HTC Sensation review: HTC Sense 3.0, hardware and operation

HTC’s brand new dual-core Android phone has launched in the UK exclusively through Vodafone at the moment, with the HTC Sensation featuring Android 2.3.3 running on a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, a 4.3″ contoured display, the very latest 3.0 update of the company’s Sense user interface and an aluminium “unibody” construction.

It is very exciting and we were rather intimated and terrified at the prospect of reviewing such a new and important Android phone. However…

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…the bottom line is the HTC Sensation feels extremely similar to the rest of the 2011 HTC Android range. It’s like a big Desire S with a few premium design touches. It’s black with chunky silver volume and power buttons, much heavier than the Galaxy S II, while the “contoured” display basically means there’s a bit of a curved edge around the sides. It’s a friendly, familiar HTC lump!

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The back of the phone is grippy rubber at the top and bottom, with a swoosh of aluminium running through the middle and wrapping around the sides. It feels cold when you poke your hand out from under the duvet and pick it up first thing in the morning, also giving the Sensation a robust, high quality feel.

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Then there’s your dual-LED flash and the reassuringly recessed and therefore slightly protected camera sensor. It certainly has a tougher, more rigid, curved feel to it than the bland exterior of the Galaxy S II. We prefer holding the Sensation, as we always felt like the slippery S II was constantly sliding out of our hands.

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Taking the back cover off feels like you’re actually disassembling the entire handset, as the back cover also incorporates the sides and top edge of the phone – so what you’re doing is more like popping the screen out to access the internals.

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There’s a little plastic catch along the bottom edge to release the casing. It’s a bit flimsy. It feels like you’re voiding your warranty by opening it up like this.

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Despite featuring a whopping 4.3″ screen, the phone itself doesn’t feel overly bulky. It’s slimmer than the Desire HD, and slightly less than a centimetre or so longer than the famous HTC Desire (above). We have already got used to it, basically. It’s not too big.

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That’s the curved edge of the glass. It’s hard to take a photograph of. It’s also quite hard to notice and serves no real purpose, aside making the edge where glass meets metal appear perhaps a little neater.

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It’s a little annoying that the USB connector is now found on the left-hand side of the phone. Makes using it while plugged in a little more cumbersome than the old HTC Desire with its bottom-middle connector. But that’s maybe a personal thing. You might like it better this way.

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HTC Sense has been upgraded to version 3.0, with the best addition by far being the new interactive lock screen. Press the power button when the phone’s screen is asleep and you’re greeted by your chosen lock screen background, along with four customisable app icons.

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You can have HTC’s FriendStream social network widget on the lock screen, or photos from your gallery, or share prices, or more. The weather animations are fantastic, and it’s surprising how enjoyable it is to have such quick, one-swipe access to the camera, Twitter or the browser or anything else you decide you want one on of the four hotspots.

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It really is a lovely lock screen system. Don’t worry about pressing things by accident, either. You have to press the stiff power button to bring it up, then steer an icon into the lower circle to access a feature. The chances of that chain of events happening in your pocket are pretty remote.

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You can also ignore people with it if they make the mistake of phoning you instead of emailing you. It’s safe to say we’ve had more fun messing about with the lock screen than anything else.

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But that really is about it for significant HTC Sense 3.0 innovations, sadly. The 3D Home screen animations are more of an annoyance than an improvement, to be honest, with the 2D icons spinning around on some imaginary 3D plane and looking a bit rough as they go. But look, HTC has added a metal hinge mechanism to the side of its iconic flip clock!

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The app drawer is exactly the same as that found on the HTC Desire S. It scrolls one “page” at a time, plus you’re able to filter apps by frequent use or ones you’ve installed yourself – or just have it as a big list of text.

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HTC Watch is one of the big new apps, and you’ll be needing to register a separate HTC Watch account, which, rather oddly, has nothing to do with the HTC Sense account you also need to use some other HTC features.

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We have no idea who would “buy” a film for £9.99 on their mobile phone. But the picture quality on the trailers we watched was excellent, so it’ll all look nice if you do go mad and decide that’s a good idea.

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There’s also “Dock Mode” for having a subtle selection of clocks and social updates on display for night time use, plus shortcuts to the DLNA options and a digital photo frame mode. It’s OK. It features pretty clouds in the background when the display is not dimmed.

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That’s it for this session. We’ll be back soon with a look at the HTC Sensation’s 8megapixel camera…

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…that’s one (low-light, indoors, no flash) photo sample to be getting on with. Plus we’ll cover HTC’s other apps and put together some sort of summary about the general performance of the HTC Sensation once we’ve spent a little more time with the phone.


22 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. htcfanvss

     /  May 29, 2011

    great.. thanks… some of th e best pics i have seen of the sensation so far… the interior shot from the sensation’s camera is a bit dissapointing though… (some of the books are quite blurred).. waiting for more… btw which John le Carre is that on the shelf?

    • Gary C

       /  May 29, 2011

      Dunno, those books came with the house.

    • beaver

       /  May 29, 2011

      Yeah HTC have included a new option in their camera app called “Auto Enhance”. It totally blurs pictures in low light conditions in order to remove noise, but fails at keeping detail.

      So Gary, i would recommend you untick this option for the second part of your review. You’ll be surprised how much better the pictures come out.

      • Gary C

         /  May 29, 2011

        OK, will do. I’ll even try a comparison.

  2. I really wanted one of these to replace my desire, however bit put off by the bootloader thing atm. I want something that can be easily rooted & modded with cyranogen or other xda rom. Contract isn’t up until Oct so i’ll see if htc either allow this to be unlocked or release a new model. Love the look of the SE arc but it seems a bit underpowered in comparison to the sensation and the galaxy s2 is as dull to look at as an iphone. :-(

    I’m surprised as I expected the android crew to really bring the fight to iphone 4 this year and so far nothing seems worth the update fee and contract commitment to justify replacing the desire yet.

    I imagine the next nexus should be sweet & filled with ice sarnie goodness.

    • Gary C

       /  May 29, 2011

      I know the Arc is technically underpowered on paper, but I think that’s a price worth paying as it’s such a lovely phone. It certainly doesn’t feel underpowered in use, and I’d rather get an Arc than the S II or Sensation if it was my personal contract on the line.

  3. sunny

     /  May 29, 2011

    the bootloader is going to be unlocked soon, confirmed by HTC

  4. sansenoy

     /  May 29, 2011

    You were terrified at the prospect of reviewing a phone??? I haven’t even read past that line yet, not sure if I should

  5. Gary C

     /  May 29, 2011

    Weight of expectation. I always crumble under pressure.

  6. Shani

     /  May 29, 2011

    I’m in a similar position to tomfrogger – contract not up until the autumn, but already looking at a potential successor to my HTC Desire. Was looking forward to the Sensation, but the HTC industrial design is starting to look increasingly dull.

    Had a play on an Xperia Arc, and was very impressed. I know it’s not a dual core device, but how does it compare speed-wise, especially when loading apps and using the browser? A comparison against the Sensation would be great!

  7. Gary C

     /  May 29, 2011

    I’d say the Arc is equally fast at app opening and installation. The only problem I noticed was with very complex sites which would crunch up a bit in the browser. But again, I’d put up with that in return for having an Arc in my pocket.

    Guess it depends on how much you use the phone as a browser if that’s a deal breaker or not. If you want pure web speed, then the S II is the winner by miles.

  8. Mr Anonymous

     /  May 30, 2011

    Gary, how easy is it to adapt to the Sensation handset if you’re coming to HTC, Android, Sense and touchscreen interface as a first-time user i.e. a newbie?

    • mintvilla

       /  May 30, 2011

      If you have never had an android phone before, you should always get a HTC phone as your first, They guide you into android more easily than all of the other skins that get put ontop of android.

      • Gary C

         /  May 30, 2011

        Absolutely. It’s the easiest way to get into touchscreens, although they do take some getting used to regardless of OS or phone maker. Your typing will be all over the shop for months.

  9. matt

     /  May 30, 2011

    I’m running a kings mod ported rom on my evo that looks identical pretty much to this. I dunno about HTC needing to be your first android phone but to date they are by far the best. With the way they handled the whole bootloader couple hour tops scare it doesnt appear to change anytime soon. The new version of sense from what i’ve seen is ok definately better but nothing mind blowing. That is fine with because sense should not overpower or standout to much anyway in my opinion. Android is the issue sense is just a mod of it. As for the power for these new devices i haven’t yet seen and sensation or 3d but can’t wait. However it will be similar to the sense update i’m sure a difference but not that big. My evo4g and the thunderbolt i messed with from friend are still pretty powerful. If rooted and setup right 95% of all things you do with it are not any faster than my phone now. Multitasking streaming video and big downloads i’d say will be big difference. Competition is so tough now alot man are prolly gonna become a little to fancy at times with there latest greatest stuff and forget to realize sometimes easy simple plain is best. Kinda like going to a car show seeing all these fancy paintjobs and crap and then you see one solid color only window tint with perfect wheels and its your favorite. My gf loves wallpaper and backgrounds 100s of em. Mine? either solid black or the sprint carbon jet black one.

  10. Hi there,
    Contract up soon but have been offered early upgrade so am now facing tough decision.
    Do I replace my HTC Desire with this or the Samsung Galaxy S2?
    Prefer the amount of internal memory on Sammy, but I do like HTC Sense.
    Other reviews have made a point of mentioning poor battery life on the Sensation, though, and this could swing the decision for me. Are the rumours of poor battery life true?

    • mintvilla

       /  May 30, 2011

      i dont think it has poor battery life, but not as good as the SGS2, the screen uses less battery power, and has a bigger battery.

      Both are equally as good, the big differences are
      Sense is better than Touchwiz
      screen is better on the SGS2
      Battery life is better on the SGS2
      The external shell of the sensesation is better than the plastic one on the SGS2.

      There the most important differences, so just decide whats best for you.

      I was in same situation as you, had the desire and was offered early upgrade, i went for the one thats inbetween, the LG optimus 2x.

      Mainly because i like to install custom roms so i use CM7 which is available for the LG, its IPS screen is better than HTC but not as good as the SGS2, Has 8gb built in which again is better than HTC but not quite as much as the SGS2, but the build quality of the LG is more solid, and feels alot better than the SGS2.
      That and i have a Tegra2 tablet, and have downloaded a bunch of the exclusive tegra apps, so since ive paid for them for my tablet, mise well have them for my phone, as they dont work on either of those 2 phones.

  11. coolfx35

     /  June 26, 2011

    I had problems connecting to the computer as well, and while chatting with HTC-support I changed the USB-port, and guess what… USB3 did not work, USB2 did. Strange, but that was all, and I was connected to HTC Synk. About connecting to, I had problems too. The “flash-wheel” kept turning , but thats it. But again, after a while, and lots of waiting, I came trough, and since that it has’nt been any problem. Post this question on but no response.Seems like this brilliant phone needs some time to understand itself……

  12. Finally Htc phone that can send my Desire to retirement :)
    Thanks for great review!

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