HTC Sensation XL (with Beats) Review

Meet the HTC Sensation XL with Beats Audio! Here's our full review.

HTC Sensation XL (with Beats) Review

The challenge for Android handset makers is for them to innovate and differentiate as much as they can with the hardware because essentially they’re all using one operating system. I understand this 100% after trying out several Android handsets in the last few months. Essentially they’re all just the same. They just look physically different from one another. HTC gets this and that’s why they’re trying to set themselves apart by integrating Beats Audio into their smartphone packages. Their latest device, the HTC Sensation XL, has decent specs, cool hardware design, and comes bundled with iBeats earphones. It’s a bold and commendable move by HTC.

The big question now though is if the whole HTC Sensation XL package is compelling enough here in the Philippines especially with the recent launch of the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy Note? Check out our full review below to find out. :)

The HTC Sensation XL surrounded by a bunch of headphones, lol.

Hardware

The first thing you’ll notice the moment you take this out of the box is the screen. It’s also huge! At 4.7″ this isn’t your usual smartphone which usually has a screen size between 3″ and 4″. Don’t think for a second though that this is too bulky. The HTC Sensation XL is pretty thin with vital stats of 132.5 x 70.7 x 9.9 mm. The XL is also pretty lightweight at 162.5g.

In terms of design the HTC Sensation XL color theme is white and silver with red accents (courtesy of the Beats logo). It’s definitely stylish and cool which is probably the brand aspiration of the product. The corners are curved and rounded making it quite easy to hold and pull out of your pocket.

Looks cool, not too heavy, and thin. Some ingredients of awesomeness for mobile phones today.

Here's what the back looks like. 8MP camera at the top with dual flash. HTC logo at the center. The iconic Beats logo at the bottom.

At the bottom of the screen you’ll find the 4 touch-based buttons for Home, Menu, Back, and Search. Above is the HTC logo, listening grill, and front-facing camera. On the left side is the mini-USB charging port and at the right you’ll find volume controls. At the top is the audio jack port as well as the sleep/wake button.

The XL’s S-LCD capacitive touchscreen while big is a bit lacking for me. At 4.7″ it has 480 x 800 pixels which is around ~199 ppi pixel density. The images, videos, and text are definitely not as crisp and detailed as what you’d see in the iPhone 4S (with Retina Display) or the Samsung Galaxy Note (with Super AMOLED).

Performance and Software

The XL has Android 2.3 Gingerbread with HTC Sense UI 3.5. When it comes to user interface appreciation it’s definitely relative. Personally I find HTC Sense 3.5 to be very fluid and intuitive. I don’t like the app grid set-up that they have and I think that the icons can use some improvements but over-all it’s decent.

This is how I customized the first screen of the HTC Sensation XL. Clock, music player, and the apps I use the most after. Pretty simple. hehe. :)

In terms of specs the HTC Sensation XL packs a 1.5GHz single core CPU, 768MB RAM, and 16GB non-expandable storage. This is enough to get you by with a lot of the apps in the Android market. You also won’t have too much problem with multi-tasking and running several apps at the same time. However don’t expect it to not lag every now and then. That will only happen though in extreme situations wherein you’re turning on like 5 apps and running more stuff in the background. You shouldn’t be doing that anyway since that will kill your battery quickly.

The 16GB storage also stumped me a bit. Most Android smartphones can have their storage expanded with micro-SD. I don’t understand why this wasn’t implemented with the XL especially since they expect you to load this baby up with your song collection.

Beats Audio: How does it work?

iBeats earphones bundled with the Sensation XL

Now we get to the main selling point of the HTC Sensation XL — the Beats technology integration. As mentioned earlier this phone comes bundled with iBeats from Dr. Dre. When you use these earphones or any Beats earphones on the XL, a “Beats” logo appears at the top of the screen indicating that something turns on in the software side which works with the earphones making the sound much better. So… what actually happens? Is this just some sort of marketing gimmick?

Check out the Beats logo at the upper left.

The iBeats earphones! Btw, this has an in-line remote control and microphone as well. :)

Based on my personal experience as well as research online, what actually happens is that a certain sound profile is activated in the XL that amps up the bass settings. This, in conjunction with the bass heavy iBeats, really does help with sound quality. However what you get is a really bass-driven sound. If you listen mostly to hip hop and RNB tunes then this might make sense for you. If you like stuff that’s more into mids, clarity, and detail then you’re probably better off buying a cheaper phone and get different headphones from AKG, Audio-Technica, or Grado.

For a more scientific approach and breakdown, check out this article from Engadget.

Camera

The XL comes with a good 8MP camera with flash and f/2.2 lens for low light shots. It can also record 1080p HD video. Here are some sample shots of… Tiffy our ever so lovable, sweet, cuddly, and awesomely cute cat. <3

ARE YOU READY FOR THE CUTENESS?

Awww, Tiffy's sleepy.

Ayun natulog na! Hahaha!

So yes, it can take great pictures. Especially of cute cats. <3

Verdict, Pricing, and Availability

If I were to summarize this review in one sentence it would be this: The HTC Sensation XL has decent specs, good camera, looks cool, and comes bundled with bass heavy iBeats earphones. It definitely could use more work especially with the display but that’s probably the trade-off for the iBeats so that HTC could still keep the price of this package within the usual high-end smartphone range. SRP is around Php32,500. Available in HTC concept stores (there’s one in SM Mega Mall) and resellers.

Do we recommend this smartphone? If you’re always listening to bass heavy songs then this might be for you. However we would suggest that you wait for the price to go down a bit. This is just Php500 cheaper than the iPhone 4S being offered by SMART (telco subsidy FTW).

Disclosure: HTC Philippines provided this review unit on loan for two weeks for this review. Thank you HTC PH!

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