The Giant Falls Short
Generally, most reviewers look forward to ending a review with a good note, but that's only if the product delivers all its promises. The HTC Sensation XL was one of those devices that seemed great at first hand handling, but it faltered in a few key aspects to make you think twice. It's not a bad phone, but there are reasonably good options that offer more and cost less - other than the huge screen though.
From the onset, we really liked the pure white chassis of the Sensation XL as it breathes some fresh air to its line of Sensation models, which were beginning to look dull. HTC also showed (unintentionally) that making white phones is not as difficult as a fruity company has made it up to be. The design team at HTC managed to pull off a 9.9mm thin super sized phone that sports a vast 4.7-inch display. The huge display is marketed as a key selling feature of the Sensation XL and there is no doubt about it. Having the extra screen estate means viewing more things at one go, better gaming experience and a more pleasing visual experience.
Despite its dimensions, we had no problems fitting the phone into our jeans pockets (front and back). Handling and build quality of the Sensation XL was also generally good. Software-wise, we were glad to see HTC making constant refinements to the Sense interface to improve the user's experience. Although HTC Sense 3.5 has minor changes, it surely beats doing nothing. The other key area which we really liked was its improved camera performance. Similar to Apple and its iPhones, HTC has finally pulled its socks and equipped the Sensation XL with a powerful 8-megapixel camera with f/2.2 lens. Truth be told, we were blown away by the surprising good imaging quality from the camera of the Sensation XL. In fact, it is easily one of the best 8-megapixel cameraphones in the market right now.
Unfortunately, the Achilles' heel of the Sensation XL is also its display. We guess that it is either an oversight on HTC's part or a design choice to pack such a huge display while taking a toll on the battery performance. With the time spent and the functions used on the phones these days, battery life is becoming a major concern among smartphone users these days. We also wonder if the single-core processor used, though a decision to try and minimize the power drain on the Sensation XL, is also the weak link to its battery performance. As studies by leading processor companies like AMD and Intel have shown, having more efficient cores to get work done faster consumes less power than a higher power drain of an often utilized single-core processor that's running at higher clock speeds to keep up with the increase in tasks and processes. With the lack of monitoring aids, we can't be too certain yet in the case of the Sensation XL, but this leads us to our next question: with the market brimming with dual-core smartphones and the arrival of quad-core smartphones next year, how viable is the Sensation XL as a choice to consumers at this point in time? While the Sensation XL held its own against the dual-core competition in our benchmarks, we can't be certain how it would fare in newer emerging applications that could be designed for multi-core processors in mind. We're still far from any usage shifts happening yet, but future-proofing as much as possible is a natural instinct when buying any new tech product.
Retailing at a price of S$908, the HTC Sensation XL is a tough sell. Even among its Sensation family, you can find the Sensation XL trailing behind the likes of the Sensation XE. The HTC Sensation XE is priced at S$868, which is $40 cheaper and yet provides better performance and a slightly longer battery life. Consumers will also find the recently launched Motorola Razr as a better deal (if they can put up with the user interface). Its battery performance and build quality rank among the best and it is a reasonable buy at S$888. Other than the larger screen and great imaging quality, we can hardly think of any reason why consumers would consider the Sensation XL. With not much tangible gain in screen real estate over the Sensation XE and other 4.3-inch sized phones, the XL is in a tough spot trying to market its sole key advantage.