Monday, 19 December 2011

HTC Sensation XE Review

Presenting the Sensation XE, HTC’s attempt at reviving the former''s name and this time they’ve come with reinforcements from Beats Audio. To give them some credit, at least they haven't thrown in a faster CPU and called it a day unlike some (yes, I’m talking to you, Xperia Arc S). The original Sensation was HTC’s first dual-core phone and amazing build quality aside, it was plagued with death grip issues and many people had their screens fail on them a few months down the line, not something a company wishes for their flagship handset. With some tweaks under the hood and above, the XE takes the spot of the former but is this new avatar a worthy change? Let’s find out.

Design and Build
Let’s just get this out of the way, the Sensation XE is a carbon copy of the old one and there’s no two ways about that. There are some cosmetic changes like the red speaker grill and the capacitive shortcut buttons which now sport a red backlight. The red motif is continued at the back as well around the camera lens and you have the big Beats Audio logo at the bottom. The phone is available in two colour trims, white and black. The white one looks a bit like a training shoe while the black looks meaner and aggressive.

The XE has packed on a few pounds due to the larger battery and now weighs 151g. All the ports are where you expect them to be, the power and 3.5mm audio jack sit on top while the volume rocker and USB port are on the sides. To insert the SIM and battery, the entire outer chassis snaps off, speaker grill and everything.
Red capacitive buttons go well with the screen
Red capacitive buttons go well with the screen

The screen also has a lacquer finish which makes the colours pop a little. HTC have gone with the same S-LCD screen with a 960 x 540 pixel resolution so it’s not ‘retina’ sharp but better than say, the S II.   

The Sensation XE comes with Android 2.3.4 and rather disappointingly, Sense 3.0. Given this is a brand new product, we were expecting Sense 3.5, like the Rhyme, which is a lot better. Hopefully HTC will release an update for it along with ICS. The XE uses the same Qualcomm MSM8260 chipset, only this time, it runs at its default 1.5GHz instead of 1.2GHz. That, and coupled with 768MB of RAM, the phone is incredibly quick and fluid. AnTuTu gave us a score of 4738 whereas Linpack revealed a single threaded score of 55.3 and a multi-thread score of 72.2.
Sense UI never fails to impress
Sense UI never fails to impress

There isn’t too much of a difference in the interface between the old phone and this one since it’s more or less identical. It would have been nice had HTC thrown in a Beats skin or theme to go with the rest of the phone, but they haven’t. Thankfully, we didn’t face any death grip issues or trouble with the screen this time around so we’ll take for granted that HTC has sorted out the Sensation's problems.

This category is the main focus of the XE, audio playback, and it does live up to that in a way. The stock earphones are replaced by the iBeats from Beats Audio with a slightly redesigned in-line control system. The in-ear phones are quite comfortable and manage to block out most of the ambient noise thanks to high quality silicon ear tips. A small side effect however is that you can’t wear them for hours on end as you will inevitably get a headache with all that pounding bass. Compared to a Creative EP630, they sound louder as the treble and bass gets a boost. Along with the Beats earphones, there’s a Beats enhancement in the music and audio player that automatically kicks in once you start playing. The rest of the player is the standard one you get in Sense 3.0 so we won’t go too much into detail on that.
Let the 'beat' rock
Let the 'beat' rock

The video player also gets the same Beats treatment and along with MP4, it also reads AVI files. Unfortunately, we found that some SD AVI files didn’t play smoothly. This is an issue with Sense 3.0 since the very same file played butter smooth on the Rhyme. 1080p MP4 and AVI play back just fine but the stock player won’t read certain audio codecs so that can be a problem. Overall, the Beats preset adds good spatial separation to the sound which is most apparent in videos.Connectivity
Recapping what we stated in the Sensation review, the XE is a quad-band GSM phone with full 3G HSDPA and HSUPA support. Other connectivity options are Wi-Fi ‘n’ and Bluetooth 3.0. Just like every HTC phone, you can’t use the built-in storage for anything other than apps. The stock browser does a decent job of rendering web pages and zooming in and out is smooth and relatively lag free.

Other Internet related apps, include Facebook, News and Weather. HTC also bundles their own suite of apps like HTC Hub, HTC Likes and HTC Watch. The latter doesn't work in India as it keeps showing you old trailers.

Misc. Features
Polaris Office is a productivity app for working on Word or Excel files. Reader app comes with a bunch of classic titles. Finally, we also have the very addictive game, Teeter.

The 8MP shooter is backed up by a dual-LED flash which makes it a decent option for low light photography.  It features the same settings seen on the old one like some fun to use effects, White Balance settings, scene modes that include Back light, Beach and Snow settings etc., ISO options up to 800, Geotagging and Face detection.
Macros turn out pretty darn good
Macros turn out pretty darn good

We did manage to pull off some really good macros with this without too much effort so you can get creative with this phone.
Captures good amount of detail
Captures good amount of detail

Video recording supports a no-compromise 1920x1080 at 30fps. The frame rate is smooth overall with very slight jitter creeping in intermittently, but nothing too drastic. It even does a good job in the dark, just make sure you don't use the zoom and you should be fine. Alternately, you can view these videos directly on an HDTV via MHL or you could stream it via DLNA.

Battery Life
The XE is fitted with a larger 1730mAh battery which gave us a pretty decent 8hrs in our loop tests. This included 1.5hrs of calls, 2hrs of audio, 2hrs of streaming over Wi-Fi and 2.5hrs of video playback. Our video drain tests revealed similar performance of 7hrs and 20min which is an upgrade from the Sensation.

At a street price of Rs. 33,990, it’s about Rs. 3000 more than the old Sensation. But, for that extra money, you do get a bigger battery, more onboard storage for apps, a slightly faster CPU and Beats in-earphones, which in itself is worth roughly Rs. 6,000, so all in all, it’s a pretty good deal HTC is offering. But, like any smart shopper, you would first survey the competition and see what’s on offer, and boy are there many good phones to choose from. If you’re looking at the same price range then we have the Samsung Galaxy Note which is a remarkable device. For a little more, you can get the Motorola RAZR XT910 which is worth its weight in salt.

In the end, the Sensation XE is an improvement over its predecessor in many ways and you get a lot more for your money than you did with the old one. But the two things that we feel are holding it back are the pricing (given the competition) and the fact that it does not have Sense 3.5.

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