Build Quality & Design
In many ways, the Sensation XL picks up where the HTC Titan left off and joins a form factor that leaves smaller, 4'' phones, looking puny by comparison. It might well be the perfect choice for people who spend their day surfing the web on their phone, or use it for playing video games and taking photos, but anybody who's looking for a handset that slides easily into a pocket might be disappointed: it's a whole centimetre thick and weighs in at 163 g. It's also tricky for those of us who write our messages with our thumb, holding the phone in just one hand; using both hands is much easier. It's shorter, but wider, than the Galaxy Nexus, and you can really feel the difference.
The design is classic HTC, and the only real deviation from the manufacturer's standard look is a slightly more fashionable choice of colours at the back, with white and metallic grey. It's all very clean and modern and put together perfectly well. The most visually alarming thing is the amount of room taken up by the camera and dual-LED flash at the top—was it really impossible to make them just a little smaller?
While we're on the subject, we were also disappointed not to find a HDMI output which would have enabled users to watch videos from their phone on their TV. It might sound trivial but given that HTC is billing this as a multimedia smartphone ... At least there is support for DLNA, meaning you can access photos, videos and music from other DLNA-compatible devices. There's no microSD card slot, so you'll have to make do with the 16 GB of internal memory. Including the OS and pre-installed software, that leaves you with barely more than 13 GB, which again, for a multimedia device, is rather frustrating. HTC does include Dropbox, which gives users 5 GB of online storage, as if that were an alternative.
Like the HTC Titan—which runs Windows Phone 7—the Sensation XL is designed for users that are looking to enjoy content on the handset itself, hence the large screen. Unfortunately, though, that 4.7'' S-LCD display has a top resolution of just 480 x 800 pixels. That means you'll be doing a lot of zooming to be able to read websites. The slightly smaller 4.3'' display on the Sensation XE has a better resolution of 540 x 960 pixels which is much more user-friendly.
At 1010:1, the S-LCD display has a lower contrast ratio than an AMOLED display, but still beat the Sensation XE. Colours are reproduced more naturally, leading to deltaE of 4.3, and the brightness of 400 cd/m² matches the HTC Titan's excellent performance, making it an ideal choice for use outside on a sunny day.
Interface and Navigation
The Sensation XL runs Android Gingerbread with version 3.5 of the very attractive HTC Sense ecosystem pasted on top, giving users plenty of room to customise their smartphone with everything from new wallpaper to a huge range of widgets. Sense's other big strength is the way it makes handling multiple contacts and social networks a breeze. For instance, you can customise the lockscreen so you can see status updates from your Facebook updates or check Twitter without actually having to unlock the phone and open the relevant app. Another neat feature is the way you can launch apps you often need in a hurry, like the camera, by dragging their icon onto a special launch area.
The Friend Stream app aggregates content from social net
Other widgets making a welcome return include HTC Hub, HTC Sense.com (for remote wiping your phone), HTC Likes (a custom catalogue of apps) and HTC Watch (a VOD service).
HTC Watch for VOD
Behind all that is a 1.5 GHz single-core processor from Qualcomm, meaning the XL misses out on the dual-core processor that powers the Sensation XE. But so what? It proved to be responsive whenever we needed it to and didn't show the slightest hint of lag during our tests.
8 Megapixel cameras are increasingly becoming the standard, and the Sensation XL is no exception—although the results are anything but sensational. The photos we took were lacking in detail—the Motorola Razr does much better at this—as well as depth of field and contrast. By comparison, photos from the Sensation XE, which over accentuates things, seem more attractive. Under artificial light in our lab, the Sensation XL struggled with white balance, leaving photos that are anything but clean. When you consider that the HTC Titan also has an 8 Megapixel camera, the Sensation XL's performance is even more disappointing. HTC does include all sorts of filters, tools and effects, including a Panorama mode, in the hope of improving things slightly.
The XL can film at 720p with a framerate of 30 fps, and the resulting video is pretty decent for a smartphone. We were disappointed to discover that there's no native support for DivX, although WMV, MP4, XviD and M4V files didn't pose any problem.
HTC has included the Beats Audio converter on the Sensation XL, which features an automatic software equaliser that the user can't customise. It packs a lot of power behind bass, which is a good job, because without it, the audio produced is absolutely appalling. Otherwise, the headphone jack and the dynamic range and the stereo are all about average with no noticeable distortion.
We're still pretty worried about the in-ear headphones. The results aren't too different from ordinary Beats headphones, with too much bass overtaking the rest of the spectrum. On the other hand, they're still far better than anything provided by rival mobile manufacturers.
We were satisfied with the web browsing experience, with pages loading smoothly and quickly. The only hitch is the tiny size of the text, meaning you'll always need to zoom in. As we mentioned above, even a screen this big has its problems.
To look at battery life, finally, the Sensation XL goes a little further than the Sensation XE, easily lasting for a whole day without needing to be recharged.