HTC Sensation vs. Samsung Galaxy S II

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CNET Editor

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon

After strong releases last year, the flagship models for HTC and Samsung were always going to be this year's most-wanted Androids.

(Credit: CBSi)

Not that we're dismissing the excellent handsets produced by Motorola, LG and Sony Ericsson, but we're guessing that most people walking into a phone shop in Australia, who are not intent on buying an iPhone, will probably have the Galaxy S II (GS2) and the Sensation on the top of their must-see lists.

To make this decision a bit easier, we'll keep our comparison of specs short and talk more about how we compare our experiences with these two great smartphones.

Processor Dual-1.2GHz Dual-1.2GHz
Internal storage 16GB 1GB
MicroSD included N/A 8GB
Screen size 4.3-inch 4.3-inch
Screen resolution 800x480 960x540
Screen type Super AMOLED Plus Super LCD
Battery 1650mAh 1520mAh

The most important parts to take away from this table is the RAM and the combined user-accessible storage. Both screens have their pros and cons, and the differences in battery capacity don't amount to a vastly different user experience.

You might be expecting us to discuss the pros and cons of HTC's Sense user interface (UI) vs. Samsung's TouchWiz UI in this section, but if you think about it that would be kind of redundant. In our experience, some people warm to one and are just as likely to hate using the other. Sense is more attractive with loads more customisation options, but it's also far more complex than the TouchWiz UI. This, like all aesthetic considerations, will differ with individual tastes.

What's far more important is the "feel" of the user experience. Does the system and the UI layer respond to a user's input in a fluid, seamless fashion? How does each phone handle multitasking, how quickly does it load database data and galleries of images?

If you've read both reviews you'll know that the GS2 fared better in these tests than the Sensation, with fast app execution, faster database read times and solid multitasking. HTC has obviously worked hard to optimise the performance of the Sense experience, and this is evident in the smooth transitions between home screens, but once you leave Sense we found the user experience isn't quite as punchy.

To help us illustrate this, we've included the results of Vellamo Mobile Web Benchmark tests we ran on both phones. Vellamo has been developed by chipmaker Qualcomm, which is also responsible for the dual-core processor in the Sensation. The score displayed represents the average of three tests for each device.

Vellamo Mobile Web Benchmark

  • Samsung Galaxy S II
  • HTC Sensation
  • Longer bars equal better performance
  • 934 744

The Vellamo benchmark is quite extensive, running multiple common web-based tests including the well-known SunSpider and Acid tests, plus tests for HTML5 rendering and text and image scrolling speeds. Given that both phones run on the same version of Android (2.3.3) and both use similar stock web browsers, the difference in the results is interesting to note.

Last year's best HTC and Samsung handsets were great for a number of reasons, but photography was not one of them. This year is a different story, with both companies really stepping up their game in regards to the photo prowess of their top-of-the-line handsets. Both the Sensation and the GS2 sport 8-megapixel camera sensors, both have bright LED flashes, autofocus with face detection settings, image stabilisation software and the standard range of presets and filters.

In the end, it all comes down to the photos these cameras take and Samsung's camera is a cracker. Its colour reproduction is warm and bright and its autofocus is consistently good. The only downside is that its slower shutter speed might miss fast-moving subjects.

We like the colour balance and focus on the GS2.
(Credit: CBSi)

The camera in the Sensation auto-focuses before you hit the shutter, so it fires almost immediately after you've hit the button. This is great, though we did find the autofocus wasn't as consistent as with the GS2. When it works, the photos look crisp and sharp, but you might have to fire off a couple to achieve this. We also found the colours could be a bit dull using the autoscene mode and settings. We did manage to take some pics with great colour, but you might have to do some tweaking to get this right more often than not.

The Sensation also takes a great photo.
(Credit: CBSi)

If battery life was a race, the Sensation and the GS2 would be a tie for last place, closely followed by LG's Optimus 3D.

This is the major trade-off you will need to anticipate before buying a phone with a 4.3-inch display. Though we were promised improved battery life with new screen technologies like AMOLED and more efficient dual-core processors, this hasn't eventuated in this generation of phones.

If you want a large screen with better battery, we'd suggest the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc instead. Even with its 4.2-inch Reality display we managed to break the single-day battery cycle regularly when we reviewed it earlier this year.

The winner is...

Both are great phones, with great applications for business users, multimedia lovers, casual photographers and those addicted to social networks. But there can only be one winner.

The Samsung Galaxy S II is our winner.
(Credit: Samsung)

If we were buying a phone today it'd be a Samsung Galaxy S II. Its lightening-fast user experience is the key to this decision, given that the phones are so closely comparable on our other metrics. Using the GS2 feels better and core apps seem to load instantaneously, which is the experience we are coming to expect from our phones this year.

HTC's Sense UI is still the better user interface in our opinion, but its complexity may deter users new to the Android platform. Sadly, battery life is a big problem for both handsets, so we recommend you consider picking up a car charger or a second wall plug for the office to make sure you also stay charged.

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schnauzer posted a comment   

HTC Sensation UPDATE!
Joe you were spot on when you said that this handset re Android Platform may or would deter some people .
If unfamiliar with these phones there is loads to learn so if you are NOT prepared to do the work go for a simple device.
l am still learning and guess l always will but than that is the fun od owning such a mobile-its a challenge which l will overcome (l hope).
If anyone tales one on a Plan with Telstra you will have to be on the mobile day and night to use up the Data Allowance and Call allowance.
A Teen if they can afford the device will certainly have loadss of fun and have no need of a Laptop in essence as nearly all is on this device.
l HATE being tied to any gadget but this does tend to draw me to do things l may not have done before (good or bad who knows)
Thanks Joe!


GalainW posted a comment   

They both suck, I looked at both and decided the Nokia 1011 was the best phone on the market at the present time.
It features a high resolution monochrome display, storage of up to 99 contacts and the ability to RECEIVE text messages.
And measuring in at 195 x 60 x 45mm, it's quite nice on those with smaller hands.
Also, if you don't like Nokia's software, you can always flash CM7, I've overclocked mine to 7Khz, honestly guys, it's lightening fast.
So clearly, it was pretty obvious which phone I picked up this winter.

Of course, I'm actually just incredibly envious of the Sensation :(


schnauzer posted a comment   

To me this was a very very hard decision as l liked both phones except 1 Company had one and another had the other.
l have rarely researched as much as l did re these 2 phones and as you have pointed out they are both equal in many areas but l still fele it boils down to personal choice.l had 2 Samsung Mobiles that developed inherent faults so in reality l suppose l was put off by that fact.Despite not really knowing much about the Android Plaatforms l was willing to learn and learn l did.
l chose the HTC Sensation but l give fair warning to anyone who has never bothered to understand the Androids to do their homework first.l do NOT regret my decision and am having an absolute ball.


Joseph Hanlon posted a reply   

Glad to hear it :) It really is win-win when your choice is between two great devices like this.


silverathlon posted a comment   

I too was deciding between the Sensation and Galaxy S II but went with the Samsung and could not be happier!


trebor83 posted a comment   

Given that you scored the Xperia Arc higher than either of these 2 how would an Arc vs Gallaxy s2 showdown look?


James posted a comment   

Thanks for the review Joe. Just a comment in general to anyone reading this and the many other comparison reviews our there, and thinking which to buy, the Sensation is a great phone and I doubt you'd be disappointed. It might disappoint you that most of the reviews point to the Samsung as the winner, but my reasons for buying my Sensation over the GS2 wasnt just which one won. I like the higher res, and the Sense UI.


Joseph Hanlon posted a reply   

That's a really good point. There's definitely pros and cons for both of these devices, and the result here reflects my personal taste more than reaching a scientific conclusion. I recommend that everyone has a play with both before you make up your mind.


JamesP4 posted a comment   

sensation sensation sensation


JoeH2 posted a reply   

This was the toughest smartphone showdown I've had to put together to date! Both are such good phones.

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