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HTC Sensation vs Samsung Galaxy S II

Interface and Functionality:

Both phones sport the newest versions of their Android interface skins - TouchWiz 4.0 and HTC Sense 3.0 – click on the links for our walkthroughs. While TouchWiz can still be called a skin or overlay on top of the default Android 2.3 Gingerbread user interface, Sense UI goes deeper and entirely changes the whole Android feel to a trademark HTC experience. You can’t have anything like it if you go to the competition, and that’s the whole idea behind branding, right?

On a more pragmatic level, let’s start from the lock screen. It’s dynamic on the Samsung Galaxy S II, since it displays notifications for certain events like missed calls or unread messages, and you can swipe to the respective app in charge directly from the lock screen itself, similar to what Apple will offer in its fall iOS 5 collection. Sense 3.0 on the HTC Sensation does that too, but it also allows you quick access to applications of your choosing straight from the lock screen, similar to Nokia Bubbles, for instance.

Both handsets sport certain gestures that are supposed to add to the experience. The Samsung Galaxy S II lets you place widgets with one hand, or tap its top to speak voice commands, while the HTC Sensation “senses” when it is in a purse, and rings louder, for example, with the ringer volume diminishing when you take it out. None of these are necessities, but they are cool and helpful at times.

Moving on to phone and contacts, both handsets support smart dialing for quickly displaying who you are trying to find by keying in just 2-3 letters of their name, but Sense on the HTC Sensation makes for a prettier picture, with its rich visuals, stemming from a generous use of transparent backgrounds and animations. Moreover, the abilities to visually change the appearance of Sense UI are breathtaking, with whole theme packages called Scenes directly accessible from the home screen. One thing we preferred on the Samsung Galaxy S II was the virtual keyboard. Its clear-cut keys are spaced out a bit more, and it is easier to hit the right letter quickly.

Some find this ability to customize Sense a bit over the top, and prefer the simpler overlays like TouchWiz, or stock Android. These manufacturers’ overlays bring a lot of additional functionality, though, like social networking integration in your contacts list, and, as long as it doesn’t slow things down, the beauty of Sense UI is welcome, compared to a few pretty widgets and simple wallpapers that the Samsung Galaxy S II sports. Just wait until the live wallpaper starts changing in sync with the weather outside, and you’ll know what we mean.

Sense 3.0 does slow things down at places, however, like in the main menu. It’s paginated, so scrolling feels like you are flipping through a slide show, stopping at page breaks. Even when you switch to list view of the apps, the movement is still choppy, compared to the furious uninterrupted inertia on the Samsung Galaxy S II. The main menu is about the only nuisance in terms of scrolling, however - in the homescreens, widgets and system apps Sense 3.0 is smooth as silk. We don’t know if it’s the chipset that plays a role here, or Sense UI just needs to be tweaked for faster, more fluid scrolling in the main menu. We had a similar issue with the HTC Desire HD, which has a weaker processor than the Sensation, so the culprit should be the Sense overlay.

Speaking of chipsets, we have dual-core ones in both handsets, clocked at 1.2GHz. Samsung’s homemade Exynos with its ARM Cortex-A9 cores, however, is more powerful than the third generation Qualcomm Snapdragon in the HTC Sensation with its customized, but still Cortex-A8 Scorpion cores. We also have 1GB RAM on the Galaxy S II, whereas the HTC Sensation comes with 768MB of RAM. The Galaxy S II beats in internal memory, too – 16GB of flash storage, versus an 8GB microSD card with the Sensation.

The advantages of Exynos are clearly visible in synthetic benchmark tests where the Galaxy S II scores much higher, while the Sensation reaches NVIDIA Tegra 2-level performance, and barely. Of course, there aren’t many apps out there that can fully stress both Exynos and Snapdragon the 3rd, and in tasks that do unleash their potential, like browsing and 1080p video recording both handsets perform on par, so it’s unlikely that the typical user will notice or even care about the difference in horse power.

Internet, Connectivity and Software:

The synthetic BrowserMark test we ran clocked much higher scores for the Samsung Galaxy S II on multiple occasions. In everyday browsing, however, the HTC Sensation performs admirably, with page loading and response times as fast as we would expect from a dual-core handset. It even had the upper hand in text reflow, handily reformatting the written words to fit the screen in a reading-friendly size upon double-tap. Yes, browsing on Android handsets, especially dual-core ones, is magical, especially when you throw in the full Adobe Flash support, which allows you to watch videos outside of the most popular sites. And both the Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC Sensation perform all aspects of it admirably.

One area directly connected with browsing, where the Samsung Galaxy S II has an advantage, is HSPA+ connectivity. Its radio supports 21Mbps download speeds, whereas the HTC Sensation goes to 14.4Mbps.

Thanks to Sense UI, however, the HTC Sensation has the upper hand in offline navigation. Through its partnership with TomTom for the software, and Route 66 for the maps, HTC includes the ability to download very detailed country maps on your handset directly from the Locations app, and use them to navigate your way through the city or highway maze, without incurring data charges. You have to pay a small amount if you want voice-guidance as well, but Locations in Sense UI is the closest you can come to free offline navigation on Android.

As we mentioned, both handsets sport the MHL port, which looks like a regular microUSB one, but besides a microUSB cable for charging and syncing, you can also plug in an MHL-to-HDMI adapter cable, which will allow you to mirror your phone’s display to an HDTV, and pump out Full HD 1080p video with surround sound at that. If you have an MHL-enabled TV you can also charge the phone during playback, but those are just coming this year, so it will take some time for wider adoption.

The so-called Wi-Fi “death grip” issue on the HTC Sensation is indeed present when you cup the top of the phone - signal bars drop down to the minimum sometimes, which would slow YouTube video loading to a crawl, for instance, so don’t cup the top when you are holding it in landscape mode. The Galaxy S II had no connectivity problems whatsoever, plus it sports some extras like Bluetooth 3.0HS and Wi-Fi Direct, which you can only use full speed with other Galaxy S IIs. Hopefully these will come to other handsets in the future, making them more useful. Even before we add the USB-on-the-go capability that allows you to connect memory sticks directly to your phone, Samsung's handset easily wins the connectivity round.

As far as preinstalled apps go, both phones have covered all the basics – there are file browsers, email clients, office document viewers and picture and video editors on both. Moreover, the much-hyped HTC Watch and Music multimedia stores have their equivalent in Samsung's Media and Music Hubs, with similar pricing. The design of the apps on the HTC Sensation is prettier and more refined, but the video editor is much more capable on the Galaxy S II, for example, so we can call it a draw.

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