HTC Sensation XL Review

Introduction and Design

We have a new entrant in the Sensation line of HTC phones, people, and it comes with Beats Audio as well. The HTC Sensation XL differs from its other peers in the lineup with the huge 4.7” LCD display, and the lower hardware specs. HTC made it with a single-core chipset, no memory card slot, and lower screen resolution than the other models.

This should have helped to keep costs down, but can big screen lovers settle with less than stellar hardware? Read on to find out…

The HTC Sensation XL is not expected to be offerd from any US carrier and you can only get it SIM-free. It's compatible with the AT&T network, and you can use it on T-Mobile without 3G connectivity.


If we had a say on how large can a smartphone screen go before it gets unwieldy, we’d say it depends on the bezel. The HTC Sensation XL is graced with a 4.7” display, but has a quite narrow side bezel, and the space above the display is very thin, too, making the handset shorter than a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, for example, which has a huge 4.65” screen in itself. The phone is also 0.4” (10mm) thin, which seems to be the threshold for scoring the adjective “slim” on the smartphone catwalk these days.

You can compare the HTC Sensation XL with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Because of those design achievements, in large hands the HTC Sensation XL fits pretty well,  although there’s still about a quarter of the screen your thumb can’t reach with one-handed use. The phone allows for a comfortable grip, as the corners are rounded, and the chassis shell is tapered towards the edges.

We just wish we had the soft-touch plastic that is characteristic for the Sensation line on the rear, instead of the regular one on the XL, since most of the back is an aluminum plate, which is pretty slippery in itself. That's why it's good that the phone has a very even weight balance distribution on both ends – it doesn't try to tip over when you operate it with one hand as many others big phones do.

The huge screen is unfortunately with a run-of-the-mill for large handsets 480x800 pixels of resolution, instead of qHD or HD, which the high-ends of HTC sport now. When combined with the size, this resolution returns ~200ppi density, which makes text appear a tad jagged. Just for  comparison, the XE has a smaller 4.3” screen, and larger 540x960 pixels resolution, or 256 ppi density.

On the other hand, the Super LCD screen has good viewing angles and rich colors, plus it is adequately visible outside - something we  don’t usually associate with HTC’s smartphones. 

Both the power/lock button at the top, and the volume rocker on the right side, are too flush with the edges, and hard to feel and press. We'd prefer a better rocker on a music-centric phone, to easily adjust the volume while the handset is in our pocket.

HTC Sensation XL 360-degrees View:

Interface and Functionality:

Android 2.3 Gingerbread with the newest HTC Sense 3.5 runs flawlessly on the single-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S2 chipset.

Around the interface we find many small touches that differentiate it from Sense 3.0, showing the streamlined nature that allows it to run smoothly with fewer resources, yet still offer plenty of personalization options. You can read more about the new touches in our article here

The HTC Sensation XL was announced by HTC to be in the first batch for an ICS update in early 2012.

The phone has the generous 4GB of ROM for installing apps, and 8GB of internal memory, but… surprise, surprise - no microSD slot for expansion, and no other memory version. The 8GB are good for about 2000 tunes (if you don't store anything else there, like video clips and pictures for example), and if you want more, you are out of luck with the Sensation XL. HTC recently stroke a deal with Dropbox, so you will have additional 5GB of cloud storage (instead of the standard 2GB it offers) to ease the microSD pain.


Sense 3.5 on the Sensation XL comes chock-full of useful apps. Besides the mentioned Dropbox, we have Notes, which is integrated with another great web service, Evernote, and is one of the cleanest and easy to use note taking apps, yet with powerful feature set.

We also have Tango preinstalled, which is a pretty handy video call and IM app, allowing you to switch from video call to audio mid-talk, or stream live footage to your friends with the rear camera, while you are seeing their reactions on the screen, picture-in-picture style.

From the smaller stuff we have HTC's Reader, the e-book app, a separate Facebook chat app, and Usage Monitor, which keeps an eye on your minutes, messages and mobile data consumption. That’s what we like about HTC Sense – you don’t need to download six or seven apps just to start using your Android phone, since most basics are integrated, and with great visuals to boot.

Internet and Connectivity:

The browser is a joy to use on such a big screen, although not as fast-loading and fluid as what we have on HTC’s dual-core phones, of course. Adobe Flash support comes standard, too.

Typing on the giant display is also very fast, and the virtual keyboard is responsive, with well-spaced layout.

The Sensation XL sports 14.4Mbps HSDPA radio, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, A-GPS with the Locations app, FM Radio and DLNA wireless media streaming with the Connected Media app. For wired connectivity to your TV the phone comes with an MHL port, nestled in the microUSB profile on the bottom left.


We have a new camera interface in Sense 3.5 with almost instant shot-to-shot times. Features are similar to the ones before, and we also have the HDR and Panorama modes.

The Panorama mode is the quickest of all integrated solutions we've tried so far on Sony Ericsson and Samsung handsets, and beats even standalone apps in ease of use. You just pan left or right, following the dotted line on the screen that connects three circles where the phone takes a picture, and that's it – a Panorama stitch in less than ten seconds.

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Considering its good resolution and the BSI sensor, we expected to see some of the better photos out there, but we actually see some of the worse. As you can see in our samples, often times there are unfocused spots, and color reproduction is very inaccurate, with heavy purple overcast in most photos. This problem is not as evident in low-contrast images (see the photo of the red building). We hope this is a software problem and it will be fixed with future update, but what we test is a retail unit that anyone can buy, so we can't be positive. Details are mediocre, and there is lots of noise even during the day. This was not the brightest day, but it still should have performed better.

In our indoor tests, there is no evidence of the purple “ghosting”, but the performance is mediocre again. Color reproduction is not accurate (yellowish), and so is the detail. The flash performs OK from the 2 meters (6.5 feet) the samples are taken from, but this image has lots of noise.

The 720p HD video is also not on par with the better phones nowadays. Detail is scarce, and the image is less fluid when you pit it against handsets with a frame rate of 30. The stereo microphones pick up lots of ambient noise, as with all Sensation handsets.

HTC Sensation XL Sample Video:

HTC Sensation XL Indoor Sample Video:

Its good features are the fact that it allows you to zoom or touch-to-focus while filming. A new add-on is the 2x Slow Motion mode, which results in cool slow-mo with 800х480 definition, and no sound recording.

HTC Sensation XL Slow Motion Sample Video:


The Music app has a new, more streamlined interface, with less clutter and more minimalistic buttons for feature access, compared to Sense 3.0. What we don’t have, however, are any new features but the Beats Audio sound profile, which pumps the decibels and emphasizes the bass and high trebles, bringing the signature Beats by Dre sound to your tunes. Let's not forget that this is a software effort, and the audio hardware is the same as in any other handset with this Snapdragon processor.

The best part of having of Beats Audio handset are, of course, the high-quality in-ear headphones that come with it, which are the best set we've seen bundled with a cell phone. They are the iBeats with HTC in-line control (prev/next and play/pause), and come in white in the HTC Sensation XL case. The loudspeaker outs a pretty rich sound, but with slight voice hissing when at full volume. Even maxed out, however, the volume is pretty average.

We have a more functional video player now, which, besides embedded DivX/Xvid HD video support, allows you to trim the clips directly from the interface, or turn on Beats Audio from there. We could even play an HD file in the Matroska .MKV container, which was fluid, but the player couldn’t run the sound as well.


Voice quality is very good in the earpiece, better on the strength front, and a tad less on clarity. The noise-canceling microphones are doing a great job to filter out environmental noise for the receiving end, and only relay our voice.

A 1600mAh battery is rated for nearly 7 hours of talk time in 3G mode, and 460 hours of standby. With average use we managed to get about a day and a half from the handset, which is good for an Android handset with a large screen.


If you have larger hands, and are only looking at the hardware specs, you’ll think that you’ve finally found the fairly compact, slim and affordable Android handset with a huge screen you’ve been waiting for.

Single-core chipset, average pixel density and lack of memory expansion slot should mean a 4.7” screen for the masses, but HTC doesn’t think so. It is priced as much as the high-ends with better (yet smaller) screens, and dual-core chipsets. The bundled premium headphones are not an excuse, as the Sensation XE has them too.

At that price, we would also consider phones with a tad less screen real estate, but better features - like the HTC Sensation XE or the Samsung Galaxy S II. Much cheaper alternative with features similar to the XL is also the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S, which has the smaller 4.2” display but is also way more compact.

In the US, there are also other big-screen alternatives in Android land, such as Galaxy S II variants, or the HTC Vivid, which sport 4.5” displays. We are also near the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus with its 4.65” HD display, that will be the first one to hit with Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

The 4.7” HTC Titan with Windows Phone is worth mentioning, too, since it has almost the same chassis and specs as the Sensation XL, so it’s a matter of personal mobile OS choice.

Software version of the reviewed unit: 1.05.401.4

HTC Sensation XL Video Review:


  • High-quality iBeats headphones
  • Large 4.7” screen
  • New HTC Sense 3.5 is more streamlined and runs great on the single-core chipset


  • Same or higher price as models with better features
  • Low-resolution screen, single-core processor and no memory card slot
  • Mediocre camera and camcorder
  • Power/lock and volume buttons are too flush with the surface, and with very shallow travel

PhoneArena Rating:


User Rating:

5 Reviews

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