HTC Sensation 4G review

The HTC Sensation 4G is available from T-Mobile for $199.99 on an eligible two-year contract, and from third-party retailers like WalMart at a discount.

Introduction:

HTC has produced a formidable Android in the Sensation 4G (unboxing). With a 1.2GHz, dual-core, Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, the software experience is smooth and responsive. Android 2.3 and Sense 3.0 fuse to create one of–if not the–best Android experience available. Not everyone is a fan of custom UIs or of Sense in particular, but those who do enjoy Sense will be blown away by the quality of experience that the Seansation delivers. The customization options, glorious widgets, app/widget support for the lock screen and highly polished UI elements result in a different class of handheld computing. Not to mention that the phone’s 8MP camera can shoot HD video at 1920 X 1080. The Sensation 4G might not be the ultimate “unicorn” phone, but it will come close for many. And compared to what’s currently available, the phone is definitely a top contender. T-Mobile is selling it for $199, on contract, after rebate. Other retailers are pricing aggressively, so it’s worth a few minutes of searching if you’re looking to save some bills.

Design/Specs:

In addition to the 1.2HGz dual-core processor, Sensation features 768MB of RAM. It’s not the top-specced phone in the RAM department, but it has plenty for Gingerbread to work with. 1GB of internal storage is supplemented by an easy-to-hot-swap 8GB microSD card. Now when I say easy, I mean that you won’t need to remove anything but the battery cover to get to the SD card, and that it slides in and out of its sleeve without effort. Pulling the battery cover off for the first time is a bit of a challenge, until you realize that the cover actually wraps around the front of the phone, covering the speaker. When hitting that release button, it’s best to pull the face away from the back, which is interesting. Inside, you’ll find a 1,520mAh battery. In the top left of the device’s backside rests the 8MP cam and dual LED flash. Full HD video included.

The most noticeable physical feature of the phone is the 4.3-inch qHD display. It offers a 16:9 aspect ratio at 960 X 540 pixels, which means true widescreen viewing. The display is protected by contoured Gorilla Glass. The curves are subtle and run along each edge of the screen. The bulk of the glass is recessed to avoid surface contact if the device is rested on its face. At the top sits the fixed focus VGA secondary cam and notification LED. At the bottom of the screen, you’ll find the four standard capacitive Android buttons in HTC’s usual arrangement: Home, Menu, Back, Search. Looking up from the buttons, you’ll see something familiar, but clearly an improvement on past versions: Sense 3.0.

Software:

The latest iteration of Sense is the most polished and feature-rich yet, of course. And the upgrades are instantly apparent and impressive. Lock screen widgets and apps, UI color changes, the ability to download new scenes, sound schemes, and skins…all of this screams progress and I wonder if we’re finally seeing what the creators of Sense had in mind from the start. Sense has reached an important milestone, and HTC Hub is poised to become a vast repository of customization options that could be the first of its caliber in the mobile arena. The new generation of Sense widgets is simply stunning. Many have been carried over from previous versions, but those that have been improved (most notably, the weather widget) have reached the next level of eye candy splendor. The animations and sound effects are the best I’ve seen and I’m sure developers are clamoring to imitate.

Along with HTC’s latest developments, Android 2.3.3 contributes numerous UI improvements for quicker access to settings, application management, and gloss. Pairing Google’s latest with that of HTC brings a snappy, sophisticated and fun vibe to the UI that, in this writer’s opinion, cannot be matched.

HTC is also making headway in the media sphere by bundling the Sensation 4G with HTC Watch and HTC Listen: two apps designed to sell and deliver media directly via the mobile device. The applications are young, and the subject of another post, but their presence on the Sensation 4G should not be overlooked.

Camera:

The camera on this phone is impressive. To be holding a camera that shoots 1920 X 1080 HD video in the palm of a hand is impressive, when you think about it. And to be holding this technology in such a sexy, capable little computer is just wow-worthy. Phone junkies are used to seeing and reading about what should be astonishing feats of engineering, and it’s easy to forget how amazing gadgets are these days. I don’t mean to oversell the camera on this guy; it’s not perfect. Low light situations make it difficult to focus and usually result in blur. But damn, what more can you ask for at this point in time…and price?

Here are some snapped scaled down from 3264 X 1840. Videos were shot at 1920 X 1080 (don’t forget to select HD from YouTube’s menu).

Stills:

Video:

Day:

Night:

Daily Use:

Sensation’s 1,520mAh battery is sufficient for a day’s use, but, in my experience, not any more than that. In my time with the phone, I found that night time was charging time, and not only while I was sleeping. If it was dark–and that doesn’t happen until 9:30 or so–the phone needed to be plugged in. If I had a particularly heavy day with lots of navigation or music listening, the phone would, of course, die much earlier. Charging during navigation is the key, and that’s not really a hassle when driving. I’m a big fan of extended batteries, and I would likely seek one out if purchasing the Sensation. The phone does outperform the Thunderbolt on Verizon in the battery life department.

The typing experience is excellent, as I’ve concluded regarding most of the Sense devices I’ve tested. Call quality has been a bit disappointing at times, but I’m reluctant to mention it because there are so many factors at play. When signal is good, the calls sound great on both ends. One great feature of the Sensation 4G, which has WiFi calling integrated in the software–it’s as simple as flipping a switch. I do live in a little nook where T-Mobile signals wither. Data has been reliable, but not necessarily fast, despite the phone’s capability of achieving 14.4Mbps downstream and 5.76Mbps up. Again, a problem with location.

I was surprised to find that, with pretty serious signal problems, my recorded T-Mobile network sample call turned out louder and clearer than my WiFi test call. I have a second tier cable Internet connection, and these samples were taken during a period of low activity.

This is a call sample using T-Mobile’s network:

This is a call sample using WiFi calling (still uses plan minutes):

Conclusion:

Just in case I haven’t laid it on thick enough yet, I need to direct your attention again to the effect created by Android 2.3.3 and Sense 3.0: the visual experience provided by the Sensation 4G is beyond cool. It is awe-inspiring. Unless you’ve been tinkering with cooked ROMs (and maybe even if you have), the first day out with the Sensation will likely be filled with a lot of “look at this!” and, “I love this phone.” It’s not just fast. It’s not just pretty. It’s not just functional. The Sensation 4G is all of these things, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There is beauty in this phone, and it is fun to use. I say that as if we all aren’t hopelessly addicted to mobile tech already; like this is the first phone that’s really popped me eyes open and blown me away. It isn’t, but it has all of the characteristics that got me into technology in the first place. It has all the earmarks of a stand-out product. This phone takes the best of existing standards and bumps them to the next level. It begs to be tinkered with. Regardless of whether or not carriers should be using the term 4G when they do, or if a more powerful device is just around the corner, or if a potential buyer likes past versions of Sense, the HTC Sensation 4G is a powerful, inspiring product that will not tolerate being overlooked. Killer device.

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