HTC Sensation XL/XE: Giz Au Hands On

HTC's Sensation XL is a huge phone. Both the XL and XE can be astonishingly loud phones. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Giz Au attended the launch of both phones last night for some hands-on time. We'd known for a while that the Sensation XE and XL phones were coming to Vodafone as an exclusive, and last night, HTC held a launch event to show off the new phones. In amongst the imported beach sand and overly made up beautiful people, I had some hands-on time with the Sensation XE and its much bigger brother, the Sensation XL.

• On The Plus Side The supplied Beats headphones — and presumably the urBeats earbuds, although I didn't get to test those on hygiene grounds did sound effectively doofy, which I guess is the point. They're certainly loud if you like that kind of thing, but I'd need to test them with music that I'm more familiar with to sort out if they're nuanced enough to be everyday models. From a value perspective, HTC's claim was that the bundled headphones you get with the XL are worth $299 at retail, making it a pretty good bundled extra to have.

The Beats headphones work in concert with software on the headsets, bringing up a B icon onscreen whenever the headphones are plugged in. Or, as I discovered, any set of headphones; I quickly plugged in a set of a-JAYS Four buds, and found that the same equaliser settings popped up. HTC representatives told me that the Beats equalisation is open to any headset, but "it'll only sound its best with genuine Beats headphones".

The Sensation XL is really big, in a "Hello Mr RAZR, now you must die" kind of way. Except better in one key aspect; where the RAZR has a rather large bezel, the XL's 4.7 inch display screen stretches out in a more elegant way. You still feel like you're holding a huge phone in your hands (and you are), but it seems more worthwhile when it comes with more screen as a result.

The Sensation XE is, essentially, a beats branded version of the HTC Sensation, but with a bigger battery and better dual core processor. It's not a complete revolution in phones, but Elly really liked the original Sensation, so a model that improves on it should be a good thing.

• On the minus side Large is large, and this is purely a matter of taste, but 4.7 inches is getting dangerously close to the point where I'd probably rather just hold a tablet for media consumption purposes than a phone. I felt that the Sensation XE fitted more naturally in the hand than the XL, although fierce discussion amongst the journalists present reached no real consensus on that issue. Or, in other words, some people like big phones, and others don't.

I didn't have any time to do serious testing, but it's worth noting that the XL, despite its large size, is a single core 1.5GHz phone, while the smaller XE packs a dual core 1.5 processor.

The mix and match confusion gets even more odd from there. Despite stating in the release that both handsets have "the latest HTC Sense user experience", the XL has Sense 3.5, but the XE (which is a faster phone and should be better equipped to deal with Sense's intermittent performance issues) only comes with Sense 3.0. Matters are flipped when you get to Android versions; they're both Gingerbread phones, but the XE runs Android 2.3.4 while the XL is Android 2.3.5. Nobody I talked to last night seemed to know why.

Both phones are exclusive to Vodafone for the next three months; the XE is available on a $59 cap with a bundled set of urBeats headphones, while the XL ships with Beats Solo over the ear headphones and carries a $5/month handset repayment on the same $59 plan; if you want the XL with no repayment, you'll have to jump up to a minimum $85/month plan.

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