When first got our hands on the HTC Sensation XL, we weren't really sure what to make of it. After giving it a good going over… we aren't sure what to make of it. At least, not in the way it fits into the Sensation product line. You have the original HTC Sensation, which then got a spec bump with the HTC Sensation XE. It's a clear step up.
With the Sensation XL, though, you get a downgrade in horsepower and screen resolution, but an upgrade in software (from Sense 3.0 to 3.5) and a bigger screen size (up to 4.7 inches). You swap a microSD card slot for 16GB of internal memory.
When it comes down to it, this is a tweaked HTC Titan, and it shows. We're honestly not sure why HTC made this part of the Sensation product range rather than giving it a separate name.
But we can't let that colour our judgement too much, because while the XL may not excel in they way the other Sensation handsets do, it's clearly a very good phone in its own right.
The screen is vibrant, bright and clear. It's even nice and crisp, despite being pretty big with a lower resolution than its Sensation siblings, and video looks great on it.
HTC Sense 3.5 is a nice little upgrade (though nothing to get too excited about) to an already excellent Android overlay. The Dropbox deal is great, and the Notes app is an understated marvel.
Despite being a 'mere' single-core processor, this is generally a phone that responds quickly and smoothly. The speed tweaks to the camera are also very welcome.
In fact, the stills camera is rather good overall. The backside illumination pays off well, and we got lots of nice, crisp images from it. We did some head-to-head tests, and the iPhone 4S beats it for detail with the flash off, but it's still hugely impressive, and better than just about every other phone.
And the Beat audio integration is a great addition, and one that makes the phone stand out. Music sounds really, really good, and that's what counts here.
As we said above, the phone is fast and responsive for the most part, but it does stumble here and there, and often enough for us to bring it up again here. We're not talking about catastrophic crashes or anything, but it's frustrating when all you want to do is flick to the next Home screen and the carousel goes whizzing away.
And as we mentioned in our review, there can be a disconnect between HTC's apps and what else is there. You've got two email apps, and Friend Stream and Twitter/Facebook often clash and confuse, and there are plenty of other duplicate options. It's not what we'd call crystal clear from a user's point of view.
It's a real shame to have 16GB of built-in storage as the only option – why not an SD card slot as well? Similarly, it's a shame there's no FLAC lossless support for music files, since this is such a music-focused phone.
The video recording was absolutely terrible, which is even more of a shame when you look at the quality of the stills camera. It's also an eyebrow-raiser that this doesn't do 1080p when the Sensation and Sensation XE both do, even though this is MORE expensive.
Speaking of which, the price is the biggest stumbling block for Sensation XL as it stands. As a mid-range, big-screen handset, HTC would be onto a genuine winner here. But the price puts it in the firing line of the Sensation XE, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the iPhone 4S. And, frankly, it comes out at the bottom of that list.