It's amazing to witness the contrast in design philosophy between HTC's Windows Phones and its latest generation of Android devices (i.e., the One series). While one feels fresh, experimental, the other hearkens back to some of the Taiwanese company's older handsets. And it shouldn't be that difficult to figure out which one is which.
We suppose it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. After all, HTC likely views its Android phones as its cash cow, which is why it's invested so heavily in the success of the One X, the One S and their respective variants. The Titan II, on the other hand, doesn't appear to have received quite the same level of tender lovin' care from HTC (or AT&T, for that matter), evidenced by its Easter Day launch, and a price at least double that of the Nokia Lumia 900 (depending on what kind of deal you find), its fiercest Windows Phone competitor. Nokia recruited Nicki Minaj to perform at a free concert in Times Square; HTC did... nothing. Of course, launch details have absolutely zilch to do with how the phone's features or performance, but we mention it to highlight one important aspect of the business: with the exception of Nokia, phone manufacturers aren't betting on Windows Phone handsets as a major source of revenue. And perhaps they won't be until the next generation of devices arrive on the scene, bearing Windows Phone 8 (Apollo). But because of this, these phones aren't given the same VIP treatment as their Android brethren.
Stepping off of our soapbox, let's dive into the ins and outs of the Titan II. It sensibly adds to the spec sheet of its predecessor in a few critical areas, such as connectivity, camera optics and battery life. Unfortunately, improvements like these never seem to have a flattering effect on the weight and size of a device. The phone measures 10.2mm (0.4 inches) at its thinnest point, 0.3mm thicker than the last-gen model. As for its thickest spot -- the hump that makes room for that larger camera sensor -- we pulled out a ruler and estimated it to be around 13mm (0.5 inches), and that doesn't even include the fact that the camera protrudes about a millimeter beyond the frame. If you believe the OG Titan's 9.9mm thickness was borderline acceptable, a 30 percent increase in thickness could be tough to swallow. The phone also tips the scales at 6.1 ounces (173g), a rather significant change from the first version's 5.64 ounces. Purchasing this phone will most certainly be a matter of compromise: it's thicker and heavier than the original (and in our opinion, its design is a touch uglier as well), but in return you're getting a larger battery, LTE connectivity and a 16-megapixel sensor instead of an 8-megapixel one. You heard it right: newer design doesn't always equate to better. The older Titan is sleeker, thinner, lighter and more elegant, while its sequel just feels more awkward and chunky in comparison. Despite its bulkier frame, the Titan II is still relatively easy to hold, especially if you're blessed with larger hands. It's still not as comfortable in our palms as the One X with its curvaceous, slightly thinner build, but at least the concave back is coated in soft-touch plastic that offers a degree of extra tactility. Still, where the One X was doable for smaller paws, this particular phone may be just a little too unwieldy for anyone with petite hands to fully appreciate it.
Quickly glancing at the front of the Titan II, you might not see much of a difference between this and the last-gen Titan: they sport the same display, along with three capacitive buttons and a front-facing camera with an Inspire 4G-style recessed speaker grille up top. Look closer, though, and you'll see the glass curves up slightly once it reaches the navigation keys at the bottom, forming a small chin. The micro-USB charging port still sits by its lonesome on the left side of the phone, while a volume rocker and two-stage camera shutter button play together on the opposite end. Up top you'll find the power / lock button, mic and 3.5mm headphone jack, which is actually designed with the signature HTC bump around it. This design flourish wasn't present on the first Titan and frankly, we preferred it that way; the bump just feels like an interruption of those smooth curves you'll find on the back side. It's a similar story around the micro-USB opening, though the effect is far more subtle.
The back side is where the phone becomes more interesting. Instead of choosing a one-piece removable battery cover that encompasses the entirety of its rear (as it did on the first Titan), the Titan II's back is separated into three sections, and only one -- the cover protecting the SIM card panel near the bottom of the device -- is removable. Antennae are printed on the inside of that cover and have matching contacts in the phone's chassis. But be warned: removing the cover will automatically turn off the handset. A silver microswitch made by ALPS detects that it's been removed and powers down the device. It can come in handy if your phone freezes and you want to perform a soft reset, but woe to you if you happen to be in the middle of something incredibly important when you want to swap out your SIM. As for the cover itself, it's the only section of the handset that's textured in any way, with hundreds of shallow little divots. Despite this design choice, it doesn't offer much additional traction for your slippery hands, though we found it to be quite helpful when sliding the cover off. Moving up the back, the middle section emulates the signature HTC unibody style that was prevalent in so many models last year, but it's interrupted by another piece on the top that covers the camera sensor, dual LED flash and speaker grille. Both sections are non-removable and each uses a different shade of grey, which isn't an unusual design choice for the Taiwanese company (why, the grey / blue One S takes a similar tack, only the fading colors are arranged inversely to this). If you're looking for heaps of storage space, you're not going to find it here. The Titan II contains 16GB of internal memory and, just like the vast majority of WP7 devices, is lacking in any external storage options. Unless you prefer to stash all of your important files away in the cloud, you'll have to be rather picky about what goes on your phone at a given time, since you only get 13.5GB of user-accessible storage. This may sound like plenty of room for some of you, but remember that as camera resolutions have increased, image files have grown much larger (roughly 4MB to 5MB per photo), and these super-sized pics are likely to eat up your available space as an appetizer. In case you're interested in the full spread of specs, we've put together a nice little table to compare the Titan II's offerings with what you'll find on the original version as well as the Lumia 900, the phone's main competition in the Windows Phone sphere, particularly on AT&T.
We're not going to dwell much on the Titan II's display, because it offers absolutely no improvements over the original's 4.7-inch WVGA (800 x 480) LCD panel. The Microsoft-mandated limits of Windows Phone are to blame for the lack of progress in this area, so we won't fault HTC or AT&T this time. But we can't let the issue go without a fair amount of criticism: now that we've come to expect 4.7-inch displays with 720p resolution and pixel densities topping 315ppi, it's getting more and more difficult to excuse a WVGA model that delivers a subpar 199ppi. However, while the pixelation is painfully evident, we're at least happy with the superb viewing angles and above-average color saturation. We found we could see the screen well enough in direct sunlight, but only when the brightness was dialed up to its highest setting. Go lower and hardly anything is still readable. The bottom line is that whether you were satisfied or unimpressed with the OG Titan's display, you'll feel exactly the same way now. And if you're looking to grab a Windows Phone with a sharper screen, your best bet is to either wait for Apollo to come out (at which time, we hope, higher-res displays will be fully supported) or opt for a device with a smaller screen.
Performance and battery life
The Titan II runs on a 1.5GHz single-core Snapdragon S2 45nm CPU (MSM8255) with an Adreno 205 GPU and 512MB of RAM. This is one of the better processors you can get on a Mango device, but it's the same exact setup as the original Titan. For better or worse, Windows Phones are utterly predictable in terms of performance; the lack of multi-core support on the platform means that newer devices probably won't be getting any faster or smoother until Microsoft lifts its restrictions. At the same time, there's an argument to be made that the OS is already efficient, that a cap on processing power contributes to comparatively long battery life. And don't forget, if a Kardashian is using a Lumia 900, that must mean it's good enough for us, right? In truth, though, while power users will always demand instantaneous response from their phones, the Titan II should be more than sufficient for casual users. Pinch-to-zoom feels smooth, and we love the responsiveness of the touchscreen, though as with other Windows Phones, you might end up waiting an extra second or two for the various animated transitions to run their course before you move on to your next task. We also found that the back of the phone gets warm during CPU-intensive tasks, but not much hotter than other devices. The temperature isn't so high that the phone becomes uncomfortable to hold, though it's definitely something you'll notice with enough use. Compared to Android, Windows Phone is lacking in benchmarking tools. WP Bench and SunSpider are the main tools available to us for measuring performance, but let's face it: given that the top-end Mango devices have nearly hit a plateau for processing power, it's not like the numbers would vary too widely anyway. Nevertheless, we've tossed in a few scores for your perusal.
The Titan II is powered by a 1,730mAh battery -- an improvement over the original's 1,600mAh offering. Unlike its predecessor, however, this particular model doesn't come with a user-removable juicepack. It seems that this trend isn't going away anytime soon, but we're less concerned with battery life on Windows Phones than any other platform. We found absolutely no reason to be worried about the speed at which the new Titan sucks down power, since our average use (that's the usual suite of email, Twitter, Facebook, push notifications, messages and other day-to-day activities) gave us nearly a day and a half of life. Naturally, lower usage will likely make it possible to eke out a full two days before requiring a new charge. In terms of benchmark comparison, our CPU-intensive battery rundown test on WP Bench held out for two hours and 50 minutes before the phone took its last electronic breath -- a bit shorter than the original Titan, of course, but understandably so given the addition of an LTE radio. In short, we'll make this perfectly clear: if battery life is your number one priority on a smartphone, independent of processing power, a Windows Phone is going to be your best option outside of a Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx. When testing the LTE network, we found the Titan II performed just a smidgeon better than the Lumia 900, grabbing speeds of 21Mbps down and around 14 up during our tests in San Francisco. These tests were performed with four out of five bars of reception, so it's quite possible that we're not even hitting the phone's maximum capacity. Though it's in line with the AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note's next-gen tests, it's not the fastest device we've tested on the carrier's LTE network -- it's still leaps and bounds better than the carrier's HSPA+ service, however, which netted us around 4Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up. We love the Titan II's speakers for making calls and listening to music and podcasts. We placed the phone on a desk backside-up, walked into a room 20 feet away and could still hear everything with crystal-clear clarity. As for call reception and quality, we found the phone holds a strong signal and the mics and internal speakers are some of the loudest we've tested in a while. We heard the other callers so well, in fact, that there were several instances in which we had to turn down the volume. If you're hard of hearing, we doubt you'd have to worry too much, because the device offers a hearing aid compatibility setting in which the in-call volume kicks up a notch.
A 16-megapixel camera with an f/2.6, 28mm lens, backside-illuminated sensor and dual LED flash. On a phone. Such a thought is enough to shatter the mind into smithereens. Without a doubt this is the single most marketable improvement the Titan II has to offer, and essentially the only reason you might consider purchasing this thing above the less-expensive Nokia Lumia 900. So do the extra pixels pack a picturesque punch? Is it worth another Benjamin to go with this particular Windows Phone?