HTC Jetstream review
- Attractive industrial design
- Accepts pen input
- Solid 8MP camera
- Blazing LTE speeds
- Subpar WXGA display
- Short battery life compared to other 10.1-inch tablets
Despite being the first LTE tablet on AT&T, the HTC Jetstream falls behind its 10.1-inch competitors in both price and performance.
When you buy into HTC, you're pretty much guaranteed a quality build. So, it should come as no surprise that the company's given its all to the design of this LTE-enabled piece of kit. And for good reason, too. Unlike its even-footed Android competitors, the Jetstream's saddled with an outsized $850 price tag to complement its premium build -- a cost that only sees a minor reduction to $700 with the addition of a two-year contract.
Above all else, the first thing you'll notice when you lift the Jetstream out of the box is its heft. At 25 ounces (709 grams), it's just a tad lighter (and by tad, we mean one ounce) than the Motorola Xoom, and a veritable behemoth compared to the skinny-minny, 21-ounce Galaxy Tab 10.1. Once you've got it in your hands, though, that noticeable heaviness takes a temporary backseat. This tablet just feels good to hold and that's thanks to an absolute lack of hard edges. Whereas the Xoom's screen is bordered by an unpleasantly rigid plastic that digs into your palms, the Jetstream's brushed aluminum back gently curves up to the display, making for a comfortable grip. It's only when you attempt to hold it one-handed or even in portrait that you remember this is an overweight slate. Try though you might, you won't escape the eventual wrist strain and will resign yourself to trusty landscape.
Again, HTC's known for its aluminum unibody enclosures and the Jetstream certainly doesn't break from legacy. That said, it is a whole-hearted departure from the metal ribbon and tri-coloring we've become accustomed to seeing on the company's other devices, like the Rhyme, Sensation and even the Flyer. The ID element at play here skews more industrial, giving off an impression of sophistication and luxury that matches up to its ridiculous asking price. The brushed metal finish fills up over three quarters of the device's back, and is broken only by two grey strips of plastic: one located just below the speakers that surrounds the micro-USB port and mic on the bottom, and the other a combo of soft touch and textured plastic up top that houses a subwoofer to the left and an 8 megapixel camera with dual LED flash to the right. It's here, under the camera's diagonally ribbed casing, that we find both the SIM and microSD card slots neatly tucked away and easily reached. The tablet's 7,300mAh battery, however, is not accessible, but you shouldn't have much need to worry about replacing it. Over on the left side of the device, you'll find the unbroken volume rocker, with the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack sitting atop the device's upper right perimeter. A 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera is situated just right of center on the screen's upper bezel.
On the inside are a slew of internals that tip their hat towards beast territory. It's clear both HTC and AT&T wanted to set the Jetstream apart from its able-bodied Honeycomb fellows with a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon MSM8260 processor and 1GB RAM that bests rival tabs clocked at 1GHz. There's also a batch of radios on board to take advantage of the second place operator's 3G / 4G networks with LTE 700MHz / 1700MHz, triband HSPA+/HSPA/UMTS, quadband EDGE/GPRS, in addition to WiFi and Bluetooth 3.0 support.
Display and sound
Naturally, a tablet is nothing without its screen. Unfortunately, what HTC chose to put into this 10-incher brings both good and bad news. We'll get to the upshot first. Fortunately, the Jetstream's outfitted with a 1280 x 800 10.1-inch WXGA display that matches its similarly outfitted counterparts, so you'll be able to watch those YouTube videos in 720p glory. The downside to this screen is that you can actually see the pixels spread out into columns, giving images and icons a noticeably striped appearance. It's a minor niggle that stems from the tablet's lower pixel density (150ppi) and would mostly be a forgivable flaw were it not so ridiculously priced. Especially, when it's outclassed by the Xoom: a tablet that's not only older (in tech years) and outfitted with LTE, but also cheaper to purchase.
Viewing angles on the display were surprisingly good, with the screen subject to a slight washout at a full 90-degree tilt. It's good news if you're planning on whiling away the hours watching video on the device as you won't suffer much loss in contrast. We also spent considerable time lugging the Jetstream outdoors and even with brightness set at 50 percent, we encountered minor issues with the display's readability. This screen won't wow you with saturated colors or deep blacks, but you won't bemoan its usability either.
The Jetstream packs an unexpected punch in the audio department, delivering clear, crisp and loud sound from its dual speakers and subwoofer. We pumped the volume up to the max and still music played back without any distortion or tinniness. It's definitely not going to become the boombox replacement for the next-gen set, but it should prove more than adequate in a moderately noisy environment.
Let's be honest. Most folks don't look to their tablets as a reliable means for photography. And it's not that these devices can't contend with other best-in-class tablets, as the Jetstream's equipped with a solid 8 megapixel rear camera that handily beats out the blurred photos taken by the Flyer's comparatively weak 5 megapixel camera. Rather, it's more a question of accessibility. You're more likely to be carrying a phone in your hand than a bulky tablet when you spot a Kodak moment. Also, there are the device's gross dimensions to deal with, which makes handling it while snapping a shot on the fly supremely awkward. If you're dead-set on using this tab to capture still lifes, however, you're in luck -- a world of surprise awaits you.
The 10.1-inch display does double time here as an excellent viewfinder, framing shots in a way that makes every subject instantly high art worthy. The camera app offers plenty of options to customize settings, allowing you to toggle the ISO, white balance and resolution to your whimsy. And, as is usually the case, a simple tap onscreen is all that's needed to get the camera to focus on an intended object, with the volume rocker handling the zoom function. In our testing, we encountered very little frustration with the admirably performing autofocus and seldom had to resort to adjusting it manually.
HTC Jetstream sample shots
HTC's bundled a bunch of scene modes that are similar to what we saw on the Amaze 4G, although the selection here is not quite as robust. There's the usual array of portrait, landscape, macro, action, backlight and lowlight settings, but a few more quirky selections -- beach, snow and candlelight -- also make an appearance. Regrettably, we didn't have the time to stop by a nice Italian restaurant or fly out to Tahiti and Canada to test these modes out, but we'll keep it in mind for the next review.
As noted earlier, colors won't exactly jump off the screen to salute your eyes with their vividness. You can expect detail that's above average, but there is an inherent dullness to overall image tonality. Video on the tablet, captured in full 1080p, performed similarly with that same dim color temperature visible. Frame rate was reasonably smooth and held up for the most part, with only brief moments of slowdown.
The Jetstream also packs a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera and despite our desire to make use of it, we were left high and dry. Shots taken using the module resulted in dark and grainy photos as there's no front-mounted flash available to light up images. When employed for the purpose of video chatting, it was more of the same. We didn't get very far in our testing, however, as Skype couldn't access the camera and Google Talk kept force closing whenever we tried to enable the function. For the split second we were able to maintain a connection, our video appeared stuttery on the other end with largely out of sync audio.
Performance and battery life
You'd think that with a dual-core Snapdragon chipset running at 1.5GHz under the hood and 1GB RAM, this tablet would be the epitome of elan and alacrity. Alas, it doesn't appear that HTC optimized the Jetstream to take advantage of the power that lies beneath. Instead, that beastly processor lies mostly dormant, chugging along and treating users to a sputtery, less-than-smooth experience. Sure, navigation through the homescreen feels zippy and responsive for the most part. But there are definite moments when the device fails to recognize your touch or, worse, tricks you into believing it hasn't registered your input when it's merely an issue of lag at play. These performance shortcomings aren't necessarily consistent either. We've definitely found the tablet to be a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde, performing well for a short jag and then devolving into stutters and application force closes. The screen's accelerometer, thankfully, doesn't fall prey to the trap of oversensitivity. True, it takes a moment for the orientation to switch around from landscape to portrait, but we actually appreciated the delay here.
We pitted the Jetstream against a couple of its Honeycomb rivals and ran all three through the usual gamut of benchmarks, resulting in a barely-there victory for HTC. In Quadrant, it bested both the Xoom's 1,745 and Galaxy Tab 10.1's 2,083, with a score of 2,111. Sammy's tab took home the graphical crown at 42.5fps in the Nenamark 1 bout, crushing the Jetstream's respectable 33.8 fps and the Xoom's 30.5 fps. The tables were then flipped back to the Jetstream's favor in Nenamark 2 performance, yielding 22.9fps over the competition, and again in Linpack where single- and multi-thread offered up 48.9 MFLOPS and 59.9 MFLOPS, respectively.
|HTC Jetstream||Galaxy Tab 10.1||Motorola Xoom|
|Linpack (single-thread)||48.9 MFLOPS||16.9 MFLOPS||32.5 MFLOPS|
|Linpack (multi-thread)||59.9 MFLOPS||36.7 MFLOPS||59.8 MFLOPS|
|Nenamark1||33.8 fps||42.5 fps||30.5 fps|
|Nenamark2||22.9 fps||18.6 fps||19.3 fps|
Too often we shell out for a high-end gadget that leaves us high and dry after a few hours of moderate use. You won't find that to be the case with the Jetstream, as the tab excels at wisely conserving power. True, it doesn't quite pack the overall punch of other 10-inch rivals, but the Jetstream's 7,300mAh battery provides more than enough gusto to get you through a few days. As we mentioned previously, the battery's not removable, so you don't have the option of swapping it out for something with a greater charge, but that's just the thing -- you won't have to worry about that. Having had the tablet in our possession for a couple of weeks, we can happily report that you'll be able to manage at least two days worth of usage on HSPA+ only and a little over a full day with LTE. That's with brightness set to automatic, WiFi off, the 4G network on, Google Talk running in the background, one Gmail account, and Twitter actively synced. We even made use of the tablet as an e-reader during this two-day stretch, loading books on the pre-loaded Amazon Kindle app and reading for hours at a time. We should also note that it's definitely possible to squeeze up to four days out of a single charge even with light use, so long as you power the tablet down at night.
|Apple iPad 2||10:26|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1||9:55|
|Sony Tablet S||8:35|
|RIM BlackBerry PlayBook||7:01|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab||6:09|
In our more formal battery test, where we played a video in a continuous loop, the battery went from a 100 percent charge to fully drained in seven hours and 44 minutes. That's with brightness set to 50 percent, the network signal enabled, email and Twitter syncing at 15 minute intervals and the display set to never sleep. If you look at the chart above, you'll see that the Jetstream falls just short of the eight hour mark achieved by fellow LTE tab, the Xoom, with the more drastic performance gap highlighted by the Galaxy Tab 10.1's near ten hours. Again, this doesn't take into account the device's excellent power management abilities, but for all the tablet's extra heft, you aren't rewarded with a more powerful battery or even any full-sized ports.
To know HTC is to know Sense. There's just no avoiding it, and for most it's a love-it-or-hate-it affair. If you've ever owned one of the company's Android handsets before, you'll be pretty familiar with the customized skin placed atop Honeycomb 3.1. It may be officially called Sense for tablets 1.1, but it's more or less just Sense 3.0. No where is this more evident than at the lockscreen, which allows you to jump straight into applications by dragging their shortcut into an onscreen ring. You have the opportunity to modify all of this to your liking via the Personalize menu -- scenes, skins, lockscreens and wallpapers.
When you boot the tablet up for the first time (and wait the 20 or so seconds it takes), you'll greeted by the outsized flip clock and weather animation widget the company's become synonymous with, as well as those 3D carousel transitions. Sadly, your enthusiastic first meeting with the Jetstream's initial start up will be short lived. Waiting there to receive your ire on the primary homescreen, and in considerable force within the app tray, are a boatload of pre-installed applications spread across the slate's five screens. It looks as though both HTC and AT&T took turns to see who could fill up the Jetstream's 32GB of storage with more crapware. For a tablet that comes loaded with over 50 applications, the vast majority are largely ignorable. Complementing (and we say that with a heavy dose of sarcasm) the OEM's typical assortment of Android apps are a suite of AT&T's own: Code Scanner, Family Map, Navigator, Wi-Fi Hot Spots, Featured Apps, my AT&T. Third-party apps also make an appearance with Amazon Kindle, Facebook, Let's Golf 2, NFS Shift, Polaris Office, Teeter and Zinio all on board. If it weren't for the vast amount of real estate afforded, this could easily become the single most frustrating aspect of the device. Whereas a smaller-screened device like a smartphone would give the impression of app drawer overcrowding, the Jetstream's 10.1-inches helped us to more or less overlook the pre-loaded shenanigans. We did, however, take issue with the automatic creation of homescreen shortcuts when downloading an app for the market. We like to keep our tablets tidy and, besides, that's what's an app drawer is for anyway.
With all this widescreen real estate at your disposal you'd imagine widgets would take on a deeper usefulness and, in select cases, they do. While Twitter's native app maxes out at a gridded 4 x 2 in landscape showcasing only the most recent tweet, Sense for Twitter stretches out to 3 x 5 and displays up to three tweets at a time, with the added ability to scroll through your feed directly from that homescreen. Other applications, like The New York Times for example, take on a streamlined 5 x 1 or 4 x 1 look that adds just enough space for a headline and brief article synopsis. HTC's calendar and photo widgets, however, made the most of the available 10-inches,occupying 3 x 5 grids and giving you full access to both your monthly agenda and picture library.
Web browsing was a relatively painless experience. Flash-heavy and graphics-intensive sites rendered in full desktop view within about 15 to 20 seconds, although this speed did vary depending on the HSPA+ / LTE signal's strength. Pinch to zoom was fluid and tracked our fingers' movement well without a hint of checkerboarding. Instead of that familiar grey and white grid, this inbuilt browser opts for a white screen that surrounds your selected text and only displays the page's full contents once you've settled the action. Tablet-based browsing is still not without its hiccups and we did come across a few sites that refreshed in a maddening continual loop without ever completing. Also, there were occasions when it appeared the browser couldn't keep up with our rapid scrolling, as evinced by a completely blank screen that only redrew when we'd finished navigating.
AT&T's been calling itself home to 4G speeds for some time now, but that's been mostly for the purposes of combative marketing. The operator's "true" entry into the next-gen network race has only recently gotten underway. Just this past September, the carrier finally took its LTE spectrum live in five cities spread across the south and mid western United States, and more recently in an additional four cities. Much to our dismay, New York, the city we call home, hasn't yet made the cut, so we took a trip to Boston and gave the carrier's 700MHz spectrum a whirl.
In our time with the Jetstream, we've logged fairly inconsistent 4G network speeds. Whether this had to do with the demands made of AT&T's network in New York City, poor signal penetration or spotty LTE coverage (in the case of Boston), we're not certain. Signal strength usually hovered around four bars around New York City and three to four bars in Boston. When the tablet latched on to a hardy LTE signal, we were treated to speeds that fell just under 25Mbps down and, in less optimal HSPA+ conditions, roughly 1.5Mbps. Uplink speeds were a mixed bag, ranging from a fantastic 18.39Mbps to an abysmal 60kbps.
Like the Flyer, the Jetstream supports pressure-sensitive pen input. If you think that stylus up there looks familiar, it's because the Jetstream takes advantage of the same N-Trig DuoSense digitizer used on both the Flyer (hence, the opportunity to recycle the pen). As it happens, that's also the same technology used in Lenovo's ThinkPad tablet and the HP Slate 500 (now Slate 2), which means all of these pens should be interchangeable.
The aluminum stylus itself isn't remarkable from a design standpoint, nor does its $80 standalone price tag confer a sculpted ergonomic fit. Hopefully, AT&T's limited time offer of a free digital pen will still be kicking when you decide to take the plunge on this purchase, freeing you from the burden of that additional cost. Truth be told, though, the Scribe's inclusion seems more afterthought than value-add, but we'll happily take all we can get for the cost.
The first time you use the pen to tap on the screen, a tutorial will open, introducing you to the feature's limited functions, including the stylus' erase and highlight quick buttons. This directs you to a menu shortcut on the lower left of your homescreen that, when selected, displays a mini palette that takes you through the various Pen Options, much like on the Flyer. From here you can choose amongst a range of pen styles, colors and thicknesses to be used for scribbling on a screengrab or for thoughts jotted down on the included Notes app. HTC's handwriting recognition software is truly impressive, as it faithfully recreated the strokes of our messy cursive and more legible print, though we wouldn't go so far as calling it useful. You'll notice a tiny delay between the pen's movements and the onscreen scrawl, but it's not enough to hamper the rate of your writing and you can always use the erase button to backtrack over your mistakes. What will get in the way is your own clumsy hand. We noticed that any gentle contact between our palm and the Jetstream's display would immediately activate the keyboard. It's the same quirk we'd previously seen on the Flyer and one that could seriously impede your furious note-taking. That said, there's not much apparent use for the Scribe nor is there a simple way to discover compatible apps. We attempted a quick search for "HTC Scribe" in the Android Market and saw only four matching results, while a query for the less specific "stylus" yielded about 70. Sure, you can use the pen to break up the monotony of finger swiping and navigate the tablet, a handful of apps and even sling shot a few Angry Birds with the digitizer, but it's likely a feature you'll play with several times before losing it the mess of your things. Which brings us to Scribe's major downfall -- there's just nowhere on the device to store it. Unlike it's Gingerbread-based sibling, there's no included case here to stash away the Scribe pen. It's this glaring omission which leads us back to our original conclusion: the Jetstream's pen input is less of an integrated killer feature and more of a straight-up gimmick.
On paper, the Jetstream talks a tough spec game, boasting a 10.1-inch WXGA display, dual-core 1.5GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 32GB of storage and an 8 megapixel rear shooter capable of 1080p video. Add to that list 4G LTE capability and you'd easily topple the Honeycomb competition in a side-by-side comparison. When put to real-world use, however, many of those much-touted internals, especially the LTE radio, could turn against the device, sucking down the beefy 7,300mAh juice and leaving you with a handicapped mobile product. Use it heavily in one of AT&T's LTE coverage areas and you'll need to pull out the charger at day's end, but left to the operator's HSPA+ network and this go anywhere slate becomes a trusty and long-lasting mobile sidekick.