In many respects this is not a complete review, because we've avoided covering the same ground we already trod extensively in our review of the Sensation
. Instead, we've focused only on those areas where there have been significant changes, or where the passage of time has altered a particular spec's standing with respect to the ever-eager competition.
In particular, we spent a great deal of time looking into Beats Audio -- far too much time, perhaps, if you've already convinced yourself that this Dre hookup is nothing but a gimmick. But we felt that since HTC has invested untold dollars in Beats in order to differentiate itself from the competition, and since it plans to bring the this technology to many more devices in the US and around the world, then we ought to try to come up with something definitive and -- if at all possible -- scientific. By all means, if you're just curious about this phone's musical prowess then skip down to the Software section, but for now we'll start off with the key hardware features.
Just like the original Sensation, the XE is well-built and beautiful to behold. Its tapered edges and smooth wraparound aluminum case conspire to make it feel thinner than the 11.4mm statistic might suggest. Of course, the XE differs in its coloring and when we first heard about the red accents we were worried they might look cheesy, like a Qosimo gaming laptop
or something, but our fears were misplaced. The coloring of the navigation button back-lights, the speaker grill and the ring around the camera lens all helped to lift this phone above the plain black and silver hordes. The speaker grill and front-facing camera both have glinting chrome borders which make them look extra special. Add in the bold red headphones with the Beats logo on the back of each bud and it's an all-round good look -- unless you prefer your gadgets to be more discreet.
If you grip the phone hard you'll feel and hear slight creaks from the plastic-aluminum hybrid construction, but it's far less than what you get on purely plastic phones. We should also mention that no matter how we held the device, we failed to encounter any of the so-called "death grip" issues that people complained about with the first Sensation.
Perhaps the only nits we'd pick -- and they're much smaller than your average nits -- are the tendency of the border between glass and aluminum around the panel to collect dirt which cannot easily be cleaned, plus the strange slant of the power button. We should probably disregard this latter flaw, since the device in our hands-on didn't have it and it could simply be a factory error or a result of transit damage. Nevertheless, if wonky power buttons turn out to be an issue with this phone, then remember: you heard it here first.
We didn't have an original Sensation to compare against the XE side by side, but we did have an EVO 3D to throw into the mix, which has a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8660 processor that's very similar to the Sensation's MSM8260. The comparison isn't perfect, because the EVO 3D has 1GB of RAM instead of 768MB, but it's nevertheless sufficient for an indication of what 1.5GHz delivers in terms of real-world advantage -- which turns out to be not a great deal. The EVO 3D actually booted much quicker than the XE, taking just eight seconds from 'Off' to snapping a picture on the camera. Meanwhile the XE took 11 seconds to do the same thing -- possibly because the extra Beats Audio logo animation takes a few extra seconds at boot up.
Our impression was that anything the XE could do, the EVO 3D could just about as well, so the extra 300MHz doesn't count for much at all in practice. We can't help but notice that the chip in the XE is identical to that in the original Sensation and has merely been overclocked -- something savvy Sensation owners are perfectly capable of doing themselves.
HTC bumped the battery up to 1750mAh in the XE instead of the original 1520mAh, ostensibly to let you listen to more tunes but also perhaps also to compensate for the 300MHz bump to the original Sensation's clock speed. The lower part of the case heats up whenever you put the processor under any serious load and you can just imagine how those two cores must be gulping down energy. After a 14-hour day of heavy use, including tonn of music, a few photos and a bit of video, the battery fell to eight percent by the time we got on a train home. It subsequently fell to three percent after listening to about 30 minutes of music and then finally died after taking four final night-time photographs. In other words, there's no forgiving fuel tank here; when the battery says it's nearly dead, it really is. However, just like with the original Sensation, the phone is frugal with power while it's idle and on a less busy, more normal day we'd still find around 30-40 percent of the battery remaining when plugged the phone in to charge.
In our regular battery test, looping a standard def video with low-to-mid connectivity and push settings, the phone died somewhere between five and six hours, which is slightly below average for a large screen device. For the sake of reference, the 3.7-inch single-core BlackBerry Torch 9850 lasted 20 percent longer in this test -- which merely shows that the Sensation XE pays for its specs in battery life.
The camera hardware in the XE is identical to that in the original Sensation, so check out that review for a full appraisal. All we really have to add is that the slight increase in clockspeed with the XE might translate into a minor improvement in the time it takes to load up the camera app and start capturing video or stills, but it's nothing particularly noticeable -- after all, the original Sensation was no slouch in this regard to begin with.
On the other hand, one thing has changed significantly since the XE's predecessor, and that's time. As the months have progressed and new handsets have come to market, we've become less forgiving of XE camera's flaws -- particularly with video. The auto-exposure isn't particularly smart, and it adjusts too quickly when filming video, with ugly results compared to the camera in the HTC Titan and Sensation XL -- which have far better camera units. Moreover, as you'll hear in the sample video above, the sound recording is terrible: its default sensitivity of the mic is way too high, resulting in clipped audio whenever the person holding the camera speaks, or when there's a gust of wind or any other sharp noise.