As the Sensation line continues apace, HTC has supersized its popular Android handset with the 4.7-inch screened HTC Sensation XL.
It’s the first handset to be built with the Beats audio enhancements from day one (unlike the Sensation XE where the hardware was enhanced afterwards), and is HTC’s first real chance to prove that its stake in Beats by Dre audio is more than just cash for cred.
So can the HTC Sensation XL delight our ear holes as well as functioning as a high-end smartphone? We went hands on to find out….
The Sensation XL is a little familiar. Not only has HTC recycled the name, but the body of the phone is pretty much exactly the same as the Windows Phone flavoured HTC Titan.
So we’re looking at a large 4.7-inch Super LCD screen, which is nice and crisp, wide, fast and graphically impressive despite lacking the QHD resolution we were hoping for.
And the handset is big. Not heavy or chunky, just large in the hand.
There’s not much in the way of buttonage on the handset, with the camera shutter button seemingly a thing of the past and the front side toting only soft buttons.
So any button fans will have to make do with the volume control slider and the power/sleep button to satisfy their pressing fetish.
On to ports, and there’s a mini USB slot on one side…
…and 3.5mm headphone jack on the top panel. And that’s your lot. Other than these minor embellishments, the casing is pretty smooth and neat. We like the stylistic addition of a silver layer in the edge, adding the illusion of extra slimness to the 9.9mm width.
It’s not only slim, the handset is also pretty light for a 4.7-inch screen toting behemoth. Perhaps this is because HTC skimped a bit on the innards, with a single-core processor powering this puppy and no microSD slot.
On the back, you’ll spot the 8MP camera with dual LED flash, which HTC is keen to talk up, citing it as their best phone snapper yet at a briefing that TechRadar attended.
The other notable addition to the back panel is the understated Beats logo.
All HTC Sensation XL handsets will come bundled with the in-ear Your Beats bud earphones and their distinctive red wire featuring inline remote and microphone.
Some networks will be offering limited edition Beats Solo over the head headphones too, which come in a distinctive and ever-so-subtle HTC white.
Hands on: HTC Sensation XL review: Interface
The big difference between the HTC Sensation XL and the HTC Titan is operating systems, of course. The Titan runs Windows Phone 7.5, while the new kid on the block offers Android 2.3 with HTC’s excellent Sense 3.5 overlay.
This means full access to the Android Market and all the apps therein, as well as the Sense-ible improvements HTC has made to its software over the past months, like easier homescreen organisation and HTC Watch.
As soon as we turned the phone on and went to swipe through the multiple homescreens, we were pleasantly surprised by just how quickly the handset moved – that 4.7-inch screen is very responsive, and its size makes it very comfortable to use.
There may only be a single core processor in there, but it’s a 1.5GHz affair and not to be sniffed at. Although you may notice a little lag when multi-tasking, we didn’t have any problems in our quick run through of the Sensation XL; stay tuned for more detail on this in our full HTC Sensation XL review though.
It’s also very bright and sharp, even though the HTC Sensation XL resolution is a somewhat paltry 480×800. Unfortunately there weren’t any videos preloaded on our review model, nor enough bandwidth available to try out an online video, but still images appear flawless to the untrained eye.
The regular HTC widgets are all present and correct – FriendStream, Music Player, Weather and so on.
Contacts all come with the option to add pictures and link Facebook accounts, and the familiar dialler is easier than ever to use on the 4.7-inch screen – even for the sausage-fingered among us. There was no SIM card in the sample we used, so we can’t vouch for call quality – you’ll have to hang on for our full HTC Sensation XL review for that.
Messaging is nicely laid out and straightforward to use, with the option to have threaded conversations displayed and a nice, spacious keyboard even in portrait mode – another benefit of the roomy 4.7-inch screen.
HTC is exceptionally pleased with the 8MP camera and tweaked software that it’s running.
Indeed, the camera is as easy to use as ever, with the big screen giving you what almost feels like a life-size view of your shot. The lens comes with an aperture level of f2.2, the sensor has been optimised for low light and it’s a wide angle lens too, which means all you shoddy mobile phone photographers can no longer blame your tools.
It was an impressively fast and easy to use camera. We bemoan the lack of a shutter button, but can’t fault much else after our first brief play; the room we were in was pretty dark, and the Sensation XL picture came out very well indeed on auto mode – better, you might say, than our photographs of the device itself.
Our only complaint is that the gallery shortcut always took us to the first photo on the handset, so to see our recent shots we had to scroll all the way through – still, in landscape mode we enjoyed the long ribbon of photos. Once you have hundreds on there, though, it might not be so fun.
The camera comes with a bunch of new effects too, including panorama mode, image editing, solar and sports mode for fast moving subjects.
And now to the Beats integration; the music player on the HTC Sensation XL isn’t anything to write home about, but the Beats mechanism is pretty cool.
The handset knows when you’re listening to a song that has been enhanced with Beats and automatically enables the sound enhancements, no matter what headphones you’re using with the Sensation XL.
You can open the notifications bar to disable Beats if you so desire, and you’ll instantly notice that the music loses depth, becoming much tinnier and less rich.
The bundled headphones integrate with the Beats audio profile on the handset so there’s no need to fiddle around with the settings, and the inline microphone and music control means no fiddling around in your bag when a call comes in.
Finally, web browsing. Sense 3.5 comes with an updated browser, although we didn’t notice too many changes in our time with the handset. Web pages look great on the huge screen, though, and pinching to zoom saw renders loading quickly and no noticeable pixilation.
It’s hard not to like the HTC Sensation XL. It has a sleek but friendly look about it and, although not top of the line in terms of displays, the screen is lovely to use.
Whether prolonged use would cause aches and pains for the small handed among us, remains to be seen.
No doubt it will be popular among the media-mad and music lovers, but will its price exclude the teenagers it seems to be aimed at? No word on UK pricing yet, but we fear this may be the case.