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Review: Bell HTC Sensation 4G


These days, I feel like I spend a lot of time reviewing HTC devices. Recently, I have taken a look at the Incredible S, Panache, Wildfire S, among others, and each time I am left with the indelible impression that we are witnessing a company at the height of its design prowess and software convergence. Being able to mould into a cohesive product such a fragmented operating system as Android is HTC’s definable quality, and that they’ve improved on (for the most part) each previous generation of phone is a notable distinction.

The HTC Sensation 4G is another leap in their quest to corner the market with their distinctive metallic tones and unibody architecture, and for the most part it succeeds. Combining a dual-core Snapdragon processor with a healthy display resolution and plenty of improvements to their Sense overlay, the Sensation could just be the best Android phone they’ve ever released. Can it compete, though, with similar offerings from Samsung, LG, Motorola and Sony Ericsson? Read on to find out.

Specs

- Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread w/ Sense 3.0
- 960×540 qHD LCD display
- 1.2Ghz dual-core Snapdragon MSM8260 processor w/ Adreno 220 GPU
- 768MB RAM / 1GB internal storage
- 8MP camera with dual LED flash / VGA front camera
- 1080p video capture / playback via MHL-HDMI out
- WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, A-GPS
- DLNA support (with included app)
- HSDPA 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps
- FM Radio/ Flashlight support
- 1520mAh battery
- 148g
- 126.1 x 65.4 x 11.3 mm
- 850/1900Mhz UMTS (3G), 850/900/1900/2100Mhz EDGE (4G)

The Phone: A Design Monster

HTC practically owns unibody. From the HTC Legend to the Desire HD, the fundamentals of forging an exoskeleton from a single piece of metal, usually aluminum, is not a new one. Over time they have identified the various strengths and liabilities of the design, and the Sensation feels like a happy medium. Whereas the Desire HD had a battery latch that inspired, when removed, more grunting than a female tennis match, the Sensation’s back cover is more traditional in many ways, while retaining the structural integrity of its unibody forebears.

Loosened by a small latch on the bottom, the battery cover extends to part of the front and side of the device, leaving it looking rather cyborg-like in its natural state. More than just tri-tone eye candy, it also contains, on the inside, like a gold tooth, the pinpoints for the various antennas. Removing the back means losing your signal.

The rest of the device is standard HTC fare: a left-sided volume rocker, nice and clicky, and below it a dual microUSB/HDMI port (called MHL) we first saw in the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc and lately in the Samsung Galaxy S II. Though an adapter is needed to connect it to an HD television (around $40CAD) it helps keep production costs down.

Due to the unibody construction, the device is thin (though at 11.3mm, some 2.6mm thicker than the Galaxy S II), and feels phenomenal to hold. Easily the most rigidly-built Android phone to date, the qHD resolution screen means that it is taller and narrower than traditional Android devices at 960×540 vs their 800×480. The aspect ratio is different, too, at 16:9 vs 5:3. While wider resolutions offer more horizontal space for reading, the LCD screen on the Sensation offers sharper text and increased viewing space. This comes with some compromises, however…


Display

The display on the Sensation is good, but not great. Perhaps I have been spoiled by its nearest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S II. Colours sit on the surface like wet paint, while images feel far away, lodged somewhere beneath the concave screen. Despite having some 400nits of backlight, the screen washes out at narrow angles. Greens and blues are darker than they should be, and blacks have a tinge of gray.

I often tell people the reason I so love the Incredible S is for its Super LCD screen, and how effortlessly it reacts to every touch of my finger. This cannot be said for the Sensation. As generally smooth as it is, there is something not quite right about Sense 3.0. Perhaps it is the faux 3D effects HTC attempted to build into the framework, or the artistic flourishes that come off as half-hearted, but call me sentimental: I just want my flat, colourful Sense 2.1 back.

There are a few, ahem, bright spots in the mix. White levels are indeed excellent, and as a result reading text on the Sensation’s slightly inwardly curved screen is a pleasure. So too is browsing, as the extra pixels lend themselves nicely to formatting on the generally-speedy browser.

And because the max brightness level is quite good, the Sensation is more viewable in direct sunlight than most Android phones, even though in such conditions blacks look like a mix of yellow and gray.

Most devices wouldn’t call attention to the display in any other way than it performs but the Sensation’s Gorilla Glass is slightly concave, about a millimetre, from edge to edge. Similar to the Nexus S, it is supposed to allow for smoother finger movement, and is said to improve readability of text. Neither of these aspects were particularly better than a completely flat display, but where it may help most is in protecting the device: laying it display-down means that the majority of the glass does not touch the surface on which it is placed.

Performance

Much can be said about the introduction of dual-core into the world of Android smartphones. Surely a logical progression, some would say it has introduced more problems than it’s solved (see battery life below).

Rest assured, however, that the Sensation has mostly benefited from the included Snapdragon MSM8260 processor, which, at 1.2Ghz, can only be described as randy. Animations are smooth throughout the OS, and despite calls to the contrary from other sites (granted, they were reviewing the T-Mobile version which has a slightly different software build) it is difficult to pin down what I’d consider as any slowdown. Yes, there are times when the interface doesn’t seem as spritely as it could, but by and large apps load significantly faster than they did on previous generation hardware.

Using two examples, the camera app, when launched from the customizable home screen, takes less than a second to start, and another fraction to snap a shot. This is obviously something HTC has been working hard to perfect, and they’ve done an admirable job.

So too is it a pleasure launching links from, say, a Twitter app. You’d hardly believe how quickly full desktop pages are rendered (perfectly, I might add), though much of that credit must be assigned to Bell’s speedy HSPA+ network.

Video playback is good, too. Nary a frame dropped of h.264-encoded videos (though the device cannot natively play DivX) up to 720p, but at 1080p output the device stuttered at higher bitrates. This is likely a software limitation, too, as the included player is sparse at best. Third-party options fared better, providing smooth 1080p playback (see RockPlayer, VPlayer).

As with all post-2.2 Android devices, the Sensation plays Flash videos inside the browser and throughout the OS. While this doesn’t necessarily mean they will play without issue, for the most part the Sensation has no trouble with most. It certainly has enough umph to stream 720p YouTube videos embedded in a web page (provided your connection can keep up).

Another thing of note, while I’m at it, is the haste at which the Sensation pivots from portrait to landscape mode. And it starts up quickly: you’ll go from zero to booted in less than 30 seconds.

My main concern is that while the Sensation moves through the OS quickly, the Incredible S made everything seem effortless. This is not a quantifiable thing, as the Sensation is indeed faster in almost every way, but rather a feeling.

Benchmarks

Note: these benchmarks, as should all synthetic benchmarks, should be taken with a grain of salt, as they do not reflect real-world usage.

Quadrant Benchmark Suite: 1960

Linkpack multi-core: 61MFLOPS

Sunspider Javascript Benchmark: 6256ms

CF-Bench: 5135

In terms of results, the Sensation’s Quadrant results are significantly lower than the 3000+ of the Samsung Galaxy S II and even most Tegra2 results, though it must be noted that the Sensation is rendering 3D scenes in its native 960x540px resolution. A more accurate comparison would be between the Sensation and the Motorola Atrix, which runs at the same resolution with a Tegra2 SoC. The Atrix consistently scored over 2500 in Quadrant.

The Sensation also suffered handily at the hands of the Sunspider benchmark. Most newer devices, even last-gen single core processors such as the Incredible S, are able to complete the benchmark in just over 4000ms. Something is definitely wrong with the browser’s Javascript performance.

Camera

The HTC camera software has always been considered better than the sensor itself, but since the Incredible S and its various cousins, they have been making strides at image quality improvement. The 8MP sensor in the Sensation seems to be improved over previous generations, though the better results may be from increased processor performance than anything else.

The usual battery of settings are applicable: exposure, ISO, along with pre-set scenes such as Action or Close Up, which unfortunately replaces a dedicated macro mode.  The device defaults to taking shots in widescreen, which is merely a cropped 4:3. A bit disingenuous, rather take the shot in full 8MP 4:3 resolution and crop it as you see fit.

Photo quality meets most phone standards, which is not to say it will win any awards, but given the right conditions nice results can occur. While very sensitive to movement, well-lit, stationary shots result in excellent colour saturation with minimal grain. The sensor re-focused quickly, and can be done by tapping anywhere on the screen. The dynamic focus actually works very capably.

Unfortunately there is no option to set exposure manually, so indoor scenes with artificial light often result in yellowish shots when White Balance is set to Auto. Changing to Fluorescent or Incandescent, depending on the type of light in the room, often got colours back on track, but resulting photos had too much grain to be useful.

HTC seems to be making an effort to improve their cameras, and indeed, make them a selling point, in their newly-announced myTouch 4G Slide for T-Mobile. Let’s hope its larger sensor and instant shooting technology make it into future devices.

The Sensation can take video at 1080p (1920×1088 to be exact), and it too has no trouble in good conditions. Capturing at 30fps, there is little ghosting and, when the phone is held steady, nary a hint of the shakiness so prevalent in mobile devices. This stability only extends so far, as the moment you attempt to re-adjust the focus while filming by tapping on the screen, it appears like a minor earthquake on film. There are several microphones on the Sensation, and the audio captured when shooting video is in stereo, though separation is difficult to quantify.

Be careful when first pressing Record that first time, though: the device defaults to taking video at its native qHD 960×540 resolution and must be manually changed to 1080p. As I’ll point out later, there isn’t much free space on the included microSD card, which probably led HTC to that decision.

As for the front-facing camera, well, it’s VGA, which means the quality is largely crummy. Strangely, it is a step down from the Incredible S, which has a 1.3MP front shooter. And because the Sensation is running Android 2.3.3 and not the newer 2.3.4, it isn’t possible to use video over GTalk like you can on the Nexus S. However, if video calling is your bag, there are a number of apps to fill in the gap, including Tango, ooVoo, Fring and Qik.

Battery Life

We’ve always tended to forgive HTC their shortcomings when it comes to battery life due to the intense work it takes to keep HTC Sense looking so good and running so smoothly. As Android as an operating system has come a long way since its inception, and various devices such as the Nexus S and Motorola Atrix have proven it is not impossible to attain good battery life.

The Sensation falls into the ‘it’ll do’ category: not great, but just good enough that I won’t deride HTC for failing its customers. With little to no activity on the device, it is possible to eek out two days from a single charge on the 1520mAh battery. But with any background tasks, including push email, background Twitter updates, moderate browsing and camera use, the device lasted until 8pm. It is understandable that the Sensation would be more power hungry than its single-core predecessors, but the moderate performance increase from the Incredible S does not warrant such a cut in battery life, especially since the Sensation is running updated software.

Keeping the display brightness low, and the actively killing errant background apps certainly helps, but the Sensation’s need for constant care is proof that Android needs tighter controls on what apps can run behind the scenes. Apps are allowed to run in the background even if they’ve never been opened.

Call Quality and Network Speeds

Calls come through loud and clear. At this time I’d like to give a brief explanation on why Bell’s version of the Sensation is superior to the T-Mobile version released down south. You see, Bell’s network uses both the 850Mhz and 1900Mhz frequencies depending on attenuation (signal quality) and placement (not all areas have 850Mhz service). Lower frequency signals are able to travel better through obstacles, while higher frequency signals can travel further through the air. Unlike T-Mobile, or any AWS network (Wind/Mobilicity) networks with both a high and low operating frequency tend to have superior indoor signal levels, especially in places with thicker walls and in basements.

I had no issues in either type of environment obtaining a four- to five-bar signal, whereas an AWS device may only have one bar, if it had service at all. Voice calls rarely distorted, and I experienced no dropped calls on the Sensation. Those complaining of a “grip of death” similar to the iPhone 4 will find it largely depends on the level of signal available to the device, and in most parts of Canada this shouldn’t be an issue.

Data speeds were also excellent. I recorded the fastest speeds on the Sensation that I’ve ever seen on a Canadian device: 5.3Mbps download, 2.4Mbps upload with a 59ms ping time. The Sensation has theoretical maximum download/upload speeds of 14.4Mbps/5.76Mbps.

Sense Sensation

Sense 3.0 is not significantly different than its previous iterations. In fact, but for the 3D additions and the improved lock screen, it is largely unchanged.

When it was first released in 2009 on the HTC Hero, it provided an interface overhaul so exhaustive, so appreciated, that most Android users didn’t recognize it as the same operating system. But in 2011, when the Nexus S looks and feels about as fast as anything else on the market with specs almost a year old, it pains me to say that Sense may be losing some of the magic it once had.

There is something admirable about what HTC is attempting: to use Android as a launching pad for its own content and services. The device will sell you ringtones and themes. It has skinned its own mail, music, messaging and calendar apps (for the better) and its own browser, navigation and contacts app (for the worse). It bundles its own social networking widget in Friendstream, and its own Twitter app in Peep. There is a Flashlight app and a FM Radio. There is even a Dice app, for some reason (yes, you literally throw 3D dice around the screen). While many of these are austere replacements to native Google apps, some prefer to replace them with third-party alternatives from the Android Marketplace. But they do form a cohesive whole, and are comprehensive enough to be called a suite.

If you are partial to Sense, however, there is much to like. Like 2.1, Sense 3.0 shows recently-used apps in the notification bar, as well as an appreciated quick settings tab. Pinching anywhere on the homescreen shows a preview of each, though now press and hold and you can alter their location relative to one another.

There is helpful Dock Mode that displays, at a glance, the weather, the time along with your next two appointments. Behind is a gorgeous 3D animation of the current weather conditions.

The app drawer now displays five lines of apps, though they are paged as opposed to free-flowing like they were in Froyo. While it took me a while to get used to this method, it works better at identifying key apps. So too does the Frequent tab, which sorts apps in order of use.

The lock screen has also been updated for Sense 3.0, and is likely going to be the largest cause for celebration amongst loyal HTC fans. Six possible themes, each with its own widget above the four customizable icons, are available, including weather, stocks, photo frame, etc. The four icons, which launch practically any app installed on the device, are dragged into a little magnetic circle below. Perhaps most useful for the camera, phone, messaging and mail app (which are there by default) it is an awesome showcase of both the intuitive and evolutionary nature of HTC’s designers, and the somewhat limited improvements made to the OS as a whole.

A few odds and ends: when you plug the Sensation into a computer, a nice graphical depiction of your connectivity options pops up. You can mount the microSD card, or tether your data connection to your computer, or, if your computer has internet connectivity and your phone does not, you can use go the other way and use the device as a pass-through.

HTC Watch

HTC Watch is the Taiwanese company’s new media store. Movies can be rented for between $3.99 and $4.99, and purchased for $19.99. Rentals are for 48 hours, though once purchased you have up to 30 days to activate the rental. Rentals and purchases can be downloaded to the device for offline consumption, though be wary of having too many on the device at once.

Quality is top-notch, especially on the high-res screen, and if you want to try before you buy there are trailers available for each movie. Selection includes great movies (The Town, Inception) to the pulp (No Strings Attached, Paranormal Activity 2) and HTC hopes to expand its distribution reach with more content soon. There are 200 movies available at launch, with 300 more coming by the end of the month. The goal is to reach 2000 titles by year and. They even talk about adding “seasonal content,” hopefully replete with special pricing.

This is the first real content competitor to Apple’s iTunes released in Canada. While it doesn’t incorporate music, Watch is an attractive and easy-to-use service that shows how much care HTC is giving to their brand not only as a hardware manufacturer, but as a software provider. While there is no obligation to use the service, Watch is freely available for those who want it, and is certainly easier than ripping DVDs, encoding them and transferring them to your phone.

Bell Additions

As with most Bell smartphones, there are a few non-removable inclusions to the device. Mobile TV & Radio has morphed into quite a nice collection of live- and on-demand content from various Canadian providers for $5/month, though subscribing to every package can add up quickly.

Bell also has partnered with Gameloft to provide a portal for “HD” games, and bundles demos of N.O.V.A., a gorgeous looking Halo-like game, along with a virtualized Uno card game experience. Both are quality titles, but every time I tried to load Uno it crashed, and when I first launched N.O.V.A. it forced me to download 70MB in additional content. In addition, the portal leads to Gameloft’s mobile website, who will gladly charge you 30-40% more for the same game as on the Marketplace.

While not quite as odious as what Verizon bundles on their Android devices, we would like to see less bloat and more value from carriers. Android’s inherent customization should not be a free ticket for carriers and OEMs to clog up valuable app storage with non-functioning software.

Wrap-Up

In many ways, the Sensation is HTC’s best phone. Not only their most solidly-constructed, it is one of the most attractive devices I can recall. Not only does the build quality surpass much of its competition, but it improves overall handling and portability. The phone is a joy to hold in the hand, with a few exceptions. Since the backing is made of metal, it gets quite hot, especially after taking photos or recording video. Since it’s the middle of summer the device felt dangerously hot after recording a couple minutes of footage outside on a warm day.

So too does the display come with compromises. Its increased pixel count is more than welcome, but the overall quality of the image seems to be inferior to the lower-density Super LCD screens used in the Incredible S/Desire S line.

And performance has also stepped up, though perhaps not as much as one would expect from such a spec jump. Benchmark results are quite a bit lower than comparable dual-core solutions, though synthetic results don’t usually translate into real-world performance. Running games optimized for high-res displays were smooth as butter, and, unlike previous HTC devices, I couldn’t get the keyboard to stutter, no matter how many apps were running in the background.

Sense is losing some of its lustre, despite how stable it has become. I couldn’t get an app to crash (except for the included game demos), but I’ve also grown used to making Android look the way I want it to. Sure, you can download an app launcher like Launcher Pro to replace HTC’s, but ultimately you’re playing their game. For fans of the overlay, though, it provides more of the same, which is a very good thing.

For Android newbies, this will be a huge benefit: tutorials and hand holding are the best way to introduce oneself to the often-intimidating world of Android, and HTC simplifies things to a forgiving level.

The Sensation is a powerful, attractive and stable Android device that provides access to a growing array of applications, widgets and customizations. No, the device isn’t hackable (yet), but should you decide to purchase it, do so knowing you’re mostly likely going to end up using the phone the way HTC wants you to. Sound familiar? There’s another company that’s attracting legions of customers by doing just that. And according to HTC’s latest earnings report, they’re profiting from such a tightening of focus.

The Bell HTC Sensation 4G is available for $149.95 on a 3-year term and $549.95 without a contract.

Rating: 8/10

Pros:

-  Gorgeous form factor
-  Best-in-class build quality
-  High resolution display allows for more stuff and sharper text
-  Excellent overall Android performance
-  Good still camera and video quality
-  Dual microUSB/HDMI port
-  Very stable running Gingerbread
-  Amazing data speeds and excellent call quality
-  Lock screen shortcuts very useful (and attractive)
-  Gorilla Glass display is bright and viewable in direct sunlight

Cons:

- Display has underwhelming viewing angles, colour reproduction
- Display is very reflective
- Battery life suffers from the dual-core chipset
- Sense overlay is getting long in the tooth, despite additions
- 3D effects are unnecessary and bog down the system
- Not (yet) hackable
- Only a VGA front facing camera
- 1GB internal storage for apps is not enough

—-

Update:

First of all, I didn’t mention a price, which is $149.95 on a 3-year term and $549.95 without a contract.

The compatible frequencies are 850/1900Mhz UMTS, which means it will have 3G connectivity on Bell, and when unlocked, Virgin Mobile, Rogers, Fido, Telus, Koodo, Sasktel and MTS (I think).

As for the Gingerbread CRT effect, it is not here, nor is it enabled in the Galaxy S II. This doesn’t mean it cannot support it, but rather HTC seems to have disabled it.

There is SIP (VoIP) support built in, so you can configure an internet phone. Obviously Google Voice does not work in Canada.

I took the comparison screenshot of the Sensation and Galaxy S II at a 45 degree angle to show the viewing angles. While the screen is much more vivid looking straight on, it still shows inaccurate colour reproduction compared to the Samsung. Doesn’t mean it’s not a great screen because it is.

In terms of hackability, someone has found an exploit that allows for temporary rooting of the device, but the root goes away once the system is reset. At this point no development can really happen on the device until a permanent rooting solution is found, which is still forthcoming. It took almost eight months for a permanent root solution to come to the Incredible S. Hopefully HTC will have unlocked the bootloader by then and prevent all this chaos.

Also, the guaranteed 18 months upgrade schedule proposed at Google IO has not been finalized yet, and therefore no carrier has given a commitment to upgrade any of their devices. I am assuming the Sensation will be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich when it is released in the Fall, but that’s not for me to speculate.

Overall, the more I’ve used the Sensation, the more I’ve enjoyed it.

 

  • Jeff Dao

    Do want.

    • linny

      The sensation is available starting today, and I heard that the galaxy S2 will be next week. What would be the best choice. Should I wait one more week. I’m about to change phone.

    • Jerrik

      I spent a lot of time reviewing both phones and I’m going to wait until next week to get the S2, a much better phone.

  • Thomas

    God, if only the GS2 had this resolution

    • SimpleJack

      The GS II has a much better screen. What are you taking about?

  • JAcksib

    HEY DOES ANYBODY KNOW IF I CAN PUT WEB OS 4 ON IT?? PLEASE hELP ME IM DECIDNIG bETWEEN THIS AND DESIRE HD

  • Tom

    - You write that this phone is not (yet) hackable – will it be?

    - Does this phone qualify for the 18 month firmware upgrade guarantee that was announced this Spring?

    - In the specs you don’t mention the 3G frequencies supported. I heard that it only support 850 & 1900 – if this is true users should be warned that this phone will be pretty useless for travel outside N.A.

    It is pretty hard for us consumers to get straight answers to questions like these – even just figuring out the frequencies supported can be tough. So it would be great if reviewers could provide the answers for us. Thanks.

    • Jay

      Yes it will be hackable in 2 weeks
      ask Bell for the 18 months
      what do you expect such a great reviewer to tell you about the frequency? it support 850 and 1900 HSPA+ for high speed data connections and quad band for GSM for your global roaming…
      honestly, how difficult is it to look for this information, plus there ain’t much phones out there that has a dual band for GSM for your global roaming pleasures…

  • Jeff Goebel

    I’m curious to know when somebody unlocks it for use on Telus. I don’t need to root, but I won’t switch back to Bell.

    • Ivanos

      For Jeff G and all those that are also wondering.

      I just got the HTC Sensation tuesday and unlocked it with Telus and it works perfectly! I love it. Though you must change/add some settings into the APN settings in order to get your data and mms (picture/video messaging) before it will work. But that’s the same with all unlocked phones right?

      Love the Sensation compared to all the blackberry’s ive used before. Yes the SGS2 does have a better screen and runs programs a bit faster, but to me the SGS2…bottom buttons looks too similar and un-customizable to the iphone!

  • apowerranger

    Why does Bell get sweet phones? That damn Samsung Galaxy S2 better go to Rogers.

  • wtf?

    According to Bell.ca

    HSPA/UMTS: 850/1900 MHz
    GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz

  • Gab

    I guess since the GS2 wasn’t on a carrier you didn’t give it a score? How do I know which phone is better w/o a score!

  • jerry ding

    Holy ! your 1080p test video was just filmed outside my school!

  • jellmoo

    I’ve been playing with both a Sensation and a Galaxy S2 for the past few days, and honestly, the Sensation *is* a good handset.

    The problem is that the Galaxy S2 is simply better in most ways. If you compare the screens you are left with a bad taste in your mouth at just how much nicer the screen is on the Samsung. The screen on the Sensation is just so washed out, not only in comparison, but on its own as well.

    The other problem is that Sense 3.0 is sluggish. Not by any big amount, but just enough to be noticeable. Enough to irk you while moving through screens or menus. I’m not a huge fan of Touchwhiz, but I’ll give it credit: it’s smooth. HTC has gone too far into the realm of pure eye candy for the sake of eye candy, and it really shows.

    The kicker is that the Samsung Infuse, with its lower specs, feels snappier. Heck, for most casual users, the Infuse runs about on par with the Galaxy S2. It’s only power users that will ever see a real difference between the two, and the Sensation just feels like it’s a step behind.

    The HTC Sensation isn’t a bad handset. It’s quite decent. The issue is that it doesn’t feel like a premium one.

    • SparklingCyaNide

      I’m sorry but Everything about the Sensation screams Premium, especially in the build department. The quality of the Sensation’s build as well as the materials used are far and away Superior to the Galaxy S2 build quality, which feels like a cheap and flimsy children’s toy. #truth

  • Peter Boggs

    For the price of 550 dollars i still am not sure it is a good deal. Going to wait for the galaxy s ll then decide between the two. I think samsung will win but cost 150 dollars or more , then decide what is right for me . Think the breaker will be video rec. and play back. The Galaxy will win that one from what i have read.

  • jpl

    I’m still going for the Galaxy S II. Firmware updates on the Galaxy S 1 are near every 1-2 weeks. HTC takes months.

    The GS2 is rooted and CM7 is near nightly releases.

    • Michael

      Really?
      I’ve only gotten 3.
      1. Android 2.1 update 1
      2. Android 2.2
      3. Android 2.2 KB5 Update

      Every 2-3 weeks?
      Yeah right.

    • jpl

      Galaxy S i9000 Updates Since January 2011:

      I9000XFJS2 2.2.1
      I9000XWJS3 2.2.1
      I9000XWJS5 2.2.1
      I9000XXJQ3 2.2.1
      I9000XWJS7 2.2.1
      I9000XWJS8 2.2.1
      I9000XWJV1 2.3.2
      I9000XXJVK 2.3.3
      I9000XWJVA 2.3.3
      I9000XWJVB 2.3.3
      I9000XWJSD 2.3.3
      I9000XWJVH 2.3.3
      I9000XXJVO 2.3.3
      I9000XWJVI 2.3.3
      I9000XXJVP 2.3.4
      I9000XXJVQ 2.3.4

      I even left out a few of the smaller ones. My point remains.

  • EmperumanV

    Another excellent in depth review. Definitely something to take a look before I put down $621.

  • kevy

    I just tested my updated Bel Atrix with speed test using a server about 43km from my house and I get decent speeds
    5.69 Mbps down and 2.43 Mbps up with a 66ms ping

    With servers farther from home I get:
    8.60 Mbps down and 2.75 Mbps up with a 168ms ping

    These speeds were significantly lower before the Bell OTA update (2.74 / 0.4).

    • Niners13

      With the new bell updated the atrix flies on the net.

      Got 10.3 mbps down and 3.5 mbps up.

      On avg. it’s about 5-7 mbps.

      Surprised at the reviewers low “record”

  • Dan

    “Lower frequency signals are able to travel better through obstacles, while higher frequency signals can travel further through the air.”

    You got this backwards. The 850Mhz signal is the distance signal, the 1900MHz signal is the penetration signal.

    Think AM/FM radio if you need a reminder. AM radio at it’s lower frequency can be tranmitted across great distances and why it’s great for farmers, while FM radio at it’s high frequencies gives higher quality sound but is only useful close to cities because of it’s limited range.

    • Michael

      well other companies say Lower frequencies go farther and penetrate better.
      I’m pretty sure it’s not the way you’re thinking because I’ve read other articles on spectrum and they describe it with lower frequencies being able to penetrate obstacles better.

    • jalin2

      Don’t think your radio analogy is correct.

      FM signals are superior to AM signals in the city because of the difference in their modulation.

      AM is amplitude modulated so when it hits buildings and other obstacles the signal is attenuated making receivers harder to reconstruct the signal.

      FM modulates through frequency and can still rebuild the signal w/ smaller signal levels.

      AM works well for farmers because signals don’t get obstructed by objects. FM would work just as well for them too.

      I think the author got it right.

      Phone looks good but I’m holding out for the SGSII. Gonna buy outright, root and unlock since I’m with Fido

    • Captain67

      Lower: Longer distance, better through obstacles.
      Higher: Clearer quality at close range, more data can be transmitted at a time. However, the signal gets cut off more easily.

  • bob

    I think the cons are that it has only 768MB RAM, that the Snapdragon SoC seems slower than the Exynos or even the 1 GHz Tegra2 and that the battery life seems a bit short.

    I’d put it on par with the Atrix and I think the SGS2 is a bit better. It’s still much better than the last gen (Desire HD, Galaxy S 1, Xperia Arc).

    • jellmoo

      I’ve been doing some compare and contrast with these devices, and a lot really depends on what precisely you want to be doing. For casual users, the difference is largely minimal. the Atrix, Galaxy S2, Infuse and even the Nexus S all feel a little faster and smoother. Sense 3.0 just seems chunky.

      I would be very curious to see how the Sensation would fare with a custom ROM, or heck, even just stripped back to Sense 2.x.

  • the

    Bell has both this and the GS2. Rogers pisses me off, they rape me and don’t even compensate with having good phones. God if I wasn’t so broke I’d just buy this or the GS2 outright.

  • Steve Jobawobles

    I love HTC handsets but i’m starting to get annoyed by htc sense. I’d love for them to come out with a new sense that is a lighter version. A version that shows off android more than the skin. You know what i mean bra?

    But so far i’m satisfied with the build and quality of htc phones. The htc sense is just too much at the moment.

  • Frank

    Got the phone today at futureshop…no site can unlock this phone yet…frustrating tried all over. I like it, but I think I like my Htc desire Hd better?? Don’t get me wrong the phone is awesome but even though it has a better screen it seems that things look brighter and better on my Hd? Also my hd has more Ram don’t know how that affects the phone? If I can unlock it in the next few days I’ll keep it..if not I’ll return it or maybe someone here will buy it outright like I did and unlock it later on.

    • airsteph

      What carrier are you planning on using it. I was under the impression that unlocking the phone was as simple as just getting the code and entering it. I’m planning on picking one up full price and using it on Telus.

  • RM

    @Dan – Try not to compare AM/FM with 850Mhz/1900Mhz cellular signal.

    The author is correct in saying that the 850Mhz will penetrate through obstacles better than the 1900Mhz signal, as the signal has a longer wave length to go through walls and floors. Where the 1900Mhz signal will be better signal through air than the 850Mhz signal. The best of both worlds i guess.

    The point is Bell uses both and a user will receive a better signal than those who use only one.

    cheers.

  • Mike

    OP, Does the Bell version suffer the death grip? I wonder if the shipment for Bell might be a better batch. Could you try cupping the phone and see how much the signal degrades? Where i work, I get lousy cell reception…usually 1 bar 3G or 1-2 bar edge, so this is crucial for me.

    Thanks

  • Panzerpug

    I picked a HTC Sensation 4G and it is a very, very nice phone. The screen is excellent and the resolution is close to the retina display and has to be seen. No, the colors don’t pop as much as a amoled screen but resolution for “POP” and viewing angle is a fair trade imo. The screen shot comparing screens is deceiving because of the viewing angle, the colors straight on are not that washed out and who looks at their phone on a 45 degree angle anyways?) It’s very stable, no lag, its all smooth and intuitive with sense 3. It’s a sexy piece of kit and I am very happy with my purchase.

  • Matt

    Just got the phone today and I am incredibly disappointed with it after coming from a Nexus One.

    First off it is not yet unlockable, but I will let that one slide since it’s still a new phone.

    But Sense, and the whole HTC bullcrap is just too much. Couple of times, while sending text messages I would send something like [First Message] Ok [Second Message] I will meet you at 5. – But there would be a box that would popup saying “Sending message.” It’s up there for a fraction of a second, but enough to bother me. Why is it even there?

    - The dialer is just too bloated looking.
    - The app tray is horrible, who’s idea was it to do vertical pages?
    - SO MUCH BLOATWARE, why is Yahoo there, why is the Voice Command there? Google already has a search, and voice command better than these.
    - Oh, how handy, HTC made a “downloaded apps” section of the app tray… except you can’t organize it…
    - LauncherPro seems to lag on this
    - Keyboard is good… but I like the stock keyboard more
    - Why do all HTC changed icons have to look so weird?
    - WHERE IS MY TV OFF EFFECT?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!??!?

    • B

      No CRT Off screen effect because it is Android 2.2

  • Saffant

    Just got this on july 4th … The AWS version for $600 and must admit it’s a HUGE upgrade from my N95… It does lag slightly at times but not quite enuf to make it bothersome. I wouldve prefered the GS2 (eventhough i love HTC Sense), but unfortunately theres no AWS version. (goin with wind). In any case.. great handset.

  • Casualsuede

    Sense is for the casual phone user. It is actually very beneficial, with shortcuts and features such as FriendStream and unified email.

    I have been using the T-Mobile version of Sensation and like Sense. I understand the high end geek wanting a pure android experience with an unlocked bootloader. However, for 95% of the population, that has no interest for them.

    Similar to Blackberry going mainstream, while HTC used to be the device for the tech gearhead, I feel that HTC has also gone mainstream, especially since more than half the population is now buying smartphones.

  • Sunny

    Recently Nokia announced that they are leaving the Japanese market. I seem to remember seeing a recent map showing it had no foothold in South Korea as well. At the rate HTC is going, Nokia will probably end up leaving Taiwan as well.

  • Daniel Bader

    Hey guys,

    Thanks for all the comments. I’m going to be updating the post with a bit more information, stuff I’ve gleaned from the comments that people want to know.

    First of all, I didn’t mention a price, which is $149.95 on a 3-year term and $549.95 without a contract.

    The compatible frequencies are 850/1900Mhz UMTS, which means it will have 3G connectivity on Bell, and when unlocked, Virgin Mobile, Rogers, Fido, Telus, Koodo, Sasktel and MTS (I think).

    As for the Gingerbread CRT effect, it is not here, nor is it enabled in the Galaxy S II. This doesn’t mean it cannot support it, but rather HTC seems to have disabled it.

    There is SIP (VoIP) support built in, so you can configure an internet phone. Obviously Google Voice does not work in Canada.

    I took the comparison screenshot of the Sensation and Galaxy S II at a 45 degree angle to show the viewing angles. While the screen is much more vivid looking straight on, it still shows inaccurate colour reproduction compared to the Samsung. Doesn’t mean it’s not a great screen because it is.

    In terms of hackability, someone has found an exploit that allows for temporary rooting of the device, but the root goes away once the system is reset. At this point no development can really happen on the device until a permanent rooting solution is found, which is still forthcoming. It took almost eight months for a permanent root solution to come to the Incredible S. Hopefully HTC will have unlocked the bootloader by then and prevent all this chaos.

    Also, the guaranteed 18 months upgrade schedule proposed at Google IO has not been finalized yet, and therefore no carrier has given a commitment to upgrade any of their devices. I am assuming the Sensation will be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich when it is released in the Fall, but that’s not for me to speculate.

    Overall, the more I’ve used the Sensation, the more I’ve enjoyed it.

    • Tom

      “There is SIP (VoIP) support built in, so you can configure an internet phone. Obviously Google Voice does not work in Canada.”

      I believe that Google Talk is their SIP (VoIP) product. Google Voice uses local access numbers to provide free long-distance, among other features. Google Talk only supports VoIP (and video) on gingerbread, and even there it is less capable then the desktop or gmail versions of GTalk (e.g. it can’t yet call landlines).

      Thanks for addressing my concerns about firmware updates and rooting. On the rooting, I look forward to it being officially ‘allowed’ on most of these phones.

  • Frank

    So after hours of research still no way to unlock to use on Telus…..phone might be going back…or sell it to someone here who is having a hard time buying outright like I did….I’m still not convinced its better than my Htc desire Hd…camera is abit better but only by a tiny bit…

  • Meeee

    Unlocked it will work o fido right?

    • Frank

      yes it will. But no one can unlock yet.

  • Panzerpug

    I also picked the phone up at best buy for $100 on a new 3 yr contract with Bell if that helps anyone.

  • Dave4321

    “Unfortunately there is no option to set exposure manually, so indoor scenes with artificial light often result in yellowish shots when White Balance is set to Auto. Changing to Fluorescent or Incandescent, depending on the type of light in the room, often got colours back on track, but resulting photos had too much grain to be useful.”

    White ballance has nothing to do with exposure. Exposure is a factor of iso, aperture, and shutter speed. Almost nopoint and shoot have manual white ballance controlls.

    Changing white ballance also has no effect on grain which is usually a function of iso (and the sensor itself of course).

  • Ispiratica

    Unibody? did you’ll take it apart? It’s just 2 pieces. Unibody means a single body. You guys have to do better reviews and research. It’s just a light dust off and call it clean.

  • RC

    Well I really wanted to get this phone as an upgrade from my HTC Legend. That was my plan for this summer. But Bell put a wrinkle in my plan when they dropped the Desire Z down to $0 on a one year contract. The tech side of me wanted to get the Sensation, but I thought about it more rationally and ended up getting the 8 month old Desire Z. Needless to say I am not at all upset with my decision. HTC made it easier by having a locked bootloader on the Sensation (I know soon to be unlocked, but when?). I knew the Desire Z aka the T-Mobile G2 has lots of after market support such as Cyanogen. Currently I am running CM7 after a couple of frustrating days trying to downgrade the Desire to root. However it was totally worth it. I have it overclocked to 1.5GHZ and underclocked to 250Mhz when screen is off. Needless to say it scores 2900 in Quadrant and gets 52 megaflops in linpak. I know these scores are to be taken with a grain of salt. But they are still impressive and comparable to the sensation.

  • Dennis Forbes

    In single-threaded non-GPU tasks this unit is beaten by a Nexus One. The N1 featuring an earlier generation, architecturally limited, slow-clockspeed version of this processor.

    Something has to be wrong with the software on this unit. Perhaps it is down-clocking overaggressively, including in the middle of benchmarks (SunSpider in particular has pauses that can bring on a downclock).

  • Gob

    Would this Bell version be compatible with Wind Mobile if it were to be unlocked?

  • Jim

    This phone really has some deal breaking issues. There are definately issues with the wifi and with the bluetooth.

    Phone #1:

    random reboots, Super short battery life, would not stay connected to wifi reliably, poor batter life and it died in less than 24 hours and could not be turned on again. The battery meter just kept dropping even though it was plugged in and the charger and cable were good.

    Phone #2:

    WIFI: While NOT holding the Sensation in my hnad….The signal is always about 10dBm below my laptop and iPhone when in the same location. Installing a wifi finder reveals that access points are present one moment and gone the next unless they have the strongest signal. The iPhone and the PC see 10+ access points and the Sensation can only see two of the three in my house. If you install a signal analyzer it reveals that the Sensation shows the signal varying wildly while the PC and iPhone show a steady signal.

    BLUETOOTH: While playing audio the signal fades and the music skips unless the Sensation is within 2 feet of my Motorol S9 headset. if I put it in a sweathshirt pocket I get skips. If I put the sensation on my pants pocket the audio cuts out 50% of the time.

    Other issues: short battery life, stalls, browser hangs, phone search results put web results at the top of the list and contacts and music at the bottom of the list off of the screen making the user think that it is not searching contacts (what happened to ranking the results and displaying the highest ranked and closest matched?), song somtimes changes when unlocking phone, VM notification still displayed when there are no messages, hard to sync music automatically and most third party sync software doesn’t sync play counts or ratings, bluethooth integration with built in music player is poor, you have to tell the music player to use bluetooth each time… even if the bluetooth headset isn’t already connected. Compared to the iPhone, the navigation is inconsistent. Sometimes you navigate back with the back button, sometimes it’s in the software.

    I think I’ll go back to the iPhone, it is not as flexible as the Android OS, but it executes it’s core functions flawlessy. The Android OS, or maybe the Sense overlay doesn’t seem ready for prime time.

  • JVB

    Would this phone from Bell work on Wind’s 3G if it were to be unlocked?

  • hi

    “Lower frequency signals are able to travel better through obstacles, while higher frequency signals can travel further through the air. Unlike T-Mobile, or any AWS network (Wind/Mobilicity) networks with both a high and low operating frequency tend to have superior indoor signal levels, especially in places with thicker walls and in basements.”

    No, no, no.. this does NOT make this phone better than the T-Mobile version. It might mean that Bell coverage is better than Wind, but it doesn’t mean that the phone is PHYSICALLY ANY BETTER THAN THE T-MOBILE VERSION. T-Mobile’s AWS/PCS network provides urban coverage that rivals AT&T and Verizon which are the only US nationwide carriers with low band spectrum. If the coverage stinks it stinks. If the network stinks don’t get the phone on that network..

    Secondly higher band spectrum doesn’t penetrate better nor does it travel any better than lower band spectrum. It does allow for higher capacity and higher cell site density because the spectrum covers less users and has less interference with other cell towers.

    • Daniel Bader

      I didn’t say anything about the physical device being better than the T-Mobile version. Physically the device is identical though it does contain a different radio inside.

      And to reiterate, I said lower-band spectrum penetrates walls better (which is true) while higher-band spectrum goes further and faster. And if there are cell towers with the same frequency nearby, it doesn’t matter what spectrum they’re on, there will be interference if deployed incorrectly. It’s up to the CRTC to ensure carriers install their cell sites to not interfere with one another, since Bell/Telus and Rogers use similar spectrum.

    • Dave

      Great review Daniel, I appreciate reviews that actually review the product components and don’t just go through a list of features it has.

      However I do have to agree with hi, this statement…

      “At this time I’d like to give a brief explanation on why Bell’s version of the Sensation is superior to the T-Mobile version released down south.”

      sounds like you are saying the physical device is better on Bell simply because of the frequency it operates on, which is obviously not what you meant. But it does sound that way.

  • Patrick

    okay telus what the hell is going on .first bell beats you out for the samsung galaxy 2, and that htc sensation , and the motorola atrix and also the htc incredible wow what a line up. then rogers beat you out for the htc EVO, and the lg optimus 2 * ,and let us not forget the sony ericsson. not as good as bell but better than what you have . Telus right now you’re running distance third with your lg optimus black ,your htc desire is good but old . So Telus right now you suck

    • Ivanos

      This is why unlocking phones is the best way to go :)!
      I just unlocked the sensation with bell to use with my telus sim. :)

  • @deyadama

    I love it

  • saheed

    I love d htc and will love to have it

  • Farhan

    Hi I have a question with The sensation 4G with Bell.
    I had to cancel my data plan with Bell because i didnt need it and I could not afford it in the long run. My question is can the ‘bell additions’, ‘HTC watch’, and cellular data (data usage) be turned off (and disabled)?
    Please and thank you.

  • Ivanos

    For Jeff G (below) and all those that are also wondering.

    I just got the HTC Sensation tuesday and unlocked it with Telus and it works perfectly! I love it. Though you must change/add some settings into the APN settings in order to get your data and mms (picture/video messaging) before it will work. But that’s the same with all unlocked phones right?

    Love the Sensation compared to all the blackberry’s ive used before. Yes the SGS2 does have a better screen and runs programs a bit faster, but to me the SGS2…bottom buttons looks too similar and un-customizable to the iphone!

  • brando

    solid consistent sexy reliable, thats all that needs to be said about this device, mind you it does have its negatives, it does run hot on the battery

  • Captain67

    All benchmarks on Android are inaccurate. It’s been proven on XDA that you can actually cheat quadrant to get 4000+ scores. And how can you explain my Xperia Play getting a quadrant score close to the Sensation?
    The SGSII may have better benchmarks than the Sensation, but in reality they’re the same thing performance-wise. It’s just hype on paper. I’m willing to bet money a Sensation with a custom ROM and no Sense would outperform a GSII with a custom and no Touchwiz.

  • Colleen Black

    My sons HTC keeps blowing the SD card – any review on this?

  • HTC Sensation 4G

    Thanks for the cool pics man!.

  • sarah

    Anybody notice any heating up in the bottom half of the screen area (where the CPU is located) when the screen is on for a while or you’ve been calling or browsing?

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