HTC Amaze 4G review

T-Mobile reveals HTC Amaze 4G, flaunts better camera and faster HSPA+

Ericsson demos 42Mbps HSPA Evolution for the laypeople

Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC Amaze 4G on sale at T-Mobile

What do you do when you've already created a Sensation? If you're HTC, you repackage that lightning in a slightly different chassis, turn the volume (read: speed) up to 11 and borrow a bit of optical wizardry to add that new smartphone smell. All key elements that can be found in the DNA of the company's latest imperatively named product offering -- the Amaze 4G. Clearly, HTC's throwing caution to the fickle consumer winds here, raising the bar for Android users' expectations and mixing in just enough razzle dazzle to win over those hard earned geek dollars. So, what's the hook this time 'round? No, not Beats -- that's for its Euro stepcousin, the Sensation XE. Here, the main attraction is this handset's ability to surf along T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42Mbps network. That's right, Magenta's tiptoeing into LTE speed territory and you've got Sense 3.0 to help pilot that wireless ride. Join us after the break as we peel back the layers of this unibodied mobile onion.


Right out of the box, there's no denying your first impression will be one of shock. The Amaze 4G bucks the 'thinner is better' trend that we've seen the likes of Samsung and its Galaxy S II variants adopt in favor of a large and in charge 5.1 x 2.58-inch design philosophy. Though the handset may not be much thicker than its competitors, at 0.46 inches (11.7mm) thick, its 6.1-ounce (0.17kg) heft certainly gives off the opposite impression. With a similar 4.3-inch qHD super LCD display, the phone picks up right where the Sensation left off, although in this iteration that Gorilla Glass-coated screen spills out of its aluminum confines a tad too much for our tastes. It's an odd design flaw that HTC could have easily remedied by tapering the edges down into the phone's frame, rather than subjecting users to indented palms. Still, as the majority of your usage will most likely have everything to do with data consumption and less to do with carrying on an actual phone call, you'll hardly be bothered by this discomfiting quirk.

One of the first things we noticed when booting up the Amaze 4G was the minute pixelation on its qHD display. It's not terribly obvious, nor is it particularly irksome, but when compared to the similarly super LCD-equipped Droid Incredible 2, this screen is simply dull. Colors on the device appear washed out, and viewing angles take a dramatic hit at 45 degree tilts. It's a far cry from the crisp images and vivid hues achieved by its current competition, the Galaxy S II. And while it would've been nice to see HTC outfit the phone with a Super AMOLED Plus display, we're sure the sheer expanse of the screen will override any of your resolution-centered grousing.

There's no denying it -- the Amaze 4G is a handsome handset. We've seen other past and present high-end smartphones (e.g., the Nexus S and Droid Charge) belie their internals with cheap-feeling, scuff-prone frames, but that's not the case here. HTC's wrapped this HSPA+ present in a unibody mixture of metal and soft touch plastic that not only inspires confidence in the device's durability, but also goes a long way towards justifying its on-contract $260 price tag. Embedded throughout its metallic perimeter are the usual array of inputs and controls. Down at the phone's base, you'll find both a microphone and battery door latch -- the latter of which makes accessing the phone's guts an absolute breeze. Up top, a power button and 3.5mm jack preside, with the volume rocker and dedicated camera buttons over to the right. On the left-hand side, a lone micro-USB port breaks up the device's otherwise unblemished chrome trim.

Nestled between the HTC and T-Mobile branding at the very apex of this 960 x 540 screen is the admittedly underpowered earpiece which houses an embedded notification LED. Flanking it on either side are a front-facing 2 megapixel camera and proximity sensor. Around back, we find a speaker grill directly adjacent to an 8 megapixel shooter with dual LED flash, and lurking below that soft touch back is an NFC chip -- the first for an HTC device, although there isn't much use for it yet. Moving on to the exposed internals, we have the requisite SIM card slot, accompanying 1,730mAh battery and vacant microSD card reader. The handset comes packed with an ample 16GB of onboard storage, but if you're looking to load it up with an abundance of audiovisual goods, you better plan on supplying additional capacity.

Performance and battery life

Let's not beat around the bush, though. In the rush to get this 42Mbps capable device to market a few rough edges were overlooked -- namely, battery life. Consider the Amaze 4G a kind of Thunderbolt redux: both phones unleashed into the market ahead of their time, destined to bear the torch of heretofore unseen speeds (well, for HSPA+, at least) at the heady sacrifice of daily usage. It could be the dual-core architecture or the demands of the "4G" network, but whatever the culprit, expect a good three to four hours of action before hitting a productivity ceiling and plugging back in to your nearest outlet. A three-hour charge should get you back up to 100 percent and running -- until the next three hours, that is.

In our short time with it, we've found the phone will consistently drain from fully juiced to about 30 percent after just three hours of light to moderate use -- that's with Twitter, Google Reader and two email accounts synced. Toss in some casual web browsing, a YouTube video or two and a half an hour GTalk session, and the aforementioned four hour limit is easily reached. Power users should heed this warning and turn a blind eye to the Amaze 4G's tantalizing promise of next-gen wireless wonderment, as the oft-recommended need for an extra battery would here be multiplied by two.

You want benchmarks, you say? Well, we've got 'em by the loads. In the name of a fair fight, we've lined up these various CPU / GPU stress tests against Magenta's own Galaxy S II variant. For Quadrant, Sammy's beastie beat out the Amaze 4G, scoring 2,576 vs. 2,514. Linpack averaged about 51MFLOPS, easily topping the GSII at 42MFLOPS for single thread and, again, yielding 77MFLOPS vs 70MFLOPS in multi scoring. And the benchmark dominance continued on, with our handset's Neocore score inching over the GSII's 57fps at 59fps.

How does all of that translate into real-world performance? Truth be told, you won't even notice the dual-core chipset chugging away beneath that rapidly warming back. In fact, an average consumer coming from a single-core 1GHz device would be hard pressed to spot an appreciable speed boost. The real vim and vigor becomes apparent when running several apps at once, a feat commonly known as multi-tasking. We ran Pandora in the background while responding to emails, running Google Talk and Maps, browsing the web and scouring the New York Times app for the latest on Occupy Wall Street. To HTC's credit, the Amaze 4G stood up to the test and passed with uninterrupted flying colors.

Network speed and call quality

By now, you're most likely wondering what sort of downlink pizzazz is in store if you do choose to claim this phone as your own. Well, in our jaunts around New York City, we've recorded inconsistent HSPA+ network speeds. That's not to say T-Mobile's service around the farther reaches of the Big Apple is spotty. On the contrary, 4G signal strength was surprisingly strong, dropping down to 2G only twice to our knowledge. But when that 15Mbps / 1.7Mbps magic did happen, it was primarily on the outskirts of the city. Within Manhattan's crush of people and buildings, download speeds hovered in the 6Mbps to 8Mbps range, only occasionally topping out at 10Mbps down -- nothing to sneer at, but certainly nothing to applaud either.

If you absolutely insist on using your handset to make (gasp!) phone calls, get set to dig that earpiece and the edges of the screen deep into the side of your head. Even with the volume cranked up to the max, we had a hard time hearing our callers, who sounded distant and muffled. On the upside, loudspeaker performance is quite robust, and should enable you to move freely around while carrying on that gossip fest. Reception, too, was relatively strong and our voices came across crisp and clear on the other end.


Of course, this is the Android show -- 2.3.4, to be exact -- but you wouldn't know if from the Sense 3.0 smothering at play. It appears as if HTC didn't want to load up the Amaze 4G with an accompanying suite of freshly updated software, and instead saddled prospective owners with an outdated version of Gingerbread and its penultimate UX. Perhaps the company needed to reserve the Sense 3.5 fuel for its gimmicky stab at mobile fashion, a.k.a. the Rhyme. No matter, the Amaze 4G's 1GB of RAM and dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S3 CPU handily beat out any further OEM embellishments or flashy plum-colored finishes.

We have to tip our hat to that beefy Qualcomm chip, as not one iota of lag cropped up in our testing. Transitions between Sense's carousel of homescreens were fluid and devoid of hiccups. Web pages on the inbuilt browser rendered swiftly, capably handling the demands of Flash and other various plug-ins. And equally as impressive was pinch-to-zoom, which responded immediately to our touch with nary an instance of checkerboarding.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't be an Android device if it didn't come bogged down with an array of carrier-installed bloatware. For the Amaze 4G, however, the pre-loaded shenanigans don't quite incite frustration the way Verizon's crapware-heavy devices normally would. Here, the operator-inserted apps like 411 & More, Adobe Reader, Lookout Security, More for Me, Polaris Office and Qik Video Chat are arguably useful, though definitely not essential to the experience.

To get a real sense of the newly bestowed powers of 42Mbps HSPA+, you need go no further than T-Mobile TV HD. The app, which offers a mix of live and on demand content, has been around since the introduction of the Samsung Galaxy S 4G, and gets a real jump start from Magenta's new wireless threads. A live MSNBC program played back almost instantly, however the quality of video stretched across the device's 16:9 dimensions was noticeably poor, and undeserving of the HD labeling. As for that on demand content, a full episode of ABC's Happy Endings downloaded in its entirety within seven minutes -- all thanks to T-Mo's zippy (at times) 4G network. Curiously enough, on both the streaming and downloaded video, audio was noticeably out of sync, rendering the couch potato on-the-go viewing experience a trifle annoying.


No doubt, T-Mobile intends to lure willing customers in with the promise of super network speeds, but the true crown jewel of this HTC flagship device is actually its camera. The Amaze 4G borrows the same backside-illuminated 8 megapixel module found on the myTouch 4G Slide, and unsurprisingly, it performs just as well here. It's clear the company intended this phone to be a replacement for your point-and-shoot, tacking on camera shortcut keys and bundling it with user-friendly photo software. We put the 3.69mm lens and its various scene modes to the test and came away mostly convinced -- this might be all the camera you need. That's not to say we don't have our gripes. While the incessantly autofocusing sensor definitely has it perks, we struggled on more than one occasion to get the focus ring to settle and let us snap a clear shot. Additionally, low light shots, even when taken in Night mode, often resulted in grainy, oversaturated pictures. As for video, recordings made in full 1080p HD came off largely without a hitch, displaying good contrast and sharpness of detail, although we did note an occasional decrease in frame rate from time to time.

Keeping the camera tech fresh for amateur photogs are two new HTC-added features -- SmartShot and PerfectPics. Despite its promise to sample multiple shots and deliver a smile-laden composite photo, SmartShot is essentially a useless and ineffectual mode. After dozens of failed and frustrating attempts, we were only able to procure five successful images, with the rest being a blurry mix of happy / sad faces. As for PerfectPics, well that's less of a mode and more of a smart gallery. Using an algorithm, the software parses through your photo collection and deposits your Avedon-worthy series of still lifes in a separate gallery. It may just be our artistic bias, but we're inclined to believe PerfectPics' critical eye is all a bunch of hooey. Bizarrely enough, many of our least favorite photos made their way into this A.I. curated collection, leaving our vastly superior photos lumped in with the rest.

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We have to hand it to HTC on this one: the zero lag shutter and constantly autofocusing f2.2 sensor lend themselves well to fits of sudden photographic inspiration. If you see something that catches your fancy, all it takes is a drop of the camera app into the lockscreen ring and, voila!, you're right there, finger on the shutter, capturing the moment you thought would slip by. This ease of use gradually becomes addictive and, in time, you're likely to take it for granted. As you can see in the galleries above, our tour of Central Park gave way to fleeting moments of filmic brilliance that would otherwise have been lost with a lesser-equipped phone.


So, does HTC's new flagship manage to live up to our high expectations and its hyperbolically named state of awe? We'll put it this way: a better moniker for this girthy handset would've been the Kind of Awesome 4G. As a daily driver, the Amaze's bound to leave you high and dry a few short hours into your day, critically hampering your busy work / social schedule with its power-hungry demands. Sure, you can obsessively monitor your screen's brightness, manage syncing and hold off on the mobile video consumption until you're close by to an outlet, but the name of this industry game is wireless, and T-Mo's Galaxy S II's already out of the gate. Ignore this phone's battery life shortcomings, and you're left with an elegant camera module and T-Mobile's just out of reach 42Mbps HSPA+ dangling carrot. Simply put, it's just not practical to opt in for a high-end device that will, sporadically, treat you to downlink speeds that are half of what's been promised, and desert you in the process. At the end of the day, the purchase choice is yours to make, but for our money, we'd hold out for something packing a wee bit more milliampere-hours. The Amaze 4G XL with Beats, anybody? It's inevitable, and you know it.