By Brandon Miniman | October 13, 2011 11:10 AM
HTC’s flagship for 2011 is the Sensation. It will see many variants on many carriers, and for some time it will be revered as a benchmark device against which all other smarpthones will be compared. HTC went to great lengths to make sure the Sensation would provide enough power, functionality, and capability to appease even the most demanding smartphone users. The Sensation comes with Qualcomm’s brand new dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon chip, plus a high-resolution qHD display, providing 960×540 pixels. And with that, HTC is debuting its new Sense 3.0 Android interface, which takes full advantage of these added screen pixels. Is the Sensation good enough to beat other flagship devices, like the Galaxy S 2 from Samsung? Read our full review to find out!
The HTC Sensation ships with its 1520mAh battery, an 8GB microSD card (class 4), headphones, and a wall charger.
The HTC Sensation has a very robust spec sheet. The screen is 4.3 inches at qHD 960×540 resolution, granting it a pixel density of 256ppi. It ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread powered by Qualcomm’s new 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon CPU, which is coupled with 768MB of RAM. Onboard you get 1GB of ROM, plus the Sensation ships with a rather modest 8GB microSD class 4 card. This particular model has quadband GSM (850/900/1800/1900) and triband UMTS (900/AWS/2100), allowing it to work in Europe as well as on T-Mobile in the US. It also has radios for aGPS, Bluetooth 3.0, FM Radio, and WiFi b/g/n. All of your usual sensors are included like those for proximity and ambient light, plus there’s an accelerometer. The camera on the front takes VGA photos and video, and the camera on the back can take 8MP photos and full 1080p video. You can get a special adapter to do HDMI-out. Powering everything is a 1520mAh battery.
The design of the HTC Sensation is typical HTC, which isn’t a bad thing, but is becoming predictable and a bit bland. Thanks to the qHD resolution, the display is in a proper 16:9 aspect ratio, which is great for watching movies. The curved chrome earpiece is present on the top of the device, which resides next to the VGA front-facing camera and LED notification light. Four capacitive buttons for Android can be found below the screen.
The screen is actually slightly concave around the edges. While this design feature doesn’t positively impact usability of the screen, it looks and feels nice.
On the left side we have the volume rocker, plus the microUSB port. While the device isn’t as thin as the Galaxy S 2, it’s quite slender at 11.3mm in thickness.
On the top we have the power/standby button next to the 3.5mm jack.
On the bottom we have a little notch that, when pressed, easily pops off the back battery cover.
HTC went with an interesting tri-color design on the back of the Sensation. The back cover is made of plastic, but still feels high quality.
The back cover literally wraps around the entire device. Under the battery cover we find the 1520mAh battery, microSD slot, and SIM card slot.
One of the problems with having a backing that wraps around the device is that pocket lint can get trapped in certain areas, like here near the front-facing camera and earpiece.
In-hand, the Sensation feels solid at 148 grams. Unlike the Desire HD, you can’t feel any metal surfaces, giving the Sensation a slightly lower-quality feel. The qHD screen means that text is extra crisp and clear. The Sensation is a very capable web browsing machine, second only to the Galaxy S 2 when it comes to page rendering speed and smoothness of browsing.
The latest version of HTC’s interface for Android is nothing short of impressive. Sense 3.0 enhances almost every aspect of the operating system. It starts on the lock screen where you can now have live information shown to you before unlocking the device: you can see social network updates, the weather, stock quotes, a photo slideshow, or a clock. There are four shortcuts on all lock screens that allow you to launch pre-specified apps right from the lock screen. Unfortunately, four is all you get, even if you use five, six, or more apps on a regular basis.
Once unlocked, you’re greeted with a 3D-animation of the homescreens. As has always been the case with Sense for Android, you can populate up to seven homscreens (you cannot add or remove homescreens, still) with a wide variety of HTC-made widgets. New for the Sensation are the following widgets: Watch (for HTC’s streaming movie service), Trends (for Twitter), Weather (new for the Sensation with better animations), Photo Grid, Social Clock (which shows social network status in your clock instead of weather), Stocks (which provides more information than previous stock widgets), and some new clocks. There are even new live wallpapers, like one for weather and one called “Streak” which shows waves of color.
Then, all of the built-in apps have been spruced up with Sense. Not only that, but they’re all optimized for the added pixels afforded by the qHD display. Email is the best example. You can get up to 5 lines of preview text in your inbox. All check boxes are exposed to make email arbitrage super easy. There’s an easy-to-reach button for writing a new message, and so on. In the calendar, multiple views provide you many ways to see your upcoming schedule.
There’s also integration with the HTC Hub, which lets you download new skins, themes, wallpapers, ringtones, HTC widgets, and more, plus you can use HTCSense.com with your phone to remotely manage it.
The notification shade also has gotten the Sense-treatment. A shrunken “clear” button leaves plenty of space for your recently-used apps list, a big list of notifications, and even a second tab of the shade that lets you quickly toggle WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and more. There’s also a link to an HTC task manager through the second tab of the notification shade. You’ll also find changes in the app tray, which is now sub-divided by All, Frequently Used, and Downloaded.
Beyond that, there are a handful of HTC-specific apps that have been built in:
1. Connected Media: this is the DLNA app
2. Mirror: turns on the front-facing camera
3. HTC Likes: provides app reccomendations
4. Show me: provides how-to article on phone operation
5. Watch: the new HTC movie service that allows you to rent or buy at prices similar to iTunes
The HTC Sensation’s camera shoots photos at 8MP. A lot of noise can be seen in the images, especially when viewed at full resolution. But if you keep the images reduced in size, the quality is fantastic: colors are vivid, lines are sharp, and contrast is good enough. It even does pretty well in low-light situations. The Sensation also has a particularly fast shutter speed.
The HTC Sensation is among the small number of smartphones that can record video in full 1080p. Quality of the video is decent, with good contrast but below-average color saturation. Audio recording was pretty poor, unfortunately.
The Sensation is a quick device, but not as quick as you’d expect with the latest Snapdragon dual-core CPU clocking it at a maximum of 1.2GHz. Naturally, you’re not getting 1.2GHz on two cores at all times. But even when the device is pushed hard, like when browsing a complex webpage, the performance isn’t as good as you’ll get from the Samsung Galaxy S 2. Performance seems to be 30-40% improved on the Sensation versus previous HTC devices, which is pretty impressive, but it just seems that Samsung has done a better job on their dual-core smartphone entrant when it comes down to squeezing out every bit of speed.
In day-to-day scenarios, like switching between apps, checking email, and loading YouTube videos, the Sensation is more than capable, and seldom hesitates. Here’s a look at how the Sensation scored in benchmark tests:
Smartbench 2011: Productivity 2330, 1652 Games
LinPack Pro: 46.26 MFLOP, 1.81 Seconds
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
We tested the HTC Sensation over T-Mobile, even though this variant of the Sensation was designed for Europe. Despite this, call quality was fantastic with no dropped calls. We also clocked some pretty healthy data speeds of, on average, 3Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up. In our best test we clocked 6.1Mbps down and 1.7Mbps up.
HTC doesn’t disappoint with battery life. The Sensation performs as well as any other HTC device that only has one CPU. In fact, battery life of the Sensation is on par with battery life of the Desire HD, or slightly better. With heavy use, you’ll get through an entire day without needing a charge. Under moderate use-case scenarios, you’ll make it to the next morning before having to plug in.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Sensation can be purchased over at Negri Electronics unlocked for $659. In the US, the Sensation will be released on T-Mobile as the Sensation 4G, on Sprint in a 3D version as the EVO 3D, and it’s likely to be sold unlocked with AT&T bands.
+ Terrific build quality
+ Sense 3.0 software is beautiful, intuitive, and takes advantage of qHD resolution
+ Email app is killer
+ Dual-core CPU provides plenty of power
+ Records 1080p video
+ Solid battery life
- Dual-core Snapdragon performs worse than Samsung Exynos dual-core
- Dust can be trapped behind front-facing camera, earpiece
- Only 1GB of onboard storage
- Sense 3.0 homescreen interface still is limited in customizability
- Locked bootloader (for now)
The HTC Sensation is beautiful, powerful, and very capable. It’s a worthy successor to a device that is still very much relevant today, the Desire HD.
But in a lot of ways, the Sensation isn’t good enough to compete against Samsung’s flagship, the Galaxy S II, which is faster, thinner, and lighter than the Sensation. That said, with the Sensation you get the highest level of build quality available on any smarpthone, you get HTC’s latest Sense interface, and you get a crisp qHD display. In the end, the discerning smartphone buyer will have to decide which factors matter most. Anyone that buys a Sensation will be very pleased.
We rate the HTC Sensation a 4.5/5.