We'll admit, we really didn't like the HTC Sensation XL when we first played with it. The oversized screen, the single core processor, the shameless brand tie-in with Beats Audio; it all smacked of ill thought out gimmickry. However, after playing with it for some time, we've been won over by many off its charms. That said, we still don't think it’s the best choice. Here's why…
The HTC Sensation XL is the second HTC and Beats Audio phone to hit UK shores, after the HTC Sensation XE. However, unlike the XE, it doesn't totally fit the bill as a top of the range handset as it only sports a single-core (as opposed to dual-core) processor. This is particularly odd as it's an even bigger handset with an enormous 4.65in screen, compared to the XE's mere 4.3in. Indeed, this is essentially the HTC Titan but running Android rather than Windows Phone. We'll talk more about this nitty gritty stuff later, though, for now let's move onto where this phone really shines; style.
Well, for some it really shines. For others it's as dull as a dish cloth. A quick poll of the office gave the majority vote to ambivalence erring on dislike, whereas some of us loved it. The matt white and sand-blasted aluminium colour scheme works well, and the simple Beats 'b' on the back is just right. Ultimately it's clearly a case of personal preference but where we were unanimous was on the build and feel of the phone.
The slim (9.9mm), rounded back with its uniformly matt finishes, makes for a phone that – size notwithstanding – feels really nice in the hand. Those finishes will also hide scratches well, though the white may show up drifts of grime if you don't give it a polish/wipe down every once in a while. On the front you've got a solid, tough slab of glass that should also resist damage well. All told, if you're looking for a phone that feels premium, HTC has seldom let you down but with this handset the company has excelled itself.
There's no getting round it, though, this is a big handset! Sitting in the hand it feels a bit of a stretch to just grip it and when it comes to trying to navigate it's near impossible to stretch your thumb to reach the far corner of the phone's screen without significantly shifting your grip. What's more HTC has kept with the convention of putting the screen lock button on the top edge, where again it's damned difficult to reach when operating the phone with one hand. In fact, this is probably the first sign of how HTC hasn't really properly thought through this handset, but we'll return to this point later.
Other buttons consist of a typically (for HTC) stylish smooth metal volume rocker on the right edge and the four touch-sensitive navigation buttons under the screen. Again, these betray a lack of forethought as the absence of any physical buttons means you can't activate the screen to unlock the phone, without stretching to the top edge power button. Otherwise, the touch buttons are nice and sensitive and easy to operate.
As for other hardware features, on the left edge is a microUSB socket, which is stylishly surrounded by a thin polished metal band – a really nice subtle piece of design. Up top is a headphone jack and on the back is the 8 megapixel camera.
Pop the back off and you can access the removable battery and SIM slot, but there's no microSD slot. Instead there is 16GB of inbuilt memory, only about 13GB of which you'll actually be able to use for storage (enough for about 200-250 albums). This may be enough for most users but for a phone that's highly music oriented, it's surprising not to see expandable memory. Moreover, if you start taking masses of photos and videos of your friends, you'll soon have to drop even more music.
Less of a concern but still notable is the lack of HDMI, so you can't hook the phone up to you TV for quickly and easily playing videos and music, or looking at your photos.