Jenneth Orantia turned her back on a lucrative career in law to pursue her unhealthy obsession with consumer technology. She’s known for having at least half a dozen of the latest gadgets on her person at a time, and once won a bottle of Dom Perignon for typing 78WPM on a Pocket PC with a stylus.
review At the rate HTC’s churning out smartphones, it’ll run out of hyperbolic names to call them before long. But the Sensation is aptly named for what it offers. HTC has gathered together almost every high-end feature available and shoehorned them into the Sensation, the sum total of which makes the increasingly long-in-the-tooth iPhone 4 look lame by comparison. If you’ve been holding out all year for the iPhone 5, HTC’s latest super-phone could very well persuade you to pack it in and switch to Android.
One of the incontrovertible facts of a 4.3″ smartphone is that it’s going to be wider than other phones. That said, the HTC Sensation doesn’t feel that much wider than smartphones with a 3.7″ or 4″ display (although it is longer) due to the slim bezel and tapered edges. At 148g, it’s verging on heavy – especially compared to the Samsung Galaxy S II’s 116g – but the larger footprint makes the weight of it feel just right in the hand. Certainly, we much prefer holding the Sensation over the Galaxy S II, and liken it to hugging someone with curves over embracing someone with a skeletal stature.
The Sensation is easy on the eyes as well, with a unibody plastic and aluminium chassis and a tri-coloured backplate. If you think it looks familiar, that’s because it recycles the design of the older Windows Phone 7-powered HTC 7 Mozart almost completely, with the same colouring, button placement, speaker grill and patterned rear. It’s also similar in appearance to the HTC Desire S and HTC Desire HD, and while we can certainly dig the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ vibe, we do like new phones to look, well, new.
A HTC-branded Android phone wouldn’t be complete without the extensive HTC Sense software. This unique flavour of Android, consisting of custom core apps and beautifully-designed widgets, homescreen tweaks and alternative lockscreens, is something you either love or hate. We’re mostly fans, and the 3D animations in particular make the Sensation a fun phone to use, but it does drag on system resources compared to a Vanilla Android build.
HTC’s description of the Sensation as a ‘multimedia superphone’ is a bit of stretch. While the 4.3in qHD display is well-suited for watching movies, the small 1GB internal storage is paltry given how cheap flash memory is, and it doesn’t have hardware support for the popular DivX and XviD video codecs. Sound quality is also mediocre, notwithstanding the impressive-looking speaker grill, and the lack of built-in HDMI port seems a waste given the Sensation is capable of outputting Full HD video (you can output via HDMI using an optional MHL adapter).
The Sensation is HTC’s first dual-core smartphone, with a speedy 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor coupled with Adreno 220 graphics. This is the same clock speed used in the Galaxy S II, but the two aren’t directly comparable as they use different chips.
The Quadrant benchmark, which measures CPU, memory, I/O and 3D graphics performance, returned a relatively poor score of 2155 – a fast result compared to single-core smartphones, but almost a thousand points behind the Galaxy S II. This performance discrepancy is probably due to a combination of the Sensation’s 768MB of RAM (the Galaxy S II has 1GB), the overhead of all the HTC Sense graphics and animations, and the Sensation’s higher screen resolution. But for everyday use, we didn’t experience any lag when using it.
The super-sized 4.3″ display is one of the Sensation’s main drawcards, and while the qHD 960 x 540 resolution isn’t quite as crisp as the iPhone 4’s Retina Display, it’s a lot better than the Galaxy S II’s WVGA 800 x 480 display. This extra screen real estate makes a big difference coming from a WVGA display, letting you view more information at a glance. Compared to the Galaxy S II’s Super AMOLED Plus display, the Sensation’s SLCD display technology is less vibrant and has narrower viewing angles, but if we had to choose between the higher resolution and superior display technology, we’d pick the former without hesitating.
Like every other HTC camera we’ve tested, image quality on the Sensation is good enough for posting on Facebook and Twitter, but otherwise largely unremarkable. The camera startup and shutter speeds are quick, and there are lots of settings you can tweak like scene modes, ISO, face detection and auto-enhance, but none of our test photos turned out particularly sharp, and colours were dull. Full HD video recording was better, but even there, it was let-down by the crackly and distorted audio.
On a more positive note, the Sensation’s battery performance offered a nice surprise. Despite having a dual-core processor and large, high-res display, it managed a full 24 hours of run-time with medium use. This was with Wi-Fi on, a fair bit of web browsing throughout the day, a few email accounts and social media accounts syncing in the background, and a handful of calls and texts.
The Sensation wraps an impressive selection of features into a beautifully-designed (albeit derivative) body. While it lags behind the performance of other dual-core smartphones we’ve tested, it manages to redeem itself with its stylish design, large high-res display and decent battery life. The extensive customisation options will also be a revelation for those coming from an iPhone – or any other phone, in fact.
We do wish that HTC would step its game up when it comes to digital cameras and multimedia playback, but otherwise, the Sensation is a solid all-rounder that should appeal to both mainstream and power users. On the scale of impressiveness, it’s ahead of the iPhone 4 and on the same level as the Galaxy S II.
Picking between these two Android front-runners depends on whether you prefer a qHD resolution and attractive design (the Sensation) or an excellent camera and a superior display technology (the Galaxy S II). For our money, we’d go with the Sensation, mainly due to the high-res screen; with all of the information passing through our smartphone on a daily basis, those extra pixels really do make a difference.
The Sensation is available in Australia exclusively through Telstra.
Image credit: HTC