HTC Sensation Review

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Introduction and Design
The HTC Sensation will be offered by T-Mobile in the U.S. as HTC Sensation 4G, starting June 15.

Introduction:


While reviewing another Android handset, we were in a bar in London having a drink with some friends when a girl commented on our phone saying she liked our HTC. We replied with a polite "It's actually not an HTC, though it does run Android". "Well, if it isn't an HTC, it's an iPhone, isn't it?" she said, to which we pulled a face, she walked off and we never saw her again. This little anecdote sums up how successful HTC has been in making its name synonymous with Android, at least in Europe. Of late however, HTC's handsets and tablets have been consistently good, just, not great. Specifically, their S range offered some refined elements, but lacked wow factor, while the HTC Flyer delivered functionality, but lacked both a dual-core processor and Honeycomb. With arguably better handsets and tablets being offered by other manufacturers, HTC needed something better than good to ward off the competition, they needed something sensational. So here it is, 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor with a qHD screen and HTC Sense 3.0 atop Gingerbread – the HTC Sensation.

Design:

Premium. This would be our word of choice to sum up the HTC Sensation’s design. From the bevelled glass display through to the aluminium construction, the word is metaphorically lathered all over this phone. While the Samsung Galaxy S II scored across the board in our review, except for its uninspiring design, off the bat, we're smitten with the HTC Sensation's look and feel.



You can compare the HTC Sensation with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The display on the HTC Sensation is a qHD (540x960) Super LCD with a Gorilla Glassfascia, measuring in at 4.3". It offers greater pixel density than WVGA screens of the same size such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and a longer 16:9 aspect ratio. The glass fascia is also bevelled, with a smooth raise towards the edges. We definitely appreciate the HTC Sensation's aspect ratio when viewing movie content or using the phone one handed in portrait orientation thanks to it being narrower. The pixel density is also noticeably better when web browsing which is another plus. So while Super AMOLED Plus screens are generally more desirable, the HTC Sensation still looks immense, especially head on offering great brightness with good colour and contrast levels. Unfortunately, viewing angles can be likened to the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, with colours tending to look a bit washed out when tilting the phone to the side, despite a great head on experience.



The inclusion of the bevelled glass around the edges of the screen provides multiple benefits. Most noticeably, acting as a protector for your screen when face down, preventing the main display from scratching against surfaces. The bevelling also cups your thumb when operating the capacitive buttons and serves as a tactile indicator when swiping, letting you know that you have reached the edge of the screen. While Samsung wins in terms of display technology, these subtle elements of design consideration give HTC the edge when it comes to interacting with the device and screen.

Going beyond and HTC just keeps on giving. The handset itself is predictably solid being partially made of aluminum, sitting comfortably in the hand with good weighting and an attractive design. The four capacitive buttons below the screen are nuzzled towards the fascia’s lower end against the bevelled glass, while the front-facing camera, light sensor and in-call speaker lie above the screen along with an HTC insignia. To the left side is a volume rocker and microUSB port, up top lies the power button and audio jack and below is the battery cover release button. The 8MP camera, dual LED flash, loud speaker and 2nd microphone all decorate the HTC Sensation's reverse which is styled with a trademark three shade soft touch backing. 



The battery cover is like a suit of armour, encasing everything other than the glass facia. When we think about the fear we experience when taking off the fragile yet super-slim Samsung Galaxy S II battery cover, this is the total opposite, delivering a cohesive styling, secure backing and an even more solid feel to the HTC Sensation. Another plus point of the all encasing back cover is scratches. A scratch anywhere other than the Gorilla Glass fascia and you can simply purchase a new back cover.



As we said very early on, we’re smitten with the look and feel of the HTC Sensation. Its design is interesting yet accessible, its feel is solid yet manageable, and while its screen is good, if not great, the little touches such as the bevelled Gorilla Glass and longer aspect ratio separate it from the crowd in a good way. It’s definitely sporting more character than the Samsung competition, but carries more bulk. Which is the better choice? While the screen quality may not be as good and it isn't anywhere near as thin or light, when it comes to design, the HTC Sensation definitely has more flare and feels more solid.

HTC Sensation 360-degrees View:





Interface and Functionality:

HTC Sense 3.0 isn’t anything revolutionary, instead offering multiple improvements, not least of all in the form of an entirely redrawn UI and an intelligent lock screen. We have to hand it to HTC: it’s only been a few months since its last UI update, and already we’re seeing another. This approach of incrementally updating coupled with HTC’s recent announcement that it will unlock its bootloaders in response to pressure from users has left their brand image looking pretty fantastic right about now.


The redrawn UI sits on top of Gingerbread and carries the premium feel from the construction across to the interface. From a design perspective, HTC Sense 3.0 is so considered, elegant and cohesive, that it’s on another level to any custom UI we’ve seen. Each widget now has a silky smooth 3D transition when swiping the homescreen, so the layers of the widget subtly separate. Widgets are pin sharp and there are some really attractive new ones, such as the photo grid (gallery) widget, a huge improvement over the static photo-frame. If you're liking the idea of renting movies on the fly, the Watch widget, gives you quick access to HTC’s movie rental service. The 7 homescreens are also now on a revolving carousel system, so the last leads straight back to the first, and all with some rather slick SPB like carousel visuals in the process.


The lock screen is also a definite improvement, with a ring in the bottom of the screen and four application icons just above. Drag a shortcut down into the ring and you will unlock your phone straight in that application, or just drag the ring up to unlock where you left off. There are also personalizations you can apply to your lock screen, the most obvious being selecting your shortcut applications, or going further and selecting your lock screen background. Your options are:

  • standard wallpaper
  • photo album
  • friend stream (in which you can drag an update into the ring to open that up)
  • weather
  • stocks
  • clock


Suffice to say, similar lock screens can be installed by 3rd party means, but that’s the beauty of HTC Sense, as it matures it aggregates a number of awesome features into one complete experience, fresh out of the box.

Aspects that were overhauled in HTC Sense 2.1 haven’t seen any real changes, but suffice to say, operate smoothly with a staggered app drawer and quick settings and recent application shortcuts in the pull-down notifications tab.



The overall impression is one of seamless fluidity. Thanks to the 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon chipset, there isn’t slowdown or lag, and while loading times are occasionally found when widgets need to refresh, even these are minimal. The interface of the HTC Sensation therefore offers more than just Android, expanding functionality and ease of use out of the box thanks to Sense 3.0.

Of course, HTC's Sense 3.0 UI on top of Android delivers a fantastic messaging experience as well. When we couple the outstanding HTC QWERTY keyboard with the Sensation's giant 4.3" screen, it indeed makes for a compelling texting solution, when in landscape mode, that is. Email is as easy to set as it is on every other high-end Android smartphone out there - just input your username and password for the popular services, while custom accounts will require you to enter additional details. The Gmail app is of course very good, offering loads of options for its users.



Camera and Multimedia:

An 8MP camera with dual LED flash sits pretty on the rear side of the HTC Sensation. The interface of the camera is HTC’s standard, with a few more special effects and tweaks under the hood.


Both photo and video exhibit good amounts of detail in well-lit conditions, with quick touch to focus and very speedy picture taking. While not the best in terms of picture quality, it is one of the fastest, if not the fastest autofocus snappers to shoot. Both landscapes and macro shots deliver good detail, colours are well reproduced and photos taken on the device are comfortably printable at 6x4 or 7x5. For occasions when the camera struggles with high contrast backlit shots, the ‘backlight’ scene mode is fantastic at evening out exposure, while the ability to switch off autofocus enables easy re-framing of shots once focus is set by touch, great for macro shooting. Indoor shots naturally suffer from more noise, though the dual LED flash does a good job of countering this. You can also set exposure, contrast and saturation amongst other things, and there are a host of HTC's trademark special effects. A point to note, the default capture mode is 8MP wide, for pictures you will want to print, uncheck the "wide" toggle in settings to provide a more standard aspect ratio.




The video camera records 1080p video and output sits among the top end of HD capture from a phone, especially outdoors. Unfortunately, there's no auto-focus once recording has started though. As with photos, the LEDs can be used to illuminate indoor scenarios and tend to do the job pretty well. Frame rates being for the most part smooth.

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HTC Sensation Sample Video 1:



HTC Sensation Sample Video 2:




Music playback
is through HTC's music app which delivers a very standard UI , though the overall music experience is great. The audio jack is in a convenient location and the microSD card slot gives you up to 32GB storage, with an 8GB card in the box. Sound quality is exceptionally good thanks to SRS on board.


As for video playback, with the 16:9 aspect ratio, video fits very well on the screen and HD video plays back without a hitch. It needs to be encoded in MP4 format to play on the native player, though 3rd party apps such as Rockplayer play back other formats smoothly. The device is also comfortable to hold in landscape for extended periods, so is easy to recommend as a PMP.

The gallery is HTC's standard gridded system, with some cool perks such as wireless network printing as well. Interaction with images is very predictable with pinch to zoom being silky smooth and images rendering instantly while looking great on the screen.

Internet, Connectivity and Software:

Web browsing on the HTC Sensation is superb. Thanks to the screen resolution, text is legible and crisp from the page overview, and pinching to zoom is quick and smooth. Pages load up very fast and Flash video plays back smoothly. Text reflows to fit the display, which does stagger the process of zooming slightly. That said, it makes the reading experience more enjoyable.

As far as connectivity goes, you’ve got quad-band GSM and tri-band 3G along with Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth 3.0, DLNA functionality as well as an FM radio.

The GPS was extremely quick, finding our location almost instantaneously on first boot.

HDMI connectivity comes in the form of the MHL port, enabling HD content to be outputted via the microUSB port to a compatible HD TV. With compatible devices, this will simultaneously export visuals and charge your handset, while non-compatible devices will only export visuals.

HTC offers a mix of new and old applications in its Sensation, including:

  • Connected Media (DLNA)
  • Flashlight
  • Friend Stream (Aggregates Twitter and Facebook updates)
  • HTC Hub (Downloadable personalizations)
  • HTC Likes (Suggested applications)
  • Mirror
  • Music
  • News (RSS)
  • Peep (Twitter)
  • Polaris Office (free version)
  • Soundhound (free version)
  • Stocks
  • Teeter (game)
  • Watch
  • Weather


The latest noteworthy addition to the HTC Sense app arsenal is Watch. This is a streaming video service that enables buying and renting of movies and episodes of your favourite TV shows. Movies cost £3.49 to rent or £9.99 to buy, while episodes are bought at £1.49 each.





Performance:

This is the area we've noticed most concern recently. With reports that benchmarks don't live up to those set by the Samsung Galaxy S II, we're happy to rest your mind at ease - the HTC Sensation's plenty fast. We didn't experience slowdown throughout our time with the handset.

Of the 750MB of RAM, our unit had 558MB user available and benchmarks see scores tipping in the Samsung Galaxy S II’s favour. Thanks to the unlocked bootloader, Samsung’s offering would also be easier for enthusiasts to root and install custom ROMs. Having said that, the practical side by side experience of tasks such as web browsing, phone usage and movie watching results in no difference in terms of speed, but we do prefer the user experience offered by HTC Sense.

With the most demanding part of the handset therefore, 1080p video capture and playback being pretty flawless, the tangible results speak well for the HTC Sensation’s power.

In-call quality on the HTC Sensation is very good indeed. With the length and shape of the phone, it feels comfortable and the speaker sits well against the ear, with sound emitted from it being clear and audible. When speaking on the device, the receiver on the other end reported clear, crisp audio quality and signal strength was average to good when compared with other handsets.

As far as battery goes, with an 8.25 hour talk time and 15 days standby, you can expect a day out of this handset with moderate usage. While this is an improvement over the HTC Desire HD, it’s definitely one of the handset’s weaker areas.

Conclusion:

HTC strikes a fantastic balance in the HTC Sensation. It has the build quality design, the UI and the power under the hood to check all the boxes. The question everyone wants answered is: is it better than the Samsung Galaxy S II? To that we'd say, potentially, it could be better for you. With both being great bits of kit that really push the boat out in terms of power and usability, the HTC Sensation's Sense 3.0 UI feels more considered and complete than Samsung's TouchWiz 4.0. We also like the fact that the build feels considerably more solid, while the qHD screen manages to output sharper looking picture visuals. That said, many will still prefer the thinner form factor and punchier display of the Galaxy S II. It's safe to say that neither would be a disappoining choice, with these handsets being amongst the best on the market today.

Alternatively, if you want the wider aspect ratio of the HTC Sensation crossed with the sleekness of the Samsung Galaxy S II, Sony Ericsson's Xperia Arc is another beautiful Android handset. If, however, Android isn't for you, the iPhone 4 presents an extremely polished experience as well, with a host of great apps to boot.

Software version of the reviewed unit:
Kernel 2.6.35.10-gae358b5
Baseband 10.42.9007.00U_10.11.9007.15_M
Build Number 1.27.161.1 CL6633 release-keys

HTC Sensation Video Review:





Pros

  • Great aluminium construction
  • qHD Screen is very sharp
  • Sense 3.0 looks great

Cons

  • Could be bulky for some
  • Viewing angles could be better
  • Battery life could be longer

PhoneArena Rating:

9.0

User Rating:

8.0
33 Reviews

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