HTC Sensation 4G Review: Prettier than Pictures

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Whenever I saw product shots of HTC’s Sensation 4G smartphone, which launches today on T-Mobile, I just didn’t get it. How could a phone this promising, with its dual-core processor and qHD display, look so weird?

That attitude changed as soon as I opened the box. The phone whose striped back panel looks looked like a lame attempt at distinction in pictures is actually rather elegant up close. The HTC Sensation 4G is a beautiful piece of hardware, and among a sea of mundane Android handsets, that makes all the difference.

(More on TIME.com: HTC Bliss: Android for Womenly Women?)

Despite its massive 4.3-inch, 540-by-960 resolution display, the Sensation carries itself with dignity. It’s clearly taller than the two other phones in my home at the moment—an HTC Droid Incredible and an iPhone 3GS—but it minimizes the damage with narrow bezels on top and bottom. The Sensation is about as thick as these other phones, but at first glance it actually seems thinner, thanks to a smooth taper on the back side—the perfect antidote to boxy designs like the iPhone 4.

Indeed, the Sensation feels great in the hands, due in part to the rubberized top and bottom patches on the back side. The use of two shades of grey for these materials, plus a third metallic stripe down the middle, still strikes me as somewhat tacky, but if you’re like me, and loathe cases, you’ll love the way the Sensation handles. Keep in mind, however, that one-handed operation can get tricky simply because of the phone’s length, especially in small hands.

The Sensation is supposed to be a blazing fast phone because of its 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, 768 MB of RAM and HSPA+ data speeds. I didn’t notice any performance issues. In fact, this is the first phone I’ve tried that can smoothly run the Flash game One Button Bob, which is all the proof I need that the Sensation packs processing muscle.

(More on TIME.com: T-Mobile’s HTC Sensation 4G: Dual-Core CPU, 4.3-inch Screen, 1080p Video)

With that in mind, it’s a shame that HTC’s Sense interface operates like something out of a previous hardware generation. Moving between apps and menus is snappy enough, and I like the 3D carousel transitions between home screens, but if you’re hoping for the buttery smooth frame rates of an iPhone, Windows Phone or even Samsung’s Galaxy S phones, you’ll be disappointed. Fortunately, individual apps often have more glide, and the touch screen responds to the gentlest of nudges, so ultimately the operating system feels light on its feet.

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