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Review: HTC sensation XL
Prasad Naik
March 28, 2012
First Published: 16:09 IST(28/3/2012)
Last Updated: 17:58 IST(3/4/2012)
As far as the looks go, the Sensation XL is a classic HTC design.
This Sensation XL is a bit of an oddball, really. If you look at the specs there is nothing really that stands out, apart from that massive display of course, which is how it gets the XL moniker. But despite that the phone still costs a fortune in the Indian market, even more than some of its better equipped stable mates. So is the big display really enough to justify the cost of owning this phone? We decided to find out.

Design
As far as the looks go, the Sensation XL is a classic HTC design; it’s just that this time it is quite big. Mind you, it is nowhere near as big as the Samsung Galaxy Note but isn’t quite what you’d call compact either. Still, it is manageable, much more than its Korean rival. As far as the rest of the measurements go, the Sensation XL is fairly thin and light.

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The design of the Sensation XL is similar to the regular Sensation, wherein the phone just sits inside a large case that forms the back of the phone. Like this Sensation, the back of the Sensation XL also uses metal but HTC is not calling it unibody this time, and rightly so.

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Going around the phone we find the power button on top along with the headphone jack, volume keys on the right and the micro USB port on the left. On the back is the camera lens with the dual LED flash and the loudspeaker.

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Build quality of the phone was average and not on par with HTC’s proper unibody phones. There was a bit of play within the back cover phone’s body and it felt like it was just a tiny bit bigger than it should be. This caused some amount of creaking when the phone was pressed from the top or bottom. Repeatedly removing the cover only made this worse. We expected better from HTC’s flagship device.

Display
The display of the Sensation XL is its key selling point. Curiously, HTC has chosen to go with WVGA (800 x 480) resolution for the XL’s 4.7-inch display, which gives it a pixel density of just 198.5 PPI. In comparison, the standard Sensation offers 256 PPI, thanks to its 4.3-inch qHD (960 x 540) display.

Based on these numbers one might conclude that the display on the Sensation XL is going to be mediocre at best and terrible at worst. But that’s not the case at all. Despite the comparatively low resolution, the display on the Sensation XL still looks brilliant. Part of it is because the LCD panel that HTC has used is terrific and partly because WVGA resolution can actually be stretched a lot further than what we are led to believe. Had the Sensation XL had a higher resolution it would have definitely looked better but even with the current resolution the display on the Sensation XL manages to look good.

Hardware and Software
The Sensation XL runs on a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255. It contains a single-core CPU and the Adreno 205 GPU. Technically, it’s just a slightly faster version of the processor found on cheaper HTC phones such as the Desire S, Incredible S and the Rhyme, that we reviewed recently.

In day to day tasks the Sensation XL did not leave us wanting for more power. HTC has done some good customizations, particularly in the web browser, which makes using the phone pleasurable. But the lack of outright grunt means the phone is unable to perform tasks like record or playback 1080p videos. It also doesn’t bode well in terms of future proofing either, when you will require more power from your phone. But more than anything else, you feel shortchanged for being given weaker hardware than what you find on cheaper phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC’s own Sensation XE.

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On the software side, the Sensation XL runs on Android 2.3.5 with Sense 3.5 layer on top. HTC has already announced that the phone will be getting Android 4.0 update shortly, along with Sense 3.6 but the update wasn’t available in India at the time of writing this review.

Multimedia
The Sensation XL has an 8 megapixel camera with dual LED flash and 720p video recording. The camera application on this phone is identical to the other HTC devices but for some reason the refresh rate for the viewfinder was very low.

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The image quality on the Sensation XL is very good. The images were really sharp, with good details and natural colors. Even low-light images were pretty decent. There are a couple of problems, though. The dynamic range is quite poor, so if there is a bright area in your subject, such as the sky, it will usually be completely washed out and appear just white. The second problem is the lens, which needs to be kept clean all the times. If there is even a little bit of smudge on the glass, it causes purple fringing that’s quite prominent.
The 720p videos looks pretty decent but unlike the still images, which were tack sharp, the videos had a smoothened, slightly smudged look to them.

The music player on the Sensation XL is a big deal. The phone comes with Beats Audio, which means there is a special Beats Audio headset in the box along with a special equalizer setting in the music player.

The earphones looked pretty cool, with red cable that matched the Beats logo, in-line remote control for controlling the playback and nice metal housing for the drivers. Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving and despite all the brand image and marketing these were some of the worse earphones I’ve ever listened to. All you hear in them is bass, with heavily suppressed mids and slightly exaggerated treble. Listening to these earphones is like listening to your neighbor play music. You can hear the bass but not much else.
The fact that makes it worse is that the Beats Audio preset on the phone also pumps up the bass. You have the option of disabling it but it sounds even worse. If you use any other pair of earphones with the phone, you get the option to either use Beats Audio or HTC’s own equalizer setting, both of which are terrible (the Beats Audio one being less so). The only way to get proper, clean output from the phone is to use a third party player like Winamp or doubleTwist and use then a better pair of earphones to actually enjoy your music.

The video player on the Sensation XL is the same as the one we saw on the Rhyme. It can play your AVIs and MP4s but will have some issues with the MKVs. Best to use an app like DicePlayer if you want to play all the formats. Unfortunately, the phone can only play up to 720p videos, with 1080p playback out of reach for its mediocre processor.
If you plan to transfer large files to the Sensation XL, one word of warning. The phone claims to have 16GB of internal memory but out of that only 12GB is available. Out of that, only 8GB can actually be seen when you mount the phone on your PC, with the remaining 4GB used as an internal memory by the phone for stuff like installing apps. Also, there is no memory card slot. This means you are pretty restricted when it comes to memory.

Battery Life

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The Sensation XL has a generously-sized 1,600mAh battery, which unlike the Rhyme we saw recently can be removed and replaced if necessary. Considering the fact that there is not a big power hungry processor inside, the battery on the Sensation XL easily lasts over a day. We could get about a day and a half of usage from a single charge, which is quite acceptable by today’s smartphone standards.

Verdict
We asked at the beginning of the review whether the big screen on the Sensation XL is enough to justify its Rs. 38,000 price tag ( Rs. 31,000 on eBay). Unfortunately, the answer is no. The Sensation XL is a good phone but somehow seems to be out of touch with the competition around it. And of course, numbers and spec sheets aren’t everything and that the phone is quite good, it’s not good enough to pay that much money for. You can get much better phones for less than that; HTC itself makes one (Sensation XE). As such, we find it very hard to recommend the Sensation XL to anyone.

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