Review by Russell Jefferies on Thursday June 09, 2011.
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Like other handsets in the HTC range, the Sensation is a large, slab-shaped device with rounded corners and smatterings of soft touch plastic on the rear. The large qHD (540 x 960 pixel) display dominates the front of the device, with the usual Android home, menu, back, and search keys below, all of which are touch sensitive and illuminate in white.
Above the display is a wide earpiece grille with a built-in notification LED, next to which the Sensation's forward-facing camera sits. The rear of the device has a three tone black/grey color scheme, with soft touch panels top and bottom. The whole plastic rear cover lifts off as one piece, and does a lovely job of imitating an aluminum unibody, although unfortunately isn't one.
Toward the top of the rear cover is an assortment of holes, which allow the 8 megapixel camera's lens and dual LED flash to peek through. While the nicely recessed lens is quite protected, it does unfortunately also collect lots of muck and dust, and is difficult to clean without removing the rear cover.
Atop the phone is the power key and 3.5mm headphone port, while the bottom is home to the microphone pinhole and cover removal button. There are also three more pinholes in the rear cover, presumably for noise cancellation microphones. The only other hardware features are the chromed volume rocker and the micro-USB port: both of which can be found on the left side of the handset.
The HTC Sensation measures in at 126.1 x 65.4 x 11.3mm (4.96 x 2.57 x .44in) and weighs 148g (5.22oz), putting it between the Desire S and Desire HD on both counts.
Overall, I really liked the Sensation's hardware, and the new screen is a delight, with rich colors and decent performance in direct sunlight, as well as its unusual beveled edge. The beveled edge never really seemed to have any use during our testing, as it starts within the screen's black bezel, but it certainly looks good and gives the phone a higher quality feel.
The Sensation's Android (2.3 Gingerbread) platform will offer a familiar experience for anyone who has previously used an Android handset, albeit with a few upgrades here and there. Whilst the Android platform is quickly evolving, it still manages to remain logical and familiar, even between devices from different manufacturers. For example, the notifications bar at the top still shows the time, battery status, and signal strength, as well as housing any incoming notification icons. As always, it can be dragged down to access incoming notifications, and now offers easy access to recently used applications and quick settings.
As with all recent HTC handsets, the Sensation is sporting the latest version of HTC's much-loved Sense UI (3.0), which includes a plentiful selection of well designed widgets to drop onto your home screen. In fact, there are seven home screen panels in total, which can be navigated between either by swiping to the left or right with your finger, or by pinching on the display to reveal all seven at once. Users can customize the home screen by re-arranging widgets, adding new ones, or simply removing ones they don't want. The background and lock screen images can also be changed, although with the Sensation HTC is offering active lock screens as well.
The active lock screen can show weather information, FriendStream updates, photos, stocks, or one of HTC's pre-loaded clocks, all of which look great when you wake the phone. On top of this, you are also shown the time and date, the new unlocking ring (that the user must drag upwards to unlock the screen), and four round shortcut icons. These four shortcuts can be customized by the user, and dragging any of the icons into the center of the unlock ring will quickly unlock the device and open the shortcut's application. This is particularly useful for applications that are needed quickly, such as the camera.
Once unlocked, there are three buttons along the bottom of the screen: the app menu button, the Phone button, and the personalization options button. The app menu button simply takes you into the applications menu, which is set to a scrolling 4x4 grid layout by default. Previously the grid scrolled freely, but now it will flick an entire page of apps at a time, making app searching easier. Users can also subset their apps list by "All apps", "Frequent", and "Downloaded". Again, this makes finding something much easier if you happen to hoard apps.
While the Phone button brings up the dial pad, the personalization button brings up a menu that allows users to do things like add a skin to the UI, or change the "scene" that is currently in use. Scenes are basically visual profiles that can be configured for different occasions, with customization of everything from the home screen background to the widgets, skins, and app shortcuts.
The earlier mentioned touch-sensitive buttons below the display provide a good base to work from when using the phone, due to their fixed set of functions. The home button takes you to the home screen, the menu button brings up a context-sensitive menu, the back button goes back a screen, and the search button offers a context-sensitive search, or generic phone/Google web search. This helps simplify the whole UI navigation and unify Android handsets from all manufacturers.
As is the norm these days, pinch zooming is featured by the Sensation's capacitive touchscreen display, and the built-in G-sensor allows the display to auto-rotate when the device is turned on its side. The display was easy to type on, thanks to its large size and high resolution text, although I still wasn't anywhere near 100% perfect with my typing. A larger keyboard can quickly be accessed by flipping the phone on its side, should you require one.
There aren't really any ringer profiles to speak of on the HTC Sensation, although the ringer volume can be adjusted from the home screen via the volume rocker, which can also be used to activate vibrate or silent modes, as well as controlling media playback volume. If you fancy having varying ringers, you can easily set contact-specific tones from within the contact system.
HTC's contact-centric school of thought works very well, and keeps users connected to their friends via deep Facebook and Twitter integration, with updates appearing in contact entries and when making/receiving calls. It's even possible to flick through friends' Facebook and Flickr albums from their contact entry, as well as see all emails, messages, and call history for that person.
Finally, HTC have included a task manager in one of their Android handsets, and the Sensation's task manager can be found by accessing the quick settings from the drop-down notifications bar. This allows users to monitor running applications and close any that don't need t be open, which can be very handy.
Overall, I really enjoyed using the HTC Sensation - partly due to its attractive and useful user interface, and partly due to its ferocious speed. Everything whizzes along with sufficient haste, and for the most part the fancy new animations are smooth and slick. It's a really fun handset to use.
Russell Jefferies reviews mobile phones for MobileBurn from his home located in Bristol in the United Kingdom.