Published
By Russell Jefferies

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Usability, Calling / Data


Usability

The Sensation's Android (2.3 Gingerbread) platform will offer a familiar experience for anyone who has previously used an Android handset, albeit with a few upgrades here and there. Whilst the Android platform is quickly evolving, it still manages to remain logical and familiar, even between devices from different manufacturers. For example, the notifications bar at the top still shows the time, battery status, and signal strength, as well as housing any incoming notification icons. As always, it can be dragged down to access incoming notifications, and now offers easy access to recently used applications and quick settings.

As with all recent HTC handsets, the Sensation is sporting the latest version of HTC's much-loved Sense UI (3.0), which includes a plentiful selection of well designed widgets to drop onto your home screen. In fact, there are seven home screen panels in total, which can be navigated between either by swiping to the left or right with your finger, or by pinching on the display to reveal all seven at once. Users can customize the home screen by re-arranging widgets, adding new ones, or simply removing ones they don't want. The background and lock screen images can also be changed, although with the Sensation HTC is offering active lock screens as well.

The active lock screen can show weather information, FriendStream updates, photos, stocks, or one of HTC's pre-loaded clocks, all of which look great when you wake the phone. On top of this, you are also shown the time and date, the new unlocking ring (that the user must drag upwards to unlock the screen), and four round shortcut icons. These four shortcuts can be customized by the user, and dragging any of the icons into the center of the unlock ring will quickly unlock the device and open the shortcut's application. This is particularly useful for applications that are needed quickly, such as the camera.

Once unlocked, there are three buttons along the bottom of the screen: the app menu button, the Phone button, and the personalization options button. The app menu button simply takes you into the applications menu, which is set to a scrolling 4x4 grid layout by default. Previously the grid scrolled freely, but now it will flick an entire page of apps at a time, making app searching easier. Users can also subset their apps list by "All apps", "Frequent", and "Downloaded". Again, this makes finding something much easier if you happen to hoard apps.

While the Phone button brings up the dial pad, the personalization button brings up a menu that allows users to do things like add a skin to the UI, or change the "scene" that is currently in use. Scenes are basically visual profiles that can be configured for different occasions, with customization of everything from the home screen background to the widgets, skins, and app shortcuts.

The earlier mentioned touch-sensitive buttons below the display provide a good base to work from when using the phone, due to their fixed set of functions. The home button takes you to the home screen, the menu button brings up a context-sensitive menu, the back button goes back a screen, and the search button offers a context-sensitive search, or generic phone/Google web search. This helps simplify the whole UI navigation and unify Android handsets from all manufacturers.

As is the norm these days, pinch zooming is featured by the Sensation's capacitive touchscreen display, and the built-in G-sensor allows the display to auto-rotate when the device is turned on its side. The display was easy to type on, thanks to its large size and high resolution text, although I still wasn't anywhere near 100% perfect with my typing. A larger keyboard can quickly be accessed by flipping the phone on its side, should you require one.

There aren't really any ringer profiles to speak of on the HTC Sensation, although the ringer volume can be adjusted from the home screen via the volume rocker, which can also be used to activate vibrate or silent modes, as well as controlling media playback volume. If you fancy having varying ringers, you can easily set contact-specific tones from within the contact system.

HTC's contact-centric school of thought works very well, and keeps users connected to their friends via deep Facebook and Twitter integration, with updates appearing in contact entries and when making/receiving calls. It's even possible to flick through friends' Facebook and Flickr albums from their contact entry, as well as see all emails, messages, and call history for that person.

Finally, HTC have included a task manager in one of their Android handsets, and the Sensation's task manager can be found by accessing the quick settings from the drop-down notifications bar. This allows users to monitor running applications and close any that don't need t be open, which can be very handy.

Overall, I really enjoyed using the HTC Sensation - partly due to its attractive and useful user interface, and partly due to its ferocious speed. Everything whizzes along with sufficient haste, and for the most part the fancy new animations are smooth and slick. It's a really fun handset to use.


Calling / Data

The HTC Sensation offers decent call quality, but the earpiece could sound rather harsh and distorted at times, especially with the volume up high. I didn't experience any unusual dropped signal, and the handset held a 3G connection well. The built-in speakerphone provided ample volume for use in relatively quiet environments, but had quite a thin sound - as most speakerphones do.

The Sensation is a quad-band ~GSM device that also works on the 900/1700/2100MHz 3G bands for ~HSPA data connections, and offers up to 14.4Mbps download speeds and up to 5.76Mbps upload speeds. I averaged download speeds of around 6.1Mbps and upload speeds of around 3.1Mbps during testing on the Vodafone network in the Bristol area of the UK.

Bluetooth 3.0 with ~A2DP is built into the Sensation for use with stereo Bluetooth headphones, and files can be sent wirelessly via FTP/OPP. It even supports PBAP for accessing your phonebook from a car kit. Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n is also on board, as is DLNA compatibility for streaming media to a DLNA certified TV or computer. A really handy feature of the Sensation is its ability to function as a Wi-Fi hotspot, which allows it to share its network data connection with other Wi-Fi-enabled devices nearby, such as a laptop or tablet computer.