The HTC Sensation XE is the first Beats-branded phone. In case you have no interest in headphones and don't watch TV - Beats is the Dr. Dre-endorsed range of audio products from Monster. Beats was once the preserve of headphone buyers, but has recently spread out, stamping its red logo onto some of HP's laptops. And infecting our tellyboxes with its advertising.
Aside from the hints of red, spread over the HTC Sensation XE's body, the design of this Android Gingerbread phone is mostly identical to the original Sensation. The screen is 4.3in across, it has an 8-megapixel main camera and a fast dual-core processor. It has the same 11.3mm-thick aluminium unibody frame too, but this time it's finished in brushed black to supply a moody look.
The metal exoskeleton dominates the phone less than several of HTC's top-end phones, including the Titan and Desire S. Most of the front is given over to the glass screen top layer, which is slightly curved at the edges, and on the back the metal strip cuts a modest diagonal path through the mostly soft-touch black plastic backplate. The three-part look of the back seems to suggest the bottom bit might pop off to reveal the microSD and SIM slot, but the whole of the back is one single slab.
It's a blueprint those who are familiar with HTC's phone line-up may have seen before, and it means that this phone doesn't really have its own personality - beyond the flecks of red. The speaker grill of the earpiece, the touch sensitive nav buttons and the ring around the camera lens all bear the signature red of Beats. They look rather tacked-on because, well, they are.
This is essentially a Beats signature edition of the Sensation, but that doesn't mean there aren't some worthwhile changes. Unlike the original model, the XE has a super-fast dual-core 1.5GHz processor and Beats audio processing inside. We'll examine whether these make much difference later. Perhaps the most obvious addition to this model, though, is the pair of iBeats (rebranded as UrBeats, but not conspicuously so in the sample we received) headphones that come in the box.
These metal-bodied earphones sell for up to £80 on their own, and easily outdo the earphones that come bundled with most phones and MP3 players. We'll have a full review of the iBeats headphones up on the site soon, but we'll also cover their sound later in this review. However, if you want to use the Sensation XE as a music player, you'll have to buy a large memory card. There's only 1GB of user-accessible internal memory and our review unit came with a measly 2GB microSD card. Hardly enough for a decent set of tunes.