The HTC Sensation is currently the flagship Android phone from the Taiwanese handset maker, at least until the Sensation XE and Sensation XL become commercially available. HTC’s choice of name for the Sensation is quite bold as it projects a rather lofty status in the current line of Android handsets. Specs for specs, the Samsung Galaxy S II defeats the HTC Sensation, but not by much. To some, it’s about overall experience more than the specs.
HTC Sensation Specifications
- 4.3-inch qHD display at 540 x 960 pixels
- Gorilla glass display
- 1.2 GHz dual-core processor Qualcomm MSM 8260 Snapdragon
- Adreno 220 GPU
- Android OS, v2.3 (Gingerbread)
- HTC Sense v3.0 UI
- 1 GB storage, 768 MB RAM
- up to 32GB via microSD, 8GB included
- HSDPA 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps
- WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, WiFi hotspot
- Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP
- 8MP autofocus back camera, dual-LED flash, VGA front camera
- 1080p @ 30fps video, stereo sound recording
- GPS with A-GPS support
- Li-Ion 1520 mAh
- 11.3 mm thick
- 148 grams
- Contoured glass edging
Hardware and Design
HTC phones are known for their solid hardware. HTC’s expertise in this regard is evident in the Sensation. The phone feels solid overall there’s hardly a part on the phone that feels flimsy. The finish is a combination of alumum and rubber, something that’s quite common in current HTC handsets.
The Sensation is not as flat as the iPhone and although it’s thin at 11.3mm, it looks quite thicker than the dimensions say especially when the phone is placed on a flat surface. The phone is curved at the back and the Gorilla Glass display is in harmony with the overall design with its contoured edging.
In terms of feel and usability, the HTC Sensation is better than flat handsets like the iPhone 4. Its ergonomics is perfect for handheld use as the curved back naturally follows the contours of the hand and the rubber finish also helps in providing a more natural grip.
The HTC Sensation sports a 4.3-inch display, something that many Filipinos will find big for their small hands but when held and used, the phone’s surprisingly manageable and feels actually smaller, something that’s an advantage for playing games and media. Even if it is bigger at 4.3 inches than the 4-inch Desire HD, the Sensation is more comfortable to operate.
The 540 x 960 pixel resolution qHD display is easily one of the best screens I’ve seen so far. In terms of pixel density, the iPhone may be better but the HTC Sensation’s screen can hold its own against the iPhone’s display. When placed side by side with the iPhone, the disparity is not even noticeable. The Sensation’s display is just as stunning as the iPhone’s.
The HTC Sensation’s display is however glossier than the iPhone’s, something that you’d either love or simply hate. The gloss I actually find useful when operating the phone as the fingers slide easier over the surface. The downside is, this adds glare to the display and is unwelcome when you take the phone outdoors.
The back cover of the HTC Sensation is easily removable courtesy of a small button at the bottom. The top of the cover hooks on the top part of the phone which makes it quite secure. HTC has quite mastered this mechanism which I first saw in the HTC Desire. Hiding behind the back cover is the battery, the microSD card slot and the SIM card slot. I would normally choose a side slot for the memory card for easier access but since the back cover of the Sensation is so easy to remove and replace, it’s really not an issue with this phone.
There are no physical buttons on the front part of the phone, just the four capacitive control buttons at the bottom of the display. On top of the display is the front facing camera and at the back is the 8-megapixel camera, dual LED flash and speaker grille. On the left are the volume rocker and the micro USB slot, while on the top are the headphone jack and the power button.
The HTC Sensation runs on Android 2.3, also known as Gingerbread. Google just unveiled Android 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich but HTC issued a statement that it’s still weighing its options with respect to the new OS. It’s therefore uncertain whether the Sensation will get an Ice Cream Sandwich update and if it does, an official version might not be in until 2012. So to current Sensation owners and would be owners, Gingerbread is still the phone’s OS and could remain to be the case even if ICS arrives.
Gingerbread is no slouch and in fact feels like a polished OS. It is much improved compared to Android 2.2 (Froyo) and offers more functionalities, not to mention it’s better looking. Of course being an Android OS, Gingerbread is your window to the Android Market where you can find more than 500,000 apps, most of which are free. Compared to Apple’s iOS 5, Gingerbread offers better customization, something that has been one of the stronger features of Android over iOS. In terms of polish, though, iOS still offers a more satisfying experience.
What makes Android better on the HTC Sensation, and in fact in all Android HTC phones, is HTC’s own skin called Sense UI. On the HTC Desire and Desire HD, Sense was already a pleasure to use and this has been vastly improved on Sense 3.0, the version loaded on the Sensation. Sense 3.0 has a great-looking lock screen that’s in fact an active one. It means you can still check on some stuff like your friend’s status even when the screen is locked. Unlocking the screen will bring to the front the main home screen but only after a nice-looking rotating animation is rendered. Swiping left and right brings you the quite familiar Sense home screens but this time, a nifty flip animation has been added. It’s also quite a nice experience to check the weather on Sense 3.0. as HTC added visuals and even sound effects.
Here are some screen shots of Gingerbread on the Sensation and HTC’s Sense 3.0.
Performance and Battery Life
When it comes to performance, the HTC Sensation is almost perfect. It’s absolutely fun to use. The dual-core CPU does its work under the hood and its output is very much evident in how the phone easily handles apps and even multitasking. Loading an app is so snappy it loads almost as soon as you hit the icon. The web browser is also loads very fast and performs like a well-oiled machine. You’ll also appreciate how fast the Sensation handles Google Maps. Games on the Sensation can be enjoyed without issue and even graphics-heavy apps load fast and are rendered smoothly. This is one of the clear advantages of dual-core phones over the single-core ones.
One thing noticeable on the Sensation though is it does not render transitions and animations as smoothly as the Samsung Galaxy S II does, and especially not as smooth as the transitions on the iPhone. This is not a problem on hardware front or even on Android OS but is a known characteristic of the Sense UI. For all the wonderful things being said about HTC’s Sense the only real issue it has, if any, is how it cannot deliver transitions and animations smoothly. The other thing the Sensation doesn’t do too well is in 1080p video playback. It’s not as smooth as I had hoped. Videos on 720p of course play very well on the handset.
Calls on the HTC Sensation are clear enough and are fine on most instances. The earpiece is not perfect though as it delivers quite muffled sound output especially when the phone is used outdoors. But again, this just happens occasionally. The earpiece on the Sensation is located almost at the edge of the phone, something that’s common on HTC phones so you’ll need to get used to placing the phone lower when receiving or making calls.
The HTC Sensation excels when it comes to battery life. A full charge can last a couple of days with moderate use of apps, gaming and music or video playback. Two days on a full charge is in fact quite surprising considering that the screen is ginormous at 4.3 inches and two CPU cores are running underneath the handset.
Camera is one of the most important features that people look for in a smartphone. HTC delivers quite a good package here in terms of camera hardware and software. The Sensation is equipped with an 8 megapixel camera, and for most, that would be more than enough. For photography enthusiasts, the Sensation’s 8-megapixel camera may seem insufficient but considering that it’s a camera in a phone, one can’t really complain. And by today’s standards, 8 megapixels packed in a phone is already quite a lot.
HTC also included a dual-LED flash in the Sensation. It’s a good addition and quite frankly, something that’s very welcome when shooting in low light situations. In my experience, the dual LED supplies just the right amount of light and does not over expose the photos.
In terms of software, the controls on the Sensation are quite sufficient. There’s your usual controls for scenes, image adjustments, ISO and a set of white balance presets.
The Sensation offers a shot preview on the lower left portion of the screen which does away with having to go to the gallery to preview each shot. With the small preview screen, the main screen is already free for another shot so this is quite handy when you are taking shots in succession.
The Sensation’s camera also has an Instant Capture feature which is as good as advertised. It takes photos instantly, without the usual lag. On most phones, taking photos is quite frustrating as you need to wait for the camera screen to show the photo before you can move, otherwise, the photo will turn out blurred. On the Sensation, the moment you click on the shutter button is the very moment captured. Overall, the phone is fast to capture and reload, but this of course slows down in low light situations where the phone has to do its autofocus magic longer.
As to picture quality, the HTC Sensation takes good quality photos. The resolution is quite good but what I don’t like is how the phone’s software blurs out parts of a photo. There’s an option to disable auto enhancement but even when it is disabled, the phone still blurs out parts of a photo in order to reduce noise. This is actually not noticeable especially if you are not concerned with minute details. In terms of color rendition, the Sensation could be off at times and could over saturate but on most instances, the colors are just right. The dynamic range on the Sensation is also quite limited so expect photos taken in high contrast situations to be washed out at times. And this is one area the iPhone excels as it has a built in HDR feature that’s absent on the HTC Sensation. Overall though, the Sensation is very capable of taking very good photos and in most instances, it is really just a matter of using the proper settings.
Below are sample photos taken on the HTC Sensation.
In terms of video recording, the HTC Sensation takes quite good videos. The phone’s dual-core CPU helps in delivering good 1080p quality video at 30 frames per second. In terms of video quality though, it’s sometimes similar to the quality of stills photos. But again, the overall experience is positive. The HTC Sensation records video sound on stereo and this is a plus for this handset. Below is a sample video taken on the HTC Sensation.
I dedicated a section to highlight my disappointment with the Sensation’s stock earphones. Aesthetically the earphones that came with the Sensation look good but in terms of usability and audio quality, they really disappoint. The earphones are simply a bad fit on the ears. The pads are fall short on thickness they cannot be placed comfortably on the ears. Needless to say, they easily fall out of the ears and if you intend to listen to songs using the stock earphones, you’ll just get frustrated at the ergonomics.
I could have easily glossed over the poor fit of the earphones if it delivered good audio performance. Sadly, it didn’t. The bad fit meant poor sound isolation so there goes an important element of delivering good sound quality. The stylish design fooled me into thinking the headphones would deliver excellent audio but I was utterly disappointed. It lacked bass depth and details on the high frequencies it was like listening to cheap knock off earphones.
However — and this is a redeeming quality of the HTC Sensation — put on some quality earphones and you’ll be treated to a really nice audio performance. The handset offers SRS virtual surround sound enhancements which really make the output stand out. So if you want to enjoy music or video playback on the Sensation, don’t bother using the stock earphones.
With the Sensation, HTC has more than justified the name choice. The handset is fast and excellently built. The dual-core CPU is a marvel on this phone and makes tasks and apps load almost instantly. The Sense UI makes the HTC Sensation a really attractive option and definitely improves the Android experience. I also like the battery life of the handset.
The HTC Sensation is currently the Taiwanese company’s flagship phone. The Sensation XE, an updated Sensation with Beats audio, and the 4.7-inch Sensation XL, will be hitting the market soon but until they become available, the Sensation is still the king in HTC’s current line-up. The Sensation has represented HTC well for a time now and the arrival of the new handsets does not spell the end of the Sensation. The Sensation XE is essentially still the Sensation with the main difference being the inclusion of Beats audio and an improved listening experience. This means that the Sensation will still remain as an attractive option for those looking for a dual-core android handset.