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HTC Sensation vs HTC Sensation XL

The HTC Sensation is one of our favourite phones of 2011. But how is the recently-released HTC Sensation XL any different? Those Beats Audio headphones are admittedly fetching, as is that white plastic and metal jacket. But what else does the XL have up its sleeves? We took both of these sensational Sensations to town to see what they had to offer.

HTC Sensation vs HTC Sensation XL: Design and build

The HTC Sensation is a design statement from HTC. Boasting the curved unibody stylings that the company is famous for, to get at the battery, SIM card and memory card slot, you literally lift the phone out of it’s shell.

The curves of the Sensation extend to the front of the phone as well; the 4.3-inch screen has a curved glass canopy which gives it a distinctive look and feel. The convex pillow means that it occasionally catches sunlight at the edges but for the most part it’s otherwise and eye-catching and welcome design choice.

1GB of storage comes included with the Sensation – really not a huge amount though thankfully you can expand this by up to 32GB with a microSD card. You’ll need to have a card inserted anyway before you can start using the camera, so you’re kind of behooved to shell out for a big card anyway.

The HTC Sensation XL has a similar design aesthetic in terms of the battery cover. Popping a catch at the base of the phone sees you lifting the front/screen portion out and off of the back. Instead of a segmented cradle for a back cover its a thinner metal plate with white plastic accents. Similarly, the larger screen (4.7-inches) features a regular flat screen cover.

The HTC Sensation’s body is predominantly a gunmetal grey kind of colour with black segments whereas the HTC Sensation XL is mainly white and bright metal, with a red Beats Audio logo on the back.

The Sensation XL comes with a chunky 16GB of built-in storage (only 12.64GB that’s available to the user) but sadly no card slot. This is a contrast to the Sensation XL’s 1GB of usable storage plus a microSD card slot.

In summary, while the Sensation is distinctive in terms of design it’s a bit more typical in terms of colouring. The Sensation XL, perhaps more straightforwards in shape, has a more noticeable white and silver scheme.

At 4.3-inches the Sensation’s screen doesn’t measure up, compared to 4.7-inches of the XL. But although the Sensation XL does have more screen real estate, its resolution (WVGA 800 x 400) can’t touch the pin-sharpness of the Sensation’s qHD (960 x 540) display.

The Sensation XL’s lower resolution means that app icons and the keys of the virtual keyboard appear bigger than they do on the Sensation, so using the phone with its colossal screen is actually pretty easy.

On the other hand, this means that movies downloaded from the HTC Watch on-demand service don’t look as sharp or eye-pleasing as they do on the Sensation.

HTC Sensation vs HTC Sensation XL: Interface

Both phones come with the HTC Sense interface installed. The Sensation XL has the more up to date HTC Sense 3.5, whereas the Sensation has the slightly older HTC Sense 3.0. In all honesty, there’s not a huge difference here in terms of how you operate and interact with the interface; the main differences are graphical.

As you’d expect from a more up to date version, the Sensation XL’s interface looks nicer. The floating 3D widgets that are sharper and more conservatively drawn than they are on the Sensation.

Most noticeable is the huge clock widget. This is front and centre on the Sensation; on the Sensation XL, it’s been redrawn, scaled down and occupies much less screen space. The app launcher at the bottom of the screen also has a transparent/glasser-style effect that allows the background image to shine through.

This allows for a less cluttered experience, a sensation (excuse us) that’s accentuated by the bigger screen. Graphics aside, there really isn’t that much difference between how either phones operate. Both phones feature the trademark HTC ‘leap mode’, which allows you to jump between homescreens quickly and easily.

Both feature a screen locker which comes pre-loaded with four shortcuts. This allows you to unlock the phone and jump straight to the phone dialler, email app, camera and text message app. These shortcuts are customisable too, so you’ve got the option to create up to four shortcuts to virtually whatever you like.

When you’re playing music through the default Music app, the lock screen also features a widget that allows you to pause/play and skip tracks which is a nice touch.

HTC Sensation vs HTC Sensation XL: Performance

Performance-wise, it’s the Sensation XL that’s the faster proposition out of the box, boasting a single 1.5GHz processor whereas the Sensation which has a 1.2GHz dual-core chip.

The dual-core chip of the Sensation ought to allow for more power-efficient multi-tasking. Despite this, its the Sensation XL that has the bigger battery and so has a bit more juice than the Sensation both on paper and in real-life.

Both phones offer a fast browsing performance and are quick to snap pictures. But again, the Sensation XL is just a hair faster, both in taking pictures straight from the camera app and by jumping from the lock screen. In ‘quick draw’ test, we found that the XL was faster by a fraction of a second.

Music-wise, the Sensation XL features Beats Audio technology and comes with a pair of comfortable headphones. It’s got a sound enhancer that’s activated whenever you slot the headphones in, giving you an optional bass boost. For some, the bass enhancement – which is very pronounced – might be too much for some. You’ve always the option of turning it off though.

The sound booster on the Sensation XL also kicks in when you’re watching videos on HTC Watch as well, giving you a stronger stereo experience with headphones in as well. Playback through the Sensation is commendable as well, but there’s no bass booster on the music player.

HTC Sensation vs HTC Sensation XL: Camera

Both phones feature 8-megapixel cameras and boast HD video recording. That said, it’s the Sensation XL that takes bigger pictures. At the maximum setting, stills on the Sensation XL come out at 3264 x 1952, whereas on the Sensation they measure up at 3264 x 1840. A small difference perhaps, if you’re taking pictures destined for Facebook, in which case you’d probably want to resize them anyway.

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We found that the sensor of the Sensation XL would more easily adjust to different lighting situations. In the overcast outdoor shot below, the chimney pots are more distinct on the shot taken on the Sensation XL.

In close-ups as well, we found the Sensation XL picked out a bit more details and focused more quickly to boot.

For video though, it’s the Sensation that trumps. 1080p HD video recording not only looks smoother on the higher resolution screen but it looks better on YouTube uploads as well.

With the stereo recording option of both phones turned on, we found that this didn’t really help with reducing any ambient wind noise (as you can hear in both of the videos above). We’d recommend perhaps turning this feature off for outside videos (particularly in noisy areas). 

HTC Sensation vs HTC Sensation XL: Verdict 


The HTC Sensation XL is overall the faster, smoother and more powerful phone. The camera is better all round than that of the Sensation although it lacks the 1080p Full HD video capability. Still, 720p video doesn’t look bad. Consider how many phones were able to film at 720p a year ago (let alone 1080p) and then this doens’t really seem much of a big deal.

The supplied Beats Audio headphones of the Sensation XL are also great, high quality cans that are comfortable and, combined with the sound enhancer, give a strong (if bass-heavy) audio response.

When all is said and done though there’s no disguising the fact that the lack of a microSD slot means that with the Sensation XL, you’re stuck with 16GB. Or, 12.64GB to be exact.

So unless you’re prepared to regularly dump/sort photos and juggle/manage playlists you might find the inability to expand the memory frustrating.

Here’s where the HTC Sensation may appeal more to those with exhaustive playlists or who want to download a lot of games from the Android Market. Yes you get 1GB or so, but there’s the option to increase this by up to 32GB, which could make all the difference for some.