HTC Sensation 4G Review [T-Mobile]

June 3, 2011
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The folks at HTC have taken their now-classic form-factor for Androids to another level and have once again proven that their last round of 4.3-inch devices just weren't good enough. Yours truly used the ThunderBolt for months after it was released while other phones were put back in their boxes after a week-long review - did the HTC Sensation 4G carried on T-Mobile suffer the same fate? Or will it go the way of the ThunderBolt, sticking around for weeks and weeks and even beyond that test of time, on into infamy? It's got a dual-core processor, a brand new version of HTC Sense UI over Android 2.3 Gingerbread, and it's running one of the most powerful dual-core processors in the world - chances are pretty good this one's a winner.

Hardware

The HTC Sensation 4G is a device that's made for comfort. Not shedding a single tear for weight or thickness, HTC's opted for a 4.96 x 2.57 x 0.44 inches and 5.22oz handset that's heavy on the good looks. Soft-touch and hard plastic hardware surround the device with what we'd almost classify as an elegance not oft seen in smartphones at this time in history. What we've got here is a solid bit of mighty handset, one that's not afraid to show off some curves in opposition to the much thinner and lighter competition.

The entirety of the back pops off at once to reveal the battery, SIM card and microSD departments, this offering a rather pleasing change compared to the terrible double-door openings on the HTC Inspire 4G. HTC had been moving towards this with the HTC ThunderBolt (which received some major press due to its replacement battery door that looked and still looks like a massive monster from heck), but now we've reached a new level of well-thought-out industrial design with the entire back coming off at once.

The display up front is a 4.3-inch qHD 960 x 540 resolution LCD above four touch-sensitive Android buttons below some fantastic curved Gorilla Glass. The curve occurs near the edges of the glass and the casing reaches beyond the glass so that, if you'd take a try, placing the device face-down results in no glass touching the table. This is great for catching ants or making sure your pet amoeba stay in check - also important because on the Sensation, as with all HTC Android devices, turning the device on its face will silence an incoming call - fun fact!

The display is clear, crisp, and unless you've got a Super AMOLED Plus device sitting right next to it, as bright as you'll ever need to get. As with the T-Mobile G2x, the curved glass front ads a level of quality and uniqueness that cannot be calculated in processor power. Your thumb will thank you all day long, every day from now on.

Inside you'll find the big guns, Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon MSM8660 processor. This is a dual-core 1.2GHz chipset rocking with asynchronous cores that are able to run at different frequencies and voltages and give you the hottest blast of power you've seen yet in a dual core device. Let's have a battle in the street! In addition to being wicked cool, this functionality has HTC claiming reduced power consumption on account of this processor's ability to scale itself to however much power you need at any given time. Of course this chipset also contains Adreno 220 GPU, a hot system tag-teaming all the way to victory in a phone that now adds up to HTC's most powerful to date.

Connectivity you'll find happening along GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900, UMTS 900, 1700/2100, 2100, UMTS, and HSPA (HSDPA 14.4 Mbit/s and HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s). There's some Wifi in there too incase you're sitting around the coffee shop just kicking it. Bluetooth 3.0 is part of this party, microUSB, 1080p HDMI output through the same port if you've got the correct MHL adapter (not included, sadly,) GPS, gyroscope, G-sensor, digital compass, proximity and ambient light sensors, and two cameras: 8-megapixels on the back with the ability to record in 1080p and with a dual-LED flash, front-facing camera is a fixed-focus VGA resolution camera for video calls only - seriously, don't use it for anything else.

FM radio, SRS Virtual surround sound, and the ability (like with all newer Android devices) to work with Googles still-beta cloud-based Music app make this a place to listen to news radio and Radio Gaga from as well. And did I mention how comfortable this device is to hold? It's severely comfortable. The curved glass on the front is only the start. That soft-touch plastic on the back mixed with the metal swoop - goodness! What's not such goodness is the fact that this device has only 1GB of ROM inside, with a microSD slot with a generous but not top-tier offering of an 8GB card out of the box. We got a 32GB card out of the box with the HTC ThunderBolt, here's hoping that that particular trend comes back next time.

Hands-On with the HTC Sensation 4G

Software and Performance

What we're dealing with here is the newest version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread with HTC Sense, also the newest version with Sense 3.0. This newest version can also be found on the HTC Flyer, reviewed by us back here.. You'll find yourself working with a brand new lockscreen that allows you shortcuts to whichever apps you've pre-set via a magical ring, a seven-pane homescreen that works on a carousel, and various tiny tweaks over the entirety of the stock Android HTC stated with to make it their own.

The differences between the Flyer version of Sense 3.0 and the Sensation version of Sense 3.0 are in the size of the screen, basically - this version not working in landscape mode being the most obvious of these. The lockscreen is a very welcome new addition, allowing you to both see and address missed calls, emails, or whatever else you'd like it to do on the fly easily. You'll be able to customize this lockscreen with any of multiple skins offered up by HTC out of the box, plus you'll be able to purchase more through the HTC Hub store if that's your fancy. The store isn't massively vast, but it does have some goodies.

You'll be served a fully immersive media purchasing and rending experience in this newest HTC Sense environment if you want it, "Watch" starting off this bag of fun with purchased or rented movies and TV shows, free access to streaming movie trailers, and if you've got another HTC device running this same app, all of your purchased content from there here again for free. Thus far the only other device running such a function is, again, the HTC Flyer.

HTC Reader is an eBook platform that connects to Kobo's bookstore, so you've got that option out of the box for books, then there's a rogues collection of HTC-placed apps that you'll be better to know about right this moment: Dock Mode, a helpful ability you'll be using should you purchase a dock in the future or like to rest your device up against a wall in order to make use of Dock Mode specifically. It's got the ability to show recent Facebook updates via HTC's FriendStream, Weather, a clock for if you'd like to se yourself an alarm, and the ability to launch your Mobile Hotspot on the go. Additional apps include Flashlight, which uses the LED camera flash as a lamp, Locations for mapping, HTC Watch, Mirror, and everyone's favorite metal ball game Teeter just incase you NEED to play a game out of the box. Qik is included out of the box for video chat, and other than the occasional report of an upside-down video from whoever else is on the other side of the line's end, all is well.

After that, it's all speedy execution across the board. There's no lag in any crook or cranny in this device, and it's essentially only the benchmark numbers we've got to rely on in telling this phone apart from the rest of the dual-core monsters out there today. Before we begin, let me set you up with some results from the Galaxy S II:

Quadrant Advanced: 3504 Overall, I/O Scores at 3823 and 4472 respectively
SmartBench 2011: 3878
Linpack Pro: 46.939 MFLOPS

What you see below all belong to the HTC Sensation:

Quadrant Advanced

SmartBench 2011

Linpack Pro

AnTutu

For a good look at what the HTC Sensation vs the Samsung Galaxy S II looks like from over the pond, check out this video from our pal Chris Davies who has both devices on hand:

Camera

HTC's ThunderBolt has been my primary device for filling up the archives of my personal Android - to - web family project A Tiny City - that's about to change now that we see the quality the Sensation brings. While the difference between an 8 megapixel camera on one HTC device and an 8 megapixel camera on another HTC device isn't large, it is ever so slightly noticeable, and since we've got the choice, heck, let's go for the newer, slightly better version!

8 Megapixel Photo Example

The video camera on the back of this device also records in full HD 1080p, dual mic holes on the back of the device near the flash of the camera offering stereo audio recording. Wind blowing against the device does not stand up very well, but your average everyday video of a baby certainly does. You've also got integrated video trimming featured in this version of Sense and you've got the option to stream over DNLA or roll out with full 1080p HDMI output - through your miniUSB port, but lo, the converter is not yet available to purchase or view.

The front-facing camera is no better than any front-facing camera we've seen thus far save for the Samsung Galaxy S, which does seem to fare bit better in video chat - for the perfect vision of the difference, check out this photo taken by our good friend and partner Chris Davies from all the way over the pond in England.

Phone and Battery

We experienced no problem to or from the device on telephone calls to multiple areas around the United States. When it came to speakerphone, a surprising amount of clarity was heard and not a crackle could be found. As far as the speakers to be used for example Pandora on a picnic, you're in luck again because, like the HTC ThunderBolt your humble narrator loves so well, the speaker system is adequate and even nice sounding for close quarters.

Battery testing is always an ongoing process with devices such as this one, but initial tests have yielded at the very least a full day's usage on your average amount of daily requirements being run through the phone. Google Maps, some YouTube videos, a couple of high-requirement games from the Tegra Zone, some Pandora on a picnic, and by nightfall we're still not completely drained. Keep this in mind and be happy because the last time we tried such stuff using the lightening bolt of HTC phones, the results weren't nearly so nice. HTC's certainly made some improvements here OR indeed it IS the LTE that's making the battery drain so fast on the ThunderBolt. Either way, the Sensation is good to go for at least a day at a time.

Value and Pricing

This device will be available on June 15th through T-Mobile for $199 after a $50 mail-in rebate. That is, tied to a 2-year contract and with a required data plan of course. This is a radically good deal considering the fact that this will be your daily electronic companion and portal to the web and the cloud on the web every day for the next two years. $200 should be nothing for you if you're the type of person that carries around a smartphone, and I assume you are one if you're reading this sentence, especially when you consider how advanced this device is compared to the rest of the Android lineup out there right this very moment. T-Mobile sells fantastically powerful phones for cheap, now all you've got to consider is the fact that you'll be working on T-Mobile's 4G network which, by all accounts, certainly isn't the same network as the other iterations of "4G" out there.

Wrap-Up

Welcome to the second big phase of Android handsets. The first was the very first wave, this second wave is certainly a refined edition of that. We're in a very awesome place right now in tech history, a place where Mobile is just being born, and here with phones like the HTC Sensation, we're moving through history on finely-tuned spacecraft made of smooth metals and soft plastic sculpted the exactly the right preparations. The week this review was published, HTC spoke at Uplinq 2011 about the future of Android, that being HTC Dev, their collaboration with OnLive, HTC Watch, and HTC Pro. Now that their newest flagship is here in the Sensation, HTC's set to continue to be, as Peter Chou, CEO of HTC put it, the number one Android brand and supplier "everywhere in the world."

Of course no good wrap-up of a device of this caliber is complete without a comparison to a competing device. In this case, that competing device, quite obviously, is the Samsung Galaxy S II. This device is the successor to the most popular series of Android phones ever, has the brightest screen in the world, and based on the benchmarks we've seen thus far, is at least slightly more powerful at the outset than the Sensation. But in practice, which device wins out? The more square of the two, or the one that feels like aliens collected the palms of 1,000 humans and decided a swoop was best for the back of a handset? Samsung's newest form factor, or HTC's next step in a longstanding evolution of form factors? HTC Sense or Samsung TouchWiz? Truly this is a question for the ages.

But if I had to decide right now, I'd say that the HTC Sensation is going to be more of a hit for the greater amount of people who purchase it, and might very well appeal to a larger audience than the stark and flat Galaxy S II. While it may be awesome that the Samsung device is the thinnest Android device on the market, it's certainly not got the smallest amount of pocket size taken up in the 4.3-inch display having category. Galaxy S II has more RAM and internal storage, but the Sensation is certainly going to pack enough punch to satisfy the masses. And if it's a battle between TouchWiz and Sense? Sense is my choice right this moment.

The HTC Sensation will be a consumer's choice phone, certainly and for sure. Look for few to no returns of this device to carrier locations around the USA, while other phones are switched out for the newer model day after day in droves. The HTC Sensation is not just a stepping stone toward future models like so many models are these days, even high-cost models, instead it's the destination for HTC. Where do they go now? The guts can always get better. The form factor I wish them the best of luck on, because this is about as close to perfect a device in my hand has ever fit.

BONUS check out Chris Davies hands-on with the Euro version of the HTC and check out our reaction and understanding coverage of his full review - then we've also got another example of 1080p video capture courtesy of Vincent Nguyen - lookin great at Weezer!

Euro HTC Sensation Hands-On with Chris Davies

T-Mobile Sensation 4G Records Weezer in Concert at 1080p


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  • Maxlaw

    Missed you mentioning that it has 1 GB of internal memory and an included 8 GB micro-SD.  Wish internal was more.  Got this T-mo guy thinking I might pass this one by….

    • http://androidcommunity.com/ Chris Burns

      Truth man, but if you’re on T-Mobile and you’d like to stay there, I’d say your choices are still between this and the G2x. If I didn’t like Sense so much I’d say go with the G2x for its vanilla flavoring of Android – otherwise the hardware on this HTC machine is just as excellent. Have a look back at this if you’ve got some considering to do:  http://androidcommunity.com/t-mobile-g2x-review-20110417/

  • Danz8502

    i know why do you always compare this phone to galaxy s2 which is 800 dollars!, compare to something that is on tmobile right now like the g2x wouldnt that make more sense do i really care about the comparison to a 800 dollar phone that isnt even available on my network? NO I DO NOT! g2x vs htc sensation il pay attention to that! g2x is supposed to get gingerbread next week then maybe do a comparison!

    • Mellow Dubmarine

      agreed on this. I’m on tmob and the SGSII is nowhere in sight for us. so why should I care how the Sensation compares to a phone I can’t get? the Sensation really does appear to be the best phone available (soon) to tmob customers and I personally can’t wait to pick one up.

  • dwinsmith

    What exactly is unibody metal about the hardware? From what I can see the one part that has something resembling metal appears to be attached to plastic…. The MacBook Pro is unibody metal, this just wants to look like it. Not the same thing at all.

  • Anonymous

    Next…!!!

  • Anonymous

    Next…!!!

  • http://twitter.com/HeatWare HeatWare

    Excellent review of the Sensation! I currently have a G2x and thought about swapping it out with the Sensation because of the issues the G2x has been having. Of course, the Sensation has its own issues right now but what phone doesn’t. I had created a quick reference guide for the G2x a couple weeks ago that was a big hit, so I also made one for the Sensation. You can see it at: http://heatware.net/cell-phones/htc-sensation-t-mobile-guide-help-links/
    If you have any comments/suggestions on this, please let me know!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Vrinda-Krishnan/100002631264097 Vrinda Krishnan

    Sensation is a true entertainment device.. watching videos on it is a great experience
    http://india-mobilewatch.blogspot.com/2011/07/htc-sensation-made-for-entertainment_9158.html