Joining the Samsung Galaxy S II, the Motorola Atrix and the LG Optimus 2X, the latest dual-core powered Android smartphone is the HTC Sensation. The Sensation has a 4.3in qHD-resolution display, the latest version of HTC's Sense user interface, and a sturdy, aluminium unibody casing.
HTC Sensation: Unibody design
One of the highlights of the Sensation is HTC's unibody aluminium design, which has been used on a number of HTC's other Android phones including the original Desire, the Desire HD, the Legend and the recently launched Incredible S and Desire S phones. The HTC Sensation's unibody casing is constructed from a single piece of aluminium and it does feel very well put together. There are no noticeable creaks or rattles, and it feels like a product of quality craftsmanship.
The HTC Sensation's battery cover feels a little awkward to remove — taking it off feels as though you are snapping the phone into two separate pieces. The battery cover consists of almost the entire shell of the handset, with the screen and the body of the phone completing the shell. The actual phone and screen part itself is quite thin — it's almost exactly the same thickness as the Samsung Galaxy S II. The Sensation has a thicker design than most of its competitors, but the extra girth is a trade-off we think many users would be willing to make for the added durability of the unibody design. The impressive build quality really does make the HTC Sensation feel like a premium device should.
The HTC Sensation includes four touch-sensitive shortcut buttons below the display (home, menu, back, and search) and the keys are backlit and responsive. It's a shame there is no physical shutter button, as it's hard to keep the Sensation still when taking a photo with the on-screen shutter key.
HTC Sensation: qHD display
The HTC Sensation has a 4.3-inch super LCD (SLCD) display. The big draw card here is the resolution — the Sensation's 540x960-pixel resolution makes it a quarter HD (qHD) screen. In general, the higher the resolution the better, as it increases the pixels per inch on the display. The Sensation's qHD screen means you see more of a website at once, and it is great for video playback and mobile gaming.
In a side-by-side comparison, we immediately noticed that the HTC Sensation displays crisper text, and more natural looking colours than the Samsung Galaxy S II. The crisper text is most evident when zoomed out in a web page; it's here that the HTC Sensation really shines. However, its SLCD screen simply can't match the vibrancy, brightness, and viewing angles of the Galaxy S II's Super AMOLED Plus display. The Sensation is also hard to see in direct sunlight. It's a great screen in its own right, but it's beaten by the Galaxy S II.
The glossy surface of the HTC Sensation's display is something we don't like. The surface seems extra glossy but doesn't feel as smooth to slide your finger across as most other Android phones we've tested. On a positive note, we do like how the edges of the glass curve upward toward the edge of the screen — this means the screen doesn't actually come into contact with surfaces when the phone is placed face down on a desk or table.
HTC Sensation: Performance and software
The HTC Sensation is powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and runs the latest version of Google's Android operating system, 2.3 or "Gingerbread". HTC's Sense UI overlay sits on top of the standard Android interface, and although the changes in version 3.0 are mostly aesthetic, it adds polish to what already is a tidy UI.
The best feature of Sense 3.0 is the new lock screen, which now comes with four customisable shortcuts that can be dragged into the 'unlock ring' to unlock straight into an assigned app. In addition to custom wallpaper, the HTC Sensation also allows you to display photo albums, a friend stream, weather, stocks or the clock on the lock screen, and all come complete with the fantastic animations we've come to expect from HTC.
The lock screen will also display missed call, e-mail, and SMS notifications (and album art when you are playing music), but you annoyingly can't directly unlock straight into these apps unless you have them set as a lock screen shortcut. Sense 3.0 also includes a 3D rotating effect when scrolling between home screens, and an updated weather app with new animations and sounds, which can thankfully be turned off. We love the fact that HTC Sense displays your eight most recently opened applications at the top of the notifications panel in a horizontal scroll bar, along with quick setting toggles including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi hotspot, GPS, mobile network and a link to all phone settings.
The Sense UI's slick animations and flashy menus do give the Sensation an edge over other Android phones, and we think Sense is particularly good for first-time Android users or people who haven't used a smartphone before.
Further, the HTC Sensation feels like a finished product, and not like a half-baked phone that was rushed to release — we did not experience any glaring bugs or noticeable lag during testing. However, the Sensation feels a little slower than some of its competitors due to the graphically intense UI. The HTC Sensation is not a sluggish smartphone by any means, but simple processes like swiping between home screens, zooming out to display a 'helicopter view' of current home screens, or even swiping to open the lock screen aren't as instant as other dual-core phones we’ve tested.
The Sensation works with HTCSense.com, a set of desktop-based services largely centred on backup and security. Once you've created a HTC account and logged in, you can locate your phone on a map if it is stolen, remotely lock or wipe the handset, redirect calls and messages to an alternative phone number and archive contacts, text messages and call history — all through your PC.
The HTC Sensation has an excellent Web browser. It supports Flash video and multitouch zooming, and it loads and renders pages quickly and smoothly. The Sensation also handles media efficiently; we loaded a 720p HD AVI file onto our microSD card, and played back the file without any issues.
HTC Sensation: Camera, battery life and other features
The HTC Sensation has an 8-megapixel camera with a dual LED flash, and a front-facing VGA camera for video calling. The rear camera also doubles as a full 1080p HD video recorder. The flash works reasonably well in dim lighting, and video recording is of an excellent quality. The camera has a wealth of settings including the ability to adjust ISO, sharpness, saturation, contrast and exposure. We also loved the fact you can use the external volume controls as zoom keys, though the lack of physical camera shutter key is an annoyance, and the shutter is slower than we'd have liked.
The HTC Sensation doesn't come with an HDMI-out port but includes a new connection technology called Mobile High-definition Link (MHL). The on-board MHL technology uses the standard micro-USB port on the Sensation for outputting 1080p HD video and audio via HDMI. You'll need a micro-USB to HDMI MHL connector to enable this feature (this is not included in the box), but the beauty of MHL means it can also be used with a USB adapter. This means the HTC Sensation can utilise USB on-the-go functionality like the Nokia N8.
Battery life on the HTC Sensation is much improved compared to the Desire HD, but users will still need to charge the phone every night on most occasions. We managed around 12 hours during moderate use, though we recommend turning off email, Facebook and Twitter updates to significantly boost this result.
Keep in mind that review unit is an overseas import of the HTC Sensation available though online store MobiCity, and not the final Australian model that is likely to be released toward the end of the year. The Australian model of the HTC Sensation is likely to feature various bundled telco apps, and may include extra, local software that is not pre-loaded on our imported review unit. We will update this review with any necessary changes when we get our hands on an Australian model of the Sensation.