HTC’s latest ‘big phone’ effort is impressive in size. But how does it stack up in performance compared to its smaller Sensation-branded siblings and, more importantly, rival handsets? We reveal all in our review.
The HTC Sensation XL is an industrious, positively enormous bit of kit that towers over the majority of high-end handsets currently on the market. Despite its initially intimidating dimensions, its soft white hue makes it surprisingly easy on the eye and held in the hand, it feels rather great, too. Unless you’re type that outright rejects big phones, there is definitely an inviting appeal about this handset that demands a keen smartfan’s attention.
Measuring 132.5mm x 70.7mm? in height and width respectively, and weighing a 162.5g, this is certainly not the most pocket-friendly handset around. But it makes up for the additional bulk with a slick, slim design at 9.9mm thick, with curves in all the right places that make it very comfortable to handle.
The front of the device is all white and features four touch-sensitive buttons: Home, Menu, Back and Search. Turn it around and you have an aluminum plating with a slick anodised finish that feels smooth to touch and actually makes the phone a lot easier to slip into a tight jeans pocket.
The rear side also features a portion made of plastic, which is white and comes with the Beats logo slapped in the middle. All in all, once you get past the size factor, this is a very well-designed handset.
As the name probably suggests, the Sensation XL is at a glance little more than a supersized version of the original Sensation. But the similarities pretty much end right there thanks to the sheer scale of the ginormous 4.7-inch Super LCD touchscreen that almost pushes the handset to PDA territory. It’s a boon if you’re looking to use the phone as a portable media player. However, its real claim to fame is probably the fact it comes with Beats audio technology from none other than hip-hop mogul Dr Dre.
Alas, some compromises had to be made to keep costs down and in consideration of battery life, too. This results in the Sensation’s 1.2GHz dual core processor being downgraded to a 1.5GHz single core number. But rest assured, unless you really need a dual core processor, you’ll do just fine with it’s what’s available here.
Photography fans should be quite pleased with the eight-megapixel camera with dual LED flash, a BSI sensor and an f/2.2 aperture, which fares admirably in low light conditions. Although video recording is maxed out to 720p rather than 1080p as managed by the smaller Sensation smaller, it gets the job done in most situations.
Elsewhere, there’s 16GB of internal storage, which, for most users, should be plenty. However, there’s no microSD slot, which is a tad odd given the handset’s multimedia credentials. Everything else is fairly standard, think: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an array of sensors, built-in FM radio and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing cam for video calls.
The Sensation XL comes with Android 2.3, aka Gingerbread, installed out of the box, rather than the latest Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) release. But I’m not going to hold that against it, as at the time of writing ICS has yet to make its way – officially - to any non-Google branded phones. Rest assured, the XL is in line to be one of the first HTC devices to receive an upgrade when it does finally roll out.
Make no mistake, you’ll still get a full Android experience here, sans some new features that were introduced in ICS, which to be quite frank aren’t that substantial to begin with. Android Beam is unlikely to be supported, as the XL lacks an NFC chip and Face Unlock is a gimmick. As far as user interface goes, HTC already has a handle on it with its latest Sense UI.
Currently at version 3.5, Sense comes with some nifty animations that look more impressive than anything you’re likely to find on ICS, and as always offers the ability to customise multiple home screens with widgets, shortcuts and other content important to you.
Ease of use
If you’ve used any Android-powered HTC handset before, you’ll be right at home on the Sensation XL. It doesn’t veer far off the formula that’s worked so well for the Taiwanese phone-maker, bringing you a solid Android experience in a sturdy piece of hardware that looks and feels substantial and is generally very easy to use.
I’m especially pleased to see the handset sport actual front-facing buttons when many manufacturers are beginning to do away with in favour of squeezing in extra screen real estate. Not that screen space is an issue in the XL’s case, but in my opinion it’s a lot less fiddly than the buttonless approach of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
If you’re shopping for a phone with a large display and music credentials to boot, you could do worse than the HTC Sensation XL. It’s a decent effort from HTC, albeit not the most powerful. And unless you demand stylus support on your phone, the Sensation XL is also pretty decent alternative to the Samsung Galaxy Note, and cheaper, too.
- Android 2.3 Gingerbread with HTC Sense 3.5 UI
- 4.7-inch Super LCD capacitive touchscreen
- 8 megapixel camera with 720p HD video recording
- 16GB of internal storage
- Beats audio technology