• Full Review
  • Specifications

Full Review

Generally, when we see new versions of existing devices, we expect something like a different size screen or a different colour body – but with the release of the HTC Sensation XE, the Taiwanese phone maker has focused on the sound of its latest handset.

Okay, there are some style changes as well – HTC has added some subtle red styling to its device, on the earpiece grille, around the camera lens and on the red Android icons. Turn over the phone, and there’s another red touch – the word Beats Audio can be seen, along with a red b logo. It looks smarter – and pricier – than its predecessor.

Screen stars

The 4.3in screen has a high resolution and is detailed and bright. While it doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of the iPhone 4 or 4S, which offers 330ppi, its still manages a very respectable 250ppi and looks great. This is the same screen that featured on the original Sensation – it even has the subtly curved, concave shape – put the phone down face first and you’re unlikely to scratch it. And if you’re wondering why on earth you would do such a thing – here’s the answer… if you get an incoming call and you’re in a meeting for instance, you can quickly turn over the device and the ringing will stop – clever!

You don’t quite get the flush edge-to-edge feeling of an iPhone, but it still feels good to touch – you’ll see the curved area reaches to the red Android icons sitting at the bottom of the display. You can easily see these icons if the device is switched off, and they light up when you turn on the screen.

While the handset is no waif by any means, it’s not in the same league as the massive Sensation XL, which has a 4.7in screen, or the HTC Titan. By the way, the XL does offer the same Beats audio improvement

Picture perfect

The onboard camera is an 8-megapixel model, and while there are better cameraphones out there, it’s still a pretty decent device. HTC has dubbed it an ‘Instant Capture’ snapper, and while we feel that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it certainly has shorter shutter lag than many other cameraphones. We were pleased with results, and there is plenty of manual tweaking to be had – from the likes of self-timer, white balance, face-detection and geo-tagging. Special effects include solarise, vintage and sepia.

Video comes in at 1080p resolution and there’s also a front-facing snapper should you wish to take self-portraits or make video calls.

The Sensation XE is speedier than its predecessor – which is thanks to its dual-core 1.5GHz chip. The Sensation was no slouch by any means, but the XE is faster in most aspects. Apps load quickly, as do web pages.

The ring

Switch on the device and up will pop HTC’s lock screen. If you’re familiar with HTC phones, you’ll know you have to slide up an image of a ring to unlock your device – you are able to choose whether you head directly to the homescreen or alternatively pull one of four shortcut icons into the ring, which will then launch the appropriate program. You can also decide which icons appear – the defaults are Mail, Phone, Camera and Messaging, but you can choose your own favourites

On the home screen you’ll be able to enjoy the nifty faux-3D animation provided by HTC, which features seven home pages turning like a carousel, and then comes to a halt on the weather info and flip clock. It’s a nice touch – and is trademark HTC.

The 3D animation theme is apparent in the other screens – for instance, the weather app shows the temperature figures floating in a different layer from the clouds – the numbers even scroll in front of them.

There are plenty more HTC specials on offer from the Sensation XE – apps have been tweaked to work well with Android, with better icons and more features. There’s the aforementioned facility to stop the phone ringing when a call is incoming by turning over the handset, and being able to send a message by touching the menu button. This directs the caller to your voicemail and also sends them a text saying that you are otherwise engaged and will call back later. This message can be altered as you wish.

Finding your way

HTC has some other treats in store. Locations, for example, which is HTC’s own mapping facility. It lets you download maps in advance and use your handset to help you find your way. There’s a similar program available from Nokia, which has the added bonus of turn-by-turn voice directions. But we think HTC’s maps are superior. Of course the main benefit of both offerings is that you are able to download the maps using a Wi-Fi connection. You don’t need to worry about your data usage when using the handset as a sat-nav – a big saving if you’re trying to find your way while overseas on holiday.

Other nice touches are a nifty Twitter browser called Peep, a handy music player and a great contact program dubbed People. HTC’s skill lies in making even the most simple apps look good while ultimately remaining accessible.

Can’t stop the Beats

The main feature of the Sensation XE is the Beats Audio program, a share of which cost HTC a whopping $300 million dollars. So what does it mean for the user? Plug in your choice of headphones, fire up the music player and hit play and you’ll see the Beats logo pop up at the top of the display – this lets you know that Beats Audio is doing its job.

So what is its job? Well, it makes the sound impressive – it comes through clear and sharp, with good bass along with detailed mid-scale notes. Turn off the enhancement and you’ll be astounded at the difference.

Listening through the supplied earbuds (which are superior to those offered with many handsets) the Beats improvement is excellent. Try the Beats Audio earphones and the enhancements are even more pronounced. Even with Beats Audio switched off the sound is better through these. They sit well in the ear and have good noise-isolating effects. As well as sounding good, they look good, with their red cables and chrome-coloured plastic on the controls. These offer fast forward, rewind, pause and play – they can also be used to answer a call when you’re listening to your favourite tunes. The audio enhancement is also on offer when watching video.

The Beats Audio earphones really are a treat for music lovers – not only are they comfortable to wear for longer periods, but they give rich vibrant sound, particularly for vocals. Beats by Dr Dre headphones are famous for making MP3 files sound smooth and warm, and HTC has made a clever move buying into the brand – it could become as iconic as the Walkman name is to Sony Ericsson.

Smartphone batteries aren’t always that impressive – especially when they lose half of their power overnight when not in use. Happily, the Sensation XE does not suffer from this problem. It’s one of the major differences between the Sensation and the XE, so this is a good reason to opt for the Sensation X, even if the music enhancements are not that vital to you.

Our conclusion

HTC has managed to improve on one of the best handsets it ever produced. The Sensation XE has a speedier chip, better battery life and the benefits of improved music quality. The improvement in the sound quality from the Beats headphones and Beats Audio is incredible. With HTC’s top-quality user interface and a great snapper, this is a great all-rounder of a smartphone.

Specifications

Specifications

Size 126 x 65 x 11mm

Weight 151g

Display 4.3ins

Resolution 540 x 960

Camera 8MP

Video recording/playback/streaming: Yes, yes, yes

Video calling: Yes

Audio playback: Yes

Ringtones: Yes

Radio: Stereo FM

Operating system: Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Connectivity: Wi-fi, Bluetooth, HSDPA

Internal memory: 4GB

Memory card slot: Yes

Messaging: MMS, SMS

Internet browser: WAP/HTML

Java: Yes

Games: Yes

Data speed HSDPA 14.1Mbps, HSUPA 5.76Mbps:

GPS: Yes

3.5mm headset port: Yes

Frequency: 2G Quad-band, 3G HSDPA 900, 2100

Talktime: 9 hours

Standby: 540 hours

 

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