The HTC Sensation XE is one of HTC’s current leading devices, offering a similar yet enhanced experience than the original HTC Sensation. Some of the differences between the two devices are obvious due to the very nature of the XE, such as Beats Audio integration or its faster processor, and some are less obvious, even unexpected.
Physical Design of the HTC Sensation XE
If you read our original HTC Sensation review, you’d remember that we were very impressed with its external design. The combination of sharp yet rounded angles with its brushed aluminium frame really created the feeling of class. Due to the obvious visual similarities between the Sensation and the Sensation XE this premium quality has carried over, but with some slightly different tones.
The new black and red motif for the Sensation XE is definitely one of the most tasteful additions of colour to a device that we’ve seen to date. The overall dark appearance of the phone is broken up sparingly by red highlights and trim located on the front speaker, capacitive buttons, around the camera and at the very bottom of the rear plate in the form of a Beats Audio logo. This black and red theme is continued with the Beats Audio ear buds that are supplied with the phone to create a really complete looking package.
The back of the Sensation XE still sports a rubberised top and bottom, although this time both areas are the same shade of black. These grippy areas really make the phone feel more secure when held and also reduce the risk of the XE slipping and sliding about when put down in a vehicle or placed on a diagonal surface.
The curved back makes for a comfortable experience when held in the hand, an experience that is augmented by the reassuring weight and solid feel of the predominantly metallic frame.
As is pretty standard in Android devices, there are four capacitive buttons located below the screen: Home, Menu, Back and Search. The power button is located at the top of the phone and the volume rocker is on the left side. We didn’t find the rocker to be too easily activated accidentally when kept in the pocket, which is always a nice plus when you’ve got such a music-centric device.
Hardware, Display and UI
Despite the improvements on paper between the dual-core 1.2GHz processor of the original Sensation and the whopping dual-core 1.5GHz CPU of the Sensation XE, both devices actually have exactly the same processor: the Qualcomm MSM8260 Snapdragon. This is because the processor of the HTC Sensation was under-clocked for various reasons that we won’t bother going in to.
To be perfectly honest we didn’t notice any huge improvements of the Sensation XE over the Sensation, despite its higher GHz rating. There were some minor differences such as the menu moving slightly more fluidly and apps did appear to open and close a little faster. But overall there really wasn’t enough difference between the two to pick one over the other for this specific reason.
The Sensation XE is still a wonderfully powerful device and can definitely hold its own against the top competitors out there, just don’t be swayed in to thinking that “dual-core 1.5GHz” tagline makes it better than a dual-core 1.2GHz phone of similar quality.
In other areas the Sensation XE mirrors the HTC Sensation almost perfectly. Both devices sport a 4.3 inch 540 x 960 display. The display is fantastic, crisp and offers very pure whites, but still doesn’t offer the kind of colour vibrancy you’d see in a Super AMOLED Plus display. However, Super AMOLEDs tend not to have this kind of resolution, so it’s really up to the buyer whether they prefer crisper images or brighter tones.
Both the XE and Sensation have 768MB of RAM which is enough to keep things running smoothly and both have 8MP cameras. The Sensation XE does have 3GB of extra internal storage, bringing it up to a still unimpressive 4GB. However, the phone does come with a free 16GB MicroSD card. Only the hardcore media junkies will be affected by this, as it’s difficult to buy more memory when your expansion slot is already being used up. We suggest that if you think you’ll be needing more storage in the future to get a 32GB card when you purchase the phone and use it from the outset, to avoid difficulties when upgrading later.
The Sense user interface is still great on the Sensation XE. It’s fast, useful and easily customisable. If you’re unfamiliar with Sense we’ll fill you in quickly. There are 7 home screens, the main of which shows a handy time/weather app that updates itself in real time. Other widgets include a Google search bar, a calendar, a Friends Stream, a Message Stream and a dedicated weather widget. Other than the calendar and home-screen clock/weather services we didn’t find that we actually used any of these. If your general phone use sounds similar then we suggest deactivating these widgets to save on battery. This piece of advice goes for every single Android phone out there.
The Lock Screen is still one of our favourite pieces of the Sense UI. From the lock screen it’s possible to not only view missed messages, phone calls and emails but you can also jump straight to any of these areas with one swipe. There’s also the option to jump right into the camera app if you need to capture one of those fleeting photo-ops that are so often missed in the four or five seconds it takes to navigate through a phone’s interface. This kind of Lock Screen functionality is finally starting to see wider implementation in other devices, but we still think that HTC does it best overall for now.
Media and Beats Audio for the HTC Sensation XE
Media and Music on the HTC Sensation XE are great for 2 reasons: the screen and the Beats Audio headphones.
The Beats headphones are advertised at a value of $149 just by themselves and boy can you notice the difference between these ear buds and the stock-standard fare we’re used to with smartphones. Even most headphones from actual specialty manufacturers don’t seem to compare to these babies. Sound comes out incredibly smoothly and the bass is the most impressive we’ve ever heard on a set of ear buds. The headphones even come with their own little protective pouch for transport, so you don’t accidentally damage them when moving from one place to another.
The actual music app on the Sensation XE itself doesn’t seem to have changed at all. It’s still a very basic, well-laid out system. Music can be placed on or taken off the device as easily as if it were a USB drive and it will automatically detect any media that’s put on it and add it to your playlists.
Video on the Sensation XE is nothing short of impressive. The qHD display really brings out clear images for video and movies. Coupled with the great quality of sound coming out of the Beats Audio ear buds we can’t give anything but a high recommendation for any media junkies out there. Just be careful to remember the storage limitations that we mentioned in the Hardware section.
There’s also the added bonus that many Android devices have, which is that some unsupported media file types will automatically be converted in to those supported by your phone, after being asked whether or not you want them to actually be converted. Conversion takes a decent while; about as long as your average conversion program. However, it’s so much easier having this function on your phone, rather than having to convert first then transfer once it’s done. It really does speed up the whole process and drastically reduce the amount of effort it takes to load video content on to your smartphone.
The 8MP camera on the Sensation XE can take absolutely stunning photos if you’re out and about on a clear day. Colours come out clear, lines are defined and there isn’t a blurry figure to be seen. However, take that very same camera in to an overcast situation, or inside, or use it later than sundown and you’ll be faced with the same limitations that we see in almost every iteration of a smartphone camera.
Photos in less than well-lit situations can come out very blurry, especially if the subject is moving when you take the shot. Colours can be washed out and pixels almost seem to double in size. It’s not that these limitations in darker areas are worse than on other phones, rather, it’s that the photos in well-lit areas are just so damn good. It’s almost like you’re using two completely different cameras.
We also found that every once in a while we got an inexplicably blurry photo. It was almost as if we were taking a picture through a very thin sheet of paper. It wasn’t a common occurrence but it happened often enough for us to take notice. Of course we could usually rectify the situation by simply taking another photo, but it could be annoying at times, nonetheless.
The same is true for the 1080p video recording, although the limitations are slightly more evident, as is very standard with portable devices.
Overall we would say the camera is quite good. It’s certainly not a selling point for the Sensation XE, but it should generally get the job done with minimal frustration.
Browsing, Keyboard and Apps
The 4.3 inch screen, as usual, lends itself well to browsing, typing and applications. The Keyboard is the standard Sense on-screen keypad that we’ve come to respect for its responsiveness and as such typing messages is a breeze.
Reading webpages is nice and simple due not only to the size of the screen but the density of the pixels. Letters and images come out very clear which really enhances the browsing experience. We did still notice that little issue when switching between landscape and portrait modes where the zoom level would stay the same, rather than readjust to suit the new screen parameters. This means that if you’re reading something in landscape, then switch to portrait then you’ll have to manually zoom out in order to be able to view all of the page without side-scrolling. It’s a small issue but it can become annoying at times.
With the Sensation XE battery life gets its own section. Traditionally with HTC devices, especially the high-end ones, we’ve had a lot of issues with poor battery life. The original HTC Sensation in particular has abysmal battery life, coming in at around half a day. Straight out of the box the Sensation XE is no different. If anything it’s worse.
However, once we removed all those extraneous widgets that we mentioned earlier not only did the battery life improve, it hit the roof. Suddenly we were getting up to a day and a half and medium-to-heavy use, a figure which is way out of the league of most leading smartphones. This is even more surprising seeing as we tried the exact same thing with the original Sensation and saw only minor improvements.
Whatever the reason is we heartily recommend deleting a widget or two from the Home Screens of the HTC Sensation XE if you want to improve the length between charges.
The WhistleOut Opinion
When we reviewed the original Sensation we found it to be a great device that was unfortunately crippled by poor battery life. Seeing as that’s not too much of an issue with the Sensation XE we have absolutely no qualms with recommending this phone to anyone looking for a top-end smartphone.
The addition of the Beats Audio headphones is also a fantastic perk. Our level of media consumption would have at least doubled with the Sensation XE, not to mention our pure enjoyment of it. The Sensation XE is a definite improvement over the HTC Sensation and even fixed its biggest issue: battery life. We definitely encourage you to consider the Sensation XE if you’re in the market to compare smartphones.