Jun 16 AT 3:03 PM Nick Gray 70 Comments

HTC Sensation 4G Review

Over the past ten days, we’ve had the privilege of using the HTC Sensation 4G. Now that the phone is officially available at T-Mobile stores across the nation, we’re sharing our thoughts on the phone to give you a closer look at the handset’s hardware and software.

Hardware

The design of the HTC Sensation 4G is truly unique. The exterior body is comprised of a removable contoured aluminum and plastic shell that wraps around the back and sides with a curved glass screen on the front. The 4.3-inch qHD display (960 x 540 pixels) is covered in Gorilla Glass, but also features raised edges to reduce contact when the handset is placed face-down. Below the screen are the standard four capacitive buttons, while the Sensation’s front-facing VGA camera is located above the screen to the right of the speaker grill.

The volume rocker and microUSB port are located on the left side of the phone. The right side has been left completely bare. The top of the phone features the power button and 3.5mm headphone. Flipping the phone over reveals the 8 megapixel camera (capable of recording 1080p HD video) and dual-LED flash in the top left corner and the speaker phone directly to the right. Removing the shell reveals the battery (1520 mAh), microSD card (8 GB included) and the SIM card.

The remaining handset features include a Qualcomm 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, 768 MB RAM, 4 GB internal storage (1 GB user accessible), GPS, Bluetooth 3.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n all crammed inside a phone measuring 126.1mm x 65.4mm x 11.3mm and weighing only 148 grams.

Anyone who owns or has used the HTC EVO 4G or the HTC Inspire 4G will find that the Sensation 4G feels a lot smaller. The reason for this is the 16:9 aspect ratio of the 4.3-inch qHD display. This has allowed HTC to reduce the width of the HTC Sensation 4G by nearly 2.5mm compared to their older handsets with 4.3-inch displays.

Some of you may have heard about the HTC Sensation’s “death grip” issues over the past few weeks. I have experienced them myself, but it’s certainly not an issue users should worry about. The HTC Sensation 4G loses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signal strength when the two plastic panels on the back of the phone are touched by a single hand. The issue is quite easy to replicate. But in the ten days I’ve used the phone, I’ve only experienced the issue twice during regular use.

Software

The HTC Sensation 4G is the first phone to be released in North America with HTC Sense 3.0 running on Android 2.3.3. HTC Sense has been around for nearly two years, but the 3.0 iteration of HTC’s custom software has been packed with more eye candy than most people can handle.

At first glance, HTC Sense 3.0 looks nearly identical to the previous version. That all changes once you start interacting with the UI. The first change users will notice is the new unlock screen. Users are able to customize the unlock screen to display the weather, stock, pictures and Twitter and Facebook updates (through Friend Stream), but we found the most useful feature to be its direct application launching capability. Simply select four of your most used apps to display at the bottom of the unlock screen and drag the icon into the unlock circle to immediately launch the app. The concept sounds extremely simple, but it saves valuable seconds if you’re the type of person who checks email and Twitter a few hundred times a day.

Once you get past the lock screen, many of the widgets on the home screen may look the same, but HTC has added 3D layering on everything. Swipe from panel to panel and you’ll notice the flip clock has hinges on the side that hold it together or that the album art of the music widget is actually floating over the glass panel that’s behind it. The home screen still features seven panels, but now you can scroll through them in an endless loop or simply flick your finger to the left or right and watch them all rotate in a 3D caracole.

For years, HTC has been flaunting their weather animations. (I have to admit I’ve always been a huge fan of them). With HTC Sense 3.0, they’ve gone back to the drawing board to create more stunning animation and a more robust application. The new weather application give users more details about the upcoming forecast with projected hourly temperatures, humidity and rain.

We could spend another hour or so going over all the small UI improvements in HTC Sense 3.0, but my suggestion would be to spend some quality time with the phone and see them for yourself.

Performance

While the new lock screen and 3D graphics of HTC Sense 3.0 are exciting, it’s the 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor that really makes the HTC Sensation 4G a great phone. Benchmark numbers for the Sensation 4G typically come in at 10-15% lower than phones with NVIDIA’s 1 GHz dual-core Tegra 2 chip. But we need to take into consideration the extra strain the qHD display adds to the equation, since most benchmarks test 3D rendering on native handset resolution.

That being said, the majority of my time with the Sensation was spent playing 3D games and watching HD video. Games like Gun Bros, Gorilla Bob, Pocket Legends, Dungeon Defenders and Nova HD played flawlessly.

One advantage the dual-core Qualcomm processor has over the NVIDIA Tegra 2 is its ability to selectively throttle or even completely turn off one of the cores. This feature plays a huge roll in power management, since one of the cores is typically turned off when you perform menial tasks like checking Twitter or email. The HTC Sensation 4G’s battery life was actually quite surprising. A typical day for me includes constantly checking email and Twitter, 15-30 minutes of web browsing, two hours of music (usually Pandora) and about an hour of gaming. My G2 typically craps out after 10-11 hours, but under the same usage scenario the HTC Sensation has been averaging right around 14 hours.

Camera

Anyone who’s used an HTC phone running Sense in the past 6 months is probably pretty familiar with the Sensation’s customized camera app. Users have the ability to tweak image exposure, saturation and ISO, or even choose between a handful of filters before taking their shots. But since the HTC Sensation 4G is equipped with a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, it has two new features not found on any other HTC handset.

Have you ever pulled out your Android phone to snap a picture, but by time the shutter releases you’re left with an image that wasn’t exactly what you wanted? The new Instant Capture feature on the HTC Sensation shoots to fix that problem. Instant Capture allows your phone to capture the image you wanted as soon as you press the shutter button on your screen. The problem is, Instant Capture doesn’t always work exactly as you want it to.

If you find yourself in a well lit area, the HTC Sensation captures your image in about one fifth of a second. Certainly impressive! But things aren’t so instant when you want to snap a shot in a low-light situation. The amount of time it takes for the Sensation to capture the image is directly affected by how dark your surroundings are. The slowest shutter response we’ve experienced was right around half a second. (Still a lot faster than most Android phones currently on the market).

If you truly want to take advantage of the Instant Capture feature on the HTC Sensation, you’ll need to change the way you typically capture your pictures. Tapping the screen to select what you want in focus before pressing the shutter button dramatically decreases the shutter lag, essentially giving you an Instant Capture experience.

The Sensation is also the first HTC phone capable of capturing HD video in 1080p. Media lovers will certainly appreciate the added resolution, but unless you’re planning to watch all your videos on a 40 inch TV, we’d recommend you set the Sensation to record in 720p. While the 1080p video looks great, things get pretty jumpy when you pan around–an issue that’s not present when recording at lower resolutions.

The camera on the HTC Sensation 4G is still not good enough to replace your point and shoot, but it does rank high among camera phones currently on the market. Check out the gallery of photos and the videos below for some samples directly from the Sensation camera.

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Video 1

Video 2

Conclusion

When it comes to high-end Android phones, it’s really hard to select a clear winner. The HTC Sensation 4G on T-Mobile is certainly one of the most exciting and powerful phones to hit the U.S. market in quite some time. The dual-core Snapdragon processor has enough muscle to satisfy most of your gaming needs, and the handset’s camera is one of the best we’ve ever seen. Combine those two features with the Sensation 4.3-inch qHD display, and you’ve got yourself an amazing piece of technology that should keep you happy for years (or until you decide you simply have to have a quad-core powered phone). T-Mobile customers looking for an upgrade should definitely consider the HTC Sensation 4G as their number one choice for their next purchase.

At Android and Me, we’ve never really given our phone reviews a point ranking. But if someone put a gun to my head and demanded a number, I’d probably give the HTC Sensation 4G an 8.5 out of 10. It’s a great phone, just not sensational.

Nick is a tech enthusiast who has a soft spot for HTC and its devices. He started HTCsource.com (the first HTC blog) back in 2007 and later joined the Android and Me family in the summer of 2010.

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