on 29 July 2011
Two weeks ago, I was making do with my old HTC Hero, which by now has become incredibly slow, worn out, and unable to keep up with current Android standards. Cue the HTC Sensation, which arrived at my doorstep last week to great fanfare from myself as I rushed to prize it from it's box. First impressions were that it looks incredible. From the camera that protrudes slightly from the casing to the sleek, elegantly curved screen surrounded by the unibody aluminium casing, it looks, for want of a better word, Sensational.
Upon starting up the device, a couple of niggles begin to appear. For a start, the thing is HUGE. I mean, seriously. My hands aren't that small, but I found that having to reach over to the A button on the left hand side of the keyboard when holding the device one handed was nigh on impossible without having to balance the phone at an awkward angle with the grip and balance of my spare fingers and palm. Touching the buttons at the bottom of the device is a much more notable problem though, especially when accidentally brushing your hand over them when trying to grip the phone sideways or reaching across the screen, and it would be nice if they had an option to respond only to long presses or such. If you're careful, this problem might not be an issue for you anyway. Once you get your grip right, and if you're prepared to regularly have to use both hands, you soon get used to the keyboard (at least) and eventually you'll find its size causes few notable issues. If you don't like the standard keyboard, it's nice to see a swype-style predictive trace keyboard built in, as well as surprisingly accurate voice input for all text fields, and the landscape keyboard is perfectly sized for general two-thumb typing. A brief point I should make is that with the large screen size, finding an angle you're comfortable to use it at can sometimes be a pain, and the auto-rotation of the screen can sometimes be overly zealous, especially when trying to use the phone at an angle, say, in bed. This option is easy to switch on and off via a simple, included widget, however.
Contrary to how I've made it sound, the device's size isn't actually a bad thing at all, thanks to the spectacular qHD screen which makes individual pixels barely noticeable. High quality video also looks stunning in full 16:9 widescreen with no borders or black bars, as do games, text, and websites. Sometimes the screen can seem slightly blurry when scrolling through text, but since you're unlikely to do that whilst reading anyway, it shouldn't be much of an issue.
One area that the massive screen inevitably manages to cause problems is, of course, in the battery life. With my old phone, I expected to charge it up every night, but I knew I could probably just about stretch it an extra day if really necessary. With the Sensation, you'd be lucky. Listening to music or browsing the internet drains the battery insanely. An odd text or email will barely affect the device's power consumption, but if you're looking at this phone I would expect that you plan on doing much more than such typical tasks, and you should be prepared to take a hit when you do.
Once of the most noteworthy comments on HTC android phones is the custom HTC Sense UI, which love it or hate it, has some fantastic features built in. The new lock screen is superb, and makes easy access to your phone's various features amazingly quick and intuitive. There are some built in apps that you probably won't give a second glance, like the movie rental app that has similar prices to that of iTunes (in other words, not great), and those designed to jot down your locations, and due to the locked bootloader, these can't currently be removed (although this is set to change with an update coming soon). The social network integration with contacts still remains a firm feature favourite, especially for linking Facebook profile images with your buddies, and a built in "quick settings" menu to the notifications bar - complete with task manager - attempts to somewhat ease the violent battery pummelling.
Back to basics, the touch screen is of superb quality, and I've had no issues with it's sensitivity - other than that sometimes the touchable buttons can be too sensitive - or weird bugs that others have reported. Photos and video recording is exemplary for a mobile phone, and although it's not a patch on professional equipment, you'd be surprised at how well some images come out, especially when aided by the dual LED flash. And of course, with the dual core processor, the only thing that'll slow you down is your network's 3G speed. Of course, some may note that the RAM is a tad more limited than that of the 1GB available on the Galaxy S II, but I will be very surprised if anyone has any issues here. Despite speeds on the S II reported to be faster and more powerful than the Sensation, you'd be hard pushed to find any reason for the Sensation to have more oomph than it already does, and it should be perfectly capable of any challenges thrown at it over the next few years. One final concern I'd like to stomp on is that of the antenna problems. Unless you have rubberised hands that somehow manage to grip themselves locked tight whilst wrapping around the entirety of the phone, you shouldn't notice any signal issues at all, and the claims of it's prevalence are utterly unnecessary. Something that some reviewers have noted is that the phone can get quite warm, and whilst this is true, it (hopefully) shouldn't affect performance unless the screen is left on for a ridiculous continuous length of time. Like the battery though, such issues are to be expected from such high specification technology being compacted into a device like this.
All in all, then, the Sensation is fantastic. A great screen, camera and processor all come together to produce a device that you'd be hard pressed to beat. It looks glorious - both on and off - works like a charm, and is fully capable of anything you can think of throwing its way (unless you need the bootloader unlocked, which will take a few more weeks). The battery is an obvious issue, unless you plan on carrying a spare battery or using the phone for simple tasks like occasional messages, tweets and emails, and the screen size can be a bit of a surprise to those who don't have the hands of a giant, but that surprise is mostly down to me failing to factor in just how big 4.3 inches really is, and in all honesty without the screen, the phone wouldn't be half as sensational as it would've otherwise been (even though it would've otherwise still been pretty amazing).