HTC Sensation XE review

Is Beats tech enough to propel the HTC Sensation XE to smartphone stardom?

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Bass-blasting Beats Audio

  • +

    Speedy performance

  • +

    Good build quality

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Light on built-in storage

  • -

    Non-AMOLED screen

  • -

    Beats doesn’t suit all music

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HTC Sensation XE Review: The Beats Audio-equipped HTC Sensation XE is billed as a music nut's dream. Is it just what the Dr (Dre) ordered?

The HTC Sensation XE is an updated version of the HTC Sensation (first released in April 2011). Several aspects have been given a makeover, but the headliner is the addition of Beats by Dre technology, which HTC suggests makes this the go-to smartphone if music playback is a priority.

Not only is there Beats audio processing inside, but you'll also find a pair of iBeats headphones, worth about £80 alone, stuffed inside the box. Is this enough to make it into our list of the best smartphones around?

HTC Sensation XE: Build

Bar the snazzy new red and black colour scheme, the HTC Sensation XE looks much the same as the original Sensation. Not that that's a bad thing: this is a solidly-built, slim smartphone that feels nice, if perhaps a little heavy, in your hand; the rubberised texture on the backplate is a nice touch (and nice to touch).

There are micro USB and 3.5mm headphone sockets on the outside, plus a volume rocker on the left hand side panel.

HTC Sensation XE: Features

The HTC Sensation XE comes with all the accoutrements you'd expect from a high end smartphone, including a superb camera that captures 8MP stills and 1080p HD video, Bluetooth 3.0 and DLNA. The OS is the always-capable Android 2.3 Gingerbread, over which HTC has spread its Sense 3.0 user interface – and very nice to use it is too.

There's a handful of HTC-exclusive apps like Watch (which lets you download HD movies), and of course you also have access to Android Market and the thousands of apps therein.

The Beats Audio technology is essentially a very effective bass booster, and when paired with the excellent quality iBeats headphones it means you get an impressively big sound out of this phone. Bass is HUGE without being distorted, and when listening to hip hop and the like, this pays off nicely.

If your 'bag' swings more towards the acoustic end of the musical spectrum, however, it can result in tunes sounding bigger and murkier than you might expect.

You can turn off Beats for such stuff, but this leaves everything slightly bloodless and anaemic. We'd also like to see Beats enabled for apps outside the main music player, like Spotify.

HTC Sensation XE: Screen

While the Sensation XE's 4.3-inch Super LCD screen lacks the retina-punching, colour-rich loveliness of AMOLED, it's not a bad display at all, even though it's not quite as bit as the 4.7-inch display found on the HTC Sensation XL. It's sharp, with a resolution of 960 x 540 (that's a pixel density of 256ppi), and colours pop out brightly.

Videos and games look eminently watchable on the screen, and it's large and detailed enough that web browsing proves to be a pleasure rather than a chore.

HTC Sensation XE: Performance

The Sensation XE is a mid-powered smartphone, and its 768MB of memory and 1.5GHz processor run most apps in a slick, acceptable fashion. We benchmarked it using AnTuTu and found it scored 5678 overall: slightly less than the Samsung Galaxy S2, and slightly more than the LG Optimus 2X. It's not a raging speed demon, but neither will it let you down.

It's a peach on the usability front. HTC Sense is one of the best non-standard Android UIs, and the multi-touch controls work as they should. You can flick between home screens with minimal lag, and customise them to your requirements with ease.

The battery life is pretty standard for a smartphone, and you'll more than likely need to charge the Sensation XE up once a day.

HTC Sensation XE: Verdict

Despite being a revamped Sensation, the Sensation XE's extra power and the addition of Beats Audio (plus quite possibly the best headphones ever to be packaged with a phone) mean it's no mere 'special edition'.

The effectiveness of Beats does depend to some extent on what sort of music you listen to, but it's always better than the muddy dross served up by a lot of packaged smartphone headphones. Audio aside, this is a strong all-rounder, and another classy Android option.

HTC Sensation XE availability: Out now

HTC Sensation XE price: £Free on contract, £450 SIM-free

Sam Kieldsen

Sam has been covering tech and culture for more than two decades, first in games journalism and later consumer electronics, streaming entertainment and photography. He has written for the likes of Wired, Stuff, CNET, GQ, Trusted Reviews and CVG, and now lives on the Kent coast – not a bad spot for a camera reviewer to reside.