HTC Sensation XL

HTC proves again that bigger is better, especially when its large-screen phone packs in a great user experience and Beats audio headphones to boot.


9.0
CNET Rating
9.6
User Rating

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Before reading this review, you need to ask yourself an important question, and the answer may make you uneasy. It may have you sadly flexing your muscles in the mirror and questioning the sides of arguments that you've taken in the past, but it is essential to know this about yourself before you meet the Sensation XL: is bigger always better?

Design

It's big, oh yes, it's that. With a 4.7-inch screen, the Sensation XL is likely the largest phone we'll see in Australia this year. It's noticeably larger than phones with 4.3-inch displays, and it positively dwarfs anything with a screen smaller than 4 inches (cough, iPhone), and yet it still fits comfortably in our hands. This may prove to be a polarising feature, but we love it, for what it's worth. The screen doesn't feel too big, and yet it delivers a more readable experience in web pages, and in core services like email — plus, the larger screen size makes it easy to make selections on the touchscreen.

Below the glass, HTC chose a Super-LCD panel to power the pixels, and the result is bright and clear, although the contrast is left lacking somewhat. Perhaps we've been spoiled this year with AMOLED screens in the Galaxy S II, the Razr and the N9, but the blacks on the XL do look a little weak. This is nitpicking, though; most users won't question the depth of the blacks on show here.

HTC isn't hanging its hat on this single feature of the phone's design, either. The shape and cut of the XL is gorgeous, with its bone-white colour across the front, and its large aluminium plate across the back. Combined, the XL stands out as one of the most attractive handsets, memorable for not being just another black box, but a phone that is unmistakably HTC when held against your ear during a call.

Physically, the XL is kept quite simple by HTC's designers; the micro USB is on the left-hand side, and the headphone jack on top, but there is no dedicated camera button or extra inputs, like HDMI, on the handset. More importantly, there is no expandable memory slot, so make sure that you are content with the 16GB of internal storage before you buy.

User experience and performance

Many of you reading this review will be comparing the Sensation XL against its stablemate at Vodafone, the Sensation XE, and wondering whether the XL is worth an extra AU$5 per month. We say yes, and for a few important reasons. Besides the larger screen (though smaller, the XE has a higher-resolution screen), the XL has one pretty important leg up on the XE, in that HTC chose slightly newer firmware for its larger handset.

Like computers, smartphones live and die by the quality of the firmware powering them. Strangely, HTC has installed two different firmware builds into these two Sensations. The XL gets the better of it, with a newer version of both Android Gingerbread and the HTC Sense software, where the firmware is a combination of both elements. So, while the Sensation XE has the more powerful hardware, with a dual-core processor, we've actually found that the Sensation XL appears to operate just as smoothly, and achieves better results in benchmarking tests.

The updated version of Sense UI is also a plus for usability. In truth, the differences between the versions of Sense on the XE and the XL are pretty minor on the surface, but HTC does a good job of cleaning up the menus and adding tabs to shorten long lists, like its Personalisation menu, and the app drawer. There are also a couple of new widgets in the XL, too.

Call quality is excellent on this phone, with thanks to HTC's inclusion of a second microphone under the battery cover. Having two mics means that the handset is capable of active noise cancellation during calls. Battery life is also quite good, with the XL managing between two to three hours of actual screen-on usage between charges, or at least a full business day of emails, calls, messages and web browsing.

Camera

With HTC focusing its efforts on creating better photographic experiences on its phones of late, we weren't too surprised when we discovered excellent photos in our camera roll after traipsing about the city snapping pics with the Sensation XL. Not only are the pictures nice, but the camera is also extremely fast. The camera software boots up in a heartbeat, the auto-focus settles in a second or so and the shutter fires in about a quarter of a second. The XL is definitely a fast enough camera to catch even the swiftest of rugrats as they stagger up for their first steps.

Colours really pop, especially when the photos are taken under natural light.
(Credit: CBSi)

We were impressed with the sharpness and the colour in these photos, and it's only when you inspect these pics up close that you can see any noisiness in the way it blends pixels to make the image.

The Sensation brothers take photos of a similar quality, although the XL has a wider angle lens.
(Credit: CBSi)

Video quality is the only letdown, if this is important to you. The 8-megapixel shooter transforms into an HD camera shooting at 720p@30fps, which is a nice spec to have in your smartphone, although, in reality, the videos we shot do flicker quite a bit during playback. It uses the phone's two microphones to record stereo audio while shooting, which, again, is nice to say you have, but the effect of this is hard to measure.

Compared to

Samsung Galaxy S II Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S HTC Sensation XL Motorola Razr
Android 2.3 with TouchWiz Android 2.3 Android 2.3.5 with HTC Sense Android 2.3.5
4.3-inch
480x800 pixels
4.2-inch
480x800 pixels
4.7-inch
480x800 pixels
4.3-inch
540x960 pixels
Samsung Exynos, dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm, 1.4GHz Qualcomm, 1.5GHz TI OMAP, dual-core 1.2GHz
1GB RAM 512MB RAM 768MB RAM 1GB RAM
16GB storage 9GB storage 16GB storage 8GB storage

Beats Audio

Inside the box with the Sensation XL handset is something much more exciting than just the standard USB cable and charging pack; you also get a pair of over-the-ear Beats Audio Solo headphones, worth RRP AU$299 — not a bad added extra. We've been using these cans almost as much as we've been using the phone itself, and we've been pretty impressed with the quality of the sound we've gotten out of them so far.

The only drawback is that the headphones sound best when Beats Audio software is activated on the phone, and this only happens when you launch the default music player. If you prefer a third-party music player, like DoubleTwist, or if you're playing games with headphones on, the audio won't be as impressive. In fact, we've found that the sound without the Beats equaliser is a bit muddy, with mid tones being crushed by bass-heavy amplification.

Overall

As it did with the Desire HD this time last year, HTC proves again that bigger is better. The 4.7-inch display makes everything bigger, easier to touch and better to read, without the screen showing its pixels and looking fuzzy. The camera is a corker, and the everyday user experience is excellent.

The Beats Audio Solo headphones are also good if you're committed to using the default HTC Sense music player, but it is a shame that the Beats Audio Profile isn't just a switch that you can flick on in the menus.

We also hope to see HTC embracing multimedia a little differently next year. Out of the box, the Sensation XL only supports a handful of media codecs, and to connect the handset to your TV you'll need to pay about AU$50 to buy a separate MHL adapter, when this same functionality is included out of the box with handsets from Motorola and Sony Ericsson.



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daverussell7 posted a comment   
Australia

This phone has been awesome but after thwelve the power button has failed.. It seems others are doing the same. It's a shame something so simple could ruin a great device.

FONOIA_WAAHHT
10
Rating
 

"AAAMMMMMZZZIIIINNGGG!!!"

FONOIA_WAAHHT posted a review   
Australia

The Good:This phone is the best ! 8mp camera :) 4.7 inch display :) 480x800 resolution density :) 1.5 singlecore processor :) what else do you need

The Bad:What can i say. this is the best phone out :) so theres NOTHING i can say that makes this phone so bad !! except haters that ruin the gorgeous name the HTC SENSATION XL :) !!

Htc sensation xl amazes me :) even thought this phone came out last year !! I still want it. Hopefully i get it for christmas :) its everything i want in a phone :)
I've watched so many unboxing/review videos and stories about this one perfect phone !! But so far im choosing between The htc oneX/oneX+ or the htc sensation XL :L
once more ! 8mp camera with a dual flash 2.2/F,a 4.7 DINOSAUR display, 1.5 singlecore processor, 1.3mp front facing camera, 480x800 resolution density (199~ppi), beats audio with beats audio headsets by Dr.Dre and a BEAuuutiiifuuulllllllll disign :) i recommed this to all that havn't had a htc phone to get up and start buying this one :P

Meowington64
10
Rating
 

"Perfect"

Meowington64 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Massive Screen, Amazing Camera, Great Speeds and Affordable

The Bad:NOTHING!!!!! (By the looks of it)

Haven't got this phone yet but after watching MANY videos for game speed tests, camera tests and video reviews, it seems like the best phone in the world to me. A few years ago I bought my first HTC, the Wildfire S. It proved to be a great phone for a first time android user... But now, after seeing this beast of a phone on so many videos, i congratulate HTC for creating a practically perfect phone. :D

hano180
10
Rating
 

"excellent"

hano180 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:very fast, never freezes, reading books and documents is easy. Solid built. Can be used as a usb from computer. Transferring files from and to computer is easy. Synch is easy. customisable home screens and so on

The Bad:none so far

I previously had samsung and i am using this phone from last 3 months and its excellent. very fast, never freezes, reading books and documents is easy. Solid built. Can be used as a usb from computer. Transferring files from and to computer is easy. Synch is easy. customisable home screens and so on. My first htc and its excellent.

creativeanimator
10
Rating
 

"Best ever I used so far! Loving it."

creativeanimator posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Everything! battery life, screen size, the look

The Bad:Everything is great. Feels a bit slippery. Would have been better with a nicer grip.

The best phone I used so far. I had a galaxy s2 before and thought it was the best phone. Its been 3 weeks since I started using the XL and its really a killer. It looks great and when my iphone friends saw it first thing came out from their mouth was "WOW". As well as the look it functions smoothly too. No problems so far. I am amazed with the battery life compared to the S2. I love the sound quality and so amazing. Love listening to music on my XL.

Few people asked about the screen resolution problem, no it has no such issues. I have pretty good eyes and I dont notice any pixel problems on the screen. Internet browsing is really fast and feels great on a bigger screen. Proud to own it!

Dianna23
8
Rating
 

"Love all the features, the size"

Dianna23 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:easy to use. Great sound and picture quality

The Bad:faults that I have experienced so far with the phone

I have had my Snesation XL for a couple of weeks now and about to receive my 3rd phone. The first one I received the battery was overheating on the first day I got it. I made one call that lasted less than 5 mins and the phone got very hot in my hand. I called my carrier and they said they would replace the phone. I received my 2nd HTC Sensation XL, it was going fine the first week but then twice within a couple of days, I was on a call and the phone turned it off and restarted itself. I was also having trouble with getting reception within my house (the phone I had before this was the Nokia N8 and I never had trouble with phone coverage. This could be the carrier though).
Overall I am happy with the phone, I love it actually. But if I have any issues with the 3rd one I am about to receive next week, I think I may need to change to another model, which would be a shame cause I LOVE this phone. I would be interested to see if anyone else has had similar issues.

GregT2 Facebook
9
Rating
 

"Great"

GregT2 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Cool graphics, long battery life, looks great,

The Bad:More memory would be handy...

I had trouble tossing up between the (cheaper) Galaxy S II and the XL - both are great phones with everything I need in a phone and more. At the end of the day, the things that convinced me to buy the XL were: the camera, the massive screen, the longer battery life, and the schmick HTC interface (just looks a bit fancier than the S II's). The beats headphones were an added bonus. So far loving everything about the XL - even my iPhone-weilding snobbish friends are impressed with it, which never happens...

 

poo bear posted a comment   
Australia

I am probably going to get this phone or the xe, im leaning towards this because of the bigger screen and the beats. But i have on or two question, Is the screen resolution realy that bad or do you realy notice it that much and is there much power difference as between the dual-core or single-core processors?

thanks

 

davejhj posted a comment   
Australia

no expandable memory slot and only 16GB, LCD not AMOLED, 162.5 grams, this thing pales in comparison to the GalaxySII.

The only thing that may make it better is the battery life but i'd like to see some recent test data on both devices before making a comment on that. "Battery life is also quite good, with the XL managing between two to three hours of actual screen-on usage between charges" is pretty damn wishy washy imo.

How the hell did this get a 9 when the SGII got 8.5?

 

Joseph Hanlon posted a reply   
Australia

You picked it Dave, the battery life is still a big consideration, and the battery here in the XL is better imo. The Super LCD display looks good, its 4.7-inch across, which is a plus, and feels great to hold despite the extra weight. The user experience is slick and its performance is solid. Plus the bundled headphones are a great bonus.

But at the end of the day, doesn't the scores suggest both phones are great phones? Maybe you'd trade off the size of the XL for the contrast of AMOLED in the SGII, but you win either way.

 

Trebor58 posted a reply   
Australia

hate to pick but XL has A WVGA screen

shoutyourself
10
Rating
 

"One bad **** mother of a phone"

shoutyourself posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Big screen, zippy as a zip, mean camera and pretty solid battery performance

The Bad:nothing yet but its only been a few days

Really into this phone, in the past 2 months i have had a iPhone 4 then i got the htc eve 3d and that gave up within the first week so i swapped it for the galaxy s2 which lasted 3 weeks before it overheated and had a spaz attack so i then went and swapped that for the mighty sensation xl and it is a pretty nice piece of kit, over all it is a far better package that the fore mentioned handsets, not to say they are all rubbish, the evo 3d was a great phone probably a little faster than the xl and i didn't really rate the s2 apart from its awesome screen the battery lasts about half a day.
so if your in the market for a big brute of a phone, one of these will go good on the side of your head.




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User Reviews / Comments  HTC Sensation XL

  • daverussell7

    daverussell7

    "This phone has been awesome but after thwelve the power button has failed.. It seems others are doing the same. It's a shame something so simple could ruin a great device."

  • FONOIA_WAAHHT

    FONOIA_WAAHHT

    Rating10

    "Htc sensation xl amazes me :) even thought this phone came out last year !! I still want it. Hopefully i get it for christmas :) its everything i want in a phone :)
    I've watched so many unbox..."

  • Meowington64

    Meowington64

    Rating10

    "Haven't got this phone yet but after watching MANY videos for game speed tests, camera tests and video reviews, it seems like the best phone in the world to me. A few years ago I bought my first HT..."

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