This handset was kindly provided by Three. They’ve been big fans of the site in the past so, when they offered me a chance to review the Sensation XL, I was looking forward to getting my hands on it. You can also see some up-close shots of the XL here along with a hands-on video. :)
The XL is available from Three on Contract and PAYG. For £40 a month you get The One Plan with 2,000 Minutes, 5,000 Texts and All You Can Eat Data which also allows tethering!. If you want one on PAYG this will set you back £409.99 plus £15 top up.
Now onto the specs….
- Android 2.3 Gingerbread
- 8 Megapixel Camera with 720p Video
- HSDPA 14.4mb/s
- HSUPA 5.76mb/s
- Bluetooth, WiFi & GPS
- 768MB RAM
- 16GB Storage
- 1600mAh Battery
HTC are well known for their smartphones, but especially their Android phones. There have been many over the years – the G1, which was a launch device and the HTC Hero, which won Phone of the Year. There was also the hugely popular HTC Desire which was announced at Mobile World Congress two years ago.
With Android being the OS of choice for so many manufactures now, the market is becoming packed full of choice. This means that phone manufacturers need to be a step ahead of the competition and produce fantastic phones in both design and specifications. There is big money involved now and a single phone can make or break a reputation.
Looking at the front of the Sensation XL you cant help but notice just how HUGE the screen really is!. 4.7 inch to be exact, and that is bigger than the Nexus. It’s not quite as big as the screen on the Galaxy Note, which has a ridiculous 5.3 inch screen and is more of a tablet.
The screen displays 480×800 pixels which is the same as we saw on the 3.7 inch Desire S also from HTC. All HTC have done is stretch the pixels even further and this is really easy to notice with the icons being huge instead of crisp and clear like you would hope.
At the top is the speaker grill for voice calls and a proximity / light sensor. This triggers when you put the XL up to your ear and shuts off the screen so you don’t accidentally touch stuff during a call. It also sets the backlight brightness when you select “automatic” in the settings. This helps to improve battery life.
You also get the front facing 1.3 megapixel video calling camera which is used for 3rd party applications such as Skype or Tango. These let you make 3G of WiFi video calls.
Below the screen is what you see on most Android phones really. the normal touch buttons for HOME, BACK, MENU and SEARCH. It is quite rare we see a phone with different button layout from this and HTC especially seem to be a fan of this setup. Expect to see it on many future phones too.
The back of the Sensation XL has the large camera which is slightly raised so it won’t get scratched. There is also a loudspeaker for listening to music, and you can activate it during video calls or voice calls. There is also a dual LED flash on the back which can also be used a torch – a simple but very handy feature especially this time of the year.
At the back and near to the bottom you can also see the Beats branding with a small logo in red.
CAMERA EXAMPLES COMING SOON
CAMERA EXAMPLES COMING SOON
Whist 8 megapixels is an important number to remember, another number which will make a difference is 2.2. This is the aperture of the lens and the lower the number the more light you get into the lens. This leads to better low-light pictures. Most phones including the iPhone have a lens of 2.4 which is pretty average for low light, however the XL and the Titan feature 2.2 which does make a lot of difference. It’s a key selling point for the camera.
Video is recorded in 720p, which is more than good enough for general use. You can also upload to FaceBook or YouTube, both of which have HD support. Footage from the XL is more than good enough to be shared with friends and family. Sure, 1080p is better but 720p is more than enough for most people and wont be something you mark the XL down for.
The bottom of the phone has the microphone and there’s the catch which lets you take the back cover off. One thing I noticed with the back cover was that it was VERY hard to take off, the catch at the bottom really needs to be pressed in hard which is not the easiest thing to do. I had to resort to using a spare SIM card to push the catch in enough. :)
On the top you have the on/off button which is also used to put the XL into standby mode and to wake it up when you need it. There is also the 3.5mm headset port which is where you can plug in either the supplied Beats headset or your own. Let’s face it though, with an included £80-worth of super headphones why would you use your own?
Sure, if you have £149.99 spare you could always grab yourself a pair of the Beats Solo headphones which give an even better experience.
The left side of the XL has just the MicroUSB port which is used for plugging into a computer to transfer your content either via HTC Sync or by making the XL a portable disk drive. This is a really handy feature found on most Android phones now. No need for drivers, just plug in then drag and drop.
Of course this is also where you plug in the charger. The supplied USB cable is used for both charging and for data transfer.
The right side of the XL has just the volume up and down buttons, with so much space going to waste it was such a shame to see no dedicated camera key. Especially given the 2.2 lens, which as I mentioned earlier is great for low light photos.
After using a HTC Titan the first thing I said was “Wow thats nice I wish it had Android” and the XL was my answer, so based on that was the wow still there?
In some ways yes and some ways no. I will explain what I mean by that.
Android is an amazing OS but an amazing OS can only compete if the hardware does it justice. Unfortunately there are pros for having the feature but in reality a negative experience. For example the screen is a massive 4.7 inch in size, it really is a monster screen but the resolution is far too low for the extra space it has available meaning everything is stretched. Consider this has a larger screen than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus which is now on sale but still has the same screen resolution as the HTC Desire S which is a smaller screen in size.
There is also an 8 megapixel camera which at times can take some great shots especially in low lighting, take the camera outside and whilst the photos are decent there are better phones out there when it comes to the camera and you do not have the added weight and bulk of this massive body.
There is also a fast 1.5Mhz processor under the hood but single core against a lot of dual core devices already on the market.
Don’t get me wrong, the Sensation XL is a VERY impressive device and it looks a beauty with white body and silver back this stands out from the crowd and if the size does not matter to you then the XL is well worth a look.
Where the XL really excels is in the audio quality and that is thanks to the built in Beats Audio which is fronted by none other than Dr Dre!. As with the Sensation XE which we reviewed recently (link at the bottom), the XL comes bundled with a set of Beats In-Ear headphones which are worth around £80 we are told!. And man does the audio stand out on any music you have put onto the device yourself. One thing which was a let down was the better audio was only aparant on the built in music player, when using another service such as Spotify it was not as good as expected with a headset such as this, this might be due to the compression from Spotify as I have the headset plugged into my MacBook Air right now listening to music and I am heading music in a whole new way.
In an ever changing market such as seen with mobile phones it is hard to make a product that not only competes with the opposition but also offers that something unique to make you hand over you hard earned money and commit to that product. The problem now with the XL is that the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is available at the same price on contract from Three the £40 a month mark for The One Plan and the Nexus offers the unique unbranded pure android experience, Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, sexier looking design and more, although it is dropping on the camera to 5 mega pixels.
If you don’t mind a bigger phone then take a look at both the Nexus and the XL before you decide, 5 minutes with both and you will have made your mind up which is the right one for you.
I will end by saying the XL is some great work by HTC in the audio department, including Beats Audio was a massive move forward as audio on older phones was quite poor so well done HTC for not just improving but for going all out
Big thanks to Three UK for supplying the XL to be reviewed.