HTC Sensation review: Front-page stuff

GSMArena team, 10 June 2011.

Tags: HTC, Android, Touch UI

Retail package: nothing out of the usual

The HTC Sensation comes in a ordinary looking box and there's nothing surprising about its contents. A compact charger connects to the provided microUSB cable to fill the battery. There's also a nice single-piece headset with music controls.

HTC Sensation HTC Sensation
The HTC Sensation retail package

The only real perk in the package is the 8GB microSD card, which comes inserted in the phone.

There's no MHL dongle in the package - you'll have to buy one yourself if you want to enjoy streaming HD video. Other MHL-enabled devices don't come with MHL dongles either, so this didn’t surprise us much.

HTC Sensation 360-degree spin

The HTC Sensation measures 126.1 x 65.4 x 11.3 mm and weighs 148 g. It's very close to the dimensions of other phones with 4.3" screens, though thicker and heavier than some.

Design and construction

It's hard to deny that HTC make some attractive looking handsets and the Sensation is good enough proof. It just isn't a prime example. We can understand their need to freshen up the design and set the new flagship aside. But the end result is questionable - and not what we'd call unibody.

It's curves on the back, curves on the front, curves all around - from the metal plate on the back that extends to wrap around the edges of the phone - to the screen, yep the screen.

The Sensation comes with a 4.3” Gorilla glass protected S-LCD screen. It seems concave because the edges of the screen curve upwards but most of the surface of the display is perfectly flat.

We've seen some very good S-LCD units from HTC and while the one on the Sensation is okay, it has its issues. Viewing angles are less than perfect - contrast is quickly lost when you tilt the phone and colors get slightly off.

Also, blacks are not as deep as AMOLED screens go but brightness and color rendering are good.

HTC Sensation HTC Sensation HTC Sensation HTC Sensation
The S-LCD screen is not the best from HTC • Side by side with the competition

Sunlight legibility is acceptable - though obviously failed by the reflective screen coating.

And here come the results of our now traditional display brightness and contrast test. Deep blacks are not the Sensation's strength and while the brightness levels are OK, the contrast ratios aren’t terribly impressive.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
LG Optimus Black P970 0.27 332 1228 0.65 749 1161
LG Optimus 2X 0.23 228 982 0.35 347 1001
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc 0.03 34 1078 0.33 394 1207
Samsung I9000 Galaxy S 0 263 0 395
Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II 0 231 0 362
HTC Incredible S 0.18 162 908 0.31 275 880
Apple iPhone 4 0.14 189 1341 0.39 483 1242
HTC Sensation 0.21 173 809 0.61 438 720
Motorola Atrix 4G 0.48 314 652 0.60 598 991

You can learn more about the test here.

Above the screen, we have the proximity and ambient light sensors to the left of the earpiece and the VGA video call camera on the right. Under the earpiece grill hides a small status LED (on the right).

HTC Sensation
There’s a video-call camera right next to the earpiece this time

Underneath the screen, we find four capacitive keys. The haptic enabled controls are well spaced and very responsive. The keys (Home, Menu, back and search) have extra functionality upon a long-press (task switcher, virtual keyboard, voice search).

HTC Sensation HTC Sensation HTC Sensation
There are four capacitive touch keys below the display • Note the curve of the display

The left side of the Sensation is occupied by the microUSB port and the volume rocker. The volume rocker is quite thin but comfortable enough to use. The microUSB port is left uncovered and it also serves as a charger port.

It's a MHL port and not strictly speaking a microUSB port - though it looks and works like one. Plug in a MHL dongle however and the MHL port transforms into HDMI out.

On the right, there's nothing - you weren’t hoping for a shutter key, were you?

HTC Sensation HTC Sensation HTC Sensation
The volume rocker and the microUSB port on the left side • The completely bare right side

At the top we find the 3.5mm audio jack (left uncovered) and the Power/Lock key, which is easy enough to press when you want but secure against accidental taps.

As usual, at the bottom of the phone, you will see the mouthpiece. There's also a small latch that lets you pop the phone out of its back cover. That's right, the phone comes out of the back cover, not the other way around.

HTC Sensation HTC Sensation HTC Sensation HTC Sensation
3.5mm audio jack and a power/screen lock key on top • The microphone pinhole on bottom

The back of the Sensation features the 8MP camera and the dual-LED flash right next to it. The area around the camera protrudes slightly and the camera lens is set quite deep, giving it very good protection against scratches and fingerprints.

The protruding frame around the lens also helps to keep the loudspeaker from getting muffled when you place the phone on a level surface. It's not entirely successful but the sound is still pretty clear.

HTC Sensation HTC Sensation
The camera lens is flanked by the LED flash and the loudspeaker grill

The back plate consists of three parts – a metal piece in the middle and two parts of soft rubbery plastic either side. Each has different finish - looks like patched together and might not be to everyone's taste.

Unfortunately, the back cover houses the antennas for the HTC Sensation - remove the cover and the phone loses all Wi-Fi signal. It's unusually susceptible too to the so-called "death grip" as our tests confirmed.

Actually, you don’t even need a grip to attenuate the antennas - place the phone flat on the palm of your hand and the phone loses a few notches of Wi-Fi signal. In fact, touching the area around the camera and loudspeaker can reduce the Wi-Fi signal to zero.

The cell network antenna also has death grip issues - they're not as bad but your hands around the bottom of the device will cause the signal to weaken. It's nothing to worry about if the signal is strong enough, but in areas of typically poor reception it can make the difference between having and dropping the call.

Beneath the back cover is the microSD card slot (easily how-swappable once you open the phone) and the SIM card compartment, which is blocked by the battery.

The battery is a 1520mAh Li-Ion unit with a little over 14 days of standby (in 2G, over 16 days in 3G) and over 8 hours of talk time (in 2G, nearly 7 hours in 3G).

HTC Sensation HTC Sensation
Once the back cover comes off, we can access the microSD and SIM card slots and the battery

The HTC Sensation is a solidly built phone - we didn’t get a unibody, but there's a good amount of metal on the phone. We also liked the Gorilla glass that curves at the edges.

The Sensation is a bit thick and heavy compared to other phones with similarly sized screens, but we do like phones that have some heft to them.

HTC fans will love the Sensation, though others might find it a bit hard to tell apart from its HTC siblings.

HTC Sensation HTC Sensation
The HTC Sensation felt nice in our hands

Next Page »