Photo: Ellis Hamburger
The Hardware Is Ultra-Solid, As Is Call Quality
The Sensation is one of the most well-built Android phones I’ve ever held.
It has a pleasant heft to it. You feel like you’re holding something expensive, which is a good thing.
The front of the phone is pretty average fare for Android phones these days (Gorilla Glass and four capacitive touch buttons), but the back is killer.
Instead of some cheap plastic with a faux-carbon-fibre pattern adorned on it (like you might see on a Galaxy S device), the Sensation has a thick and rugged soft touch plastic back and an aluminium “belt” traversing its midsection that curls around to form the bezel of the device.
It feels wonderfully study in the hand, as does the way you remove the back to expose the battery.
The phone looks like an exposed Darth Vader with the back off, because the top comes right off with it.
I find it hard to pay too much attention to the “phone” part of this thing because the rest is so good. But, call quality on the Sensation was stellar in my tests, even indoors. Wi-Fi calling on T-Mobile worked well too.
The Giant 4.3-inch Screen Is Super High-Res, But It’s Not Super-AMOLED
The 4.3-inch Super LCD qHD screen on the Sensation is a stunner, but it’s not nearly as bright as some of the Super AMOLED Plus phones we’ve checked out like the screen on the Droid Charge.
Even though the Sensation’s screen isn’t the brightest, its qHD resolution means it has a ton of pixels, so you’ll see tons of details and be able to fit more emails on your screen.
It has 35% more pixels than its Nemesis, the Samsung Galaxy S II, Engadget calculated. Android adapts well to the greater amount of pixels.
Also, the qHD resolution means you can say goodbye to letterboxing when you’re watching movies. Many movies are shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio, and that’s the aspect ratio of the Sensation’s screen. It feels like a pretty logical size. I’m not sure I’d want a larger screen like on the LG Infuse 4G.
Gingerbread Is Here, But The Real Star Is The New Lock Screen
The Sensation has HTC’s Sense UI 3.0 built-in, bringing some nice improvements (like 3D home screen-switching animation), but none of which are as welcome as the strange but convenient new lock screen.
You can choose four apps to always have present on your lock screen. You can open these apps straight from your lock screen by dragging them onto a little ring at the bottom of the screen. To unlock your phone to your normal home screen, you just drag the ring upwards.
This means you can quickly answer text messages, take a picture without any delays, and make a phone call on a dime. There’s flexibility to add widgets to the lock screen as well.
Another awesome new feature is the Quick Settings screen, which is a tab at the bottom of your Notifications screen (the one you drag down from the top of your screen).
From here, you can alter settings you’d use on a daily basis. I like these settings here, versus on the previous page. This way, I can see recent apps immediately when I pull down the Notification bar.
The Sensation Is Lightning Fast, Except 4G Is Lackluster
The Qualcomm 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor in the Sensation eliminates all kinds of performance problems you’re using to seeing in smartphones. There’s no lag, no matter what website you’re browsing or how big it is.
Animation between apps and home screens is smooth like butter. There are no hang-ups to speak of.
768 MB of RAM seems to be more than enough in combination with the speedy processor, even for outputting video and viewing image-heavy web pages.
Even when you’re using the phone quite a bit, the battery holds up well. I made it through the day with a third of the battery left. It’s kind of a miracle.
4G on T-Mobile, on the other hand, is not.
I never got more than 3 Mbps download speeds in New York City, no matter where I went. I don’t know much about T-Mobile 4G service in New York, but the notification bar has a 4G logo in it and the Sensation isn’t much faster than an iPhone 4 on AT&T.
The potential speed of the Sensation is 14.4 Mbps downstream, but apparently T-Mobile’s network isn’t up to the task here yet.
This realistically doesn’t matter much, though, because the Sensation appears to be faster than most other 4G phones because the speedy processor renders information so quickly and smoothly.
One bothersome issue I had related to 4g was that when I was low on service, the Sensation would get hot in my pocket because it was trying so hard to pick up reception.
I couldn’t help but feel like I was getting fried every time I’d go underground, because the phone would get hot trying to fetch an email or something. I haven’t had this issue with other phones.
The Camera Is Great, And Takes A Few Cues From iOS
The Sensation has a memorable 8 MP camera, but HTC added a few “features” I like and a few I don’t. The first memorable feature is a dual-LED rear flash, which is a big stride for mobile phone flashes.
Second, the Sensation uses a new feature called “Instant Capture” to take pictures much quicker. When you tap the shutter button, the image seems to freeze, meaning there’s not much delay to capture it.
It feels a lot like taking pictures on an iPhone, as does the little “recently taken” picture window in the bottom corner of the camera viewfinder screen.
One thing I don’t like is the blurring that occurs because the phone’s software wants to reduce artifacts and noise in your pictures. It blurs some colours together to achieve a clearer overall image.
Overall, however, the camera is great–especially for shooting 1080p HD video. Lastly, the front facing camera is of pretty normal quality, and should only be used for video chatting.
I wish the Sensation had more than 1GB of internal memory (but it’s expandable), and I wish it had a Super AMOLED Plus screen (the qHD is still incredibly sharp), but it’s still a dazzler at $199.99 on launch day June 15th.
It’s the best overall Android phone we’ve used, and the only real thing we have against it is the 4G speed, which is really on T-Mobile’s back. The build quality is just that good.
If you’re looking for a new Android phone on T-Mobile (or for the best current Android phone in the US), you’re looking at it. In close second would be the T-Mobile G2X, which has a faster Tegra 2 dual-core processor, but a smaller screen and not as many other great features (like Gingerbread).
When the Samsung Galaxy S II comes out, it will be a bit thinner and faster, but the Sensation should put up a pretty good fight.
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