Beware if you don't have a microSD card, because more often than not you'll be confronted with a warning message when you boot up the app that tells you all of your captured treasures will simply be stored on the phone. It's a small nitpick, and the message goes away after a few seconds, but we typically want to start taking pictures immediately upon entering the app, and we quickly grew tired of this message in the middle of our viewfinder. There's also no way to turn the shutter sound off, regardless of your volume settings.
The camcorder capabilities on the Quad XL are a bit lacking. The maximum resolution is 1080p, and videos are captured in MPEG-4 format with a frame rate of 24.8 fps -- a bit lower than the 30 fps footage that we're used to seeing on competing phones like the Galaxy S III and One X. This ultimately results in movies that look less detailed, noisier and a bit choppy (regardless of whether we're staying still or even slowly panning back and forth). We preferred 720p footage over 1080p in this situation, as it was much more smooth and less headache-inducing, but we still have a hard time imagining either resolution as HD. Fortunately, audio turned out great in all of our samples. Another downer is the fact that you aren't able to take video and stills simultaneously, nor can you even snap pictures from those videos later on. Autofocus is available (and ends up being used a little too much for our liking, to be honest), but you're not given any manual focus options like tap-to-focus.
Performance and battery life
Quad-core phones simply didn't exist at this time last year, but the scope of the smartphone market has changed significantly over the last few months. Even as recently as April and May, seeing such a powerful CPU built into a smartphone was reason enough to turn heads and open wallets -- now, it's the only way a brand new flagship device is launched without getting laughed out of the building. And the competition between chipsets is just as fierce: Exynos, Tegra 3 and Snapdragon S4 Pro are currently amassing a hefty presence in the industry. Huawei isn't going for any of those options. Instead, it has chosen the in-house HiSilicon K3V2 as the main driver behind the company's flagship device. The 40nm Cortex-A9 chipset sports a quad-core CPU clocked at 1.4GHz, a 16-core GPU and a 64-bit memory system. Deciding to go head to head against vicious competition with an unproven SoC is a rather gutsy move; many competing chipsets are already established brands that have already made names for themselves. After months of speculation, we've finally had the opportunity to see how it holds up against the mighty pillars of silicon prowess. First, let's go over the obligatory stack of benchmarks in the table below.
A quick look at the benchmarks seems to indicate that the K3V2 is on par with the Tegra 3-equipped HTC One X. However, here's what we weren't able to add to the table due to lack of space: the Quad XL's scores are also right up there with the Meizu MX 4-core, and it even beat out the LG Optimus 4X HD. Our point in bringing this up? Had the Quad XL launched when it was originally supposed to, it would've fared much better against the competition at the time. The K3V2 does very well against its fellow 40nm silicon mates, but it can't go toe to toe with the Optimus G's 28nm Snapdragon S4 Pro. (Update: the scores are on par with the One X on Sense 4.0, but the phone's recent update to Sense 4.1 improved some of its scores, which fares worse for the Quad XL in some raw benchmark comparisons.)
Indeed, at this stage of the game, it can't be considered the world's fastest or most powerful smartphone, but that doesn't mean it's a horrible contender. Our real-life experience with the Quad XL was exactly what we'd expect from a first-gen quad-core processor: it's solid, fluid and you'll find few stutters or delays. Power users won't find much in the way of frustration here, unless they venture off into the 3D Home launcher for some reason -- on many occasions, we hit the Home button only to find ourselves sitting for anywhere between five and 10 seconds before all apps and widgets displayed properly. We were happy with how quickly Engadget's front page loaded in the browser, and there was virtually no delay in loading images. Gaming was also a success, as graphics-intensive titles were as smooth and detailed as phones with 16 GPU cores should be.
When we received the device the CPU appeared to be stuck on a maximum clockspeed of 1.2GHz, even in high performance mode. This is a stark contrast to Huawei's 1.4GHz claim, so we seeked guidance from the manufacturer. We learned that the processor somehow was stuck on the same speed, regardless of which performance level we used. After typing in *#*#1400#*#* and rebooting the device, the processor immediately bumped up to 1.4GHz. This could potentially be a concern for unsuspecting consumers who purchase the phone and don't realize it's not performing at its best.
So with that bug aside, the overall performance seemed to be on par with the One X and GS3 -- but how's the battery life? After all, the XL gets its name from the respectable 2,600mAh battery taking up a fair amount of space in the back. We conducted our intense tests with the phone in its highest performance setting, which lets you enjoy the full 1.4GHz each core has to offer (the standard battery-saving mode will lower that to 1.2GHz). Our rundown test, which consists of running video on an endless loop at 50 percent brightness while connected to HSPA+ and receiving push emails and social media notifications, ran for eight hours and 25 minutes before the battery decided that enough was enough. With regular usage -- i.e. constantly checking emails and social media, surfing the internet, as well as the occasional call, text and photo opp -- we easily made it through a full day with a little extra to spare. The highest performance setting isn't going to help you go into a second day, but non-power users will find more success by going into battery-saver mode and only moderately taking advantage of the goodies found on the D1 Quad XL. The phone is capable of hitting max speeds of 21 Mbps down and 5.76 Mbps up using its HSPA+ radio, and it covers 850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz bands. As you'd expect, your actual speeds will vary on factors like which network you use and your overall signal strength, but our experience teetered just around average for our neck of the woods. In other words, it's not going to blow your minds, but it'll get the job done perfectly well. Call quality also met our expectations, as we consistently had crisp and clear conversations, in large part thanks to Huawei's selection of an Audience EarSmart noise reduction processor. We noticed that the speakerphone was fairly quiet when compared to the Galaxy S III, but you'll be fine using it as long as you're not in a busy area. Speaking of audio, the D1 Quad XL comes with Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Mobile 3.0 built in. We weren't able to test the first feature, but we hooked up our Klipsch Image S4A in-ear headphones and had an enjoyable experience playing around with the various audio settings that Dolby Mobile provides for both music listening and movie watching. The sound was loud and offered plenty of clarity for treble and bass lovers alike. We noticed the usual smattering of EQ options to help tweak the audio to fit your preferences. If you want to connect the phone to your HDTV, you have access to DLNA and MHL options. You won't see any over-the-top additions to the UX here; for instance, plugging the phone into an MHL setup simply offers HDMI mirroring with no extra features -- unless you count seeing the home pages in landscape mode as a feature, that is.
Let our words not be minced: when the Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL starts showing up in the majority of global markets this quarter (no US availability has been announced, though we'll likely see it offered by online importers), it'll face some steep competition. What once was billed as the "world's fastest smartphone" is now just another entry on the growing list of quad-core powerhouses available on the market, largely thanks to months of delays. That's not to say it isn't powerful or fast -- on the contrary, it performs exactly the way you'd expect a phone with four CPU cores to, and it's Huawei's best phone to date -- but we unfortunately aren't seeing many features that will help the company's flagship stick out. The saving grace for the XL will be its price; estimated to be around 2,699 yuan ($450), it'll be the only thing that prevents this particular device from getting lost in the crowd.