Australians have only just been introduced to HTC’s Incredible S, albeit with a Gingerbread flavour, but the company’s latest offering is creating a sensation in the UK and US. So should you take the plunge now or hold out for the company’s first dual-core monster that will have to compete with the new Motorola Atrix?Design, Screen and Camera
HTC is on a roll at the moment, updating its line-up of mobile phones for 2011, but does the the newly announced Sensation offer anything really different from the others that are available?
At Mobile World Congress, HTC announced five new phones including the Incredible S as well as its first tablet in the shape of the 7in Flyer but none were of the new superphone, dual-core cpu-packing, variety. Today, though it finally put that right with the announcement of the 4.3 inch Sensation. The phone is the successor to the Desire HD and sports a similar size screen but manages to feel a lot more comfortable in the hand.
First impressions are very good with its unique contoured Gorilla Glass panel covering pretty much the entire front of the phone. The contoured glass is there for protection as well as good looks according to HTC, as it holds the majority of the screen proud of whatever surface the phone may be resting on. The rest of the casing is made up of the unibody aluminium design we have become used to with phones like the HTC Desire S. The phone feels really luxurious in the hand and is solid – which is to be expected considering the premium materials used. While the 4.3 inch screen definitely pushes the upper limit of sensible screen sizes for smartphones, the HTC Sensation doesn’t seem unwieldy.
The 4.3 inch Super LCD qHD display contains packs in 540 x 960 pixels, 35 percent more than HTC’s previous displays and nearly equal to the Retina Display resolution of the iPhone 4, though it’s not as sharp thanks to the larger screen. It’s still plenty sharp enough, though, and colours look superb, making watching video a real pleasure, especially as the display has a 16:9 aspect ratio. The only slight fly in the ointment is the viewing angles that were good but not the best we’ve seen.
The phone weighs a fairly smartphone-typical 148g and and while at 11.3mm is thicker than the Samsung Galaxy S II and the iPhone 4, it doesn’t seem at all bulky despite the whopping 3mm of extra thickness. The front of the phone is only broken up by the four standard Android, backlit, touch buttons on the bottom (home, menu, back and search) and a tiny 1.2MP front-facing camera at the top. Indeed there is little to break up the smooth lines of the Sensation anywhere on the phone. On the left hand side is a volume rocker and USB port with the power and lock-screen buttons on the top.
On the rear sits an 8MP camera with a dual LED flash, and dual microphone for stereo recording. The 8MP camera is certainly an improvement over most HTC cameras but in the brief tests we carried out, it didn’t meet the standards of the Sony Ericsson Arc not to mention the Nokia N8. The lack of a physical shutter button is once again a disappointment but not something we were expecting to be honest. The camera now features ‘Instant Capture’ which means whatever is on the screen at the time the shutter button is touched, is captured instantly. The camera is also capable of capturing 1080p Full HD video at up to 30fps to go with that stereo recording. You can also stream you video via DNLA to compatible TV sets.
Inside, is where the HTC Sensation really comes alive. It’s powered by a 1.2GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and HTC said that by putting its first dual core processor in this phone it wasn’t “just ticking the boxes.” Presumably this is in reference to it being a larger than average phone with that high resolution display, so it can take better advantage of all that extra power.
It also claims the Snapdragon will help increase browsing speeds, launch apps at twice the speed of previous single-core processors and offer better multi-tasking. The phone certainly seemed very quick and responsive but whether it was really that noticeable is debatable. There was some slight lag at times when flicking through the new Sense 3D homescreens but nothing that would really impair your use of the phone. The apps we tried certainly didn’t seem to launch twice as quick as on previous HTC phones – but it was still a very nice experience. As compared to other 1GHz dual-core phones we’ve seen, the extra 200MHz in speed of the Sensation again didn’t really seem noticeable, and in fact we wonder whether it might’ve been an idea to drop the clock speed to help the phone save battery. Then again, what better attention grabber than having the fastest smartphone on the planet!
Some of the biggest improvements in this phone come in the shape of an all-new HTC Sense, which sits atop Android 2.3. The first change we see with the new Sense is in the lockscreen. No longer is it a barrier to the phone’s content but it is now active and fully customisable to allow you to display whatever information you want on it – weather, stock prices, time, Friend Stream or photos of your choosing. Also on the new lockscreen are four icons (again customisable) for email, phone, mail, camera etc., which, if dragged into the unlock circle on the bottom of the screen, are instantly launched. This could be very handy for the camera app if you need to snap a picture in a hurry. The system worked very well when we were trying it out and could even save you some battery life if you just want to unlock your phone to check you Twitter updates – which can now be accessed right from the lockscreen.
The next thing you will notice is that the homescreens now appear as a 3D carousel which can be flicked through at what ever pace you like – but the faster you go the smaller the homescreen panes appear. It is certainly a nice looking system and as with previous versions of Sense, you can use the pinch-to-zoom function to see all your homescreens at once. The animation of this function has also been given a bit of a facelift and looks very smooth indeed. The ubiquitous weather widget in Sense has also been updated to give you a dynamic weather picture with added sounds – just for fun. While it won’t make the phone any better, it certainly looks and sounds great.
In February, we got a glimpse of HTC Watch on the Flyer and the Sensation will be the first smartphone to have the Watch app available. The app gives you access to a library of 600 movies to rent or buy (following HTC’s purchase of Saffron Digital). Once purchased the movies can be viewed on up to five different HTC devices though we are not sure yet about how much these will cost to rent or buy.
Overall the HTC Sensation is certainly a very impressive piece of kit. From the design through the display, hardware and software, HTC has created a top-of-the-line superphone that looks set to compete with and even outclass the other dual core phones heading our way like the Samsung Galaxy S II, the LG Optimus 2X and the Motorola Atrix.
Of course, the big question remains, with all these phones, do we need all that power? We’re still erring on the side of saying no – we’d rather have longer battery life, better quality cameras, shutter buttons for said cameras, improved call quality, etc. But, maybe we’ll change out minds once some new and amazing apps and games start to take full advantage of all that power – we can’t wait for that time to come.
To read the original review, click here