HTC Radar review
- Beautiful display
- Top-notch build
- HD camcorder with auto-focus
- Sealed battery (the HTC Titan's is removable)
- Limited storage
- Hit-or-miss software customization
If you're undeterred by the Radar's few limitations, it's easily among the most satisfying Windows Phone devices on the market today.
Take one look at the HTC Radar and you'll realize its designers pursued a very minimalist aesthetic. To some, it may come across as slightly austere with its white-and-silver finish, but it's hardly drab. If anything, the look and feel exudes staid elegance. From the front, its heritage as a successor to the Trophy is quite apparent, although it has noticeably cleaner lines, primarily thanks to bezels and buttons that are longer and thinner. From there, the Radar makes a significant departure from its forebear with an aluminum unibody chassis that envelopes the majority of the phone. The noteworthy exception here is a removable cover at the bottom, which provides access to the SIM card slot alone. Yes, the 1520mAh battery is sealed and there's no option for memory expansion -- you'll be limited to the 8GB (6.54GB available) of built-in storage.
With a Qualcomm MSM8255 SoC, (that includes a 1GHz Scorpion CPU and Adreno 205 GPU), this handset is hardly a powerhouse -- not that the average consumer is likely to notice. In fact, we were quite happy with its responsiveness, especially when using Mango's built-in apps, which pop open with very little delay. Yes, its RAM is limited to 512MB, but even when playing music in the background and surfing the web with multiple tabs open, the UI happily kept pace and never left us waiting. Given the Radar's positioning as a mainstream device, it's all but guaranteed to satisfy its target users.
|Benchmark||HTC Radar||HTC Trophy||Samsung Omnia 7|
It's worth pointing out that HTC opted to include an S-LCD with the Radar, and its image quality is really quite nice. Text is crisp, colors are bright and vibrant and viewing angles are near excellent. Even the black levels appear deep, rich and are easy to appreciate -- provided the backlight isn't cranked too high. Granted, it still can't stand toe-to-toe with the black levels of a Super AMOLED display, but unless you're comparing the two screens side by side, you might just find yourself marveling at is quality. Unlike HTC's ginormous Titan, the Radar's display measures 3.8-inches, though both share a common WVGA (800 x 480) resolution. Given this consideration, the smaller option easily delivers better pixel density, which we've approximated to 245ppi for the Radar versus 198ppi for the Titan.
HTC pulled off the unibody construction of the Radar quite admirably. At 5.6 ounces (160g), it's a bit heavier than many devices of its size, but that's not to suggest its heft is unwelcome. To the contrary, it has a dense quality to that's hardly a burden. We perceived it as being quite solid and a thoroughly welcome departure from phones that feel cheap and flimsy. There are three physical buttons on the handset, all of which are strikingly narrow and run nearly flush with the body. This was most certainly an aesthetic consideration, and while it makes locating the buttons by touch alone slightly more troublesome, it's certainly not a deal-breaker. In all cases, they're situated logically, and with respect to the volume rocker, it's quite long and generally hard to miss. As a requirement of the Windows Phone platform, users will find a handy dual-stage shutter button that's used to open the camera app, focus on a subject and take pictures. A 3.5mm stereo mini-jack is situated on the top of the phone and the exposed microUSB 2.0 port occupies the bottom left side. As for the bottom cover, it's built like a tank and yet it's fairly easy to remove when that's your intention. Underneath, you'll find a nifty translucent plastic chassis. Funnily enough, the device loses power when the cover is removed (which is most certainly intended to prevent users from hot-swapping SIMs).
We were thoroughly happy with the Radar's call quality and perceived voices as being clear and distinct -- the same goes for callers on the other end. We were pleasantly surprised with its battery life, which gave us the ability to capture dozens of pictures, do a moderate amount of web browsing and emailing, along with placing a few voice calls throughout the day. After 18 hours, the battery reported 35 percent of its charge remained (which easily dispelled worries of its integrated cell). In our standard rundown test that involves playing a video on loop until the battery is completely dead, it kept the phone alive and chugging for nearly eight hours -- not too shabby, indeed.
The Radar 4G is expected to appear at T-Mobile before the holiday frenzy hits its stride, where it will be the AWS carrier's first Windows Phone handset to support HSPA+. After a little experimentation with this model, we found that T-Mo's version also supports faux-G on one of AT&T's bands once unlocked (hint: it's likely the 850MHz spectrum). An international version is also arriving on the scene that provides quadband support for GSM, GPRS and EDGE, along with HSPA / WCDMA support over the 2100 and 900MHz bands. Both variants offer 802.11b/g/n (WiFi) and Bluetooth 2.1, along with the requisite A-GPS, compass, accelerometer, proximity and ambient light sensors. Support for internet tethering is also in the mix (another requirement of Mango), and the device also carries DLNA certification.
Starting with the myTouch 4G Slide, HTC began taking its camera implementation much more seriously. While the Radar doesn't quite live up to this high standard, its imaging chops are quite good in their own right. It features an f/2.2 lens and a 5 megapixel backside-illuminated sensor that promises better shots in low-light conditions. We intentionally put HTC's claim to the test and took numerous shots in shady areas of town -- literally, not figuratively. For the most part, we were very pleased with the results. The wide aperture allowed us to capture crisp and vibrant images with quick shutter speeds and very low ISO values. Granted, you'll still have to deal with motion blur and tons of noise in situations that are downright dark, but that's certainly to be expected.
HTC Radar sample shots
On occasion, we found certain images lacked contrast and vibrance, but this generally correlated to the lack of light in a given scene. One notable situation where the camera is sure to let you down is with mixed-light conditions, where shaded areas appear unnecessarily dark and well-lit areas are slightly over-exposed. In these scenes, our shots ranged from bad to unusable. Sadly, Mango's support for wide dynamic range mode is nowhere to be found. Sometimes you'll be able to frame a shot in a way that makes this less of an issue. Other times, your best bet will be to rely on software enhancement if you're really in a pinch. One notable feature that's built into the camera app is the ability to capture burst shots. You shouldn't expect miracles, but it'll take five pictures in what we'd approximate as a two-second timespan. Just for kicks, we tested this feature with a traffic scene.
If you've been paying attention, you might've noticed that we've yet to mention the front-facing VGA cam. Yep... it has one, and we've included a samples from it, too. The feature is nice to have, but the results are comparatively poor and you'll want to avoid this option unless your situation necessitates its use.
By default, the primary camera captures video at VGA (640 x 480) resolution, though 720p (1280 x 720) and QVGA (320 x 240) are also options. We tested the camcorder mode with both VGA and 720p and were pleasantly surprised with the Radar's abilities. One feature we're especially pleased with is the camera's ability to continually auto-focus throughout shooting. Like still photos, however, you'll encounter similar exposure issues when filming movies in mixed-light conditions.
Windows Phone 7.5 has arrived, and it's certainly a welcome addition to HTC's lineup. We've exhaustively covered Mango's numerous improvements in our in-depth preview and review, so most of this area will be dedicated to the manufacturer's added software. That said, Microsoft has done its utmost to provide users with a tightly integrated ecosystem and the end result definitely pays off -- both in terms of usability and performance. Sure, third-party apps don't run quite a quickly as their Mango counterparts, but with functionality for applications such as Yelp, Shazam and Google Goggles built right into the system -- not to mention Zune Pass, Facebook and Twitter -- many users will have little reason to look elsewhere (much to the chagrin of developers, that is). Microsoft's approach also ensures that its system remains nimble on hardware that's unquestionably falling behind the curve, which certainly makes the Radar's spec sheet less of an issue.
With respect to HTC's customizations, you can either think of them as icing on the cake or unnecessary distractions. It's hard to consider any of it bloat, however, and users looking for a pure Mango experience will be glad to know that each of the apps may be uninstalled without fanfare. HTC Hub, HTC Watch, Photo Enhancer, Connected Media, Locations and Notes all appear on the home screen, where they make quite the stand against the clean tiles of the Metro UI. Perhaps the manufacturer could've given greater consideration to Windows Phone's design philosophy, although it certainly helps break up the monotony of single hue squares. We also found it slightly arrogant on HTC's part to place Watch and Photo Enhancer more prominently than essentials such as Internet Explorer. At any rate, it'll be a good opportunity for users to re-arrange their home screen.
HTC Hub is essentially a weather app and live tile that smacks heavily of Sense -- they're so damn proud of it, they just can't go Metro. In addition to displaying the local time, date and weather, the main screen can be customized to deliver current conditions and temperatures in a host of other locations. Clicking on a city brings up additional (and useful) information from AccuWeather -- all presented atop some chintzy animated backgrounds. Weather junkies will likely dig the ability to view an expanded hourly forecast that's delivered in the form of a scrollable line chart. A flick of the screen to the right or left within HTC Hub also reveals stock quotes and an RSS news reader -- though without visual cues, you might've never known this if we hadn't mentioned it. HTC Watch, the company's pay-to-play portal for video rentals and purchases, also makes an appearance on the Radar. Unfortunately, we couldn't gain access to any content beyond the free movie trailers. Somehow, we'll live...
HTC's Photo Enhancer application is rather self-explanatory, which allows users to apply one-click adjustments to their images. As a nice surprise, not only were we able to apply filters to photos stored locally on our phone, but also to those in our Facebook albums. Connected Media is used for establishing a link to other DLNA-enabled devices, which allows users to stream audio, video and photos from their phone. We didn't get to test this one, although it does integrate nicely with the media hub. Locations is essentially a breadcrumb application that allows you to store coordinates, pictures and descriptions of places you've been. If you're looking for something a bit simpler, Notes is meant solely for text. Dig a bit deeper into the applications menu and you'll also discover that HTC has also included a handy flashlight app that controls the phone's built-in LED flash.
With its smaller screen, slower CPU and lower-res camera, it was easy to overlook the Radar as it debuted alongside its larger, bulkier sibling, the HTC Titan. Even we were blinded by shock and awe, but after spending time with the little guy, we must say we're quite smitten. Moreover, it's going to be a tearful goodbye when we're forced to send the little runt back home. Still, whether it's the best phone for you is a different question entirely. If you find yourself in need of a removable battery or more than 8GB of storage, the Radar is out of the question. Its price on contract at T-Mobile is another unknown, but even if it debuts at $100, it'll have a hard time delivering a compelling argument against LG's G2x. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a Windows Phone and are undeterred by the Radar's few shortcomings, its support for HSPA+ alone will make an excellent holiday gift for yourself or someone you wanna see smile.