Review: HTC Sensation XL
As a virgin to phone reviews here at GeekTown I was given the opportunity to get my hands dirty and stuck into HTC’s Sensation XL. Having previously owned an HTC Wildfire I knew where I stood with the HTC brand and it’s lineup of phones. HTC has been hitting headlines with staggering profits in the last year and if you take the time to look at the phone portfolio you can see why. They offer a competitive spectrum of phones ranging from low-end budget smartphones for the everyday user to high-end, high spec and high performance smartphones for the modern user with a busy lifestyle. The HTC Sensation range is exactly this.
HTC Sensation XL Review
Now, you would think that by having more letters the Sensation XL would be an upgrade upon the HTC Sensation. It isn’t. Although this doesn’t mean the phone is in any way inferior. It’s specs are capable to cope with the heaviest of users. It comes packed with a 1.5ghz processors, 768mb ram and a lovely 4.7inch screen which, whilst comparatively low on resolution to other phones at that screen size on the market it’s S-LCD screen certainly makes up for in clarity and colour. There is virtually no difference between it and the AMOLED screens used and hyped about in various Samsung phones. The phone feels quick and responsive and has no problems running HTC’s sense 3.5 on Android 2.3 gingerbread. Yep I did say 2.3 but rest-assured HTC have announced it will be upgraded to Android 4.0 otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich in March.
HTC Sense – UI
Sense is what we call in the Android world a “Skin” or “Custom Rom” that sits on top of the default android interface. Manufacturers build and incorporate their own apps and widgets into this skins to enhance the users experience of the phone in ways they feel are necessary or perhaps lacking on the standard stock version of Android. I find them to be hit and miss at times. Whilst it really hits with elements such as the multifunction lock screen allowing you to access you camera, messages etc by dragging their corresponding icons onto the lock ring, I feel it misses aesthetically with the transparent glossy nature of it’s widget, menu items and buttons as well as the uninspiring app draw. That doesn’t mean to say it lacks. Something I’ve not seen on phones since “feature phones” like the old Sony Ericsons and Nokias, is the use of themes. This is where it comes into it’s own allowing you, with just the press of a icon, to change the look, feel, sounds and even the home-screens and their widgets so that you have what you want and need to hand that is relevant at the time, such as a work profile. Ultimately for me it’s essentially the form over function and if it’s the same for you I suggest downloading a custom launcher such as LauncherPro, so you can make full use of the specs and not be put off, if at all, by HTC’s Sense launcher.
For me this is an area this phone excels! The 8mp camera with dual flash is stunning. It takes great quality shots and you can easily adjust the focus of a photo by simply pressing an area you wish to be in focus and the camera then adjusts ensuring you bring out the best of the situation you’re shooting. HTC have also taken advantage of and utilised having the fast processor by allowing the camera to generate live effects such as distortion, vignette, a range of filters and even “depth of field”, which lets you blur all but a region of the photo in real time to highlight a focal point or point-of-interest. You also have a 720 HD video camera to make sure those moments in film get caught too.
Another use of the great spec the Sensation XL packs is through Beats Audio integration. Beats by Dr Dre offers superb sound quality not only on the phone via it’s sounds boosting decoders and filters but also via the supplied beats headphones which alone are not cheap and feel really comfortable to have in your ears and listen to music to with ease. I even replaced my usual headphones with these during my testing period.
Speaking of audio, the Sensation XL comes with 16gb of internal memory, which is plenty for those that use their phones as an audio device. Though bear in mind you will never have the full 16gb to use as the software and pre-installed apps will already be taking up some of that 16gb and rather surprisingly you cannot expand this memory, as there is no SD card slot. Also, of that 16gb non-expandable memory, 1gb is dedicated to apps. This sounds plenty however I recommend you make sure any apps you don’t use that often or perhaps not at all after a few plays, weeks or months to get rid of as they are take up valuable space and eat into the phone’s performance if they run in the background. After all it is a computer and you don’t want to clog it up and grind it down.
Did someone mention apps? Well Android excels with it’s selection of apps in the market place, around 400,000 to be exact and you will find that many of the premium apps that are in the Apple App Store are in the Android Market free of charge such as Angry Birds for instance. You will also find that generally all the major apps are in the Android Market, give or take one or two such as Instagram, however they have confirmed it will be coming to Android and they have two dedicated Android developers working on it right now.
If you’re going to be downloading and streaming from apps you need have peace of mind that you can always be connected and more importantly via the fattest methods possible. The sensation XL has the usual micro USB socket, Bluetooth and WiFi. Furthermore it comes with HSPA or 3G+, which most Android phones at this level have had for well over a year now, something Apple have only just brought to the iPhone 4S. It is essentially a very fast Internet connection, the fastest you can currently achieve in the UK, rivaling some users home networks with speeds possible up to around 14mbs.
All-in-all this is a very decent, high performance, capable and responsive phone to someone who is looking to be able to shoot and snap quality photos on request, view and stream video on the move and keep up-to-date with the world and make sure the world is up-to-date with you. It’s great as an iPhone alternative as it packs almost identical features and specs and is perfect for those looking to upgrade from the lower end to the higher end of the phone scale to meet more demanding user needs.