HTC Sensation review: Web, apps and conclusion

So as is now traditional, we’ve already looked at the phone and its user interface and the camera and video performance – now it’s time to wrap things up with a rambling summary of HTC’s pre-loaded apps, the HTC Sensation’s web performance and everything else we can think of that seems useful to know.

Then we shall give it a mark out of ten. Let’s go.

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This review could go either way, to be honest. We love HTC’s hardware, the Sense interface and indeed most of the company’s Android phone range thus far. The HTC Sensation is more of the same, only slightly bigger and better. Result, eh?

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However, given that the Samsung Galaxy S II was such a rocket and an astonishing leap ahead of everything else in terms of speed, seeing the same old HTC Sense once again leaves us wishing there was more innovation on display here. In fact, you often wouldn’t know the Sensation was a dual-core powerhouse – it’s as slick and smooth as every HTC phone with little to make it stand out.

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We are, to put it mildly, in a bit of a quandary.

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The HTC Sensation’s 4.3″ screen is enjoyable to use. It doesn’t have quite as much contrast or colour as the Galaxy S II’s superb display, but it’s still super-responsive to the touch, feels solid and makes text appear sharp and readable. It’s usable outdoors, although you’ll need it set to maximum brightness to do so comfortably. Or pull your jumper over your head and stuff it inside.

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The HTC Sensation’s web interface is the same as on all recent HTC phones. Bookmarks are annoyingly hidden behind a menu button, so it takes two presses to get to your list. Or you could use HTC’s lovely bookmarks widget and have them on the Home screen, or indeed even set up a screen full of icon shortcuts to favourite web pages. So it’s no big deal. As ever, the versatility of Android frees you to find your own workarounds.

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But we always get slightly annoyed that HTC doesn’t use the same “vanilla” Android bookmarking system, as having the bookmark link beside the URL bar seems like a much better way of doing things. Still, it does use the same pinch-zoom to pull up the list of open tabs as in the HTC Sense 2.1 of the Desire S and other 2011 HTC Android phones, which makes managing browsing sessions much easier.

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Viewing complex web pages is one area where the HTC Sensation’s dual-core powers are finally tangible. Embedded videos, busy animated adverts, heavy graphical pages – all of it is handled with ease. Pages don’t whizz about or pop into view quite as quickly as they did on the Samsung Galaxy S II, but it’s still a very swift and solid web experience.

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The HTC Sensation’s 1520mAh battery lasted surprisingly well for us. Using the camera absolutely sucks it dry very quickly, but left overnight it only dropped by a few percent. It certainly performed much better and lasted longer than we were expecting a dual-core phone with a 4.3″ screen to manage. There’s also a huge collection of power management settings, to help you get the most out of your last 12% of battery life.

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As for onboard memory, we’re showing 0.95GB of free internal space for apps. Quite worrying that we’ve already filled up 204MB just reviewing the thing, but still a good upgrade if you’re coming to the Sensation from an HTC Desire or something else with more limited space.

 

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Music playback is, again, very similar to that found on the rest of HTC’s 2011 Android line-up. There’s a selection of Home screen widgets, plus…

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…the music player widget is controllable from the lock screen, too. What a lovely lock screen. Have we mentioned… yes. Yes we have. There’s no integrated music shop on here, though, which seems like an odd omission given HTC Watch is such a prominent feature.

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However, this version of the Sensation comes with a couple of Vodafone apps pre-loaded – 360 Shop and Music Shop. Both annoyingly require a mobile data connection to operate and won’t work over wi-fi. Which is a bit strange, but presumably so you can be billed direct. Those are the only Vodafone additions, though, so no need to complain about “bloatware” here.

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In terms of HTC specific apps, the big hitters are the HTC Hub for downloading a pretty poor selection of new widgets, skins, sounds and wallpapers, plus HTC Likes – HTC’s own take on app discovery, which lets users “like” and “comment” upon apps. Handy if you need a bit of extra reassurance, but unlikely to replace the Android Market as the “go to” place for getting your apps.

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Also included is HTC’s Locations app. We rather rudely dismissed this when reviewing the Desire S, but having spent a little more time with it are happy to report it’s a decent tool, which lets you browse nearby places, saving them to the Footprints tab for quick and easy access in future.

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Ask for directions through HTC Locations and you’ll be prompted by HTC’s own satnav tool, too. Of course, Google Maps is on here as well. GPS performance was fast, with initial locks gained very quickly.

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There’s now a simple photo editing tool hidden away in the Gallery, which lets users crop photos or apply a few visual filters. It’s another area where the Galaxy S II is streets ahead with its complex editing tool. But at least there’s an option on the Sensation.

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Again, it’s the same story with the video editing tool. HTC lets you trim clips on the phone, whereas the Galaxy S II arrived loaded with a full editing suite. As for imported media, video playback is good – but there’s no support for MKV files as there is in the Galaxy S II. DivX and Xvid content played just fine, though, as did MP4 and WMV content. Which is nice.

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OK, what else? FM radio. An e-reader that supports Kobo purchases and also includes a few free out-of-copyright classics to be getting on with.

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You get DLNA support via HTC’s own Connected Media app, which is also integrated in the Music player so you can beam songs to other devices while listening to them. That’s handy.

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As for boring old telephone use… it’s good. The speaker is extremely loud. Didn’t notice any problems regarding the signal. The SMS system is simple, only with a slight visual update to include post-it note style threaded messages.

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Here’s a benchmark for the benchmarking massive. Amusing to see that the HTC Magic to the far right there is the phone we were using a little less than a year ago.

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The email app supports MS Exchange ActiveSync, Gmail, AOL, Sky and other external POP3/IMAP accounts. It didn’t want to connect to our Hotmail account, though, although that may have been a random server issue as usually HTC Sense manages this just fine.

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Anyway. We are, as ever, starting to go mad from taking so many screenshots. Let’s stop.

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The HTC Sensation is a great phone, but not quite the revolution we were hoping for. It is sensible, but not quite sensational. Here’s the official final scorecard.

HARDWARE: 9/10
The Sensation doesn’t scream speed and power like the Galaxy S II, as everything’s kept at an even pace by the reliable HTC Sense interface. It has a better balance in the hand than the slippery, featureless Galaxy S II, with the rubber and metal, curved back feeling reassuringly grippy and solid. If the Galaxy S II is a flash, lightweight Sports car, the Sensation is a turbo-charged Range Rover.

SOFTWARE: 8/10
The lock screen with its custom shortcuts is a fantastic addition, and the phone is generally quick and responsive. But the 3D interface changes are innovation for the sake of it, and the rest of HTC Sense with its cumbersome black & white widgets is showing its age – especially when blown up on a 4.3″ screen. But everything’s on here that needs to be in terms of apps & widgets, and it is free from glitches or bugs. Which is what matters.

PERFORMANCE: 9/10
The speed of the Sensation seems throttled by HTC Sense, which runs at its own reliable pace. While the Galaxy S II was astonishingly fast, the Sensation doesn’t feel any quicker in operation than any other modern HTC Android phone. The Notifications menu scrolls down leisurely, the icons waste everyone’s precious time spinning around for no reason – it’s Android done at HTC’s pace. Elsewhere, the camera’s good and quick, web use is great and apps install and open quickly.

OVERALL: 9/10
We were hoping it’d be a 10/10 stormer, but in reality, the HTC Sensation is simply another very good, slightly-better-than-the-last-one Android phone from HTC. There’s nothing spectacular about it, it just does everything very well. If you want to be blown away by Android in 2011, get the Galaxy S II. If you want a reliable, solid workhorse, get this. Both are worthy flag-bearers and excellent performers.

Thanks to Vodafone for the loan of the phone. If you want one right now, the HTC Sensation is a Vodafone exclusive in the UK for the next couple of weeks. Get it from Vodafone here if you like.

COMPLETE HTC SENSATION REVIEW:

11 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Stephen

     /  June 1, 2011

    Nice review :)

    regarding the battery what are your thoughts? I have seen techradar say that they weren’t very impressed (but could have had a bad unit ) and others say you could easily get 1.5 days from it

    • Gary C

       /  June 2, 2011

      Battery life is such a hard thing to review. Objectively, it seemed to me to last as well as I was expecting. It lasts well when idling, but constantly fiddle with it and it’ll drain quicker. Which is all pretty obvious. I think all the phone reviewers need to get together and come up with a concrete battery-reviewing procedure, as it’s pretty much all based on how hard the individual pushes the phone while they’re using it.

      Like, maybe Mr Techradar is really into Twitter, while Mr Endaget is more into using the camera, and Mr Eurodroid spends all his time secretly performing hardcore benchmark tests. How can you realistically compare those usage scenarios?

  2. I don’t understand. You give performance 9/10 and yet, by your own admission it is not as fast as a Galaxy S II, the camera is not as good and Sense spoils the show. How is that worth 9/10?

    If the GSII creates a new benchmark and is 10/10 are the points you make about the Sensation minor? I would say that if there is little difference between a Desire S and Sensation in terms of camera quality then that’s a pretty big omission.

    • Gary C

       /  June 2, 2011

      I get your point, but there’s nothing wrong or broken about it, it’s all very good. It’ll be a fantastic phone for most people. I was considering giving it 8/10 but that would’ve been ridiculous as it’s clearly still a great piece of hardware. That was my quandary.

  3. I’ve had my HTC Sensation for a couple of days now. My phone until then was a Samsung Galaxy S i9000. That phone was plagued by terrible firmware from Samsung that saw many of my co-workers spend literally months with a laggy, buggy phone. I was one of those who used ODIN early on to flash something better on it and it became an awesome phone. The HTC Sensation leaves the SG-S for dead. It is much faster, runs well, no lag, doesn’t crash or lock up…and Sense 3.0 is a nice improvement on the previous versions. It feels lighter and more functional as a UI. (I usually use ADW Launcher EX.) I do notice the dual-core when installing apps. Usually any Android phone becomes unresponsive for the seconds and app is actually installing. The HTC Senesation remains responsive through out. Seems trivial, but things like that matter to me in daily use. I haven’t tried the Samsung Galaxy S II….but to be honest, after the days of problems caused by Samsung’s flakey firmware and the trials of Kies….I’m reluctant to go there again by choice. HTC has been good to me in that regard, including the original Magic, which I owned, and the Nexus One that came after – via Google. The HTC Sensation is an awesome phone..and your 9/10 is easily justified. I’d like to see your ratings include ease of support for firmware updates. I’d give Samsung a 5/10 on that and HTC a 9/10….and 10/10 when it’s OTA.

  4. nikola87

     /  August 12, 2011

    U are probably only person in the world who has given this phone lower score on software side than GS2 >:(

  5. Dadda

     /  October 12, 2011

    Great device , but the HTC phone software is terrible – the interface is not intuitive, messaging is separate from voice calls, adding a blocked caller is tortuous. For a company thats been doing this for so long I expected something mature.
    And why can’t I change the unnatractive skin in the messaging app?
    If the phones maker can’t produce a polished experience it’ s little wonder the rest of the Android environment is inconsistent.
    Dissapointing.

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