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HTC Sensation 4G (T-Mobile) review: HTC Sensation 4G (T-Mobile)

HTC Sensation 4G (T-Mobile)

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
9 min read

HTC Sensation 4G (T-Mobile)

HTC Sensation 4G (T-Mobile)

The Good

The <b>HTC Sensation 4G</b> boasts a sleek, high-quality design with a gorgeous 4.3-inch qHD display. The Android smartphone also features a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and 8-megapixel camera, and the HTC Sense user interface brings some thoughtful and useful new features.

The Bad

The smartphone doesn't offer much internal memory, and the phone's speakers are pretty weak.

The Bottom Line

Its excellent design and user experience, coupled with its solid performance, make the HTC Sensation 4G one of the best Android phones yet and a top pick for T-Mobile customers.

HTC and T-Mobile first introduced the HTC Sensation 4G back in April, and we were instantly enamored of the Android smartphone. Not only did HTC give the phone a dual-core 1.2GHz processor and 4.3-inch qHD display, but it enhanced the user experience by adding some great features to the HTC Sense user interface. We've had to wait two long months since that fateful day in April, but T-Mobile customers will finally get the chance to get their hands on the HTC Sensation 4G starting June 15 for a price of $199.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate. Needless to say, we were excited to get our own hands on the Sensation again, and we're happy to say it does not disappoint.

What can we say; it was love at first sight. The HTC Sensation 4G is one of the best-looking and most well-built smartphones we've seen to date, and it's not because of any flashy gimmicks, but simply a solid and sleek design. Like a number of HTC handsets, the Sensation 4G has a unibody aluminum chassis with a streamlined and high-quality construction. What's most notable about the phone, though, is how sleek it is for a 4.3-inch touch-screen device.

The HTC Sensation 4G is one beautifully crafted smartphone.

Unlike some 4.3-inch-screen smartphones, such as the HTC ThunderBolt and Samsung Droid Charge, the Sensation doesn't feel heavy or bulky. It's similar in size and weight (5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, and 5.2 ounces) to the T-Mobile G2x and Samsung Galaxy S II, but even so, the Sensation has a more premium feel and its tapered edges make it more comfortable in the hand.

Part of what allows the smartphone to be so slim is the 16:9 qHD (540x960-pixel resolution) Super LCD touch screen. The display features a contour design that gives it a concave shape, making it comfortable when held against the cheek, and also prevents scratches when the phone is placed screen-side down. More importantly, it looks gorgeous. Text and images look sharp with vivid colors, and we were still able to read the screen outdoors. The iPhone's Retina display and Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus touch screen offer finer detail and better color saturation, but the Sensation's display is still no slouch, and we suspect most people will have no objections to it.

The touch screen was responsive, as we were able to easily navigate the menus and launch applications with a single tap. Scrolling through lists and using the pinch-to-zoom feature was also smooth. For text entry, you only get the choice of HTC's supplied virtual keyboards--full QWERTY, phone, or compact--but no standard Android keyboard or Swype. That said, while it's not immediately obvious, the HTC keyboard has a feature called Trace that acts very much like Swype where you can drag your finger from letter to letter. As with Swype, we found Trace to be faster and easier and even more accurate than pecking away at each key.

Below the display, you'll find touch-sensitive buttons for the home, menu, back, and search functions. The left side holds a volume rocker and a Micro-USB port, while the right side is devoid of controls. The top of the device houses a 3.5mm headphone jack and power button, and just below it, on the upper right side of the screen, is the front-facing camera. The 8-megapixel and dual LED flash are located on back.

Despite having a 4.3-inch screen, the Sensation 4G doesn't feel bulky and has a slim profile.

T-Mobile packages the HTC Sensation 4G with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a preinstalled 8GB microSD card, a wired stereo headset, and reference material.

Software and user interface
The HTC Sensation 4G ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread and the latest version of HTC Sense. Sense has always been our favorite custom skin for Android, both for its aesthetics and useful functions, and now HTC has made it even better.

A lot of the new features of Sense can be found on the lock screen. Aside from a display of the date, time, and other vital statistics, you now get shortcuts to four of your favorite apps. By default, the shortcuts are set to phone, mail, camera, and messages, but you can change them in the phone's Personalize menu. To open a specific app, you can simply drag the icon to the ring at the bottom of the screen, instead of having to unlock the phone first.

In addition to the shortcuts, HTC also wanted the lock screen to showcase more user content, so now you can personalize the screen with your photo gallery, friend stream, favorite stocks, or weather. The content then floats by or flies by (depending on which option you choose) onscreen.

Once you unlock the phone, you'll find even more enhancements. For example, much like the HTC Flyer, the Sensation features a 3D carousel so you can more quickly flip through the seven home screens, rather than swiping through each panel. (Of course, you can also use the Leap screen function.) The pull-down notification tray has a second tab called Quick Settings where you can manage your wireless connections and access other settings. The mail app and widget now give you a preview of each message, and the photo gallery widget features a flip-board effect.

There's much more to HTC Sense, but for the sake of brevity we won't detail every new feature here. That said, we found the new functionality to be both useful and well integrated into the system, making for a great user experience on the Sensation 4G.

The T-Mobile Sensation 4G offers world roaming capabilities, a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, video calling via Qik, and text and multimedia messaging. Bluetooth, GPS, and Wi-Fi are all onboard, and there is support for Wi-Fi calling. T-Mobile doesn't charge extra for this feature, but be aware that the minutes are deducted from your regular voice plan.

Though the smartphone carries 4G in its name, the Sensation is only capable of reaching maximum theoretical download speeds of 14.4Mbps. Nothing to scoff at, of course, but remember that's a theoretical number (you can read about our results in the Performance section below) and T-Mobile offers other smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S 4G, that are capable of achieving faster data speeds (up to 21Mbps). The phone can be used as a mobile hot spot for up to five devices for an additional $15 per month.

In addition to the standard Google services, the Sensation 4G comes preloaded with a few extra apps and services. This includes Polaris Office, Lookout, a security and backup app, TeleNav GPS Navigator, HTC's Peep Twitter client, Slacker, and T-Mobile TV. The Sensation 4G is also the first HTC device to offer the company's new HTC Watch video store and HTC Listen music store.

Enabled by HTC's investment in multimedia provider Saffron Digital, HTC Watch 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 the time of this writing, 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.

We found the catalog somewhat limited, though it did include some recent movie titles such as "The Fighter" and "No Strings Attached." The TV show selection was even more limited (we counted 10 episodes total). We do like that the service provides a synopsis for each video. With movies, you're also shown a cast of characters and the option to watch a preview before buying. Prices range from $8.99 to $14.99 to purchase a movie and $2.99 to $3.99 to rent, while TV shows cost $1.99 per episode.

HTC Listen is currently in beta but will provide direct downloads of music albums and tracks. The service is powered by MusicStation, but again, we weren't exactly wowed by the selection. Fortunately, the Amazon MP3 Store is available to help you get your music fix. HTC says it will provide more details on HTC Watch and HTC Listen when the Sensation 4G launches on June 15.

Last but not least, we have the Sensation 4G's 8-megapixel camera. It offers autofocus, a dual LED flash, and a variety of editing options and effects. We haven't had the best experience with HTC's cameras, so we were afraid of the results, but picture quality was quite good. Pictures taken outdoors were sharp and vibrant, and the camera was able to capture fine detail when used in macro mode. Even photos taken indoors looked bright, though slightly softer. The camera can also capture 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second, thanks to the phone's dual-core processor. Video quality was pretty decent, but there were areas that looked slightly shaky.

The Sensation's 8-megapixel camera delivered great picture quality.

The smartphone offers DLNA support and HDMI output via an MHL adapter (sold separately), so you can connect your phone to your HDTV. If there's one downside to the HTC Sensation 4G, it's the paltry internal memory. The smartphone has 4GB of internal storage but only 1GB of that is available to the user. The preinstalled 8GB microSD card helps, but those who have large music and video libraries will probably want to upgrade to a 32GB card, which the expansion slot can support.

We tested the quad-band HTC Sensation 4G in New York using T-Mobile service, and call quality was good. We enjoyed mostly clear audio on our end with little to no background noise. We didn't notice any type of voice distortion, but there were a couple of occasions where voices sounded slightly muffled. Meanwhile, our callers were quite impressed with the call quality and didn't have any complaints.

HTC Sensation 4G call quality sample Listen now:

Unfortunately, speakerphone quality was another story. Callers said we sounded far away and garbled at times. The audio was clear on our end, but even at the highest level, volume was pretty weak and there was definitely not enough power to hear in louder environments. We paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones and had no problems making calls or listening to music wirelessly.

As we mentioned earlier, the Sensation isn't T-Mobile's fastest 4G phone, but we still experienced some swift data speeds. Using Ookla's Speedtest.net app, we averaged 3.99Mbps down and 1.27Mbps up. CNET's full site loaded in 15 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 3 seconds and 4 seconds, respectively. High-quality YouTube clips buffered within seconds and played backed without interruption.

Up to this point, most of the dual-core smartphones we've tested have been powered by Nvidia's Tegra 2 chipset, but Qualcomm is in the business too, and the HTC Sensation 4G uses the company's dual-core 1.2GHz processor for better applications, multimedia, and graphics performance. Though we felt the T-Mobile G2x was slightly more responsive in some respects--apps launched a tick faster and load times for games were also quicker--the Sensation 4G delivers solid performance. We were able to easily switch between tasks with little delay. For the most part, the browser handled Flash content well, but there were a couple of hiccups while we were trying to watch a CNET TV video. We also tried out a couple of games (Gun Bros and Nova), and game play was smooth and fun.

The HTC Sensation 4G ships with a 1,520mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 8.3 hours and up to 12 days of standby time. So far in testing we have experienced great battery life. Starting with a full charge in the morning and with moderate use, we've been able to go a little over a day before needing to recharge. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 6 hours of continuous talk time over 4G. According to FCC radiation tests, the Sensation 4G has a digital SAR rating of 0.776W/kg and a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M3/T3.

The HTC Sensation 4G most definitely lives up to its name. The Android smartphone is sensational in many ways, which is why we've named it an Editors' Choice Award winner. Of course, T-Mobile customers now have the enviable problem of choosing between two great Android devices: the Sensation 4G and the T-Mobile G2x (another Editors' Choice pick). The T-Mobile G2x will certainly do right by Android purists and power-hungry users, but the Sensation 4G is a phone to please the masses with its sleek design and interface.

HTC Sensation 4G (T-Mobile)

HTC Sensation 4G (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 9