The billboard feature of the Sensation XE that sets it apart from other high-end Android phones is Beats audio. This manifests in two main ways.
There’s a Beats audio DSP (digital signal processing) mode and the bundled iBeats earphones. Beats DSP automatically engages when earphones are plugged in, but you can turn it off with a press of a button within the notifications bar.
HTC (or the Beats peeps) has gone out of their way to make the Beats mode sound vastly different from the standard ouput, in part by simply upping the volume. The rest is equalisation, and what sounds like a bit of compression.
The result is pleasant, filling out the sound a bit and helping to reduce any harshness within recordings – but don’t be fooled into thinking anything too clever or high-end is going on. Media players like Cowon’s J3 offer similar sound customisation, as well as giving you oodles of control over exactly how the signal processing affects the sound. You have no control here – it’s on or off. Like the Beats headphone range, it’s nothing that’s going to impress audiophiles.
Perhaps more important are the bundled earphones, a pair of Beats iBeats (rebranded as urBeats). These retail for around £80 on their own, and are much higher quality than the pairs included with most (if not all) mobile phones. They have hardy little metal bodies, a reassuringly thick red cable, in-line remote plus handsfree housing and noise isolation via the included rubber tips.
As with all IEM pairs, several sizes are bundled to ensure all but the oddest ears will find a good fit. They’re somewhat similar to the Olive design used by Klipsch and Shure, and are very comfy.
The sound quality is good too – warm and bassy without being too boomy, in a manner that’s surprisingly easy-going for a Dr. Dre-endorsed product. He’s a doctor of gangsta rap, not medicine, after all. They wouldn’t get a hearty thumbs-up at £80, as they lack clarity and bite resulting in a sound that’s unchallenging and doesn’t bring out the best in music, but these are bundled buds you won’t need to upgrade too quickly from.
Getting back to the core phone features, though, the Sensation XE’s battery runs down rather quickly, considering it’s a 1730mAh capacity unit. Its stamina runs to about a day’s use, putting it in the more irritating end of the Android battery life spectrum. You can of course switch off mobile data apart from when it’s needed, which will boost longevity hugely if you’re keen enough in stripping down those features. Running the AnTutu battery benchmark, it scored 479 – but as it’s a new test, we don’t have much context to assess how good a figure this is. One for the archives.
Call quality is good, with a loud and beefy earpiece speaker. It also employs noise cancelling, using the pinhole mics on the back, to make calls in noisier areas less stressful.
The HTC Sensation XE is a powerful phone with a powerful brand attached to it – Dr. Dre’s Beats. However, for the most part it’s just like the original Sensation. It has a faster processor, but this isn’t hugely apparent in normal usage. Build quality is great, it’s fast and has a large, sharp screen, but the quality of the S-LCD panel isn’t great and the Beats red bits don’t mesh entirely well with the design. It’s certainly a decent phone that can more-than do justice to Android, but when the original Sensation is now available for about £100 less, you can get better audio quality by spending the difference on a great pair of earphones, instead of the just-good Beats bundled pair here.
Score in detail
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