HTC Sensation

Style and handling summary for HTC Sensation review
HTC's most streamlined device ever, the Sensation includes a 4.3in SLCD screen set in a slender, smoothly designed body. The Sense 3.0 interface adds a user friendly touch
HTC Sensation

User friendliness summary for HTC Sensation review
Using the Android Gingerbread operating system is easy to get a handle on, especially with the useful startup menu HTC has included. There are plenty of widgets that offer you the chance to view your latest events and information on any of the home screens

Feature set summary for HTC Sensation review
The Sensation is one of the more powerful phones available, thanks to the inclusion of an Adreno 220 GPU and a dual-core 1GHZ processor. However, even though you can access HTC Watch - a video streaming service - as well as the cloud gaming service OnLive, plus Kobo ebooks, it doesn't make the most of its hardware. The Sense 3.0 only features minor tweaks from its previous outing.

Performance summary for HTC Sensation review
The display proved really responsive, although there were a few lags when using the virtual keyboard, while we experienced freezing with the video player. While Gingerbread supports contactless payments, there is no NFC chip included in the Sensation

Battery power summary for HTC Sensation review
That powerful dual-core chip drains juice from the battery - you'll be recharging after about 12 hours of use

Full Review and Specification for the HTC Sensation
In the world of technology, gadgets seem to become more powerful and it takes a while for the software to catch up -and then suddenly there's a whole wave of new possibilities opening up. We're just about at that stage now with mobile phones. The HTC Sensation, which is one of the most powerful devices available, has on board the latest Android version - Gingerbread 2.3.3 - but at this time can't actually do anything more than its less beefy rivals.

However, it still packs plenty of fun new features that probably wouldn't work so well on a device will less of a punch. But whether it is better than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S II or the Apple iPhone will come down to personal opinion. At the moment, Vodaphone has an exclusive on the Sensation, but from the end of June it will appear on other networks.

First impression
HTC's devices have always looked a bit different - and this has had the ‘Marmite effect' on its target audience - you either love 'em or hate 'em. Not everyone likes HTC's favourite Teflon casing, for example. However, we think the Sensation will prove more popular as it has a metallic unibody rather like that of the Desire S, and its matte rubber accents are triangular, rather than rectangular. It's one of the slimmest HTC devices measuring 11.3mm, which means it should fit into a pocket, even though it boasts a 4.3in display.

The S-LCD display also boasts the highest resolution of any HTC phone, at 540x960 pixels. While it offers both clarity and brightness, it still doesn't quite measure up to the Retina display of the iPhone 4 and the Super AMOLED Plus screen on the Galaxy S II. You'll find the touch display actually reaches across most of the handset - at its base you'll find four touch-sensitive areas for back, search, home and menu. On the front is a VGA snapper for video calls (although you'll have to download a video calling app such as Fring or Tango), and there's an eight-megapixel autofocus snapper with dual-LED flash. Two speaker vents sit on the back and front of the device, which can offer surround sound.

Under the bonnet, there's an impressive rundown of specifications including a 1.2GHz dual-core chip, which is only rivalled by the Galaxy S II in terms of power. And while Gingerbread does support the NFC technology, the phone does not have an NFC chip, so you won't be able to use it to make contactless payments.

The Sensation has 768MB of Ram onboard, while most other high-end smartphones boast a good 1GHz, but because the operating system has a clever, multitasking algorithm, it has no effect on its speed. Mind you, we did experience some freezes when we used the video player.

Back to basics
HTC's tweaks to its Sense 3.0 interface have helped to add a few nice touches to the operating system. Our favourite is the unlock screen - drag one of the four shortcuts into the ring and it not only unlocks the device, but also takes you to the chosen app. You can choose which shortcuts are featured on the unlock screen. Pull the ring up and you'll be taken to the home screen when the device unlocks. You can choose between six different unlock screens - we like the stylish weather screen, which features a 3D weather animation. If you'd rather save on your battery life, or don't want to view a mini cut scene before you can turn on the device, you can simply choose to use the standard unlock screen.

There are seven home screens that can be customised, and they are laid out in a 3D carousel that can be viewed from the sides - rather as if you were rotating a cube - when you swipe it. It's just one of several of the nifty touches we like about the Sense interface. If you pinch on any of the home screens you can view it in helicopter mode. A dashboard along the base allows you to hit personalisation menus, the dialler and all the programs from that home screen. All programs also features a pair of addition tabs for any often-used and downloaded apps.

When it comes to social networking, HTC's Friend Stream widget is pretty decent - although that on the Galaxy S II works with more networks for instance - but it's still a joy to use and easy to set up. Its startup screen gives you all the prompts you need to add networks and email accounts.

Unfortunately, the backup service still doesn't work well. It does back up last calls, contacts and messages, but you can't use the remote access feature, so you won't be able to locate your phone, wipe or lock it or use the call- and message-forwarding features that should make it better than other manufacturer's backup services - Apple's MobileMe, for instance.

The Sensation is stacking up to be HTC's flagship phone, with the largest and clearest display, and the most powerful chip. The display has a resolution of 540x960 pixels, which offers up an HD resolution that can show a true 16:9 widescreen. So when watching films, the movie stretches right over the front of the device. You can also carry out full-HD (1080p) playback using the native video player - it also supports two other common file formats - Xvid and H.264. But, there is no support for the increasingly popular MKV. If you can't get a video to play, simply download the Rock Player app, which supports pretty much every format out there.

It is also possible to sideload media files using USB. Plug in the device and you'll be able to choose whether you use it as a disk drive, in which case you can drag and drop files, or run HTC Sync, so that you can sync calendar details and contacts automatically. It's surprising that there is no HDMI port to allow you to play your media on a bigger screen, but you can use the Connected Media app to connect wirelessly to a player - a PS3, for instance, or Windows 7 PC - to allow you to play video, music or photos. For this to work you'll have to have both devices on one Wi-Fi network and streaming needs to work smoothly.

It is also possible to download films and TV shows on Watch, which is HTC's new service that aims to rival iTunes. It doesn't have the breadth of content that iTunes does, and it is a little more expensive - expect to pay from £6.99 to £9.99 to buy HD video, or about half that price to rent it. Nor will you be able to watch it on a PC - all your downloads will have to be viewed on your handset. But what Watch does do is support streaming and it has an excellent buffering system, so you are able to watch high-def video as and when you want.

Using the Sensation you will also be able to access an on-demand game streaming offering called OnLive, which has yet to be launched. The handset has an Adreno 220 graphics processor and an accelerometer so should be able to handle most games you throw at it. We'll update our review once we've had a chance to try out the new games service.

It's also very apparent that the dual-core chip chews up the power - the Sensation's battery can only manage 12 hours of heavy use - we managed 15 hours on the Incredible S, by comparison.

Internet and email
HTC has perfected its web and email offering. Anyone familiar with Android will know that for some reason Gmail remains separate to the rest of your mail, which you can access using the Mail app. So, although you'll have a universal inbox, it won't feature any Gmail messages. It is possible to get push email, along with calendar/contacts sync on Microsoft Exchange, Hotmail and Gmail accounts. The Sensation is also the first of HTC's devices to feature a ‘trace' keyboard that allows you to input more speedily by dragging a finger from letter to letter. The biggest advantage to this is that you can type one-handed.

If you use the preloaded web browser, you'll be able to copy and paste and use pinch to zoom. If you want private and tabbed browsing, though, you'll need to download Dolphin.

Still and moving images
HTC hasn't yet managed to perfect its camera offering, though. The eight megapixel camera did manage to produce some decent enough pictures in daylight, which offered realistic colour and sharp images - but we also got treated to a number of images that had a green tinge and were over-sharpened. Taking pictures in low light was even more disappointing, despite the inclusion of dual LED flash. When it came to video recording, we were again pretty disappointed - the green tinge was apparent again, particularly when using LED light. There was a lot of echo on the audio, and background noise was really apparent, too.

The verdict
The Sensation is far more powerful than its predecessors, but the tweaks to the new Sense interface are mainly cosmetic. It's a shame that the backup service doesn't work yet, and that the snapper is disappointing compared to that on the Galaxy S II and iPhone 4. If your current smartphone is a year or more old, the Sensation probably offers you some good reasons to upgrade, but even though it's dearer than the Desire S and incredible S (free from £36/month compared with £25) the Sensation does little more than the flagship handsets offered by other makers; it's only standout point is the 3D effects - if you like them.