“Pick and choose, people, pick and choose!”, screamed the jester, while juggling with the HTC Sensation, and the Samsung Galaxy S II in front of the crowd about to buy the hottest smartphone of the season.
If there has ever been a tough call between two top-shelf Android handsets, this must be it. Even a glimpse through the spec sheet can’t tell you which one to snag - they are both powered by 1.2GHz dual-core chipsets, allowing them to record Full HD 1080p video at 30fps with their 8MP cameras, have 4.3” displays, and are both running the latest Android 2.3 Gingerbread with the respective homebrew interface overlays – Sense and TouchWiz.
And yet, when you dig deeper, the HTC Sensation and the Samsung Galaxy S II are rather different - the design philosophy is polarizing, screen technology and resolution don't match, the dual-core chipsets are not from the same mother, and the user interface concepts are opposites. Which one will be right for you? Read on, while we jump in to solve this dilemma...
Despite being thicker and heavier that the Samsung Galaxy S II, the HTC Sensation actually feels more ergonomic in the hand. The two handsets have almost the same width and length, but the Galaxy S II comes in a bit edgy, being the anorexic rectangular slab it is, while the added thickness and heft of the HTC Sensation make it feel more solid, and the curvy corners with tapered edges make it palm-friendly. This feeling is then reinforced by the choice of materials for the chassis - aluminum and soft-touch plastic are more pleasant to handle and show-off than black plastic.
However, these are deliberate design approaches - since the first Galaxy S, Samsung prefers to hit where it would count in marketing materials, and it made the Galaxy S II the thinnest and lightest handset with a 4.3” screen, hence the all-plastic design. HTC prefers more sophisticated design materials, and yet it currently strives to achieve a fairly uniform appearance across its Android portfolio, which makes the phones of this brand immediately recognizable, regardless of the market niche they are heading to, and yet a bit unsurprising because of the similar looks.
The HTC Sensation (Left) and the Samsung Galaxy S II (Right)
So which one should you pick based on design and looks alone is entirely subjective - personally we prefer phones with a big screen to be as thin and light as possible, but many others would go for the more sophisticated and distinctive design paradigm of HTC. If you are paying that much money for a phone, you might as well get some aluminum around it, right?
Moreover, it might be the different display technology that has allowed Samsung to make the Galaxy S II so thin - the Super AMOLED Plus screen needs less layers than the Super-LCD in the HTC Sensation. It has other virtues, too, like almost infinite contrast, wide viewing angles, and saturated, vivid colors. The display on the HTC Sensation is able to exhibit lively colors as well, but in a more limited gamut, and when you are halfway through tilting the phone to determine the viewing angles, the colors and brightness start to fade significantly.
The LCD screen on the HTC Sensation appears a tad brighter indoors, but outside under direct sunlight the very low reflectance of the Galaxy S II coating makes the image slightly easier to see. There is one area where the HTC Sensation is ahead, though, the 540x960 qHD resolution, compared to 480x800 pixels in the Galaxy S II's 4.3-incher. Since the Super AMOLED Plus technology gets rid of the PenTile RGBG matrix pixel arrangement, the individual pixels are not distinct as on the Galaxy S, for example, when you bring the phone close to your eyes.
Unlike the Motorola ATRIX 4G, however, with its PenTile qHD screen with RGBW pixel arrangment, the HTC Sensation uses a normal RGB matrix for its qHD resolution. Thus, given the same 4.3” screen sizes, we give the resolution round to HTC’s handset, which has higher pixel density than the Samsung Galaxy S II, making it a tad easier on the eyes when reading smaller text. So, if you do a lot of reading on your smartphone, and a lot of people do nowadays, the HTC Sensation might be a safer bet, but if you watch a lot of movies, the Super AMOLED Plus is better with its jolly colors, and the ability to set the color tone individually. The colors still appear slightly colder, though, like on the first Super AMOLED display.
Looking around the sides, we find the right-mounted power/lock key on the Galaxy S II more suitably placed than the one on the top in the HTC Sensation, which you struggle to reach on such a large handset. We often pressed the side key on the Galaxy S II accidentally, though, which locked the screen mid-flight, so it’s a trade-off.
The sides of the HTC Sensation (top) and the Samsung Galaxy S II (bottom)
The glass on top of the HTC Sensation’s display is slightly curved inwards at the edges, recessing the screen in a shallow pit, which is supposedly better to protect it when the phone is placed face-down. The bezel on the Samsung Galaxy S II also sticks out above the display a little, though, which means it never touches a flat surface in that position either. Still, HTC’s solution looks cooler, adding to the overall curvy shape impression of the phone. The capacitive buttons underneath the screen are a bit narrower on the HTC Sensation, and a tad harder to reach and operate with one hand than on the Galaxy S II.
Both phones sport the newfangled MHL port, which combines charging, microUSB and HDMI-out capabilities in one place, but you need a separate cable, which both companies sell as an accessory, to mirror your phone’s screen on your HDTV. We like the MHL port placed at the bottom better on the Samsung Galaxy S II, instead of on the left like on the HTC Sensation - it’s a bit less meddling to operate the phone, while plugged-in, but more so when watching movies, so pick your poison.
To wrap up the design portion, we’d say once again that the phones go around housing their big 4.3” screens in a different way. The Galaxy S II is the slimmest and lightest phone with such a display out there, which, combined with the unpretentious black plastic shell, makes it easier to carry around. The HTC Sensation’s more sophisticated shape and solid build with soft-touch plastic and aluminum elements, on the other hand, is more ergonomic to operate, and a pleasure to handle. The choice here will be entirely determined by your personal preferences.