Is a 4.7in screen just too big for a smartphone? HTC has bravely endeavoured to find out with the launch of the Sensation XL Android phone. Available exclusively through Vodafone in Australia, the Sensation XL is also one of the first HTC phones to benefit from the company's strategic partnership with the Beats By Dr. Dre audio company.
HTC Sensation XL: Design and display
The latest smartphones seem to be getting bigger, to the point where it might be difficult to distinguish them from a small tablet. Samsung's Galaxy Note has a whopping 5.3in screen that blurs the line between smartphone and tablet, while the recently announced Galaxy Nexus pushes the limits with a 4.65 in display. The HTC Sensation XL joins the bigger is better club with a 4.7in screen, the largest on any HTC smartphone to date.
Surprisingly, the HTC Sensation XL's 4.7in screen is not too big. That's because the screen stretches almost to the edges of the phone. The Sensation XL isn't much wider than phones like the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Motorola RAZR, both of which have smaller, 4.3in screens. It can feel uncomfortable to stretch your thumb to the top of sides of the screen if you are holding the Sensation XL with one hand, but the rounded edges makes it easy to grip.
The HTC Sensation XL's screen is large, but it has a lower resolution (800 x 480) compared to the company's original Sensation. This means text isn't as crisp as competing smartphones. However, those with poor eyesight will be pleased as it means text, icons and menu buttons appear significantly larger on the Sensation XL than they do on most other smartphones. The Sensation XL's display is a super LCD panel coated with Gorilla glass for scratch and crack resistance.
The HTC Sensation XL is only 9.9mm thick, so while it may be a large phone, it is certainly thin and light. The sleek, rounded edges and white finish make it one of the best looking HTC phones we've reviewed. It's also superbly constructed: the battery cover is made from aluminium and the external volume buttons and power key are well positioned and easy to press.
HTC Sensation XL: Beats Audio
The HTC Sensation XL is one of the first smartphones to feature Beats Audio qualities. It's a direct result of HTC's "strategic partnership" with the Beats By Dr. Dre audio company. When used with the included Beats headphones, HTC claims the Sensation XL uses a personalised sound profile that results in exceptional audio quality. The real value add here though isn't the Beats Audio profile: its the fact that the Sensation XL comes bundled with a limited edition version of the over-the-ear Beats Solo headphones. These premium headphones match the white colour of the Sensation XL handset and are valued at $299 if they were purchased separately.
Though the white and red Beats headphones may not be to all tastes, they are certainly a very nice inclusion. When combined with the Beats Audio sound profile, which does make a noticeable different on bass-heavy tracks, the Sensation XL is a great option for anyone who regularly listens to music on a mobile phone. Though not all music genres benefit from Beats Audio, we certainly noticed a big difference in music like rap, hip-hop and R&B.
There are three notable issues that detract from the Sensation XL's audio capabilities, however. The Beats Audio profile only works via the headphone jack and not the speakerphone, so the latter offers comparatively poor sound quality. Of more concern is that the Sensation XL only has 16GB of internal memory and no microSD card slot for extra storage. This means there is limited space to store your audio, a disappointing omission on a handset clearly designed for multimedia. Finally, the Beats Audio sound profile can't be edited or adjusted in the form of equaliser customisation. You can't adjust the bass or treble when listening with Beats enabled: the profile is bass-heavy and sometimes sounds like overkill on various genres of music, so it would have been nice to be able to tone it down.
Next page: Software, performance, battery life and availability