The Sensation XE delivers as many other HTC handsets have this year, and is made cooler by its Beats Audio colours and the great headphones bundled with the handset.
HTC has had a huge year, releasing eight new smartphones in Australia and up to 30 devices globally. With a range as large as this, it's likely you'll find duplication of designs and ideas amongst its ranks. The Sensation XE is, as its name suggests, a version of the HTC Sensation launched in July, but with the promise of something extra.
HTC hasn't tweaked its Sensation design too much in creating the XE; while its colour palette is darker, and it bears red highlights signifying its Beats Audio compatibility, the XE is otherwise identical. The curved, segmented battery cover shares the former's design, although HTC uses soft-touch plastic on the XE, and it feels better in our hands than the fully metal back of the original.
The Super LCD display is pleasantly sharp, thanks to its qHD resolution (960x540 pixels), but the colours and contrast could be deeper and richer, especially next to a Samsung or Nokia AMOLED display. The screen is also noticeably less bright, so that while we typically recommend that people set their phones to about 20 per cent or 30 per cent brightness to preserve battery life, we found that we needed to set the XE to 50 per cent or 60 per cent as a minimum to maintain a clear picture onscreen.
HTC positions the headphone socket on the top of the handset, with its micro-USB port on the bottom left. It also includes a microSD card slot for storing media, and includes an 8GB card with the phone, complementing the handset's 1GB of internal memory. This will be sufficient for a user with a small to medium music and image library, but it will fall short for a true music lover or a film buff hoping to fill up their handset with videos to watch on the go.
Unlike our experience with most of HTC's range this year, the Sensation XE tends to get a little warm in the hand, at the base of the phone, after extended use. Lifting the battery cover reveals that this is the position of the phone's CPU, suggesting that the new dual 1.5GHz processor might not be getting the airflow it needs to stay cool.
A lot has been said already about the Sensation XE being the world's fastest phone at this time, with its dual 1.5GHz processor, but it is very hard to see this performance in the end-user experience. Compared with the Sensation XL, which HTC has released simultaneously in Australia, the XE has a slightly older version of both Android and the HTC Sense UI, and although this doesn't seem to hold the handset back, it might also be the reason why we don't see it streaking ahead, either.
Examples of HTC's uniquely designed widgets.
(Credit: screenshots by CBSi)
All of this is to say that the Sensation XE works well; it's just hard to see how it's better. HTC Sense is as smooth and as slick as ever on this device, with practically the same build on this phone as we saw on the Sensation a few months ago, but with far fewer bugs and hiccups than we saw with the first Sensation. Where animations stuttered, and lists took a while to load back in July, the Sensation XE handles all of these elements flawlessly.
HTC Sense features a sexy 3D carousel-like appearance, and great-looking icons and widgets, all of which are more eye-catching than the screens you'll see from HTC's nearest competitors in this space. The UI offers the user seven customisable home screens, and over 80 unique, HTC-designed widgets to position on these screens. Using HTC's Personalisation menu makes adding and editing widgets, wallpapers, ringtones and themes extremely easy — helping to lower the Android learning curve somewhat.
The Sensation takes reasonably good photos; however, as with many phone cameras, the XE does struggle in low light. Photos we took on bright sunny days are stunning, with nice, warm-looking colours and sharp focus. Like night and day itself, our images were polar opposites after dark, with visible noise, soft focus and washed-out colours and contrast.
Photography on a sunny day produces outstanding results.
This shot, taken at night, shows the camera struggling under less-than-perfect lighting.