Name: HTC Sensation 4G
Price: $200 w/two-year contract
The Back Story: Buying a smartphone is a game of trade-offs, especially in the Android market. Finding a handset with a dual-core processor, high-speed data connectivity, and the latest version of Google’s mobile OS in a package that won’t make you look as if you’re making a phone call on your iPad, is damn difficult. Until now.
With the current dual-core heavyweights like the Motorola Atrix, Droid X2, and T-Mobile G2x leading the high-powered barrage under the command of NVIDIA’s Tegra CPU, HTC, with its new Sensation 4G, has decided to join the ranks with Qualcomm's new dual-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon processor. Along with the powerful chip on its shoulder, the Sensation packs in HSPA+ connectivity and the latest version of Google's smartphone OS, Android Gingerbread (2.3) wrapped in a well-designed, luxe-feeling form. On paper, it sounds too good to be true. So is it? Can T-Mobile’s newest handset deliver the most extreme Android experience to date? Or will it settle for a spot in the Top 5? Here's a look.
• Dual-core processing at its finest: While most dual-core phones run on NVIDIA’s Tegra chip, HTC enlists the services of Qualcomm and is the first to christen the CPU manufacturer's Snapdragon 1.2GHz processor. The high-powered chip demonstrates immaculate multitask performance and swift execution, opening apps and carrying out tasks with ease. Those questioning the Sensation's gaming capabilities need not worry, as titles like the 3D shooter Nova display beautifully rendered graphics and play smooth without any frame rates. Android Market favs like Angry Birds also look and play sharp.
• Ships with Gingerbread and latest Sense UI: Google’s Android 2.3 OS offers the same highlights found on other Gingerbread phones (Internet calling, enhanced 3D graphics, copy-and-paste), but HTC’s Sense 3.0 interface (also found on the HTC Flyer) steals the show. The most noticeable upgrade is hands down the lock screen, which now provides access to four customizable shortcuts and one widget of your choice. The unlock mechanism gets a fresher look and replaces the dull slide-across-the-screen set-up with a ring-drag animation that looks awesome and works better. Other improvements include a carousel-like homescreen system and a Quick Settings tab at the bottom of the notification’s screen that provides access to wireless features and phone settings.
• Stunning display and touch capabilities: The Sensation’s 4.3-inch qHD Super LCD screen generates higher resolution (540x960) and more vibrant visuals than the G2x’s 4-inch WVGA screen. Flash and high-def videos are striking, plus images and text look sharp. Touch functionality is spot-on with one-touch commands and pitch-to-zoom capability executing flawlessly. In addition, HTC introduces its own version of Swype called Trace, and surprisingly, it serves as the faster and more accurate of the two text-input options. Messaging hasn’t felt this good since we clutched the Sidekick 4G’s QWERTY keyboard.
• Gorgeous form factor and design: When it comes to Android smartphone construction, HTC reigns supreme. The manufacturer updates it unibody aluminum case veneer by adding smooth-touch rubbering at the top and bottom of the back end—keeping its opulent swag intact while incorporating firm control grip. Like the Samsung Nexus S, the entire front screen is arched, making it nearly scratchproof and more comfortable when taking calls. Its 5.2 ounces weight also makes it one of the lighter HTC handsets on the market.
• An entertainment beast: HTC offers its own media hubs with online music and movie stores called “Listen” and “Watch.” Both services are still in Beta mode and carry a small library selection, but like Samsung, HTC is sure to expand its entertainment catalog. T-Mobile also offers its own media outlets such as T-Mobile TV and T-Mobile Mall: a virtual store that sells ringtones, apps, and games. Most music and video formats are supported, even 1080p videos (except WMV files), and the accompanying HDMI port outputs mobile content onto an HDTV.
• Standout wireless features: DLNA capability lets you share files with other compatible devices and the Transfer app moves contacts, SMS, and calendar events to any secondary T-Mobile phone: wirelessly. The mobile wi-fi hotspot now carries up to eight users. And best of all, the Sensation awards users the opportunity to make wi-fi calls. For free!
• Underwhelming 4G speed: T-Mobile claims its HSPA-certified device is capable of pushing 14.4 Mbps downloads, however, after running several speed tests using Ookla's Speedtest.Net app, we reached a max download speed of 9 Mbps. Web browsing and file downloads showed a limp high-speed performance as well. Though HTC’s phone is capable of outperforming most 3G and AT&T's 4G handsets, we found other T-Mobile speedsters like the Sidekick 4G to be much faster. Then again, it does run on the carrier's HSPA+ 21 network.
• Insufficient memory: Such a powerful media device, yet only 4GB of internal memory under the hood? That leaves little room for your Android Market purchases (Better get Google Music Beta!). The pre-installed 8GB microSD card should suffice at first, but we recommend upgrading to a 32GB card.
• Poor video recording and speaker quality: The 1080p HD recorder occasionally lags and performs poorly while shooting indoors, capturing grainy and unclear footage. Speakerphone volume (even at its highest level) was low when we screened calls and listened to music, and was inaudible in loud environments, too.
Final Say: The HTC Sensation 4G stands strong, placing itself on the same dual-core echelon as the Atrix and G2x. Gingerbread and Sense 3.0 integration make it arguably the most robust and user-friendly Android handset on the market. Plus its excessive multimedia options, generous battery life, and niche features like wi-fi calling and lock screen shortcuts attribute to its greatness. T-Mobile’s 4G network isn’t nowhere near Verizon’s LTE service, but with the carrier recently announcing plans to roll out HSPA+ 42 Mbps service speeds across the nation, it might be just a matter of time before the Sensation 4G embodies its high-speed moniker. And if that’s the case within the next few months, then say hello to best Android phone on the market.