Tidy design; great audio; top screen
Memory is limited; too big for smaller hands
The HTC Sensation XL is a large, good-looking handset with an excellent screen and HTC’s much improved user interface. Music lovers will enjoy the improved sound from Beats Audio, but the limited memory is a bit disappointing.
If you liked the look of HTC’s Titan and its features, but didn’t want a Windows Phone handset, the good news is that HTC has thought of you and launched the Sensation XL – which runs on Android’s latest offering – Gingerbread 2.3.5. It has a few benefits that Windows Phone doesn’t offer, although does have the WP7 limits of no removable memory card and a single-core processor.
The Sensation XL is a tad bigger than the Titan, and has the same huge screen, but it looks rather different. With its white glossy front, matte aluminium reverse and edge-to-edge screen, the XL is very different from the Titan’s dark, brooding, business-like style. In fact it is reminiscent of HTC’s 7in tablet, the Flyer. The addition of a metal back means the handset feels more solid and classy – but the metal can make it difficult to get a decent signal. Good news then that HTC has included its trademark pair of pinholes that helps to send through data and voice signals. We found signal reception strong at all times and the call quality was good too.
Other things the XL has in common with the Titan include the fact that it has no memory card slot – a bit disappointing considering its musical accomplishments (more of which later). You are stuck with a not inconsiderable, but certainly not outstanding, 16GB. Nor does it have a dual-core chip – instead it features the Qualcomm processor found in the Titan. However, don’t be put off – this handset is still pretty speedy, and has a reasonable 512MB RAM.
The display offers the same resolution you’ll find on all Windows phone devices – 480x800 pixels. There are plenty of phones on offer that have high resolutions – and in fact the Samsung Galaxy Nexus has 720x1280 resolution on a smaller screen. If you put the two phones next to each other, the Nexus wins hands down on screen quality, but were you to compare the Titan and Sensation XL, this display looks pretty good. Opt for the HTC weather live wallpaper, for example, and you’ll see wonderful animated sunshine and clouds (or more likely clouds in the UK) right across the screen. Mind you even if it is cloudy, the video looks good as it is shot above the cloud level so looks great day or night, when it is moonlit.
In the hand, the handset feels good thanks to the combination of matte aluminium reverse and glossy front – although it is not made for anyone with small hands. And the position of the power button – on the upper right side of the device is particularly inconvenient if you are not blessed with bigger hands – smaller folk will find it quite a stretch to reach to turn the phone on and off.
The display also does a good job of showing off video – whether you’re viewing your own video shot from the device, downloaded files or anything from the video download store called HTC Watch. You can opt to download the latest films – Green Lantern was the latest when we reviewed – and either buy or rent. Choose to view trailers to help you make a decision. The video files look great – and you can really appreciate them on this size of display. This is one area where it does beat the Titan, which cannot support downloadable videos at the moment.
So that’s the treat available for the eyes – but your hearing also gets a treat in the form of Beats Audio. Note the logo on the reverse of the handset, which lets you know there are all kinds of audio extras on offer. You’ll get a neat pair of Beats Audio in-ear headphones in a red-and-white colourway – and you can buy an even better pair of over the-ear headphones should you wish. Plug in your phones, start up your music and you’ll see the Beats logo glowing red in the notifications bar. If you don’t want the audio improvements on (although we’re not sure why you wouldn’t) it can be easily switched off. But with great bass and a louder, richer sound, we can’t see that happening.
The Beats audio enhancements are well worth having on the phone, although it’s a shame that there is a limit on how much space you have to store your favourite tunes – there’s 16BB on board and no opportunity for expanding that as there’s no microSD slot.
As we’ve come to expect on HTC's devices, the company’s own personality has been stamped on Android, making it an even more user-friendly operating system. The icons are better looking, and offer stylish, simple and easily recognisable images. We also like those HTC additions – you can reject a phone call with a text message explaining that you are busy, in a meeting or whatever and will call later. All Android phones have a pull-down windowshade, but on the XL it is customised so that you can see your recent notifications and programs. Tap on Quick Settings and you can get to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane mode and more in a jiffy.
The 8-megapixel snapper is good enough – but you won’t see the bulge that is present on the Titan that suggests a lot of power from the camera. It’s for show really – as is the fake 3D effect on the phone’s home pages. This, along with the free mapping service Locations, which lets you download maps so that you can avoid data usage when abroad and the lock screen that lets you go straight to your chosen apps, are classic, unmistakable HTC features.
This phone is capable and fast – it brings all the benefits of Android, the best of HTC’s designs and software and great audio improvements from Beats Audio. It’s impressive all round – and only fails to gain a fifth star because it lacks the option of a removable memory card. However, if you’re happy that 16GB is enough storage for you, and that the handset is not too big for your hands, there’s no reason not to buy the Sensation XL.
Size (+ weight) 133 x 71 x 10mm, 163g
Resolution 480 x 800
Video recording Yes
Video streaming Yes
Video player Yes
Music player Yes
Video calling Yes
3.5mm audio jack Yes
Talktime 11 hours 50 mins
Standby 360 hours
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