Why yes, yes it is another Windows Phone 7 device review. Not that we're complaining. It's not everyday that a new mobile operating system this polished arrives at our doorstep. Having already gone in depth with Microsoft's entirely new OS and half dozen or so other WP7 devices, it's now time to dive deep into the life and times of the HTC Trophy (codenamed, Spark). And it's about time. We first saw the words "HTC" and "Trophy" on the same page in a roadmap leak all the way back in 2009. Several of the leaked handsets eventually launched -- but not the 3-inch portrait QWERTY Trophy running Windows Mobile 6.5. Perhaps that original design was scrapped along with WinMo's relevancy to the consumer smartphone market. We don't know and we may never know. What we can tell you is what it's like to live with a production HTC Trophy for a week -- an average speced touchscreen slate offering anything but a middle-of-the-road experience.

This review is primarily of the HTC Trophy hardware. Check out our full review of Windows Phone 7 for our thoughts on the OS.

HTC Trophy review

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Hardware
If you're looking for high-end hardware then you might as well quit reading now. The 0.47-inch (11.96-mm) thick, 4.94 ounce (140 gram) HTC Trophy is not the highest-speced device of the nine new Windows Phone 7 handsets hitting the market in 2010. In fact, there's not a single standout spec in the bunch. To start with, like all WP7 handsets the Trophy starts with a 480 x 800 pixel resolution and 1GHz Snapdragon (QSD8250) processor under a capacitive touchscreen. From there we've got a bright 3.8-inch SLCD LCD, 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR, GPS, FM Radio, a 1300mAh battery, and 8GB of fixed flash storage with 512MB of ROM and 576MB of RAM. The autofocus camera is also pretty standard with a 5 megapixel sensor, LED flash, and 720p video recording capability. It's also packing a bevy of sensors for gravity, compass, proximity, and ambient light.

Up front, the Trophy is almost bereft of any notable features other than a silver ring that creates a subtle border between the front-side glass and plastic bezel that gently bleeds into the trophy's soft-touch backside. A long pointillistic earpiece is barely visible just above the glass along the upper edge. Hit the power button and the three capacitive keys for back, start, and search ignite with a pleasant pale white glow. A small notification light just to the right of the HTC logo glows amber only when charging then turns green when fully charged. Miss a call and it will flash green every 2 seconds. Sorry, no front-facing camera here.

A stealthy black volume rocker hugs the upper left-hand side (as you face the display) and a microUSB jack waits patiently along the lower left. On the right you have a silver, two-stage camera button near the bottom edge. On the bottom, a single small microphone can be seen on the lower edge, offset just a bit from center. On top, you've got the power button (on the left) and an angled 3.5-mm audio jack (on the right) that disconcertingly exposes a bit of the jack plug. The bundled HTC earbuds feature a rather rudimentary inline 3-button remote to call / pause or adjust the audio volume. Press and hold the call / pause button and the phone's voice recognition feature kicks into action... but only if the screen is unlocked -- otherwise, it just bounces the lock screen. Not very useful for making an impromptu hands-free call while walking down the sidewalk like a Verve miscreant. While the buds combine with the Trophy to create passable sound for your collection of torrented 128kbps MP3s, they're are so comically oversized and ill-fiting that you'll want to replace them straight away.

Things get busy around back (and halfway up the sides) where HTC has applied a soft-touch finish that looks good while making the device easy to handle securely. It's here that you see the camera lens flanked by a single LED flash on the left and a reasonably powerful loudspeaker on the right. Unfortunately, the speaker is blocked, muffling the volume when placed backside down on a flat surface such as a table top -- there's simply not enough of a gap to bounce the sound back towards the listener. In other words, you'll need to flip the LCD onto the table to hear the speaker at full volume. Fortunately, HTC provides additional motivation to do exactly that with an app that automatically flips on the backside speaker during a call when it senses the screen being flipped over (more on that later). The back cover peels off with a fingernail embedded into a slot along the top edge. Doing so reveal a rather striking orange battery and matching translucent plastic shell. Removing the battery gives you access to the SIM slot. No, you can't access the fixed 8GB microSD card even if you wanted to, it's nowhere to be found. The backside also plays host to another HTC logo as well as a rather muted Windows Phone flag.

We've been impressed by the Trophy's 1300mAh battery and its ability to power the handset through the day. In general, we're making it 24-hours before reaching for the microUSB charger. That's after using a combination of WiFi and 3G data under real-world usage with our Exchange account set to push Google email, contacts, and calendar data as content items arrive and with Windows Live checking every 30 minutes. That's pretty good considering that we're also downloading and testing a variety apps, sampling games, snapping a few photos, listening to music, and viewing a few minutes of video content while obsessively checking Twitter throughout. As you'd expect, battery life drops quickly when using the camera and video recording functionality even without LED flash support. On one particularly heavy day of usage, we shot about 15 minutes of video and 30 stills forcing us back to the wall charger after about 10 hours.

Call quality is fine (it's neither the worst nor the best we've seen) on the Trophy, with or without the included earbuds, or when going commando and using the Trophy as a speakerphone.

Put it all together and you've got a handset that feels and looks really solid -- not cheap, slippery, and lightweight like the otherwise impressive Galaxy S. It doesn't look premium in that flashy iPhone 4 way but it does feel just as good in the hand as it does slipping effortlessly into the front pants pocket.

Unique Apps

"Unique" is a bit of a misnomer here. While the Trophy ships with 10 apps that are indeed unique to HTC Windows Phone 7 devices, we've already seen them covered on the HTC Mozart, HTC HD7, and HTC Surround reviews. Without going back through them in detail, let's hit the highlights. Like all the brand-specific apps, the HTC Hub is meant to be a differentiator to help prevent Windows Phone 7 devices from becoming commodities. Unfortunately, the HTC Hub app is overwrought with animations that impede its ability to deliver content (primarily the weather) quickly. It's fun the first few times but incredibly annoying thereafter. While this behavior might be forgiven in the Sense layer that HTC slathers upon Android, it comes across as heavy handed when wrapped inside of Microsoft's delicate and meticulously crafted user experience. Sure, it'll impress your friends but it's also one of the first things you'll replace just as soon as you narrow down your weather app choices in the Windows Marketplace (both Microsoft's own Weather app and The Weather Channel app make fine free alternatives). On the other hand, the HTC Photo Enhancer app is useful, especially when enhancing (but not repairing) pics blown out by the Trophy's LED flash (more on that later).

There is one HTC app that we haven't seen before in any of our earlier device reviews: the HTC Attentive Phone app, added to the Windows Marketplace during our review. And unlike most of the other ten HTC apps, this one's well worth installing, greatly enhancing the phone's use. The app adds four new features including, 1) Quiet ring on pickup; 2) Pocket Mode, that's supposed to increase the ring volume when it's in your pocket; 3) Flip for speaker, that activates the loud speaker when flipping the phone over during a call; and 4) Flip to mute ringer, that does exactly what it says. All but Pocket Mode worked for us, which wasn't really a problem given the Trophy's strong vibration mode. It would be missed if carried in a purse or backpack though.

Unfortunately, an update to the HTC Notes app left the software completely unusable on our Trophy, turning the 3.8-inch display into a static pale blue abyss when launched. Fortunately, we could back right out of the app with no damage done. An instance where we're perfectly happy for the OS to not support third-party multitasking.

Our device shipped with an orange-on-black Vodafone theme that we're quite fond of. It also came preloaded with a completely useless 360 My Web tile that acts as an HTTP link to the Vodafone My Web service. We don't use the service and we suspect most of you don't either.

Camera

The Trophy appears to reuse the same camera hardware found in the HTC Surround that we've already reviewed. As expected, the camera does ok when photographing outdoor daytime shots or when indoor lighting is natural and bright. Even macro shots were processed with a reasonable amount of detail. In those situations, the autofocus is responsive and the shutter snaps quickly to catch the action. Performance isn't anything special but it's not awful either. Images, however, tend to be overly soft.


Things really fall apart when the sun goes down and the lights grow dim. Under these conditions the autofocus struggles and the shutter lag becomes an issue. Photos shot in low-light resulted in a festival of grain assuming we could hold the camera still enough to summon a focused subject. If the LED fires, watch out, anything within ten feet will be completely and irreparably washed out of existence.

HTC Trophy photo samples

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The Trophy touts 720p video. Great, right? Unfortunately, that's not the default resolution, presumably because of the measly 8GB of on-board storage (and lack of expansion). Instead, the Trophy shoots H.264 encoded video at VGA resolution to a .MP4 container. While you can change it to shoot MPEG-4 encoded video at 720p resolution to a .MP4 container, the video resolution resets each time you exit the camera app. Setting it back to 720p is another five step procedure that must be repeated each and every time you start the camera. Needless to say, that's not very conducive to capturing spontaneity on video. Having said that, the HD footage was of reasonable smartphone quality when given enough light. However, focusing and image quality again becomes an issue in low light.


VGA (daytime)


720p (nighttime)

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to get the videos off the phone without syncing back to a PC with the Zune desktop software or to the Mac using the beta release of the Windows Phone 7 Connector (which only worked once to sync pictures and video in at least a dozen attempts). Overall, the Trophy's camera pales in comparison to the iPhone 4's own 5 megapixel camera with LED flash in terms of versatility, speed, and image quality (day or night, still or video) and comes up far short of a true cameraphone like the Nokia N8.

Wrap up

HTC's Trophy is not the best smartphone on the market. It's not even the best Windows Phone 7 phone. To make matters worse, you'll often find the Trophy sitting side-by-side with the equivalently priced LG Optimus 7 when shopping for a new WP7 handset in Europe -- both are €49.90 on contract with Vodafone in Germany or free in the UK with monthly plans starting at £25 (our review unit is sold by Coolblue in The Netherlands for $499). And honestly, given our choice, we'd opt for the Optimus 7 given that it matches the Trophy spec-for-spec yet includes a better exclusive software suite, a beefier 1,500mAh battery, and double the internal storage at 16GB. Yet even with middling hardware and a brand new version 1.0 Microsoft OS that is clearly lacking the maturity of iOS or Android, it's simply hard to resist this sleek little lightweight gem of a handset running a very promising -- and dare we say fun -- take on the mobile OS experience. Try as we might, we can't put it down even though we have an iPhone 4 and Galaxy S at our immediate disposal. The HTC Trophy may not be our smartphone champ but it's definitely a winner.
HTC

Trophy

Pros

  • Good all-around performer
  • Excellent build quality
  • WP7 OS handles the basics with style

Cons

  • Average camera is poor in low light
  • Speaker is easily muffled
  • WP7 OS still immature
Conclusion

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