The HTC Sensation is not a small phone. Carrying it around in an unusually uncluttered handbag this week, we were very conscious of its bulk. It’s crafted from slabs of metal and weighs an above average 148g. However, it’s broad as well as wide, at 126mm long and 65mm across (but only 5mm thick).
It occupies almost exactly the same space as the Samsung Galaxy S II, in other words, but is almost half as chunky. The inclusion of a 1.2GHz CPU certainly doesn’t harm the Sensation’s case either.
Within this frame you’ll find a 4.3in screen with a resolution of 540 x 960 pixels. The display is both wonderfully bright and superbly responsive. It is also subtly recessed, presumably so it’s less likely to pick up scratches as you lay it down or slip it into a pocket. Scratches won’t less an issue on the rear of the HTC Sensation as this is made from a trio of coloured metals.
Setup is slightly different than with most Android handsets we’ve tried. You’re guided around the screen via a touch sensitive ring. This is used to activate the functions you want to use as well as to unlock the phone from standby. The first task is to establish a web connection.
Setting up a wireless connection is the first step in setting up the HTC Sensation. As well as the usual 3G connectivity, Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11n wireless are supported. Note that there is an HTC Sensation 4G designed for use with LTE (Long-Term Evolution, aka '4G') networks in the US. The HTC Sensation 4G will not be coming to the UK anytime soon, not least because there will be no LTE rollout in the UK for at least two years.
After establishing a wireless connection on the HTC Sensation, you can then choose to import contacts and settings from another handset if you wish.
This means you can port across anything saved on a phone from which you’re migrating, and aren’t dependent on everything being stored on the SIM card you switch from. That could be invaluable if your handset upgrade involves a change of network operator. The HTC Sensation is currently offered in the UK exclusively through Vodafone and our review handset was locked to their network.
As with all Android phones, you need a Google account in order to get started. You can easily add more email accounts and can link and automatically synchronise messages if you wish to. Social media types will be pleased to find Facebook and Twitter apps already loaded, though having logged in to the former via the HTC FriendStream, we were puzzled to find ourselves additionally having to log in to that.
Updates poured in immediately, though, and we were able to respond just as fast thanks to the excellent software keyboard on this phone. Auto-complete didn’t take over (an issue we found with the Google Nexus S), but suggestions were spot on and the keys large enough for accurate input.
There are seven screens on the HTC Sensation. Scroll side to side to cycle through them or, on the home screen, view thumbnails of them all and choose one.
Customisation is a real strength here. You won’t want to change the famous Weather app. This not only offers temperature and rain forecasts for your current location but illustrates them for you: lightning, downpours and clouds scudding across the sky, all beautifully enacted.
No wonder HTC decided to fit a 1.2GHz processor in the HTC Sensation. We were also amused to find not only a Torchlight app preinstalled, but a Mirror too. Many’s the time we’ve seen girls preening by the glint of their smartphone. Having followed suit, we can confirm it works well.
The HTC Sensation has an abundance of speed and we weren’t able to catch it out at any stage. There was a minor glitch with a web page when the browser seemed to overlay a page on top of another, but this could well have been down to the ad server trying to throw up a popup pre-roll screen.
On sites that have both desktop and mobile versions, you’ll want to switch to the full version. Not only is there ample screen to accommodate it, but the Sensation handles web browsing with impressive aplomb.
You can zoom in and in using a pinch-to-zoom motion without disrupting the page layout as you do so and with no loss in display quality. Images continue to look great as you zoom in and there’s no delay as pages render.
Viewing embedded Flash video suffers the usual caveat that the audio track is out of sync with the video. We had no trouble getting clips to load however, and playback was smooth. HTC has included a speaker on this phone, so you won’t always need to plug in the rather unappealing earphones that come with the Sensation in order to be entertained.
You aren’t restricted to viewing web video, of course. HTC adds several features that let you view and share content.
The headline feature is HTC Watch, a movie download service similar to LoveFilm or the venerated Apple iTunes. You can view and share TVs and movies with other HTC devices, but prices are steep. A newly released film costs £9.99 or can be rented for a third of that amount.
Such services are almost certainly the future for large screen handsets such as this one, especially since there’s also an HDMI output, so you can view what you’ve bought on your smartphone on an TV.
Another point of intrigue is the Dock mode on the HTC Sensation. Here, you essentially turn your handset into a dumb screen that brings up undulating images from the Gallery as a slideshow. There’s also an option here, as with the camera and video settings, to share content from the device by email or to Flickr, Facebook and so on.
Finally, there’s an 8MP camera with an autofocus that deftly locks on to its target. The results we got were pleasingly sharp and offered more faithful colour reproduction than on some ‘proper’ cameras we’ve tried.
Video can also be taken, though you’ll need to consider the storage implications if you intend to shoot much footage. The Sensation has only 1GB of built-in storage, although an 8GB microSD card is supplied in the box too.
Battery life of the HTC Sensation was better than expected given this phone’s focus on viewing, shooting and sharing content. HTC cites a talktime of 500 minutes and a standby battery life of 285 hours over a GSM network.
Our fairly representative usage of the HTC Sensation over a four day period involved watching half an hour of video, sending and receiving texts, making calls, around three hours of web browsing, and shooting a video and several photos, then sending them as attachments over email. The Sensation was down to 15 percent battery by the end. Not at all shabby.
HTC calls the Sensation a ‘multimedia superphone’ and given its razor-sharp screen, generally decent video playback (excepting Adobe Flash) and great audio, we can see why. If you can handle its sheer size, this is both an excellent phone and a superior entertainment player.