Of course, what this handset is really all about is its music playback, and aside from the mediocre music app, the experience is rather good. As well as the aforementioned music player in the notifications drop down, you can also access the player from the lock screen, so it’s easy to pause your music or skip a track.
Part of the reason this phone makes a good audiological impression is the included Dr Dre Beats Audio earphones, which are branded urBeats. Now these aren’t to our tastes at all as they blast out far too much bass, making everything sound a bit muffled, but if you’re a fan of big booming bass – or more specifically the Beats Audio sound – then you’ll love them.
Each earpiece is made from metal and does feel reassuringly solid. They’re also stylish thanks to a muted combination of gun metal grey and black, and of course the signature red cable. They also come with an inline remote and microphone that allows you to take a call, play/pause music and skip back and forward between tracks. You can also call the last number you entered, which is a mildly useful addition but is a bit too easy to accidently activate.
A version including the more premium Beats headphones will also be available
When you plug in the Beats, or any other, headphones, the Beats audio mode is activated. This applies an EQ setting that boosts the high-end and mid-range to get the best out of the Beats earphones and give the audio a more dynamic sound, which it indeed does. However, we can’t help but feel that if the earphones were any good in the first place, they shouldn’t need EQing? Nonetheless, as we say, if you’re a fan of the Beats bass heavy sound you should be happy.
One area we weren’t expecting the XL to excel in was photography. HTC doesn’t have a great track record with the cameras on its phones, as the ultimate image quality tended to be worse than other rivals with the same core specs. However, recent models have improved greatly and the 8 megapixel shooter on this phone is very good. Results are crisp and colourful and properly exposed, while the twin LED flash really helps out in the dark. They’re certainly not a new benchmark for quality but so long as you don’t zoom in too much they’re satisfactory.
What makes the camera quite so nice to use, though, is the interface. You’ve got a host of settings including things like ISO level and white balance, and there are all sorts of fun filters you can apply to your photos in real time. Once you’ve taken your shot you can then edit it, applying sharpening and colour enhancement filters, cropping it and rotating it.
Overall image quality isn’t spectacular but about average
The depth of field mode allows you to pick out a subject from the world around it.
Various fun effects are available to add some fun to your snaps.
Video is also well catered for. The 1080p footage packs in the detail and comes across smooth and very watchable, while again you can apply real time filters for some fun effects. You can also top and tail (trim) your footage to get rid of shaky bits at the start and end, and it’s a cinch to then share it via facebook, youtube, dropbox and many other services.
Coming back to the real basics, we found the phone to deliver good call quality, with the earpiece being loud enough and the noise cancelling microphone delivering clear audio to those on the other end of the line. The speaker is okay, but nothing special. Battery life is also middling with us getting around a day and a half of average use.
We almost like the HTC Sensation XL. It’s stylish, easy to use, has a great camera, the large screen has some benefits and the Beat Audio headphones we know will appeal to some. However, you pay for the privilege of getting those headphones, and on most other fronts this phone just doesn’t add up. It’s screen is low res, it’s processor is slower than the competition, and all told other handsets simply offer more for the money. If you want a Beats phone then the HTC Sensation XE is a much better bet. Or you could just get an HTC Sensation and buy some even better headphones.
Score in detail