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HTC Sensation XL review

HTC's created a big Sensation with this 4.7-inch beast

HTC Sensation XL
The HTC Sensation XL is the latest iPhone-rivalling Android smartphone from HTC

Our Verdict

The HTC Sensation XL is a good phone, no doubt, but it doesn't live up to the lofty standards of its Sensation name.


  • Bright, clear screen
  • Good stills camera
  • HTC Sense 3.5
  • Great audio quality with Beats
  • Comfortable to use despite its size


  • Some performance issues
  • Lower-specced than its brothers
  • More expensive than its brothers
  • No microSD card slot
  • Terrible video quality

When the HTC Sensation arrived, HTC made it clear that it considered it a high-end flagship product. It packed specs to make the Samsung Galaxy S2 look nervously over its shoulder at number one in our list of the best mobile phones, mixed with that ol' HTC software magic.

Only a few months later, we've got two new Sensation handsets. The HTC Sensation XE, which beefed up the processor even further and added Beats headphones. The HTC Sensation XL (try to keep up) instead offers a larger screen than the original Sensation, but with a 1.5GHz single-core processor, 16GB of built-in memory, and Beats Audio (like the XE).

Though the Sensation XL's screen has been increased to 4.7 inches from the Sensation's 4.3 inches, the resolution is actually lower.

Here, we've got a 480 x 800 display, compared to the 540 x 960 qHD screen in the Sensation and Sensation XE. However, that screen is still S-LCD, meaning that it's bright and vibrant, with excellent viewing angles.

HTC sensation xl

The HTC Sensation XL's 16GB of onboard storage is slightly unusual for HTC, who's default is usually to stick in just enough for the operating system and to let you add whatever else you want with a microSD memory card. Except the HTC Sensation XL has no microSD card slot.

HTC sensation xl

Hang on a minute. HTC... 480 x 800, 4.7-inch screen... 1.5GHz single-core CPU... 16GB storage... no microSD slot... Isn't this the HTC Titan?

Yes, it is. Well, it's white, and it comes with Android 2.3 and HTC Sense 3.5. But otherwise, yes. Even the dual-LED flash camera is the same, with an eight-megapixel sensor, back-side illumination and 720p video recording.

So where does the Sensation XL sit in the lineup? Above the original Sensation, with its newer Sense interface, larger screen, special audio and XL suffix? Well, we're not so sure, since the processor is less powerful overall and it's got a lower screen resolution.

HTC sensation xl

And the thing is, the Sensation can be had on contract for free at around £20 per month. The HTC Sensation XE will only set you back a couple more quid. The XL, though, starts at around £31. Ouch.

Like the HTC Titan, it's a big phone, but it feels smaller than you might think in the hand. There's barely any gap between the screen and the side of the handset, so width has been kept to a minimum. Despite that, it's still fairly wide by necessity, so will inevitably not suit everyone.

HTC sensation xl

The screen is a real high point of the HTC Sensation XL. It's bright, with vibrant colours – though they seem a bit overblown at full brightness, they're really appealing if you turn it down a little.

HTC sensation xl

One of the best things about the iPhone 4 and 4S's Retina display is the way the pixels are right up against the glass, as if they've been 'printed' on. Other manufacturers are also doing this, and HTC's probably the best of them. The screen on the HTC Sensation XL barely looks sunk behind glass at all, popping right out at you whenever it's on.

HTC sensation xl

Beneath the screen are the usual Android buttons – Home, Menu, Back and Search – as touch buttons.

HTC sensation xl

Above the screen is the 1.3MP forward-facing camera.

HTC sensation xl

On the right-hand side is the volume rocker, the micro USB port is on the left, while the Lock key and 3.5mm jack are on top.

The HTC Sensation XL unsurprisingly features the same unibody aluminium construction as the Titan, except with some white bits and a Beats logo near the bottom on the back. This nothing to complain about, though. The build quality is very good, and there's very little give in the handset as you hold it.

The Beats Audio headphones are solid metal, and also feel really high quality, with the exception of the in-line clicker. This is a special inclusion just for the phone version of the headset, and feels and looks plasticky and horrible, which is a real shame.

The XL's thickness of just 9.9mm helps it to feel surprisingly slight in the hand, despite being 132.5mm tall and 70.7mm wide. It is still a major handful, though. Even with big hands, you'll find it's a little awkward to balance when typing in portrait, purely because of its size.

At 162g, it's nowhere near as heavy as you might think a phone of this size would be. Overall, its perfectly comfortable to hold when reading something on it.

HTC sensation xl

At the top of the XL's back is the camera lens, which juts out slightly, and the twin LEDs.

To get the back of the Sensation XL off, you need to press a little button at the bottom, and then – rather disconcertingly – need to effectively pull the screen out from inside the casing. It'll bring all the internals with it (don't worry), but it feels very different compared to just popping a flat rear case off, like most other phones.

HTC sensation xl

Once it's out, you can get to the battery and SIM card slot. One thing to be wary of with the XL, though, is that the Wi-Fi antenna is behind the plastic at the bottom of the handset, where the Beats Audio logo is. If you hold the phone in your right hand, you can cause the Wi-Fi signal to drop significantly.

We didn't find that it cut us off in general use around the house or anything, but if you're connecting to weak signal, it's something to be aware of.