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HTC Sensation XL: hands-on and first impressions

The HTC Sensation XL is the second Beats Audio phone from HTC and third handset under the Sensation moniker. Yesterday we had some hands-on time with the phone, here are our first impressions.

The HTC Sensation XL is very similar to the HTC Titan. In fact it’s the same chassis, except while the Titan runs Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, the Sensation XL runs Android. It’s actually running Android 2.3.5.

HTC Sense 3.5 is included on the XL, previously seen in the HTC Explorer and HTC Rhyme. New features include the ability to remove homescreens, a smaller weather widget and two new icons along the bottom to launch Apps and Personalise, where you can change the homescreen etc. We’ve always like HTC Sense and these tweaks don’t change anything dramatically, but certainly enhance the experience.

At 9.9mm deep, the XL is a sliver of a phone, but like the Sensation, its machined aluminium body retains HTC’s trademark attention to build quality and feels very solid and a high-quality handset.

At 4.7-inches the Super LCD screen is huge – the biggest currently on a HTC handset. Unfortunately, the resolution is 480×800 – less than the HTC Sensation – despite being bigger. We tried a few websites and it certainly looks bright and sharp when browsing, but we can’t help feeling HTC has missed a trick here. The Sensation XL is clearly a  phone with a generous screen designed for movies, so why not give it a higher resolution?

The HTC Sensation XL is part of the company’s Beats by Dre collaboration and comes with a pair of in-ear Beats headphones. We weren’t able to try them out to test sonic performance, but they work with a special Beats Audio Profile  you can turn on/off to replicate music as the artist intended. A limited edition version is available with Beats Solo.

We’re also disappointed that the Sensation XL doesn’t have any expandable memory. There’s 16GB internally, of which 12.68GB is usable, which for a music phone this feels inadequate, especially as the iPhone 4S starts at 16GB.

HTC’s equipped the Sensation XL with a single instead of dual-core 1.5Ghz Qualcomm processor, with 768MB RAM. During our time with it, it felt very quick and we had no problems.

The XL includes an 8-megapixel camera, which HTC proudly describes as its best camera module to date. There are a few new filter effects/gimmicks such as distortion and solar and a new Panoramic capture mode.

We only had a brief play with the HTC Sensation XL, but aspects of the phone are impressive. We love the screen size, HTC Watch, the form factor and speed.

However we’re not totally convinced. Despite sitting near the top of the company’s phone range and pitching itself as a multimedia phone, the spec’s – namely storage and screen resolution – just don’t tally up. Although the Beats headphones are a hook for younger fans, not everyone will want to use Beats headphones and we’d have liked to have seen a (cheaper) non-Beats version of the phone available for those people.

However, our time with the phone was brief and we’ll bring you a full review as soon as we get a sample.

HTC Sensation XL: depth

At just 9.9mm deep, the phone is very thin, but feels solid and comforable to hold

HTC Sensation XL: battery

The Sensation XL includes a 1600 mAh battery. According the HTC Talk time varies dramatically from 250-710 minutes. We just hope it’s better than the original Sensation, although with such a big screen, it will surely be a power guzzler.

HTC Sensation XL: back

The Sensation XL includes white accents, the back includes a fairly discrete Beats logo

HTC Sensation XL: Sense 3.5

Sense 3.5 is the latest version of HTC’s custom interface. Like before you can view an overview of the homescreen – what HTC calls Helicopter View – and now you can edit and remove panels from the same screen 

HTC Sensation XL: Homescreens

Flick between homescreens and you get a 3D cube effect, it looks pretty cool.

HTC Sensation XL: keyboard

We had no problems typing on the standard Android keyboard – the large screen size is a joy if you have large fingers.

HTC Sensation XL: web browser

The 4.7-inch screen felt responsive to touch and the large size is great for browsing and watching movies. Unfortunately the WiFi signal wasn’t strong enough for us to play back YouTube videos

HTC Sensation XL: text

Our main criticism about the Sensation XL is the screen resolution. 480×800 is too low for such a big screen. Text isn’t as sharp here as on smaller screens with the same resolution.

HTC Sensation XL: panorama

The 8-megapixel camera includes a new Panorama mode, we aren’t able to try this out, but it’s certainly interesting

HTC Sensation XL: Beats Audio

Activate the ‘Beats Audio’ profile and it will tune the music so ‘customers here the music as the artist intended.’ We haven’t been able to try this out yet.

HTC Sensation XL: headphones

In-ear Beats headphones are supplied with a black pouch. They’re made by Monster.

HTC Sensation XL and Samsung Galaxy S2

Next to the Samsung Galaxy S2 the HTC Sensation XL looks bigger, although it’s slightly thicker at 9.9mm to 8.9mm.  We found text on the S2’s screen is sharper though.