HTC Sensation XE 4 Stars

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HTC has already brought out the Sensation, so with the release of the Sensation XE, we would normally expect to see a bigger screen perhaps, or a new colour, but with this launch the Taiwanese phone giant has come up with another feature to focus on – and that is audio capability.

Sure, there are some changes in its looks – you’ll see there are some understated red touches around the snapper lens, on the red Android icons and on the grille for instance – but these are actually related to the audio improvements, because they indicate that the XE has the benefit of Beats Audio – turn over the device and you’ll see the red b logo on the reverse.

On display

The phone’s display is not quite at the heady heights of that on an iPhone 4 or S, but still offers plenty of detail and a high resolution. There are 4.3 inches of brightness to enjoy with a ppi of 250ppi. It’s the same as that on the first Sensation, and boasts the same slightly curved, concave lines – it means it won’t get scratched if you put it down screen first. Now of course you’re wondering why you would do that in the first place aren’t you? It’s a clever feature – say you’re in a meeting and a call comes in and you’ve forgotten to put the phone on silent. Simply turn over the handset and the ringing stops. Ingenious!

The XE feels good in the hand – it’s not quite that same completely flush feeling you get on an iPhone, but even so, the curved area stretches right to the red Android icons beneath the screen. The icons are easy to see if the phone is off, but switch it on and they illuminate. The handset itself is not exactly small, but nor does it have the same huge proportions of the HTC Titan or the Sensation XL.

Get the picture

HTC has included what it calls an ‘Instant Capture’ camera. This 8-megapixel snapper offers decent performance, although we have seen better, and while we’re not convinced that it offers truly ‘Instant Capture’ it is true that the shutter lag is not as great as on a lot of other cameraphones. Results proved pleasing and there are plenty of ways to manually alter things – with white balance, face-detection, geo-tagging and so on, as well as some special effects including sepia, vintage and solarise. It records video at 1080p, plus a front-facing camera is available for making video calls or taking self-portraits.

Performance is quicker than the original Sensation, because there is a dual-core 1.5GHz processor on board – you’ll see web pages and apps loading really speedily.

Open the lock

Unlocking the phone is interesting on an HTC handset – turn on the device and then you have to slide up the ring on the screen to unlock. From there you can decide whether you go to the homescreen or to your choice of four shortcut icons, which you pull into the ring to fire up. Defaults for these four are Phone, Mail, Messaging and Camera but these can be customised.

The home screen features some fabulous fake-3D animations – you’ll see seven home pages revolving like a carousel, which then stop and show the flip clock and HTC’s wonderful weather information – this alone would tell you it’s an HTC device if you didn’t already know.

You’ll see more of this faux-3D work on the other screens – take a look at the weather app, for instance, where you can watch the clouds floating behind the temperature figures.

HTC has added plenty more of its own treats for you on the XE – the apps have all been manipulated to work better with Android, offering more features and improved icons. For instance, if you have to reject a call, you can hit the menu button and your caller will head to voicemail as well as receive your own customised text saying that you are busy and will call later (or whatever you choose to set as your text message).

Reading maps

There’s plenty more on offer – Locations, HTC’s own mapping solution, for example. This lets you download maps onto your phone before you head out – great for keeping down roaming data costs, especially if you’re abroad, as you can use your home or office Wi-Fi connection. Nokia has a similar facility, which does have the added benefit of turn-by-turn voice directions, but even so, we prefer HTC’s maps.

We’re also fond of Peep – a Twitter browser– plus the useful music player and a really handy contact program titled People. HTC manages to make its apps look beautiful while remaining very easy to use.

Sounds good

Of course the USP of the Sensation XE is its audio facilities, which come courtesy of the Beats Audio program. HTC spent a fortune buying into this, and for the user it means that when you plug in your headphones and start up the music player, you’ll see the Beats logo, which lets you know the program is doing its job – which is to make your music sound as good as it possibly can.

And boy, does it work; sound is sharp and clear, with excellent bass – switch it off and you’ll realise what a difference it makes. Now, quickly, turn it back on again! Unsurprisingly, the phone comes with a pair of superior earbuds, however, treat yourself to a pair of Beats Audio earphones and the audio improvements are even more noticeable. These earphones have great noise-isolating effects and they feel comfortable to wear, too. Their looks echo that of the phone – red cables and chrome coloured plastic controls. These let you rewind, pause, fast forward and play – and can even be used to answer an incoming call when you’re listening to your music. Watch video and you can benefit from the same audio enhancements.

Music lovers will really feel the benefits of the Beats Audio earphones – they are more comfortable to wear for longer than your average earphones, and you’ll enjoy the rich vibrant sound, which is particularly noticeable when listening to vocals. Headphones from the Beats by Dr Dre stable are well known for making the best of MP3 files and HTC’s move into this arena is a smart one – it could become as iconic as Sony’s Walkman brand in the future.

Finally, battery life can often be an issue on smarties, especially when half the power disappears overnight, but the Sensation XE does not have this problem. In fact, if you’re trying to decide between the Sensation and the Sensation XE, this fact alone could be the deciding factor for the XE, even if you’re not interested in the audio enhancements.

Our conclusion

The Sensation XE is even better than its predecessor, which we reckon was one of HTC’s best-ever devices. It’s faster, has improved battery life and has great sound quality. Along with a good camera and HTC’s excellent user interface, the Sensation XE offers great all-round performance.

Classy looks; fabulous audio features.
Very good battery life.
  • Look and Feel 4 Stars
  • Ease of use 5 Stars
  • Features 5 Stars
  • Performance 4 Stars
  • Battery life 4 Stars

Final verdict: 4 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice