Mega Review: HTC Sensation V Samsung Galaxy SII


37 posts in this topic

Posted

Recently two new 'super phones' have been unleashed into the marketplace on the Android platform and thanks to our good friends at O2 UK we've been given the chance to produce a head-to-head review of both machines. We are of course talking dual core here and that means the Sensation from HTC and the Galaxy SII from Samsung.

Both machines are dual core with embedded graphics processors on board but they are designed in different ways with respect to the hardware and seemingly the end user market. The Sensation uses a half-shell body design and appears at first glance to be a big brother to the Desire S. The Galaxy SII is constructed from plastic and follows on from the hardware first encountered in the original Galaxy S model.

As we move through the review we'll look in turn at the differences in hardware and the custom user interfaces employed by the manufacturers, looking at the positive and negatives of each machine. The aim being not to show which is the 'best in class' machine, but to enable you to make up your own mind as to which machine would suit you as a prospective owner.

Manufacturer: High Tech Computer (HTC)

HTC Code name: HTC Pyramid

Supplier: Telefonica UK (O2 UK)

Product Name: HTC Sensation

Price: Varies depending on contract

Manufacturer: Samsung Electronics UK Ltd

HTC Code name: N/A

Supplier: Telefonica UK (O2 UK)

Product Name: Galaxy SII

Price: Varies depending on contract


Hardware

Screens

001.jpg

One of the most important interfaces on a modern Smartphone is that of the screen, and looking at these two machines there are significant differences. HTC have chosen to go with a traditional TFT screen. They have enhanced the display by using contoured glass so that the screen has a slight upward lip at the edges where it meets the surrounding housing; this gives a very good operational feel as the fingers are stroked across the screen. Samsung have used their new Super AMOLED Plus screen which offers vibrant and bright colours with good angles of view and supposedly significantly power savings. The SII's screen is of a more traditional type being a flat screen inset into the body housing. HTC have also upped the ante on resolution aiming to compete somewhat against the iPhone 4 with the Sensation having a 4.3" screen of 540 x 960 (qHD) resolution, whereas the SII uses a more traditional 4.3" 800 x 480 (WVGA) display. Both screens are protected by Gorilla Glass to give resistance to scratches and impact from third party objects.

025.jpg023.jpg

The AMOLED screen of the SII is extremely vivid becuase of its good colour saturation and brightness; when the automatic brightness control is turned off is very usable at around the mid-way setting. The screen is perfectly readable in all conditions suffering only slightly in bright sunlight where the level may need to be increased. The only monor flaw of the screen is that white colours can look very slightly tinged towards cream in colour, but this is not usually noticeable unless comparing side to side with another display. Blacks as expected with an AMOLED display are completely black (as the LEDs are physically turned off) and this serves to merge the screen very well into the black of the housing and at times it's almost impossible to say where the edge of the screen lies. The AMOLED construction also gives a very wide viewing angle with the screen clear and visible with no colour distortion with angles as little as 10 degrees from the horizontal.

The TFT screen used on the Sensation is bright and clear with no over-spill from the backlight anywhere around the screen and is usable in all lighting conditions but it's not as vivid or highly coloured as the AMOLED screen used on the SII. It does however have a more natural colour balance and does not suffer from the false colouration that is usually the one fault with an AMOLED screen. It is not quite as readable in bright sunlight and on the SII it is recommended that one leaves the auto-brightness control turned on to allow the machine to manage the back lighting to suit the ambient conditions that the phone senses. In contrast to the SII's screen the colours are much more accurate with white looking very pure and natural compared to the cream colour noted on the SII although this is offset by black colours appearing as a very dark gray - a limitation of the TFT technology used.

Both screens are perfectly usable and the only noticeable operational flaw is when comparing them as eBook readers (FBReader application). The SII has a much more grained look to the background due in part to the lower resolution and also due to the more obvious 'sharpness' of the pixels in the screen. Photo viewing is also somewhat affected on the SII with colours looking over-vivid in some cases (bright blue sky for example) and the photograph looking like it is being viewed through a polarised lens or that is has been enhanced for dramatic effect. The greater resolution of the screen on the Sensation also gives an impression of clarity and sharpness previously only seen on the iPhone 4 display.


Front Face

Sensation:

The Sensation is smooth and sleek. This is carried over design-wise onto the front of the machine where HTC's designers have striven and succeeded to carry on the minimalist theme. The upper part of the device sports the speaker used for telephone calls with the front facing VGA camera located to the right hand side of the speaker. To the left of this is the green notification LED. The proximity sensor lies immediately to the left of the speaker grill.

The notification LED indicates:

  • Solid green light when the Sensation is connected to the power adapter (or a computer) and the battery is fully charged.
  • Flashing green light when you have a pending notification.
  • Solid orange light when the battery is being charged.
  • Flashing red light when the battery level reaches a very low level.

Below the screen are the usual 'standard' four white back lit touch sensitive controls. These are marked in the case in white lettering and are clearly visible in all lighting conditions:

  • Home
  • Menu
  • Back
  • Search

The Home button is dual-function it can either return you to the Home screen of the launcher or it tapped and held will bring up a list of recently used applications.

SII:

The front of the SII is completely flat with the surrounding bezel into which the screen fits being slightly raised on all edges and serves to clearly define the edges of the machine. Also raised above the surface is the slim rectangular lozenge of the speaker which is pierced with a goodly number of holes to allow sound to exit the machine. To the left of the speaker are the light sensor, proximity sensor and, on the far left, the front-facing camera. There is no notification LED on the SII unfortunately.

Below the screen is a central hardware button, again with a raised surround, which is the main 'Home' button which can also serve to turn the machine on. If the Home button is pressed and held it will open a list of recently used applications.

One useful feature (not used in this review to ensure commonality of reviewing styles) is that pressing and holding the Power key and Home key at the same time will take a screen shot which is saved in the MyFiles/ScreenCapture folder.

9200.jpg

To the left and right of the 'Home' button are the ancillary control icons (Menu and Back) which are back lit when touched, but when not active are not marked in any way. They light when the screen is activated for around 2 seconds, after that they blank out into invisibility. This may be great in aiding to the sleek lines of the machine, but it can be somewhat inconvenient in locating the touch sensitive areas. Samsung have moved away from recommended Android design practices here and there is no control at all to activate the search function. This can be somewhat annoying as some applications do not have an easily accessible search option within the menu structure. If one taps and holds the Menu button the SII activates the Google web search engine, in my opinion it would have been much better if this had been used to bring forward the functionality of the missing search key.


General Construction

Sensation:

Minimalist is the styling concept that applies to the Sensation. The construction of the housing serves to give good protection to the internals but also aesthetically enhances the design; it also removes join lines usually found separating the two halves of the device. This, along with the matte coating on the aluminium, gives the impression of smoothness, with the only caveat being that one can almost feel the Sensation aching to slip out of the hand. The gently styled curves of the body housing make for a comfortable feel when it is in the hand and serve to reduce the size when held as there are no harsh or strong edges that the palm of the hand may sense.

SII:

'Slim' and 'lightweight' are the first impressions that come to mind when the SII is first held in the hand. Even with the battery in place the SII weighs in at a meagre 116 grams which is an incredibly light weight for such a modern phone. Alas the flip side of this is that the weight reduction is gained by reducing the quality of the materials used in the construction of the machine. Where on the Sensation you have aluminium on the SII you have plastic and some of that is not of very great thickness. The overall shape is also somewhat more blocky with the machine being a round cornered rectangle somewhat relieved by curves towards the back of the housing. The front face has a relatively hard curve around the edges and this makes it feel larger that it is when held in the hand and therefore somewhat uncomfortable to hold.


Left Hand Side

036.jpg035.jpg

Sensation:

The left hand side of the Sensation holds only the volume rocker control and the micro-USB port.

SII:

The SII again has volume rocker control in addition to a piercing that allows a lanyard to be affixed to the phone.


Right Hand Side

040.jpg

Sensation:

The body is completely plain on the right hand side of the body with no control or purpose apart from giving you a surface to grip onto.

SII:

The right hand side of the SII contains only the lozenge shaped power button which protrudes slightly for ease of operation. If the power button is pressed and held the Phone Options button pops up offering:

  • Silent Mode
  • Data Network mode
  • Flight Mode
  • Power Off

Both: Alas neither of the machines carries a dedicated Camera hardware button which would be most welcome.


Rear, Battery Cover and Internals

050.gif055.gif

060.jpg065.jpg

Sensation:

The rear of the Sensation is sculpted from two colour plastic, similar to that used on the HTC Mozart; it proudly sports the HTC logo within the central black stripe. The upper and lower portions of the back are rubberised which ensures that the Sensation is both comfortable in the grip and is not slippery to hold, a worthy feature for such an expensive phone. In the upper portion of the body can be found the 8 megapixel HD capable camera with the twin LED flash located next to it. There are two very small holes (almost pin pricks) beneath the flash, and above the camera, I believe that these are noise cancellation sensors used to reduce background audio noise during a phone call.

To the right of the camera is the speaker which is protected my a thin foil mesh. The moulded camera bezel protrudes slightly upwards from the rest of the body housing. This ensures that the loudspeaker has clearance for the sound to emerge and that the camera lens does not sit flat on the desk so that the lens is not scratched.

At the very bottom of the cover is the pinhole which allows sound to enter the microphone.

Removal of the cover is accomplished by:

  • Securely hold Sensation face upwards.
  • Press and hold the release latch at the base of the phone, and then slightly lift the front panel.
  • Gently pull HTC Sensation out of the back cover.

This sounds a somewhat complex operation but once put into practice is quite simple to achieve as when the catch is released the inner core tends to naturally lift from the outer housing.

The cover itself is not a plain back piece or battery flap, as it encapsulates the sides of the machine so you almost feel as if you are withdrawing the internals and screen in a surgical operation.

Once the cover has been removed a fingernail can be inserted at the side of the battery which can then be withdrawn to allow the SIM card to be fitted into its silo. The mSD card used for storage can be put in place in its caddy without the battery being removed.

Within the battery cover there are three copper contacts which mate with matching contacts in the housing, these are actually part of the antenna system and if the battery cover is removed you may get a signal but it will be a lot weaker than anticipated.

The cover is replaced by sliding the upper edge of the body into the housing and then pressing it downwards in a hinge-like movement until the locking catch engages.

SII:

The rear housing of the SII is split into two main areas, the upper portion which comprises the battery cover (cross hatched in an attractive scallop pattern) and holds within it the camera moulding which in turn holds both the camera itself and to its immediate right the single LED flash. Once again the camera is HD capable. The lower portion of the battery cover sports the Samsung logo highlighted in silver.

Below the battery cover the body thickness increases somewhat and this thicker portion of the housing serves to hold twin slots for the speaker outlet as well as giving the room needed for the mUSB connection to mount internally. The internal antenna used for connecting to the outside world is also held within this portion of the machine.

The battery cover is removed by sliding a fingernail into a cut out in the cover (to the right hand side of the camera mount), and pulling gently. The multiple plastic friction clasps which hold the cover in place then break their locks and the cover peels away from the body.

The cover itself is constructed of very thin flimsy plastic, and care should be taken when removing it to ensure that none of the miniscule plastic clasps are damaged or broken. The thin nature of the cover means there is no room within the design to incorporate any rubberised features like on the Sensation and alas that means it is somewhat slippery in the grip. This taken together with the hard lines of the design means that it is not as comfortable in the hand and care should be taken to ensure you don't let the machine slip from your grasp whilst handling it.

Once the cover is removed the battery can be removed to install a mSD card which can be used to extend the massive internal memory. The SIM card can be slid into it's silo without the battery being removed.

The cover is replaced by placing it vertically down onto the back of the SII and then pressing it into position gently with multiple presses around the edges. This will engage all the locks in turn. Once in place the cover feels surprisingly sturdy.


Top Face

070.jpgDSCF2013.jpg

Sensation:

The top is of a clean design with the housing blooming outwards slightly to incorporate the 3.5mm jack plug for the headset, while further towards the right hand side is the power button. This is nicely placed so that it can be activated by the index finger (when held in the left hand). It is raised slightly from the body and does require a decent amount of pressure to activate the control - it may have been better if it was recessed to prevent accidental operation while in the pocket or gadget bag. However it's not an issue I've encountered so HTC may have the balance about right.

If the power button is pressed and held the Power Options screen pops up giving you the choice of:

  • Power Off
  • Airplane Mode
  • Restart

SII:

The top is strongly designed and only broken by the 3.5mm jack plug for the headset and the background noise sensor which sits to the immediate right of it.

Bottom Face

090.jpgDSCF2014.jpg

Sensation:

The base of the Sensation contains the unlock button and also holds the 'pin prick' hole which serves to give sound entry into the microphone.

SII:

The base of the SII keeps with traditional housing design and holds the micro-USB port which is mounted centrally, and to the right of this can be found the pin hole which acts as a microphone.


Size

Size.gifWeight_Chart2.jpg

Both the Sensation and the SII are machines with 4.3" screens and therefore require a larger body form factor to contain such massive pieces of glass. Both HTC and Samsung have worked hard to minimise what could be a cumbersome experience when working with the machines. HTC have continued to use their round edge styling most recently seen on the Desire S and this works well to improve confort while in the hand. Samsung have chosen to use light weight components and therefore produce a very slim form factor. Both methods work well and both machines are easy to use with the top portions of the screen easy to reach with the finger.

If one looks at the Sensation side-by-side with the Desire S it is indeed clear that the inspiration for the styling originated with that machine or the same designer at least.

When placed side by side with the Sensation the SII looks the larger device due to the more harsh lines used in its styling and this is even the case when compared to the HD7 (right image) so it shows how impressive the efforts of HTC's styling team are in reducing the apparent form factor of a machine.


Lockscreens

Sen_Lock.gifSII_Lockscreen.gif

Lock_Notifications.jpg

Both HTC and Samsung have moved away from the vanilla Android lock screen, with Samsung taking a very plain route in providing you with a basic plain full screen 'tile', which can be tapped and held and then slid away sideways to unlock the machine. This can also serve to show notifications (see section below).

HTC have once again re-engineered the lockscreen completely in Sense 3 creating a viable customisable interface designed for ease of use. The default lock screen that is in place on the Sensation consists of a blank screen which shows the current wallpaper and below this sit four rounded 'Quick Launch' icons for: Phone, Mail, Camera and Messages. Where applicable these icons also have number indicators for item counts such as unread new e-mail.

Finally at the bottom of the screen is a half-buried silver ring that rises from the bottom of the screen, that sits on top of a converse silvered bar.

To unlock the screen one can tap and hold on the half ring shape and drag it upwards onto the screen, it then follows the finger and becomes a full loop centered on the fingers touch. When the ring is released the device is unlocked. Cool enough as it is the system becomes even more impressive when one taps and holds one of the 'Quick Launch' icons as if any one of these are dragged and dropped over the buried ring it rises up to accept the dragged and dropped icon. Once the icon has been swallowed by the ring the Sensation unlocks and switches immediately to the application that was quick launched. This works impressively both with respect to functionality as well as eye candy. This launch method vies with Windows Phone 7 for quick camera launching and all applications launch very quickly indeed.

Finally HTC take the lockscreen system one step further as they offer various alternatives to the vanilla Wallpaper lockscreen. Alternatives provided are:

  • Wallpaper - See your wallpaper and open your favourite shortcuts
  • Weather - Displays a beautifully animated screen showing the current locational weather conditions
  • Friend Stream - Displays a screen of flying updates from the Sense social system and allow you to scroll through the latest entries
  • Stocks - Displays a screen of floating stock update information
  • Clock - Shows a large animated timepiece
  • Photo Album - Shows flying enlarging and shrinking images from a selected gallery album

The system has one more customisation that makes it even more useful. You can change the shortcuts which appear on the lockscreen - you can replace these with any application shortcut you choose to configure. For me this means that the shortcut to SMS is replaced with one to FBReader for easy access to my eBook reading!

The lockscreen system is nothing short of completely mind blowing, plus good looking and useful too.


Sense 3 V TouchWiz 4

3_Sense_and_Widget.gifSII_Custom_Widgets_use.gif

Sensation and Sense:

The personalise system allows you to change the screen with respect to the scene in use, the wallpaper displayed and the skin applied to the interface. It also allows you to add widgets, application icons, shortcuts and folders.

SenseWeb.jpg

There are a goodly number of Scenes and Skins already pre-loaded along with the most popular HTC Widgets, however more of each type are made available by HTC and these can be downloaded via the HTC Hub application. To gain access to the additional skins, widgets etc you will be guided through a wizard which takes you through the steps of gaining an HTC Sense account (www.htcsense.com). As well as being a source for additional applications and widgets this gives you control of your Sensation remotely with respect to:

  • Setting call forwarding
  • Setting message forwarding (SMS and E-mail)
  • Playing a sound at full volume (to help you locate a misplaced phone)
  • Lock your device (remotely lock your device and present a custom message which you can personalize)

Each skin and scene on offer can be scrolled through using the preview system which gives you a wonderfully clear idea of what the screen will look like when the previewed setting is applied. Once you have decided on your choice the entire Sense system in effect reloads with the new configuration in place, this takes around 3-4 seconds.

HTC have enhanced the Android widget configuration system. On most Android devices removal of a widget is achieved by tapping and holding it until it selects and then dropping it onto the rubbish bin which appears at the bottom of the screen. Sense has two bottom screen options; at the right hand side you still have the 'Remove' option, but on the right an 'Edit' option appears. If the widget is dragged over the edit icon the button glows green (if the icon supports editing), and if over the remove button that will glow red. The Edit function is used to change the function of a widget, for example the People widget can be edited to change the order of the contacts displayed, or the E-mail icon modified to use a different account as a data source.

Connections.jpg

The Sense enhancements are everywhere within the ROM on the Sensation and are even extended to the connection dialog screen presented when the machine is connected to the PC. This has now been revamped with the new Sense incarnation and is now primarily icon based. It offers you the choices of:

  • Charge Only - Charge the phone over USB
  • Disk Drive - Mount as a Disk Drive
  • HTC Sync - Sync contacts and Calendar
  • USB Tethering - Share phones mobile network with PC
  • Internet Pass through - Connect to the Internet via PC

One does gain the impression that a lot of the power of the machine is needed to generate the animations used throughout Sense and that these have been implemented at the expense of some speed, but you do gain a high class modern polished interface. The SII has much less animation and is closer in nature to native Android which means that here are less frills and glitz but a quicker response when transitioning screens etc. Stepping into myth one could say that the Sensation is has more of an Elven nature, full of light and grace whereas the SII is of Dwarven history, with a more raw powerful mein.

Samsung Hubs

SII_Game_Hub.gifSII_Media_Hub.gif

SII_Music_Hub.gifSII_Social_Hub.gif

As part of the premium experience on the Galaxy SII Samsung have created a number of Hubs.

Readers Hub

This comprises of a rather nicely designed opening page which details a book shelf split into News, Books and Newspapers. In effect this is a portal to three applications that Samsung have licensed for inclusion on the machine. The applications are in fact the Kobo book reader, PressReader Newspaper reader and Zinio magazine system. To access any of the media through each of the applications you will need to set up an account or a paid subscription.

Music Hub

This combines both Samsung's own music store portal as well as a music player. The good news is that the player supports playback of DRM music purchased through the store as well as any of your own media that you may have copied on to the phone.

Game Hub

Samsung are looking to keep the gamers out there happy with this inclusion. The Game Hub allows you to access a Premium HD game store where high quality games may be purchased that make use of the dual core processor and GPU within the SII and take advantage of the Super AMOLED Plus screen and the enhanced 3-axis accelerometer and gyroscope sensors. Samsung also include within the ROM of the SII a number of fully viable social games; We Farm, Safari, We Rule, We City, etc.

Social Hub

According to Samsung this acts as a portal and common starting place for interacting with your contacts, calendar and e-mail along with social interaction such as Facebook and Twitter. In effect this is a basic launcher for the e-mail clients as well as acting as a system that pulls in feeds from the various services you have subscribed to. The experience of using it was somewhat glitchy with data refusing to load, server time outs, etc. It is hoped that Samsung improve it as time goes on!


HTC Sense eBooks and HTC Watch

Sen_eBook.gifSen_Watch.gif

The Book Reader can be accessed handily by adding the 'My Shelf' widget to a free home screen page, whereby you will be presented with a list of imported eBooks. Once a book has been accessed and reading commencing that book will rise to the top of the list.

It should be noted that the widget appears to have a limit of around 20 eBooks; if any more than that are found they are not shown within the widget. The good news is that if the Reader is loaded via the application icon then all books that are present on the SD card are shown within the library list.

The Reader itself works very well in that sideways finger glides allow swift navigation backwards and forwards between pages, and as expected the search key allows one to locate text within the book. The font size can be varied to suit the reader and if required bookmarks can be set. Needless to say the last read position is remembered when an eBook is re-entered.

The program also supports the purchase of eBooks via Kobo (not surprisingly as it is based around the Kobo eBook reading engine) and Adobe.

The only real critique of the application is that one cannot vary the margin sizes, the current margins set are acceptable but in an ideal world I'd be looking to reduce them to give more room to the main text of the book.

HTC Watch is one of HTCs new flagship applications designed and offered, at this time at least, only on the HTC Flyer and the HTC Sensation. It is comprised of a widget and main application, the former allows you to view films in your library and preview new releases. The application itself offers the same functionality as well as the option of signing up for a HTC Watch account (not the same as your HTC Sense account) associate a credit card with it and then purchase, or rent, and download premium content offered for sale by HTC.

A number of recent film and TV shows are available and these can be downloaded to your phone progressively using a Wi-Fi connection. The progressive download feature means that as soon as you have bought your video and the download has started you can watch right away while the download completes in the background.

Film and shows are available from prices varying from £1.49 for a TV show to £9.99 for a high status new movie. Some films can be rented for a lesser one-off price. HTC Watch purchases should be shareable across 5 HTC devices at one time.

Playback using the Watch player works well indeed; the widescreen qHD screen works wonderfully with the 16:9 format used for most common movie releases that is no black bars at the edges of the film. Playback is excellent and the definition pin sharp, as clear as a film played back on the iPhone 4. On screen controls allow you to pause a film and restart it, and there is a jog bar to allow you to navigate positionally within the film. If you exit a film part way through and then reload the application later the film does restart from the last watched position.

Sound quality when playing back a film through the speakers is good but improves significantly via the headphones especially if the SRS virtual sound system (not available via Bluetooth headset) or HTC 5.1 surround system is turned on.

The only annoyance with the system is that the library has no facility to import your own films into the system; it is for handling purchased content only. Movies storesd on MicroSD can of course we watched using the media player within the Gallery appliaction.


Launchers

Sen_Launch.gifSII_Launch.gif

Sensation:

The Sense Launcher consists of seven launch screens with the central screen considered to be the home screen, all screens are pre-loaded with HTC widgets. These are:

  • HTC Weather
  • Mail (SMS)
  • Friend Stream (Twitter and Facebook interaction)
  • Weather Clock
  • Google Search / People
  • News
  • Tips

The screens can be flicked between with a sideways movement of the finger and work in a round robin, that is when you get to the last screen it continues round back to the first screen in a continuous loop. In fact if one 'spins' the screens faster and faster they transition into a fast smoothly rotating carousel! Mind blowingly impressive fast smooth graphics that are both eye candy and useful as the rotation can be slowed with the touch of a finger to allow you to chose the page you wish to access.

As is probably expected from HTC the central screen that you meet when first accessing the Launcher contains the well known 'Weather Clock'. This has been used by HTC since they first started producing widgets. This shows the current location's time and below it the current weather. If the 'Weather Clock' is enabled and the Sensation turned on after the unlock process completes a weather background animation triggers which plays an overlay of the weather the entire screen. This is complete with sound effects and lasts for a few seconds and then fades away. For those who wish a more lasting weather experience HTC have designed a Live Wallpaper which can be used to have the weather on permanent display; as a screen background. This can however be somewhat annoying as it is complete with sound effects.

One enhancement that has been made is to the Sense program launcher; this is now activated by tapping the left hand bottom screen button on the main screen. Once in the launcher you have the primary screen itself which can be vertically swiped through. Each swipe moves a single screen of icons, instead of the continuous movement seen on the older Sense incarnations. At the bottom of the launcher are three mode indicators; the left showing you all icons, the centre star shaped icon takes you to a subset list of those icons you most commonly use, and the third icon serves to show you the applications that you have downloaded.

Needless to say the star icon becomes a great time saver as it allows you to locate those favourite or commonly used icons without scrolling through what can be a large number of screens - very handy as your use of the Sensation continues.

The right hand bottom button on the main screen now takes you into one of the newly enhanced functions of Sense, and this facility allows you to really customise the look and feel of the machine, the same functionality can also be accessed by tapping and holding on a spare location on screen.

If a pinch is performed on the launcher screen this brings up an overview of the individual screens for fast access, but it can also be used to reorder the screens themselves as they can tapped, held and then dragged into new locations.

SII:

The Samsung launcher again consists of seven screens which can be flipped through from left to right or right to left; unlike the Sensation there is no round robin on the screens and once screen seven is reached one must navigate to other screens either using the pinch gesture to bring up the Android screen selector, or tap on the numbered screen indicator to go directly to a specific screen.

At the bottom of the launcher are four common icons which remain in position irrespective of which screen is used. These are: Phone, Contacts, Messaging and Applications. The latter button serves to launch the TouchWiz application launcher. When launched the application launcher appears in place the widget area of the screen and you are now presented with pages and pages of all installed icons, again the screens and labelled with numbered position indicators, but this time a round robin is in place, swiping to the left (next page) on the last page does now flick you to the first page. A slight lack of consistency here. Once again the pinch gesture can be used to move directly to any of the specific icon screens.

When at the main gadget holding launch pages one can tap and hold on the screen to add widgets, move icons etc as standard on Android but the system on the SII is a custom variant designed by Samsung. This brings up a reduced size image of the launcher screen with icons for Widgets, Shortcuts, Folders, and Wallpapers below it. These can be selected to choose the appropriate icon to put in place, and with respect to folders opens up a sub-menu allowing various pre-configured folders to be used (contacts with phone numbers, received from Bluetooth, Starred Contacts, Recent Documents, All Contacts, or Polaris Office Recent) or the basic empty folder which you can then fill with your choice of applications.

One other oddity that is specifically supported on the SII is that when a widget or icon is tapped and held it brightens and the screen behind it goes dim, this shows that the SII is in 'move mode', when this is engaged movement made by tilting the SII serves to scroll the screens behind the selected item so that it therefore serves as a method for moving the icon to a new position or screen. It's a strange system to use but works very effectively.

Some Samsung supplied widgets are enhanced (Weather, Time, Mini-Paper, AP Mobile, Photo Album, Finance) in that when they are tapped and held a yellow grid appears behind them. Once this is on screen you can drag the widget until it lock into position on the grid, this means that those widgets can have their sizes varied within the limits of the grid. Some widgets like Accuweather vary the amount and nature of the content displayed dependant on the widget size chosen.

It is noted that where HTC have made great effort to style their icons into a similar house style those offered by Samsung appear to be enhanced variants from different developers, there is no harmonisation or house style at all.


Diallers and Calls

Sen_Dial.gifGII_Dial.gif

Both HTC and Samsung have chosen to replace the standard Android phone diallers with custom dial engines of their own.

Sensation:

HTC have based their dialler on the existing Sense engine used on previous phones and have enhanced and tailored it for the Sensation. When the Phone application is first entered you are presented on the lower part of the screen with a finger friendly numeric dial pad which shows the numbers in black with the alpha equivalent shortcuts underneath. At the top of the screen the system creates shortcuts to contacts that you have recently been in communication with; the lower part of the list shows your regular contacts in alphabetic order. The list can be expanded and the dialler hidden by pressing the icon at the bottom left of the screen. If tapped again this serves to reinstate the dialler. Quick search is in effect so that typing the name of a contact on the dialler keys will filter the contacts list to the contacts whose name(s) match the alpha pattern of the keys tapped.

If the menu key is pressed whilst at the dialler access is given to:

  • People
  • Call History
  • Speed Dial
  • Settings
  • Blocked Callers
  • Tips

The bottom right hand button serves to bring up the call history screen - on this there are icons which allow you to view; any contact groups which are present within your contacts as well as viewing a summary list of all contacts. The left hand icon immediately below the contacts list serves to activate the voice dial facility.

If the menu key is chosen whilst in the call history screen one is offered the choices of:

  • Add contact
  • View
  • Delete
  • Import/Export
  • Send Contacts
  • More - which leads to Blocked Callers and Linked Contacts

The View Command allows you to filter which contacts are shown (Google, Twitter, Exchange, Facebook, and SIM) which gives you great flexibility over which contacts the dialler will work with.

All in all a very flexible and controllable communications interface. As with previous HTC phones the Sensation supports silent mode whereby flipping the Sensation upside down when a call comes in serves to mute the call. This can also be achieved by pressing the volume up (or down rocker) or the power button. Also supported is the Quiet Ring feature that automatically lowers the ring volume when you pick up the machine and Pocket Mode whereby it automatically detects if the phone is in your pocket and increases the volume of the ringer accordingly. The Speakerphone can also be engaged by placing the Sensation face down during a call.

SII:

On the SII Samsung have chosen to offer the user a bright and bold and somewhat simpler telecommunications interface. The screen consists of a very large dial keypad again as with the Sensation this sports large number keys with alpha key sub functions and the pad does support the use of the alpha keys to carry out a contacts search.

At the top of the screen you are presented with four tabs which control the operating mode, these are:

  • Keypad - the main dial screen
  • Logs - a list of recent calls
  • Contacts - searchable contacts list
  • Favourites - Contacts listed and specified as favourites

Menu options at the keypad tab are:

  • Speed dial settings
  • Send Message
  • Add 2 sec pause
  • Add wait

Menu options at the Logs tab are:

  • View By (Missed calls, Dialled calls, Received Calls, Rejected calls, Sent Messages, Received Messages)
  • Delete (one or more entries from the list)
  • Show call duration

Menu options at the Contacts tab are:

  • Delete
  • My Profile
  • Sync Contacts
  • Merge with Google
  • Import / Export
  • More (View Friend, Accounts, Speed Dial Settings, Send E-mail, Send Message, Display Options, Settings)

Menu options at the Contacts tab are:

  • Add to Favourites
  • Remove
  • Grid View
  • Frequent First / Favourites toggle

As you can probably guess this interface is also called up when hitting the Contacts icon on the main Launcher screen, so the dialler is not single function but a combined dialler / contacts application.

Sen_Mised_Call.gifGII_Missed_Call.gif

On both phones you are presented with a custom interface to interact with when an incoming call is received. The Sensation as well as showing the photo ID of the caller will also display their latest social activity, and if within seven days of the event a reminder that their birthday is imminent. On the Sensation the 'Ring' returns yet again whereby you drag an 'Accept' or 'Decline' icon into the ring to make your action choice concerning the incoming call.

On the SII you are offered a large blue or red square which is tapped and dragged in the direction of the indicated arrow to allow you to make your decision. Samsung also offer the possibility of declining a call via a slide up tab at the bottom of the screen. The Sensation has no icon for declining a call; instead you press the Power button twice to reject an incoming call.

Both interfaces handle missed calls the Sensation shows a large missed call notification icon containing the photo ID of the caller, the SII in comparison shows a red icon on the lock screen which when activated takes you to the dial history log.


E-mail

3_Sen_Email.gif3_SII_Email.gif

One of the prime functions of any modern smartphone is that of handling E-mail and both the Sensation and the SII excel with both of them supporting all flavours of E-mail; Exchange, POP3, G-Mail, Livemail and IMAP. As the operating system used on the phones is Android 2.3.x based the facility is there to handle multiple Exchange accounts - both home and work e-mail can be accessed with ease. Timed push e-mail support is included whereby push times can be varied per account, so for example e-mail for a work account can be on a push basis during working hours, and manual checking made the rest of the time.

Sensation:

HTC have enriched their e-mail client with Sense 3 and offer a clear message inbox interface which can be used for viewing individual e-mail accounts or a combined inbox view showing what is new in all accounts. Each message in the list is shown in date order with the title of the message, the date received as well as a preview of the e-mails content. To the left of each message is a tick box area where a message can be ticked and selected for operation on a group basis, whether it is marking it as read or for deletion.

Underneath the message view are a number of tabs which allow one to switch through the various view modes which are:

  • All messages
  • Conversations
  • Favourites
  • Unread
  • Marked
  • Meeting invitations
  • Attachments

The Conversation view is particularly useful for reducing clutter on large inboxes. The views can be resorted by Date, Priority, Subject, Sender or Size (in either order) and options within the menu structure allow the access of less used features such as Out of Office or Meeting requests.

SII:

Samsung have created their own unique e-mail client with some more unusual features. The interface is in a blue and grey livery and shows either individual or combined inbox views. Individual messages in the view show; the message subject, the author and the date stamp but no preview of message content. Each days messages are separated by an arrowed split bar which allows you to fold away individual days and focus on a particular day. The sort order can be changed to operate based on; date, sender, read/unread, priority, and flag. The split bar changes the grouping based on that sort - useful. The view mode itself can be changed to work on a pure list or on a conversation view.

There are no markers for multiple message selection, but at least if one chooses the menu option to delete messages then a multi-message selection option does become available. However if you wish to mark a group of messages as read or unread then this is not possible to be done on a group basis - the status has to be changed message by message on an individual basis - this needs to be addressed.

One quirky and somewhat useful feature of the Inbox is that if the SII is rotated into Landscape view then the screen rotates sideways into a split view with the message list on the left and a preview of the selected e-mail on the right hand side.


Camera Interface and Settings

DSCF1876.jpgDSCF1875.jpg

Both phones sport an 8 megapixel camera with HD video recording capability. As usual with smartphones the viewfinder for monitoring prospective compositions takes advantage of the large screens offering a composure window surrounded by icons and controls for changing the settings. The control icons on both phones revolve as the phones are rotated through portrait and landscape orientations so that they are always upright ensuring their operational function is always clear and visible.

Sensation:

With the Sensation there are two applications shortcuts; the Camera for taking photographs and a Cam which is specifically used for recording videos. Both however link to the same core application, just operating in different modes:

Camera Controls available on screen are:

  • Zoom bar (digital zoom control)
  • Camera toggle - main / front facing
  • Shake Detection indicator (only when shake is detected)
  • Photo / Video mode switch
  • Flash Button - on / off / Auto
  • Shutter Release
  • Effects Button - None / Distortion / Vignette / Depth of field / Dots / Vintage / Vintage warm / Vintage cold / Grayscale / Sepia / #Negative / Solarize / Aqua
  • Gallery Button

Tapping the Menu button brings up the following settings:

  • Self Timer - Off / 2 Seconds / 10 Seconds
  • Scenes - Auto / Portrait / Landscape / Action / Close up / Backlight / Beach / Snow / Candlelight / Lowlight
  • Image Adjustments (all between -2 / +2): Exposure / Contrast / Saturation / Sharpness
  • White Balance - Auto / Incandescent / Florescent / Daylight / Cloudy
  • ISO - Auto / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800
  • Resolution : 8M (3264x1840) / 5M (2592x1456) / 3M (2048x1152) / 1M (1280x720) / Small (640x368)
  • Review duration - no review / 3 seconds / 5 second / No limit
  • Widescreen - resolution - 16:9 - on / off
  • Geo-tag photos - on / off
  • Auto-enhance - on / off
  • Auto-focus - on / off
  • Face Detection - on / off
  • Shutter sound - on / off
  • Grid - on / off
  • Reset to default

SII:

The SII has one camera application which is dual purpose and serves for recording still photographs and capturing live video.

Camera Controls available on screen are:

  • Settings
  • Flash - off / on / auto
  • Camera toggle - main / front facing
  • Capture button
  • Mode slider - Camera / Camcorder
  • Indicator - displays number of photos you can take depending on free storage and the storage location used (internal or card)

Camcorder Controls available on screen are:

  • Recording Mode - Normal / Limit for MMS / Self Recording
  • Flash - off / on
  • Mode slider - Camera / Camcorder

Within the Camera settings you can vary:

  • Self Shot - on / off (toggles the cameras)
  • Flash mode (as above)
  • Shooting Mode - Single shot / Smile shot / Beauty / Panorama / Action / Cartoon
  • Scene - None / Portrait / Landscape / Night / Sports / Party_Indoor / Beach_Snow / Sunset / Dawn / Fall colour / Firework / Text / Candlelight / Backlight
  • Exposure Value - variable between -2.0 to +2.0
  • Focus Mode - Auto / Macro / Face Detection
  • Timer - Off / 2 sec / 5 sec / 10 sec
  • Effects - None / Negative / Greyscale / Sepia
  • Resolution - 3264x2448 / 3264x1968 / 2048x1536 / 2048x1232 / 800x480 / 640x480
  • White Balance - Auto / Daylight / Cloudy / Incandescent / Florescent
  • ISO - Auto / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800
  • Metering - Centre-weighted / Spot / Matrix
  • Outdoor Visibility - Off / On
  • Anti-Shake - Off / On
  • Auto-contrast - Off / On
  • Blink Detection - Off / On
  • Guidelines - Off / On
  • Review - Off / On
  • Image Quality - Superfine / Fine / Normal
  • GPS tag - Off / On
  • Reset

Within the Camcorder settings you can vary:

  • Flash mode (as above)
  • Recording Mode - Normal / Limit for MMS / Self Recording
  • Exposure Value - variable between -2.0 to +2.0
  • Timer - Off / 2 sec / 5 sec / 10 sec
  • Effects - None / Negative / Greyscale / Sepia
  • Resolution - 1920x1080 / 1280x720 / 720x480 / 640x480 / 320x240 / 176x144
  • White Balance - Auto / Daylight / Cloudy / Incandescent / Florescent
  • Outdoor Visibility - Off / On
  • Video Quality - Superfine / Fine / Normal
  • Guidelines - Off / On
  • Review - Off / On
  • Reset

Both cameras tend to use a lot of battery power when in operation. If left on screen the SII's camera will exit after 30 seconds or so, similarly the Sensation's camera goes to sleep and asks that you tap the screen to awaken it.

Camera Photograph Examples

(Note: Each of the below is a large thumbnail which may be clicked on to load an original non-reduced size image).

The following example camera images were taken during a sunny day, early evening, on June 3rd 2011. All photos were taken using the default settings from the cameras with no manual corrections made at all. With the Margarites the phones were moved closer to the subject to investigate the macro and close focusing of the respective cameras.

The example shots on the left hand side of the screen are wide screen images taken using the Sensation, and those on the right were taken using the standard orientation camera on the Galaxy SII.

Garden_01_SEN.jpgGarden_01_SII.jpg

Garden_02_SEN.jpgGarden_02_SII.jpg

Margarites_01_SEN.jpgMargarites_01_SII.jpg

Margarites_02_SEN.jpgMargarites_02_SII.jpg

Margarites_03_SEN.jpgMargarites_03_SII.jpg

Margarites_04_SEN.jpgMargarites_04_SII.jpg

Margarites_05_SEN.jpg

As can be seen in the photographs; the compositions taken with the Sensation show a more accurate colour balance and better represent the subject matter. The images taken with the SII are somewhat wayward in colour balance and tend to be over vivid. The SII also tended to overexpose (such as the blue sky) indicating the metering is not as accurate. It looks to be more centre-weighted rather than an average weighting (or matrix mode) and that area of the photograph tends to have no detail because of burn-out through overexposure. The Sensation's auto-macro mode also seemed much better than that of the SII as it was able to get closer to the subject without losing focus.

The SII does have the ability to change the metering from Spot, through Centre-weighted to Matrix mode and it also has an exposure compensation setting for +/- 2 stops. Lastly it has 14 scene modes (e.g., None, Portrait, Landscape, Night, Sports, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dawn, Fall Colour, Firework, Text, Candlelight and Back light) so, in theory, you should be able to get a decent picture out from the camera, you just need to be well acquainted with the settings in order to do so.

Amazing as it seems the pictures taken with the Sensation proved to be the clearer and more balanced with respect to colour so at long last it looks like HTC are starting to address their Achilles heel - that of camera performance. The photographs are still no match for a dedicated camera but they are now stating to approach an acceptable level.

It should be noted that as a default the Sensation geo-tagged each photograph whilst the SII did not incorporate GPS data within the photograph's Meta data.

When taking the photos both cameras were allowed to auto-focus and adjust their settings automatically. Both phones continually use auto-focus to ensure that the photo to be taken can be snapped as quickly as possible. The Sensation has a very slight edge in focus adjustment speed over the SII.

Camera Video Examples

The example videos were shot with the default HD recording mode for each machine. The only change to the default video recording was to increase the recording setting to 1920 x 1080.

Interestingly enough the Sensation recorded the video in 3gp format whereas the SII used mp4 as a default recording medium. As you can see from the example videos (which were shot in a local garden centre) the SII's video recording suffers the same flaws as encountered when taking still shots, that is; wayward and over vivid colour balance.

HTC Sensation HD Demo Video:

3GPP Audio/Video (.3gp)

1920 x 1088

Data Rate 10557kbps

29 frames/sec

Audio 127kbps @ 44kHz stereo

Samsung Galaxy SII Demo Video:

MP4 Video (.mp4)

1920 x 1088

Data Rate 17659kbps

30 frames/sec

Audio 60kbps @ 16kHz mono

Both phones have the capability to play back the HD videos recorded on each device natively. The SII plays back the video via the Videos application supplied on the machine and playback is flawless and smooth. The Sensation is not provided with any special application and playback is via the Gallery program and this unfortunately gives a slight flicker to the playback. If the same video is played back using the Act One video player the flickering is removed although there is a feeling that frames are being skipped. The choppiness shown in the video may be down to the panning style used to record the video. It is noted that whilst the two cameras use differing storage types (3gp and mp4) these are both M-PEG4 formats and widely supported.

One useful feature of the Sensations video recording is that auto-focus is disabled which means that the phone is not constantly trying to refocus while recording which can cause zoom in / zoom in out video blurs. To set the focus one simply uses the 'tap to focus' system whereby you tap the screen before commencing the recording and the Sensation then uses that as the focal point.

Where the SII does score over the Sensation is in video editing on the phone. Samsung have included their Video Maker application and this allows you to edit videos of 720p and lower (no 1080p editing). The application allows you to choose a theme for your project from six available (Conference, Home, Movie, Party, Stage and Travel) or you can start with a blank theme and move on from there and these allow you to vary the background sound as well as the framing of the film. The application is versatile and includes a time strip. Both still photos as well as videos can be placed into the final production with various fades and transitions available. As a final step background music can be added as a separate track to the audio recorded in the movie. Finally the finished product can be exported as an MP4 file and saved into the Video Maker folder.

In comparison the Sensations editor, which is integrated into the Gallery application, supports only trimming of the start and end of the video. This is clearly designed for removing unwanted parts of the film prior to sharing on social networks.


Visible Notifications - Drawer

Sen_Notifications.gifDSCF1874.jpg

Sensation:

HTC Sense has been used to replace the standard Android notification system and HTC have cunningly split the notification system into two parts; notifications on the left hand portion of the screen and a right hand section which contains commonly used quick settings. These include toggling on and off functions such as: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and viewing memory used etc.

As the Sensation starts to be used the upper portion of the notification system shows the recent applications used in icon form; which adds an additional way of quickly launching your often used applications.

SII:

In contrast to the enhanced Sense 3 notification system on the Sensation the system used on the SII is very much vanilla Android. The exception is that it is coloured in a rather attractive slate green colour and has toggle controls at the top of the screen that allow you to toggle on and off communication features such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Sound and Screen auto-rotation.

Visible Notifications - Alarms and Appointments

Alarms.jpgAppointments.jpg

Sensation:

With Alarms and Appointments displays HTC have again brought Sense 3 to the fore and use the 'Ring' interface on the lock screen to great benefit giving a somewhat standardised interface for you to interact with. One simply selects the relevant 'Snooze' or 'Dismiss' icon and drags it into the ring to respond to the Alarm or Appointment warning. The alarm clock is also beautifully animated and shivers from side to side as it rings.

SII:

Samsung have also crafted a nicely designed screen for displaying alarms, with a similarly visible alarm clock. An alarm is dismissed by tapping and holding the large red icon and then dragging in to the right. There is no 'Snooze' option offered to you, the alarm can only be dismissed.

With Appointment reminders the SII fails in comparison to the Sensation as you only have the standard Android notification in the task bar. You have to unlock the screen to gain access to the notification.

Whilst discussing notification failures there is one very annoying audible notification on the SII and this is the battery charge bleep. When the SII is charging and it reaches the 100% charge mark a bleep sounds. This is extremely loud and is enough to disturb you from sleep (if you charge your machine on the bedside table and drift off to sleep while it is below the 100% charge mark). Depending on the charge level is can wake you up from a few minutes to a number of hours into your sleep period. Samsung seriously need to give you the option to turn this functionalty off!


Weather

3_Sen_Weather.gifSII_Weather.gif

Being British we're supposed to have a predilection towards an interest in the weather and in that respect I must be typical of the breed as I always have at least two weather widgets running on my machines. I'm therefore always interested to see what weather widgets are included on phones.

Sensation:

HTC go for gold with respect to weather functionality you have: the Weather Clock, live wallpaper, lockscreen, launcher animation and finally the weather application itself, this is launched either via its icon or by tapping on the weather portion of the Weather Clock.

When first opened the application runs through a background animation of the weather, the Live Wallpaper in fact, so you get a rich animated representation of the weather along with a few seconds of sound sample. While this is playing the top right portion of the screen shows the current weather conditions: temperature (current & min / max), general forecast, real feel temperature, along with humidity, winds, visibility and finally sunrise / sunset times. One can flick up and down the screen to change the weather location viewed. A number of global cities are loaded as a default (London, Taipei, Barcelona, Tokyo, Seattle, Paris) but you can easily replace these with your own up to a maximum of 16 locations.

The Menu button brings up the options of:

  • Refresh - refreshes the weather for all locations
  • Edit - Allows you to remove locations or re-order them
  • Add - Add a new locations
  • Demo - Demonstrates each different animation available
  • Settings - Update when opened toggle, Scheduled sync toggle, Update schedule (1, 3, 6, 12 hours or once a day), Temperature (Celsius / Fahrenheit), Sound Effects on / off toggle

Top left of the weather screen is the name of the location and top right the local time (useful). At the far top right position is an 'expand' icon which allows you to view more weather details on screen. You are immediately taken to the 'Now' view which changes the animation to a more immediate mode as well as restricting the information on the screen to temperatures and the current forecast. The lower portion of the screen now displays a graph showing the conditions and temperatures for: Today, Tonight and Tomorrow. Apart from the 'Now' tab at the bottom of the screen there are two further tabs; 'Hourly' and '5-day'. The first brings up a graph of the hourly temperatures likely to be seen (with mini-icons on the bottom) and the latter a rather more useful display of icons showing the weather for the next 5 days.

The system of how HTC handle weather works well apart from the same issues seen since they first incorporated weather into Sense many years ago. These are that the locations available only seem to be major global cities. The holiday locations I tend to visit are rarely available to use as locations for the forecast, and that the weather source (Accuweather) can be somewhat inaccurate as far as UK weather is concerned.

SII:

Samsung offer a more traditional and less glamorous method of weather forecast on the SII in that they use a modified Accuweather widget, enhanced for resizing. This gives minimum, large and medium modes of displaying the weather on screen the default being the large widget. This is nicely coloured and serves to offer the current temperature along with max / min temperatures at the top left of the widget along with the location and the current weather conditions. To the right of that is a large static icon showing the forecast for quick glance functionality. The lower portion of the widget shows the forecast icons and min / max temperatures for the next 5 days. The bottom right holds a miniature refresh icon which can be tapped to update the weather.

If the icon is tapped then the full weather application opens up, alas showing the same general information that was seem on the widget, the only changes being that a larger icon is used, that the day forecast now spans 6 days instead of 5, and there is an icon top left for adding locations. A maximum of 10 locations are supported within the application. You can swipe the screen to the left and right to cycle through the locations. Two buttons are also gained in the application (underneath the main weather display): 'More' - which takes you to the raw data for the locations as shown on the Accuweather web site, and 'Weather Map' - which opens Google Maps to your area of the world and displays the weather forecast icon and temperature for common major cities. This can be dragged around to show locations round the globe. Each location can be tapped upon which takes you back to the main weather application which then shows the forecast for that city - very cool and useful indeed.

The Menu button brings up the options of:

  • Add location
  • Delete location
  • My City list
  • Search
  • Settings - Unit (Celsius / Fahrenheit / Enable Current Location / Auto-scrolling on / off toggle / Auto-refresh (None, 3, 6, 12, 24 hours)


Benchmarks and Speed

DSCF1892.jpgBenchmark.jpg

Both the Sensation and the SII are high powered dual core smartphones. The Sensation sports a 1.2 Ghz Dual Core Processor (Qualcomm MSM 8260 Snapdragon processor) with Adreno 220 graphics processor, and the SII a 1.2 Ghz Dual Core ARM Cortex-A9 SoC processor Samsung Exynos with ARM Mali-400 MP Graphics Processor. This means that advanced graphics and game play are available as both have 'asynchronous cores that are able to run at different frequencies and voltages and give power that you have never seen before', or so the advertising spiel says.

In reality what you get are very fast machines that playback video smoothly with a decent frame rate, games that flow well and naturally with clean movement in animations, and web browsers that can handle embedded video, animated adverts and heavy graphical pages with ease.

If we look at the benchmarks run on the machines we find that the Sensation comes out with an average Quadrant score of around 1978 and the SII at a smoking 3656. If you compare these to the Desire S (which I thought speedy enough) that records a typical benchmark level of 1079.

Taking into account that we are not comparing like for like here, the SII has the advantage of running with NAND memory storage whereas the Sensation is using an SD card to store data. The SII is a release ROM from O2 whereas the Sensation is a pre-release ROM that has yet to be fine-tuned by HTC. I'm hopeful that the performance of the Sensation will increase once a final ROM is provided.


Task Manager

DSCF1849.jpgSII_Taskman.gif

As Android is of course a multi-tasking operating system more than one application can be run at one time. This can result is occasional hanging applications, freezing or memory problems and as such one useful tool in freeing up resources is a task manager. Both the Sensation and the SII have such task managers built into their systems (there is no such provision within Android natively).

On the Sensation the Task Manager can be accessed directly via the Task Manager application or via tapping on the 'Total Memory' information within the Quick Settings (right hand tab) of the Notification drawer. On the SII it can again be launched via application of via bringing up the recently accessed programs list where there is a button to access it below the icons.

Both allow you to see what applications are in use, the memory taken by each one, and offer you the ability to kill individual or all running programs.


Keyboards

3_keyboards.gif

Sensation:

The Sensation uses a traditional QWERTY keyboard as the default input method with alternative Phone and Compact layouts available. Alternate number and special character keys are available via secondary alpha-numeric views of the keyboard as well as via tapping and holding on the regular keyboard. Full predictive text is available which works very well at interpreting and suggesting both corrections in spelling and the target word. For a native keyboard it is very good, fast and highly intelligent in its prediction.

Hidden away in the depths of the system is a 'Trace' keyboard system which is based on you sliding over the keys to input data. This is similar to the third party application Swype but alas does not work as well. This can be accessed via: Language and Keyboard / Touch Input / Trace Keyboard.

SII:

The SII offers two types of keyboard, a very plain native QWERTY layout with an alternative numeric and character keyboard (enabled as default), this features no correction or intelligence at all, it is simple and standard. Samsung have licensed the third party Swype keyboard and this is one of the faster and more accurate keyboards available. Detailed information on its operation can be found on the Swype web site: http://www.swypeinc.com/


Web Browsers

3_browser.gif

The Sensation and the SII performed well on web browsing tasks, both phones used their dual core processors to render web pages significantly faster than I've seen on a mobile device before. The SII had a very slight edge in page loading times. As an example the Engadget page loaded in 9 seconds on the SII and 12 seconds on the Sensation, the BBC main UK site 5 seconds on the SII and 6 seconds on the Sensation. Flash animations that were used as check points played back without any issue. The Sensation had the slight edge as to the actual display itself as text flow resized to match the screen better and therefore readability was slightly improved. The higher resolution display on the Sensation also meant that very small text was clearer to read and less pixelated.

The only issue was with the SII, when it zoomed out to gain a full screen view of a page there was a slight tendency to 'checkerboard' areas of the page until the operation had been completed.

Scrolling of pages is lightning fast on both machines and all the expected operations such as pinch-to-zoom worked well as did tap-to-zoom. The speed of both machines in browsing the web is so smooth and speedy it is clear that the dual core and graphics processors really are coming in to their own.

Added functionality is available in the browser on the Sensation whereby if you press on the screen to highlight text and then hold you gain a pop up offering you the options of 'Copy, Quick Lookup and Share' the Lookup option gives you the choice to research the phrase or word on Google Search, Wikipedia, YouTube Google Translate, or the Google Dictionary.


Locations Navigation (Sensation Only)

location_anim.gif

One big bonus built into the Sensation is that of the Locations system, accessible both via widget or directly via application shortcut. Locations allows you to search for places of interest, get directions to places you want to go to, and drive using turn-by-turn GPS navigation. This is based on free of charge map data, which covers many global regions, and has to be downloaded to your phone via Wi-Fi before the system can be used. The data is provided by TomTom and the navigation engine designed by Route 66.

The system uses your current location to look for places of interest (POIs), which are listed in order of distance, or allows a search for any establishment, street or city you may wish to locate. Once a destination has been located, if you so wish, you can invoke the 30 day trial of the Premium Navigation system and test out the turn-by-turn GPS navigation system. This has been tested briefly and on the journeys it was used on worked well.

The application has within it 'Footprints' systemm whereby you can take a geo-tagged photo of a location you wish to remember and store in in the Footprints list. The Footptint can be enhanced with description, notes and other personal information. The system uses .KMZ files and these are fully compatible with those used on the HTC Hero, HD2 (and other older HTC phones), this means that any old footprints you may have stored away can be imported into the current system and still used!

One useful feature is that the phone system has been merged into the application and Answer / End Call buttons appear while navigating to allow you to take the call without interrupting your journey.


Extra Applications

dock_anim.gif

The Extra Applications listed below are included on each phone as extras loaded by HTC or Samsung. One cool application worthy of mention on the Sensation is that of the 'Dock Mode' application, this is designed for use when the machine is placed in the official HTC Dock (not yet available) and acts as a combination screen saver and information portal.

The Desk Clock displays the current date, time, and weather. It also shows an alarm clock indicator the battery level and information from your social feeds. It can be set to auto-launch if required when it is docked.

Settings include icons for putting it into Screensaver mode, when in this mode of operation the Desk Clock shows the time and date only and their position changes on the screen every few minutes the background of the saver comprises of photographs from your album.

Sensation Extra Applications:

  • Dice
  • Flashlight
  • HTC Hub
  • HTC Likes
  • Locations
  • Mirror
  • Peep
  • Polaris Office
  • Reader
  • SoundHound
  • Stocks
  • Talk
  • Task Manager
  • Teeter
  • Transfer
  • Watch
  • Wi-Fi Hotspot

SII Extra Applications:

  • Social Hub
  • Music Hub
  • Readers Hub
  • Game Hub
  • Music
  • My Files
  • Videos
  • AllShare
  • Kies Air
  • Voice Commands
  • Voice Talk
  • Voice Search
  • Photo Editor
  • Video Maker
  • Mini Diary
  • Samsung Apps
  • Task Manager
  • IM
  • Memo
  • Suggests
  • Polaris Office


Battery Life

Sensation_SII_Battery_Chart.png

Both machines were used on successive working days and these were managed carefully to ensure that the activities carried out on each day were as similar as possible and occurred at roughly the same times. During each day the tasks accomplished were: an hours eBook reading, 1-2 phone calls, half an hours online activity via Tapatalk, regular foursquare check ins made, plus general activities such as PIM management during the working day. In the background Tweetdeck was set to refresh Twitter and Facebook every 15 minutes, both systems allowed to refresh Weather and other native background data (Sense Widgets for Facebook, Twitter, etc) at the default intervals. In addition to that activity three e-mail accounts were run; two Exchange accounts on a Push basis and one Hotmail account which refreshed every 15 minutes. This was carried out with a full five bar HSDPA connection to O2 carrying the communications load. The GPS system was fully active so it could be used, when required, by applications on both systems.

As you can see from the chart both machines started making heavy inroads on the available battery charge. Worse case (on the SII) around 12% of the battery was used within a 10 minute eBook reading period. The greatest battery reduction seemed to occur whilst performing activities that utilised the GPS systems (expected) or when a lot of web browsing was performed.

The SII lost charge at a much greater rate than the Sensation despite it having the larger rated battery and the AMOLED screen which should make it more power efficient. The SII did not manage to make it through the working day without a charge. I had been prepared for charging issues with both machines so the relevant chargers were with me at the office, but I'd not actually expected that either would be needed. Alas with the SII reaching critical levels at around 14:00 hours (I left home at 7:36) there is a definite requirement for regular infusions of power when using the machine, five hours is not enough to survive the working day and that is what the SII gives you.

The Sensation was also very heavy on battery use compared to previous Smartphones I've used, but it did manage to survive the working day and it was early evening before it become critical on power levels.

The other cause for concern is that of recharging time. Both devices were recharged using the supplied mains-power USB chargers and both took around five hours time to recover a full 100% charge - this is excessive and could be somewhat problematical.

If you wish to become the proud owner of either of these machines be prepared to lay aside some funds for ancillary battery charging facilities.


Samsung Kies

Kies2_Anim.gifDSCF1897.jpg

Samsung supplies the free to download Kies application as PC companion software for the SII. Once installed this serves to allow the SII to connect to the PC via USB cable, or Wi-Fi, and synchronise content.

Kies also acts as an update conduit for the Galaxy SII and will notify you when new firmware is available and then act to update the firmware to the latest version.

It can be used as a mobile content data manager allowing you to edit PIM information as well as a synchronisation platform for contacts between the SII and Outlook, Google or Yahoo.

Media be it music, video, or photographic can be synchronised between the PC and the SII with Kies, and play lists can be created with ease.

Finally Kies can be used to backup the following from the SII: Contacts, Calendar, To-Do, Messages, Text memos, Call logs Music, Photos, Videos, Preferences, Ringtones, Network settings and bookmarks, and e-mail account information.

When the SII is connected to the PC it will go into 'Kies' mode waiting for you to run Kies on the PC to allow synchronisation processing to take place. The Home button should be pressed on the SII to exit the Kies application and return to normal operating mode if you just wish to charge via USB. It should be noted that once the SII has been disconnected from a USB connection the media scanner will briefly display as running in the task bar as the SII updates its internal indexes with respect to media content.


HTC Sync

HTC_Sync_Anim.gif

HTC supply the free to download HTC Sync application as PC companion software for all their Android phones including the Sensation. Once installed this serves to allow the Sensation to connect to the PC via USB cable and synchronise content.

You can use HTC Sync to:

  • Sync your contacts between your Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express and your phone.
  • Sync your calendar events between the Outlook or Windows Calendar and your phone.
  • Sync your photos, videos, documents, songs, and playlists (Media Player or iTunes) to your phone.
  • Easily import your captured photos and videos from your phone to your computer.
  • Store the same bookmarks on both your computer and phone's web browser.
  • Install third-party mobile phone apps (not downloaded from Android Market) from your computer.


Specifications

specs_final.jpg


Other Launchers and qHD Advantages

DSCF2023.jpgqHD_Advantages.gif

DSCF2050.png

One widget that I class as essential for me as a power user is that of 'Agenda Widget Plus', to get the best functionality out of this it needs a launcher which supports scrolling widgets. My launcher of choice to support that requirement is Launcher Pro which has the facility to increase the number of rows on screen from 4 to 5. The Sensation with its elongated qHD screen can make use of this to great effect. In portrait orientation you gain an extra row on each Launcher screen. This can be used for additional standard widgets, or you can use the resize widget functionality within L.Pro to increase the size of its own widgets (People).

An extra row may not seem a massive change but it can make the difference between not having enough icons on a screen and therefore having to scroll to another page, add a large widget instead of a single row widget, or alleviate the need to scroll down a screen to access an icon. The higher resolution screen is also a boon to those who use Google Maps as a much greater area of map is visible on the larger display.


General Use

Both machines have been used as my main phones and in constant use for over 2 weeks. During this time they have served and acted as my all-purpose device performing all manner of tasks: morning alarm clock, social networking tool, e-mail response device, eBook reader, star gazer, etc. Both have performed perfectly with only a few niggles which I'm hoping will be addressed in the next ROM updates.

DLNA - Both are DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) devices whereby media can be output to compatible systems such as TVs. Unfortunately I've no DLNA compatible devices to test out this function. A direct DLNA connection is however achieved using an MHL adaptor which gives you an HDMI output via the microUSB connection. It would have been preferred if the phones had built in mini-HDMI ports. Neither phone is supplied with an MHL adaptor, so if you want to try out DLNA then be prepared to buy one! Clove Technology lists the official Samsung SII adaptor for sale at £24.99 (inc VAT). The SII has on board the 'AllShare' application which allows you to share media files between DLNA enabled devices in the home via your Wi-Fi network. One nicety noted while connecting the SII to my wireless network at home was that it picked up both the Wireless G and N bands. I can see the extra speed and viability of Wireless N being of use if I ever do buy any DLNA equipped components for the general household to enjoy!

Memory - The other big bonus on both machines is the included memory. Even though the Sensation 'only' has 768Mb of RAM compared to the 1Gb on the SII both have plenty of resource free to run most applications. Concerning storage memory the Sensation was loaded up with an 8Gb Micro SD card and this proved more than adequate for my needs. On the SII no card was installed and I ran the machine using the massive internal 16Gb (11.50Gb available) of NAND storage. This gives the SII somewhat of an operational advantage as NAND memory is much faster than accessing data via SD. Both machines have the ability to use up to a 32Gb micro-SD card as storage.

Signal Strength and Voice Quality - Looking at basic functionality both phones used the new 900mHz frequency in Manchester to obtain HSPDA connections which were stable and solid with both achieving 5 bars of connectivity at home and work. Both dropped down to a basic 1 bar of 2G in the depths of the server room at work, which is to be expected. Both retained connectivity even though page loads were slow and took time to complete. Phone call quality is excellent with no callers reporting any distortion in voice phone quality at all. The only issues were in the server room at work where the voice quality was reported as somewhat quiet. Usually calls cannot be made at all from within the room so this is actually a compliment on phone quality.

Bluetooth - Both phones have been successfully linked with the Bluetooth hands free system in my Peugeot 207 and no problems were encountered, the signal registered on the cars display and all calls made went through perfectly with no problems. The Peugeot Connect system was used to play back media from both phones with no issues.

GPS - The phones have embedded A-GPS systems within them to assist the navigation system in locating the satellites and gaining a fast GPS lock. Both machines had their GPS caches wiped via the third party 'GPS Status' application and their first lock times measured. The SII obtained an outdoor 8/8 satellite lock in under 18 seconds, the lock was lost completely on moving indoors. The Sensation obtained a 10/10 or 8/8 (variable) lock in 16 seconds, and maintained a 8/8 lock indoors!

Volume - I'm happy to announce that both Samsung and HTC have ensured that both phones have a loud well amplified speaker system so that alarm sounds are loud enough to wake one from slumber. The raised / contoured backs of both phones serve to hold the speakers clear of the desk and therefore avoid any problems of muffling.

The SII scores highly with it's fast operation and glorious screen coupled with the light weight and thinness of the body housing whereas the Sensation scores on its robust more grippable construction and the Sense enhancements.

One issue noted with the SII is that some there seem to be more 'force close' operations taking place than have been noted on other Android machines. In particular the AP Mobile application tends to close 90% of the time it is run.

As can be seen from the above the biggest problem with both these machines is that of battery life. The dual core processors may give a lot of flexibility and power but this infringes heavily on the battery. Be prepared for the requirement to charge both machines frequently and invest in secondary charging systems.


Conclusion

Sensation:

The Sensation continues to build HTCs reputation for producing well designed and constructed Smartphones, not only is it a positive pleasure to use but its well-constructed body houses a smooth fast system which should meet the needs of most users; from e-mail handling, connectivity, media, social network sharing, as well as less hectic activities such as reading a book or watching a movie. The Sensation is definitely a bigger more powerful brother to the Desire S and serves as a successor to the Desire HD.

SII:

The Galaxy SII builds on the success that Samsung has had with the original Galaxy machine and continues to offer a powerhouse of speed, power and features offered by few other phones on the market today. It should serve to work well for all users as long as they are careful to ensure that it is well protected and the somewhat thin plastic housing is not damaged in any way. The SII will appeal to users with its AMOLED Plus screen, speed, miniscule thickness and light weight. Power users will be attracted by additions such as USB Host and the large internal NAND storage. Bear in mind that the power comes at a price - reduced battery life.

Both: The Sensation and the SII serve to bring the dawn of dual core power computing to the Smartphone platform and are both highly evolved and engineered machines. Which machine you choose is very dependent on what attracts you; the sleek rounded lines of the Sensation enhanced with Sense 3, or the SII powerhouse with massive storage and incredible screen.


Pros and Cons

Sensation:

Pros:

:tu: Sense 3 enhanced for ease of use and glitz

:tu: Goodly amount of internal RAM

:tu: Fast and smooth in operation

:tu: eBook reader included

:tu: Numerous HTC widgets included

:tu: Sense enhances notifications and reminders

:tu: Fast locking and reactive GPS system

:tu: Good voice clarity

:tu: Enhanced USB functions

:tu: Enhanced connectivity via DLNA and 3G / Wi-Fi hotspot

:tu: Custom skinning system (scenes and skins)

:tu: Handles multiple Exchange accounts

:tu: 1080P video recording

:tu: 1080P video playback

:tu: Dual Core processor

:tu: qHD screen

:tu: Gorilla Glass screen

:tu: DLNA for wireless streaming to TV, etc

:tu: HTC Sense account for download of additional widgets, feature restore, etc

:tu: Reasonable quality 8 megapixel camera with good colour balance

:tu: Good quality intelligent keyboard

:tu: HTC Watch progressive video system

:tu: HTC Locations with Premium Content Navigation

Cons:

:td: Uses mSD for storage

:td: Poor battery life

:td: The boot loader is security locked preventing custom ROM installs

SII:

Pros:

:tu: Large amount of internal RAM

:tu: USB Host Supported

:tu: Massive internal NAND storage memory

:tu: Fast and smooth in operation

:tu: Samsung Hub functionality

:tu: Enhanced connectivity via DLNA

:tu: Handles multiple Exchange accounts

:tu: 1080P video recording

:tu: 1080P video playback

:tu: Dual Core processor

:tu: 2 megapixel front facing camera

:tu: Super AMOLED Plus screen

:tu: Gorilla Glass screen

:tu: Enhanced with 'Enterprise' facilities

:tu: DLNA for wireless streaming to TV, etc

:tu: HSPA+ 21Mbps download speed

:tu: Reasonable quality 8 megapixel camera

:tu: Comprehensive video editing application included

:tu: Swype keyboard included

:tu: Wireless N supported

Cons:

:td: Body construction could be improved upon

:td: No search button

:td: Dire battery life

:td: Some applications force close

:td: Flimsy back cover

:td: Camera colour balance is too vivid and suffers from over exposure

:td: No notification LED

[All images in this review have been processed by Snagit by Techsmith]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Update on the review. As per usual I post news om reviews on various forums and it seems the SII owners on a certain forum have taken exception to some of my points made in the review concerning the SII. I'll address these issues in turn:

1) The review is biased towards the Sensation - in no way did I aim to taint on aim the review in one direction or the other. Both phones are high class and powerful. I looked at both phones through the eyes of an everyday user and those eyes saw that the Sensation was somewhat more polished when in use, the SII did tend to be inharmonious and feel somewhat lacking.

2) Speed and Power - Yes the SII is more powerful natively as far as CPU and GPU are concerned than the Sensation, having a larger memory as well as the NAND storage. But in operation it is not as smooth as the Sensation due to the poorness of TouchWiz compared to the invasive Sense. Sense does give a wonderful interface to operate with but it does slow down the machine in certain areas compared to the SII.

3) Camera - I'm told by those who know camera technology better than myself that the SII has a better camera in that there is less noise generated in the photos and that if the settings on both had been adjusted to be in parallel the SII would have beaten the Sensation to a pulp on photo quality. However I will say that the photos were taken using default settings found on both phones as those would be what an a regular user would use. Plus I'm no photographer so if the statements made are a little technically inaccurate well I apologies there.

4) The lack of a Search button - Yes I did miss that the tap and hold on the menu button does actually bring up the exact same functionality as a dedicated button. Guilty on that one.

5) Geo-tagging - I seems I gave the impression that this was not present on the SII, but no I did show it as being in the camera settings, it is just not turned on as a default.

6) Battery life - It seems that there is a problem with battery life as Wi-Fi sharing is enabled as a default and this kills the battery. The fix is either to force close that operation or root the phone and rename the APK that causes he issue. Okay so there is a techno-fix for it but again not something that a regular user would find or know about.

7) Construction - That the thin plastic back cover on the SII is not loose or inferior to the aluminium back on the Sensation. I agree it locks well into place but I'd still not trust it to protect against impacts even if it can flex to absorb some of the force.

8) Screen Graininess - I agree the screen is wonderfully bright and colourful but the very nature of it being so clear can cause it to show up individual pixels on some screen textures where the Sensations screen although not as bright has the higher resolution and less pixelated TFT screen design which severs to mask the pixelation.

That covers the main issues I think :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Phew!

Monster review of two fairly exciting devices.

I do like the feel of my S II in the hand and that screen is certainly eye-catching.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Hi Daron,

Great review! I have one correction with regards to lack of search button on the SGS2. If you press and hold the menu button, from one of the main screens, it will go to the standard Android google search for you. It doesn't seem to work from within an app.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Cheers Lars, I've now updated the second post with respect to that and some other concerns that have been pointed out to me :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

I can't make any objective comments as I haven't seen either of the phones, but both would seem to have enormous capability. The choice at the end of the day comes down to personal preference.

The review takes some reading, and your points about using mainly default settings are important. A lot of users never get around to changing (or even finding) the settings options so performance 'out of the box' is very important.

Improvements gained by tweaking can be added and amplified as time goes on. In this instance, HTCs defaults may give the Sensation a better user experience than Samsung's though that may reverse when tweaks are in place.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

The review takes some reading, and your points about using mainly default settings are important. A lot of users never get around to changing (or even finding) the settings options so performance 'out of the box' is very important.

+1 - ALL technical reviews should be "out of the box". Electronics manufacturers spend a lot of time and effort determining default settings and their products should be reviewed on that basis.

If the device reviews poorly as standard, then it is for the manufacturer to quickly release a patch - not for the end user to have to go tweaking settings.

I have always found the reviews on this site to be both fair and reasonable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Cheers for that guys I feel somewhat justified now in my thoughts and the way I review. To me as you say the out of the box and no fiddling rule is the way to go as that is indeed the way a lot of ordinary users will play it.

I'm hoping that Samsung do provide a ROM upgrade for the O2 / Telefonica variant of the ROM and fix the glitches which may well then put the SII ahead in the reckoning. It seems that a fair few updates have been made on the SM free version but alas not yet for the O2 badged machine.

Mike if you do find time to pop round in the near future I'm willing to let you have a play with both and I'd be interested in your thoughts after that meet takes place.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

First off, let me start by saying that although I haven't posted very much on this forum, I have been a member for a couple of years and do visit regularly to find out the latest news. I have found this site to be most helpful when looking for a new phone and just for keeping up to date on developments, so thanks to all those who make this site what it is. I figured it was maybe time to put a little something back in myself, so here it is.

I have had a HTC Touch Diamond 2 for a couple of years now and my wife has had a Blackberry Curve. I have enjoyed owning my TD2, and applied the 6.5 update when it came out. However, I have always felt that the screen was a little too small to be much use for anything other than being used as a phone, and rarely used the internet browser as it was just too much hard work. My wife loved her Blackberry at first, but of late has come to have screen envy when seeing some of the later models coming out.

We were both on contracts with 02 which ran out a few months ago. We have been waiting for the latest models to come out with faster processors and big screens before deciding what to go for next. I was hoping the Sensation was going to be everything I wanted it to be, and my wife had her mind set on a Galaxy S2. What I have found interesting is the way in which we made our purchasing decisions and also what has then gone on to form our opinions of the phones we ended up buying. I have had two HTC phones up to now, and my wife’s previous phones have been basic Nokias, then the Blackberry. I have been impressed with the design and build quality of HTC and was fairly adamant that the Sensation would have to have serious flaws for me to switch from the brand. I have come to the end of my patience with Windows though. It seems like I have spent a large proportion of my life waiting for Microsoft to come out with the next great re-write of their OS, whether it be on PC or phone, just to be left feeling a little let-down when it eventually appears, only to hear those familiar words from MS, “Just wait for the next version. It’s going to be an awesome full re-write”. I had decided my next phone would have to be Android. My wife on the other hand will buy any brand or platform as long as the phone appeals to her. She wanted a Blackberry after she saw Paris Hilton with one in Heat magazine. Her decision to buy the Galaxy was made some months ago after watching a TV advert. That 10 second ad was enough for her to decide that it was the phone for her.

We have been very happy with O2 and have both been with them for 5 years or so. We really didn’t want to switch from them. The village where we live has pretty poor coverage. Some neighbours cannot even get a signal inside their homes, irrespective of network. We switched to O2 some years ago from Vodafone as the coverage seemed to give the best signal in our area, although still not perfect. However, my TD2 seemed to be getting slower and the battery would die after only about 12 hours so was becoming unusable. The Sensation is currently exclusive to Vodafone. So my decision was to wait another month for the Sensation to come to O2, or switch to Vodafone.

I went in to the local Vodafone shop, accompanied by my wife, to look at the Sensation. I had a play with one and knew straight away that it was the phone for me. She also had a play with the Galaxy and was sold on that one. We did have a chat with O2 about staying with them, but they could not give a date for the Sensation to become available, and said that when it does become available there will still be a charge for existing users, and wanted to charge my wife for the Galaxy. So that was the deal breaker for us. We went in to the Vodafone shop a week ago and I bought the Sensation and she bought the Galaxy S2. We got a great deal, free phones, £5 per month discount on the second phone, and to allay our fears of poor signal, I also purchased the Sure Signal box with £40 discount.

We have had the phones for about a week now so here are my thoughts on the two phones. This is not an in depth review but is more our observations on using the phones for the stuff that we do with them. It’s also worth remembering that I use the Sensation every day and only play with the Galaxy occasionally so my HTC findings are probably a little biased.

Firstly the Sensation.

From the moment I first held it, I loved it. I was anxious about the size of the phone but it really isn’t an issue or me. I have quite small hands, plus I lost my fore finger on my right hand a few years back, but I can use the device quite easily. The biggest single thing that I like about the phone is the HTC Sense front end. It is just so user friendly. A real joy to use. I like the fact that the home screen is the middle screen and that you can configure most used applications to be on screens either side to be closest to hand, and that when you reach the last screen it scrolls around to the first screen again (something which the Galaxy doesn’t do, but more of that later).

The phone works. It’s a phone. It’s easy to use and intuitive. Signal strength is not wonderful though.

The camera is very good. I’ve taken a few pictures with it and have been very impressed. It’s the first phone I have come across yet where I feel comfortable to leave my camera at home on family days out and rely on the phone. However, my initial thoughts are that the Samsung is just a bit better. It’s hard to put my finger on, but we have both taken pictures of the same thing and when loaded on to the PC the Samsung pictures are just more pleasing to the eye. Not by much, and if they weren’t side by side you would be happy with the HTC offering. Neither of us are professional photographers so our opinion is just that of a layman, but the Samsung pictures just seem to be a little sharper. The camera is quick to use with very little delay.

The mail app works well and I like to format that emails are presented in.

Text messaging works well with no problems there.

The screen is great. I have watched the movie trailers which come preloaded and they are very watchable. It’s easy to use and is very responsive.

The lock screen is wonderful. As soon as the phone is switched on it is locked but the 4 apps which I use most are on screen and one quick drag takes you straight to the app. You can configure the apps which are shown to be your favourite 4.

It is a nice device to hold. The back has a slightly rubbery feel to it which stops it sliding out of your hand. The power switch is on the top which I think is a bit of a pain as you cannot easily turn the phone on single handed.

My only real gripe is the speaker volume. It’s just not loud enough. It may be OK for some, but I just can’t get the ring volume as loud as I would like it.

Overall, I am delighted with my purchase and wouldn’t consider anything else that I have seen.

Now on to the Galaxy.

The first thing that I noticed (and several others who have seen the phone too) is the screen. It is gorgeous. The quality is one step ahead of the HTC. It is the same size as the Sensation but is just a higher quality. Colours are rich and very sharp.

The second thing that I noticed about the Galaxy was the way it sat in the hand. I just didn’t like it, and still don’t. The back is a shiny hard plastic and it has slipped out of my grip several times.

The user interface is useable and quite acceptable, but after having used Sense on the Sensation it just feels like it’s a poor second. My wife has been using it for a week though and thinks it is fine. But there’s the difference. I think Sense is the thing that makes the HTC so good, whilst my wife thinks the Samsung interface is just something you use to get to the Facebook app on page 3. The thing I don’t like about the Samsung is that the home button takes you to the home page which is page 1. There are small icons at the bottom of the screen listing each page so you can just press 4 to go straight to page 4, but the icons are quite small and I don’t always seem to be able to hit them just right, so nothing happens. Whilst you can scroll left and right to each page, the Samsung does not “wrap” in the same way that the Sensation does. You cannot scroll from page 7 forwards around to page 1, or go back from page 1 to 7.

Again, the phone and messaging systems are easy to use.

As stated above, the camera on the Galaxy is wonderful. It’s easy to use and takes great pictures.

The lock screen is not so good. When switched on it takes you to a locked screen, but it usually takes me a couple of attempts at swiping to get it to unlock. My wife seems to get on ok with it though.

The power button is on the side, by the right thumb which makes it easy to turn the phone on and off with one hand.

If you live in an area of weak signal strength then this may help your purchasing decision. In short, the Samsung is better at getting a signal than the HTC. Several times whilst walking around our village the Samsung got a signal where the HTC didn’t. We spent the day at Lulworth Cove last week and the Sensation could not get a signal at all. It just showed “No Service” all day. The Samsung however displayed one bar and my wife was able to receive text messages and make a phone call, although it did drop out a couple of times mid-chat.

I really like the Sensation, and my wife prefers her Galaxy S2. How much of that is down to each of us sticking with our initial purchase and not having to admit that we made the wrong choice is hard to say. The fact that we both knew which phone we wanted before we bought it, and the different ways in which we reached those decisions leads me to think that marketing and psychology play a big part what we buy. I’m sure if my wife wrote this review then the Galaxy would come out as a clear winner. Both phones are good, and neither would make for a bad purchase, but for me the HTC wins on feel, ease of use, and design.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Thanks for your take on the review, very much appreciated and I guess overall you echo my thoughts.

Have you had any battery life issues with either machine??

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

great review Daron :)

got an sgs2 arriving here next week and very much looking forward to it.

i also agree that a review needs to show out of the box experience as there is just to many variations in the settings to do it any other way

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Thanks for your take on the review, very much appreciated and I guess overall you echo my thoughts.

Have you had any battery life issues with either machine??

We've not had any real issues yet, but then we have chargers to hand at home, in the cars, and work! My Sensation seems to go all day with no problems. I put it on charge overnight and start using it from 07:00. I make several calls, spend around a hour playing Angry Birds, check email etc. Wifi is on all day. Bluetooth goes on occasionally in the car. There have been a couple of times, particularly in the first couple of days of ownership where it was getting pleanty of use for setup and familiarisation, that the battery didn't make it through the day.

The Galaxy S2 does seem to last a little less time than the Sensation. Quite often my wife puts the S2 on charge before the end of the day. However, there's no way of knowing how much use her phone got throughout the day so it's not really a scientific test.

There is a useful feature buried amongst the settings which shows how battery life was used. The screen seems to account for over 30% of battery drain, so I expect that as the novelty of a new phone wears off, and the thing stays switched off for longer, that battery will become less of an issue. Neither of us has yet to find ourselves with an inoperative phone, but you do need to be mindful of battery charge levels.

One thing that I have found that is a negative on the Sensation is that it doesn't seem to support voice activated dialling. This is something that was also missing on the TD2 and is a feature that I like as I drive a lot and it makes calling a regular number easier.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Mike if you do find time to pop round in the near future I'm willing to let you have a play with both and I'd be interested in your thoughts after that meet takes place.

Thanks Daron - will do that for sure. Will PM you soon to arrange a time we can get together and gas about all things techno ! :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Was out in town this afternoon, continuing the POETS tradition and had a brief play with the Galaxy SII in the "everything everywhere" store.

1) it certainly is very fast indeed !!

2) the screen is very bright and impressive with excellent contrast and deep blacks , tho, as has been noted here, the colours look a little forced and over-vibrant.

3) whilst holding it, the rear battery cover came off twice in my hand. The first time it set off the anti-theft alarm and the person who come to reset it said that it had happend before.

Hardly a conclusive quality test.. :)...i hasten to add, but the device construction did feel to me a little on the cheap and plasticky side and the battery cover was a very slim peice of plastic. I wonder if it was just a knackered battery cover or whether it is poor design ?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

johnston411: It'll be very interesting to see your thoughts on it, look forward to your feedback in this thread.

Gilps: Thanks for that, interesting though that your wife has had to charge during the day, does she see the Wi-Fi sharing task as one of those that takes a lot of charge? If so it may well be worth force closing it and seeing f it makes a difference.

Michael_Mcr: Mike not a problem, would be cool to sit and chat for a bit, been way too long! Interesting that even in the quick lay you had that you notice some of the issues I saw as well. I must admit when I first saw the SII in the '3' shop in Manchester that I had the same issue with the back cover coming loose. Not happened with mine yet, but maybe with a few uncouplings then the 'lock' does start to fail.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Your content will need to be approved by a moderator

You are commenting as a guest. If you have an account, please sign in.