HTC Sensation Review


WhistleOut
05 October 2011

The HTC Sensation is the current flagship phone for HTC and replacing the HTC Desire as HTC’s top selling and largest handset. With its powerful CPU, impressive screen and stylishly machined body the Sensation is certainly a contender in the top-end of the smartphone market, but does it have what it takes to knock out other dual-core leaders? We take a look in our HTC Sensation Review.

The HTC Sensation's Physical Design

First impressions of the HTC Sensation are great. It sports that very HTC-esque look that we’ve come to love and doesn’t suffer from feeling too plastic due to its machined aluminum body. The rear plate sports a tri-tone soft-touch look that’s extremely reminiscent of the HTC Mozart. Of course we would have liked to see something a bit more unique from HTC, but we don’t really have a big problem with this look being reused. Despite the fact that we’ve seen it before, it’s still leagues ahead of most of the other devices we see in today’s market.

The Sensation is noticeably comfortable when held in the hand. It’s gentle curves and reassuring weight reinforce the idea that this really is a top-tier device and not just some budget knockoff. The soft-touch material on the back also provides the user with extra grip, something that we’re absolutely always a fan of with our handsets.

Button-wise the Sensation is pretty standard for an Android device. The power button is located on the top. It’s easily pressed but not so much that you’ll see any accidental activations. The left-side volume rocker does tend to go off in the pocket sometimes. We definitely noticed the occasional sudden volume shift when we were merrily strolling around listening to some tunes. It was a bit annoying, but it’s also something we’ve noticed in a lot of other devices and it didn’t really happen often enough for us to give the Sensation a black mark over it.

Below the screen are the 4 standard capacitive Android buttons: Home, Menu, Back and Search. Personally we think we prefer the approach taken by the Samsung Galaxy S II in this instance. A central mechanical Home button with a Menu and Back key either side just seemed a bit more streamlined. A bunch of Android manufacturers have started ditching the Search button all together and we haven’t particularly missed it. But this is one of those grey ‘personal preference’ areas which is really neither here nor there. Either you like it or you don’t but neither approach is particularly ‘better’ than the other.

Speed and UI on the HTC Sensation

The HTC Sensation sports a blisteringly fast dual-core 1.2GHz processor. Power-wise it’s the equivalent of the best-selling Galaxy S II and it shows. Interfacing with the Sensation is a breeze. The Sense 3.0 UI runs extremely smoothly and we had next to no problems with screen lag.

We were a bit disappointed with the 768MB of RAM, rather than a full GB. We found that this caused the Sensation to lag a bit when executing pinch-to-zoom commands, or when we were running too many widgets or apps in the background.

Zooming in and out of the Home screens is also a bit laggy when using a pinch-to-zoom command. If you’re unsure what we’re referring to it’s HTC’s ‘helicopter’ view, whereby every home screen can be viewed simultaneously. It’s an innovation that is being picked up by other developers, such as Samsung, and it’s great if you’re the kind of person who really uses up their Home screens. However, when zooming out with pinch-to-zoom the HTC Sensation lags pretty badly, sometimes even cancelling the command halfway. This can be avoided by double-tapping the Home button, which has the same effect, so it’s not too dire. But it’s definitely something we thought deserved a mention.

That being said we were still huge fans of the user experience. The Sense 3.0 user interface (UI) is one of the more beautiful options on the market right now. It’s simple, easy to navigate and the iconic time/weather widget has always been a favorite of ours here.

One addition we absolutely adore is what HTC has recently been doing with its Lock screens. When unlocking the HTC Sensation the user has 5 options available to them. By simply grabbing the ring at the bottom of the screen and swiping upwards the phone is unlocked in a very normal and familiar way. However, by grabbing any one of 5 icons (Phone, Mail, Camera or Messages) the user is taken directly to whatever service they selected. So if you have 1 unchecked message you can go straight to messages without going to the Home screen in between. By selecting the camera app you can save precious seconds in which a photo opportunity may be lost. This kind of functionality is so simple and easy, we would love to see more manufacturers start adopting this kind of Lock screen approach.

Display and Media

The 4.3 inch display is beautiful. With a resolution of 540 x 960 pixels, the Sensation is one of the highest resolution handsets on the market right now. When compared to the Galaxy S II (as it so often is), the HTC Sensation definitely comes out on top in that department. However, it’s difficult to say which display of the two is better. Yes the HTC Sensation has a wonderfully crisp picture, but the Super AMOLED Plus display of the GS2 offers much brighter colors and truer blacks.

Once again this is one of those ‘personal preference’ things where you really need to make up your own mind. The HTC Sensation is probably going to be superior in the area of HD video playback, where the GS2 will offer a more colorful experience in other aspects. It’s totally up to the user to decide which is more important to them.

That being said the display of the HTC Sensation is fantastic. We ranted and raved about the GS2’s display in our Samsung Galaxy S 2 review a while back and we got just as much enjoyment out of the HTC Sensation’s screen.

As a media player the HTC Sensation rocks. The music player of the Sense UI is great and super simple to use. We found listening to tunes an easy experience and we didn’t have any unforeseen issues with headphones becoming too easily unplugged or weird settings that caused our music to turn off when the device was tilted the wrong way (we’re looking at you, Samsung).

Video playback was stellar. No, colors weren’t the brightest as some might say, but they certainly weren’t dull or washed-out either. The high resolution really came in to play here and we found ourselves actually watching more video than on other devices.

Battery Life and Memory

HTC has a pretty bad reputation among many bloggers for the questionable battery life of its devices. We’re sorry to say that the HTC Sensation will absolutely no help HTC out in this respect. The battery life on this phone was, if possible, worse or as bad as the HTC Desire HD.

At medium-to-heavy use we would often get about half a day out of the Sensation. For anyone who works in an office it’s not a huge deal during the week, as you can charge via USB while you work. But when we were out and about it definitely became an issue.

For non-heavy users it should last a day. We found that if we limited our 3G use, turned off WiFi searching and dimmed the screen brightness a bit then we didn’t find ourselves desperately searching for any power outlets. But for anyone who really likes to use their phone  when going to or from work, especially as a video player, you will almost certainly be needing to charge before the end of the day.

Memory was a bit confusing on the Sensation as well. On-board memory is a paltry 1GB, with another 16GB being offered via a complimentary MicroSD card. Why HTC decided to take this approach is totally beyond us, as the end result of the phone out-of-the-box is the same, but options for expanding the memory are now obviously hampered due to the MicroSD slot already being in use. We didn’t find that it slowed down the phones operations or data transfer with desktops, it’s just a bit perplexing.

Camera, Browsing and Keyboard of the HTC Sensation

The 8MP camera on the HTC Sensation was pretty standard for its MP class. As with just about every 8MP phone camera we’ve ever tried out it took good pictures in well-lit situations but as the light-level lowered so did the quality of the photos. We did find that it was a bit more noticeable on the Sensation than on some other units, however. Even photos on an overcast day came out a bit blotchy or pixelated and every once in a while the autofocus would just do its own thing and we’d get one random extremely blurry shot out of nowhere.

The flash was a good level, however. It wasn’t as insanely bright as the flash on the GS2 and thus didn’t suffer from super-dark backgrounds in low-light photos, which was nice. Video capture was, of course, the same with good quality during the day and increasingly poor quality as the sun continued its gradual descent towards the horizon.

One note of caution is that photos and video capture seemed to absolutely annihilate the Sensation’s battery. We used up a full 20% in just 10 or so minutes of happy-snapping (with both flash and non-flash shots).

Another area that hurts the Sensation in terms of battery power is browsing. The browser is fast, snappy and looks great thanks to the high resolution. The large screen makes page viewing really easy and we didn’t find too much lag when scrolling (although it could have been a bit smoother).

Once gain pinch-to-zoom commands were often jerky, often to the point of bugging out and freezing the screen for half a second or so. Then, when the screen finally reengaged it seemed to just pick a zoom level at random and go with that. This only happened when we zoomed in or out quickly, but it’s still not something we expected to see on HTC’s flagship device.

On the other hand, we experienced no lag whatsoever with the keyboard. In every application the Sense 3.0’s keyboard was absolutely fantastic. It was the fastest, most responsive on-screen keypad we’ve ever reviewed. The buttons were a great size for our meaty fingers, partly due to the large 4.3 inch screen and partly due to the keyboard’s wonderful layout. We’ve mentioned before that we type pretty quickly and the Sensation never once felt like we were even getting close to its limitations in that respect. As a result email, browsing, messaging and anything else that requires a decent amount of textual input was just a smooth and pleasant experience.

The WhistleOut Opinion

Well there you have it, that’s our HTC Sensation review. Overall the Sensation is a great phone, but we can’t stress enough the limitations that have been imposed on it by its abysmal battery life. If you don’t think an inefficient battery would be too much of a problem for you, or if you’re a pretty low-frequency user then the HTC Sensation should prove a wonderful experience. However, if you’re anything like us, up in the medium-to-heavy use category, you definitely need to consider the ramifications of a device that will not last you a full day.

It’s a shame because, like we said, just about every other area of the Sensation was great. Video playback was clear, the 4.3 inch screen was responsive and great for browsing, the keyboard was absolutely great and the camera took some pretty good photos (most of the time). We’d have to say that all-up the Sensation can compete with the other high-end devices, but it’s going to be a struggle for it to take the top spot from the Galaxy S II.


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