HTC’s first phone called the Sensation arrived last spring and wasted no time making a name for itself as the company’s first-ever dual-core handset and including one of its best cameras.
Now the Taiwanese manufacturer has produced not one, but two revamps, the frankly huge Sensation XL, and the more modestly proportioned XE, which adds a more powerful processor, bigger screen and Beats Audio technology to beef up the sound of your music and movies.
Design and build
It’s a mere tiddler compared to the XL, but it’s still a good-sized chunk of smart phone, measuring 26x65x11m and weighing in at 151g. It’s a solidly built device with a casing made from a single piece of aluminium topped and tailed by HTC’s familiar rubberised plastic. On the sides are a slim volume rocker and microUSB power/sync port, while on top are a power/sleep button and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The 4.3in capacitive touch screen is up to the usual HTC standards, which means it’s bright, clear, sharp, and has excellent sensitivity. It offers a more than respectable pixel count of 960x540 and you can adjust the brightness to either save your battery or sear your retinas, whichever you prefer.
Interface and OS
The dual-core 1.5GHz processor raises the bar on the original’s 1.2GHz model and it’s backed by a generous 768MB RAM. Is it fast? Yes, very. It fairly rips through new apps, opening one after another with barely a backward glance and no sign of lag.
It’s running Android 2.3.5, the latest version of Gingerbread, though not the very latest version of Android (that’ll be 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, still only available on a handful of phones, though HTC says it should be in line for an update ‘soon’).
The 8 megapixel camera is pretty much top of the HTC tree, though it has to be said that isn’t really a very tall piece of topiary. It’s actually much the same as the model that appeared on the original Sensation, offering a dual LED flash, autofocus and face detection, as well as the ‘instant capture’ feature that allows you take snaps extra quickly.
The main difference with this one relates to the video camera, which, thanks to the enhanced processor, can now record in 1080p full HD at 30fps. There’s also a VGA quality camera on the front for video calls.
Picture quality is okay rather than outstanding, but at least it isn’t embarrassing as can be the case with some of the company’s 5 megapixel models, which really should be able to take sharper, clearer pictures for the spec.
Apps and browser
Web pages render quickly, due in part to that speedy processor (plus a good internet connection via 3G or Wi-Fi of course) and there’s support for Flash video. HTC’s rather wonderful Sense UI is on board bringing with it a host of handy apps such as FriendStream, the social networking widget that pulls all your updates into one scrollable stream, and an Outlook-friendly calendar.
HTC Locations lets you search for local shops and restaurants and also offers turn-by-turn satnav directions, though you have to pay for them.
Media and connectivity
One of the Sensation XE’s many tricks is the integration of Beats Audio sound technology. The company fronted by rap legend Dr Dre sells high quality headphones that are actually made by Monster, and aims to offer a cut above the usual sound quality available out of the box on mobile phones.
The Beats Audio headphones come with the company’s distinctive bright red cable and are based on a model worth £80 if sold separately. The speakers are encased in a solidly built metallic casing with noise-isolating grommets to help them fit more securely in your ear canal and cut out distractions. They most definitely offer a better than average sound, with deep, mostly controlled bass and an airy high end that avoids most of the compression pitfalls that supplied headphones often fall into.
They come with inline controls allowing you to pause, play, rewind and skip tracks, though you’ll need to adjust volume on the phone itself. Incidentally, that cable, though it feels sturdy, tends to generate quite a lot of cable noise when you knock it against something or brush it against your clothes.
Beats Audio technology has also been worked into the phone itself and there’s a sound enhancer that allows you to enable or disable Beats Audio. Switching it on gives an immediate boost to the bass but also makes it sound more clear and controlled. Other music-related features include an FM radio and the ability to search for related videos online. There’s no option to search for lyrics though, and no track ID service on board.
Performance and battery life
It comes with 1GB of storage on board plus a supplied 8GB microSD card, which isn’t bad at all, plus you can add your own card up to 32GB.
The battery has increased from 1520mAh to 1720mAh but doesn’t seem to have gained much more life – it’ll still last you about a day.
- Beats Audio speakers and sound technology
- 8-megapixel camera
- Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread
- Dual-core processor
- May be on the big side for some
- Occasional cable noise
Verdict: HTC’s prime Sensation gets a decent update with a faster processor, 8 megapixel camera and better touch screen, but the jewel in the crown is its Beats Audio music technology and earphones.
More info: HTC Sensation XE spec