HTC Sensation 4G to heat up T-Mobile's summer; hands-on impressions

The much-rumored HTC Pyramid is now a reality. Launching this summer with T-Mobile as the HTC Sensation 4G, the new hardware improvements are only part of the story. Read on to find out more.

HTC Sensation 4G
Bound for T-Mobile this summer, the HTC Sensation 4G features a new video service by HTC and an enhanced user experience. Bonnie Cha/CNET

For cell phone fanatics, there's nothing worse than hearing about a cool new device launching overseas and having to wait to see when and if it will land in the States. Thankfully, this isn't that kind of story. Announced alongside the global launch in London today, HTC introduced its latest Android smartphone for the U.S. market, the HTC Sensation 4G, which is slated to hit T-Mobile this summer.

Long rumored as the HTC Pyramid , the Sensation 4G comes with all the talked-about hardware improvements, including a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, a 4.3-inch HD (540x960-pixel resolution) Super LCD touch screen, and an 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video recording and playback. It's an impressive list to be sure, but the phone is much more about content and user experience than it is about the specs.

For one thing, the Sensation 4G will be the first device to feature HTC Watch, the company's new video store. Enabled by HTC's investment in multimedia provider Saffron Digital , the service allows users to rent or buy movies and TV shows to watch on their smartphones, much like Samsung's Media Hub service.

Though details about specific studio partnerships were not disclosed at this time, HTC said customers will have access to many of today's popular TV shows and movies, and progressive downloads will allow you to watch your video as soon as it starts to download instead of having to wait till the whole show or movie is transferred to your device. You'll also be able to watch any purchased content on up to five different HTC devices, but unfortunately, you won't be able to use the Sensation 4G's HDMI port or DLNA capabilities to view them on your HDTV.

As for the user experience, the Sensation 4G will run the latest version of HTC Sense on top of Android 2.3 Gingerbread . No, not the version of HTC Sense that was recently launched on the HTC Inspire 4G, but an even more feature-rich and updated version that will also be used on the HTC Evo 3D for Sprint.

The biggest additions are a new lock screen that provides shortcuts to apps and spotlights user content, such as photos. The company also improved camera software to increase shutter speed, so there's not so much of a lag when starting the camera and between taking photos.

Some other features worth noting on the HTC Sensation 4G are the front-facing VGA camera, support for T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G network (14.4Mbps), 768MB RAM, and 4GB internal storage (only 1GB is user accessible). The smartphone will also ship with a 8GB microSD card and 1,520mAh user-replaceable battery.

First impressions
HTC actually dropped by CNET's offices in New York to give us a sneak peek at the Sensation 4G, and by the end of the meeting, I was trying to think of ways to distract HTC so I could run off with the smartphone. Sure, it wasn't running final software, but I walked away with a positive outlook on the new changes to Sense and was generally impressed with the overall product.

What was actually most striking to me was how slim and compact the smartphone felt, despite having a 4.3-inch touch screen. I was so incredulous at first that I had to ask a second time to make sure the display was indeed 4.3 inches. Whether its because of the contour screen or the aluminum unibody design, the Sensation 4G just doesn't feel as bulky or as wide as the HTC Thunderbolt or the Motorola Droid X, which might help open the door to new customers.

What's it feel like actually using the phone? Well, custom UIs are a bit of a polarizing topic, and some companies definitely do a better job than others. However, while they were once a way for a company to differentiate itself from its competitors, I think they've all become alike in some sense. A company might play its UI differently, but it's usually the same tune--add some personalization options, offer a set of widgets and shortcuts to add to the home screen, mix up the layout of the menus, etc.

From that perspective, I give props to HTC for continuing to innovate in this space with features that actually improve usability. Sense addresses frustrating issues like slow boot-up times and shutter lag. The new lock screen additions are useful in providing quicker access to information.

Plus, Sense just looks cool (see our photo gallery below for more). The new weather widget has enhanced graphics, and I even like that the photo gallery rotates through your photos like a flip board, because, the thing is: I want a smartphone that not only works well but also looks good.

So far the HTC Sensation 4G has the looks part down and a solid set of features to back it up, but of course, we'll have to wait to get it in for review to see if it delivers the whole package. Pricing, which has not been announced at this time, will also be important, especially as HTC hopes to attract a broad range of users with the smartphone. All that said, we can't wait for summer to get here, so we can get our hands on the Sensation 4G again. What do you guys think?

 

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