The phone so nice, we're reviewing it twice

HTC Sensation 4G

This is the HTC Sensation 4G. Look familiar? It should -- you likely just read Alex Dobie's excellent review of the European version, the HTC Sensation. So we've now got it here in the states, on T-Mobile. And that's where the "4G" part comes in. This one has access to T-Mobile (USA's) HSPA+ network, meaning faster data speeds.

The Sensation 4G also brings along the latest version of HTC Sense, along with Android 2.3.3. That's Gingerbread, folks.

We're going to take a slightly different look here at the Sensation 4G for our second time around. Less clinical, more colorful. Again, go back and check out Alex's HTC Sensation review. It's a must-read. As for me? I'm smitten. And it's going to show.

Initial hands-on

Youtube link for mobile viewing

The hardware

Let's back up a little. I recently put down by Nexus One. Haven't touched it in weeks, in fact. There was always just something about it. Not so much the "Pure Google" experience, which is fine and all -- I'm a big proponent of developer phones -- but it was the hardware that I'd fallen in love with. Just the right size, with that 3.7-inch screen. Curvy in all the right places, yet able to take the abuse that comes with being the main device of a smartphone blogger.

The Sensation 4G picks up where the Nexus One (which was originally released unlocked on T-Mobile) left off. Big flat glass front, soft, curvy behind. (Or, if you prefer, a mullet. Business up front, party in the back.)

HTC Sensation 4G

Let's start with the screen. The specs don't get much better than this right now. You've got 4.3 inches of real estate, with a qHD (540x960) resolution, all protected by Gorilla Glass. We've been plenty happy with a 4-inch screen, but we're not going to turn down that extra three-tenths of an inch, either. We've had mixed experiences with the higher qHD resolution. On the Droid X2, it was underwhelming. On the Sensation 4G? It just works. The pixels are packed tight enough that you'll be hard-pressed to make out individual dots.

There's an interesting design feature here, too. And the more I look at it, the more I think it's what's really standing out. While the touchable area of the display is flat, it curves up ever so slightly as it meets the body of the phone. It's just barely concave, and you might not even notice it at first. Whether it's a design thing or an aesthetics thing, it's pretty attractive.

HTC Sensation 4GHTC Sensation 4G

HTC Sensation 4GHTC Sensation 4G

Capacitive buttons are on the the bottom. The speaker grill (with notification lights!) and a front-facing camera make up the top. Volume rocker and microUSB port on the left-hand bezel. Standard fare. There's no HDMI-out port, but you can use an MHL adapter if you want. (Remember that the MHL adapter is unpowered, so you'll have one cable running from the phone to the TV, and another running from a power source to the phone. Lame.)

HTC Sensation 4G

It's probably not too much to call the rear of the Sensation 4G a work of art. It's a mix of two soft-touch panels, flanking a metal panel. And it has the same curves as the Nexus One, which fits oh-so-nicely in the hand. You'll see five little pinholes in the back cover. No, those aren't noise canceling microphones or anything. Like on the HTC ThunderBolt, they're used to attach antennas that are inside the battery cover.

HTC Sensation 4G

Removing the battery cover is a little different on the Sensation 4G. There's a small button you have to press on the bottom bezel of the phone. You then lift up the bottom part of the battery cover, then slide the phone out of it. There's actually a little lip on the front of the Sensation, at the top. That's where the battery cover actually slides in. And you get an interesting look at the earpiece speaker (it's actually much smaller than the grille would have you believe), notification LED, and front-facing camera. Cool stuff.

Replacing the cover is easy. Slide the phone back into the top of the case, the click it into place at the bottom.

What's under the hood

HTC Sensation 4G speedsThe HTC Sensation 4G has one of the first 1.2GHz dual-core processors we've seen in a Qualcomm device. Along with that, you get 1GB of internal storage, and 558MB of free RAM, according to Elixir.

The Sensation's got all the usual sensors -- gyro, G-sensor, compass, proximity, ambient light, etc. The usual stuff.

As for battery life, we were pleasantly surprised. Got through a full day's use with nary a problem. That's with the stock 1520mAh battery, in a good HSPA+ coverage area. Your mileage may vary.

An interesting note about data speeds on the Sensation 4G. In a full HSPA+ coverage area, like Miami, speeds were pretty darn good. We saw an average of around 7 Mbps downstream, and 1500 Mbps or so upstream. Returning to my infamously EDGE-only home, the Sensation 4G would still often show a 4G icon on the home screen, then struggle to break 300 Kbps downstream. Point is: 4G works great on it, and battery life was surprisingly good.

The software

Hallelujah, the Sensation 4G runs Gingerbread. Android 2.3.3, to be exact. And it's about time we're getting phones that actually run the latest version of Android.

But while that's important, it's not really what has us excited about the Sensation. Instead, it's the new Sense 3.0 that you'll be writing home about.

HTC Sensation home screens

If you're new to the smartphone thing, here's how it works: Android is the operating system. And you'll hear a lot about "stock Android," which really just means there aren't a lot of customizations done to the home screens, menus, etc. HTC has been skinning operating systems for years, and it's pretty darn good at it. It's trademark is a series of large, easy-to-use widgets, plus the analog flip clock that's makes an HTC device instantly recognizable.

HTC Sense 3.0 lockscreenSo what's so big about Sense 3.0? First thing you'll notice is the new lockscreen. (Here's how to customize it.) It's actually the same as we've seen on the HTC Flyer tablet, which also runs Sense 3.0. There's a big ring in the middle of the lock screen. Drag it outward to unlock the phone. But what about those icons, you ask? Those are customizable -- you can pick whichever apps you want. To open one of those apps directly from the lock screen, slide the icon into the ring. Easy as pie, and it's a great way to quickly get to the camera, e-mail or any other app. Our only beef is that you're limited to four apps. We'd love to see that doubled.

Another cool feature of the Sense 3.0 lock screen is the background. You can set it to be the wallpaper, a photo album, HTC's Friend Stream app (so you can quickly see what's going on in Facebook, Twitter or Flickr), the excellent Weather app, stocks or a big clock.

Sexy, it is. We'd love to see something like this on every Android phone. It's easily the best lockscreen we've seen come pre-loaded on a device.

As for the rest of Sense 3.0 -- it's largely the same experience you get in previous versions, but better. More refined. Transitioning between home screens now has a nice little 3D effect. It's cool, but nothing we haven't seen on other launchers. And if you manage to flick your finger across the screen just right, you'll get a neat little spinning effect. But it seems to be a bit inconsistant in whether it actually wants to work -- and we'd rather just use the Leap feature or flip through one at a time if it's going to be that finicky.

The app drawer has given up the perpetual scroll and instead goes screen by screen. Still not a fan of that.

A funny thing happened on the way to this review

Oh, how quickly things can change. If you haven't noticed by now, we're pretty enamored by the HTC Sensation 4G. But between our time with it and the publishing of this review, a funny thing happened. The HTC EVO 3D happened. And there's something noticeably different between the two.

Youtube link for mobile viewing

What's up with that? The Sense UI on the Sensation has some readily apparently lag when swiping between homescreens. Both phones sport dual-core processors running at 1.2GHz. The EVO 3D shows 803MB of total RAM on Elixir, versus 558 on the Sensation. Figure between that and inevitable tweaks that are inherent on devices on different networks, and, sure enough, there's a definite difference. Here's to hoping a software update can iron out a bit of that lag.

The camera

The camera app in Sense 3.0 is pretty darn good, with quick access to switch between video and stills, and the front and rear cameras. In still mode, the Sensation will shoot up to 3264x1840 resolution (or 8MP). In video, it'll shoot up to full HD at 1920x1080, but that makes for a pretty big file size. Our 37-second test video below was almost 48 megabytes.

The rear camera's decent enough. Shutter lag will make any motion look blurry, though. Nothing new there.

 Images below open in a new window in full resolution. You've been warned.

HTC Sensation 4G camera testHTC Sensation 4G camera test

HTC Sensation 4G camera testHTC Sensation 4G camera test

HTC Sensation 4G camera testHTC Sensation 4G camera test

Be sure to watch this in full 1080p resolution

Other odds and ends

  • Call quality: Just fine.
  • Speakerphone quality: Passable.
  • Preloaded software: You've got all the usual HTC stuff (Peep, the new mirror app, etc.). There's a decent amount of stuff from T-Mobile (T-Mobile TV, T-Mobile Mail, Visual Voicemail). Maybe you'll use it, maybe you won't.
  • Like other T-Mobile phones, you've got Wifi calling available.
  • GPS worked like a charm.
  • HTC's standard Android keyboard is there, but it's got an added "Trace" feature. Think Swype, only by HTC.

The wrap-up

Let it be known: The HTC Sensation 4G is one of the better phones of 2011. Don't let that talk of lag scare you away. It's something that should be noted, but it's definitely not a deal-breaker.

You've got a great hardware build from HTC (at least in the short term; we've seen phones go downhill over time). The design is top-notch. T-Mobile's HSPA+ data was fast and reliable where we tested it.

Drawbacks? Tough to find them at this point. If you're looking for a phone to hack, well, the Sensation's not it -- yet. But if you're looking for a top-of-the-line Android phone on T-Mobile, you can hardly go wrong for $200 on contract.


Reader comments

T-Mobile HTC Sensation 4G review


This phone looks amazing. I've always liked my service on Verizon, but T-Mobile is consistently getting better phones. I feel like this is what my Thunderbolt should have been. Oh well, technology moves so quickly it's almost impossible to keep up. Great review!

"The HTC Sensation 4G is one of the better phones of 2010."

I think you meant to say, "the HTC Sensation 4G is one of the better phones of 2011" (at least I hope).

Other than that, good review.

And if you love the Sensation, you will really love the Evo 3D. The Evo 3D is essentially the same phone but with more RAM, 3D display, 3D camera, and a dedicated camera button ;)

Looks like T-Mobile and Sprint have winners!

I do think the 3D is a little gimmicky, but having actually used one, it's pretty cool. I'm not saying it's going to change the way I use the phone, but it's a cool toy to play with. As for the actual phone, the EVO 3D is incredible, as is Sense 3.0.

the next person to say the 3D on the the EVO 3D is gimmicky on AC is going to get a steaming pile of dog crap on their porch. WE KNOW PEOPLE THINK IT'S A GIMMICK!!!! however, you probably haven't even used it so save your uniformed opinion for yourself. thx.

The Evo 3D looks bigger than the Sensation. I would give up the 3D stuff and a little more RAM for the smaller Sensation. Both really nice phone tho.

PS...verizon you suck hairy balls!!

If the phone is so nice then why isn't it on the front page for accessories yet? Should take the Thunderbolt's spot as its better in every way.

Great review done. The cousin to the Evo 3d looks great and I personally had a chance to spend some time with it and tmobile customers will be happy with that device. It's clearly the best device on tmobile right at this time. Myself well it's 4days till Evo 3d time on Friday a national holiday in my book.

Cant believe I am saying this, but i agree with you Richard, the Sensation is definetly the best phone on T-MO as of now

Best phone on Tmo? It's the best phone out. It has only slightly less RAM with much better battery life than the Evo3D

Stopped by my local T-Mobile company store this weekend to pick up a new case for my LG G2x. Got into a conversation with the guys about the Sensation. First of, let me say that they were all carrying G2x's... so that may account for their opinions. But that said, I asked them flat out... should I dump my G2x for the Sensation... to a person they said, "no way!" I asked why with all the hype on forums like Andriod Central; the Sensation was being touted as possibly the best Andriod phone on the market. Again, to the person they said... "... the G2x is far faster and the lag with the Sensation is very noticable". And, with the G2x getting Gingerbread this Summer, it outshines the Sensation by a very noticable amount. I asked how they knew that... one of the guys said that he has played with a G2x with the test version of Gingerbread on it. He said it is a completely different phone. They also like the fact that the G2x is running vanilla Android and not bogged down with Sense.
Bottom line is that I will hang on to the G2x and see what happens when it gets Gingerbread in a month or so.
Other than that, I personally like HTC phones... have had a number of them.. but the build on the G2x is phenominal.

I was in the T-Mobile store on Sunday looking at the phones. I ran standard Quadrant on the G2X, Sensation, and my CM7 MyTouch 4G. The G2X got 1700 something, my MT4G got 1800 something and the Sensation was just over 2000. I was surprised that neither of the dual-core phones smoked my single-core MT4G.

Thats weird because I am consistently getting anywhere from 2500-2800 on stock kernel with my G2X in quadrant where sensation gets around 1900-2300.. Maybe cuz of all the crap running on the display models. Wife has sensation and I have G2X and the G2x definitely smokes it in the gpu area (FPS perf on tegra2 is much better)however noticed both phones get hot pretty quick which is something that the nexus-s didnt. The review kept comparing the sensation to the nexus one but really until htc start shipping their phones with unlocked bootloaders, they will never be comparable. My g2x was rooted with custom recovery immediately and started the development is flying making it much more vanilla/nexus like...

I understand why people are saying that stock android is good and fast. BUT for it to run the way I want it to run, you'd have to have a pretty darned good third party apps installed to even come close to what HTC Sense offers. Back then, the reason for rooting a phone was to unleash its untapped powers. When the MT4G came out, it broke all barriers and rooting it was not even an option. It allowed FREE tethering and Hotspot, which was a blasphemy for Sprint, Verizon and AT&T. The only reason why you'd root was ... well, because you hated Sense.

But HTC Sense has come a long way since then. I have to admit that I have become a believer and even a fan of it. It just works!

The G2X may be a phenomenal phone but it has been plagued with problems. And if you're waiting for it to get Gingerbread, good luck!

The only reason why I am even thinking of getting the HTC Sensation is because of the screen size. My MT4G is decent, but with my eyesight, I need a bigger screen. By the way, my MT4G is running on Android 2.3.3 and HTC Sense 2.1. What's good about it? The battery life is twice as long now as it used to!

No luck involved with the G2x getting Gingerbread... it is getting it shortly. As a matter of fact, T-Mobile accidently sent out some replacement G2x's with Gingerbread on them. It is not the final version... but obviously the final "official" release is not far down the road.

The issues with the G2x are well documented and T-Mobile has stepped up to the plate and admitted the phone has some software issues. But the fact of the matter is that only a small percentage of the units sold have had issues. The one I have has had absolutely no issues what so ever. And ya.. it is one phenominal phone.

This phone looks really awesome but when are we going to see TMo phones with Gingerbread AND 21/42 mbps HSPA+ radios?? 14.4 is the biggest disappointment here.

The Galaxy S 4G supports 21mbps but doesn't yet have Gingerbread though it's supposedly on the way.

Great review.
I always have known that technology advances fast but if
"The HTC Sensation 4G is one of the better phones of 2010"
Why is it the best thing @ T-Mobile

Might want to go change that date

Ok I will bite: what's the reason? If you're trying to say it doesn't exist then I'd like to know what that's based on? This last Friday I went to my local store and we tested it out. Sure enough holding the phone normally in landscape mode killed the wifi every time on two sensations. That's with the enhanced wifi setting turned on. Now I know you don't know me from tom, but I assure you I am not prone to ocd or exploiting minor flaws; however this design flaw had me Flores with wonder at how its not being addressed in these reviews.

By normal I mean ring fingers stabalizing the bottom of the phone middle fingers gently touching the back of the phone and index fingers providing a stop for the upper portion of the phone (not gripping the top though changing to that position yielded the same result) while trying to manipulate the screen with the thumbs. This was also done by the store Rep who was ignorant of the rumor and just as shocked as I was that it exists.

I love HTC phones and what I would like to see happen is for HTC to address the issue with some sort of fix so I don't have to use my upgrade on a different phone. I want the HTC but only if its basic functions work with out massive issues.

I'd like to know this too. The problem exists, and I can easily replicate it on my Sensation. Did Phil not run into it at all? Should I simply try to exchange my phone?

yeah... i'd like to see an objective comparison between the Galaxy S2 and the Sensation... sometimes it seems like AC is a little biased towards HTC... like mentioned above sensation has a severe death grip issue and i read a lot of dust gets in the phone, as well..

I wouldn't say they are biased. HTC is just on top of their game right now. This year alone, HTC has put out The Evo SHift 4G, The Inspire 4G, The Thunderbolt, the Droid Incredible 2, and the Sensation 4G. All of these phones are very popular and are in demand. People want to hear more about these phones before investing in one. On top of that, they are on the heels of releasing one of the most highly anticipated phones of the year thus far, which is the Evo 3D. Then, HTC has been updating (supporting) their devices with Gingerbread updates.

Samsung has put out a few phones, like the Droid Charge, and the Nexus S, but we still don't have a release date for the US versions of their flagship device, the Galaxy S 2. On top of that they are taking their time with updates. So its Samsung's own fault, not AC's.

"We saw an average of around 7 Mbps downstream, and 1500 Mbps or so upstream."

Wow, 1500 MBPS up? That's pretty impressive ;)

It seems the lag is hit and miss. Some said they did a factory reset when they received it and it didn't have lag afterwards. On mine, it has had 0 lag when rolling through the menus so it may be a software issue that will be ironed out with an update (as they usual do). Overall I love mine. No lag issues, no death grip, and everything has run flawlessly so far (about 5 days with it so far).

I assume they will send an OTA update in the near future to address any of the niggling issues that some have had. Hopefully the unlock will come along with it so we can really make this thing fly. The build quality of this is phenomenal too.

Does it concern you that people need to still do factory resets when we're talking about 1.2 ghz dual core phones? What is HTC thinking?

I used to be an HTC lover: Tilt, TP2, now Thunderbolt. But they've really been blowing things recently.

A thing about RAM (and maybe the homescreen lag)

I have seen that the actual free RAM on the Sensation is 170-180 MB. (SGS2 has 3x more free RAM).

IMO Sense 3.0 is to much, its "heavy". I really like the super smooth experience om the Galaxy S II with TouchWiz 4. I have written a story about my opinion on XDA. I really think TouchWiz 4 is very good, carefully adding features to the stock gingerbread experience but not being "in yoir face" as much as Sense 3.0. A lot of Nexus One owners comimg from Stock Android don"t mind TouchWiz 4 at all.

Anyway, you can't go wrong with the Sensation 4G! It's a very good device and looks beautiful.

I wish I could get this phone, or the G2x. My G2 is doing amazing and have had it since the day of release its just the sensation is so beautifully made, and as someone said above, the apps that are cooked into Sense are awesome. I love the way HTC makes there phones because they add just little design features like the slightly contoured class to really make the phone unique. That's why I stick with HTC.

hey phil good to see you down here enjoying miami, howd you like the brickell area? have time to hit any of the greats bars and restaurants?

oh yeah nice write up too

I have to weigh in on this,G2X vs HTC Sensation argument. I wanna start by saying yes there is a bit more lag on the Sensation compaired to the G2X. But thats to be expected with HTC senses vs stock.
2nd I wanna know where you guys are getting you info from? Im a sells lead with T-mobile who.just so happens to have had a chance to talk to my LG last week... LG has no offical time frame for the Gingerbread update on the G2X. And for the record it was the original G2s that were sent out with the update not the G2Xs.
3rd... T-Mobile has pulled the G2X from the shelfs until LG fixs the crashing, freezing and power cycling issuse... So I think its a better deal to go with a phone with a lil lag as suppose to a phone that weve recalled... Just saying.

Your third point makes no you are telling me t mo pulled all their G2X stocks, sent them back to LG to get 'fixed', which probably is just a software issue, going to get them back with a new software version, and then just screw the rest of the people who currently own one by not giving us the update? Why would they send them back for a software update? Not only is that asanine, but also cost ineffective. Push the product and then push the update once done.

"Pulling G2x's from the shelf" doesn't mean they are being sent back to LG for a fix. I'm no expert, but I would think they are just not being sold until LG is ready to roll out an OTA to fix the issues.

Something Odd happened to me, i wanted to share with the rest of the comments here because i have not been impressed with my Sensation's performance so far. I have had the normal low volume and the erratic sense speeds along with what Phil showed when trying to use the carousel, but nothing was more annoying as with the wifi issue. I got it five feet from my router and i have two routers and one is open and one has PS2K. I tried it with and without the cover and behold i lost my signal when i held it in landscape or put it lying flat. I decided i needed to go to a T-mobile and complain about it, but while i was waiting to be attended, i went ahead and started playing with the sensation they had on display. To my surprise i could not duplicate the issue at all, I checked their version and went to the advanced setting under wifi and it was no put on maximum performance. I pulled out mine and as you could imagine, i could not duplicate the issue anymore. I was puzzled because although i lost some bars, it remained connected and i did not lose the signal completely or as easily when i was at home. I decided not to look like a fool and when across the street to a Best-Buy, and logged onto their open network and had no issue again i tried to put the death grip on it, put it in landscape or lay it flat on it's back and although i was looking some bars, i could not duplicate what was going on at my house. I went back home and reset my routers and the issue is still there. So from what i can tell, i think we may need to find out if this issue is with some routers only or with the encryption used.
FYI: I have a N1, IPad2, HD2, MY3G and don't have any wifi or death grip issues with any one of them so i am seriously leaning to a software issue.

Whatever, the issue i can see Why Phil and a lot others do not see this issue and i can understand why a lot of us are experiencing the issue. Hope something is found out soon.

Routers i use:
DLink (DIR 601) Open network
Ambit WPA2-PSK

(i have tried changing channels and updating firmware on both routers)

I still don't like the fact that it doesn't have a full gig of RAM, with the amount of memory Sense takes in the background, it would be more reliable to have more RAM, like the Galaxy S2 or Atrix.

Luckily I only have a year left on Verizon becuase as soon as my contract ends I'm jumping ship because whatever is the sequel to this phone will be awesome! I went into my local T-mo store to check out HSPA+ and it was still blistering compared to 3g! This phone is a beast!