Many people were disappointed when HTC presented its line-up at the Mobile World Congress last February. The major missing factor was a flagship device with a dual-core processor.
Already back then some people suggested that HTC was not willing to share the spotlight with its competitors and would come up with such a device at a later moment. By now that time has come and HTC presented the Sensation. The device was welcomed with rave reviews but it still needs to prove itself in practice.
HTC has a reputation to uphold when it comes to the naming of its Android devices. When after the Hero, Legend, and Desire you call your latest product Sensation you must be very confident that it can compete with the best in the business. In the Android field the HTC Sensation mingles in a battle of giants with the Samsung i9100 Galaxy S2 and the LG P990 Optimus 2X Speed. All three devices have a sturdy display but even more important; a dual-core processor. On top of that the Sensation packs a qHD-display and an 8.0 megapixel camera.
The packaging HTC uses has had the same form factor for quite some time. In the case of the Sensation they have made a slight change by going for a black box instead of a white one. Out of the little box comes a drawer where the device lies on top. Below we find the necessary accessories. The Sensation comes with a 1520 mAh battery and an 8 GB microSD memory card. Also in the box are a headset with integrated remote control, a microUSB cable with adapter for the power socket, and a quickstart guide. The headset has 3.5 mm audio-jack.
Whereas Samsung chose to give the Galaxy S2 an appearance as minimal and thin as possible HTC went for more curves and more body with the Sensation. There is no sharp edge or corner in sight on the device. The back is rounded off on all sides. With the Sensation HTC once again mentions the aluminium unibody design. To a certain degree this is true. In the case of the Legend and the Desire S this unibody means that there is only a very small battery cover that can be removed. But in the case of the Sensation you can take the entire back cover off and be left with just the display and intestines of the device.
The front of the phone is almost completely covered by a big slab of very tough Gorilla Glass. This plate of glass lies a little bit flush within the device but you hardly notice this when using the phone. The left side of the device houses the volume rocker and the USB connection. On top of the phone sits the power/lock-button and the headset jack.
Despite its hefty characteristics the phone does look reasonably slim en sophisticated. At least not as bulky as the Desire HD. The device is very well put together and there is clearly no cheap plastic feel. Beeps and creaks are not to be found and the weight adds to the solid feel. A real mope could argue that it is possible to press the screen further into the cover, but to do this you will have to use quite a bit of force. Because of the rounded edges and the fact that there is not much room next to the screen, the Sensation is comfortable to hold in one hand and easily controlled.
In order to unlock the back cover you must press a small button with your nail on the bottom of the device. The cover contains connections for antennas of the phone and for the most part is made of metal with a dark brown colour. On the back are a grey and a black surface with a rubber finish for some badly needed grip.
The Sensation has to cope with a pretty meagre 1520 mAh battery and that shows during daily use.
With mild to moderate internet use, WhatsApp, texting, gaming for half an hour and a handful of phone calls the Sensation dies out after barely 14 hours. A truly pathetic performance. The biggest culprit is of course the display. Lowering the screen brightness certainly contributes to a better battery life. Throughout the testing period we had the screen brightness set to automati. It is also wise to be critical of what apps and accounts automatically sync and how often they do so.
In the settings menu one can find a set of power saving options. Here you can switch off automatic synchronizing completely. More useful might be the option to set the phone to shut off certain functions at a chosen percentage of remaining battery power.
The easiest way to start a phone call with the Sensation is by using the shortcut on the dock at the bottom of the screen. With the help of smart dial the preferred contact is found quickly. Unfortunately both telephone contacts and SIM-contacts are shown. To avoid this a person can also be searched in the contact list. By pressing the contact images the option to call can be selected.
During the call, the sound quality is fine. The caller sounds clear and accurate. However, it is difficult to understand the person on the other side in noisy environments because the call volume can not be turned up very loud. This also goes for the speaker on the back of the unit. You yourself can be heard clearly because of the presence of noise cancellation.
The Sensation has a super LCD screen. After the iPhone 4, the HTC Sensation is only the second phone on the market to make step forward concerning screen resolution. Nowadays, a screen with a diagonal of 4.3 inches is the most natural thing in the world but a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels is not. Because the aspect ratio is 16:9, the screen is a little more elongated than was the case with the HD Desire.
In everyday use, the combination of the size of the screen and the resolution turns out to be very pleasant. The interface looks good but especially when showing text on web pages the display comes into its own. Colors are beautifully displayed and this shows above all in pictures and video. With the screen brightness set to automatic, the picture in full sun is still clearly visible.
In terms of settings and options, the choice is limited. You can set the auto-rotate feature, screen animations, brightness and timeout of the backlight.
After the Desire S the Sensation is the second device from HTC that runs on Android 2.3. On top of Android HTC has applied version 3.0 of its Sense interface. This involves some clear improvements. Especially in visual terms. The most prominent is the all-new lock screen. Instead of pulling down a curved bar down as before one must now drag a ring into the middle of the screen. In addition, four shortcuts to applications can be placed on the to lock screen. By dragging these into the ring the app opens instantly.
To further enhance the lock screen the user can choose to display the usual background or a selected photo album, Friendstream, weather forecast, stock quotes, or a clock.
When switching between home screens a new animation is shown and the HTC widgets have a 3D effect. When you quickly scroll through the home screens they minimize and form a carousel. Unfortunately it is still not possible to adjust the number of homescreens and/or the size of widgets.
Deeper down the interface is fine-tuned as well. For example in the contact list, messages section, e-mail app, and calendar. Thanks to its 1.2 GHz dual core processor everything you throw at the Sensation runs without bumps or jolts. But the Sensation is not a device that allows itself to be rushed. All animations and effects are smooth and flowing but not super fast.
The menu itself can be displayed as a grid or list, and sorted alphabetically or by date of download. In the grid form the apps are divided over different slides that are vertically scrollable. At the bottom of the screen we see three tabs applications that break the apps down under the headings all app, frequent, and downloaded.
The contact list of HTC Sense is a pretty convenient overview that can extract information from different sources. The contacts are automatically ordered in alphabetical order with a picture, if available, and an eventual recent status update from Twitter or Facebook. This is possible because details of contacts can be synced with email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, SIM card, and phone memory.
Basically it's enough to enter your data in the online accounts and after some searching the device itself suggest what names might belong together. You can manually select from which accounts the information should be visible.
A major improvement in Sense 3.0 is not immediately visible but to some extent certainly a postive development. We are referring here to the keyboard. Appearance has barely changed but if you open the settings menu you will see several new options. It is now possible to select a second language for word suggestions. Very useful when you,communicate in other languages than English. By turning this feature on the word prediction will be less accurate. However, if you give the device some time to get used to your vocabulary this will improve.
An even more important addition is the trace keyboard. This is actually a technique copied from Swype. You drag your finger from letter to letter on the keyboard in order to form a word. Unfortunately, it is not as good as Swype on, for example, the Samsung Galaxy S2. It's best to switch off the second language for word suggestion when you want to use the trace keyboard.
For Gmail the standard Gmail application is of course best suited. For other accounts, such as Exchange ActiveSync, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. there is the e-mail application from HTC. Whenever possible, new messages are pushed to the device. For other cases, a synchornization schedule must be set. Multiple accounts can be added and these can be separated or displayed as a group. Unfortunately, the HTC application does have some problems with HTML messages.
Regarding connections the Sensation functions outstanding. Everything works well and a connection is established quickly. The performance of WiFi can be improved through the advanced options section if the connection is not completely stable. A nice feature is the fact that the connections can be switched on or off quickly by sweeping down the system tray and opening the quick settings tab.
The handset can also serve as wireless Wi-Fi hotspot. With this technique a laptop can connect to the mobile internet of the phone via a WiFi connection.
HTC's browser has long been a success and on the Sensation it works perfectly as well. It is not the fastest to date but it works in a user friendly and smooth way. By using a "pinch" to zoom out completely from a page an overview emerges with all the websites one has opened. Pages are displayed correctly and sections of text automatically adjust to fit the screen. With the addition of Flash Player, the internet has almost no boundaries on the Sensation.
In this area the Sensation is a real powerhouse. The main trump is a 8 megapixel camera on the rear with dual LED flash and the option for 1080p HD video recording. As an added bonus there is also a VGA camera on the front. The camera starts up quickly with Instant Capture and he reacts very quickly when you want to take a picture. Sidenote here is that this feature works especially well when there is sufficient light.
The interface of the camera is not stock Android but further improved by HTC. In the bottom left corner of the screen one can see a miniature of the last picture taken that simultaneously acts as a shortcut to the photo album. There is also a bar to zoom in and out on the left. To the right we see the other function keys. With these one can switch between photo and video function and the camera on the front or rear of the device. The other two buttons are for the flash and to choose effects. In the settings one can adjust timer, scenes, lighting, contrast, saturation, sharpness, white balance, ISO, resolution, geotagging, autofocus and face detection adjusted.
The results obtained with the camera are very good. Colors and details are displayed correctly. The rendering of details and white balance varies in quality. The flash is very bright and makes a significant contribution to a good picture in dark surroundings. At the same time it is set up in such a way that it does not overexpose the photographed subject. It is important to keep the lens clean because of the way it is mounted a lot of dust can accumulate.
The interface of the video camera is exactly the same but the setting options are a bit limited. One can choose between scenes, exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpness, white balance, video quality, stereo recording, sound recording and shutter sound. The performance of the video camera is excellent. Filming at 30 frames per second and 1080p goes effortlessly. Videos look good though it is essential that the unit is held still.
The list with out of the box available apps is as follows: stocks, Adobe Reader, calendar, calculator, dice, dock mode, downloads, FM radio, Friend Stream, Google search, HTC Hub, HTC Likes, clock, Locations, music, news , news and weather, transfer, Peep, Polaris office, reader, quick lookup, mirror, voice recorder, Talk, task manager, Twitter, connected media, voice search, watch, weather, YouTube, and flashlight.
So, HTC has pretty much crammed the device. Perhaps even a bit too much because you can not remove the apps. What do you do with an app like quick lookup if you already have Google search. A news app, weather app and one for news and weather combined seems to us as overkill. Peep and Twitter is also twice the same.
As was the case with every other HTC smartphones we tested before, we found the game of Teeter on the Sensation. By using the motion sensor one has to direct a ball in the correct hole. Numerous additional games can be downloaded free or paid in the Market.
Just like the Incredible S and Desire S the Sensation offers the possibility to change some settings on your phone via htcsense.com. More important is the feature to remotely locate and possibly block your device.
Despite the fact that the Sensation, as an Android phone, features pretty comprehensive navigation software via Google Maps, HTC has chosen to install its own navigation software. Locations, as this program is called, is a complete navigation package with online maps that look very tidy and function correctly. By default, the maps for Europe are already installed on the microSD card. Unfortunately, after a trial period of 30 days one has to pay for a license.
Then there's HTC Watch. This is a new service from HTC with which you can watch films and series on your mobile phone after paying an additional fee.
Let it be clear that with the Sensation HTC has again succeeded in joining the ranks in the frontlines of the battle. Maybe it's not a speed demon, but with the addition Sense 3.0 and an excellent display the Sensation is a device that certainly knows how to cope with everyday life. Considerable letdown here is the meager battery life. This makes that you will often feel the need to grab the charger, and are always on the lookout for a power socket.
The major question is whether the Sensation is better than the Samsung Galaxy S2. Unfortunately we were not able to put two devices side by side, but from our extensive review of the Galaxy S2 it became clear that that is an excellent phone as well. The choice between the two of them will mainly need to be based on personal preferences.