The trend of increased smartphone display dimensions is still going on, making all manufacturers experiment further with all sorts of diagonals, trying to determine which one is ideal, while maintaining the name of mobile phone. While the standard for last-gen high-end phones was around 4.3 inches, the latest models, as well as most that are set to appear during the year, bump this value up to around 4.5 inches or more. HTC has decided to set new standards after two very successful models from the Sensation series, joining the trend and offering the Sensation XL model to the market, with a display size of 4.7 inches.
However, dimensions aren’t the only thing this device has to offer, as XL is primarily a music phone, so just like Sensation XE, this one also carries the Beats Audio logo and arrives with extremely high-quality pair of expensive headphones instead of the usual bundle deal. Although XL is the first model in HTC’s Android gamma with a display this big, it isn’t the first in HTC’s history, as Sensation XL shares a lot of its features with its Windows Phone relative, namely Titan, which we’ve recently presented. There’s no going around it – although we were sceptical at first, we were quick to get used to the larger display, the resolution of which could’ve been higher, but more on that later. But the major question is – can the single-core CPU HTC opted for provide the taxing Sense interface with enough juice to enable a smooth user experience?
The phone’s design is unique and definitely different from HTC’s usual, carefully maintained uniform business grey concept. The device is entirely white, with a light grey aluminium back cover and a dominant red Beats Audio logo, which gives perfect contrast to the gentle white surfaces. The battery cover is made in one piece, covering the entire back surface, but HTC still decided to abandon the “unibody” design used in the rest of the Sensation series, including Titan, the model most akin to XL. We have to salute this move; although the unibody design carries many design and aesthetic advantages, Sensation XL’s traditional looks give a feeling of compactness and solidity. The width of side edges, i.e. the distance between them and the display has been significantly reduced, which contributes to the overall visual impression and makes the large display even more dominating. The phone thickness is also lower than in vanilla and XE versions, which, coupled with the phone’s larger overall dimensions, gives the impression of holding a single piece of thin acrylic glass. The front surface is entirely flat, without the Gorilla glass curvature, as was previously the case. The bottom section, right under the display, contains the standard HTC capacitive four, which means: home, menu, back and search. The buttons have an exceptionally strong LED backlight, which is known to look very attractive in darkness. The element layout above the display is also typical, with the speaker net alongside the top edge, accompanied by the ambient light sensor, the distance sensor and the 1.3 MP front camera. The back is dominated by the mildly bulged camera lens, positioned in the upper central section, while the speaker and dual LED flash are housed on the right and left, respectively. Towards the bottom, the white plastic belt contains the red Beats Audio logo. The left side has a mini-USB connector, the right contains the volume control see-saw button, while the upper one houses the power button, as well as the 3.5 mm headphone jack.
Speaking of this phone’s design, our impressions are very positive, and despite the larger dimensions, the device lies in the hand quite comfortably, has a superior production quality, and the same goes for the final polish too. Owing to the display size, especially its width, typing text with both hands in portrait mode is particularly comfortable, so few will have the need to switch it to horizontal mode, except in special situations, such as watching video or playing games. Of course, using the phone with one hand is a bit challenging, especially for users with a smaller hand, but this is a sacrifice that has to be made, so future owners, be wary.
One of the two key features of this model is the most visible one – the 4.7” display. There aren’t that many devices with this kind of display size on the market, at least not at the moment, so besides the already mentioned Windows Phone cousin, Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Samsung Galaxy Note, Sensation XL is still a rare catch if this is what you’re aiming for. We aren’t too sure whether it would be fair to compare this model with Galaxy Note, as anything over 5 inches in size can hardly be classified as a mobile phone anymore. The only thing we were sceptical about before experiencing this phone first hand is the WVGA resolution, which could’ve been higher, especially for this kind of display size. However, as it turned out, 480x800 pixels was enough to make the text, user interface elements, images and pretty much everything else look sharp and legible enough, as long as you don’t delve into extremely small font sizes, which makes it obvious that pixel density isn’t as high as possible. Although the panel isn’t an AMOLED one, colours are very vivid, with good contrast, and the strong backlight makes this S-LCD one of the best, if not the best in its class. We’d particularly commend the excellent viewing angles, drastically improved over the previous Sensation models, so that colours don’t instantly fade even with mild changes in the phone’s rotation. As a direct consequence of a larger diagonal and lower resolution, icons look much bigger, which may look bizarre at first, but is actually quite comfortable, especially when entering text. Watching video and playing games is a real enjoyment on a display of this size and definitely an experience for future users to cherish on this model.
Having in mind that Sensation XL belongs to HTC’s line of music phones, containing high-quality, fairly expensive Beats headphones in the bundle, it was all but expected that HTC would save some money in the process, in order to keep the final price of the product away from ridiculous. Obviously, the first thing to suffer the hit was the CPU, so unlike the dual-core one that we’ve got used to lately, we have a Qualcomm single-core CPU working at 1500 MHz, coupled with 768 MB RAM and quite decent Adreno 205 graphics. As far as performance goes, we have to admit that we were pleasantly surprised by the showcased, especially having in mind how taxing HTC Sense UI can be on the hardware. The version of the UI preinstalled on the phone is 3.5, so it’s evident that HTC has invested a lot of effort into optimising the interface, making all visual transitions and juicy effects look seamless and smooth. The mentioned WVGA resolution helped a great deal, so it’s possible that this is one of the reasons why it was kept. It remains to be seen what the situation will be like when HTC releases the announced update containing ICS Android and the new Sense 4.0 interface.
Perhaps the greatest flaw of this device is the low quantity of internal memory for personal data storage, as 16 GB can turn out to be very modest with a sizeable music collection. To make things worse, there’s no expansion slot whatsoever, so users are bound to be limited eventually, which shouldn’t have been allowed.
The video subsystem is standard for latest-gen HTC high-end phones, consisting of an 8 MP back camera and a front one of 1.3 MP, although video shooting is limited to 1280x720, of course, due to the single-core CPU.
The 1600 mAh battery could’ve been of a higher capacity; this way, Sensation XL barely pulls off an entire day with average usage, consisting of a few calls, a dozen e-mails and SMS, up to half an hour spent on the internet, WiFi constantly on and a few watched video clips. This result is a bit underwhelming compared to the original Sensation, which has a dual-core CPU, but it’s clear that the larger display has taken its toll.
It’s essential that we mention the Beats Audio subsystem, which is supposed to be the key selling point of this model. The headphones that arrive in the package are very similar to those bundled with Sensation XE, and their quality needn’t be discussed as they are a much more advanced and higher-quality solution compared to standard bundle headphones. The functionality of the inbuilt Beats equalizer remains subject to debate, as there are no real changes to the sound other than the merciless pumping of the bass and treble ranges; in fact, the sound is degraded on the whole in songs that rely on the mid-range more than the other two. Furthermore, the use of the said equalizer is tied to HTC’s own music player exclusively, imposing additional limits on its functionality. Yet all these things aside, the fact that you’re getting high-quality headphones that go for about 100€ in retail on their own as part of the phone bundle is a really nice gesture.
|CPU||1,5 GHz Qualcomm MSM 8255, single core|
|Display||S-LCD, 4,7", 480x800 pix, 24-bit|
|Cameras||Primarna: 8 MP, (720p) 1280x720/30fps video, flash, auto-focus; Frontal: 1,3 MP|
|Memory||768 MB RAM, 16 GB internal|
|Connectivity||USB, WiFi, bluetooth, 3G, GPS, 3,5 mm audio|
|Battery||Li-Ion, 1600 mAh|
|OS||Android 2.3.5 + HTC Sence 3.5|
|Size/Weight||132 x 70,7 x 9,9 mm / 162 g|
|Audio||Beats Audio technology + Beats By Dr Dre headphones|
As is usually the case, a lot of this phone’s value will depend on each user’s preferences and taste. The size of it is definitely one of its key features for anyone. However, bear in mind that we’ll be seeing more and more of phones with a display of this size, so don’t rush your decision. HTC Sensation XL has a lot to offer; we’d point out the excellent display quality and the phenomenal finish, as well as the attractive design, while the Beats Audio headphones won’t hurt anyone’s ears either. For all fans of above-average sound quality – speaking of mobile phones, of course – who don’t want to spend too much on a new smartphone, Sensation XL (just as well as XE) can be a very good choice.