HTC Sensation XE review (Running Android 4.0)
Last year HTC experienced a massive loss in the smartphone market due to poor sales and a lack of brand awareness. This was in part due to the massive success of the Samsung Galaxy S2 which pretty stormed the Android market for 2012. However, one phone that I believe really went under the radar was the HTC Sensation which boasted very similar specs to the Samsung Galaxy S2 and had a more sturdy design, but yet didn't sell as HTC would have liked. HTC then brought out the XE and XL versions, both with Beats and both with beautiful form factors.
Today I'm going to review the HTC Sensation XE after it's Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade and show you a phone that was massively underrated last year.
The 10 Second review:
- Device: HTC Sensation XE
- Price: £419.95 including VAT
- Summary: One of the most underrated phones of 2012 with a beautiful and sturdy design
- Best of: Screen, build quality, speed
- Worst of: back impossible to get off
- Buy it now from The Smartphone Centre
What's in the box?
- HTC Sensation XE
- iBeats Headphones with media controls
- USB Cable
- USB to 3-pin UK Mains charger
- 1730 mAh battery
- User Documentation
HTC Sensation XE specification:
- 2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
- 3G Network: HSDPA 900 / 2100
- Dimensions: 126.1 x 65.4 x 11.3 mm
- Weight: 151 g
- Display: S-LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours, 540 x 960 pixels, 4.3 inches (~256 ppi pixel density)
- Multi-touch input method
- Accelerometer sensor for UI auto-rotate
- Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
- Gyro sensor
- 3.5mm jack
- Memory: 4 GB (1 GB user available), 768 MB RAM
- micro SD, up to 32GB
- WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot
- Bluetooth: v3.0 with A2DP
- microUSB (MHL) v2.0
- Camera: 8 MP, 3264x2448 pixels, autofocus, dual-LED flash, 1080p@30fps, stereo sound recording
- Secondary Camera: VGA
- OS: Android OS, v4.0.3 (Gingerbread)
- CPU: 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, Adreno 220 GPU, Qualcomm MSM 8260 Snapdragon
- Stereo FM radio with RDS
- GPS with A-GPS support
- Beats headset
- TV-out (via MHL A/V link)
- Digital compass
- Battery: Standard battery, Li-Ion 1730 mAh
On the top of the phone, you'll find the headphone jack and the power/unlock button
On the bottom of the handset is a microphone and the impossible button to get the back off
On the left side of the phone is the volume rocker and the microUSB slot
And on the right side of the phone there is nothing
On the back you'll find the 8mp camera, dual LEDs, speakers and the HTC and Beats Audio logos
And finally on the front of the phone is a speaker, the front facing camera, the 4.3" qHD screen and the four capacitive buttons: home, menu, back and search
When the original HTC Sensation came out, it was highly praised for it's exquisite build quality and this is taken onto the XE with it's aluminium stripe across the middle of the back of the phone and the solid soft-touch plastic surrounding the rest of the phone. In addition, all the buttons and the speaker grill are made out metal which feel really solid and gives the phone a supremely premium feel. This really does feel like a solid phone in the hand and I wouldn't be worried with dropping it due to it's body encasing the screen in such a way where when placed face-down the screen won't be the first to the hit the ground. The buttons are all very firm and easy to access and aren't too sensitive which is very good too as some phones these days have volume rockers that are far too easy to manipulate whilst in your pocket walking.
The front of the phone is truly beautiful with the red capacitive touch buttons and the red speaker grill with the chrome edges; even the tiny little front-facing camera has a chrome edge to it to give it a premium look.
The back of the phone is equally beautiful with the aluminium strip that goes across the back surrounded by a thick soft-touch plastic. Even the camera is red which adds to the beautiful red and black scheme this phone has going on.
One thing that I'm not too happy about on the XE is where the MicroUSB slot is placed, it is positioned on the bottom of the left hand side and so it makes the phone almost unusable with two hands (or completely unusable if you're only left-handed.) I felt that they could have placed the slot on the right hand side at the top as there is nothing on the right hand side, plus at the top would be a less intrusive position to place it. Another thing I wasn't too keen on was when the capacitive buttons decided to light up or not, there didn't seem to be a consistency.
The XE isn't the skinniest phone in at a rather hefty 11.3mm which is very thick considering we have phones these days at under 8mm. However, I felt this thickness didn't really cause much of a problem and it gave it a more solid feel. However, I have to admit, the phone did feel very heavy when I first got it out of the box (151g), but this is probably due to the high quality materials that have been used to create this beautiful device. This phone is definitely a prominent presence in your pocket when walking around so take a not of that if you want a slim phone that you can barely feel in your pocket.
The Sensation XE is rocking a 4.7" qHD (540x960) display which looks absolutely beautiful when holding it in the hand. I also found the screen was pretty good in the sunlight too which is a pleasant surprise as the majority of the HTC handsets are incredibly hard to view in the sun (except the new One X.) I think for a lot of people 4.3" is the perfect size as I feel nearly everybody's hands could control this phone one handed and the buttons are all easy enough to use without having to use that second hand.
This HTC has a 1.5Ghz dual-core processor under the beautiful hood too which is really noticeable when you're flying through applications and loading things at a rapid rate. Yes, there is a little lag when sliding through panes or opening some applications, but that's probably due more to HTC Sense 3.6 (which I'll into more late on.)
The HTC Sensation XE unit I received (and all future units I presume) was running Android version 4.0.3 and HTC Sense 3.6 which is a recent update rolled out by HTC. Ice Cream Sandwich has really made this phone a lot smoother in my opinion; the scrolling and panning and all the animations just seem to roll and work together now. Ice Cream Sandwich is a massive upgrade from Gingerbread, I feel it has brought the potential of Gingerbread and made it as beautiful as iOS and Windows Phone 7.5 (well maybe not as beautiful as WP, but you get what I mean.)
With the HTC Sensation XE, you get HTC's own skin on top of which which means you can have up to seven screens with the middle screen being the home screen where everything goes back to. In addition, the widgets on HTC Sense 3.6 are all beautiful (but not quite as beautiful as Sense 4.0.)
To unlock the HTC Sensation XE, it is the same as it has been since HTC Sense 3.0 and is still as beautiful as always; you drag the little rang out from the bottom of the screen and boom, you're done. However, what HTC also introduced with this unlock screen was the ability to quick-open applications by placing them in your dock, this then allows you to drag the application into the ring on the home screen and it opens it. In addition, if you receive a message whilst the phone is locked, you can drag the message preview into the ring and this opens the message, a feature I think is genius and should be used on all phones. This is a feature that even Google decided to try and copy in their stock ICS update with the ability to quickly open the camera from the lock-screen (will always prefer this version though.) Also, you can have certain short cut styles such as have the weather come up when you open the phone, or have stocks, or your Friend's Facebook and Twitter updates.
We all know what Android looks like these days, you have your seven home panes onto which you can add widgets, apps and settings shortcuts and all kinds of things which really make the phone your own (unlike WP and iOS where there's no customisation at all.) HTC, in my opinion really have the best looking skin on Android with their beautiful lock screen, attractive icons, their iconic clock widget which everybody has tried to copy in the Google Play Store.
What's new with Android 4.0
Okay, so this phone received an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich (android 4.0) recently and so I wanted to show you what has changed since Android 2.4.3. There are three major changes that you'll experience when using Ice Cream Sandwich over Gingerbread. These are: smoothness, notifications and widgets; I'll begin with the smoothness of phone. Gingerbread was always an OS that had a lot of potential but not a lot of polish and with Ice Cream Sandwich came A LOT of polish which is really nice to see. You'll see applications open up differently, menus scroll nicer, settings open up in a nicer view. Just in general, Android 4.0 really gives this phone a bit of a speed boost, but mainly a polish boost which is what Android has always needed.
The next thing you'll notice is notifications; now you can pull down the notifications bar when viewing the lock screen which is very handy and saves a lot of time over having to unlock the phone and then drag the bar down to access notifications. Another thing with notifications is now you can get rid of individual ones by swiping them off to the left or the right which is really nice when you've got a lot of them and you want to get rid of the silly Game notifications or event reminders. Something that was already in the notifications was the ability to quickly access your settings at the bottom so you didn't have to go through all the menus to reach them.
And the final noticeable thing is the new beautiful widgets you'll find with Google's Android 4.0. A lot of the applications have been made interact either by allowing you to scroll down them or resize them to your specific needs (something I use a lot.) Just in general, the widgets look nicer and work better which adds to the polish of the OS.
There are other additions thanks to Ice Cream Sandwich too such as the ability to power manage, view data usage and other little things that have made it easier to know EVERYTHING you need to know about your phone. Plus the default Google applications have all been made a little bit more sexy and clean which is really nice to see. There aren't really any ground-breaking features that have come out of Ice Cream Sandwich (the Face Unlock being more of a novelty) but it really brings Android out in the lead in terms of OS now with it's customisability, reliability and now smoothness.
Now, the XE has a 1.5Ghz dual-core processor under the hood which means you can expect very quick browsing when looking through the web. The Browser comes with a few new features since the OS upgrade, you can now request to see the desktop version of the site and open pages incognito mode which means none of your cache will load with the pages. The browser obviously features everything other basic browsers feature such as double-tap to zoom and pinch-to-zoom and these all work really nicely. The zoom works especially nice on HTCs as they have their very own little feature built in called text-reflow where however far you zoom in, the text will reformat to fit the screen; clever huh? The browser looks fairly nice and text is relatively clear to read thanks to the qHD resolution and the phone's size meaning the phone has a PPI of 256. It obviously isn't as easy to read as these new HD screens we are seeing or as nice as the iPhone's screen either, but still a pleasurable experience.
I actually used the Chrome Beta browser more due to the fact the phone now has ICS which allows you to download Google's very own mobile version of their Chrome browser. This new browser is an absolute joy to use with beautiful animations, quick transitions and rapid loading times, so if you do have an Ice Cream Sandwich phone, I'd highly suggest downloading this browser.
Both browsers support multiple windows when viewing different tabs and both do it in their own way (however, I prefer the Chrome way.) Really, the Browser is really good but it didn't really break any kind of records for me, but it'll definitely be suitable for anybody who uses the web a lot.
The original Sensation was branded for it's big screen which resulted in richer movies and better viewing experiences when using the phone. The XE continues this and adds in the Beats Audio (which I'll talk about later) so it's clear that HTC are really trying to push this phone to have a really nice multimedia package as well as a phone. The screen is very nice to watch videos on as it produces nice colours and really good viewing angles as well.
The music application is obviously a massive part of this phone now as they've incorporated the Beats Audio and so the application running the Beats Audio has to be top-notch also. You can see HTC have worked on making the UI a little nicer, but it still looks a little plain when scrolling through songs. However, it's nice that when you're listening to something and have the phone locked that when you unlock the phone, you have the ability to change song without unlocking it. The Beats Audio itself is brilliant, there's a definite difference when it is turned on. It sounds a little louder and bassier and it's definitely noticeable that the music is clearer too, so I would recommend having this on at all times. In addition, the iBeats headphones that came with my review unit were brilliant and, in terms of bass, kept up with my £280 Studios which kind of bummed me out and made me ask why I paid the extra £210. Finally, the actual external speakers are really impressive too, definitely as impressive as the iPhone, if not better, they genuinely sound like they have some bass to them unlike a lot of other phones. All-in-all, you'll be very happy with the Music experience on the XE, so well done there HTC.
The gallery application on the HTC Sensation XE is the same we're used to seeing in HTC Sense 3.0 and up devices, it has the simple album look to it and then the simple tiles of your pictures when you select an image. That is pretty much it to the gallery application; swiping through the photos was smooth and it loaded nice and quickly thanks the ICS upgrade and to the dual core processor.
The HTC Sensation XE's camera application is what was happening at HTC before they brought in the ImageSense chip which made their cameras truly impressive. However, this application still features plenty of the options that are in the One series such as a burst mode (not simply by holding down the button though) and the effects and the scenes and such. It's all pretty much there, and all works very similar, so it's nice to see. You get the usual settings too such as the ability to adjust the image, change the white balance, the ISO, resolution etc. It's definitely a full-featured camera that you could definitely use on a day-to-day basis.
Now, the XE is rocking an 8mp camera, which I forgot to mention before and in my opinion, it's a fairly decent camera for a phone that has been plugged for having the Beats audio, not for having the camera. The shots me and my freinds took with it came out fairly well. The outdoor shots did look a little dull however, but the close-ups, in-door shots and such all looked fairly decent! Look below to see for yourself and conjure up your own opinion on the matter:
Now my past experiences with HTC batteries hasn't been very good at all, I've used the HTC Desire and the HTC One X and both have had batteries that don't really satisfy me. Well, this phone rocks only a 1730mAh battery and yet it gives me hope in HTC and Android. It produces a really reliable and decent battery life! I would manage to get through a full day of college and not have to charge it up until 5:00pm. Now that may not sound THAT impressive, but let me tell you what this entails: the screen at full brightness, all accounts synchronising all day, two hours of listening to music, switching between 3g and WiFi all day, half an hour of playing games, half an hour or browsing the web and many other menial tasks that would have sucked at the battery life. The day before where I was at home all day and was solely connected to my own WiFi, I got 13 hours of use out of it until it was dead and this, once again, was using it at a fairly consistent rate. All-in-all, this phone will get you through a whole day of usage no trouble and with clever work, could probably get you through two whole days without a single charge. Get ready to be impressed when you buy this phone!
Call quality & Signal:
The call quality on this phone is absolutely brilliant, I used it to speak to a friend and as a test, I whispered to him on a very windy day and he managed to repeat back the whole sentence I said. In addition, the earpiece was very clear too and so I could him brilliantly which made the whole calling experience very nice to use. It may sound a little weird, but I also liked the way the phone felt pressed up to my ear; the grill isn't flat like a lot of other phones' grills, it has a slight smoothed curve to it. It was almost a pleasure when somebody called me or I had a reason to give somebody else a bell.
Where I live makes me such as a phone reviewer as I live in the country, in a house where there is simply no signal and so it is hard to judge this part of the review. So I usually decide this with two main factors: can I get signal at home and how good is the signal when at college. The answer to these questions is: not really and okay, but not as good as some others. The signal is really what lets this phone down a lot; I rarely got a good signal, even when at college. I don't think I ever experienced 3G and even struggled to get HSPA which is something every other phone I've tested as easily found around my local city. It was a disappointing result from a phone, that other wise packs a lot of punch.
This is definitely a phone I could see myself buying right now! It doesn't feel like this phone was released over half a year ago now. The processor doesn't feel out of date with it's rapid speeds. The OS doesn't feel that out of date either now thanks to the Ice Cream Sandwich update bringing some fluidity and more features to the device. The Beats Audio experience and free Beats headphones really ARE a reason to purchase this phone too if you're into some bassy songs or even some nice clear melodic tunes. The poor signal does let this phone down a little, but I don't feel AT ALL that it would stop me from buying the phone as I could still surf the web, still have signal in places I needed to call people etc. The build quality of the phone is truly exquisite too and matches ANY other phone on the market in terms of design and beauty.
This phone is for those who love to listen to their music for a long time and love to do it on a beautiful device. This phone is not for those who rely on 3G to get them through their days. However, I would truly recommend this phone to anybody today, even though it is a previous generation device. Truly beautiful piece of kit and one of the most underrated phones of 2011!
Review by: Luke