HTC Sensation 4 Stars

« Back to reviews HTC Sensation

There’s an odd thing about the techno world – as the gadgets become ever-more powerful, it seems that the software takes some time to get in line with then – and then all of a sudden there’s loads to choose from. That’s how it is with mobile phones at the moment. One of the most powerful handsets on the market is the HTC Sensation – and yes, it has the latest version on Android on board (that’s Gingerbread 2.3.3) but when it actually comes down to it, it achieves little more than its less pumped-up rivals. Still, having said that, there’s still plenty going on and a good range of fun features that may not have worked so well on a less beefy handset. However, it remains to be seen whether it is actually better than the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S II – it may well just remain a matter of personal choice. At the moment, the Sensation is exclusive to Vodaphone, but this will change at the end of June.

Looking good

When it comes to the look of HTC’s handsets you tend to either love them or hate them – it’s the Marmite effect. The trademark Teflon casing is a matter of taste for instance, but we think the Sensation might just edge forward in the style stakes with its metallic unibody – which is reminiscent of the Desire S – and the fact that its feature matte rubber accents are triangular in shape, rather than rectangular. It’s the thinnest of the HTC handsets, coming in at just 11.3mm - so it can fit into a pocket, even with that 4.3in display.

And talking of that screen, it’s an S-LCD type, and offers the highest resolution seen on an HTC handset to date – at 540x960 pixels. It’s excellent in terms of brightness and clarity but it’s still no Retina display (as seen on the iPhone 4, or Super AMOLED screen that appears on the Galaxy S II). The touch-screen covers pretty much most of the front of the phone – at the bottom are four touch-sensitive areas for menu, home, search and back. A VGA camera sits on the front for making video calls (remember you’ll have download Fring or Tango to carry this out), plus there’s an eight-megapixel camera that offers dual-LED flash and autofocus. Surround sound comes from two speaker vents situated on the back and front of the handset.

Under the hood the specs are made to impress – the only rival to its 1.2GHz dual-core processor in terms of power is the Galaxy S II. Gingerbread does support NFC technology for contactless payments, but unfortunately the handset doesn’t have the required NFC chip.

The Sensation only has 768MB of RAM on board (most of the high-end smartphones boast at least 1 GHz), but you won’t find it slow, thanks to the nifty multitasking algorithm utilised by the operating system. However, there were some freezes when using the video player.

Back to basics

HTC has tweaked its Sense user interface for its latest outing – version 3.0. One of our favourite introductions is the unlock screen – you can drag one of your shortcuts into the ring, which will unlock the handset and whisk you to your requested app. You can customise the shortcuts shown on the unlock screen, too. Pull up that same ring and you’ll head to the home screen, where the handset will unlock. It is possible to choose one of six unlock screens – we’re rather fond of the weather screen with its 3D weather animation. However, if you’re intent on saving your battery’s power, just choose to have the standard unlock screen.

There are seven customisable home screens, which appear in a 3D carousel layout so you can see them from the side – a bit like turning round a cube – if you swipe it. This is just one of several clever features we really like about Sense. Pinch on a home screen and you’ll find you can look at it in helicopter mode, while a dashboard at the bottom lets you head to the dialler, all programs and personalisation menus. In all programs you’ll also find a couple of addition tabs for included you most frequent used or downloaded apps.

HTC has social networking down to a tee with the Friend Stream widget (although that on the Galaxy S II will work with more networks) and we found it simple to set up and easy in use. The start-up screen gives all the help you need to add email accounts and networks easily.

It’s a shame the backup service HTCSense.com doesn’t work very well. Yes, you can back up calls, messages and contact but you are not able to use the remote access feature, which should let you locate the handset, lock or wipe it, or utilise the call- and message-forwarding features that should make it better than backup services from other makers – Apple’s MobileMe, for instance.

Multimedia

With the largest, clearest screen, and the most powerful processor, the Sensation certainly looks as if it’s going to HTC’s flagship device. The display features a 540x960 resolution, which offers an HD experience showing a true 16:9 widescreen. This means you can watch a film and the image will cover pretty much the whole of the front of the device. It is also possible to view full-HD playback with the native video player (plus it supports Xvid and H.2664 – two common file formats). It’s strange that it doesn’t offer support for the popular MKV, though. If there is some video you can’t get to play, all you need to do is download the Rock Player app, which supports most of the formats available.

You can also sideload media files using USB, simply by plugging in the device and deciding whether you need to use it as a disk drive (so you can drag and drop files) or by running HTC Sync, which will let you sync contacts and calendar details automatically. We were surprised by the lack of HDMI port, which would have made it easy to play media on a larger screen, however it is possible to use the Connected Media app to connect wirelessly to a player such as a Windows 7 PC or PS3. This option only works if you have both devices on the same Wi-Fi networks and streaming is working smoothly.

HTC’s new service Watch has been designed to rival iTunes and allows you to download TV shows and movies. It can’t compete yet in terms of amount of contents – and it is pricier – HD videos cost £6.99 to £9.99 (about half that to rent). Plus, you can only view downloads on your phone, not on a PC. However, Watch is able to support streaming and offers a top buffering system, so you will be able to watch high-def video whenever you want.

The Sensation also allows you to access Onlive, an on-demand game streaming offering, when it launches. The phone has an accelerometer and an Adreno 220 graphics chip, so will be able to deal with most games you try out. We’ll be updating this review once we’ve had a go with the new games service.

We also realised that all that power on board takes its toll on the battery – you’ll only get 12 hours of heavy use, but we managed 15 hours on the Incredible S, in comparison.

Email and internet

HTC offers to web and email facility. Android users will know that Gmail is kept separate form the rest of your mail, which you can access via the Mail app. So that means the universal inbox won't feature your Gmail messages. But you are able to get push email, plus contacts/calendar sync on your Gmail, Hotmail and Microsoft Exchange accounts. You’ll also find that the Sensation is the first of HTC's handsets to offer the ‘trace’ keyboard – this lets you speed up your typing by dragging your finger from letter to letter. It means you can type one-handed, which is useful.

The preloaded web browser supports copy and paste and pinch to zoom. For tabbed and private browsing you’ll have to download Dolphin.

Photos and movies

HTC does not do so well with its cameras. The sensation has an eight-megapixel snapper, which offers some good enough daylight pictures with good colour and sharpness – however, some of our images were over-sharpened with a green tinge. Low-light images were not great, even with the dual LED flash. Video recording was mediocre too – there was a green tinge again, especially using the LED light. Background noise was evident and the audio featured a lot of echo.

The verdict

The Sensation packs a more powerful punch than its predecessor, but HTC’s changes to the Sense UI are little more than cosmetic. We were disappointed that the HTCSense.com backup offering doesn’t yet work and that the snapper doesn’t compare with those on the iPhone 4 and Galaxy S II. If you have a smartphone that’s more than a year old, you might find the Sensation is worth upgrading to, even though it costs more than the Desire S and the Incredible S (free from £36/month compared with £25). The Sensation offers little more than the top handset from the other phone makers – the only thing that makes it stand out is its 3D effects – and they are very much a matter of personal taste.

Pros:
Good-sized HD screen; new unlock screen works well; simple to use; great email and web functions; excellent touch-display; new 3D look.
Cons:
Mediocre camera; HTCSense.com backup disappoints; small changes in Sense 3.0; 3D effects may not please all.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 4 Stars
  • Ease of use 4 Stars
  • Features 5 Stars
  • Performance 4 Stars
  • Battery life 4 Stars

Final verdict: 4 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice