HTC Sensation 4G on T-Mobile First Look

Our HTC Sensation 4G on T-Mobile US has arrived, and it's one nice Android smartphone. We've been every so eagerly looking forward to the Sensation as a serious competitor to the LG G2X on T-Mobile. Both are large screen, dual core beasts, but HTC brings their Sense 3.0 software, a 4.3" qHD 540 x 960 display to the table, and it's the first US phone with a dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU running at 1.2GHz.

The Sensation is HTC's follow-up to the excellent MyTouch 4G, and it looks like a more professional model than the somewhat cute-and-cuddly MyTouch. It's a gray slab phone with a gray, cosmetic stripe up the middle of the back. The Sensation is comfortable to hold, and it's similar in size to Verizon's HTC Thunderbolt, although it's thinner.

Build and design are typical HTC: very good materials with their modern, understated look. The back cover is very interesting: it wraps around the sides of the phone and has several metal contacts. Remove the cover and the phone turns off the cell radio because we assume it passes too much interference without the cover and the FCC might not like that.

All of the Sensation's specs have been boosted from the previous model, except one. The phone has a super-sharp, super 4.3-inch 960-by-540 LCD screen and a Qualcomm dual-core 1.2-Ghz Snapdragon processor. It runs Android Gingerbread 2.4, and has an 8-megapixel camera on the back capable of recording 1920-by-1080 video at 30 frames per second. There's a VGA front-facing camera for video chat, an HDMI output port, 1GB of built-in storage along with a MicroSD card slot, and a very strong 1520 mAh battery keeping it all running. It will be very interesting to compare this to the somewhat similar LG G2x, another high-end, dual-core Android phone arriving on T-Mobile soon.

The new Qualcomm processor brings a bunch of side benefits. Far better graphics processing means the Sensation's Sense 3.0 interface is festooned with little bits of 3D. No, it's not the headache-inducing real 3D I've seen on the HTC EVO 3D—and that's a good thing. Rather, it's just 3D-ish effects on the 2D screen, like having a home screen where images fly behind each other, and some striking 3D weather displays. The camera is also much faster. According to HTC, you couldn't do any of that smoothly on previous processors.

The missing spec is 4G. Like the MyTouch "4G," the Sensation only connects to the Web at HSPA+ 14.4—which is short of the HSPA+ 21 that T-Mobile's own chief network officer has said should be a minimum for 4G.

HTC has enhanced its HTC Sense Android UI in many small ways. Most immediately, there are a bunch of useful custom lock screens. The phone's locked screen can show social-networking updates, your favorite pictures, the weather or useful app shortcuts; if you drag a shortcut to the bottom of the screen, it starts the app. HTC will offer more lock screens in the future, reps said.

Other small, useful touches include a better-looking SMS app and an email app that previews each message in your message list. The virtual keyboard's prediction powers have been enhanced, but sadly, there's no Swype here.

As a T-Mobile phone, all the usual T-Mobile apps are here, including T-Mobile's Wi-Fi calling and T-Mobile TV. But HTC adds HTC Watch, a movie and TV store that HTC insists, yes, will come to the United States. Watch starts with a pretty thin library of about 600 movies and relatively few TV shows, but it will grow, HTC says. You'll be able to rent and buy programs, and progressive downloading means you'll be able to watch stuff as it's downloading. But the company didn't give any details about how much movies would cost.

We've come to expect refined Android experiences from HTC, and the Sensation delivers. Without resorting to gimmickry like those not-ready-for-prime-time 3D screens, the Sensation looks like it has what most people want in a high-end Android phone: good-looking apps, a sharp screen, fast performance and a lot of easy-to-use little touches. I came away from an hour with the phone impressed.