HTC Sensation 4G Review

One of the most anticipated smartphones running a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, a “Super” 4.3-inch screen, and a manufacturer-skinned version of Android 2.3 – all that makes one think we are talking about another great smartphone that dropped earlier this year called the Samsung Galaxy S II am I right?  NOPE!  Not today..no today we are talking about the HTC Sensation, a handset that has a run over in Europe thanks to Vodafone exclusive and now making its way to T-Mobile stores around the nation.  Since the Sensation beat out the EVO 3D and Droid X2 to the market, the Sensation is the first 4.3-inch smartphone with the fantastic qHD resolution, while also serving as the debut phone for HTC’s Watch movie streaming service.  So with all that expectations does the phone live up to its hype?  Let’s find out now.

Phone Look and Design

Now the first thing you will notice about this phone is that even though it comes in as a 4.3-inch smartphone, it just feels small.  Compared to some of the other big beasts in its class this phone just comes off tiny in your hands.  You take a look at the HD2 and it takes up your whole hand, and can be difficult to handle, the Sensation doesn’t come off in that manner.  With measurements aside and how your perception of the phone might feel it is nearly indistinguishable from the rest of its phone family.

The styling of the Sensation is always something HTC takes pride in with each of their phones.  The extra-large volume rocker, the micro-USB input a little further down, the top and bottom bezels that frame the screen have shrunk a bit.  The bottom of each phone holds the microphone and a notch for opening up the back cover, the right sides are still empty, and the tops feature the headphone jack and the power/lock button.  Identical to other HTC phones are the rear layouts, with an 8 megapixel autofocus camera sat next to a dual LED flash and a single loudspeaker grille.  All these similarities are hardly coincidental; HTC does that so that all of their phones make you have a sense of comfortablilty each and every time you pick one up. 

The heaping of praise to HTC is in their design of the phone itself.  The aluminum frame wraps around the sides, back and a little bit of the Sensation’s front.  The fact that it is one single piece of metal makes it a sturdy and creak-free handset.  You also have a small pit of soft-touch plastic that protects the camera lens and LED’s which is very nice for that added protection.  In the same breath is also creates a niche where dust and debris can settle and hide.  You still have the microSD card slot under the Sensation’s skin and you have the default 8GB unit, which augments the 1GB of onboard storage.  It is accessible without removing the battery from its silo, though the SIM card slot is not. 

When compared to the Samsung Galaxy S II in terms of design, feel, sturdiness, and construction and whether or not you feel comfortable sticking with this phone over the 2 year contract period…we feel that the Sensation would win that debate.  It isn’t without its faults however there are things to look at more positively namely the sturdier aluminum frame.  Also with its curves being more ergonomic and natural it makes the chance of accidental drops will be cut down dramatically.

We’d be remiss not to compare the Sensation against the most clear and present danger to its quest for smartphone supremacy: Samsung’s Galaxy S II. The latter is clearly a stupendously thin device, whose admittedly plastic construction left us with few complaints. Still, when faced with the question of which phone we’d trust to last us the full 24 months of a typical contract, we have to hand it to the Sensation. It isn’t flawless, but its aluminum shell is sturdier, and we found its curves more ergonomic and natural, which should help make accidental drops that extra bit less likely.

Battery life

Time once again to look at how well the battery-powered devices will handle their time away from the wall plug.  Whether it be video calls, or taking pics and vids or just playing Angry Birds ad-nausea everyone wants to know just how long the battery will last before it needs a recharge.  With this device you will find shooting vids at 1080p will be the most taxing of things you can do to the battery.  Followed by shooting still photographs and if you combine the two for an hour you can easily kill over a ¼ of the battery life.  Web browsing and Angry Birds are handled both quite easily on the battery as they won’t make that big a dent in the battery life.  The best thing you will see is while the phone is in idle.  You can leave the phone to its own desires and have your email, Twitter, Facebook and other sync’d accounts pushed to the phone overnight and barely notice a slice out of the battery life. 

When you look at the battery life as a whole and what things will take a bite out of the duration of your battery you look towards the qHD screen and dual-core processor that could be the main culprits of battery drainage, not so with the Sensation.  The best thing that can be said about the phone is that when the phone is left alone and not being actively used you will see the battery life do exceptionally well.  Which for most smartphone users, is what they look for in most and not having to worry about if the battery will die out just before that big meeting.  If you are a person who looks toward battery life as a main component for a phone then take a good hard look at the Sensation.

Display

Overall the display of the qHD display is that you get more of everything then you do from a Super LCD or a Super AMOLED Plus phone.  We mean that everything really pops out off the screen.  Just everything seems to be better suited on a qHD screen, your contacts seem to display more content, your camera and gallery apps also benefit by having more screen display to play with.  The best is the video playback as the 960 x 540 pixels provide a native 16:9 screen ratio and thus those stupid black bars are sent packing into the deep abyss.  You can watch both downloaded and recorded content in full screen without resorting to any compromises such as zooming the picture in and cutting the widest portions. 

One of the more interesting things that HTC has done with the phone is the contouring has applied to the edges of the glass screen.  They are slightly higher than the rest of the display, with a tiny slope giving the whole screen a slight concavity.   Because of that the glass never makes contact with surfaces when you place the phone down.  That really cuts down on scratches and dings and scuffs.  Not that your glass needs the extra protection it is rocking the Gorilla Glass like the rest of the recent HTC phones.

Camera

The camera for the Sensation is exactly as the name suggests it is sensational.  The instant camera option where the reload time is very quick so you don’t miss a minute of action works flawlessly.  The image you just took sits in a preview box on the camera app.  Much like you’ll see in a Galaxy Tab 10.1.  One knock on it is that its autofocus function is slightly slower than the iPhone but even that can’t detract this phone’s camera quality and ability.  The outdoor quality is phenomenal however when it comes to indoor lighting the quality starts to get blurry quickly.

The video quality capture is really good as well.  You can capture at 1080p as well, there are more pixels but the image doesn’t come out really sharp.  Like other Smartphones when filming close up you will lose quality so if you are going to be recording something be a few feet away to allow the internal camera to do its job. 

The All New Sense 3.0

The overhauled lockscreen is by far and away the biggest and handiest improvement in the latest Sense. It now offers four customizable app shortcuts, which can be dragged into a so-called activation ring and thereby unlock the phone straight into the app. Above the shortcuts, you can have some spectacularly animated weather animations signifying the current weather, or stock updates, or a floating array of your pictures, which too can be dragged into that ring for a closer look. On the whole, it takes the previously dormant, borderline nuisance of a screen and it turns it into a much more dynamic and useful part of the user interface. We like the way that selecting an app shortcut creates an outline of it inside the activation ring, which in itself moves up from the bottom of the screen and closer to the app. These subtle visual clues, along with other hints and animations, help newcomers to smartphones find their way around with little difficulty.

There’s no denying the fact that, superficially, Sense 3.0 is a clear step ahead of its predecessors. Navigation between homescreens is executed with a three-dimensional animation, implying a carousel arrangement, and there are tons of little visual tweaks suggesting depth in, around, and behind UI elements. Moving left of the left-most homescreen sends you to the right-most one, while skipping in a single direction too quickly pulls your view back, exposes the full carousel, and gives it a rapid spin in that direction. Unlocking the phone in the conventional way spins your first homescreen into view in a similar fashion. This is all well and good, and it certainly makes for a good exhibition of the underlying graphical prowess, but it’s purely cosmetic. There’s no utilitarian reason for why you’d want to send your homescreens into a washing machine cycle — that actually takes control of the phone away from you, whereas we’d have thought the whole point of customizing Android was to improve and enhance it, not make it more unwieldy.

Overall, the new Sense UI is designed to make a great first impression, but scratch below the surface and you’ll find little substance. We still aren’t great fans of the onscreen keyboard, in spite of the extra room on this larger-display handset, and though HTC explicitly promised to improve its input prediction algorithms, we weren’t struck by any great improvements there either. Precise text selection and cursor placements are also uniquely challenging on HTC devices, with the execution being arguably worse than on the default Android Gingerbread software. Finally, the move to a more graphically intensive UI does occasionally take its toll on the phone’s otherwise exemplary responsiveness, with detectable traces of lag cropping up here and there.

Performance

We’ve danced around and hinted at the Sensation’s performance long enough, now how about we address it head on? As already pointed out in the camera section, this handset’s biggest struggle is in finding things that can challenge it. Dragging the camera icon into the unlocking ring on the lockscreen and taking your first snapshot is a spectacularly quick affair, certainly faster than on the 1.5GHz Flyer, HTC’s only other Sense 3.0 device so far. Google Maps and the web browser are almost dripping with lubricant, they’re so slick. Flash videos embedded online load up as quickly on the Sensation as we’ve seen on any other smartphone.  App launching in general is nearly instantaneous. HTC claims opening apps is now twice as fast as on its previous handsets, but we ran a little side-by-side test with the Sensation and Incredible S and would argue that “twice” is an overly ambitious thing to say. The fact is that a number of recent Android phones, including those from HTC’s own stable, have reached a very high level of responsiveness, so differentiating from them is hard.

Wrap-up

Overall the Sensation is a top notch handset.  Certainly this is one of the best Android phones on the market; most assuredly the best handset in the T-Mobile lineup.  This phone is the new benchmark on how phone should behave, act, handle, and feel to consumers.  Now it is time to pull out the Kyle Scientific Scale-o-Rama and it has been recalibrated accordingly with a total point range from 0 to 10 with 0 being the third string Quarterback who got decleeted last night against the Philadelphia Eagles and 10 being the Philadelphia Eagles fans who were at the Lincoln Financial Field.  I decree that the HTC Sensation scores a blazing 8.9 out of 10.  Not too shabby but there are some places for improvements.

As always thanks for reading make sure to check out the other Philadelphia Examiners and feel free to leave a comment.  Make sure to look out for more news and information on my website TheTechnoFiles.comand make sure to follow me on Twitterand Facebookand of course on Digg and Google+.

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