IN THE face of criticism that it's not a game-changer and its maps are a disaster, Apple's iPhone 5, running iOS 6, still sold 5 million handsets in its first three days on the market.
That's testament to the brand loyalty enjoyed by Apple products. But for those averse to fanboy hysteria, it pays to assess this iconic smartphone beyond its cult status and see how it stacks up for style, function and battery life against a hero contender with Android, the HTC One XL.
Smartphone battle: iPhone 5 v HTC One XL
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Smartphone battle: iPhone 5 v HTC One XL
Livewire's Katie Cincotta puts the iPhone 5 and HTC One XL head-to-head to find out which smartphone is smarter.
Style over substance
The iPhone 5's anodised aluminium back is beautiful to look at and hold, but the bling factor begins to fade as it starts to scratch. My test unit was looking roughed up after only a week of use and it is the white version, which is said to be more scratch-resistant than the black.
The 5 is longer and lighter than the 4S, making it ideal for small hands. That sentiment was summed up by my sister, who cooed, ''I feel lighter, skinnier and taller already.''
The HTC One XL is quite a bit wider, and its rugged polycarbonate body looks and feels more masculine. Its vivid LCD screen is one of the most dazzling on the market. The deft swipe ''trace'' function for letters on the keyboard is useful once you get the hang of it, but it is a big, bold, bright phone - perhaps too showy for some.
The HTC runs a 1.5GHz dual-core processor; the iPhone 5 processor is rated at almost 1.02GHz. There has been lots of hype regarding 4G speeds on these smartphones, which let you tap into a hot spot for cable broadband download speeds. But you can only access that within a 10-kilometre radius of the city centre, so the speed isn't much use to anyone further afield. Those who have accessed 4G say the speed differential to 3G is noticeable, but warnings are already being heard about the bill shock you'll get if you exceed your data allowance.
Going the distance
It depends on your usage, but if you are a social-media addict, video buff or chronic web surfer, you're probably going to need to charge up the iPhone 5 after eight hours, especially if you've got your email synched and your LTE network signal is strong.
As for the contentious new Lightning connector, yes, it's ''digital'', the Apple press corps cries, and there's a bridge connector for old docks, but it's still a blow to need new accessories.
After a week trialling the HTC One XL, it's fair to say the battery life is abysmal. Thrashing it as we did the 5, it barely got through half a day of charge. The reason is that the XL has to power that super-bright 4.7-inch HD LCD screen, which the usage breakdown shows sucks up 40 per cent to 50 per cent of the battery life each day. You can adjust the brightness settings, but isn't that like buying a Maserati and only getting into second gear?
The Apple Maps function for iOS 6 was a mess when it was launched - some locations were off course, and the 3D function either didn't work or landmarks resembled melting wax. In contrast, Google Maps on the XL is bang on - simple to read, with a clever car function that sets up the navigation screen for driving. Clearly, nobody can touch Google for maps and Apple still appears lost in trying to map out its own system.
Happy snappers are going to be pleased with the results of the eight-megapixel camera on both handsets, with colours that pop, panorama function and HD video. The iPhone 5 does better in low light and for selfies (self-portraits - yes, it's important), but it produces an annoying ''purple haze'' in direct sunlight.
The One XL impresses with nifty effect filters, a ''best photo'' selection on rapid fire, and slow-motion recording, but its default setting produces oversaturated photos and the camera settings can be fiddly.
Siri (the iPhone's voice-operated ''assistant'') and I have some issues. I don't think she's forgiven me for calling her a diva on the 4S test. But she's been working on her IQ and personality, and seems to be better at deciphering requests.
Still, I couldn't get her to open the Vlingo app. Vlingo, Siri. It's a virtual assistance app; surely you know it?
"I don't know what that means. If you like I can search the web for 'lingo'."
He's the competition, Siri. I need him because you refuse to listen to me. It's not that complicated. I ask, you answer. You told me you were the best smartphone on the market. Less PR puffery and more accuracy, please.
For party tricks, some of Siri's new comebacks include: ''You're kidding, right?'' and ''I am not allowed to answer that question.''
One XL's Google Voice is getting closer to what a virtual assistant should be - fast and accurate. As with the 5, it has spoken turn-by-turn directions to an address, which are superb for driving, but it can be hit and miss with speech recognition.
Loud and clear
I live in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne in a known ''black spot'' (ridiculous for 20 kilometres out of the city centre), where I often can't get coverage in my home office, even with Telstra. So it was a delight to be able to make and take calls with the iPhone 5, with its reception regularly sitting at three bars.
As a blue-tick phone for regional areas, the HTC One XL was equally impressive for coverage.
I had no drop-outs with either phone, but the three microphones on the 5 are clearly ahead of the HTC for sound quality.
Talking on the iPhone 5 gives you crisp, clear sound and cuts out background noise, which is a little like talking in a fishbowl at first.
If you like doof-doof music, the Beats Audio profile on the One XL puts it ahead for pumping bass, but the clarity of sound on the iPhone is still superior.
If you like your smartphone to be a camera, the iPhone 5 is an impressive unit. It has a simple set-up and is as easy to use as an iPhone has ever been, which is definitely part of its universal appeal. If you need serious maps and navigation, the HTC One XL doesn't disappoint. It's also much more customisable, to the delight of tinkerers, with one-touch access to your chosen features from the home screen without having to move far through your settings.
If you want an all-rounder, good-looking smartphone that's slick and fast, with a stunning screen, you might as well flip a coin.