HTC Sensation Review

htc-sensation-android-mobile-phoneThe recently released HTC Sensation, dubbed as a ‘multimedia superphone’, is probably the biggest iPhone competitor on the market right now, with impressive specs which include a 4.3-inch qHD display and dual core processor. Running Google’s latest version of Android with HTC Sense 3.0, it’s certainly a tempting choice for many people not wishing to buy an iOS device at the moment. We’ve been very interested to see how it performs ever since we first heard about the HTC Sensation announcement. But how does it stack up against other Android phones available to buy, including our old favourite the HTC Desire? Let’s find out!

Hardware

HTC has gone all out on the Sensation to make it look absolutely perfect. Whereas most phones with large screens feel unnaturally big in your hand, HTC has done a great job of making the device feel sturdy yet comfortable to hold. The unibody exterior is under 5 inches tall and less than half an inch thin, with capacitive buttons placed underneath the gorgeous, glass contoured display.

Everything inside the Sensation is powered by the 1.2GHz dual core processor, and this is coupled with 768MB of RAM making it one of the fastest available phones on the market at the time of writing.

In many cases, the display in this phone is too bright. It looks good outdoors, and remains viewable even with quite a bit of sun in the way, but when it’s indoors the light sensor cannot take the screen dim enough and it ends up hurting your eyes. In making the display bright enough to contend with the outdoors, it seems that HTC has forgotten the importance of letting it dim enough so that you still have some vision remaining after using it in the dark for a prolonged period of time.

Admittedly, this isn’t an issue that is likely to be complained about, as the Sensation manages to remain viewable in all but the brightest of environments, but it should be something that is considered when the phone is being designed.

Above the display there is a speaker grille, placed next to the front facing VGA camera which can be used for video calling through applications such as Fring for Android. Around back you’ll find an 8 megapixel camera with a dual flash, situated next to the rear hi-fi speaker.

There is a large volume rocker situated on the left hand side of the device, and the USB port for charging is located underneath, leaving the bottom free for a clip, which is used to remove the back case. Most of my experiences with phones begin with a frustrating start due to the back case, and the Sensation is no exception.

To gain access to the removable battery and SIM card, you have to press in the clip / button on the bottom of the phone and pull with your finger to release it from the main body of the phone with an uncomfortable snap. The case unclips not only around the back, but also exposes the front speaker and camera as well, which is wholly unnecessary and makes the entire process of replacing the battery or SIM card even more difficult. At this rate, removing any back cover will require a degree in engineering by 2015. Whatever happened to simplicity?

Moving swiftly along back to the good parts of this phone, I ran a number of tests on the 8 megapixel camera whilst I was out and about in this great country of ours and the results, for a smartphone, were pretty impressive. The first scene in which I tested the camera was quite a good demonstration of the phone’s ability to manage light levels in a half sunny / half shady shot. The camera managed to take a very decent image, and the details remained sharp although the light was a little too intense in the areas where there was sunlight. Every image that I’ve included is completely untouched, and no editing has been done either on the phone or using a computer.

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The second set of images I took with the camera were in an equally lighted environment, but with lots of detail in the background of the images. The 8 megapixel sensor in the Sensation’s camera truly shone here, capturing a lot of detail in the image. For me, the camera in this phone is better than any mobile device I have used before.

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A major selling point of the Sensation is its “hi-fi” speaker, which is meant to deliver virtual surround sound when watching movies downloaded from HTC’s Watch service (more on that later on), and give clear, loud audio when listening to music files. Smartphones in the past haven’t set the bar too high, and most middle-end devices deliver meagre audio which isn’t worth listening to.

Although there’s no denying that the Sensation’s audio is impressive for a mobile device, I wouldn’t consider using it for anything other than a last-last-last resort on the go. Any phone with a speaker this size will never be able to match up to a decent set of earphones or headphones, so if you can carry a pair around with you then I would advise you to do so.

Software

The Sensation is running HTC’s new Sense 3.0 software on top of Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread, and it carries a lot of changes over previous versions of the software which are noticeable from the moment that you turn on your phone.

The lockscreen can be unlocked by pulling a ring up from the bottom the screen up to the middle, but if you would rather just access your phone for one application, to quickly check your messages for example, you can drag one of four icons in to the ring to unlock your phone in to that application.

The lockscreen itself can be customised with one of six options available to you. You can set a wallpaper, choose to display a photo album, view your friend stream, show the weather, display stocks or show a clock. All of the icons at the bottom of the display have notification badges so that you immediately know if you have a new message, email or missed call.

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By default, the weather appears on your screen when you unlock your phone, although it blocks other items behind it. If it’s raining, for example, rain drops will fall down your screen and be taken away by a windscreen wiper. Although some people might find this eye candy to be cool, I despise of it, so I disabled the audio that accompanies this effect straight away.

The notifications bar has also seen an update in Sense 3.0, with some dual functionality available. All of your recent applications will be accessible through the top of the notifications bar, and there are now two tabs available to choose from on the bottom, which allow you to view your notifications or change some quick settings. These setting include toggling various features such as Wi-Fi, Mobile Network and GPS on or off. It also displays the total amount of memory which is being used.

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There is a plethora of android applications which you can choose from when setting up your various home screens on Sense 3.0, including tips, stocks, photo frames, Twitter and weather. There is nothing that you will be left feeling without after reviewing all of the widgets available, which makes the Sensation a dream phone for any iOS wall of apps haters out there.

Another new feature in Sense 3.0 is called Scenes. Using Scenes, you can set up your various home screens with whatever you’d like and then save them as a scene. Using this, you can set up a number of different scenes for your phone and switch them for when you’re at work, or home, or wherever else you’d like a scene. It’s a really useful feature and helps to customise your experience depending on where you are and what you’re doing.

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A number of improvements have been made to the stock applications in Sense 3.0 as well. The phone application now supports smart dialling, so that you can begin to tap in someone’s number and their name will appear saving you from inputting the rest. ‘People’ has seen an improvement too, as it now syncs all of your contacts with their Facebook and Twitter profiles. As you browse through your contact list, you will be able to see the latest status of any contact which has been synced with the Facebook or Twitter app.

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Improvements to the Camera app are most welcome, and most needed. You can now tap on an area on the screen to focus your shot, and face detection is now included too. Despite these two new features, the most useful for me is the ability to turn off that super annoying shutter sound which was made every time you took a photo.

Small improvements have also been made to the browser. Although everything is just the same under the hood as stock Android, you can now pinch in to view tiles of all your open tabs, saving you from trying to decipher what’s open on which tab through a series of labels.

As much as Sense 3.0 improves the core features and applications in Android, it also adds a number of new apps to the mix as well. One of the most publicised new applications in Sense 3.0 is HTC Watch, which allows you to view movie trailers and buy or rent films from the HTC service.

When browsing the video store, you will see a “shelf” of recommended titles. Most films cost between £7.99 and £9.99 to buy, or £3.49 to rent. For some reason, not all films can be rented and not all films can be bought. Some can be rented, some bought, and some both. Also, the library of titles is somewhat limited at the moment, so it’s not a service that I would even be tempted to buy in to. If you’re on the go and want to rent a film to keep you entertained then it’s fairly useful, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend anywhere near £7.99 to buy a film which I can watch on a 4.3″ display.

Strangely, HTC has also chosen to ship their own task manager with the phone so that you can kill any applications that you don’t want to be running. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a Sense kill switch, which uses over 400MB of the 558MB RAM made available for applications. At least we now know why older devices don’t have access to the new version of Sense: they would immediately become incapable of running anything else and effectively be dumb phones.

All things considered, Sense 3.0 is a great update to an already good environment for Android, although resource usage is absolutely ridiculous at times. Whether this is due to Android itself or the Sense environment running on top of Gingerbread I don’t know, but 400MB out of an available 558MB of RAM seems to be a hefty price to pay for me.

Wrap-Up

There’s no doubt that the HTC Sensation is one of the most powerful Android phones available, you can tell when navigating between applications and running a number of services at once. The 1.2GHz dual core processor really helps to keep the phone running smoothly, and a total of 768MB RAM is a necessity – without it I doubt that Sense 3.0 would be capable of doing much at all.

The combination of a bright, 4.3-inch qHD display, a unibody enclosure that feels really great to hold and the latest version of Android, which runs better than on any other phone I have used before, makes the Sensation, in my opinion, the phone which all other manufacturers need to beat. HTC’s software looks much better than the TouchWiz UI which runs on the Samsung Galaxy S II and provides users with more eye candy than they could dream of.

If you want to buy the HTC Sensation for yourself, it is available on a pay monthly deal from Three for £37 a month on the One Plan, which offers truly unlimited data, 5000 texts and 2000 any network minutes. Although you wouldn’t be able to beat that on any other network, if you’d like to buy the HTC Sensation on PAYG, you can grab it for £449.99.

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