HTC Explorer now official, we go hands-on (updated)

This little soldier carries the big responsibility of extending HTC's dominance to the budget end of the Android spectrum, and it must achieve this mission with only a bare minimum of weaponry: a 3.2-inch HVGA (480 x 320) capacitive display, 600MHz processor, 3MP camera and 512MB of expandable memory. You'll just have to believe us when we say we had a play with a pre-release device at an HTC event recently, even though the manufacturer's reps refused to let us take any photos or video to prove it. You'll find publicity shots in the gallery below plus a full press release, some educated guesswork about price and availability and our initial impressions of the handset right after the break.

Update: The UK's Three network has confirmed it will stock the device, but it hasn't divulged the price.

Show full PR text


HTC Explorer delivers an affordable smartphone with HTC Sense and distinct design

NEW DELHI, INDIA – September 29, 2011 – HTC Corporation, a global leader in mobile innovation and design, today unveiled HTC Explorer, its most affordable smartphone and the latest addition to its global portfolio of devices. HTC Explorer brings an advanced smartphone experience to first time smartphone customers. With a curved and compact design, a 3.2" HVGA touchscreen and 3MP camera, HTC Explorer offers smartphone performance in an attractive and affordable phone.

"HTC Explorer is an easy-to-use smartphone that puts the customer in control, providing quick access to their most important content and information," said Jason Mackenzie, president of global sales and marketing, HTC Corporation. "HTC Explorer is simply a smarter phone for anyone and it represents another clear demonstration of HTC's global commitment to expanding the market for advanced smartphones."

HTC Sense
With HTC Sense™ integrated, customers experience sharp graphics, vibrant animations, a wide variety of widgets and a cinematic and immersive weather experience. HTC Explorer also includes a customizable lock screen that functions as a real-time window to the customer's most important information and content, such as social updates, photos, weather or stock updates that are viewed by simply waking up the display. The lock screen also enables quick access to the camera for capturing those important moments. It also includes a new Smart Dialer that displays a one-touch menu for quick, easy dialing of contacts.

Stay connected with family and friends
Track social updates from colleagues, friends and family with the People widget that displays social updates in a single easy-to-view thread. You can also easily send a photo, video clip or location in a message with just one touch.

Fast Intuitive Web Browsing
HTC Explorer provides a complete web browsing experience with Adobe® Flash® support, and is the first in its class with a HVGA display, allowing you to run nearly all of the applications in Android Market. Smart URL prediction provides quick access to the top 100 websites, while automatic URL correction streamlines web navigation. Users can make restaurant reservations or connect to customer service hotlines just by tapping the phone numbers listed on any website. And if you've forgotten to print out the map of your destination, simply tap on the address to bring up a real-time map and its location.

Take control of your life
The HTC Explorer allows you to access multiple work and personal email accounts and combine different calendars into a single view. Appointments from each calendar are displayed in different colours to deliver a clearer picture of your busy day. New calendar invites are also managed from one tab allowing you determine the best use of your time. HTC Explorer offers you control over your data and mobile services with a usage monitor that tracks your call minutes, messages and data to keep you on top of your spending.

The HTC Explorer will be available across key markets in EMEA and Asia from Q4 2011 in Metallic Black, Active Black and Metallic Navy. Customers will be also able to customize their HTC Explorer with a range of optional back covers including Metallic Blue, Metallic Orange, Metallic White and Metallic Purple.

First up, we'd better clarify that there's a good chance this handset isn't coming to the States. HTC refused to confirm or deny when we asked them, but at this point official availability will only extend to Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East from early October. Moreover, earlier leaks we've seen of this handset, including under its Pico codename, omitted US bands. In any case, even if the Explorer doesn't manage to discover the New World, HTC might have some similar device up its sleeve specifically for that market.

The Explorer's most important attribute will undoubtedly be its price, which again still lacks official confirmation and will in any case depend on local carriers. When pushed, HTC told us that the price would be "somewhere below" that of the $290 Wildfire S and possibly closer to that of the old Brew-powered Smart, which was around $160 mark. This puts the Explorer head-to-head with Huawei's latest bargain offering, the Ideos X3 (aka Blaze), which is officially priced at "under £100" ($160) in the UK but can be had for as little as €100 ($135) in Europe. The Blaze actually has very similar specs, so the Explorer will have to come in far below the price of the Wildfire S if it's to stand a fighting chance.

Personally, we see smartphones at this price point as backup devices -- something to keep charged up and ready for a quick SIM swap when you need to go out for football practice, or camping or a club. At first glance, the HTC Explorer seems to deliver on that front: it's a full Android experience so you can keep all your apps and widgets synced up for a seamless switch from your main phone, including all your latest emails, calendar appointments, Spotify tracks etc. The device we toyed with was running Sense 3.5 on Android 2.3.5, which had an uncluttered homescreen and customizable bottom bar that felt suited to the relatively small and low-res panel. Also, the wrap-around case design felt tough enough for our purposes, with superior build quality compared to the Ideos X3. It was slightly on the chunky side, however, with thickness at 12.8mm compared to just 11.2mm for the X3 -- and the difference feels bigger in the pocket than it looks on paper. Incidentally, the Explorer's case can be switched out for different colors -- there's only a choice of blue and black right now, but other flavors are expected to follow in the future.

600MHz is just about enough power for the apps you're likely to want to use, and we didn't notice any lag or slowdown during our brief time with the device. On the other hand, the Ideos X3 has the same clock-speed and we'd have enough time with that device we know that it does exhibit some annoying lags, so we'll have to wait to see if the Explorer's engine is better implemented.