HTC Sensation Review

By Michael Browne | Updated Jun 24 2011
HTC Sensation  Review
DIGIT RATING
80 /100
  • design

    70

  • performance

    70

  • value for money

    60

  • features

    80

  • PROS
  • Good overall build quality
  • High resolution display is killer for text and browsing
  • Packed to the gills with features
  • Dual core processor makes it quite snappy while future proofing
  • CONS
  • Display should have had a better blackness level and contrast
  • Battery life is lower than we expected
  • The antenna is weak, and the Sensation tends to lose signal easily
  • It feels solid, but some parts of the build seem sloppy

Verdict

At Rs. 30,700, the Sensation is a good handset, but it's plagued with a few niggles that detract from the overall feel of using a flagship device. What we really love is the initiative from HTC to include a higher resolution display that many manufacturers have not done. However, this alone doesn't sell a phone and the Sensation has a very strong competitor in the Samsung Galaxy S2, that display resolution and interface aside, is a better overall product.

HTC Sensation detailed review

How does one describe a flagship that pushes nearly all the right buttons, with emphasis on the word nearly. It makes us grit our teeth in exasperation. Because the Sensation is a very nice phone, but it is far from being the deliverance that some among us had pegged it to be. In hindsight, that could be termed as wishful thinking, or rather wistful thinking.


Look and feel: Metal, yes...Unibody, no!

Back to the HTC Sensation, which is quite a phone. Even to look at. And no - HTC wasn't totally honest with the unibody moniker, for plastic parts are there, amongst aluminium ones. The rear battery cover is plastic all over with a metal band in the centre that adds rigidity. The bezel of the phone around the frontal glass surface is also brushed aluminium, but a unibody this is not. However, let it be said that the Sensation, with its gently bulging battery cover and liberal dose of metal, is a lot more upmarket in appearance than the Samsung Galaxy S2 (read our review), which is its most obvious competitor. However, it is upmarket looking in a suave way. If you look at both devices together, the Galaxy S2 will surely draw more attention on account of its incredible slimness (for a dual core phone), and the glossy finished facia as well as the more attractive "Samsung" emblazoned across the top of the phone. The Galaxy S2 also looks larger, on account of the wider top and bottom bezel, but in reality the Sensation is thicker and in-hand, will surely feel bulkier. It's heavier too, at 148 grams, versus the sylph-like Galaxy S2 that weighs 116 grams.

The Sensation has a slightly longer but narrower display than the Desire HD. This is in part due to the different aspect ratio. While the Desire HD at 480 x 800 pixels had an aspect ratio of 15:9, the Sensation has a resolution of 540 x 960 pixels, and subsequently an aspect ratio of 16:9. Coming back to the handset itself on the front the top of the device is dominated by an elongated, and slightly curved chrome earpiece grille that gels well with the matte-black bezel. To the right of this is the front-facing camera. Shockingly, the camera is not flush fit, and there is a hole in the bezel with a lens sitting a good 2mm inside this recess. The resulting gap will surely catch hard-to-clean dirt. Also, rather disappointingly, the Sensation follows the Desire HD in having a small gap between the glass surface and the surrounding metal bezel. This gap is more apparent at the top right of the phone, and catches dust with day-to-day use that is nearly impossible to remove. We were able to dislodge a few particles by carefully applying a water-colour paintbrush, but the fact remains that this is pretty unacceptable for a flagship device.

To the left of the earpiece grille is the status LED. Beneath the neat HTC moniker is the large 4.3-inch S-LCD display. Beneath the display and a part of the same plane are four capacitive controls that are evenly and sufficiently spaced and adequately backlit. The right side of the phone is devoid of controls, that's right - there's no dedicated camera key - shocking for an 8MP, dual-LED flash clicker no? To the left side is the long chrome finished volume rocker that exudes great feedback despite little or no key travel. Beneath it is the micro USB port for charging and data purposes. The rather hard and clicky power button and 3.5mm jack are located on the top of the device. Incidentally, there's a small button that when pressed allows the battery cover to be lifted, and this mechanism seems rather secure and the cover itself fits snugly. Under this, we see the 1,520 mAh battery that looks like a quality unit, and the SIM and microSD card slots.

 

First impressions on startup: A new hope? Nearly...

Switch on the phone and you're greeted by the trademark stark white HTC startup display. In quick boot mode, the Sensation starts up in a mere 4-5 seconds, while a normal start takes around 19 seconds. Immediately, the display was found to be a little less vivid than the display on the Incredible S. Remember that both these phones feature S-LCD displays. Compare it to the likes of an AMOLED display and the colours appear washed out and the blackness level poor. Still, with a higher resolution than the Galaxy S2, and most other Android phones, the Sensation's display is wonderfully crisp for text, and black text on a white background displays none of the contrast issues we found with colours. Additionally, slight banding is visible even in certain desktop backgrounds. To put this in perspective, the Sensation's display is slightly ahead of the Desire HD, but slightly behind the Incredible S - it's not bad, but for a flagship, seems a serious chink in the armory.

Reading fine text while browsing makes one appreciate the higher resolution, and this display makes text on the Samsung Galaxy S2 look worse at the same relative size. The text on the S2 also looks a little fuzzier in comparison. The colour tone on the Sensation display is noticeably cooler, and whites have a very slight bluish tinge to them, while on the Super AMOLED display of the Galaxy S2, they appear a little yellowish. Neither is neutral, and whichever you prefer is a matter of personal taste.

[RELATED_ARTICLE]While the deeper blacks and vibrant colours of the Samsung Galaxy S2 is more suitable for watching movies and gaming, the higher resolution display of the Sensation is more conducive to reading text. Even with the default background, the colours appear a bit drab. Sure, S-LCD isn't the equal of the Super AMOLED, but if HTC had produced a display of even the same quality of the Incredible S, we'd have been happy. Another slight grouse is the glossy display - it appears to be even more reflective than the display on the Desire HD, and the slight curve towards the edges just adds to the reflections. In bright sunlight, the display is quite unreadable, although the S2 is nearly equally as bad. The sad fact is that few touchscreens are readable outdoors, and even something like an archaic E72 can put them to shame in this regard. On a more positive note, once you forget the display and look at what's on it, there's a lot to be pleased about as you shall see.

Interface and ergonomics: Makes more sense

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the interface has seen a facelift that is mostly useful and partially showoffish, as if HTC wanted to showcase what their dual core offering is capable off. The notifications bar has a nice additional tab that is part of the Android 2.3.3 update for HTC Sense called "quick settings" that allows you to quickly turn radios and communication hardware like Wi-Fi, EDGE/3G, Bluetooth and GPS on or off and also integrates a rudimentary but useful task manager. This isn't as rich as the task manager available on the Touch Wiz 4 interface of the Galaxy S2, but it gets the job done.

While the 3D-esque home pages are mostly gimmicky, the continuous scrolling homepages are a plus - you needn't scroll back once reaching the last homepage. Even the display unlock screen has a bit more going on. Instead of a plain drag up, there is a large ring that appears at the bottom of the display, within which you can touch and drag to unlock. Or, you could drag one of the four configurable shortcut widgets into the ring to unlock and directly head to that function. The four default functions are phone, mail, camera and messages, but this can be configured in the settings menu available under wallpaper "lock screen".

The lock screen has a nice ring interface that has to be dragged up to unlock the phone, and there are also four configurable shortcut keys that appear. These can be dragged to the ring to unlock and activate that shortcut - nifty, but it takes a few days to get used to this addition and appreciate it. The main menu has now been divided into distinct pages and scrolling through the applications isn't smooth, it has gradients. Then there are tabs available that contain the most used apps and downloaded ones - useful if you have 100-odd installed apps and don't want to spend too much time finding something.

The onscreen keypad is good and almost at par with the Galaxy S2. Remember - almost. This is because We feel the keypad on the Galaxy S2 might be slightly better, but the XT9 correction system on the Sensation is slightly better so overall these two phones are nearly at par in terms of usability while typing. There is another problem with the positioning of the back key on the bottom bezel - your thumb is likely to hit it by accident when reaching for the spacebar – this is a minor nit, but is super annoying when it happens, which is quite often. Also inexplicably, we made a few more typos when using the Sensations keypad than we did while using the Incredible S, even though our fingers were equally unused to both phones. Mind you, all these points apply to the keypad in portrait mode. In landscape mode, the keypad gets more spaced out, making it more usable, although you also have to use the phone with both hands.

The capacitive touch on the display is moderately sensitive, and very accurate. The latter point is a huge plus, especially when browsing through link rich web pages, where accuracy is the difference between selecting the right link, and having to hit the back key. Compared to the Galaxy S2, the Sensation feels a little more accurate, but its a hairsbreadth of a difference. Incidentally, the Sensation has a nice, fast browser. We noticed web pages reorient faster than on the Galaxy S2.

 

Click next to read more about the HTC Sensation's performance, its flaws, and, our verdict...

Refer to our previous coverage for more information:

 

 

 

Performance: Fast but far from perfect

How does the Sensation feel? It's fast, as one might expect with a dual core 1.2 GHz processor and 768 MB of RAM. However, having fast innards does not guarantee great all-round performance and the Sensation was about to prove this point. For one, the ringer volume is a little on the weak side. Sure it's adequate for those times when the phone is close by, but compare it to the Galaxy S2, and the Sensation falls flat. The loudspeaker is also extremely directional and squeaky. It is similar to the speaker on the Desire HD. Coming to earpiece volume, the Sensation is quite loud and audible unless the speaker is in a noisy environment, or you are. The handsfree unit is quite decent - less bass, but a decent mid-range and good vocals, and it is also quite clear and loud on calls.

The 8MP clicker with dual LED flash is quite frankly a disappointment. It's not bad, don't get me wrong, it's just that the camera component has stagnated from the Desire HD days. It's no better, and in lower light might be a little worse with a bit more smearing of textures and colour. The flash is reasonably powerful, but nowhere near the illumination of a Xenon unit. And the camera has a bit of lag - not shutter lag as much as lag in the display when panning around. Videos are decent, but not up to the Galaxy S2. And that worthy's camera had no lag whatsoever.

Coming to call clarity and our signal tests, please also read the section directly below this. The Sensation has a weakish antenna. Sadly, this fact was slowly discovered a couple of days after using the phone, as the problem was not immediately apparent. It wasn't as if calls disconnected or voice quality and volume levels differed. Voices at times take on a slightly mechanical tone, but this could be attributed to a sudden signal dip or disturbance of some other sort. When it happened for 2-3 days repeatedly it could be attributed to the phone. Note that this is not a serious issue, as voice clarity is not affected, just the tone, and this problem is sporadic, not omnipresent.

However, while travelling in the Delhi metro for example, the signal got cut at least twice as many times as it did on the same route with the Galaxy S2, and this testing was done two days running to ensure it wasn't an unlucky fluke. The Nokia E72 disconnected thrice, over a stretch of 19 kms or so, while the Galaxy S2 disconnected 5 times. The Sensation disconnected at least 10 times. While there is no hard evidence that this wasn't a network issue, I tend to feel it is the antenna in the phone. To put this into perspective, the Sensation doesn't have a very weak GSM antenna, and we've seen poorer phones, but for a phone in this price segment, this has to be one of the poorer performers in this aspect.

Battery life is decent, but not great. We'd place it at around 15-20 % worse than the Galaxy S2 that would die within a day with heavy usage. It seems with touchscreen phones and faster processors we're resigned to having poor battery life, so we're trying not to complain.

Problems: Trouble in paradise

So I'm enjoying myself browsing using Wi-Fi on the Sensation courtesy our office's 4 mbps line, and moving outside beyond Wi-Fi range for a quick break I suddenly discover to my dismay that the Sensation is not automatically switching to GSM-based Internet. In fact even turning both Wi-Fi and mobile networks on and off in succession did nothing, and I had to restart the phone. This happened only twice in the 4 days that I've been using the phone, but I felt this was worth reporting.

[RELATED_ARTICLE]Good news - the Sensation doesn't suffer from the death grip. Bad news - I call it the stifling grip. Grip the Sensation around the top of the phone and Wi-Fi signal strength gets reduced by a bar. GSM antenna strength does not register a drop, but if you're in an area of weaker signal, your GSM Internet connection is likely to get disrupted. I said likely because I noticed this once or twice by pure accident, we don't try grabbing phones in different positions to kill their antennas, but maybe, just maybe given the recent crop of problems a "death grip" test should be included, what say?

Additionally, removing the back cover causes the Wi-Fi signal to die. This is because the Wi-Fi unit uses the battery cover as a part of the antenna. While this isn't a huge problem assuming you don't insist on using your phone without its battery cover, it is yet another one of those little nits we have to pick.

Our take

The Sensation is a nice phone. It's got a high-resolution display for text and browsing, a good keypad, and fast internals that make it reasonably future proof. However, it is not without fault, and while some are minor, others are a little more serious, and affect usability. After the testing and this review was done, we were mildly disappointed, probably in part because HTC has spoiled us with lots of good offerings in the past. Issues with signal reception, the psuedo-death grip, and battery that dies within a day with moderate to heavy usage are annoying issues and one that detract from the experience of using a flagship device. We wouldn't recommend the Sensation to people with the Galaxy S2 around, but if browsing is a major reason for you purchasing a phone, the Sensation has one of the best resolution displays in the business for that, and is better than the S2 in this regard. However, give the Galaxy S2 the Sensation's build quality and its display resolution, and it would be a killer device. Similarly, imbue the Sensation with the battery, AMOLED display, keypad and profile of the Galaxy S2, and it would be nigh unbeatable.

Specifications: Platform: Android 2.3; Display: 4.3-inch, S-LCD, 540 x 960 pixels; SoC: Qualcomm MSM8260 1.2 GHz dual core; Adreno 220 GPU; 768 MB RAM; 1 GB ROM; battery: 1520 mAh; weight: 148 grams

Rating:
Features: 8.25
Performance: 7. 25
Build: 7.5
Value: 6.75
Overall: 7.25

Brand
HTC
Model
Sensation
Street Price (Rs)
30,700
Features
 
Physical Specs
 
Form Factor
Bar
2G Network Bands

GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900

3G Network Bands
HSDPA 900 / 2100
Screen Resolution
540 x 960 pixels
Screen Size (inches)
4.3 inches
Maximum Screen colours
16M
Touchscreen / Dual Screen (Y/N)
Y / N
Battery Rating
1520 mAh
Dimensions (L x W x H)
126.1 x 65.4 x 11.3 mm
Weight
148 grams
Expandable Memory Type
microSD
RAM (in MB)
768 MB
SoC (CPU, GPU)

Qualcomm MSM 8260

CPU Clock speed
1.2 GHz
No. of CPU cores
2
Hot Swappable (Y/N)
Y
Available Colours
Black
Other Features
 
Operating System (Tested with)
Android 2.3
Charging via USB (Y/N)
Y
Hardware Keypad (Regular/QWERTY)
N
Accelerometer (For auto rotate)
Y
Address Book Capacity
Unlimited
No of calls in register
Unlimited
Talk Time / Standby Time *

Up to 400 h (3G), Up to 6 h 40 min (3G)

No of Profiles # / Customisable
2 / Y
Offline Opearability (Y/N)
Y
Inbuilt GPS / A-GPS support (Y / N)
Y / Y
Connectivity
 
Browsing (GPRS/EDGE/3G)
Y / Y / Y
EDGE max speed (in kbps)
560 kbps
3G max speed (in mbps)
14.4 Mbps
Connectivity (WiFi/Bluetooth/IR/USB)
Y / Y / N / Y
Bluetooth Version/A2DP support
3 / Y
Camera Specs
 
Camera Resolution (Mega Pixels)
8
Video Capture Resolution
1080p
Dual Cameras / Auto Focus / Flash (Y/N)
Y / Y / Y
Mirror for self portrait (Y / N)
N
Camera Settings (So 10)
7.5
Zoom (Optical/Digital)
Digital
Multimedia
 
Music Formats supported
MP3, WAV, AAC , WMA
Video formats supported

XviD, MP4, H.263, H.264, WMV

FM Radio (Y/N)
Y
Accessories
 
Bundled Accessories

Data cable, charger, handsfree

Size of memory card provided
8 GB
Build and Ergonomics (So 10)
 
Surface materials used
8
Overall build and in-hand feel
8
Quality of moving parts
8
Design and ergonomics
7.25
Keypad design (on-screen or hardware)
7.5
Menu and interface
8
Settings and ease of navigating menus
8
Camera menu options
7.5
Performance
 
Signal Reception and Voice Clarity (So 10)
 
Zone 1
7.5
Zone 2
6.5
Zone 3
5
Handsfree Clarity
7.25
Loudspeaker Clarity
6.75
Earpiece Clarity
7.5
Handsfree Volume
8.25
Loudspeaker Volume
6.75
Earpiece Volume
7.5
Bluetooth Transfer Speed (in KBps)
182.3
Imaging and multimedia tests
 
Captured Photo Colour
7.5
Captured Photo Crispness
7.75
Captuted Photo Detail
7.5
Captured Video Quality
7.5
Effectiveness of integrated flash
7.5
Music Quality (loudspeaker)
5
Music Quality (handsfree)
7.5
Volume levels (loudspeaker)
5.5
Volume levels (handsfree)
8
Display (So 10)
 
Crispness
8.5
Colour
7.25
Contrast
6.25
Font rendition
8.5
Legibility in bright sunlight
4
Video playback
7.5
 
 
* Manufacturer Rated
 

 

Contact: Bright Point India

Phone No: 9910821100

E-mail ID: nitin.pandita@brightpoint.com
Website: www.htc.com/in

Price: Rs. 30,700 (MRP)

Refer to our previous coverage for more information:

 

 

HTC Sensation Key Specs, Price and Launch Date

Price: ₹19750
Release Date: 01 May 2011
Market Status: Discontinued

Key Specs

  • Screen Size Screen Size
    4.3" (540 x 960)
  • Camera Camera
    8 | N/A MP
  • Memory Memory
    1 GB/768 MB
  • Battery Battery
    1520 mAh

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Michael Browne
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HTC Sensation

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