The HTC Sensation XE is a familiar phone. Just six months ago HTC launched the Sensation (see review on p58) and this modest update doesn’t mess with the impressive Android formula. What you’re looking at is a striking, curved design carved out of cool machined metal, a 4.3-inch, sharp 540×960 16.7 million colour screen, a dual-core 1.5GHz processor and a hearty 768MB of memory, all running Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread. That’s much the same as before, but there’s one unusual twist here: the Sensation XE is packing Beats By Dr Dre audio technology, shoving custom software inside the phone, and a pair of the high-end headphones inside the box.
While most phone manufacturers stick to hardware that crosses the gender divide, HTC appears quite happy to polarize by design. If the HTC Rhyme is for women (and that’s open for debate, see p57), the HTC Sensation XE is most definitely meant for men, with its large screen and dark metal colouring. The exterior dimensions and materials haven’t changed. There’s a familiar curved top with the protruding speaker grille, a front face that’s almost all screen, plus a micro USB input on the bottom and headphone socket on the top. The black brushed metal and red trim, Beats logo and four glowing capacitive keys below the screen look imposing and show the only visual change that marks the XE as a new phone. If you haven’t handled a Sensation, you shouldn’t be put off by the size of the display – though 4.3-inches sounds large, this is by far the most manageable device of its category as its screen is long, rather than wide. The display itself however isn’t quite best in class.
While responsive to touch, and always accurate, it lacks either the stunning pixel density of the iPhone 4S, or the contrast of the beautiful Super AMOLED Plus screen on the Samsung Galaxy S II. With broad viewing angles and reasonable outdoor visibility, it’s the next best thing to either, but if you’ve ever used either of those rival phones at length, you might not want to settle for it. The 8 megapixel camera, meanwhile, doesn’t appear to have changed much since the original Sensation launched, meaning it’s average at best. There have been a few hardware changes however. The dual-core processor has been upped to 1.5GHz over 1.2GHz, though we struggled to detect any obvious speed difference – the original Sensation was already scorchingly fast. It’s also packing a larger 1730mAh battery and we had no problems getting through a day of active use with it.
HTC Sensation Music skills
On the software front, the HTC Sensation XE runs Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread which isn’t quite up to date, though more pressing right now is that it’s just been replaced by Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 on newer devices. HTC has said an update is coming but in the meantime, the software experience is all but identical to the HTC Sensation. The biggest change is the introduction of Beats, the hugely popular headphone brand. The Beats headphones feature a remodelled in-line remote that works with Android and are worth £70 as an individual purchase. They’re on another level of sound quality compared to standard bundled earphones, even if they have a habit of simply upping the bass to make hip hop sound more impressive. The Beats integration goes a little further however, and it’s here where its failings show. Plug these Beats in to the Sensation XE, and a special (optional) sound profile is triggered which is supposed to enhance your music listening experience. In reality, it up the bass and treble, which works perfectly for frantic pop music, elevating the bass and vocals in the treble. For anything else, it’s a bit useless, and ultimately, so is the fact that it only works with the stock music player. If you want to listen to Spotify, you don’t get the effect. If you want to listen to high quality lossless audio files, it just won’t open. Purists should seek out PlayerPro instead, which opens lots of file formats, and lets you tinker with the EQ curve all you want.
It’d be unfair to blame HTC for merely making a modest update of its flagship phone but when the original wasn’t enough to knock the Samsung Galaxy S II off its top spot, we expected a little more from this update.