HTC has gone from being an unknown manufacturer for bigger brands to become a leading Android smartphones. The Desire was a landmark phone in the fight against the iPhone, but now things have moved up a level. Today, with dominant market-share and increasingly polished handsets, the battle is between Droids. Into the fray drops the HTC Sensation XE, the new dual-core flagship smartphone from HTC. It’s certainly the best-spec’d HTC to date. We’ll review this super smartphone hereunder.
A typical HTC phone, having dimensions of 4.96 x 2.57 x 0.44 inches and 5.42oz, and combining a unibody metal chassis with soft-touch plastic inserts, the Sensation is slightly longer, slightly deeper, slightly narrower and a fair bit heavier as compared to its rival Galaxy S2.
A unique feature of Sensation is the aluminum frame that HTC has wrapped around the sides, back, and even a small portion of the Sensation’s front. It’s rigid, shaped from a single slab of metal, and makes this a sturdy and creak-free handset. A pair of soft-touch plastic inserts take up a third of the rear cover each, with the upper one protruding a little bit in front of the camera lens and LEDs, lending them an extra bit of protection.
It’s CPU boasts on a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, Adreno 220 GPU, Qualcomm MSM 8260 Snapdragon along with 768 MB of RAM. It’s available in Black colour only. It has an internal memory of 4 GB and can have a micro SD up to 32GB.
The HTC Sensation has a qHD (540×960) Super LCD with a Gorilla Glass display, measuring in at 4.3″. It offers greater pixel density than WVGA screens of the same size such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and a longer 16:9 aspect ratio. The glass display is also inclined, with a smooth raise towards the edges. We definitely appreciate the HTC Sensation’s aspect ratio when viewing movie content or using the phone one handed in portrait orientation thanks to it being narrower. The pixel density is also noticeably better when web browsing which is another plus. So while Super AMOLED Plus screens are generally more desirable, the HTC Sensation still looks immense, especially head on offering great brightness with good colour and contrast levels. Unfortunately, viewing angles can be likened to the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, with colours tending to look a bit washed out when tilting the phone to the side, despite a great head on experience.
Software and Sense v3.0 UI
HTC has smacked Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread onto the Sensation, complete it with the latest HTC Sense v3.0 UI. As we saw on the Flyer, the newest Sense brings with it a useful Active Lockscreen with app shortcuts, more 3D effects in the seven-pane homescreen, and various tweaks throughout the UI that smooth over some of Android’s ruffles.
The redrawn UI sits on top of Gingerbread and carries the premium feel from the construction across to the interface. From a design perspective, HTC Sense 3.0 is so considered, elegant and cohesive, that it’s on another level to any custom UI we’ve seen. Each widget now has a silky smooth 3D transition when swiping the homescreen, so the layers of the widget subtly separate. Widgets are pin sharp and there are some really attractive new ones, such as the gallery widget, a huge improvement over the static photo-frame. If you’re liking the idea of renting movies on the fly, the Watch widget, gives you quick access to HTC’s movie rental service. The 7 homescreens are also now on a revolving carousel system, so the last leads straight back to the first, and all with some rather slick SPB like carousel visuals in the process.
The lock screen is also a definite improvement, with a ring in the bottom of the screen and four application icons just above. Drag a shortcut down into the ring and you will unlock your phone straight in that application, or just drag the ring up to unlock where you left off. There are also personalizations you can apply to your lock screen, the most obvious being selecting your shortcut applications, or going further and selecting your lock screen background.
The camera on the HTC Sensation is an 8MP effort with dual-LED flash and autofocus – pretty much ticking all the boxes on offer aside from a Xenon flash, but then again some comprimises have to be made to keep the width down. The autofocus is a good feature though, and one we’ve seen from the likes of the Desire HD and Desire S in the past, where tapping the screen will alter the focus of the photo. This extends to exposure values as well, meaning that if you’re trying snap something in a darker area, the Sensation will work out the optimum light levels needed.
The HTC Sensation is a device with a stronger focus on video recording than ever before, with 1080p footage possible from the 8MP sensor, thanks to the dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor. A video light is on offer to help make shots look that little bit classier and at 30fps the footage we captured is nice and smooth, with no hint of the choppiness affecting the likes of the HTC Desire HD from before.
There can be no mistake that HTC is pushing the Sensation XE as a media smartphone. The inclusion of the Beats Audio earphones and the fact that Beats Audio is branded on everything to do with the smartphone gives that away.
If you’re not familiar with Beats Audio, it’s a breed of headphones and speakers developed by Dr Dre and a former Geffen records executive.
HTC claims that Beats Audio delivers the music “the way the artist intended” and we agree that the sound quality is infinitely superior. It’s more apparent on some songs than others, though. For example, ‘Hallelujah’ by Alexandra Burke sounded pleasant enough but not incredible, while both ‘Just The Way You Are’ by Bruno Mars and ‘Bright Lights Bigger City’ by Cee Lo Green sounded, frankly, phenomenal.
What Beats Audio appears to do is up the bass level and enhance sounds. During that Cee Lo Green song in particular, sounds were heard prominently that we wouldn’t normally have noticed. So much so that we thought someone was talking to us, and kept taking the buds out to ask “What did you say?”, much to the amusement of our friends.
To see the difference, you can easily turn the Beats Audio software off by pulling down the notification bar and tapping ‘Disable’ when playing.
The technology has been implemented incredibly well. There is a danger that this could have been a fad that was included half-heartedly, but that hasn’t happened, and HTC’s collaboration with Dr Dre really pays dividends here.
As for video playback, with the 16:9 aspect ratio, video fits very well on the screen and HD video plays back without a hitch. It needs to be encoded in MP4 format to play on the native player, though 3rd party apps such as Rockplayer play back other formats smoothly. The device is also comfortable to hold in landscape for extended periods, so is easy to recommend as a PMP.
The gallery is HTC’s standard gridded system, with some cool perks such as wireless network printing as well. Interaction with images is very predictable with pinch to zoom being silky smooth and images rendering instantly while looking great on the screen.
Internet and Connectivity
Web browsing on the HTC Sensation Xe is superb. Thanks to the screen resolution, text is legible and crisp from the page overview, and pinching to zoom is quick and smooth. Pages load up very fast and Flash video plays back smoothly. Text reflows to fit the display, which does stagger the process of zooming slightly. That said, it makes the reading experience more enjoyable.
As far as connectivity goes, you’ve got quad-band GSM and tri-band 3G along with Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth 3.0, DLNA functionality as well as an FM radio.
The GPS was extremely quick, finding our location almost instantaneously on first boot.
HDMI connectivity comes in the form of the MHL port, enabling HD content to be outputted via the microUSB port to a compatible HD TV. With compatible devices, this will simultaneously export visuals and charge your handset, while non-compatible devices will only export visuals.
HSPDA is at an acceptable 14.4Mbps speed, with the upload speed bouncing in at 5.76 Mbps, both of which seem plausible in our tests – plus the lovely option of setting up your own Wi-Fi hotspot if you fancy chewing the battery in heartbeat.
Other features and Apps
HTC Sensation Xe offers various other features and built-in apps:
DLNA, Flashlight, Friend Stream, HTC Hub, Mirror, Music, News, Peep, Polaris, Office, Soundhound, Stocks, Teeter, Watch and Weather etc.
- 2G Network GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
- 3G Network HSDPA 900 / 2100
- SIZE 126.1 x 65.4 x 11.3 mm
- Weight 151 g
- DISPLAY S-LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors, 540 x 960 pixels, 4.3 inches
- - Gorilla glass display
- - Multi-touch input method
- - Accelerometer sensor for UI auto-rotate
- - Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
- - Gyro sensor
- - HTC Sense UI
- Internal Memory 4 GB (1 GB user available), 768 MB RAM
- Card slot microSD, up to 32GB, 8 GB included
- GPRS Up to 80 kbps
- EDGE Up to 236.8 kbps
- 3G HSDPA 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps
- WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot
- Bluetooth Yes, v3.0 with A2DP
- Infrared port No
- USB microUSB (MHL) v2.0
- CAMERA 8 MP, 3264×2448 pixels, autofocus, dual-LED flash, Geo-tagging, touch-focus, image stabilization, face detection, instant capture
- Video 1080p@30fps, stereo sound recordin
- Secondary Yes
- OS Android OS, v2.3.4 (Gingerbread)
- CPU 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, Adreno 220 GPU, Qualcomm MSM 8260 Snapdragon
- Messaging SMS(threaded view), MMS, Email, Push Email, IM
- Browser HTML
- Radio Stereo FM radio with RDS
- Colors Black
- GPS Yes, with A-GPS support
- Java Yes, via Java MIDP emulator
- Other Features
- - TV-out (via MHL A/V link)
- - Beats Audio
- - Beats Headset
- - SNS integration
- - Digital compass
- - Google Search, Maps, Gmail
- - YouTube, Google Talk, Picasa integration
- - MP3/AAC+/WAV/WMA player
- - XviD/MP4/H.263/H.264/WMV player
- - Organizer
- - Document viewer
- - Voice memo/dial/commands
- - Predictive text input (T9 Trace)
- BATTERY Standard battery, Li-Ion 1730 mAh
- Stand-by Up to 310 h (2G) / Up to 540 h (3G)
- Talk time Up to 9 h 16 min (2G) / Up to 7h 20 min (3G)