It is quite clear that HTC has been losing out the premium smartphone market to Samsung, thanks to the Galaxy series.Okay, inferior line up of smartphones by HTC is equally to be blamed.
However, HTC has not lost hope and has been pushing out devices in the market to keep its fan base enticed. Recently they announced the HTC Sensation XE and Sensation XL for the Indian market – both premium high-end android smartphones that come integrated with Beats audio technology. We take a look at the Sensation XE that is more of a special edition of the original HTC sensation than being an entirely new device.
Thanks to the dark grey color on the body combined with use of red in a minimal yet striking pattern, the XE is a gorgeous phone in terms of looks. The beats audio logo on the back cover, highlighted in-ear speaker and even the touch sensitive android buttons below the display are in red – adding to the phone’s looks. The front is daunted by a large 4.3-inch touchscreen whereas on the back is the camera and dual LED flash along with an aluminum accent in the center to give a modern outlook to the phone. On the left are the volume key and the microUSB/MHL port whereas the right side is bare blank. A camera shutter key on the right would have been a great addition to the phone as per us. The top has the power/hold button with the 3.5mm audio jack. As far as looks are concerned, the phone gets two thumbs up from our side.
As a smartphone maker, HTC has been known to be the pioneer in phones with sturdy build quality. HTC phones have ample use of metal or sport unibody construction that not only makes them look good, but also durable. However, it wasn’t the case with the original HTC sensation as it used an all plastic back that even covered the front in-ear speaker grill that literally needs to be pulled up to remove it completely. This design makes it feel as if you take out the phone from the back cover and not vice-versa. The Sensation XE sees no change in the design or the process of removing the plastic back cover; just that it looks much better than the original.
The matte finish on the back and curved shape provide for a comfortable grip. There are no loose flaps, buttons or hinges anywhere – making the phone feel premium and overall well built.
The XE comes with the same 4.3-inch capacitive touchscreen on the front as the original Sensation. It is an S-LCD display with a 540 x 960 pixel resolution. The high resolution does offer a shaper image, but compared to AMOLED display (even with a lower resolution) on the Samsung Galaxy S, the XE display feels dull in terms of colors and black levels. However, on its own, as long as you do not compare the screen, the Sensation XE is great for browsing, playing games and even watching videos. The response of the touchscreen is fantastic be it navigation, browsing or gaming. We did feel that it suffered from poor sunlight legibility – under direct sunlight, as we had to take the brightness to maximum in order to read the text on the screen clearly.
This is where the phone starts to set itself apart from the original. The processor on the XE is a dual core 1.5Ghz (Sensation had dual core 1.2Ghz) making it one of the fastest android phones available today. Although the RAM is still 768MB, graphics still Adreno 220; the storage is now bumped up to 4GB. Much to our dismay, only 1GB of the storage is available to the user for storing apps and other content. There is a microSD slot present below the battery to expand the storage up to additional 32GB.
Other than that, the connectivity options are more or less the same – Wi-Fi with hotspot, Bluetooth 3.0, 3G and GPS. One highlight is the Wi-Fi hotspot on the Sensation XE allows up to 8 devices to be connected to it whereas usually it is limited to 5 devices on android devices. TV-out via MHL port is present, that too with support for full HD 1080p output. However, it requires an MHL to HDMI adapter/convertor that is not provided in the box and not easy to procure from the market as well. In terms of camera, the rear sports an 8MP camera and the front houses a VGA camera.
Sensation XE comes out of the box with Android 2.3.4 and although HTC has confirmed that it will be among its phones to receive an upgrade to Android 4.0 a.k.a Ice cream sandwich, no fixed date or time frame has been announced for it. The trouble for HTC here is to integrate its much-loved Sense UI with the new version of Android operating system that might delay the update for arriving on the HTC phones.
HTC’s Sense UI is considered to be one of the best customizations done on the Android platform. The original Sensation was the first phone to come with Sense 3.0, but at its launch it had a lot of issues in terms of stability of the interface. Thankfully, those issues have been resolved with the Sensation XE and Sense 3.0 works seamlessly on the phone. The UI is pleasing to the eyes with its shadow effects and seamless animation. Moreover, it is easy to navigate and gives the user quick access to most important functions. The drop down notification bar shows the most recent accessed apps and also a quick menu to enable/disable connectivity settings for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and so on.
The phone comes with the customized ring lockscreen that allows a user to launch four applications directly form the lock screen. Either dragging the lock ring onto the app icon or the icon into the ring can do this. You can choose any four apps to place on the lock screen as per choice. What is interesting is that a user can customize the lock screen to show content as well. You can choose between your social network stream, current weather, stocks, a clock or your stored photos to be visible on the lock screen along with the four icons. However those are the only option you have, you cannot download or add any more lock screen customizations.
The main menu has a grid layout with three tabs at the bottom – one that shows all installed apps, second that shows apps that you mark as favorite and the third that shows all the downloaded apps. The hardware makes sure that there is no visible lag or sluggishness in day-to-day functionality or in an app.
With the Beats audio technology incorporated on the Sensation XE, HTC has aimed for music enthusiasts. Its not just the technology alone that is the factor, HTC even bundles the phone with a premium in-ear Monster Beats earphone that otherwise will set you back by Rs 5,000 – 6,000. These bundled earphones offer noise isolation, come with in-line controls and proved to be comfortable for long hours of music listening.
The output from the original sensation was quite good in terms of music output. However, with the Beats audio technology and the supplied Monster beats audio headset, things are taken to a whole new level. The output in term of music is mind blowing across genres. Not only do you get an overall deeper bass, but also the vocals are pitch perfect. They do not match up to an audiophile level, but anyone who listens to them for the first time will surely be impressed.
However, the down side is that there is no way to hear audio without enhancing the audio quality. You can either choose to use the Beats audio settings or the HTC enhancer settings – in both ways the sound is being enhanced. Also, do note that the beats audio enhancement works only with the earphones plugged in and not with the loudspeaker.
In terms of video playback, the default player on the Sensation XE proved to be a mixed bag. Although it came with out of the box DivX/Xvid support, it tended to skip a few files in playback for no reason – files that worked fine on third party app Moboplayer. It was fairly impressive that it had no issues playing 720p and 1080p HD files in mp4 format, but then there was no support for mkv format playback.
Photographs gallery on the phone works much like the basic android gallery with a 3D view. Each folder now shows the latest photo as the cover photo and when you open the folder, the images show up thumbnails in grid view. There is also a camera shortcut icon in the gallery to quickly launch the camera. What we really liked is the fact that the multi-touch pinch to zoom worked very smoothly and precisely in the gallery.
Like the original Sensation, the XE also comes with an 8MP autofocus camera and dual LED flash. The camera offers continuous autofocus as a feature – very useful as without a physical shutter key, it helps in getting sharper photographs. The settings panel provided options to set the ISO, white balance, image resolution, timer and add effects. There are several interesting effects available as well, such as the depth of field mode that showed on screen a specific are inside which everything will be in focus, while the are around will be defocussed to give a depth of field effect.
Much to our surprise, the camera quality is much better on the Sensation XE than the original Sensation. The images taken in daylight came out with sharp details, rich colors and zero noise. Even in low light conditions, the camera was able to capture detailed images good enough to share on social networks and view on the phone, despite the amount of noise present. With the right settings, images taken without flash under low light conditions turned out to be shockingly good. With the dual flash active, low light images came out clear with minimal visible noise. The flash is strong that it even worked on subjects at a distance as well. However, it even leads to over exposing of the subject when it was used from a close distance. Overall, Sensation XE proved to be one of the better 8MP shooters available today in the market.
Video recording on the phone is done in 1080p resolution at 30fps. Although there was no visible frame drop in the recorded video, it was far from impressive. We could clearly see a purple fringe in background areas that were darker and it took a few seconds to adjust to any change in surrounding light. There was visible noise in most videos irrespective of lighting conditions as well. Moreover, videos were recorded in 3GP format, which highly compressed the output – further deteriorating the quality.
Battery on the Sensation XE has been upgraded to 1730mAh from the 1520mAh that the original Sensation shipped with. This resulted in the phone performing slightly better than the original. With voice calls, texts, social networking, camera and multimedia usage with the data connection (Wi-Fi or cellular) constantly on, the XE lasted close to over a day on a single charge. We were hoping it to last close to one and half day with that big a battery, but it failed to do so.
The sensation XE has a lot going for – killer looks, top-notch hardware, fantastic still camera and superb music capabilities with beats audio integration and a premium Beats audio bundled headset. However, at a price point of Rs 30,8000, the sensation XE just seems to be a bit overpriced in comparison to the competition. One can say that the premium headphone make it a better value for money compared to the competition, but then that makes the sensation XE an option only and only if you want a premium music smartphone. Due to the average display, poor video recording and average battery life, we would recommend opting for similar Android phones with dual core processor, 1GB RAM, that offers similar performance but better Super AMOLED displays in the Samsung Galaxy SII for Rs 29,500 or the Motorola Droid Razr XT910 with a better build quality for Rs 28,900.