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HTC Sensation XE with Beats Audio review: HTC Sensation XE with Beats Audio

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The Good iBeats headphones; Large 4.3-inch S-LCD screen; Powerful 1.5GHz dual-core CPU; HTC Sense user interface.

The Bad Quite weighty; Android 2.3 will soon be surpassed.

The Bottom Line It may be an update of the existing Sensation rather than a brand-new phone, but that doesn't alter the fact that the Sensation XE is one of the very best Android phones we've yet seen from HTC. Its Beats Audio tech, top-notch bundled earphones and powerful dual-core processor make it a worthy challenger to the Samsung Galaxy S2.

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8.8 Overall

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The HTC Sensation XE is an improved version of the original Sensation, which came out earlier this year. It comes bundled with Beats audio headphones and features a faster 1.5GHz dual-core processor.

The Sensation XE is available on monthly contracts from around £35. Should you possess a bank balance as healthy as Dr Dre's, then a SIM-free XE will cost you around £450.

Should I buy the HTC Sensation XE?

If you're sick of smart phones masquerading as music players despite being bundled with hopeless headphones that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, then the HTC Sensation XE is sure to pique your interest.

The result of HTC's high-profile deal with headphone maker Beats audio -- run by hip-hop hospitaller Dr Dre, no less -- the Sensation XE comes packed with a pair of iBeats earphones that are worth more than many budget Android handsets.

HTC Sensation XE Beats earphones
Worth £80, the iBeats earphones set a high watermark in bundled accessories.

Music lovers will certainly appreciate the vast improvement in audio quality, but that's not the only feather in the Sensation XE's cap. HTC has wisely taken this opportunity to give the phone a welcome speed boost over the original model, pushing up that dual-core CPU from 1.2GHz to an impressive 1.5GHz. This places the device firmly at the vanguard of the smart phone power war, where it's likely to remain for a good few months.

Should this prospect have you salivating like a hungry dog, it's worth taking a moment to consider how much you value being on the cutting edge of both software and hardware.

As powerful as the Sensation XE may be, in a short while it will be surpassed in the operating system stakes by Samsung's Galaxy Nexus -- the first Android phone to come pre-installed with Ice Cream Sandwich, otherwise known as version 4.0 of Google's mobile OS. The Sensation XE is almost certain to get Android 4.0 at some point, but that is likely to be a good few months off yet.

If you can stomach being behind the times when it comes to software, then HTC's challenger is guaranteed to deliver a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

HTC Sensation XE thickness
Despite being quite a weighty handset, the Sensation XE is a surprisingly thin device.

Beats audio

The HTC Sensation XE with Beats audio is one of the first phones to come out of the manufacturer's new relationship with Beats by Dre, the headphone brand endorsed by rap producer Dr Dre. HTC is now the majority stakeholder in Beats-maker Monster, so we can expect to see many more phones appear with this branding in future.

That's unquestionably a good thing, because the earphones bundled with this device are easily the best we've seen with any mobile phone. The headphones are constructed from solid-feeling metal, and are backed up by some special software on the phone itself. This further enhances the standard of the audio, adding in plenty of lush, deep bass.

You can disable the bass boost if it's too epic for your timid ears, and it's worth noting that this tech even works on non-Beats headphones -- although the effect is drastically reduced if you use a cheap pair.

Aside from the bass boost, there's nothing else on the phone related to Beats audio, which strikes us as something of a missed opportunity. It would have been interesting to have a Beats application offering music samples to showcase just how great the headphones are, but this is a minor complaint.

HTC Sensation music player
A Beats app would have been a bonus but at least the standard music player is slick and intuitive.

iBeats headphones

Included in the box are a pair of iBeats in-ear headphones, which normally retail for around £80. This gives you some indication of their quality when compared to the usual rubbish that is shamefully included with most phones.

These buds make bass-heavy music sound fantastic, and you can listen to tracks at high volume without even the slightest hint of distortion. The only negative is that when you're listening to music that is lacking in bass -- such as acoustic guitar or classical music -- the sound is somewhat soupy.

The headphones have an in-line remote which allows you to skip forwards and backwards through your tracklist, as well as pause and resume playback. Lamentably, there's no volume control on the remote, which is a disappointment. Apple iPhone headphones have included this feature for ages, so it's high time that Android phones followed suit.

Because the iBeats buds are the in-ear type, they create an airtight seal when inserted into your ear canal. This improves the sound quality and augments the bass. They achieve this using soft rubber buds, of which there are three different sizes included with the phone. These interchangeable buds allow you to get the perfect fit for your lugholes.

We also like the fact that a small carry-pouch has been included with the HTC Sensation XE in which you can store your precious iBeats headphones when they're not blasting your eardrums with bass-filled music.

HTX Sensation XE earphones pouch
Not only do you get some souped up earphones, you also have this protective pouch to store them in.

Processing power and internal storage

HTC has done much more than just give the Sensation a new pair of headphones -- the phone is sporting a blisteringly quick 1.5GHz dual-core processor too, which is a step up from the 1.2GHz dual-core CPU seen in the original model.

This approach is obviously popular at the moment; Sony Ericsson pulled the same trick with its recently-released Xperia Arc S -- although the 1.4GHz single-core chip-set used in that phone is noticeably weaker than HTC's offering.

The increased power has resulted in a stutter-free and seriously slick user interface. Even with multiple apps running simultaneously, the Sensation XE rarely becomes flustered with the workload. 3D games are handled with aplomb too.

HTC Sensation XE benchmark tests
A hike from a 1.2GHz processor to a 1.5GHz dual-core CPU means the Sensation XE is super-quick (AnTuTu benchmark test is on the left, Quadrant is on the right).

Like the previous model, the Sensation XE has 768MB of RAM to play with. It would have been nice to see that figure pushed up to 1GB, but it keeps things ticking over nicely regardless. The XE skimps on storage, however, with a measly 4GB -- only 1GB of which is available to the user.

An 8GB microSD card is included with the phone, and this should provide music lovers with enough space to carry around plenty of their favourite tracks. However, if you're looking to download HD movies via HTC Watch as well, it might be worth looking into a slightly larger capacity card. 16GB variants can be obtained reasonably cheaply these days, and doubling the amount of available storage space really does make a difference.

Android 2.3

Like the original HTC Sensation, this updated edition is running Android: 2.3 Gingerbread.

Although Android 4.0 is due for launch in the coming weeks -- alongside the new Android flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus -- the HTC Sensation XE is sporting the most up-to-date version of Google's popular OS at this moment in time. Given the stature of the phone, we imagine it will be upgraded to Android 4.0 in the not-too-distant future.

Because the Sensation XE is running Android 2.3.4, it benefits from the ability to make video calls using a combination of Google Talk and the phone's front-facing camera.

Sense 3.0

Sitting on top of Gingerbread is HTC's well-liked Sense UI. This introduces exclusive apps and widgets that you won't find on any other Android phone and feels as slick as ever.

Although we've already been teased with footage of Sense 3.5, the version installed on this handset is actually 3.0 -- the same iteration which graced the original Sensation.

HTC Sensation XE Sense 3.0
It's a shame that the Sensation XE isn't running Sense 3.5, but 3.0 still does a commendable job.

There's an awful lot to like about Sense. For starters, it's easily the most attractive of all the available manufacturer-produced skins, offering cool 3D animations and other visual embellishments.

Going beyond pure aesthetic charm, Sense also has some intuitive tricks up its sleeve. One of our favourites is the bank of quick setting options on the pull-down Android notification bar. You can also view your running or recent applications from here, as well as monitor your phone's RAM to ensure it's running as smoothly as possible.

HTC Sensation XE notifications
HTC has modified the standard Android notification bar with a bank of recent apps and a quick settings menu.

Elsewhere, there's the Friends Stream widget, which pulls your Twitter and Facebook updates into one easy-to-digest flow of data. We're also complete suckers for the Weather and Clock widgets, which boast amazing context-sensitive animation and sound effects.


Like the original Sensation, the XE is a reasonably attractive slab of technology, although it feels a little unassuming when compared to the drop-dead gorgeous engineering of the iPhone 4S.

The Beats branding certainly helps the XE to stand out from the crowd more than its predecessor, but we're still not totally convinced that this is a phone you'd sell your granny for on looks alone.

HTC Sensation XE buttons
Those familiar Android touch-sensitive buttons now have a tasty red glow to them.

The most obvious alterations from the original Sensation are the black and red colour scheme and the big, bold Beats logo on the rear of the device. The camera lens also has a rather fetching metallic red ring around it, too.

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