I like what HTC has been up to lately. Rather than fighting a race to the bottom with endless soulless variants of the same piece of hardware in a crowded (and fiercely competitive) Android handset market, it’s trying to grow beyond just being a handset manufacturer. 

I hate starting reviews with history lessons, but in this case we really do need to step back to see where HTC is coming from. In the beginning, HTC was a nameless OEM for other more famous brands. Its clients were smartphone and Pocket PC names like Palm with its Treo, Compaq with its iPaq, Dell with a number of the Axim PDAs, and UTStarcomm. As Windows Mobile aged and showed little signs of improving, HTC took its first step outside the bounds of being just a hardware assembler by taking on an ambitious project to revitalize Windows Mobile with a software skin. The fruits of this effort were TouchFlo, and later TouchFlo 3D UIs - which eventually would become HTC Sense. Somewhere between the release of the HTC Mogul and HTC Touch Pro, HTC realized that its future wasn’t purely in manufacturing devices for other handset vendors, but in leveraging its own brand. The combination of continually improving industrial design, software, and its own direction have turned HTC into the device manufacturer it is today. 

Things have come a long, long way since the HTC Dream, and today we’re looking at HTC’s latest and greatest with the HTC Sensation. 

I get a bit excited every time I look at the HTC Sensation. It’s a device with perhaps the strongest and most bold design language of any HTC phone to date. You can pretty much chart HTC’s design language by looking at each generation of its international handsets.

The HTC Desire was essentially an international version of the Nexus One, with hardware buttons but the same 65nm single core Snapdragon QSD8250 SoC. The second generation was the HTC Desire HD, which brought a larger 4.3” screen and 45nm Snapdragon MSM8255 SoC. The third step is the HTC Sensation, which ups resolution from WVGA 800x480 to qHD 960x540 and brings a 45nm dual core Snapdragon MSM8260 SoC. 

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4 HTC Thunderbolt LG Optimus 2X/G2x HTC Sensation
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 122 mm (4.8") 123.9 mm (4.87") 126.3 mm (4.97")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 67 mm (2.63") 63.2 mm (2.48") 65.5 mm (2.58")
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 13.2 mm (0.52") 10.9 mm (0.43") 11.6 mm (0.46")
Weight 137 g (4.8 oz) 183.3 g (6.46 oz) 139.0 g (4.90 oz) 148 g (5.22 oz)
CPU Apple A4 @ ~800MHz 1 GHz MSM8655 45nm Snapdragon 1 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9 Tegra 2 AP20H 1.2 GHz Dual Core Snapdragon MSM8260
GPU PowerVR SGX 535 Adreno 205 ULP GeForce Adreno 220
RAM 512MB LPDDR1 (?) 768 MB LPDDR2 512 MB LPDDR2 768 MB LPDDR2
NAND 16GB or 32GB integrated 4 GB NAND with 32 GB microSD Class 4 preinstalled 8 GB NAND with up to 32 GB microSD 4 GB NAND with 8 GB microSD Class 4 preinstalled
Camera 5MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 8 MP with autofocus and dual LED flash, 720p30 video recording, 1.3 MP front facing 8 MP with AF/LED Flash, 1080p24 video recording, 1.3 MP front facing 8 MP AF/Dual LED flash, VGA front facing
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 4.3” 800 x 480 LCD-TFT 4.3" 800 x 480 LCD-TFT 4.3" 960 x 540 S-LCD
Battery Integrated 5.254Whr Removable 5.18 Whr Removable 5.6 Whr Removable 5.62 Whr

Physically it’s obvious that each successive device builds on the former. They’re all backed with HTC’s trademark purple-grey metal and have similar in-hand feel as a result. When I look at the Sensation, I see the Desire crossed with the Desire HD. When I actually hold the Sensation, I feel like I’m holding a grown-up Nexus One.

The two share that trademark combination of slightly rubbery plastic and metal, and as a result the device feels grippy, solid, and confident. What the Sensation also really continues from the other devices is the lack of a hard lip of any kind at the edge, instead every corner rolls off giving the phone a smooth feeling. The sensation of holding something rigid and expensive is communicated by that combination of materials, rather than the cheap plasticky feel conveyed by a number of other handsets. 

The Sensation comes in the same style of packaging that we've seen other T-Mobile phones arrive in. It's a two-part box with a thin middle strip. The top lifts off revealing the phone, and underneath that is the usual paperwork, HTC AC adapter and microUSB cable, and earbuds. 

I started off making one monolithic video for the Sensation, but that ended up being unwieldy, so I split it into multiple parts. The first one is simply a look at the hardware from all angles, torn down, and how it compares to both HTC's legacy devices and some of its modern contenders. 

Physical Overview Continued
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  • synaesthetic - Sunday, July 03, 2011 - link

    No SGS2 on AWS bands. :( Reply
  • coolhardware - Saturday, July 02, 2011 - link

    Nice review. Never thought I'd see a gf discussion be the first comment posts on an AT article ;-)

    A note on the Sensation, it is supposed to be capable of 1080p MKV playback!
    http://www.jdhodges.com/2011/06/can-android-do-108...
    And of course the 1080p recording is pimptastic too:
    http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&i...
    Overall a pretty sweet phone IMHO :-)
    Reply
  • mutu - Saturday, July 02, 2011 - link

    pls review Samsung galaxy S2. Reply
  • Penti - Saturday, July 02, 2011 - link

    Not to nitpick but why is it even called 4G? It's simply a 14.4Mbps device, we have 32Mbit (advertised speed) HSPA+ for "mobile broadband" here in Sweden, and nobody would care much what speed the cell phone is able to use and nobody tries to pass it as anything else. It's simply called HTC Sensation over here in Europe. Do not yet have 4G in my very little town, but 32Mbit HSPA+ is here. Expect 4G even out here in this market within a year or so though. Sooner in neighboring towns. Guess it's a good thing AT&T are picking up T-mobile USA. We will still need HSPA/+ for a while, but we are quickly moving on. Sure you could also opt for a WiMAX 16m network and the handsets is about as immature, but you need to be building your next gen network now. Reply
  • synaesthetic - Sunday, July 03, 2011 - link

    The "4G" is T-Mobile US silly marketing speak that means nothing, of course. They tack 4G on the end of every phone with an HSPA radio capable of more than 7.2Mbps peak downstream. Reply
  • Penti - Sunday, July 03, 2011 - link

    Yeah I know that, but why not just call it "Our old network till we get picked up by AT&T"? It's clear why they are without a next gen plan. Their customers need to be picked up by another operator for that to happen. Reply
  • synaesthetic - Sunday, July 03, 2011 - link

    Until it's unlocked, I won't buy it. Reply
  • tejagamer - Sunday, July 03, 2011 - link

    Excellent Review.. As usual..
    Now waiting for your comparison of SGS2 vs O2x vs Sensation and the SGS2 review..
    Reply
  • bubblesmoney - Sunday, July 03, 2011 - link

    Hi Brian,

    When you review the SGS2 please compare the internal memory on it to the internal memory available on other top of the line android handsets. This is an important limitation on android handsets which are not rooted +/- rommed to overcome the app2internal memory problem of android. Full time Android users [not part time android reviewers :) ] will appreciate what i mean. None of the reviews of android handsets bother to cover this problem users of stock handsets face if they dont root their handsets.

    Handsets made by the likes of HTC severely skimp on the internal memory, more specifically the internal memory partitioned and kept for loading apps. On just a year old HTC Desire the partition available for apps is just a measly 147mb. Even on the HTC sensation it is just about 1gb. Compare this to the year old samsung galaxy s which has 1.8gb available for apps. The samsung galaxy s2 also has about 1.9gb available for apps from its 16gb/32gb internal memory. The HTC low internal memory problem does not go away by buying a 32gb card as the card is useless for apps that go on internal memory. The only option on HTC handsets which ALWAYS come with low internal memory compared to the competition (internal memory partition available for apps) is to buy a non HTC handset or to root and get rid of the problem or to use the sdk method described on xda forums.

    For a reviews of android handsets it is vital that the internal memory is compared too in a comparison chart and more specifically the internal memory available for apps need comparing too. Please exclude the useless microsd cards supplied with handsets as that is useless for apps that dont go to sd card. Hope you provide such comparison charts for future reviews of android handsets. When games by gameloft etc run into many MBs on internal memory, having internal memory of the likes of 147mb available for apps on the HTC desire will be crucial information especially for many android handset buyers.

    Similarly the rear speaker quality being poor is another HTC hallmark in my opinion after owning 2 HTC handsets. But not sure if it is just a hardware issue or HTC software issue. But things get better after loading apps with equalisers (poweramp etc) and boosting the gain. This works later even if the said apps are deleted I think.

    Software is nothing without good hardware, so i will be keeping away from HTC and go the samsung galaxys2 way. But I guess the compromise is the much poorer GPS reception on samsung galaxy s2 and other handsets made by samsung.

    USB on the go needs to be mentioned as well as competitor handstes have this feature but not the HTC sensation.

    Accessories like speaker docks, keyboard are an important differentating feature. Just have a look at the HTC website to see if their handsets can even find one speaker dock or even anywhere else on the net. These options will make a difference to buyers and need to be mentioned in handset reviews.
    Reply
  • bubblesmoney - Sunday, July 03, 2011 - link

    Brian,

    In another review they seem to be saying the speaker is good. see http://www.gsmarena.com/htc_sensation_vs_galaxy_si... see the link for detailed test results
    Reply

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