HTC's best handset to date, but we'd love a better screen
HTC Sensation: Update
After testing several HTC Sensation models, we have downgraded the star rating to four out of five. This is primarily because the battery can't handle a day's worth of juice - even on light settings. It is still a brilliant smartphone and, if you have access to a juicer, it ain't gonna be a problem.
HTC has introduced some terrific handsets this year including the HTC Incredible S and the HTC Desire S, but although we’ve applauded them for their build and features, processor power hasn't been stellar. Up against stiff competition, we've been waiting for a HTC handset to really shine - so with a dual-core processor and revamped interface, is the HTC Sensation the phone to do that?
HTC Sensation: Controls
From the front it follows the same unimaginative build of other dual-core Android handsets including the Motorola Atrix and LG Optimus 2X. But turn it over and it’s classic HTC, this time with striking three-tone aluminium back. It feels incredibly well built and solid, certainly what you’d expect from HTC and of a premium product. The metal is a world away from the cheap plastic back of the Samsung Galaxy S2.
Connections include micro USB for charging and a 3.5mm jack. You also get DLNA for wireless streaming, Bluetooth 3.0 and can use your phone for tethering. Storage comprises of 1GB internal and Vodafone bundles an 8GB microSD card. Instead of a dedicated HDMI, to hook the phone up to HD TV you need to invest the HTC Sensation MHL Cable (£27.99).
HTC Sensation: Android and HTC Sense
Press the power button and the phone launches within seconds. The HTC Sensation runs Android 2.3.3 out of the box, but what will make HTC fans excited is the latest version of HTC Sense V 3.0 looks very different. The homescreens are now 3D and you can (finally) scroll 360 degrees through. Flick through quickly and the carousel minimises. It’s a little tweak but feels more intuitive, as well as looking slicker.
The lock screen is active now; launch an application by dragging the icon onto the circular lock icon. By default it’s Phone, Mail, Camera and Messages, but you can choose four of your own favourites. Elsewhere HTC has updated the weather widget; you get a cool 3D effect of rain coming towards you.
While we love HTC Sense, there are some aspects that still niggle. Creating folders is still harder than it should be; you need to create one first them drag content into it. We much prefer the implementation on the Sony Ericsson Neo.
HTC Sensation: Screen
At 4.3-inches the screen is a great size and HTC has boosted the resolution of the Sensation to 960x540, matching the Atrix. It’s bright and sharp, and movies look fantastic.
Whites can’t quite match the purity of the iPhone 4’s retina display and blacks don’t reach the inkiness of the AMOLED screen on the Samsung Galaxy S2. Whites are ever so slightly pink and off-angle viewing isn’t as good. Although we should point out the screen is still great and will be fine for most people, but not class-leading. It's also quite tricky to see in bright sunlight.
A neat design tweak is the glass. Here it’s slightly set back, so when you put the phone face down the glass doesn’t get damaged.
HTC Sensation: Performance
At the heart of the HTC Sensation sits a 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor with 768MB RAM. It’s the first HTC dual-core handset to arrive in the UK and makes a huge difference to the phones performance.
Everything feels quicker zooming in and out of web pages is lightning quick, as is scroll up and down web pages. You can play back HD movies and stream movies without a stutter, downloading is quick too.
As with other HTC handsets the text wraps automatically. Flash support is native, so you can easily play videos. The quick look-up tool is new; tap this to access You Tube quickly.
HTC Sensation: Multimedia
Photos and videos are accessed via Albums, where they are displayed as piles, which you click to reveal thumbnails; unfortunately you don’t get the timeline of the Sony Ericsson Neo. From here you can quickly share them via social networking websites, email or Bluetooth.
DLNA lets your share music, pictures and movies. The native player is Connected Media, but we couldn’t get this to work, so we installed the Twonky Media app and could easily share to our PlayStation 3.
When viewing movies tap SRS enhancement to add virtual surround sound effects, it makes a huge difference, creating a much more immersive experience. A new feature is HTC Watch, which you can use for streaming movies. There's a decent selection of titles, although they are not brand new, you're looking at around £2.50 to rent a top title.
Music through the speakers is fairly loud, plug in some headphones and you can access settings include Pop, Rock and Bass booster.
HTC Sensation: Camera
The Sensation has two cameras. A front-facing VGA camera for video calls and a rear 8-megapixel offering. The rear camera is OK, but not as good as the Galaxy S2. Colours are generally natural, if a little pale, but fine detail can appear too soft, like many cameraphones it's at it's best in bright sunlight. Be careful with the white balance presets, while Auto produces natural results, some of the others can produce oversaturated results.
Capture HD video and 1080p and 720p,it isn't as sharp as we'd like, with some artefact blocking, but it's a lot better than many HTC phones we've seen recently. At 1080p in motion is smooth and fairly sharp at the edges, if lacking fine detail. In summary, not bad, but we've seen better. Video editing is limited to trimming tracks, so is best viewed as editing for web upload rather than creating masterpieces.
HTC Sensation: Verdict
In many ways the HTC Sensation is outstanding. The metal build is exactly what we expect from a smartphone of this calibre. Performance is exceptionally good, loading programs quickly, ensuring the phone never feels slow. HTC Sense is great too; sure there are a few things we'd like to see included, but the more efficient UI is still the best on an Android handset. Our main criticism is the screen, which is good, but not as good as the Samsung Galaxy S II. But to be rated as almost the best Android handset on the market is no bad thing.
HTC Sensation launch date: Out now on Vodafone
HTC Sensation price: Free on £35 plans, or £199 on a £25 month plan