretty much everything else - such as the design, display, software and camera - remains the same as the One X, I haven't bothered to go back over these things; if you do want to get an idea of those things you should check out my One X review from the links below. Where there are changes in the other aspects of the One XL, namely the performance of the dual-core Snapdragon S4, I have reviewed them further down.

HTC One X review
HTC Sense 4.0 review

Specifications

It's easiest to see the changes between the HTC One X and HTC One XL in the table below. I have highlighted the differences below so you can see exactly what HTC has adjusted to accommodate LTE.

  HTC One X HTC One XL
HTC One X (AT&T)
Product Codes S720e X325s
GSM Bands 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
3G/4G Bands HSPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 HSPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 (One XL)
HSPA 850 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 (One X AT&T)
LTE 1800 / 2600 (One XL)
LTE 700 / 1700 / 2100 (One X AT&T)
Display 4.7-inch Super-LCD 2 at 1280 x 720
312 ppi pixel density
10-point capacitive multi-touch
4.7-inch Super-LCD 2 at 1280 x 720
312 ppi pixel density
10-point capacitive multi-touch
Processor NVIDIA Tegra 3 chipset
1.5 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU
<500 MHz "companion core"
Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960
1.5 GHz dual-core Krait
Graphics ULP Kal-El GeForce Adreno 225
RAM 1 GB 1 GB
Storage 32 GB internal user storage 32 GB internal user storage
16 GB internal user storage (One X AT&T)
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n (dual-band)
Bluetooth 4.0
A-GPS
DLNA
NFC
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n (dual-band)
Bluetooth 4.0
A-GPS
DLNA
NFC
Camera 8 MP rear camera with f/2.0 28mm lens, BSI sensor and LED flash
1.3 MP front camera
1080p video recording (rear), 720p recording (front) 
8 MP rear camera with f/2.0 28mm lens, BSI sensor and LED flash
1.3 MP front camera
1080p video recording (rear), 720p recording (front) 
Ports MicroUSB
3.5mm audio jack
MicroUSB
3.5mm audio jack
Sensors Accelerometer
Magnetometer
Gyroscope
Proximity sensor
Light sensor
Accelerometer
Magnetometer
Gyroscope
Proximity sensor
Light sensor
Battery Li-Po 1,800 mAh non-removable Li-Po 1,800 mAh non-removable
Launch OS Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich"
Sense 4.0 UI
Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich"
Sense 4.0 UI
Launch Date April 2012 May 2012
Size & Weight 134.36 x 69.9 x 8.9 mm
130 g
134.8 x 69.9 x 8.9 mm
130 g
Price Unlocked & Outright: AU$699 (~US$740)
Also available on Optus, Vodafone AU, Three UK, Vodafone UK, O2 and more
Available on Telstra, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, O2 Germany (One XL) or AT&T, Rogers (One X AT&T)

Performance

The performance of the HTC One XL is obviously going to be the main differentiating factor between it and its brother in the HTC One X. The latter device packs NVIDIA's Tegra 3 chipset - a 1.5 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 quad-core CPU plus a 12-core Kal-El ULP GeForce GPU and 1 GB of RAM - while the former packs Qualcomm's new Snapdragon S4 chipset: the MSM8960.

The MSM8960 contains two of Qualcomm's brand new Krait CPU cores, loosely based on ARM's Cortex-A15 architecture that should be making its way to other SoCs in the near future. As the Krait cores are based on all-new designs, per core you should get better performance than you would out of a standard ARM Cortex-A9 core like in the Tegra 3; however as the MSM8960 is only dual-core overall performance should be lower than that of competing quad-cores.

Alongside two Krait cores clocked at 1.5 GHz there is also the inclusion of Qualcomm's new Adreno 225 GPU that should have around the same graphics performance as the Mali-400 MP in the Galaxy S II and the Kal-El ULP GeForce seen in the One X. Qualcomm hasn't released all that much information on the Adreno 225 (or any of the Adreno GPUs for that matter) but it should be around twice as fast as the Adreno 220 found in the Snapdragon S3s.

A diagram of the Snapdragon S4 system-on-a-chip

Connectivity wise there is a whole range of stuff included with the MSM8960: you get dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and A-GPS plus DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct and Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities (the same as the One X) plus GSM, HSPA+ and LTE radios, which are new to the One XL. For HSPA+ you get HSDPA Cat. 14 (21.1 Mbps) and HSUPA Cat. 6 (5.76 Mbps), and for LTE you get Cat. 3 (100 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up).

This is actually the first time I've had hands on time with a Snapdragon S4 device, with only a few other devices on the market currently using the chipset (such as the HTC One S). Naturally I wanted to see how it performs in comparison to the Tegra 3 that was present inside the HTC One X I used not so long ago.

I was actually pleasantly surprised to see the dual-core Snapdragon S4 delivering performance that was, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same as the quad-core Tegra 3. Throughout the system UI there were no obvious differences in the speed of the HTC One X and One XL, with everything being as fluid as ever. I'm not sure whether this is due to HTC's software optimization or Qualcomm's hardware improvements, but you don't really notice the lack of two cores while using the device.

The browser also performed notably well, performing pans and zooms with ease and speed that equals the Tegra 3 in most respects. In some apps and the browser I noticed a few quirks, such as unnecessary entire page re-rendering on intense web-pages in the browser, but mostly there is little to complain about with the app performance of the MSM8960.

Again, with games you'll find that the One XL performs very well, with the Adreno 225 being the capable counterpart of the Kal-El ULP GeForce. In games that are available for all platforms the Adreno 225 is more than capable of chugging out an acceptable frame rate on the One XL's 720p display, and as you'll see in benchmarks below the difference between the One X and XL is negligible.

However for games that have either been optimized for Tegra GPUs or have in-game capabilities only available on the Tegra 3, such as advanced particle handling, those with the One XL are going to get the raw end of the stick as obviously the Adreno is not compatible with these features. In that respect it makes the Tegra version of the One X preferable for a person who wants to do a lot of gaming on their smartphone, but with still a great range of games available for both systems (such as the recently released Max Payne Mobile) it's hard to call it a huge downside.

As for the LTE radio present in the device, in my locale (Melbourne) in Australia I'm lucky that Telstra has begun a roll-out, although it does not yet reach by house. That said in the CBD and in some of the inner suburbs I managed between 15 and 25 Mbps down depending on the strength of my signal and time of day, which is fantastic for the early stages of Australia's LTE network and the device itself. Expect similar performance in different parts of the world.

Now on to the benchmarks, and I did the usual array of tests on the device. You'll notice I've also included the Samsung Galaxy S III's benchmarks as I also have one of those in my office right now, but more on that device will be explored in its review that should be up soon.

These results were pretty much as I expected. Smartbench 2012 is a multi-threaded application so it's no surprise that the One XL falls behind the quad-core One X here by 35%. In Browsermark the difference between the One X and XL is within a margin of error, which suggests that the HTC Sense/Android 4.0 browser is more at play here than the actual hardware in terms of performance; while in Vellamo (a benchmark that uses a maximum of two cores) it's no surprise that the improved single-core performance of the Krait CPUs enables it to beat the One X by 40% (and the Galaxy S III by 11%).

The improvements of the Adreno 225 compared to the Adreno 220 are visible in the GLBenchmark results above, with the 225 coming in at 65-80% faster than 220. Compared to the Tegra 3 in the One X, the Adreno 225 is roughly the same, beating the ULP GeForce in the Pro test but losing out in the Egypt benchmark. The Adreno 225 also managed to perform better in Nenamark 2, hitting the FPS limiter of the One XL.

Again, as the performance of the Adreno and GeForce GPUs in the One X and One XL are so similar it isn't going to make a huge difference unless Tegra-specific optimization is involved. The Adreno 225's performance does indicate what could be coming in the future as well, as we should be getting even better performance with the Adreno 320 still to come in the MSM8960 Pro.

Video Playback

With the One XL you still get the fantastic Beats Audio enhancement that I first had time with in the One X, and you still get the awesome 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 display for watching videos, but there could be a slight difference in video playback. As the Tegra and Snapdragon chips both have different media processing engines, what the Tegra is capable of may not be the same with the Snapdragon.

So I put the One XL through the usual seven part video playback test. As a refresher, the One X managed to play back everything fine except the Black Swan and Amazing Life videos, so you can see below if the One XL manages to do better.

Medium Native Playback 3rd-Party Playback
Cordy Gameplay (.wmv)
640x360 WMV3 video @ 3046 kbps
WMA2 2ch audio @ 96 kbps
Perfect playback, although seeking doesn't work Perfect playback using hardware decoding, and still seeking doesn't work
The Big Bang Theory (.avi)
624x352 XviD video at 1082 kbps
MP3 2ch audio at 128 kbps
Perfect playback Perfect playback using hardware decoding
Epic Rap Battles of History 7 (.mp4)
1280x720 H.264 video at 2531 kbps
AAC 2ch audio at 128 kbps
Perfect playback Perfect playback using hardware decoding
TRON Legacy (.mp4)
1280x720 H.264 video at 2461 kbps
AAC 6ch audio at 401 kbps
Recognized, but wouldn't play Plays back the video and audio well using the software decoder, although there are a lot of weird and colorful artifacts that are displayed
Black Swan (.mkv)
1920x800 H.264 video at 17025 kbps
DTS 6ch audio at 1536 kbps
Perfect video playback but no DTS decoding (so no audio); no seeking either Due to licensing issues MX Player removed the DTS audio codec (damn!) in the latest build, so unfortunately the results are the same as with the default player
THX Amazing Life  (.mt2s)
1920x1080 H.264 video at 9011 kbps
AC3 6ch audio at 640 kbps
Not recognized (this is usual for an MT2S file) Again there are weird artifacts present here while the video is being decoded, and while the audio is fine the video seems to lag behind slightly
MysteryGuitarMan  (.mp4)
1920x1080 H.264 video at 2701 kbps
AAC 2ch audio at 128 kbps
Perfect playback Perfect playback using hardware decoding

I'm disappointed here that the Snapdragon chipset is not up to the same standard of playback as the Tegra. The artifacts that happen while decoding videos with surround sound using the software decoder could simply be an issue with MX Player, but nevertheless it means that you might have to convert these types of videos before getting them to play on the One XL. 

Battery Life

The HTC One X and HTC One XL both contain the same non-removable 1,800 mAh battery, which initially would appear to be a problem considering the One XL has to power the hungry LTE radios. However, Qualcomm has apparently gone to great efforts to ensure the battery life of the Snapdragon S4 chipsets is not hindered by the LTE radios and in my testing I found this to pay off.

While the battery life of the One X and One XL are both not particularly awesome, they both last roughly the same amount of time in day-to-day life, and can last throughout a day with moderate use. If you are not using LTE and instead sticking to Wi-Fi networks inside your home or workplace I would say you should expect slightly more battery life than with the One X in a comparable situation. 

As always with heavy usage you'll probably only get between five and six hours of life. There is no option to extend this due to a non-removable battery which is a shame, but the design is so awesome that in my eyes I am willing to make that sacrifice.

Disappointingly my time with the One X was before I started doing proper battery tests so I don't have a method to directly compare the battery life of the One X and One XL. However, in the table below you should be able to see how this device fares in comparison to the other smartphones I currently have in my office: the Droid Razr and Samsung Galaxy S III. At the moment I only have completed the movie playback test but should I have time I'll also put up a Wi-Fi browsing test.

Device Movie Playback Life
Motorola Droid Razr (GSM) 9:53
HTC One XL 9:03
Samsung Galaxy S III 8:41

Conclusion

What I said about the HTC One X still holds true for the HTC One XL: the display is superb, the design is awesome and the amount of camera features is mind-boggling. Of course the downsides to the device like Sense 4.0 still stay as well, but that doesn't detract too much from the overall quality of this flagship smartphone.

The fact that the One XL has only a dual-core chipset yet still manages to perform (essentially) equally as good as the quad-core version is nothing short of fantastic, and although you do lose some Tegra-specific gaming features you do gain LTE which more than makes up for it. On that note, LTE here in Australia is blazing fast and definitely worth the jump to Telstra if you are willing.

So whether you go LTE or non-LTE with the flagship One Series device, you should be very happy with the smartphone you are ending up with.

HTC One X review
→ The HTC One X official website
→ HTC Sense 4.0 review | Android 4.0 review

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7 Comments

gregalto said,
Not a fan of that camera hump, nice review.

yea i wasnt a fan of the camera humps when i first looked at the droidx, but it ends up being something nice to grab onto when pulling it out of your pocket and helps you get the orientation right without looking. That hump though, no, i dont like, its just the camera lens and just leaves it exposed and more likely to get damaged.

gregalto said,
Not a fan of that camera hump, nice review.

Designing the phone to rest on the camera lens is a terrible terrible idea. Not sure what they were thinking. The rest of the phone looks top notch though.

Astra.Xtreme said,

Designing the phone to rest on the camera lens is a terrible terrible idea. Not sure what they were thinking. The rest of the phone looks top notch though.


It doesn't actually sit on the lens, there is a very slight ridge around the housing which it rests on. I've had my One X since launch day here in the UK and so far the only mark on it is on the bottom left corner but that's only because I dropped it when I was drunk

I was considering switching from my boring iPhone to this device, but it was too wide for my comfort and typing on Android devices in general IMHO appears to be more difficult then it should be, although i am sure I could get use to it.

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