Next up in the mobile phone big league is the HTC Sensation. Making its debut into the Indian market only very recently, it’s the latest edition to the Dual Core enabled smartphones and is out to give LG’s Optimus 2X and the Galaxy S II a run for their Rupee. It hit our labs and after putting it through the wringer, here’s what I can tell you.

Form Factor
Like most HTC handsets, save the Incredible S, the Sensation is designed to be slick and the curved edges and dark tones make for an elegant device. It features HTC’s four touch-sensitive Android keys below the 4.3-inch display that sports the second highest resolution in mobiledom – 540 x 960 pixels with 16 million colors. Just a few pixels shy of the Retina Display. Encased in Gorilla glass, while fingerprints might be a slight issue, scratches won’t be. The handset had a few hard knocks and came out unscathed. A 3.5mm handsfree socket with the power/screen-lock button are located at the top and volume/zoom keys with the micro USB port that for charging, as well as MHL (Media Hi-Def Linking) and PC connectivity is on the left side.

Elegant

I’ve always liked the idea of the LED indicator being cleverly hidden behind the earpiece grill above the display and the Sensation also pulls it off quite well. The phone also has a secondary VGA camera in front which is a big step down considering the Galaxy S II has a 2MP front facing camera.

The entire rear panel of the handset long with the top portion that contains the grill and front facing camera lens case is removable leaving the Sensation a little ‘naked’ for want of a better term. A micro SD hot swap slot is located under here and the Sensation supports up to 32GB which enhances the existing 1GB of internal storage. This entire casing is designed to protect the handset and does so quite well, but at a total weight of 148g, the Sensation is a bit on the heavy side.

Respectible dimensions but it's still a bit heavy

Respectible dimensions but it's still a bit heavy

Features and Performance
Interface
This is the first handset to hit the Indian shelves to feature HTC’s Sense UI version 3.0. Although, it doesn’t really bring too much to the table in terms of functionality, it does add quite a bit of cosmetic appeal to the already well designed UI. For starters, the Lock screen is all new with a circle-drag-to-open feature and an option to have four quick access shortcuts, as well. It’s very handy and you can choose what shortcuts to add. There are also a few theme options to choose for the lock-screen that include a feed option for HTC’s Friend Stream social networking platform or stock market updates or even a photos stream from the gallery and more. A 3D-ish scrolling setting has also been thrown in to make the UI a little more attractive.

Plenty of lock screens to choose from

Plenty of lock screens to choose from

While that’s all good what I found was a bit of a considerable amount of lag with various widgets each time I locked the handset for awhile and then switched it back on. A few of my Favorites in the phonebook widget would always be missing and appear only after about 4 seconds. The Friend Stream widget would always be blank and refresh after about the same amount of time and that was the same with the music player widget. Sense UI was a bit of a mess with this device, although I could attribute it to being an issue with just this test device as this is not the kind of sluggishness one expects from a Gingerbread (Android 2.3) device running on a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor with an Adreno 220 GPU.

Other than the issue with speed, HTC Sense UI is still the most competent interfaces to come preloaded onto a handset. It offers a very user friendly and poised system for almost all features including caching your user names and email address to offer drop down selections when required, a more intuitive social networking and phonebook integration and more. Sense UI also offers quite a bit of customization for the handset with Skins and HTC Scenes pre-designed for various uses.

The touch keys don't rotate

The touch keys don't rotate

What is rather odd is the lock screen widgets includes a bunch of superbly designed watches but whichever you select, the digital clock will still remain just above it along with the clock already displayed in the notification bar. It’s ridiculous that you’ll see three watches on a single screen. Secondly, the UI is not subject to the auto rotation system and finally, the Sensation, although a higher-end device compared to the Incredible S, does not support the auto-rotation of the touch-sensitive keys below the display. The display itself, in all it’s hi-res S-LCD capacity was not as vibrant as Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc that’s powered by their Bravia Mobile engine, or the Super AMOLED Plus display on the Galaxy S II. However, in terms of image sharpness and color saturation, the S-LCD is what I personally prefer and believe to be a brighter richer option even if it’s a little harder to see in bright sunlight. 

On the whole, while Sense UI 3.0 is a little funkier, it would have been just plain kick-ass on the Incredible S, as is on the Sensation, didn’t really thrill me all things considered.

Media
Another bit of a let down was the media functionality. The Incredible S was capable of DivX and XviD codec support which meant almost zero conversion and simple drag and drop video playback. With the Sensation none of my AVI files coded with DivX worked, so I was forced to download a third party player, which is really no big deal but again, once expects these things from a handset in this price range. Like the Galaxy S II, although the Sensation has no HDMI out support it does support TV Out via MHL as well as DLNA for streaming.

No DivX support, bummer!

No DivX support, bummer!

Audio playback was a non issue, though. Tones were crisp and clear at a high enough decibel level to drown out the obnoxious sounds that are emitted from a Mumbai Local. With the added bonus of EQ presets and SRS enhancement I thoroughly enjoyed the Sensation’s music prowess. The FM radio also proved to be quite an asset while commuting bringing in a decent amount of reception even while on the move.

Wireless streaming

Wireless streaming

HTC’s built in Reader app for eBooks was, although sluggish when it came to flipping pages, still a handy feature to have.
Connectivity
In this department HTC usually excels and the Sensation is no exception to this rule. It’s got it all from 3G with speed capabilities in the HSDPA 14.4 Mbps and HSUPA 5.76 Mbps range, Wi-Fi with Hot Spot creation and DLNA, tethering support, Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP and USB 2.0 with MHL. Thanks to Adobe Flash 10.3 support the web browsing experience is enhanced as well and like any and all Android devices setting up email is a simple step by step procedure even for Microsoft Exchange. All of Google’s various add-ons are available of course like Gtalk, YouTube, Google’s Voice search, Google Maps, Places, Latitude and Navigation are on board. Plurk, Peep and Friend Stream and the Facebook for Android app are also preloaded for the Sensation’s social networking functionality.

Adobe Flash 10.3 makes for a great web browsing experience

Adobe Flash 10.3 makes for a great web browsing experience

With regards to the handset’s GPS capabilities, aside from Google Maps, HTC’s Locations that includes Footprints for Geotagging and making little notes to images and a few other features like 3D mapping with directions (not voice oriented) have been loaded. The Locations software is quite versatile and easy to use as compared to the others available. With a digital compass and location based searches and trip history, it’s quite a full fledged GPS app.

The HTC Hub and HTC Likes for downloading HTC Sense UI content and add-ons, apps etc. is also provided. Along with a weather and news app, and Sound Hound for music recognition.

Misc. Features
The few extras that HTC has incorporated include a voice recorder, a Task manager, Stock market app, Bluetooth enabled Data Transfer for when you switch handsets, Polaris Office, Flashlight with adjustable settings and gyro enabled Dice game. The basics like Adobe Reader, Calculator, Google sync calendar, alarm clock etc. are also present.

Camera
The HTC Sensation is equipped with an 8 megapixel auto and touch focus enabled camera with a dual LED flash. It features all of HTC’s new camera settings that include quite a few fun to use effects, White Balance settings, scene modes that include Back light, Beach and Snow settings etc., ISO options up to 800, Geotagging and Face detection. Video records at full HD i.e. 1920 x 1080 and quality, although slightly jittery, was not too bad on the whole.

Images look ok even in low light but a little grainy

Images look ok even in low light, but a little grainy

Image quality was just alright for an 8MP camera, but no better than the Incredible S or the Galaxy S II. Although processing speed is fast, image quality was sharp but just a little grainy in native resolution while colors however seemed to be retained, quite well.

Macro and touch focus work like a charm

Macro and touch focus work like a charm

Battery Life
On a full charge, the Sensation ran for just about a day and a half with internet remaining constantly on for social networking and Push email. Stand alone talk time averaged in at about 5 hours and change which puts it a little above average in my books.

The Bottom Line
Somehow everything seemed to work much better with a level of fluidity akin to the S II’s on the Incredible S, but not with the Sensation. With a price tag of Rs. 32,000 (MOP),which is a good Rs. 2,000 more than the Galaxy S II’s worth, I’m not convinced that the Sensation is a worthy consideration if you’re looking at high-end smartphones. In fact, I’d much rather go with the Incredible S that’s priced much lower, has a smaller display and a slightly slower processor. If power is what you want, you just can’t go wrong with the Samsung Galaxy S II in this case.

At the end of it all, the HTC Sensation was a bit of a disappointment, hopefully the issues I faced were consistent only with this test piece, so I’d like to invite those using the device to share their experiences with handsets bought “off the rack”.

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