HTC Sensation XE review: The eXtended Edition
8MP camera is ok, but nothing special
The HTC Sensation XE packs an 8MP camera that does stills of up to 3264x2448 pixels and records 1080p video @ 30fps. There’s a dual-LED flash / video light too.
The camera interface is very space efficient. Most of the controls are on the right side of the viewfinder, with the virtual shutter in the center. There’s a virtual zoom lever on the left. By default the viewfinder image is cropped so that it fills the entire screen, but you can switch that off (note that cropping reduces the resolution).
The HTC Sensation XE has touch focus and face detection; geotagging is enabled too.
Continuous autofocus is enabled too which is good to have on a phone like the Sensation XE with no hardware shutter key (the virtual shutter key cannot trigger autofocus either). On the downside, the continuous autofocus may be way off in some shots - the only way to be certain you have the right focus is to tap and hold the shutter key.
The effects button brings out a panel on the left with the usual set of color effects (sepia, solarize and so on).
There are other image effects too. For example, Warp places a control point on the screen, which you can drag with your finger and see the result in real time.
Depth of field is another such effect – it adds a radius slider besides the control point and will blur everything in the photo that falls outside the circle.
The image quality is a match to the previous Sensation, but this is hardly a surprise. The camera department is hardly its strongest suit - noise reduction is trying too hard at times to offset a noisy image sensor. Also contrast is generally good, but the colors often come out way off.
On the upside, the XE did very well in low-lighting conditions - despite the high noise levels, it kept a lot of detail. Colors were quite acceptable and its dual-LED flash was one of the strongest we've seen (as far as LED flashes go).
If you don't need the full 8MP resolution (say you upload to Facebook, which will downsize them by default) then the results are quite acceptable.
We've got a bunch of samples below.
Photo quality comparison
The HTC Sensation XE enters our Photo Compare Tool to join the other 8MP shooters. The tool’s page will give you enough info on how to use it and what to look for.
The synthetic ISO chart clearly shows signs of over-processing. The other two charts are a good indication of how much that processing softens the image. Still, results are slightly better than the first Sensation.
1080p video recording does not impress too
The interface of the camcorder is similar to the still camera’s and there are lots of customizable options with this one. You can set the video resolution, recording limit and add effects.
Autofocus works here too, but only before you start shooting – then the focus is locked and won’t change unless you tap an area on the screen, which will cause the camera to refocus on that area.
Videos are shot in .3GP, which isn't the ideal container for HD video, especially 1080p. Videos have a decent bitrate of about 10Mbps and smooth 30fps framerate when the lighting is good. When the lights go out however, the camera drops below the 24fps threshold which led it to capture choppy videos.
Still, the Sensation XE camera boasts stereo audio recording awith a sampling rate of 44kHz, which is a huge difference over the sub-22kHz mono sound that, say, the LG Optimus 2X or the Samsung Galaxy S II record.
The resolved details in the Sensation XE videos is above average for a FullHD shooter, but noise reduction leaves something to be desired (it's extra destructive in the shades).
The 720p videos captured by the Sensation XE are good, though we've seen better even from phones that can't shoot higher than 720p resolution. 720p videos from the XE suffer from the same framerate problem as its 1080p videos.
And here’s a video uploaded to YouTube for convenience. Don't forget to click 1080p on the FullHD video sample and open the video fullscreen.
Video quality comparison
We entered the HTC Sensation XE in our Video Compare Tool database too and put it head to head with other 1080p mobile camcorders.
This test shows curious results - the camera seems to have potential but the low-bitrate (around 10Mbps) smears out all the fine detail, producing unsatisfactory results. Again, the same results as the first Sensation.
Connectivity suffers death grips
The HTC Sensation XE has a complete connectivity set. There’s quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and blazing fast dual-band 3G: 14.4Mbps downlink and 5.76Mbps uplink thanks to HSPA.
The local wireless connectivity has Wi-Fi b/g/n and full DLNA support (both client and server, for images, videos and music) and Bluetooth 3.0.
There are death grip issues though - the Wi-Fi radio is especially prone to it. It can be reduced to zero when you touch the top part of the back of the phone. We tested the issue extensively, and we’re not the only ones.
The cell network signal is more resilient though touching the bottom of the phone might cause trouble in areas with poor reception.
The Connected media app handles all sorts of DLNA connections – it plays media to and from devices on the network with just a couple of clicks. Apps like the gallery have such functionality built in too.
You have a long list of options for connecting to a PC - Charge only, Disk drive (mass storage), HTC Sync, USB tethering (use the phone as a modem) and Internet pass-through (the phone uses the computers Internet connection). The Charge only and Disk Drive now have big, thumbable icons, which is great since they are used most often.
Last but not least is the HTC Portable Hotspot. It can support 1 to 8 devices (default Froyo app maxes out at 5), you can WEP, WPA or WPA2 encrypt the hotspot and you can enable “allowed users” only to connect or leave it open for all (unsecure, but the quickest setup).
The app can be set to power off automatically after 5 or 10 minutes of inactivity, saving your battery in case you forget to switch it off manually.
We're not over covering the connectivity - the "microUSB port" as we called it for convenience is actually a MHL port. If you plug a MHL dongle in it, you can output HD video over a standard HDMI connection.
The phone's UI is mirrored on the TV - the qHD resolution has the perfect 16:9 aspect ratio for connecting to HDTVs.