The smartphone market is now dominated by three main hardware makers - HTC, Samsung and Apple. Although there are other manufacturers out there, it's these three that are grabbing the attention of consumers. If Nokia and Microsoft can get their act together, then it's possible that their alliance will bear fruit.
In the hand
At 132.5 x 70.7 x 9.9mm and 162.5g the Sensation XL is not small. In our testing, we found that it was a little too large to be easily used with one hand. For example, while holding it in the palm of our average-sized hand, it was difficult to reach around to the home button. However, the Settings, back and Search buttons could be easily reached.
It's inevitable that the Sensation XL will be compared to the iPhone. In our experience, despite being marginally thicker and about 22g heavier, the Sensation XL doesn't feel much heavier. Also, given its rounded edges, it feels comfortable to hold. We find the iPhone's sharper edges and chunkier style make it feel larger than it actually is.
The only buttons on the device are four touch-sensitive buttons below the 4.7-inch display and the volume control on the right-side of the smartphone. All worked reliably in our testing.
The Sensation XL ships with 16GB of inbuilt storage with no expansion. It's interesting that so many critics of the iPhone complained about its lack of an SD or other storage expansion but it's now a common feature of modern smartphones.
Depending on how you use your phone, 16GB may seem like overkill or a serious constraint. It's enough to load up several hours of music and a movie but if you're looking to store several movies then you'll hit the 16GB barrier quite quickly.
The Sensation XL is equipped with a 1.5GHz processor and 768MB RAM that deliver solid performance. We were able to watch full-screen movies, open documents, read email and all the other things we do with a smartphone without any noticeable lag.
Smartphone platforms are defined by the support of third party application developers. Although the Sensation XL is running Android 2.3.5 with HTC Sense 3.5, the operating system is only the beginning.
It's reasonable to say that Apple created the first, successful mobile application marketplace. However, the Android Market, having now topped 400,000 apps, can match Apple's App Store in terms of quality, if not quantity. A recent article pegs the difference at around 100,000 apps.
As long time iPhone users, we have a significant investment in iOS applications. However, we were able to find either Android versions or Android equivalents for all our key apps. The main exceptions were a specific banking application and QANTAS's application. However, in those cases, both offered mobile-browser friendly versions of their sites.
In-built application support was broad with navigation, office apps and games all covered. In short, there's enough on the Sensation XL to get you started and the Android Market will fill any other blanks you might have.
It's worth noting that the Amazon App Store is not available to Australian customers yet.
The Sensation XL's main camera is an 8MP snapper with a pair of LEDs as its flash. The camera takes decent photos but we did find it slow. There was an appreciable lag between when we hit the shutter button and when the image was taken.
There's also a front-facing camera that can be used for video conferencing. We tested it with Skype and it worked well although it did require decent lighting.
The S-LCD capacitive touchscreen runs at a resolution of 480 x 800 and supports multi-touch. Given the size of the screen, we'd have liked to see a higher display resolution but that's a minor quibble. Photos and videos were rendered clearly.
Music and video playback were flawless.
As a bonus, Australian customers get a set of Beats headphones. As well as looking good, these offer vastly superior sound quality when compared to the smaller, in-ear ear-buds.
Connectivity is covered off by all the usual suspects with Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth v3.0 with A2DP. The Sensation XL can be used as a wireless hotspot.
There's also an integrated GPS receiver that can be used with Google Maps or the extra Locations app. However, Locations is only a 30-day trial version
Computer connection is via Micro USB which can be used for connecting and/or charging.
The Sensation XL's 1600mAh battery can drive the device through a day's use. We're reticent to make a definitive statement about life as each person's use varies through a day. We used the phone for over a week and found that a full day's use with several calls and voicemail retrievals, watching several YouTube videos and using the web and then leaving the device on standby overnight ran the battery down to about 5% capacity remaining.
Charging is via the supplied AC to USB charger or using the USB port on a computer.
The Sensation XL is available through Vodafone for $0 up front and then $49 per month over 24 months. We also found the Sensation XL through local online retailers, unlocked for $599. This is excellent pricing when compared to similar handsets from other vendors.
Despite the hefty footprint, we liked the HTC Sensation a lot. It's easy to use, performs well and offers plenty of application support. For those migrating from other smartphone platforms, the real question is whether the Sensation XL is good enough to make you switch from another platform where you might have an investment in lots of apps. For us - it's a toss up.
But for those making their first smartphone purchase, the Sensation XL is good enough to make you reconsider the often automatic purchase of an iPhone.