The HTC Sensation XE runs Android Gingerbread with the HTC Sense 3.0 user interface laid on top. There is a newer version of Sense, 3.5, but at present it only runs on the Sensation XL, which is the 4.65in alternative to this phone.
We expect most of you are already familiar with Google's Android OS at this point, but in case you're not - it tends to be buggier and less easy-to-use than the iPhone iOS or Microsoft's Windows Phone, but gives you loads of scope for tinkering and customisation. You can fairly easily swap-out the interfaces for core phone features like text messaging, without hacking your phone, and use third-party UIs with the mere install of an app.
It's a Sense-ation (no-one's ever made that pun before)
HTC Sense's key features include now-iconic clock widgets, a neat homescreen dock and the ability to launch apps directly from the lock screen. Additions brought by version 3.5, not included here, include minor aesthetic tweaks, new widgets and a new dedicated Facebook chat app. We'll miss the advanced widgets, but version 3.0 includes the most important custom basics.
Top of the list is HTC's custom keyboard. It's well laid-out, and the 4.3in screen is easily enough space to make typing quick and accurate. It's perhaps not quite as good-looking as the Windows Phone 7.5 and iOS 5 keyboards, but it has a button which is missing from its rivals - one that makes the keyboard disappear. This comes in very handy, stopping you from having to reach down for the back button too often.
The iOS and WP7.5 keyboards arguably look a little nicer
HTC Sense also boasts the best social network integration of any custom Android UI. Contacts can be automatically harvested from Facebook and Twitter, and once they are, their latest tweets and status updates appear within People - HTC's version of the phone book. The XE automatically suggests accounts to link to a contact, and all it takes to tie them together is a tap from within that contact's page.
HTC also offers its own attractive Twitter client, Peep, as well as the long-standing Friend Stream widget. This collates social networking updates into a single stream that you can dump onto a home screen. Twitter clients and interfaces tend to be things twitterers form a strangely strong bond with, and Sense's ones don't offer anything to blow the competition out of the water. But they're not bad. The Facebook client is the social network's own one - some things are sacred.
The Sensation XE's operating system is fast but, as ever with Android, there are occasional momentary pauses between actions - most notably when returning to the home screen from an app or the main apps menu.
A dual-core 1.5GHz processor offers a lot of power, but thanks to Android's system architecture it's unlikely to ever be quite as fast as the locked-down Windows Phone 7. We are talking about fractions of seconds here, and within the world of Android, it's a top performer - and swish-but unobtrusive animated transitions make it feel smooth . In day-to-day use, you're not going to notice a great deal of difference between the 1.2GHz processor of the Sensation and the upgraded 1.5GHz model here.