HTC recently dropped two phones with Beats Audio technology on us. One was the Sensation XE, a high-performance handset with a big screen and fast processor.
The other is the Sensation XL and it’s even bigger, but despite its size, it manages to offer less to phone fans.
Design and build
From a distance the Sensation XL looks similar to its XE cousin with what appears to be a unibody design based around a single slab of aluminium with rubberised plastic topping and tailing each end. But like the XE, you don’t remove one of the rubberised plastic sections as you do with some HTCs to get at the SIM and microSD cards – the whole back comes off to give you access.
On the sides are a volume rocker and microUSB power/sync slot, with a power/sleep button and 3.5mm headphone jack on top. Very similar to the XE so far, but the big difference (literally) is the size. At 133x71x10mm and 163g it’s beginning to get close to mini tablet territory, and it certainly won’t be an easy fit for most people’s pockets, even though it is impressively slim.
The main reason for the Sensation XL’s hefty dimensions of course is its exceptionally large 4.7in capacitive touch screen. Samsung’s Galaxy Note is a little bigger at 5.3in but after that you’re getting into small tablet territory.
Sadly, although its bigger, the XL’s display resolution of 800x480 pixels is actually less than the XE’s 960x540, so it’s a little less sharp, though it’s still very bright, and the screen’s sheer size means it’s very immersive and tends to draw you in whether you’re surfing the net or watching movies.
Interface and OS
The Sensation XL is running Android 2.3.5, the latest version of Gingerbread (and only just shy of the very latest 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich) so it’s more or less up to date. It also has the latest version of HTC’s justly praised Sense interface, which looks good, is easy to use, and has a wealth of handy widgets – what’s not to like?
The 8 megapixel camera is similar to the one on the XE, but not quite the same. For a start the single-core processor means it can record video in 1080p full HD resolution – you’ll have to make do with 720p, which to honest, really doesn’t look very different.
There’s also autofocus and a dual LED flash, but also a BSI sensor which is designed to help you take better pictures in low light. It’s nice to know it’s there, but in practise it didn’t make a huge difference to the quality of the shots, which, although they’re better than what many HTC phones make do with, aren’t as good as you’ll get with the best from Sony Ericsson or Nokia.
Apps and browser
Surfing the web is a doddle on a screen as big as this. Add in pinch to zoom and excellent sensitivity and it’s a positive pleasure.
Media and connectivity
Like the XE, the XL is enhanced by Beats Audio technology, from the company fronted by rap legend Dr Dre which is doing its damnedest to make people care about sound quality in the digital age. The company has been pushing the virtues of quality headphones (actually made by cable experts Monster) for the last year or so and the pair supplied with the XL are apparently worth £80 if sold separately.
They’re a decent pair of earbuds, with metallic casings for the drivers and noise-isolating grommets that are designed to be pushed deep into the ear canal. They’re comfortable to wear, and the overall sound is considerably better than we’ve come to expect from a pair of supplied earphones.
There’s bass to spare, and nice and crisp it is too, with minimum muddiness. But as with the XE, these earphones tend to favour bass-heavy electronic and rock music – if you favour acoustic jazz or orchestral sounds, they don’t seem to have the same space in the upper range that you’ll get from some other quality earphones. But now we’re being picky – they’re still better than just about anything else you’ll get with a phone.
HTC’s usual equaliser seems to have disappeared on both Beats Audio handsets, replaced by a simple on/off control for the Beats technology and while this certainly improves the raw sound, it would have been nice to have a bit more control.
Performance and battery life
Like the XE, the processor is a 1.5GHz model, but unlike the XE, this one is single core, so it’s not as powerful and not as fast. That doesn’t mean it’s a donkey by any means, it’s reasonably fast, just not quite as nippy as its cousin, and it starts to feel the strain a bit sooner when you’ve got several apps running at once.
You might look, but you won’t find a microSD memory card slot on the XL (yet another way it loses out to the XE). Thankfully it comes with a fairly generous 16GB of onboard memory, but it would have been nice to have the expansion option.
The 1600mAh battery is a big ’un, but doesn’t deliver noticeably more use time than its cousin, giving you a day or so of fairly heavy use.
- Beats Audio speakers and sound technology
- 8MP camera
- Huge 4.7in screen
- Too big for many pockets
- Screen resolution not as sharp as it could be
- No memory expansion
Verdict: Considering it’s available for much the same price as its smaller Beats Audio cousin, the Sensation XL really only has its mammoth screen to recommend it, but loses out to the XE with a less powerful processor, inferior display resolution, lower quality video recording and no memory expansion. If you can live with a smaller screen, the XE is a better buy.
More info: HTC Sensation XL spec