HTC announces the Sensation XL with Beats Audio, we go hands-on

Updated ·6 min read

We suspected there'd be a special guest at HTC's party in London today and here it is: the brand new Sensation XL. You might recognize the mug shot from the many leaks we've reported under the Runnymede codename, but this phone also bears a distinct similarity to the recently announced HTC Titan. It's carved from an almost identical 4.7-inch block of machined aluminum, has the same stunning 9.9mm (0.39-inch) thickness, same 800x480 Super LCD display and even the same eight megapixel rear camera unit. But there are key differences too: for a start, it packs HTC's vaunted Beats Audio system licensed from Dr. Dre. Oh, and did we mention this thing is an Android rather than a Windows Phone? Those two things alone make the XL a different beast entirely, so read on for a press release with full specs plus our hands-on impressions.

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HTC Sensation XL with Beats Audio™ Specifications

• Qualcomm MSM 8255
• 1.5 GHz

• Android™ with HTC Sense™

• Total internal phone storage: 16 GB
• Available storage: up to 12.64GB
• RAM: 768 MB

Dimensions (LxWxT)
• 132.5 x 70.7 x 9.9 mm

• 162.5 grams with battery

• 4.7-inch touch LCD screen with WVGA (480 x 800)
Gorilla glass

• HSPA/WCDMA (850/900/2100 MHz)
• GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
• Upload speed of up to 5.76 Mbps and download speed of up to 14.4 Mbps

• Internal GPS antenna

• Gyro sensor
• G-Sensor
• Digital compass
• Proximity sensor
• Ambient light sensor

• 3.5 mm stereo audio jack
• Bluetooth® 3.0 with support for the following profiles: FTP/OPP for file transfer, HSP/A2DP for wireless stereo headsets, HFP 1.5, AVRCP and PBAP
• Wi-Fi®: IEEE 802.11b/g/n
• DLNA for wirelessly streaming media from the phone to your TV or computer.

• 8 megapixel colour camera with BSI sensor, auto focus, f/2.2, 28mm lens and dual LED flash
• 720p HD video recording with stereo audio
• 1.3 MP fixed focus front camera

Audio supported formats
• Audio DSP Codec chip
• Playback: .aac, .amr,.mp3, .wav, .wma (Windows Media Audio 9), SP-MIDI
• Recording: .amr, .aac, .mp3, .wav, .wma

Video supported formats
• Playback: H.263, H.264, MPEG-4,.wmv (Windows Media Video 9)
• Recording: MPEG-4, H.263, H.264, .wmv
• Stereo sound video recording

• Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery
• Capacity: 1600 mAh
• Talk time: 140-410 minutes for WCDMA and 250-710 minutes for GSM
• Standby time: 230-460 hours for WCDMA and 230-360 hours for GSM

AC adapter
• Voltage range/frequency: 100 ~ 240 V AC, 50/60 Hz
• DC output: 5 V and 1 A

Please note: Specifications are subject to change without prior notice

Rather than comparing this phone to the Titan, many people will inevitably be thinking "hey, didn't we just hear about a Sensation XE?" Indeed we did, and that phone also sports Android and Beats Audio just like this new XL. Another key similarity is that the XL regrettably isn't coming to America either -- those of you on that side of the world must be due for some equivalent or possibly even better model soon. But those matters aside, HTC reckons the third phone in its Sensation lineage is designed for a slightly different type of user: one who's willing to accept certain trade-offs in order to get that vastly bigger screen.

For a start, the XL's Qualcomm MSM8255 1.5GHz processor is only single-core, whereas the Sensation XE is dual-core. This allows the XL to get away with a slightly smaller battery (1600mAh instead of 1730mAh) and is possibly linked to the fact that the XL is also 1.4mm thinner than the XE -- a crucial factor when you're holding and pocketing handsets of such enormity. Other dimensions are 132.5mm tall and 70.7mm wide.

Our initial impression is that many people will accept this trade-off: the huge panel looks great, even though its dpi is rather low, and thinness makes it perfectly practical. Being single-core hardly made any difference to the few activities we had time to try. The only real loss in this regard was 1080p video recording, because the XL's processor can only handle 720p -- but again, we can live with that.

Speaking of the camera, we had the chance to sneak a few test shots, and although we weren't able to keep hold of the photos, we saw enough to be pretty convinced that the f2.2, 28mm camera with dual LED flash behaves just like that on the Titan -- and that definitely counts as an advantage because the Titan's camera is super quick, adjusts exposure smoothly, focuses intelligently and takes great shots. The front-facer delivers a decent 1.3 megapixels.

On the other hand, some sacrifices are much harder to live with: the 16GB of onboard storage (alongside 768MB of RAM) is non-expandable because there's no microSD card slot. To make matters worse, only around 12.6GB of storage is left free for the user. Since this is largely being marketed as a music-focused device, we consider this a major omission. Anyone whose music collection is bigger than 10 gigs will instantly be put off.

That brings us nicely onto our final observations, which concern Beats Audio. We'll have the full low-down on this system (gimmick or no gimmick?) in the very near future, and you can also read up on our impressions of Beats Audio on the XE. But in relation to the XL specifically, Beats Audio means two things: the ability to activate a Dre-approved sound profile, and a set of really nice equally Dre-approved headphones. These two features go hand-in-hand, because the whole point of the sound profile is that it's meant to be specifically tailored to the headphones, to deliver a superior aural experience.

The XL will come with HTC YourBeats in-ears (aka iBeats) as standard, which are the same 'phones we tried with the XE. But there'll also be a limited edition XL that will come with Beats Solo headphones, which are the white over-ears in our photos -- matching the whiteness of the handset (there is no black variant, in case you were wondering). Visually, the Solos won't be to everyone's tastes because they're even louder than the fire-red YourBeats, but on the other hand some people love that look. Also, they do sound great and are comfy to wear.

Look for this phone to start becoming available from early November -- we've already confirmed it will be coming to Vodafone in the UK.