But how does it stack up? Is the Sensation any better at reproducing colours than the Samsung Galaxy S II? Can it match—or even beat—the battery life of the Motorla Atrix? What about the new version of HTC's very own Sense interface? We'll answer all the questions (and more) in this review.
Design and usability
It's hard to be impressed by the front face of the Sensation, which is almost entirely taken up by the wide display, with four touch-sensitive buttons underneath, just like a lot of other phones.
From the side, it looks pretty chunky compared to the slim lines of the LG Black and the Samsung Galaxy S II. That might be exaggerating just a little, but we're getting used to thin, light smartphones, and the Sensation can't match its rivals on either count, weighing in at 148 g, just about average for a handset in this segment.
As soon as you turn it over, it's obvious that you're dealing with a HTC phone. The manufacturer's hallmark look is there: a careful design but with a very masculine feel that's more sporty than smart. Looks are a matter of taste of course, and HTC's design has the advantage of not relying entirely on plastic like the Galaxy S II, instead mixing metal trim at each end and rubber in between. It's important to note that the bottom half of the phone gets very hot if you're making a call, surfing the web or recharging the battery; ten minutes is all it takes.
We're glad that you no longer have to remove the battery to get change the microSD card—although it would have been even better on the outside of the phone—which is something you're certainly going to want to do because the Sensation only has 1 GB of internal memory. There's an LED notification to alert users to incoming text messages, e-mails and Facebook updates. Getting the back case off isn't very easy at all.
There's no HDMI output, but instead the microUSB port is compatible with the MHL standard, so as with the Samsung Galaxy S II, users will need to use a special cable with a built-in adaptor to enjoy video from their mobile on a HD TV.
The external antennae are in the case, meaning your hand can interfere with the signal
Despite the screen being so big, the phone is very easy to handle and the unibody design's curves sit naturally in the palm of your hand. We have absolutely no complaints about the finish and build quality on the Sensation, which are absolutely impeccable.
The notifcation area with quick access to the main settings is as handy as ever
At 540 x 960 pixels, the 4.3'' Super LCD qHD touchscreen has a higher resolution than both the Galaxy S II and the Optimus 2X, and the screen itself is good, but not great. A contrast ratio of 564:1 doesn't even come close to the infinite contrast of Samsung's Super AMOLED display. Blacks don't look very deep, so in bright sunlight, it's easier to read text on the Samsung Galaxy S II's screen, especially as its anti-glare covering is slightly better than the Sensation's. On the other hand, the Sensation reproduces colours much more accurately, with a deltaE score of 5.6 amongst the best we've seen on a phone. Its Samsung rival relies on huge blocks of dayglo shades, which although fashionable, don't really reflect the reality of your photos. The viewing angles on the Sensation are much narrower than on the Galaxy S II and the screen soon ends up looking yellow. To cut a long story short, despite displaying colours that are far too glaring to be accurate, the Galaxy S II still has a better screen.
HTC has made no mistakes with the accuracy or the responsiveness of the display, with a reasonable ghosting time of 17 ms. The higher resolution means that there's room for more information on screen at once, leading to less scrolling when you're flicking through your phonebook for example. That comes in handy when surfing the web: you don't need to zoom in very far to be able to see what's on screen.
Sense 3.0: best interface for Android yet
You only need to spend a few minutes playing with the Sensation to realise that things are going to go smoothly: the fast boot-up time, intelligent unlock screen and (almost) perfect responsiveness all bode very well. The interface is very smooth and apps are quick to download, install and load. Our biggest gripe is that widgets like those showing your calendar events or FriendStream, a social network aggregator, isn't instantaneous.
Right: a preview of all seven homescreens
The market for Android smartphones keeps on growing, but the hardware used is so often so similar that it's very hard to tell them apart. One area where manufacturers can stand is by customising the user interface, and just about everybody with an Android handset offers their own tweaks, whether it's Motorola's Motoblur or Samsung's TouchWiz. By adding their own layer of software on top of Google's base, they can bring users a more polished interface, a wider choice of widgets and handy extra features. The Sense 3.0 eco-system, first unveiled on HTC's tablet, the Flyer, the manufacturer is streets ahead of the competition: Sense is easily the best mobile interface, with a well thought-out set of extras that makes using the Sense incredibly easy to use. It also adds a whole host of ways for ordinary users to customise their smartphone, and offers great support for social networks by integrating both Facebook and Twitter into FriendStream.
There are more examples in our test of the Flyer, but we should flesh out why it's so great, starting with the dynamic lockscreen, which can show lots of information, including info from your Facebook friends or your photo albums. It's great and means you don't have to unlock your phone as often. The lockscreen also has four icons, which users can drag onto a ring at the bottom of the display to unlock the phone and gain direct access to calls, text messages or e-mails, which saves even more time. HTC's list of widgets is very long and there's bound to be something for everybody. Less crucial, but still attractive, is the updated weather widget, which can now act as a background to all of your homescreens.
You can slide four separate icons onto a ring on the bottom of the dynamic lockscreen to be access that feature directl
HTC also includes apps to improve the user experience: HTC Hub provides a selection of app downloads based on your needs; HTC Sense backups your data in case your phone is lost or stolen and HTC Watch allows users to digitally rent movies. HTC has launched the service, but for the time being the catalogue is a little short on recent releases. We're hoping that will be ironed out soon ...
MultimediaLike the Galaxy S II, the Sensation has an 8 Megapixel sensor and it does a pretty decent job, as long as you forget about the flash, which overexposes photos. It does better outside than inside, and the results are, in general, acceptable for a handset of this type. The Samsung Galaxy S II does better, even if that is at the expense of blurring a few details. The Sensation is quick to focus, take photos and save them.
It's the Galaxy S II that takes the lead when it comes to playing video because of the wide support for obscure video formats that the Sensation can only dream of. Although it does well up to 720p, the latter unfortunately suffers from some jerkiness in 1080p mode.
The Sensation is one of the best-performing smartphones we've ever had in our audio lab, and certainly HTC's best effort to date. Neither the speakers nor the line-out are particularly loud, but the sound produced is clear. The audio player has an interface that's very easy on the eye, making it a treat to use.
The Sensation's huge screen is great for surfing the web and playing video, even if you can enjoy fewer video formats without converting them first or relying on a third-party app than would be the case on the Samsung Galaxy S II, which has the added advantage of having a better quality display.
Web pages load quickly, and the interface for handling favourites and history is as good as you can expect from a modern smartphone. Qualcomm's dual-core Snapdragon processor is totally at home with Flash-based sites with only very minor lag affecting what is otherwise a very smooth performance. Overall, the mobile internet experience is better than on the Motorola Atrix, but not quite as good as the Samsung Galaxy S II, which is just a shade faster.
A dual-core processor makes light work of demanding games, but the battery is less keen. If you're wondering why having a dual-core processor is better than just a single-core, the answer is that it makes gaming, watching Full HD video and web browsing—as well as just about everything else—smoother and faster. Still, the majority of users will be more than happy with a 1 GHz single-core processor, especially if they don't do much gaming or can make do without Full HD video.
The Sensation has a less powerful battery than the Galaxy S II, but how long does it last? Not as long is the short answer, or not quite as long, to be fair. If it's fully recharged, it can last a whole day, but often less if you go online a lot, and taking photos, watching videos and playing games all have an impact on battery life. Compared to other smartphones of its generation, the Sensation has a lot less life in it than the Galaxy S II, the Optimus 2X and the Motorola Atrix, whose 1930 mAh battery makes it the star of the moment.
The Sensation's biggest strength has to be Sense, the most advanced interface we've seen for Android yet running on almost perfect hardware. There are some hardware issues though, including a display that can't rival the one on the Galaxy S II, nor the amount of internal memory available or the number of video formats supported. Samsung's latest smartphone remains the most powerful, and most attractive, of the current crop of Android smartphones.
- Usability and finish quality
- Rich, intuitive Sense user interface
- General responsiveness
- Audio quality and 1080p video recording
- Screen accurately reproduces colours
- Screen has narrow viewing angles and weak contrast ratio
- Media player doesn't support enough video formats and struggles with 1080p video
- Battery life could be better
- WiFi signal can be lost on some units depending on how you hold the phone
The HTC Sensation is a great handset that can definitely stand up to the latest wave of competition. It's a smartphone for anybody that wants a mobile that's fun to use and can put in a great performance with multimedia, but the Samsung Galaxy S II remains the best way to combine a slim handset with a powerful performance.