The HTC Sensation XL is definitely at the larger end of the current smartphone spectrum, weighing in with a large 4.7 inch display. Being a variant of the HTC Sensation, it’s also one of HTC’s highest-end phones. So can this 4.7 inch beast compete in the big leagues? We took it for a spin to find out just exactly that for our HTC Sensation XL review.
Physical Design of the HTC Sensation XL
The Sensation XL differs in design from the HTC Sensation and Sensation XE perhaps most notably in its size. The increase in dimensions is immediately noticeable, although perhaps not as extreme as we might have expected. The Sensation XL is also actually slightly thinner than the XE at the base where the battery is located and the roughly 10g (0.35oz) difference in weight is fairly imperceptible.
The overall design is very HTC. The softly curving edges and corners give a familiar and comfortable feel when held in the hand or against the ear and the rear-plate is metallic with only a small amount of plastic and the top and base.
The display ends impressively close to the outside of the handset which really gives the impression that HTC has made the most of its frontal real-estate with the Sensation XL. The same four capacitive buttons that we’ve come to know – Home, Menu, Back and Search, are located below the screen and the front-facing camera is situated at the top. The USB plug is on the left, volume rocker on the right and the power button sits atop the device and to the right. Physically it’s a well designed phone that looks great and offers no real mechanical drawbacks, but doesn’t really add anything new to the picture, either.
The large size of the phone might pose a problem to those with smaller hands. Most of us here in the office didn’t have too much of an issue with it, but a few of us did express some concerns. When given to friends with smaller hands to play around with it almost became comical watching them try to operate the phone while maintaining a solid grip.
If you’re used to a 4.3 inch screen then the step up to the HTC Sensation XL’s 4.7” is surprisingly smooth. However, if you’re uncertain then we definitely recommend you try holding one in your hand before making any decisions.
Display, UI and Speed
The large 4.7 inch display of the HTC Sensation XL is great. Despite its resolution of just 480x800 stretched across a huge screen, the Sensation XL actually has very little noticeable pixilation. Colours are vibrant and blacks are quite crisp. Whites in particular, as we’ve noticed on many HTC devices in recent months, are especially clear. This makes for a great experience when browsing or texting, but more on that later.
The lighting of the screen is quite bright, even on default settings. Cranking it up to full brightness isn’t really necessary, even in direct sunlight, but does offer an improvement for videos and gaming. We didn’t even notice a huge effect on battery life when the brightness was turned up to full, but once again we’ll cover that in the hardware section.
The UI is HTC Sense 3.5 and, as such, we found it to be fluid and smooth. We’ve been fans of Sense for a while now and even though other Android devices are beginning to offer a similar experience, that doesn’t detract from the relatively simple navigation and great look of HTC Sense.
Of course HTC Sense 3.5's Lock Screen with its 4 ultra handy shortcuts has made a reappearance. If you haven't ever seen it before it's an elegantly straightforward approach to shortcuts. Just grab one of the 4 icons - Phone, Mail, Camera or Messages - and drag it in to the ring. Doing so will jump you straight to the related function. It's an easy and fast way to check on any missed notifications and it's much less likely you'll miss any of those fleeting camera moments.
Speed-wise the Sensation XL was fantastic. The dual-core 1.5GHz processor made short work of everything we threw at it and we didn’t even get any overheating issues. Multitasking was fine, despite the XL only sporting 768MB of RAM, and apps opened & closed fairly quickly. Overall the entire user experience was fast, smooth and relaxing.
Music, Video and Battery Life on the HTC Sensation XL
The Sensation XL is one of the newer HTC models that comes complete with Beats Audio integration.
Video plays well, despite the 480x800 resolution being stretched over a 4.7 inch screen. The larger display more than makes up for the lacking pixilation when it comes to the viewing experience.
Battery life was actually impressive and we weren’t even required to delete a power-hungry widget or two to get a full day’s use out of the Sensation XL. It’s refreshing to see on an HTC device, as we’ve traditionally had to clear half of our Home Screens to achieve a whole day at medium to heavy use.
To get the same results with the brightness turned up to full we did have to delete the full-screen weather widget, but that hardly hampered functionality as a smaller version is built in to the main screen anyway. This level of power retention is even more surprising when one takes in to account the huge screen and overpowered CPU but nonetheless we had absolutely no qualms with battery life on the HTC Sensation XL.
Typing, Texting and Browsing
Typing on the Sensation XL was a breeze. We’re big fans of the standard HTC keyboard for its responsiveness, even when we’re typing at max speeds. It does take about a second too long to select a number when holding down its corresponding letter in the main keyboard view, but that’s really the only negative remark we could make about it.
The large screen obviously lends itself well to typing. Even our massive fingers had barely any trouble in portrait mode, let alone landscape.
Another area in which the 4.7 inch display comes in handy is browsing and reading in general. It’s great to be able to fit so much text on the screen at once and people with poor eyesight will appreciate the ability to make the text even larger than usual, before the screen starts to feel cramped.
The browser itself is fast and responsive. Pinch-to-zoom was smooth and loading pages was fast. We did get a little bit of an odd issue every once in a while when we tried to view a page in portrait mode. The page would rotate and cut off just the very right-hand edge of the text. This was easily fixed by zooming out slightly, but it’s worth a mention nonetheless.
Camera and Memory
The 8MP camera on the HTC Sensation XL is pretty stock-standard. It takes great photos during the day or in well-lit areas but suffers as the light level decreases. Dimmer shots also occasionally have trouble focusing or suddenly unfocus as the picture is being taken. It didn’t happen too often but it was occasionally frustrating.
Video was the same, minus the focusing issues. We didn’t have any complaints with the video camera, but we weren’t wowed by it either. Overall we found the camera to be more than adequate, but it wasn’t the best we’ve used on a mobile device either.
The HTC Sensation XL comes with 16GB of internal memory, which at first seems like a nice improvement from the 1GB of the Sensation or 4GB of the Sensation XE. However, the Sensation XL doesn’t have a MicroSD slot for expandable memory, so you’re still essentially stuck with 16GB, just like on the Sensation and Sensation XE, it’s just all internal this time. 16GB is fine for most users and the larger percentage of customers tend to never buy MicroSD cards anyway. However, media junkies should be warned that 16GB is all you’ll ever see on the Sensation XL, so don’t go thinking you’ll be able to cram it full of movies. Music and non-video media should be fine, but films tend to take up a lot of space so make sure to take note of your available storage each time you load more video content on.
The WhistleOut Opinion
The HTC Sensation XL offered a great experience overall. The only real complaint we had was with the camera and we only found occasional issue in low-light areas. The large screen was really functional and clear, the phone was responsive and we liked the design.
The inclusion of Beats Audio is great for music fans and our usual beef with HTC’s top end devices (battery life) was non-existent. We easily got a day of charge out of the Sensation XL. The only real warning we’ll give is about the size. This is a very large phone and those with smaller hands or tighter pockets will definitely have to give this phone a play with before purchasing. Other than that we highly recommend the HTC Sensation XL for anyone looking for a high-end device with a great music experience.
Check out HTC Sensation XL prices, plans and deals