HTC Sensation XL review

24 Feb 2012

Chunkier than the best top-end handsets, but the camera is reasonable, battery life is good, the headphones are great and the screen is glorious

Price when reviewed: 
500inc VAT
5

With so many handsets in its range, HTC seems to have given up rebranding each new release, instead tacking on suffixes to indicate subtle updates. Thus, we have the HTC Sensation XL, which is just like the original Sensation but bigger.

And it really is a monster of a phone. Not quite on the scale as the Samsung Galaxy Note, maybe, but it still feels a bit of a lump. The screen measures 4.7in across the diagonal, with a resolution of 480 x 800, and in comparison to the Motorola Razr and Samsung Galaxy S II it's rather chubby, measuring 10.3mm from front to back.

HTC Sensation XL - front and rear

Oddly, that screen resolution is lower than on the smaller, original Sensation, but image quality is a huge improvement. Maximum brightness is an eye-searing 455cd/m[sup]2[/sup], and contrast is also good at 875:1. Colours are well defined and punchy, and compare well even with the AMOLED screens on those Motorola and Samsung phones.

Another unusual feature is the Beats Audio branding. The phone comes with a pair of in-ear or over-the-ear Beats headphones, depending on the model you choose, and software in the phone detects which type you have connected and optimises the sound output accordingly. Audio quality is very good, although to our ears the in-ear phones sound a touch too bassy. They're great for gaming, though.

Elsewhere, build quality is excellent, with a metal battery cover at the rear and white plastic bumpers above and below. Adding to the overall sense of slickness, HTC's Sense skin — overlaid onto Android 2.3 — makes it a joy to use; turn off the weather and stocks synchronisation, though, if you want decent battery life.

The phone uses a single-core processor, but its high clock speed of 1.5GHz helps offset that, and in use you won't notice the difference. There isn't a hint of lag in the OS or when zooming and panning around web pages. It dispatched most games without a hint of a dropped frame, from classics such as Angry Birds to more demanding 3D titles such as Shadowgun.

HTC Sensation XL - edges

Benchmarks reveal it isn't a speed demon, with its Quadrant score of only 1,465 a long way behind the 3,460 of the Galaxy S II, but browser and web pages load at comparable speeds. Battery life is good for such a large smartphone, with 60% remaining on the gauge after our 24-hour test.

The 8-megapixel camera has a powerful twin-LED flash and is full of features, from excellent macro and panorama modes to slow-motion video. There are a few disappointments: the video is only 720p and there's no image stabilisation, but overall the camera is a match for the Galaxy SII's.

The big weakness of this phone is the lack of a microSD slot. Although there's a healthy 3.9GB set aside for apps, you get only 8.9GB for music, pictures and video, which may prove limiting.

Overall, though, the Sensation XL is a cracking smartphone and is available on some very reasonable tariffs. We don't like the lack of expandable memory, but that's about its only weakness.

Details

Price ex VAT £417
Price inc VAT £500
Cheapest price on contract Free
Contract monthly charge £21.00
Contract period 24 months
Contract provider www.phones4u.co.uk
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 5

Battery Life

Talk time, quoted 11hrs 50mins
Standby, quoted 19 days 4 hours

Physical

Dimensions 133 x 9.9 x 71mm (WDH)
Weight 163g
Touchscreen yes
Primary keyboard On-screen

Core Specifications

RAM capacity 768MB
Camera megapixel rating 8.0mp
Front-facing camera? yes
Video capture? yes

Display

Screen size 4.7in
Resolution 480 x 800
Landscape mode? yes

Other wireless standards

Bluetooth support yes
Integrated GPS yes

Software

OS family Android