HTC Sensation XL Lightning Review: A Solid Phone For Bear Paws

By Kat Hannaford on at

Sitting somewhere between the 4.3-inch Sensation XE and Samsung's 5.3-inch Note, the Sensation XL is a 4.7-inch Beats Audio-packed handset...hold up a minute. 4.7-inches? Are we sure that's still a phone, and not a tablet? According to HTC it is, but my tiny lady-hands aren't so sure.



Time to face the music, HTC: you've hit upon a remarkable formula for your Android phones, but you're not really trying anymore, are you? That's not to discredit the gorgeous Gingerbread-running Sensation XL (codename: Runnymede), which I've had the good fortune to be using for four days now, but the last thing customers want to see is HTC resting upon their laurels. Not when so many manufacturers are pushing displays, processor speeds and camera quality to the nth degree.

HTC knows what works, and does it very well. The build quality of the Sensation XL is, as ever, solid and premium. The white sample I tested had me recalling the days of the HTC Legend, a seriously stunning handset with full aluminium body. The silver aluminium makes a reappearance in the Sensation XL, but with a more familiar rounded body. It's slim, at 9.9mm (the iPhone 4 and 4S measure 9.3mm), which seems to defy the crisp 4.7-inch WVGA LCD screen.

Beats Audio, recently introduced in HTC's Sensation XE, pumps up the audio quality so tracks sound punchier and more pleasing, even if it did concern me that this is done by turning the volume up subtly at the same time. You'd be a fool not to switch the Beats power on, as it adds a whack to the track (not to mention a red "B" in the top pull-down curtain.

Running on a single-core Snapdragon MSM8255 chip tuned to 1.5GHz, it's speedy, though the occasional lag with opening programs (notably the SMS app) is present.

HTC's Sense UI, this time version 3.5, does its usual solid job of making Android pretty. Truth be told, I'm still tickled pink by the 3D interaction which appears when flicking between screens, stolen from the Flyer tablet.

The 8MP camera may not be a patch on the iPhone 4 (and most likely the iPhone 4S, which we haven't yet tested at the time of writing), but it's a remarkable head and shoulders above previous efforts in this field. With two LED flashes, it can sometimes be a little overbearing, but in natural light it performs beautifully. There's also a 1.3MP front-facing camera, so video-chatters aren't left out in the cold.


No Like

The aforementioned spot or two of lag is present, though you'd have to be a total pedant for it to actually infuriate you to the point where you'd regret buying it.

I'm not going to say that the size of the Sensation XL is a "no like," because while it was too big for my personal tastes, there will be many who enjoy watching films, playing games, and browsing the web at that size. It might not be so necessary for tablet owners, and the WVGA screen could be improved upon, but HTC has done well to recognise the growing (pardon the pun) trend for larger phones, so quickly.

While there's 16GB of internal storage, HTC hasn't added a microSD card slot this time 'round, so you're rather locked into making do with what's available.


Should I Buy It?

If you're sure you own jeans with a pocket larger enough for the HTC Sensation XL, by all means, go for it. It will be available across Europe in early November, bundled with a pair of the red-corded Beats Solo headphones that are going to be a fixture of all Beats Audio-enabled HTC phones in the future. While networks haven't confirmed pricing yet, Three has already confirmed they'll be stocking it.

Check out the video below for a hands-on look at the phone, as well as the key specs you should be aware of.