Forget Floyd Mayweather Junior and Victor Ortiz, this is the high profile punch up we’ve all been waiting for. The two dual-core Super Android Phones from two of the most popular makers on the market have been eyeing each other up and calling each other dirty names in the press. After having sat down with both of the HTC Sensation and the Samsung Galaxy S2 for some time we feel that we’ve really got to know both phones pretty well.
And so we feel we’re qualified to offer some in-depth ringside commentary as we fire up Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ on Spotify and prepare for the bloodshed. *Ding Ding* Seconds out…
Design and build
The HTC Sensation and the Samsung Galaxy S2 are both distinctive looking phones. Though they boast the same sized screen (4.3-inches diagonally) they’re cut from different cloth style-wise. The Sensation is a curved, aerodynamic piece of hardware with a unibody outer shell.
This single piece of metal and plastic makes up the entire back and sides of the Sensation. So when you want to take the battery out or get at the microSD slot, you essentially lift the ‘phone’ portion of the the Sensation out of the cover. It’s pretty nice, and a trick HTC has repeated for the Evo 3D, and the Windows Phone 7-running Titan. Even the screen of the Sensation is covered by a convex ‘pillow’ of Gorilla Glass that is pretty distinctive.
The Galaxy S2 on the other hand is all right angles, coming on like a miniature version of the monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s something quite striking and almost Spartan about the S2’s no-nonsense, unfussy design. The main body of the phone is shiny reflective plastic. On the back, the battery cover has a textured gauze pattern which provides a measure of grip.
Its also a much thinner phone than the Sensation, despite being taller and a littler wider. Next to each other on a flat surface you can appreciate just how thin the Galaxy S2 is. Much has been made about the thinness and lightness of the Galaxy S2 in reviews, and of other Samsung Galaxy products this year, come to think of it.
Talking about the ‘weight’ of a gadget is a very subjective thing. Some people like their smartphones ultra light and wafer-thin, while some want their phone to feel reassuringly weighty.
We only mention the weight of a phone negatively if we feel that some people might find a phone a bit too ‘bricky’ or if if feels like it wouldn’t survive being accidentally dropped on the pavement or something.
We have to admit feeling a little bit this way towards the Galaxy S2. Some people will no doubt appreciate its feather-light feel in the hand. Others might feel a little wary about its ability to withstand wear and tear over a 24 month contract.
But on the whole, we think that the Sensation feels more reassuringly built than the Galaxy S2.
Storage and connections
The Galaxy S2 is the clear winner in the storage stakes. You can pick up the S2 in 16GB and 32GB editions, compared to the Sensation which comes in one size: a comparatively weedy 1.5GB. When we got hold of our review models, we found that you only got around 12GB or so of space to play with (on the 16GB S2) and just over 1GB on the Sensation.
Though both phones come with microSD slots (expandable up to 32GB), it’s better to have more internal space, especially with Android phones.
We’ve been able to move app data to SD cards since Android 2.2. Froyo which is great – this has let us free up internal storage. That said, we’d prefer to have a healthy amount of internal storage over having to fork out for extra memory cards any day.
Every time you move apps over to microSD, you nearly always get a handful of kilobytes left over on the phone’s internal memory. Which, over time, adds up. Especially if you download lots of apps and games. We hate having to juggle SD card space just to make room for new stuff.
Connections-wise, both phones are pretty similar, both coming with the aforementioned microSD slots, 3.5mm and micro USB ports for audio and charging/data transfer respectively.
Though neither has a dedicated HDMI-out port, the micro USB connections can double as such with the right MHL adapters, sold separately. So you get a TV out function (of sorts) with both devices.
Both of these phones have similarly sized screens measuring 4.3-inches diagonally. The Sensation’s screen however has a greater resolution (960 x 540 vs 800 x 480) a higher number of pixels per inch (256 vs 218) and is also brighter. For the most part, this gives the Sensation an edge over the Galaxy S2 in terms of general detail and text legibility. It simply can fit more stuff on its screen than the S2 can.
That said, the Galaxy S2’s screen is a Super AMOLED Plus, which offers a higher degree of contrast than the Sensation’s SLCD screen. The curved shape of the Sensation’s glass screen cover can also make for tricky viewing outside, and doesn’t provide as great a viewing angle as the S2’s flat screen.
The higher contrast of the S2’s screen means that pictures and video much richer, although white areas can sometimes have a blueish tinge to them, something which the Sensation doesn’t suffer from.
Fairly recently, we compared the screens of both the Sensation and Galaxy S2 against each other, alongside some other smartphones; click here for a more in depth breakdown of each phone’s screens and pixel counts.
The Sensation and the S2 currently both sport the latest versions of each companies’ custom user interfaces; HTC Sense 3.0 and TouchWiz 4.0.
For a long time, TouchWiz 4.0 has been one of the less desirable UIs we’ve seen on Android phones. But since 4.0 on the S2, it’s become a lot more functional and neater. You get the record-breaking Swype keyboard bunged in for free plus a handful of other neat hidden little secrets tucked away. Like how to make a zombie Gingerbread man appear…
More seriously, it’s now much easier to get your S2 looking the way you want it to, thanks to improved customisation options.
HTC Sense 3.0 is easily the best-looking version of Sense yet. It boasts some beautifully animated weather widgets and the homescreens, instead of being flat, two dimensional panels appear to be stuck on the sides of a rotating 3D drum.
Perhaps best of all is the Sense 3.0 unlocker. Instead of simply being a mechanism to wake the Sensation up from standby, you’ve got the option of unlocking the phone and jumping straight to a favourite app of function.
Lock screen shortcuts to the dialler, email, the camera and the text message app are set up as standard, but you’ve got the option to customise these as you wish from the Settings. It’s slick, looks cool and lets you shoot pictures from the hip. No other phone out there lets you do this at the moment.
Much like the physical designs of both smartphones, the design ethos of HTC and Sasmsung shines through in the interface as well. HTC’s presentation here is infinitely more stylish and nicer to look at. The Galaxy S2’s interface places an emphasis on utility and usability.
It might not be as nice to look at as the Sensation, but we’d say that it’s a litter easier going; the fancy weather animations of the Sensation (which you can thankfully turn off) may impress at a first glance but they’re pretty unnecessary.
General operations of the Galaxy S2 are just smoother, slicker and faster than on the Sensation, there’s no arguing about it.
For all of the efforts made with Sense 3.0 and making the Sensation presentable, the HTC phone occasionally lags when you’re doing something as simple as thumbing between screens or dropping an app shortcut onto a homepage. It sometimes feels like the Sensation is struggling under the weight of those fancy widgets, which ruins their primary objective somewhat, to look pretty.
For playing high end games we found both the phones to be evenly matched, with not one having a significant advantage over the other. The Sensation’s no slouch, let’s be clear. It just doesn’t look or feel as slick as the Galaxy S2 on the general day to day stuff.
The browsers of both phones feel pretty even in terms of speed and page loading times, but nevertheless have their own pluses and minuses.
The Sensation’s browser for example, quickly resizes and readjusts columns of texts to fit as you zoom in and out which is great for when you’re reading plenty of news articles. On the downside, the browser also only lets you have four windows open at any one time.
The S2’s browser gives you twice as many windows – up to eight. We also found it to be faster at loading pages with Flash content than the Sensation (with plug-ins enabled in the browser settings).
But when you zoom in up close, the text doesn’t reformat in the same was as it does on the Sensation. There’s a tap to zoom option which allows you to get up close, but its not as intuitive as the Sensation’s pinch to zoom/auto resize function.
Otherwise, both phones are pretty evenly matched, with the high resolution, 4.3-inch screens coming into their own.
The Sensation uses HTC’s Sense keyboard, essentially a straightforwards virtual Qwerty that offers text predictions along with improved cut ‘n paste that’s part and parcel of Android 2.3 Gingerbread.
The Galaxy S2 runs on Gingerbread as well, so you get this feature thrown in too. While the default keyboard on the S2 isn’t as impressive – it’s a basic Qwerty with no corrections offered – you also get Swype built in, which is a nice added bonus. Though not as functional as the Sywpe 3.0 beta (which you could always download) it’s good to have this as an extra option.
In either case, we’d recommend that you check out one of these other keyboards anyway, but for arguments sake, we say that the Sensation’s keyboard offers the best out-of-the-box typing experience.
This is due to the cleaner layout, text corrections/predictions and the ability to change languages (English, French, German, Italian and Spanish). We think that the curved glass screen cover also makes for a more pleasant typing experience as well, but that’s something of a personal preference; some will no doubt prefer the flatter feel of the S2.
Both phones sport 8-megapixel cameras with LED flashes, though the Sensation has two flashes while the Galaxy S2 has one. Both phones can also record in 1080p HD (1920 x 1080) at 30fps as well, so they’re pretty evenly matched on paper.
In practice we found that the S2’s camera is the faster of the two for taking stills, boasting a smoother shutter and faster focussing mechanism.
On the phone’s screen we have to say that photos looked much richer on the S2 as well, although that’s perhaps more down to the properties of the Super AMOLED Plus display.
When we transferred the same pics to our computer for side by side comparison, they looked more or less the same in terms of colour fidelity and contrast.
Samsung Galaxy S2:
For close up shots, the S2 came out top again; not only were shots more detailed, but we were afforded a greater level of zoom depth into the surface of this 20 pence piece than we were on the Sensation.
For what its worth, at the highest setting the S2 shoot bigger pictures as well, 3264 x 2448 compared to the Sensation’s 3264 x 1840.
For video, we felt that the Sensation fared better, mainly because the S2’s autofocus couldn’t seem to keep still when recording moving objects, like this train in the video below. We also found that the Sensation’s stereo recording feature helped cut down on ambient wind noise while providing a better audio playback.
So in short, we’d award the S2 the crown for taking stills, while the Sensation takes pole positon for video recording.
The Sensation performs better via headphones, with music on the S2 occasionally sounding a tad too trebly for our liking through our Sennhesier CX281’s. Music played through the external speakers is louder on the Galaxy S2, useful to know if you’re in the market for a commuter bothering smartphone.
The Galaxy S2 also comes with the 7digital-powered Music Hub pre-installed, so you’ve got a music store ready to roll as soon as you turn it on.
In terms of file format support, both phones support the basics (MP3s, AACs and WMAs) which will be enough for most listeners.
On paper, the Galaxy S2 has support for a greater number of file formats including FLAC which’ll keep sonic purists happy. That said, we were able to play FLAC files on the Sensation through the PowerAMP music player.
The official spec sheets for both phones list the following supported file formats:
AAC, AMR, OGG, M4A, MID, MP3, WAV, WMA
Samsung Galaxy S2
MP3, OGG, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, WMA, WAV, MID, AC3, IMY, FLAC, XMF
That said, if you’re after an Android smartphone with some serious audio credentials, we imagine that by now you’d have heard about the HTC Sensation XE…
After much deliberation and weighing up of the positives, we feel that the Samsung Galaxy S2 takes the gold here – just. We’re giving it the top slot primarily because due to the general performance of the S2 being smoother, the slightly better camera and the high-contrast Super AMOLED Plus screen. Additional points are too awarded for the bigger onboard storage.
The HTC Sensation is, in our books, the better-looking of the two phones. Its a more natural fit in the palm of the hand, unlike the thin sides of the S2 that dig in a bit. That curved pillowed screen is a thing of beauty as well and the qHD SLCD display is still pin-sharp.
The 8-megapixel camera is still decent and Sense 3.0 offers a degree of extra functionality with the new lock screen, as well as looking great.
So the real question is; do you go for the better looking Android smartphone phone that’s (slightly) less capable than its counterpart? Or do you forsake looks (and the S2’s not that ugly anyway) and go for raw power?