HTC’s latest hero handset has been lavished with just about the best of everything the Taiwanese company has to offer.
It’s the first HTC with a dual-core processor, and also comes with the 2.3 Gingerbread version of Android, HTC’s most advanced screen, its best 8 megapixel camera yet and the very latest 3.0 version of the Sense user interface. It’s exclusive to Vodafone to begin with, but probably not for long.
Design and build
High-end smartphones seem to be getting bigger, as manufacturers try to see just how big a screen they can fit into the average pocket. The Sensation’s 4.3in monster is surrounded by a 126x65x11in and 148g casing – not as slim as the wafer-like Samsung Galaxy S II or Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Pro perhaps, but certainly no brick.
Beneath the screen are the familiar four Android buttons on a touch-sensitive strip and on the sides are a slimline volume rocker and microUSB power/sync port with a 3.5mm headphone jack and power/sleep button on top.
The touch screen is HTC’s best yet. Its 4.3in acreage is supported by a resolution of 540x960 pixels (which they’re calling qHD – quarter high definition) – not quite as many as the iPhone 4’s 640x960 but not far off, and both look startlingly sharp and clear. It’s certainly in front of most Android handsets we’ve seen so far, which tend to offer 480x800.
As usual for HTC it not only looks good but feels good too, with excellent sensitivity and response, consistently distinguishing between brushes and presses at first touch. You can also ease its strain on the battery by turning down the brightness or setting it to automatically respond to ambient light.
Interface and OS
HTC’s first tilt at a dual-core handset uses a 1.2GHz Integra 2 model with a respectable 768MB of RAM. In tests it doesn’t deliver the highest of scores compared to some rivals such as the Motorola Atrix or the LG Optimus 2X, but it’s easily ahead of other single-core handsets. And in general use it is indeed very quick indeed, opening and running multiple apps with ease, and with no obvious sign of lag.
The extra power no doubt comes in handy for supporting the latest version of HTC’s popular Sense user interface, which is getting increasingly busy with animated icons (they appear in a sort of rotating 3D cube) and what looks like a very processing-heavy weather app.
Vodafone hasn’t done a lot to customise the UI – the only differences seem to be a couple of shortcuts to their 360 Shop and Music Shop. You can only use them with your Vodafone 3G connection, since you can’t access them via Wi-Fi, and there isn’t an awful lot there in any case, with just some samples of paid-for streaming TV and a small range of games. The Music Shop offers a few bargains however, and may be worth a glance from time to time if you’re the sort that prefers to pay for individual tracks rather than a subscription service.
Android 2.3.3 is the operating system on board so it’s not the absolute up-to-the-minute 2.3.4 version, which adds video for Google Talk, allowing you make better use of the VGA camera mounted on the front of the handset. An upgrade is sure to be on the way, though the complexity of the Sense UI means we’ll probably have to wait a bit longer for it than some other handsets.
HTC has routinely struggled with its cameras, but this 8 megapixel model looks like being its best effort so far. Its maximum picture resolution is 3264x1840 pixels and includes some useful features such as autofocus, dual LED flash and face detection. There’s also a new ‘instant capture’ feature which aims to speed up the time it takes to snap a picture. It seems to work, since the camera can take a pic and be ready for another in less than a second, which is certainly an improvement on past models.
Picture quality isn’t stunning in truth but it’s perfectly capable of some decent shots so long as you’re careful with your light. Colours can appear a little bit saturated and detail can be quick to suffer in less than perfect light conditions.
There’s 1080p full HD video recording on offer too, which is good, but not quite as good as the spec suggests, with a certain amount of jerkiness creeping in too often for our liking. You can stream the results wirelessly straight to a networked TV using the phone’s DLNA functionality, and you can connect it via USB to HDMI if you have a suitable adaptor (there’s none supplied). Unlike a few other recent dual-core handsets there’s no mini HDMI port.
Apps and browser
The standard Android browser is quick to use and renders pages and text well. It supports Flash video too. Polaris Office is on board and will let you view and create Word and Excel files. FriendStream is a handy widget that allows you to view all your social networking and message updates as a single stream and the HTC Hub offers a few extra apps beyond the thousands available from the Android Market.
Media and connectivity
Unsurprisingly, films look great on that large, bright and clear screen and you can stretch the resolution so it fits the display size, though this can sometimes appear just a bit too distorted, depending on how hard the processing engine has to work. There’s also the option of SRS surround sound which opens out the soundstage a little, though it would probably be more effective with stereo speakers at either end of the handset.
The Android music player is well laid out and intuitive, with HTC’s 13-setting equalizer on board to help you get the sound you want through the okay-quality headphones. There’s 1GB of memory on board for storing your media but you can boost that to 32GB via microSD card.
Performance and battery life
The 1500mHa battery is par for the course with the modern crop of smart phones and while it doesn’t disgrace itself, it doesn’t particularly shine either, delivering a good day of heavy use but not much more.
- Excellent 4.3in touchscreen
- Fast dual-core processor
- HTC Sense 3.0 UI
- Android 2.3
- No HDMI slot
- Camera not as good as some rivals
Verdict: A terrific high-end smart phone with a fast and capable dual-core processor, the latest Sense UI and up-to-date Android. It’s a pleasure to use, even if you can get better cameras elsewhere and a dedicated HDMI port would have been useful for streaming those 1080p HD videos.
More info: HTC Sensation spec
Price: From free on contract; £500 SIM-free