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HTC Sensation Review


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  • Large, high resolution screen
  • Super fast dual-core processor
  • Good camera with bright LEDs
  • Beautiful chassis design


  • Poor battery life
  • Screen quality could be better

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £479.99
  • 1.2GHz dual core processor
  • Curved 4.3in screen
  • Android 2.3 Operating System
  • 8 megapixel camera with twin LEDs

The HTC Sensation is something of a latecomer to the dual-core smartphone party but the wait has been worth it. Packing in a 1.2GHz processor, 8 megapixel camera, high-resolution screen, and a stunning design, it most definitely lives up to its name.

As ever with HTC, it’s the design of the Sensation that first hits you. The curved edges to the glass front doesn’t necessarily look better than a flat fronted phone but it does help the Sensation stand out. It’s the back that is a true work of greatness, though. The tri-tone grey arrangement is a stunningly effective piece of subtle design. The top and bottom sections are patches of soft touch plastic while the stripe through the middle is part of the Aluminium frame that makes up the back. Breaking up the grey and black are little flashes of chrome or polished Aluminium just to give it that little sprinkling of bling.

This isn’t a unibody design like the Desire S – the metal section frames the backplate and comes off whole. Nonetheless, it feels very solid and well put together. Underneath it you’ll find slots for the SIM card and a microSD card, which will take cards up to 32GB and should be filled with an 8GB card when you buy the phone.

HTC Sensation 5

Thanks to its curved back and edges the Sensation feels very comfortable to hold, which is something that couldn’t really be said of the Samsung Galaxy S II. This is despite it only being 1mm narrower than Samsung’s handset. Indeed, this is otherwise quite a large phone with dimensions of 126.1 x 65.4 x 11.3mm – it just hides it well.

All told, the HTC Sensation looks and feels smart, which really is all one can ask for in smartphone design. We’re still not entirely convinced that all the metal actually makes HTC’s devices any tougher than any rivals but they certainly give that impression.

HTC Sensation 7

Round the edges is the usual selection of features. Up top is a headphone jack, the left is home to the volume rocker and microUSB socket, the right is blank, while the bottom houses the little fingernail button for prizing the back off. On said back is the 8 megapixel camera with its twin LED flashes and stereo mics for video, along with the speaker and further mics for noise-cancelling in-call. As we’ve come to expect from HTC, the only omission is an HDMI socket.

HTC Sensation 8

Above the screen and to the right of the earpiece is the 1.3megapixel front facing camera while on the other side is a light sensor for optionally controlling the screen brightness. Nestled in behind the speaker grille is a little indicator LED for showing if you’ve got a message or if the device is charging – a nice touch.

Running below the screen are the four standard Android buttons, which are all touch sensitive. They’re responsive and unlike some touch buttons we didn’t find them ever getting in the way and resulting in accidental activation. The lack of physical buttons does mean you have to stretch to the top edge lock button to unlock the phone, though.

Not content with packing a 1.2GHz processor into its elegant chassis, HTC has also crammed a class leading screen into the Sensation. Its 4.3in size is large but nothing new and it’s ”only” an LCD but crucially it has a higher resolution than all but the iPhone 4. Whereas most smartphones, even with screens this large, are content to have 480 x 800 pixels the Sensation squeezes in 540 x 960. This makes a discernible difference, making text look even sharper and – assuming your eyesight’s good enough – allowing you to fit more information on screen while remaining readable. This is particularly important for viewing webpages.

HTC Sensation 9

The quality of the LCD isn’t the best with colours being a little muted and black levels a little grey, plus there’s a bit of colour shift when viewed from an angle. But none of these issues really detract from the general viewing pleasure and the extra detail more than makes up for them.

General performance is also excellent. We were seriously impressed by the power of the dual-core 1.2GHz chip used on the Samsung Galaxy S II and though that chipset technically has a slightly faster graphics processor, the Qualcomm MSM 8260 in this phone keeps pace with it. There will be the odd pause as larger programs take a moment to load or they download new data but to all intents and purposes the Sensation responds instantly. You could even say it’s s… plendiforously fast.

HTC Sensation 1

We’re just as impressed with the interface. Built on Android 2.3.3, it employs the latest version of HTC’s Sense UI. The changes over normal Android span all parts of the OS but some of the highlights include the lock screen. Here you can either drag the virtual grey ring across the screen to unlock the screen as usual or you can drop one of the icons above into it to jump straight to that app. This sounds like a small addition but it’s surprisingly useful, regularly saving precious seconds. You can also change the four apps to those of your choosing.

HTC Sensation 2

Once at the homescreen you’ll find HTC’s signature weather, clock and calendar widget, which looks as elegant as ever and remains very useful for seeing at a glance a host of information. There are plenty of other slick looking widgets too, for showing emails, listing your favourite contacts and such like, but we’ve never quite found them useful enough to bother using them – a trend that applies to widgets in general.

HTC Sensation - Contacts

Other HTC niceties include the Phone link at the bottom of the homescreen. This opens the dialler but also includes your contacts listed behind, ready for scrolling through, should you not know the number to dial. The same spinning carousel homescreen gesture as on the HTC Flyer is also to be found – swipe quickly across the homescreen and the view will zoom out to show all seven homescreens spinning rapidly round. It’s a gimmick but it’s mighty impressive.

HTC Sensation - Notifications

We also like the notifications drop down that shows recently run apps, your notifications, and on another tab it has quick settings for Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Hotspot, Mobile Network, Bluetooth, and GPS, as well as a link to the full settings page and the memory management app.

Another key tweak HTC has made is to the onscreen keyboard. Not only is the layout excellent but the predictive texting is top notch and the addition of a button for manually minimising the keyboard is very useful. The general experience is also helped by the spacious expanse and responsiveness of the phone’s screen – you can blaze away at a blistering pace with few typing errors.

This of course makes keeping on top of emails and text messages a cinch, something which is helped by the easy to use apps for each. Likewise, it’s a simple task to get your contacts list filled out with information from email accounts, Facebook and Twitter, and HTC has done a great job of making it easy to jump straight to profile information, updates, messages and pictures from Facebook right from within the contact page.

HTC has also bolstered the Sensation with an ebook app, which does a decent job of presenting the written word in an easy to read manner, with pretty page turn animations, various font options, and easy chapter navigation. Indeed this is one area where the higher resolution screen really comes to the fore. It’s also where the screen’s limitations, in terms of viewing angles, play a role but as already mentioned, the former outweighs the latter. The Kobo bookstore is built-in, for quick and easy copyrighted book download, while you can also sign in with an Adobe ID.

HTC Sensation 4

Watch is another HTC addition, and it provides access to streaming and downloaded films. While pricing seems just about reasonable, the selection is too poor to be worth bothering with.

Sadly, if you want to play back your own videos the Sensation doesn’t make for the best tool. The inbuilt codec and format support is a bit limited, with mkv support being the most obvious omission. Nonetheless, DivX and Xvid are accounted for (and you can download alternative video players) and if you get the formatting right, the results look brilliant. They also sound reasonable through the speaker – yes, HTC seems to have used a half decent speaker for once. The headphone jack isn’t bad either, with no background hiss or other disturbances to report.

HTC Sensation 5

Not only can you watch video on this phone with a smile on your face, you can also create it too. While the 1080p video recorded on this phone won’t rival even a pocket internet camcorder – especially in low light – the extra detail it packs in over 720p cameras is noticeable. There is a bit of tearing and resolution loss in fast movement but it’s still more than usable. That said, for smooth results and lower file sizes you may be better off sticking to 720 anyway.

Photos also impress with loads of detail captured by the 8-megapixel sensor. As ever, they look better on the phone’s screen than when blown up on a computer (with loads of sharpening and JPEG compression artefacts in evidence and a slightly muted tone) but they’re still mostly up to snuff. What’s more the twin LEDs do provide a surprising amount of light – just compare our test shots at the end of the review. The camera app also packs in loads of scene modes and other tweaking tools, with touch to focus (which also works during video) being probably the most useful extra.

Android being Android, the HTC Sensation can be bolstered with as many or few apps as you please and they can be plastered all over the phone’s seven homescreens or kept neatly in little folders or even confined just to the app launcher menu – for those that really want to be able to see the picture they’ve chosen for their wallpaper.

HTC Sensation 11

However, we’re growing more and more concerned, as the smartphone market continues to mature, that despite a huge volume of apps in the Android marketplace, the quality still pales in comparison to the Apple app store. Moreover, those that are good are difficult to find. The vast majority of basics are accounted for but a quick browse for some online banking apps, and several of the most popular games came up with nothing – there’s still no paid for version of Angry Birds for instance.

Nonetheless, despite what many people would have you believe, apps are not the be all and end all and as such the Sensation is still a stonkingly feature-packed and capable smartphone.

Unfortunately, because of this, its 1520mAh battery does dwindle rather rapidly. With everything on and with a not overly hefty dose of mobile browsing and gaming, you’ll run it dry well within a day. As ever, you can temper things considerably by turning 3G on only when needed, reducing the frequency of notifications, and keeping the screen brightness down. With an average usage pattern, though, we found that an overnight charge was needed every night.

HTC Sensation 6

On the plus side, thanks to those noise cancelling microphones, call quality is better than average so while your phone does still have juice, you’ll enjoy using it.


The HTC Sensation is a frustrating device. Why? Because it comes so close to perfection but doesn’t quite manage it. The high resolution screen is great but the quality of it lets it down a tad, some of the software tweaks are great but yet video support is poor, and while the performance is amazing, battery life isn’t so much. Nonetheless, if battery life proves to be better once usage has settled down then the screen quality issue is certainly something we can overlook as the rest of the device is so delightful. It’s beautifully made and styled, it’s incredibly fast, the camera’s good, and call quality isn’t half bad either. All told, despite a few niggles, it’s definitely up there with the best dual-core smartphones.

HTC Sensation - Camera Sample Pictures 6

HTC Sensation - Camera Sample Pictures 1

HTC Sensation - Camera Sample Pictures 3

HTC Sensation - Camera Sample Pictures 2

HTC Sensation - Camera Sample Pictures 4

HTC Sensation - Camera Sample Pictures 5

We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.

Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.

Used as our main phone for the review period

Reviewed using respected industry benchmarks and real world testing

Always has a SIM card installed

Tested with phone calls, games and popular apps

Trusted Score

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Score in detail

  • Performance 10
  • Camera 7
  • Design 9
  • Usability 8
  • Features 9

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