HTC Sensation XL

Thursday, 16 February 2012 0 comments
If you’re a fan of giant screens, you’ll love HTC Sensation XL.
Basically the same form-factor as the HTC Titan Windows Phone, any larger and it moves into tablet territory, like the phone-tablet Samsung Galaxy Note. But is a large screen and great audio enough for this single core Android smartphone to deliver? Read on for our review.

The Design:-

HTC is known for their big phones anyway, and the design of the Sensation XL is very inspired by their previous phones like the Desire HD.
There’s the usual slab like touchscreen design, with an anodized aluminum finish on the back. While this does prevent scratches on the back, it makes things a bit slippery, which coupled with the large chasis means the Sensation XL isnt the grippiest phone out there.
And being able to touch all areas of that huge 4.3 inch screen, or even pressing the power/standby key on top is quite the feat, especially one-handed.
The control layout is basically typical of an Android phone, with four touch sensitive keys under that large screen; home, menu, back and search.
As you’d imagine, the keys are backlit.
There’s a volume controller on the right side, and the power/screenlock key on the top.
Next to the power key, is a 3.5mm audio jack for headphones.
And on the left side, is the microUSB port.
At the bottom is tiny button which you push to loose and remove the back panel.

The Internals:-

It’s easy to find fault with the HTC Sensation XL. It’s not dual core (shocking, I know), there’s no microSD card slot, and the screen resolution is actually smaller than the regular average joe HTC Sensation.
The thing you have to ask yourself though, is whether those things matter to you.
The Sensation XL will be dismissed by most in today’s smartphone scene
The Sensation XL will be dismissed by most in today’s smartphone scene where specs and cores have rightly or wrongly gained so much significance in the Android community. Whether it’s fair to do so, is subjective, but since I’ve used both the original HTC Sensation and the HTC Sensation XE, I dont really think it is.
The main issue in my opinion though, is the lack of microSD card slot. I suspect that has more to do with the HTC Titan, but this is an Android phone, without a microSD slot. HTC probably used the same component assembly process for both the Titan and Sensation XL, and did not want to change it in order to keep costs low. The 16GB of memory (out of which 12.64 is available) might be good enough for most folks though. But if you have a lot of media, this can be a huge drawback.
Coming to that big ol’ display, the 800 x 480 resolution is typical on Android devices, but only for screens below 4 or 3.5 Inches. As a result, the pixels onscreen are less densely packed, and larger. It’s higher than most Android tablets, but 198ppi is relatively low compared to most Android smartphones. Things still fit in fine and look good, but there was potential for a better display with better depth, which would help in watching videos, browsing the internet or looking at images.
Apart from resolution, the S-LCD 16 Million colors display is quite decent. Colors are nice and vibrant, but viewing angles arent too great. It’s not quite as impressive as some of the competition though.
single core 1.5 Ghz Qualcomm MSM 8255 chipset with 768MB of RAM
Powering the entire package, is a single core 1.5 Ghz Qualcomm MSM 8255 chipset with 768MB of RAM. It might not be the most powerful processor specs out there, but the Android 2.3 OS with HTC’s Sense UI on top is smooth and quick in day-to-day operation on the Sensation XL, so it’s not really a big deal. It’s not noticeably slower than it’s more powerful little brother, the original HTC Sensation.
Ofcourse that being said, there are limitations on that the phone can do, because of those specs. There’s no Full HD video recording at 1080, and games that might require a dual core processor like BackStab HD, wont be compatible.
As a result, moving forward the Sensation XL ages more quickly compared to it’s dual core Android brethren, and as OS and gaming demands increase, the XL will get increasingly less enticing.
When you buy a new phone nowadays, you’d expect it to be somewhat future-proof, so this is a worry. Specs that might be concurrent in the Windows Phone world, will not work in the Android World because of the different requirements from both mobile operating systems.

The Android 2.3 OS with HTC Sense UI:-

The Sensation XL runs Android 2.3.5 with HTC Sense 3.5 on top of it. HTC has said that the Sensation XL will get the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update when it comes along, so if that was something you considered when buying an Android phone nowadays (as it should be) rest assured it’s coming.
In the meanwhile though while we’re stuck with Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread, I have to say that the Sense experience on the XL is way better than any of HTC’s other devices. It’s mostly the same, mind you, but there are some tweaks in there that make a bit of difference.
For instance, you can change the number of homescreens you have on the XL, so you’re not stuck with seven screens anymore. You can now cut that down to just one or two or whatever number you prefer. There’s still the curved dock at the bottom of the screen, and the omnipresent ‘personalize’ option, which is sort of an HTC Sense signature. The change is probably due to feedback from HTC customers who didnt want a gazillion pages full of widgets.
The homescreen UI seemed a little bit oversensitive though. Strange thing to say, I know, but often I’d end up going to the overview view (which requires a pinch-out on the screen) instead of going to the next homescreen. I’m sure an update will come along to fix that.
HTC’s Android devices have arguably always had the best widgets and that continues here, except for the nice clock and shortcuts exclusive to the HTC Rhyme. You can customize it all as you’d want, and HTC Sense has deep integration for all your social networks, along with Evernote and Dropbox pre-installed.
Personally I’ve always thought HTC’s Sense UI has been a bit too flashy for my tastes, but there’s nothing that it doesnt do, offering pretty much everything you’d want from a smartphone. It might not always do that in the best way, but hey, that’s the beauty of Android. You can get replacements from the Android market for everything from your onscreen keyboard to your widget sets.
So yes, like I said earlier, the HTC Sense Experience is quite slick and smooth on the HTC Sense UI, with no lag or shutters during any regular tasks.
mildly annoying to me, was the resolution
The only problem, and the only thing that’s mildly annoying to me, was the resolution. HTC’s widgets are gorgeous on the XL, but you have the same number of apps on the menu screen, and the same sized menus, etc, all stretched out to that large screen. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that there could have been better use of all that screen real estate.
If you just generally like large screens though, it’s not really an issue. And judging from the attention I got using the Sensation XL in public, it’s definitely not a problem.

The Beats Audio and Media:-

Entertainment is high on the expectation list from the HTC Sensation XL. With that 4.7 inch screen and Beats Audio logo on the back, you’d have to. You have Beats Audio sound enhancements built-in, with a pair of urBeats headphones built-in.
HTC has their own custom sound profile, which is software based so it works with any other pair of headphones too (incase you were wondering). The headphones come with different sized ear-tips/cushions/whatever-you-call-them so that you get the best fit for your ear shape, and the best possible noise isolation. There’s a useful in-line control with play/pause buttons and forward/rewind. Unfortunately no control over volume though so you’ll still need to reach into your pocket and use your phone volume keys. One thing worth noting is that the play key can also redial your last dialed number so be wary of mistaken phone calls.
Coming to the music player itself, you have access to your music as well as network music, with music controls on the lockscreen and notifications bar. It’s your average music player UI though, and like the Sensation XE, the Beats Audio software tweaks only work when you use the default music player, or default video player. HTC has said that they will be opening up the Beats Audio API to third party developers (someday) but until then you’re stuck with using the stock media players if you want that enhancement.
Beats Audio has more value from a brand point of view than the actual audio enhancement software
Worth mentioning is that the default video player also lets you playback both local video and streaming video with the Beats Audio enhancement. As you can imagine there’s MPEG4 support but no Xvid or DivX support, and we were only able to go up to 720p. The screen size means you’ll quite enjoy watching video on the XL.
All that being said, I feel like the Beats Audio has more value from a brand point of view than the actual audio enhancement software when put up against Dolby Mobile or SRS that’s offered on other Android smartphones.

The Internet Browser:-

One of the nice aspects of the Sensation XL is it’s internet browser, having plenty of space for websites to fill up. But like I mentioned earlier, that resolution means you’ll have to zoom quite a bit. The stock Android browser is nice and quick so there’s no real complaints here. Also worth mentioning is that there’s flash support, though the XL struggles somewhat with high definition videos on YouTube.

The Camera:-

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of HTC’s cameras. And I havent tried out the 28mm wide-angle lens, f22 low-light camera of the HTC Vivid so there has been nothing international from the manufacturer to change my mind so far.
The 8 Megapixel camera app on the HTC Sensation XL has gotten some tweaks thanks to Sense 3.5, bringing the effects option into the corner of the viewfinder, offering direct access to settings. There’s touch-to-focus and pre-focus for what HTC calls “Instant capture” so that the phone is focused on the scene before you press the onscreen shutter button. There is no dedicated camera key on the XL, so coupled with that large screen, using it as a camera does feel a bit awkward.
The results are slightly above average in my opinion, with good results in good lighting. There’s a Dual LED flash but as you might already know, I’m not a fan of LED flashes since it doesnt really give you a consistent clean illumination when there’s no natural light. As a result low light images tend to be quite noisy, but unfortunately that’s not uncommon with phone cameras except for the iPhone 4S and Nokia N8.

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 Coming to video, the HTC Sensation XL caps out at 720p HD at 1280 x 720 because of it’s single core. Most dual cores can easily handle 1920 x 1080 (1080p), which is something you should note when considering this phone. Video seemed to be lacking in detail somewhat, but there is continuous auto-focus which helps get a clearer result.

HTC’s aforementioned deep social integration means you’ll be able to share those images or videos very easily. And there’s Bluetooth v3.0 in there for quicker transfers.

The Battery Life and Call Quality:-

Apart from all that, the HTC sensation XL also offerings decent call quality and both sides of our test phone calls were received with no problems to speak off. Well that’s not true, because of the large size, you’ll want to find the sweet spot for the ear speaker to hear properly, but apart from that, it’s all good.
There’s a 1600 mAh battery which is silly considering the large screen on the HTC Sensation XL, but even more so when you consider how the HTC Sensation XE has a smaller screen but a more powerful 1730 mAh battery. We’re not sure why HTC went for the lower capacity battery when they could have very easily gone with the physically-equally-sized XE battery but it’s worth noting that the XE is dual core while the XL is single core and as such has lesser battery requirements. Or so you’d think.
In the ‘real world’ there’s no way you’ll be able to get the HTC Sensation XL to last an entire day of moderate to heavy usage. If you’re using it lightly with various power saving measures, you might just get a little bit more than day’s worth of battery life. Regardless, you’ll definitely have to charge this one every night.

The Video Overview:-

The Conclusion:-

There’s a lot that I like about the HTC Sensation XL. I’m a big fan of good audio so listening to music was a pleasure on it. I’m a big fan of large screens, so watching videos and browsing the internet, or even playing a game of Angry Birds or checking my Twitter (on the official Android app), it was all a joy to use thanks to the Android experience on the HTC Sensation XL and the size it offers. Day-to-day tasks will be a lot easier, if anything else.
Unfortunately though there are key elements that prevent this good phone, from being an exceptionally good phone. The specs list means this high-price-tag Android smartphone is already outdated by today’s standard of the platform, and is definitely not as future proof as other premium Android phones in it’s price range. The screen resolution and technology (S-LCD) means it’s not as visually rich an experience as it’s rivals like the Motorola RAZR and Samsung Galaxy S II, or even the Galaxy Nexus or Galaxy Note, all of which blow the Sensation XL out of the arena in terms of pure specs.
Then we have the missing microSD card slot, which might be the biggest drawback since that’s basically one of the main reasons people get an Android smartphone.
Dont get me wrong, Beats Audio is great and all, but as I mentioned in the Music section of this review, it’s the headphones that really make the difference here, and you could always just buy a better spec’ed smartphone and a separate pair of good headphones.
In the end, the HTC Sensation XL is a phone that I really wanted to like, but couldnt. Initially I thought the screen might be too larger but I got used to it quickly. But when you compare it to other smartphones in the same price range, the list of cons makes me feel like if I bought the XL today, I’d end up eyeing other smartphones in another month or two. And when you’re buying an Android smartphone, that’s not something you’d really want to feel like. Eeehh, not for 6 months atleast.
If you’re not a fan of super hardware intense mobile games, but like large screens, and want something that you can browse the internet, listen to music (in good quality) or just generally enjoy the simple things about Android, by all means go for the HTC Sensation XL. But if you’re a hardened Android fan, this isnt the phone for you.

The Good

- Exciting Screen size
- Videos look great
- HTC Sense 3.5 is the most refined version so far
- Beats Audio + urBeats headphones = awesome music experience

The Bad

- No microSD card slot
- low screen resolution
- limiting hardware specs
- no beats audio outside stock apps
- good screen but not as great as the competition

The Conclusion

The Sensation XL is a phone I really wanted to love, but unfortunately it just wasnt able to deliver.
There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not very inspiring compared to other devices in the same price range.


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