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The Guru

Review: HTC Sensation XL (O2)

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

Firstly our thanks to our friends at O2 who have given us the opportunity to review the HTC Sensation XL. The XL builds on the prior Sensation incarnations, the original machine and the Beats audio enhanced XE. With this new variant HTC have changed both the internals and externals of the machines design and in effect it is a new machine in its own right and not a part of the original Sensation family.

Manufacturer: High Tech Computer (HTC)

HTC Code name: HTC Runnymede

Supplier: Telefonica UK (O2 UK)

Product Name: HTC Sensation XL

Price: Varies depending on contract

HARDWARE

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The construction uses the same architecture as that of the HTC Titan which uses the WindowsPhone operating system, and indeed one could state that this is the Android incarnation of the same machine.

One of the XL's biggest external changes from the other Sensation models is the screen, the 4.3" qHD (540 x 960) screen seen on the other machines has been replaced with a massive 4.7" WVGA (480 x 800) screen that is incredibly bright and clear. Even though it is not an AMOLED screen the colours are sharp and clear and the display noticeably brighter than that on the Sensation XE. The screen displays well in all variations of lighting, both artificial and natural light and readability is even retained in direct sunlight. Colour balance is good with whites appearing clean and crisp with blacks looking deep and truly black with no grey tints seen on displays of lesser quality.

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The housing itself is of a different design to the rest of the Sensation range with the livery being predominantly white instead of black (and red on the XE), with silver being used to colour the back lit front facing buttons, the majority of the back cover and the physical control buttons. The curved screen is also gone with the front face of the XL being completely flat and smooth. The flat face is likely a design change made to help the operator slide the thumb across the touch sensitive screen as that screen is a large amount of real-estate to operate single handedly and any raised edges would only impair operation. Even though the XL appears large (it is 132.5mm tall by 70.7mm wide) this is mitigated by the rounded edges of the body and the somewhat minimal thickness of 9.9 mm. This allows the XL to feel relatively secure in the hand even though it can only be gripped comfortably by the back edge of the palm and the finger tips. One design improvement HTC could have made here is to make the back cover from a less slippery material - that swathe of silver may look good on the battery cover but even though it is a matte covering it is not conducive to maintaining a good grip. You will need to make sure you keep the XL gripped tightly at all times.

With front face of the XL being dominated by the screen it tends to somewhat submerge the other features found on the front of the machine, these being the front speaker, which again is covered by a fine metal mesh, and below it are the notification LED (masked by the housing plastic and invisible unless active), the HTC logo, the light sensor and finally the 1.3Mp front facing camera. Underneath the screen are the standard touch sensitive Android controls: Home, Menu, Back, and Find.

The notification LED shows:

  • Solid green light when HTC Sensation XL with Beats Audio is connected to the power adapter or a computer and the battery is fully charged.
  • Flashing green light when you have a pending notification.
  • Solid orange light when the battery is being charged.
  • Flashing orange light when the battery level reaches very low.

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The base of the XL contains only the unlock control for removing the back cover as well as the pinhole which gives sound access to the phones microphone. The left hand side holds only a micro-USB connector for either charging the machine or linking it to the PC. The right hand side contains the volume rocker control. Finally the top holds the wake / sleep (on / off) button, the 3.5mm jack socket for a headphone and another pin hole sized sensor used for ambient sound detection and noise cancellation.

If the power button is pressed and held the Power Options screen pops up giving you the choice of:

  • Power Off
  • Airplane Mode
  • Restart

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The back of the XL holds the 8MPixel camera which has a F2.2 lens, dual LED flash and a BSI sensor, all designed to take photographs in all conditions including low light photography. The back cover surrounds the camera with a raised bezel which assists in protecting the camera lens as that is slightly inset within, and also allows an air gap between the desk and the rear speaker which is to the right of the camera. The lower white portion of the back cover sports the red Beats Audio logo which confirms that the device has been constructed in line with the partnership undertaken by HTC and Dr Dre.

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Removal of the cover is accomplished by:

  • Securely hold the XL face downwards.
  • Press and hold the release latch at the base of the phone, and then slightly lift the back panel.
  • Gently pull the back cover away from the XL

Once the cover has been removed a fingernail can be inserted at the side of the battery which can then be withdrawn to allow the SIM card to be fitted into its silo.

Within the battery cover there are four copper contacts which mate with matching contacts in the housing, these are actually part of the antenna system and if the battery cover is removed you may get a signal but it will be a lot weaker than anticipated.


Internally the XL again differs from the other Sensation models with the processor now being a single core 1.5Ghz model instead of the dual core chip, internal storage memory has been bumped to to 16Gb, and RAM is 768Mb. Alas though there is no facility to use a mSD card so you are unable to expand the storage in any way. Wi-Fi now covers wireless N as well as the older B and G 802.11 protocols ensuring that the XL can connect to most networks. DLNA is of course present allow streaming on media to a TV or computer (the separate MLN adaptor is required). Bluetooth 3 is also included to allow inter-connection and linkage to most modern Bluetooth enabled accessories.

The 1600 mAh rechargeable Lithium-ion battery is user replaceable. HTC quote 410 / 710 minutes talk time dependant on WCDWA or GSM connectivity. My own usage of the machine which includes social networking, e-mail (3 x push accounts), eBook reading as well as occasional phone calls tend to leave me with around 34% of charge left at the end of the working day.


SOFTWARE

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The XL has also been updated software wise and now sports Android 2.3.5 and Sense 3.5. The main changes are with the Sense engine which has been revamped and streamlined in a number of areas. These include:

  • Pressing the Home button still brings up the multi-screen leap view, but you can now use that to add (or delete) screens that are used within the navigation system.

  • The Quick Settings control within the Notifications Panel has been enhanced to allow the Wi-Fi controls to be accessed more easily. The > symbol on the screen allows these additional functions to be accessed.

  • Additional 'Accounts' can now be added including one for Evernote for HTC Sense', which allows you to synchronise your Evernote notes to the XL, which can be displayed in the HTC Notes widget. Similarly a Tango account can be configured for video calling via the pre-loaded Tango client.

  • A new HTC Tasks widget ties back into the Exchange (or Google Tasks) system to allow you to quickly interact with any defined tasks. This is the first time that task synchronisation has been supported on HTC Android phones.

  • The Weather widget has been updated to a new Accuweather driven version that includes forecasts for Now, Hourly, and 4-day weather views. The live displays include video and aural indications of the weather. Such indications are also seen on the main home screen when the device is unlocked.

  • The Messaging client has been enriched to support priority flags for indicating important messages.

  • Unwanted bottom screen Tabs, seen in some applications like Contacts, can now be tapped and held and then hidden.

  • The Personalise options have now been split into three sections; Add to Home (Widget, App, Shortcut, Folder), Display (Scene, Skin, Wallpaper, Lock Screen Style, Lock Screen Shortcuts) and Sound (Sound Set, Ringtone, Notification Sound, Alarm) which makes the configuration much smoother to adjust.

  • The camera application has been updated to include a focus indicator to show you where the focus point is, and includes a new shake detection indicator to warm of shaky grip. Facial recognition and focus adjust are also included. One big enhancement is the Panorama photographic mode whereby directional arrows and screen guides take you through taking a 'continuous' photo of a panorama where the final result is produced from stitching together all the recorded shots taken while in that mode. There is also a 'Backlight HDR' Scene available which disables flash and allows you to take HDR photographs. Finally the Action Burst mode allow you to take five successive shots of your subject.

  • The Gallery application has been enhanced to allow you to tag your Facebook and Flickr friends as well as allowing basic editing and the adding of post production effects. Video can also be cropped from the start and end of video recordings.

  • Lockscreen: HTC have again used the lockscreen first seen on the original Sensation it being a customisable interface designed for ease of use. The default lock screen that is in place on the Sensation XL consists of a blank screen which shows the current wallpaper and below this sit four rounded 'Quick Launch' icons for: Phone, Mail, Camera and Messages. Where applicable these icons also have number indicators for item counts such as unread new e-mail. Finally at the bottom of the screen is a half-buried silver ring that rises from the bottom of the screen, that sits on top of a converse silvered bar. To unlock the screen one can tap and hold on the half ring shape and drag it upwards onto the screen, it then follows the finger and becomes a full loop centered on the fingers touch. When the ring is released the device is unlocked. Cool enough as it is the system becomes even more impressive when one taps and holds one of the 'Quick Launch' icons as if any one of these are dragged and dropped over the buried ring it rises up to accept the dragged and dropped icon. Once the icon has been swallowed by the ring the Sensation XL unlocks and switches immediately to the application that was quick launched. This works impressively both with respect to functionality as well as eye candy. This launch method vies with Windows Phone 7 for quick camera launching and all applications launch very quickly indeed.

Finally HTC take the lockscreen system one step further as they offer various alternatives to the vanilla Wallpaper lockscreen. Alternatives provided are:

  • Wallpaper - See your wallpaper and open your favourite shortcuts
  • Weather - Displays a beautifully animated screen showing the current locational weather conditions
  • Friend Stream - Displays a screen of flying updates from the Sense social system and allow you to scroll through the latest entries
  • Stocks - Displays a screen of floating stock update information
  • Clock - Shows a large animated timepiece
  • Photo Album - Shows flying enlarging and shrinking images from a selected gallery album

The system has one more customisation that makes it even more useful. You can change the shortcuts which appear on the lockscreen - you can replace these with any application shortcut you choose to configure.


Sense:

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The personalise system allows you to change the screen with respect to the scene in use, the wallpaper displayed and the skin applied to the interface. It also allows you to add widgets, application icons, shortcuts and folders.

There are a goodly number of Scenes and Skins already pre-loaded along with the most popular HTC Widgets, however more of each type are made available by HTC and these can be downloaded via the HTC Hub application. To gain access to the additional skins, widgets etc you will be guided through a wizard which takes you through the steps of gaining an HTC Sense account (www.htcsense.com). As well as being a source for additional applications and widgets this gives you control of your Sensation XL remotely with respect to:

  • Setting call forwarding
  • Setting message forwarding (SMS and E-mail)
  • Playing a sound at full volume (to help you locate a misplaced phone)
  • Lock your device (remotely lock your device and present a custom message which you can personalize)

Each skin and scene on offer can be scrolled through using the preview system which gives you a wonderfully clear idea of what the screen will look like when the previewed setting is applied. Once you have decided on your choice the entire Sense system in effect reloads with the new configuration in place, this takes around 3-4 seconds.


HTC have enhanced the Android widget configuration system. On most Android devices removal of a widget is achieved by tapping and holding it until it selects and then dropping it onto the rubbish bin which appears at the bottom of the screen. Sense has two bottom screen options; at the right hand side you still have the 'Remove' option, but on the right an 'Edit' option appears. If the widget is dragged over the edit icon the button glows green (if the icon supports editing), and if over the remove button that will glow red. The Edit function is used to change the function of a widget, for example the People widget can be edited to change the order of the contacts displayed, or the E-mail icon modified to use a different account as a data source.

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The Sense enhancements are everywhere within the ROM on the Sensation XL and are even extended to the connection dialog screen presented when the machine is connected to the PC. This has now been revamped with the new Sense incarnation and is now primarily icon based. It offers you the choices of:

  • Charge Only - Charge the phone over USB
  • Disk Drive - Mount as a Disk Drive
  • HTC Sync - Sync contacts and Calendar
  • USB Tethering - Share phones mobile network with PC
  • Internet Pass through - Connect to the Internet via PC

One does gain the impression that a lot of the power of the machine is needed to generate the animations used throughout Sense and that these have been implemented at the expense of some speed, but you do gain a high class modern polished interface.


HTC Sense - eBooks and HTC Watch

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The Book Reader can be accessed handily by adding the 'My Shelf' widget to a free home screen page, whereby you will be presented with a list of imported eBooks. Once a book has been accessed and reading commencing that book will rise to the top of the list.

It should be noted that the widget appears to have a limit of around 20 eBooks; if any more than that are found they are not shown within the widget. The good news is that if the Reader is loaded via the application icon then all books that are present on the SD card are shown within the library list.

The Reader itself works very well in that sideways finger glides allow swift navigation backwards and forwards between pages, and as expected the search key allows one to locate text within the book. The font size can be varied to suit the reader and if required bookmarks can be set. Needless to say the last read position is remembered when an eBook is re-entered.

The program also supports the purchase of eBooks via Kobo (not surprisingly as it is based around the Kobo eBook reading engine) and Adobe.

The only real criticism of the application is that one cannot vary the margin sizes, the current margins set are acceptable but in an ideal world I'd be looking to reduce them to give more room to the main text of the book.

HTC Watch is one of HTCs new flagship applications designed and offered on newer HTC devices. It is comprised of a widget and main application, the former allows you to view films in your library and preview new releases. The application itself offers the same functionality as well as the option of signing up for a HTC Watch account (not the same as your HTC Sense account) associate a credit card with it and then purchase, or rent, and download premium content offered for sale by HTC.

A number of recent film and TV shows are available and these can be downloaded to your phone progressively using a Wi-Fi connection. The progressive download feature means that as soon as you have bought your video and the download has started you can watch right away while the download completes in the background.

Film and shows are available from prices varying from £1.49 for a TV show to £9.99 for a high status new movie. Some films can be rented for a lesser one-off price. HTC Watch purchases should be shareable across 5 HTC devices at one time.

Playback using the Watch player works well indeed; the widescreen qHD screen works wonderfully with the 16:9 format used for most common movie releases that is no black bars at the edges of the film. Playback is excellent and the definition pin sharp, as clear as a film played back on the iPhone 4. On screen controls allow you to pause a film and restart it, and there is a jog bar to allow you to navigate positionally within the film. If you exit a film part way through and then reload the application later the film does restart from the last watched position.

Sound quality when playing back a film through the speakers is good but improves significantly via the headphones especially if the SRS virtual sound system (not available via Bluetooth headset) or HTC 5.1 surround system is turned on.

The only annoyance with the system is that the library has no facility to import your own films into the system; it is for handling purchased content only. Movies stored in the internal memory can of course we watched using the media player within the Gallery application.


Launcher:

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The Sense Launcher consists of seven launch screens with the central screen considered to be the home screen, all screens are pre-loaded with HTC widgets. These are:

  • HTC Weather
  • Mail (SMS)
  • Friend Stream (Twitter and Facebook interaction)
  • Weather Clock
  • Google Search / People
  • News
  • Tips

The screens can be flicked between with a sideways movement of the finger and work in a round robin, that is when you get to the last screen it continues round back to the first screen in a continuous loop. In fact if one 'spins' the screens faster and faster they transition into a fast smoothly rotating carousel! Mind blowingly impressive fast smooth graphics that are both eye candy and useful as the rotation can be slowed with the touch of a finger to allow you to choose the page you wish to access.

As is probably expected from HTC the central screen that you meet when first accessing the Launcher contains the well-known 'Weather Clock'. This has been used by HTC since they first started producing widgets. This shows the current location's time and below it the current weather. If the 'Weather Clock' is enabled and the Sensation XL turned on after the unlock process completes a weather background animation triggers which plays an overlay of the weather the entire screen. This is complete with sound effects and lasts for a few seconds and then fades away. For those who wish a more lasting weather experience HTC have designed a Live Wallpaper which can be used to have the weather on permanent display; as a screen background. This can however be somewhat annoying as it is complete with sound effects.

One enhancement that has been made is to the Sense program launcher; this is now activated by tapping the left hand bottom screen button on the main screen. Once in the launcher you have the primary screen itself which can be vertically swiped through. Each swipe moves a single screen of icons, instead of the continuous movement seen on the older Sense incarnations. At the bottom of the launcher are three mode indicators; the left showing you all icons, the centre star shaped icon takes you to a subset list of those icons you most commonly use, and the third icon serves to show you the applications that you have downloaded.

Needless to say the star icon becomes a great time saver as it allows you to locate those favourite or commonly used icons without scrolling through what can be a large number of screens - very handy as your use of the Sensation XL continues.

The right hand bottom button on the main screen now takes you into one of the newly enhanced functions of Sense, and this facility allows you to really customise the look and feel of the machine, the same functionality can also be accessed by tapping and holding on a spare location on screen.

If a pinch is performed on the launcher screen this brings up an overview of the individual screens for fast access, but it can also be used to reorder the screens themselves as they can tapped, held and then dragged into new locations.


Audio:

The Sensation sported SRS virtual sound for use with the wired headphone. On the Sensation XL this has been replaced with 'Beats Audio' which works in conjunction with the provided headset. That is one of the major bonus aspects of the XL; it comes as standard with a pair of custom designed Beats headphones. These appear to be a slightly down-styled variant of the 'ibeats' headset which retails at around £79.99. The headset includes a multitude of differing ear buds so that they accommodate most ear sizes and shapes and the red cabling is thicker than usually found on headsets and designed to be self-untangling (which does work in most cases). The headset comes complete with a very nice snap-shut carrying case which is roomy enough to accommodate the headset itself as well as the ear buds.


Dialler:

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HTC have based their dialler on the existing Sense engine used on previous phones and have enhanced and tailored it for the Sensation XL. When the Phone application is first entered you are presented on the lower part of the screen with a finger friendly numeric dial pad which shows the numbers in black with the alpha equivalent shortcuts underneath. At the top of the screen the system creates shortcuts to contacts that you have recently been in communication with; the lower part of the list shows your regular contacts in alphabetic order. The list can be expanded and the dialler hidden by pressing the icon at the bottom left of the screen. If tapped again this serves to reinstate the dialler. Quick search is in effect so that typing the name of a contact on the dialler keys will filter the contacts list to the contacts whose name(s) match the alpha pattern of the keys tapped.

If the menu key is pressed whilst at the dialler access is given to:

  • People
  • Call History
  • Speed Dial
  • Settings
  • Blocked Callers
  • Tips

The bottom right hand button serves to bring up the call history screen - on this there are icons which allow you to view; any contact groups which are present within your contacts as well as viewing a summary list of all contacts. The left hand icon immediately below the contacts list serves to activate the voice dial facility.

If the menu key is chosen whilst in the call history screen one is offered the choices of:

  • Add contact
  • View
  • Delete
  • Import/Export
  • Send Contacts
  • More - which leads to Blocked Callers and Linked Contacts

The View Command allows you to filter which contacts are shown (Google, Twitter, Exchange, Facebook, and SIM) which gives you great flexibility over which contacts the dialler will work with.

All in all a very flexible and controllable communications interface. As with previous HTC phones the Sensation XL supports silent mode whereby flipping the machine upside down when a call comes in serves to mute the call. This can also be achieved by pressing the volume up (or down rocker) or the power button. Also supported is the Quiet Ring feature that automatically lowers the ring volume when you pick up the machine and Pocket Mode whereby it automatically detects if the phone is in your pocket and increases the volume of the ringer accordingly. The Speakerphone can also be engaged by placing the Sensation XL face down during a call.


Email:

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HTC have enriched their e-mail client with Sense 3 and offer a clear message inbox interface which can be used for viewing individual e-mail accounts or a combined inbox view showing what is new in all accounts. Each message in the list is shown in date order with the title of the message, the date received as well as a preview of the e-mails content. To the left of each message is a tick box area where a message can be ticked and selected for operation on a group basis, whether it is marking it as read or for deletion.

Underneath the message view are a number of tabs which allow one to switch through the various view modes which are:

  • All messages
  • Conversations
  • Favourites
  • Unread
  • Marked
  • Meeting invitations
  • Attachments

The Conversation view is particularly useful for reducing clutter on large inboxes. The views can be resorted by Date, Priority, Subject, Sender or Size (in either order) and options within the menu structure allow the access of less used features such as Out of Office or Meeting requests.


Camera:

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With the XL there are two applications shortcuts; the Camera for taking photographs and a Cam which is specifically used for recording videos. Both however link to the same core application, just operating in different modes:

Camera Controls available on screen are:

  • Zoom bar (digital zoom control)
  • Shake Detection indicator (only when shake is detected)
  • Photo / Video - Front / Main mode switch
  • Flash Button - on / off / Auto
  • Shutter Release
  • Effects Button - None / Distortion / Vignette / Depth of field / Dots / Vintage / Vintage warm / Vintage cold / Grayscale / Sepia / Negative / Solarize / Posterize / Aqua
  • Gallery Button
  • Scenes - Auto / portrait / Landscape / Action Burst / Panorama / Backlight HDR / Whiteboard / Close Up / Low Light

Tapping the Menu button brings up the following settings:

  • Self Timer - Off / 2 Seconds / 10 Seconds
  • Image Adjustments (all between -2 / +2): Exposure / Contrast / Saturation / Sharpness
  • White Balance - Auto / Incandescent / Florescent / Daylight / Cloudy
  • ISO - Auto / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800
  • Resolution : 8M (3264x1840) / 5M (2592x1456) / 3M (2048x1152) / 1M (1280x720) / Small (640x368)
  • Review duration - no review / 3 seconds / 5 second / No limit
  • Widescreen - resolution - 5:3 / 4:3 - on / off
  • Geo-tag photos - on / off
  • Auto-enhance - on / off
  • Auto-focus - on / off
  • Face Detection - on / off
  • Shutter sound - on / off
  • Grid - on / off
  • Auto-upload
  • Reset to default

Once a photograph has been taken the Review Screen offers:

  • Share
  • Enhance
  • Delete
  • Go to Gallery
  • Add Effects
  • Trim video


Weather:

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HTC go for gold with respect to weather functionality on the Sensation XL, you have: the Weather Clock, live wallpaper, lockscreen, launcher animation and finally the weather application itself, this is launched either via its icon or by tapping on the weather portion of the Weather Clock.

When first opened the application runs through a background animation of the weather, the Live Wallpaper in fact, so you get a rich animated representation of the weather along with a few seconds of sound sample. While this is playing the top right portion of the screen shows the current weather conditions: temperature (current & min / max), general forecast, real feel temperature, along with humidity, winds, visibility and finally sunrise / sunset times. One can flick up and down the screen to change the weather location viewed. A number of global cities are loaded as a default (London, Taipei, Barcelona, Tokyo, Seattle, Paris) but you can easily replace these with your own up to a maximum of 16 locations.

The Menu button brings up the options of:

  • Refresh - refreshes the weather for all locations
  • Edit - Allows you to remove locations or re-order them
  • Add - Add a new locations
  • Demo - Demonstrates each different animation available
  • Settings - Update when opened toggle, Scheduled sync toggle, Update schedule (1, 3, 6, 12 hours or once a day), Temperature (Celsius / Fahrenheit), Sound Effects on / off toggle

Top left of the weather screen is the name of the location and top right the local time (useful). At the far top right position is an 'expand' icon which allows you to view more weather details on screen. You are immediately taken to the 'Now' view which changes the animation to a more immediate mode as well as restricting the information on the screen to temperatures and the current forecast. The lower portion of the screen now displays a graph showing the conditions and temperatures for: Today, Tonight and Tomorrow. Apart from the 'Now' tab at the bottom of the screen there are two further tabs; 'Hourly' and '5-day'. The first brings up a graph of the hourly temperatures likely to be seen (with mini-icons on the bottom) and the latter a rather more useful display of icons showing the weather for the next 5 days.

The system of how HTC handle weather works well apart from the same issues seen since they first incorporated weather into Sense many years ago. These are that the locations available only seem to be major global cities. The holiday locations I tend to visit are rarely available to use as locations for the forecast, and that the weather source (Accuweather) can be somewhat inaccurate as far as UK weather is concerned.


Keyboard:

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The XL uses a traditional QWERTY keyboard as the default input method with alternative Phone and Compact layouts available. Alternate number and special character keys are available via secondary alpha-numeric views of the keyboard as well as via tapping and holding on the regular keyboard. Full predictive text is available which works very well at interpreting and suggesting both corrections in spelling and the target word. For a native keyboard it is very good, fast and highly intelligent in its prediction.


Locations Navigation:

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One big bonus built into the Sensation XL is that of the Locations system, accessible both via widget or directly via application shortcut. Locations allows you to search for places of interest, get directions to places you want to go to, and drive using turn-by-turn GPS navigation. This is based on free of charge map data, which covers many global regions, and has to be downloaded to your phone via Wi-Fi before the system can be used. The data is provided by TomTom and the navigation engine designed by Route 66.

The system uses your current location to look for places of interest (POIs), which are listed in order of distance, or allows a search for any establishment, street or city you may wish to locate. Once a destination has been located, if you so wish, you can invoke the 30 day trial of the Premium Navigation system and test out the turn-by-turn GPS navigation system. This has been tested briefly and on the journeys it was used on worked well.

The application has within it 'Footprints' system whereby you can take a geo-tagged photo of a location you wish to remember and store in in the Footprints list. The Footprint can be enhanced with description, notes and other personal information. The system uses .KMZ files and these are fully compatible with those used on the HTC Hero, HD2 (and other older HTC phones), this means that any old footprints you may have stored away can be imported into the current system and still used!

One useful feature is that the phone system has been merged into the application and Answer / End Call buttons appear while navigating to allow you to take the call without interrupting your journey.


Internet explorer

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The XL performed well on web browsing tasks. As an example the Engadget page loaded in 10 seconds, the BBC main UK site in 5 seconds. Flash animations that were used as check points played back without any issue. The large display on the also meant that very small text was clear to read although somewhat pixelated.

Scrolling of pages is lightning fast and all the expected operations such as pinch-to-zoom worked well as did tap-to-zoom. The speed in browsing the web is smooth and speedy.

Added functionality is available in the browser whereby if you press on the screen to highlight text and then hold you gain a pop up offering you the options of 'Copy, Quick Lookup and Share' the Lookup option gives you the choice to research the phrase or word on Google Search, Wikipedia, YouTube Google Translate, or the Google Dictionary.


Extra Applications:

The Extra Applications listed below are included on the XL as extras loaded by HTC:

  • Adobe Reader
  • Dropbox
  • Facebook
  • FB Chat
  • Flashlight
  • FM Radio
  • Friend Stream
  • Gallery
  • HTC Hub
  • HTC Likes
  • Locations
  • Navigation
  • News
  • News & Weather
  • Notes
  • O2
  • Polaris Office
  • Reader
  • SoundHound
  • Stocks
  • Tango
  • Task Manager
  • Tasks
  • Teeter
  • Transfer
  • Usage Monitor
  • Voice Dialler
  • Voice Recorder
  • Watch
  • Weather
  • Wi-Fi Hotspot
  • YouTube


HTC Sync:

HTC supply the free to download HTC Sync application as PC companion software for all their Android phones including the Sensation XL. Once installed this serves to allow the Sensation XL to connect to the PC via USB cable and synchronise content.

You can use HTC Sync to:

  • Sync your contacts between your Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express and your phone.
  • Sync your calendar events between the Outlook or Windows Calendar and your phone.
  • Sync your photos, videos, documents, songs, and play lists (Media Player or iTunes) to your phone.
  • Easily import your captured photos and videos from your phone to your computer.
  • Store the same bookmarks on both your computer and phone's web browser.
  • Install third-party mobile phone apps (not downloaded from Android Market) from your computer.


General Use:

The XL has been used as my main phone and in constant use for over 4 weeks. During this time it has served and acted as my all-purpose device performing all manner of tasks: morning alarm clock, social networking tool, e-mail response device, eBook reader, star gazer, etc. It has performed well with only a few niggles which I'm hoping will be addressed in the next ROM updates.

Signal Strength and Voice Quality - The new 900mHz frequency in Manchester was used to obtain a HSPDA connection which was stable and solid, achieving 5 bars of connectivity at home and work. Phone call quality is excellent with no callers reporting any distortion in voice phone quality at all.

GPS - The phones has an embedded A-GPS system within to assist the navigation system in locating the satellites and gaining a fast GPS lock. The Sensation XL obtained a 10/10 or 8/8 (variable) lock in 16 seconds, and maintained a 8/8 lock indoors.

Volume - HTC have ensured that the XL has a loud well amplified speaker system so that alarm sounds are loud enough to wake one from slumber. The raised / contoured back of the phone serve to hold the speaker clear of the desk and therefore avoid any problems of muffling.

Dropbox - One very nice added extra with the XL is that if you decide to use Dropbox and sign in with the pre-loaded Dropbox application you are awarded an additional 3Gb of additional bonus storage fort the next 12 months

Dropbox_Guru.jpg


Issues:

DSCF2317.jpg

There is only one major issue that I've come across whilst using the machine and this concerns the synchronisation of appointments. I use the Office 365 variant of Exchange and that works without issues on all machines other than the XL. On the ROM in the XL HTC have a bug built in whereby all appointments, irrespective of their setting, sync onto the device with reminders set. Therefore be aware that you'll never miss any appointments on the XL!

The problem has been reported to HTC and no doubt in due time a fixed ROM will be available for the machine.


Conclusions:

The XL is a difficult machine to summarise as it has mixed advantages and disadvantages. The large screen is fantastic for data readability for such items like calendar viewing or eBook reading, but at times it does make the machine feel slightly too large and cumbersome. The WVGA screen although fast at movie playback and launcher transitions can look pixelated when examined closely. One would expect that the single core processor would be significantly slower than that of the XE but the machine actually seems to run about 15% faster than the XE, possibly due to that lower res screen requiring less CPU processing to drive it.

The battery is of adequate size to give reasonable life and you will survive throughout the working day. As always though with any modern powerful smartphone ensure you have plenty of chargers around if you plan on a lot of extended use.

However if media activities like movies watching, eBook reading or listening to music, with a high bass content, is what flips your lid then the XL is the machine for you!


Pros and Cons:

Pros:

:tu: Large 4.7" WVGA (480 x 800) screen

:tu: Sense 3 enhanced for ease of use and glitz

:tu: 768Mb internal RAM

:tu: Fast and smooth in operation

:tu: eBook reader included

:tu: Numerous HTC widgets included

:tu: Sense enhances notifications and reminders

:tu: Fast locking and reactive GPS system

:tu: Good voice clarity

:tu: Enhanced USB functions

:tu: Enhanced connectivity via DLNA (wireless streaming to TV, etc) and 3G / Wi-Fi hotspot

:tu: Custom skinning system (scenes and skins)

:tu: Handles multiple Exchange accounts

:tu: 720P video recording

:tu: 720P video playback

:tu: 8 megapixel camera with F2.2 lens, dual LED flash, and BSI sensor

:tu: Gorilla Glass screen

:tu: HTC Sense account for download of additional widgets, feature restore, etc

:tu: Reasonable quality 8 megapixel camera with good colour balance

:tu: Good quality intelligent keyboard

:tu: HTC Watch progressive video system

:tu: HTC Locations with Premium Content Navigation

:tu: Bonus Dropbox storage

:tu: Android 2.3.5

:tu: Sense 3.5

:tu: 16Gb NAND internal storage (12.64 max free)

:tu: Bluetooth 3

:tu: Beats Audio enhances sound

:tu: HDR photographic mode

:tu: Action Burst photographic mode

:tu: Panorama photographic mode

Cons:

:td: Large 4.7" WVGA (480 x 800) screen

:td: Average battery life

:td: Bug with appointment / reminder synchronisation

:td: No additional storage via mSD card

:td: No 1080P video recording / playback

:td: WVGA screen


Example Photography:

The following two shots taken from the XL's camera on a wintry afternoon in December. The first is taken using default standard camera settings, and the second taking using the panorama mode (three shot combination).

Each of the photos are thumbnails onto original full sized pictures from the XL with confidential EXIF data stripped out..

IMAG0012_thumb.jpg

IMAG0014_thumb.jpg

[All images in this review have been processed using Snagit by Techsmith]

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tonybro    371
tonybro

Phew!

As ever, a most comprehensive review....

Too big for me is my initial thoughts. I thought my HD7 was quite large and really like the smaller form-factor of the Nokia Lumia 800 but this is huge! :shock:

Also, I am beginning to lose interest in Android in that, like iOS, its not really changed any over the years and doesn't really move the game on any.

Hey ho....

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neilm    852
neilm

Another interesting review!

I have the WP7 version of this phone (the HTC Titan) and have been very impressed with it (despite the camera button breaking yesterday!); the size is soon adapted to, and as I mentioned in my Titan review, it is actually the same height and width as the venerable O2 XDA II, but half the depth.

This Andriod version seems to use more battery than the WP7 model as I usually have 35-40% battery left after a busy day.

The sample photos are interesting- the panorama shot is very impressive and it is hard to see the stitch lines. Resolution is excellent, and details such as the overflying aircraft, and the pigeon are resolved well for an 8Mpix camera! The 'single' shot looks less good. Maybe the autofocus was aiming elsewhere, but the fence and bird feeders look rather muddy and indistinct. The image properties show it as a full 8Mpix photo so maybe a few more samples might give a better impression?

Overall do you prefer the Sensation XE, or the XL?

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

Glad you like the review guys. It is a big machine but as Neil intimates the size is soon adjusted too!

Battery live I think may be affected by the number of services on the machine using data and on Android I have a lot of those.

I'll see what I can so about some additional camera shots as soon as conditions allow - that is no rain and some decent photograph quality light!

The panoramic photo mode does work very well indeed and is a lot better than I expected it to be. Will also see if I can check out the burst mode at some point once I can find a relevant subject to shoot!

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johnston411    321
johnston411

Beast of a machine and a beast of a review.

Definitely my cup of tea size wise as i now prefer the 4" plus size which has been my form factor for a couple of years now

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

It's a weird one I still can't make up my mind 100%. It's got a lot of great features. but a comparatively lo-res screen, the reminders bug and no expandable storage......

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