Tag Archive | "htc"

Report: Smartphone Screens Growing over Time, 5″ Screens the Norm by End of 2013

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I’ve been following a disturbing trend over the last few years as the Android platform (and now WP7 as well) matures. Smartphone screen sizes just keep growing and growing, and they don’t seem to want to stop. I have a number of issues with smartphones that have overly-large screens. It pains me to see that, while Android is known for giving users many choices, it’s nearly impossible to get a reasonably-sized flagship phone. For me, for a smartphone to be a ‘smartphone’ at all, and not a tablet, it has to be easily usable with one hand. Of course then the definition of smartphone/tablet will change from person to person, because our hands are not all the same size, however, there is certainly a finite limit for everyone where a phone will become too big to be comfortably used with one hand.

I’m currently testing the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. So far it’s been a rather wonderful phone, and I recently wrote this on Google Plus:

I’ve been using the iPhone for 3 generations. Right now I’m testing a Galaxy Nexus. If they made the same exact phone in a size that’s actually comfortable for one-hand use, I might call myself an Android convert. Curse you 4″+ screens and the awful fad that you are!

For me, the 4.65″ screen on the Galaxy Nexus is just too big. I constantly have to shuffle the phone around in my hand because Android places the two most frequently used aspects of the interface (the menu buttons and the notification drawer) at opposite ends of the phone. The size of the phone and the required shuffling means that I’ve got a poor grip on it, and I’ve been rather worried about dropping it during use. Again, those with larger hands will not have the same issue at 4.65″, but at some point they will run into the same problem.

Android Handset Screen Size Over Time

To show the trends of Android smartphone screen sizes over time, I compiled screen size and release date data from 155 smartphones from five major manufacturers (Motorola, Samsung, HTC, Sony, LG). I’d like to thank PDADB.net for their comprehensive release date info. (click to enlarge graphs)

   

 

As you can see, since the introduction of the 3.2″ HTC Dream / G1, screen sizes have consistently increased. Today we’re seeing 4″, 4.5″, 4.7″, 5″, and even 5.3″ smartphones! A simple projection (seen on the main chart) suggests that before 2013 is out, many handsets will have 5″ screens, while the flagship phones of that time may have even larger screens (if this trend continues) of 5.5″ or perhaps 6″.

With a slope of 0.0016, LG is increasing its Android smartphone screen sizes the most rapidly of these five manufactures. Despite pioneering some of the largest phones on the market at certain points in the timeline, Motorola is actually showing the slowest rate of increase in Android smartphone screen size with a slope of 0.0009, but of course this isn’t very far off from the leader!

Why is This Happening?

A good question to ask is what’s prompting the growth in screen size. It seems natural for manufacturers to have experimented with screen sizes as the platform grew legs. Different screen sizes are a point of differentiation for an Android phone manufacturer — a way to stand out in a sea of similar options. Bigger screens were also an easy way for companies to try to beat out the iPhone on features, even if the ‘bigger is better’ argument doesn’t hold much water in this case. Now it seems to have turned into a snowball effect whereby manufacturers are trying to one-up each other to have the biggest screen in town (all the while, Apple has stuck with 3.5″ since the introduction of their handsets). You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard the phrase “biggest and baddest” when marketers are referring to a new Android phone. They use this phrase as though bigger is always better, but I must say — when it comes to comfortable one-handed smartphone use — it is not.

Where Does It Stop?

My question is this: where do we draw the line? As I mentioned, despite variations in hand sizes, everyone reaches a limit of comfortable one-hand usability at some point. I don’t have the raw data to back it up, but I believe that Android smartphone screen sizes are rapidly surpassing the maximum size for comfortable one-handed use by the average Android customer. None of this is to say there aren’t advantages to having a larger screen (particularly when it comes to media viewing), but given that people much more frequently use their smartphones for apps rather than media viewing, the argument for surpassing a users one-handed comfort zone to provide a better media experience is a poor one.

It’s not so much that screen-sizes are increasing (the chart clearly shows that other sizes are still available), but the bothersome fact is that it’s near-impossible to get a flagship phone unless you’re willing to buy one of the massive phones on the market. If you want a phone that comes in a size that’s comfortable for one-handed use, you have to be willing to settle as a second-class Android citizen — the only options available to you will likely have slower processors, less RAM (and may be based on an older platform) than the newest and biggest flagship phone currently on the market.

 

Microsoft, Make These Changes to WP7, and I’ll Switch from iOS and Recommend That Others Follow

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I’ve spent the last several days with the HTC Titan, a WP7 phone with a zippy 1.5GHz CPU and a huge 4.7″ screen. I’ve been keeping a running list of areas where WP7 is lacking, or places where they could push it to really excel. If these things were fixed, I would switch from iOS (which I’ve chosen to use for my last 3 phones) to Windows Phone 7 and recommend that others follow. And just so it is clear, all information in this article pertains to Windows Phone 7.5, AKA Mango.

To start, I want to point out that I’m extremely impressed with WP7. This is one of Microsoft’s biggest consumer facing undertakings in the last few years, and I see massive potential in the OS. WP7 is beautiful and unique. I’d call it the best looking OS on the market today, hands down. It makes Android and iOS feel like they were designed in a veritable stone age of mobile OS design.

Most unfortunately, it’s lacking in a number of vital areas. A friend asked me what I thought of WP7 the other day. Because he isn’t a tech-geek like myself, I used a metaphor. I told him to imagine the most attractive sports car he’d ever seen. With the car come a few caveats: the steering wheel sucks and it doesn’t have any tires. Although my choice of steering wheel and tires weren’t supposed to represent specific issues with the iOS (but rather say: it’s missing stuff), looking back now perhaps mentioning the tires was a good choice, after all, the OS is lacking traction.

If I didn’t think WP7 had tremendous potential, I wouldn’t be wasting my time or yours with this article. But I truthfully think that WP7 has something special going for it. Microsoft just needs to hone it and push it hard. My hope is that this list gives them a good place to start:

The List

  • Core Social Applications — Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, are necessary to offer the majority of users access to their preferred social networks. Even more if you hope to include everyone. Official Facebook and Twitter applications exist,  and while they look nice, the functionality is quite weak. Facebook has hardly any native support for the things that users actually do within it. You’ll find that you are constantly getting kicked out of the app and into the browser to a mobile site, and half the time you’ll be met with a frustrating error message once you arrive there. Both Facebook and Twitter suffer greatly from the fact that notifications in WP7 are poorly implemented. Google Plus doesn’t exist as an app on the app Marketplace, and the browser doesn’t support the most modern version of the Google Plus web app, instead dropping you back to a version that would likely still be supported by my Palm OS running Sony Clie UX50.
  • Multi-calendar Support through Gmail — This is simply frustrating. You have the option to configure a Google account directly in WP7, and you can select if you want to sync calendars, contacts, and email when you create it. This makes the user believe that all of these things are fully supported, but there is no indication that there is no support for sub-calendars in Google calendar. If you are a serious Google Calendar user, you likely have a number of sub-calendars under your main calendar for better organization. Unfortunately, only the main calendar will sync over, so if rely on sub-calendars, you are out of luck.
  • Notification System — It is claimed that WP7 has notifications. Evidence of these notifications, however, are completely absent. I’ve spent nearly a week very close to WP7 with Facebook, Twitter, and Email accounts configured on the device, and I’ve not seen one single notification unless I explicitly look at the Me hub (more on that below). I actually had my iPhone sitting next to the HTC Titan and was using the iPhone as a notification system to decide when to check the Titan; this was almost comical!
  • Expand the ‘Me’ Section — The ‘Me’ section of WP7 would be the notification center of the OS, if notifications actually existed. This brings together your notifications into one place and let’s you interact with them. Between iOS, Android, and WP7, the Me hub is the only native system that I would actually consider using, but it needs a lot of work and it will require maintenance. The promise of the Me section is to bring your life into one place. The Me hub is unique beyond Apple’s Notification Center and Android’s Notification Menu because instead of dishing you out to other apps, you can interact directly with the notifications. For twitter mentions, you can send a reply, and for Facebook posts, you can comment, like, etc.. This is really awesome, but it needs deep support if people are actually going to use it. At the moment, it really only consists of Twitter and Facebook. Why email isn’t included is beyond me. When I wake up in the morning, I grab my phone to see what I’ve missed. Usually there are a few texts, emails, and some social network notifications. These should all go into the Me section so I can see everything at a glance, and respond to them if needed, without jumping out to other apps and becoming distracted by noise within. In order for the Me section to prosper, it needs support for a greater number of social networks, needs to (optionally) wrap in email, and it needs to be on it’s toes about updates. I will always use a first-party or third-party app over OS=level implementations if the OS level implementation lacks support for the stuff that I actually want to do (like posting to a Facebook group, or including a photo in a tweet). When new social network features come about, users are not going to wait 6 months or a year for the OS to be updated to support them, instead they are going to leave for a readily available app. Keeping the Me section on its toes could be done in two ways: 1) having an internal team dedicated to making sure that every way that a user might want to interact with a notification is covered. This will require the ability to do automatic OTA delta-updates. 2) alternatively, make the Me hub completely developer driven by allowing applications to push info into it. This way, you’ll never end up with broken or missing functionality, because once the app gets updated, its interaction with the Me hub will be updated as well. The Me hub also needs to alert the user that there are new notifications from the lock screen. Currently, an unread email count is the only info you get on the lock screen with regards to notifications.
  • Skype — Microsoft owns Skype and yet it is on every major mobile OS (yes even WebOS) except for WP7. Do I need to say any more?
  • Quick Jump to Top and Bottom of Start Screen — Because of the design of the Start screen can cause it to get rather long, there needs to be a way to quickly jump to the bottom. Currently, you can tap the Start button while on the Start screen to jump to the top of the list, but there is no way to quickly get to the bottom. If you are at the very top of the Start screen, the Start button should send you to the bottom of the screen and vice-versa.
  • Next/Last Input Field Navigation — When entering text into a text field in the web browser, it can sometimes be difficult to select the next input field because it has the tendency to get cut off by the keyboard (which has a hit-zone that expands beyond where the keyboard stops visually). This means that you see a sliver of the next text box and try to tap it, but end up pressing a key instead. Having buttons to navigate between input fields (like on iOS) would be very useful.
  • Faster Access to Tabs in Web Browser — I don’t think any serious computer user has used Android and asked, “Why is it so annoying to manage browser tabs?”. WP7 is making the same mistake. Getting to the tab menu in the browser requires that you pull up the URL bar, tap the tab button, then make another input to close, select, or create a new tab. This is too many taps to get to tabs and the result is that tabs become underused and the person using the browser uses it less efficiently than they should be able to. Improving interaction with tabs in the browser quickly and easily increases the productivity of those using it; they will thank you.
  • Better Standards Support in Browser — It seems that Internet Explorer will never be able to shake free from the chains of its past. Yes, I said it: standards support in IE on WP7 sucks, and that’s not surprising to anyone. Between WebOS, Android, iOS, and WP7, I bet you can guess which one scores the lowest on the HTML5 test. Having weak standards support means that when you don’t have native apps (and let’s be honest, this is a problem for WP7 right now), at least users can fall back to modern web apps which are usually a decent replacement. Unfortunately, because of the lack of standards support and a useragent that no one seems to care about, users get stuck with simplistic web offerings. Having a browser that works as expected is also tied to the confidence you have when using it. If I want to buy concert tickets through some no-name website through iOS, I’d put my money on it working with no problem. With IE on WP7, I’d bet against the process going smoothly. I want to have confidence that I can do anything on my mobile browser (within reason) that I’d be able to do on my desktop browser. IE on WP7 does not give me that confidence. Just for reference, here’s the current HTML5 test tally for modern mobile browsers:
  • Open in Background Tab — In addition to making tab interaction faster, there really needs to be a way to open a link in a background tab. Unless you have the attention span of a hyperactive child, you probably choose to read information online while opening relevant links in the background to check through after you finish the current material. Opening in the foreground is just distracting and forces the user to navigate back to the original tab.
  • Global Landscape Support — Windows Phone 7 has the most responsive and best looking transition from landscape to portrait of any mobile OS. Show it off! Landscape support is a scarcity throughout the OS. At very least, the multitasking menu needs landscape support so that when you pull it up from one of the few apps that do support landscape, it is oriented the right way.
  • Deeper Live Tile Functionality — I think Live Tiles are a great idea, but they aren’t being used often by developers. Where they are used is often for eye-candy rather than functionality (like the People hub which flips through a bunch of photos that are too small to really see). Talk to developers and find out what tools they need to best use Live Tiles, and encourage them to make use of this unique functionality!
  • Expand Pin to Start and XBL Friends List– Pin to start is another great idea. On iOS, there are specific albums that I love to listen to, but every time I want to play them, I have to launch the Music app and navigate through some menus to find them. In WP7, I can ‘pin’ these directly to the home screen and play them with a single tap, which is awesome. I want to see more of this. Specifically, you need to allow Xbox Live users to pin their friends list to the start screen, and then, using Live Tiles, you should be able to see how many friends are online. Invites, messages, and friend requests from XBL friends should probably end up in the Me hub, but I think a case could be made for leaving them in the XBL hub.
  • Change Accent Color Automatically — The accent color (configurable in the Settings app) is a cool way to spice up your phone, but it’s bothersome to change manually. There should be an option to have the accent color change by the day, week, or month. This way, instead of finally deciding, “I’m bored with this color,” and then finally changing it manually, you can be surprised by a new color on a new day, week, etc.
  • Use LED Light for Notifications — The HTC Titan has an LED on it which does nothing more than indicate charge status. This should be tied into the Notification System, should one ever actually exist.
  • Quick-scroll to Top of Page — Some webpages are long (like Wikipedia articles), this is a fact of life. Please find a way to allow the user to jump to the top of the page quickly because that’s where most websites’ navigational elements are found.
  • Folders — I understand that ‘folders’ might feel outdated; call them Magnets if you must make them sound as trendy as the rest of the OS looks, but they are necessary on the start screen regardless. I know the folks responsible for WP7 can think of a beautiful way to display folders to the user on the Start screen. Make it happen, otherwise my Start screen is going to end up being 5 miles long. Additionally, newly installed apps should be highlighted on the app list, instead of making you hunt them down through their alphabetic sorting. Offer pin-to-start at app install so that the user can skip the step of installing, finding in the list, then pinning.
  • Hire the people From Lazy Worm to Make Your YouTube app — or license their existing app and include it with all windows phone 7 devices. This is the one dev I’ve seen that’s making full use of Live Tiles and Pin to Start functionality, check out this video demo of his upcoming Metrotube app which lets you pin your favorite YouTube subscriptions and see when they are updated through the Live Tile.
  • Faster way to Return to Root of App — When you are 5 menus deep within an app, it’s annoying to press the back button 5 times in order to return to the top level of the app. There needs to be a way to jump to the top level in just one press or gesture. Pressing at the heading of the app might be an option, or perhaps a pull down gesture might do the trick.
And that’s what I’ve compiled over just several days of using Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, there will certainly be more to come. I submit this as an earnest list of what I hope Microsoft can fix and improve with WP7. The OS has massive potential, and I would like to be able to call myself a WP7 convert, and confidently tell others to follow me, but there is work to be done by Microsoft before that will happen.
Have anything to add to the list? Please drop a comment!

HTC Titan with Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) Overview Video

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I’m giving the HTC Titan and Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) a test drive. As usual, the HTC hardware is a beauty. I think HTC hardware paired with Windows Phone software could be a winning combination. That’s if, and only it, Microsoft ups their game. See my overview video below:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBaWz1UFt7c

 

 

HTC Rhyme Review — Will the Accessories Charm You, or Leave You Wanting More?

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The HTC Rhyme is an attempt to incorporate a little feminine charm into a product that runs an operating system that is typically represented in products that are completely black, have sharp edges, and seem to shout, “THIS PHONE IS FOR GUYS!” Is a feminine touch enough to appeal to different demographics? Read on to find out.

Design

You’ve heard us say it before, and it’s about to be said again. HTC makes beautiful hardware. The Rhyme is no exception. Even though it is smooth and svelte, it’s also solid and lean. Materials feel high quality and the HTC Rhyme is nearly as thin as the iPhone 4S. The back of the phone is matte so you won’t often need to wipe it clean of fingerprints unlike some other glossy devices.

The back is indeed removable but the battery is not. Popping the trunk only offers you access to the MicroSD card slot which comes pre-installed with an 8GB card. The back casing of my review unit didn’t seem to go on quite right (you can see this in the first photo of the Hardware Tour), but I do believe this was a unit-specific issue.

The lock/power button could have a bit more click to it for my taste, but it is raised sufficiently so it’s easy to find. The volume-rocker actually has the opposite problem — it’s a bit flat so it can be hard to feel, but it clicks sufficiently.

For me, the size of the phone is very nice. The 3.7″ screen of the HTC Rhyme sits in the hand easily and can be operated sufficiently with just one hand without a bunch of shuffling, as required by many of the 4″+ screens on the market. Aside from the color, I wouldn’t say that there is anything outwardly “feminine” about the HTC Rhyme. The shape and design otherwise seems to be a perfectly neutral. Slap a different color on it, and I think plenty of men would be just as happy to use the phone as women. In fact, I did see some press photos of a champagne and light blue version of the Rhyme, but I’ve not seen those colors actually available for sale anywhere:

Hardware Tour

Right: Volume rocker

Top: 3.5mm headphone jack, mic, lock/power button

 

Left: MicroUSB slot (covered)

 

Bottom: Nada

Display

The HTC Rhyme’s 3.7″ screen is pleasantly vibrant and crisp. It’s rocking an 800×480 resolution, which doesn’t put it up there with some of the other insanely pixel-dense devices on the market, but the 3.7″ screen doesn’t quite necessitate it.

Viewing angles are top notch all the way around the screen, and auto-brightness does a good job of keeping the display at appropriate levels. Black-levels are typical for an LCD display, which means they’re pretty awful compared to AMOLED displays. Unless you regularly watch high quality movies on your phone, or you’re a photo buff, you probably won’t notice the poor black-levels.

Software

The HTC Rhyme comes installed with Android 2.3.4; HTC hasn’t yet said whether or not the phone will receive an update to Ice Cream Sandwich.

On top of Android is HTC Sense, a set of custom graphics and widgets that run throughout the system. Some people have grown fond of HTC Sense, but I’m sure there are an equal number of people who, like me, would rather not use Sense. Unfortunately, Sense cannot be disabled.

While Sense does add some widgets and other functionality to the HTC Rhyme, the proprietary nature of the skin means that you’ll end up waiting longer for Android updates, and might miss out on features until HTC decides to update Sense. For instance, let’s say that you like to go into your contacts page to see a friend’s Facebook status updates. Hypothetical: All is working well until one day Facebook adds some new feature that allows people to add short audio clips to their status updates — because that feature didn’t exist when your version of Sense shipped, the phone has no idea how to handle it, thus you cannot access the content (or post your own audio clips from Sense’s proprietary Facebook integration).

With the pace of updates and changes to our various social networks and other online services, trying to use software that is built into the firmware of the phone is just a pain, especially given the update track record of various Android phone manufacturers. Another example: even with the latest HTC Sense twitter client (which doesn’t exist as an app on your home screen but can be launched from a widget — totally confusing) still doesn’t support lists. Lists were added to twitter back in 2009.

One of my biggest pet peeves for Android skins is when they waste space in the notification menu. When I pull down the notification menu, I want to be able to see as many of my notifications as possible, not scroll through them one by one. The more space wasted in the menu, the less notifications I can see without scrolling.

On the HTC Rhyme’s notification menu, there is the obligatory carrier branding at the very top which takes up at least one notification slot. Below that is a scrollable list of recently used applications which takes up at least one and a half notification slots; more annoying still because the user can pull up a list of recently used applications by simply holding the Home button. Why is redundant functionality wasting space in the notification menu? Further down, there are two tabs, one for notifications and one for “Quick Settings” which you can access to quickly toggle things like airplane mode, bluetooth, mobile hotspot, WiFi, and more (but annoyingly, not brightness). These tabs take up another half a notification slot, but at least they are useful.

After all that wasted space, you can only see four notifications instead of seven or so. I’d rather they trim all of this unnecessary fat from the notification menu and slap the Quick Settings options in the native recently-used applications menu (hold Home) which has ample free space.

Also, prepare to be badgered by your phone constantly as HTC Sense tries to link all of your contacts into unified contact cards. Any time you get a new Facebook, Twitter, or Email contact (and maybe a few other services), you’ll get a notification that HTC wants to link the service for that user to a contact card (this is done based on name matching apparently). So this way you can have one contact card for your friend John Smith and it’ll know what his Twitter and Facebook profiles are as well. The functionality would be appreciated by the power user, if implemented non-intrusively, but I can tell you that my father, brother, mother, sister, and the majority of my friends would absolutely not understand what all this “linking” business is, because HTC Sense does a terrible job of explaining exactly what it’s doing.

Even so, contact linking should happen in the background and be managed by the user when they see fit, rather than popping up a new notification every few days. As far as I’ve been able to find, there is no way to disable notifications about contact linking.

That’s not to say that Sense is all bad, there are a few nifty bits like the ability to see weather on your lock screen, but as far as I can tell, there is nothing added that couldn’t be added from the Android market; tying these ‘improvements’ to the firmware just brings along unnecessary disadvantages. The user should really not be locked into HTC Sense, the option to switch to vanilla Android would be a perfect compromise for both sides.

Performance

The HTC Rhyme’s 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8655 ought to be able to handle Android just fine, but Sense seems to bog the system down. List scrolling is surprisingly clunky and could definitely stand to be more smooth.

As with other HTC devices that I’ve tested, the HTC Rhyme’s Sense keyboard feels a bit bloated, but they have trimmed down on the space-wasting word suggestion pop-ups. More annoyingly, if you are a fast touchscreen typist, you can tap fast enough that the haptic feedback (vibration) won’t be able to keep up. From time to time you’ll get one vibration for two taps and it feels as though the keyboard isn’t keeping up when it actually is.

Minecraft Pocket Edition plays on the HTC Rhyme on fancy settings with no issues and no apparent lag.

I’ve run the usual tests, and while the HTC Rhyme doesn’t appear to lag drastically behind similarly speced phones, I can tell you that it feels much slower because of how clunky Sense is. Between the browser and list scrolling (two things you are sure to be doing a lot of on a smartphone), there is much improvement to be desired.

 

Charm

The ‘Charm’ that comes included with the HTC Rhyme is actually a very unique accessory. It is a little cube with an LED inside that lights up to give you alerts. The cube is about 1cm squared, plugs into the headphone jack, and glows purple.

Apparently, HTC sees women (or men, I suppose) dangling the charm out of their purse or handbag so that when their phone is buried deep inside they won’t miss calls or other events. While I don’t personally fancy a tote bag, I’ve spoken to two friends about the idea and they said they could absolutely see it being useful when it comes to wearing dresses without pockets and jeans that as so tight that they may as well not even have any.

Really neat idea, kudos to HTC for that, but the execution is poor. The only events that will make the cube glow are messages (SMS), incoming calls, and missed calls. Beyond this, the Charm may as well not exist.

Why they didn’t simply make the Charm an extension of the HTC Rhyme’s built-in notification LED, which can respond to a wider array of events (and is extendable), is beyond me. For this to be a seriously useful accessory, HTC needs to make the Charm’s triggers much more customizable. And why not offer some different options for how the Charm glows so that you can tell a missed phone call from a text message? Actually, saying that the charm ‘glows’ is misleading, it’s more of a sharp flash which is supposed to get your attention, but might get the attention of others as well.

Dock

Also standard with the HTC Rhyme is a compact black dock. There are no ports on it except for a microUSB plug so that you can plug the unit into a charger. Once plugged in, you can drop in the HTC Rhyme to connect to the docks speakers, and there is some simple dock based functionality.

The dock will charge the phone thanks to three contact points that match up with those little circles on the back of the phone. The HTC Rhyme is held into the dock with magnets, but the process of actually putting the phone into the dock could be more satisfying. Instead of the magnets grabbing the phone and pulling it right into place, you have to put the phone down then slide it around to get it to fit in. If used as a simple charging dock at your bedside, the dock is a thoughtful inclusion.

However, HTC missed an opportunity by not kicking the dock up to the next level. First, the speakers are extremely weak. They aren’t much better than the HTC Rhyme’s built-in speakers; they are just a bit louder. If your only usage is an alarm, this shouldn’t be an issue, but for anyone who likes to listen to music as they sleep, or perhaps wake up to a podcast in the morning, a bit more oomph would have been appreciated.

Then there’s the actual software part of the dock’s functionality. When you put the HTC Rhyme in place, the dock will be detected, and you’ll get a simple ‘dock mode’, but the actual usefulness of the functions provided therein is very weak. You can see more detail about this in the video at the end of the review (start at 14:58 for dock functionality).

Camera

According to HTC, the 5MP camera on the HTC Rhyme is “best in class”; to some extent, I’m inclined to agree. I was impressed with its low-light performance. Most smartphone cameras tend to be lacking in the low-light-sensitivity department, so it is nice to see the HTC Rhyme perform about as well as the iPhone 4:

HTC Rhyme

iPhone 4

iPhone 4

Macro shots were also quite impressive:

Despite the decent appearance of these photos, there’s an odd grainess to them as soon as you get up close (click to enlarge):

The grain is likely the result of aggressive photo optimization on the part of the phone. When snapping photos with the HTC Rhyme, you’ll notice that ‘what you see is what you get’. As soon as you press the capture button, the image will be captured exactly as it is on the screen. For a device that is destined to be used primarily as a point-and-shoot, this is exactly what you want, and it works well. For quick photos for social networks (even in somewhat low light), the HTC Rhyme’s camera should perform very well. However, due to the graininess, print quality photos these are not.

By default, the HTC Rhyme snaps photos with a 16:9 aspect ratio which is a bit weird considering that the standard is pretty much 4:3. Weirder still, this shape is achieved by reducing the resolution from 2592×1952 (4:3) to 2592×1552 (16:9). Why the default photos would be set to less than maximum resolution and a non-standard shape is, once again, beyond me.

Headphones

The HTC Rhyme comes with a pair of in-ear headphones that are designed to look like they might be of a similar quality to some other name-brand in-ear headphones (more on that in just a moment). The headphones have an inline control on their flat cable that lets you pause, fast forward, rewind, and change tracks. Despite the + and – icon on the buttons, I was unable to change the volume from the inline control.

These are truly in-ear headphones. Be sure to understand the difference between in-ear and earbud headphones. Earbud headphones (like those included with the iPhone) rest in the pinna (external) part of your ear. In-ear headphones stay in your ear by being crammed into your ear canal. Some people don’t seem to have issue with such headphones. Personally, I’ve never found in-ear headphones to be comfortable, nor do they seem to stay in my ears very well — with iPhone earbuds, I can quite literally dangle an attached iPhone from my ears with the headphones — with the headphones included with the HTC Rhyme, it seems like the slightest tug on the cord will pull the headphones free.

Three sizes of ear pieces are included with the headphones and I had to switch to the smallest pair get them to stay without falling out all together. Once the headphones are in, it seems hard to get them to both be in your ear an equal amount, which causes annoying uneven pressure on your ears. Just imagine stuffing ear plugs into your ears, it’s just like that.

In terms of quality, these are some of the worst headphones I’ve used. Don’t get me wrong, there are probably plenty of other horrible headphones out there that cost $0.99 to manufacturer that are far worse, but if we’re talking about headphones that are actually intended to be used for honest to goodness music listening, this pair is pretty bad. One of the problems with small headphones (earbuds and in-ear) is that it’s hard to create bass with such small speakers. HTC seems to have completely overcompensated for this — the headphones are actually quite bassy, but this comes at the cost of quality.

To my ears, it sounds like much of the midtones are unfaithfully recreated, and are instead throw into the bass spectrum. You might be able to toy with an equalizer to get them to sound better, but it seems like all the sounds are getting lumped toward the treble or bass end of the tonal spectrum, with little fidelity on the remaining mid tones. I found the same issue through both my computer and the HTC Rhyme itself. Even though Apple earbuds have significantly less bass, I would prefer them over the Rhyme’s headphones because they do a better job of representing all of the audio information. If you aren’t an audio person, let me use a metaphor: this is like the difference between being able to see your favorite painting with very vivid reds and violets, but all the colors in between are black and white, or being able to see the painting with all of the colors in tact, even if slightly less vibrant.

Conclusion

As seems to be the case with all HTC phones, the HTC Rhyme has impressive build-quality. The phone is sturdy and sleek. Unfortunately, coloring a phone purple and including a few neat but flawed accessories does not cut it if HTC is really hoping to attract a more feminine demographic. The issue actually lies less with the color or the accessories, but more with the phone’s software.

The changes HTC has made with Sense don’t make the phone any easier to use — just different. Not to say that there aren’t tech savvy women out there, but I think we can agree that they are less common than tech savvy men. If HTC really wants to appeal to that demographic, the phone is going to need to offer a smoother and easier user experience — something non-techies from both genders would benefit from.

Unboxing and Overview Video

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtWvg6EX0XM

HTC Status Testing Notes and Software Gallery

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htc statusI opted to take the HTC Status for a spin recently to see how Android handles hardware that isn’t ‘top of the line’, and I came away quite refreshed; thanks mostly to the size of the screen and the practical battery life. I won’t be doing a full review of this device as a number of other great sites have you covered on that front, but I will be dropping an expanded list of my testing notes. You’ll see some comments about the hardware here in the notes, though you may be interested to see my previous article in which I detailed the impressive hardware of the HTC Status in photos. I’ve also included a gallery of software so you can see how Android smartly scales applications to fit the screen, but they can still feel cramped.

Testing Notes:

  • The small screen is actually a breath of fresh air. Unlike the 4″+ monster-phones of late, the HTC Status has a 2.6″ screen which is incredibly easy to use because one hand can pull down the notification bar and reach the Android buttons across the bottom of the screen with no shuffling!
  • Keyboard is great, keys are firm with good feedback that isn’t too loud. Keys are not overbound (too many alternate symbols/characters assigned to keys). With a hardware keyboard, knowing whether you are in caps/shift/alt is very important. The HTC Status indicates this easily by changing the way the cursor looks. You’ll never be left guessing which modifier is queued up, even in applications that remove the status bar (like the browser). Typing on the keyboard when not in a text field will take you right to search in almost all places, which is handy as you don’t have to hit the search button. The keyboard backlight is well done; all letters and symbols are illuminated and the lighting is even across the keys. The backlight is toggled intelligently based on the ambient light sensor.
  • The keyboard takes a little getting used to, and could use some simple auto-correction to save time on typing works with contractions. I’ve always wondered why we don’t get the same auto-correction with hardware keyboards as we have with software keyboards. Changing “thats” to “thats” automatically would save me a keypress, and more importantly, brain cycles. By not having to think about using the modifier keys as much (thanks to auto-correction) I could focus more on what I’m typing, rather than how I’m physically entering it into the phone.
  • Phone looks impressively beautiful — it seems HTC doesnt skimp on build quality even on lower end phones. I’ve had a number of people grab the phone and be immediately impressed with it’s build quality and styling, which is very slick and sharp. Kudos to HTC on this!
  • Screen feels way cramped at times. The reality of it is that most applications are designed for larger screens. The HTC Status has a 2.6″ touchscreen @ 480×320 with a 3:2 ratio. Most Android phones on the market are 16:9 on somewhere near it, and the top end phones have At least 854×480 or beyond (with some now creeping up to a ridiculous 1280×720). Cramped, yes, but I was extremely impressed by the robust scaling that applications were able to do to fit themselves on the screen. Despite the low resolution, apps look impressively sharp on the phone’s screen; a testament to Android’s forward thinking scaling capabilities.
  • You can use the HTC Status in portrait mode by tilting it on its side. It looks a little silly but is actually quite useful. Most Android applications are designed for portrait orientations, and the HTC Status uses a landscape orientation. Flipping it to portrait actually makes some apps easier to use. You can see some examples of this in the software gallery bellow.
  • Multiple sign-ins for the same accounts are very confusing — not easy enough to use for the target demographic. When you set up your phone, you are asked to add your various accounts. However, the HTC Status is equipped with HTC Sense, a suite of apps and widgets that overlay the Android 2.3 build. HTC Sense wants to get all up in your biz, and it leads to confusion about which app you should use to configure a Twitter, Facebook, etc account. Additionally, HTC Sense is constantly bugging you (through the notification bar) to ‘link’ contacts without explicitly telling you what it is doing. I understand that they are trying to get your twitter/facebook/phone contacts all on one page, but the target demographic may not quite understand this, and it isn’t clear whether or not this is happening for this phone only, of if they are actually going into your contacts (through Google) and editing them.
  • The proprietary FB implementations make the phone less useful than it should be. If you’ve read any of my prior Android reviews where a phone company has slapped on an overlay that wants to manage all your  social networking, then you’ll know that I hate proprietary implementations of such features. The HTC Status is another perfect example why — if Facebook makes changes (which they do, all the time), you are left at the mercy of HTC to create an update to fix broken stuff or add new features, and I think we all know the update delay horror stories from numerous Android devices. This isn’t the only issue with proprietary implementations either. Often times you’re left without the ability to actually do what you want. You’re supposed to use the Facebook button on the HTC Status to be able to quickly share stuff to Facebook, and while this works appropriately for photos, links, etc., you are limited to posting to your own wall, or to a friend’s wall. No messaging, no group-only sharing, and pretty much no using the social network in any way other than what’s been defined for you, which is silly. What this leads to is users going with the official Facebook app instead of the limited proprietary implementation. The Facebook button on the HTC Status should be user-configurable to launch any app (I’m sure there are hacks for this, but naturally only a small portion of people will know how to seek them out and install them).
  • Pulling the notification bar down is silky smooth, as is home screen navigation — very impressive for a phone that isn’t touting the latest dual-core CPU and loads of RAM. On that note, the battery life is outstanding compared to recent flagship Android devices (especially LTE ones). Yes, you could actually wake up to a still functional phone if you forgot to plug the HTC Status in at night. I dare say, you might even be able to get 2 days use out of one charge!
  • When you’re in the web browser, the status bar disappears which means you can’t see notifications coming through or pull down the notification bar when in the browser. I think this was done to try to provide as much room as possible for web browsing on the HTC Status’ small screen.

HTC Flyer Goes on Sale in Error, Stylus on Sale for Real (we hope)

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htc flyerThe HTC Flyer was reportedly on sale today at Best Buy for a mere $99. This would have been an excellent price for the WiFi-only version of the HTC Flyer as the 3G variant began retailing at a whopping $529. I was immediately suspicious to see that the $99 price tag wasn’t an on-contract price, and that suspicion appears to be warranted.

According to Droid life, the drop to $99 was an error in Best Buy’s pricing system, and it will be fixed shortly. Best Buy hasn’t said whether or not they’ll be honoring some of the orders that went through, but I’m seriously doubting it (sorry folks).

There is a silver lining here though. The HTC Flyer’s active-stylus, which is sold separately, appears to be on sale for real. The price has been slashed 50% from the original pricing, down to $39.99 from $79.99. There is a chance that this stylus-sale is also in error, but it hasn’t gone ‘out of stock’ according to the system, and Best Buy has only mentioned that the SKU specific to the HTC Flyer was the one that was listed incorrectly. So at very least, if you didn’t pull the trigger on the stylus at launch, perhaps you can pick it up for a more reasonable price now.

If this non-sale has sparked your interest in the Flyer, the first Android tablet to feature a dual finger/active-stylus sensor, Chippy has had lots of hands-on time with the unit that you’ll want to check out. If the active-stylus concept intrigues you, you’ll want to know that the HTC Jetstream (10″) and Evo View 4G (7″) all support the stylus. Additionally, Jerry is currently running a series on the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet which is 10″, runs honeycomb, and also comes with an active-digitizer screen for smooth and accurate digital inking. See the latest installment here, and stay tuned as he’s got two more articles on the way.

 

 

HTC Status Gallery and Initial Impressions — Beautiful Hardware, Regardless of Price

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HTC kindly offered to lend us the HTC Status to have a look at and I was happy for the opportunity because it’s giving me some time to step back and look at Android on the lower-end of the phone spectrum. We tend to focus on the bleeding edge devices, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that not every person (in fact, the majority of people) don’t want to drop $299 on the latest phone every year. The HTC Status runs a cool $49 on contract which blows me away because this phone is pretty damn gorgeous.

The HTC Status is running Android 2.3 on a 2.6″ 480×320 (3:2) screen which is curious because this is the exact same resolution that the very first Android phone, the HTC G1 (AKA Dream), used. If you’ve read my analysis of the ergonomics of Android, you shouldn’t be surprised to find that, from an ergonomic standpoint, HTC is way easier to use with one hand. Instead of stretching and shuffling to read between the navigation buttons and the notification bar, it’s all right there, easily within reach.

The unfortunate fact is that almost all of today’s Android applications are designed with the assumption that the phone they will be used on is primarily portrait and with much more screen real estate. Despite how it may seem, I was actually really impressed with Android’s ability to scale everything down to the smaller landscape resolution of the HTC Status. Things are no doubt cramped at times, but the ability to adapt the entire interface, from something like the massive 5.3″ 1280×800 screen of the Samsung Galaxy Note to the relatively tiny 2.6″ 480×320 screen of the Status, is rather amazing.

HTC has never disappointed in the hardware department. Even though the Status will only run you $49 on contract, this hasn’t made any impact on the attention paid to the hardware. The Status feels great and I love the styling — it’s clean and sharp. The keys on the keyboard are firm and have near-perfect feedback when clicked.

There’s certainly more to be tested, but for the time being, have a look at this beautiful phone.

 

HTC Announces Two New WP7 (Mango) Phones, the Titan and Radar – Available Beginning in October

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Not satisfied with letting Samsung steal the spotlight completely today, HTC had scheduled a number of media events around Europe where they revealed two brand new Windows Phone 7 devices, both of which will run the oft-previewed (and enjoyed) but yet to be released, Windows Phone 7.5 (aka Mango). HTC has a knack for making beautiful hardware and these devices don’t look like they’ll disappoint in that respect. The real question is whether or not WP7 Mango is enough to keep people interested.

HTC Titan

htc titanJust based on the name alone, you know I’m going to rip on this phone for its screen size; before that let’s at least look at what it brings to the table:

  • WP7 Mango
  • Single-core Snapdragon MSM8255 @ 1.5GHz
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 4.7” capacitive LCD touchscreen @ 800×480
  • 8MP rear camera (BSI sensor, dual-LED flash), 1.3MP front camera
  • 720p recording-capable
  • Micro USB
  • 16GB capacity
  • HSPA+
  • 1600 mAh battery
  • 160 grams (5.6 ounces)
  • 9.9mm thick aluminum body

So yeah, the phone looks great, it’s quite thin, and though I haven’t held it myself, I can tell from hands-on reports that it is going to have that classic HTC hardware build-quality to it.

And while WP7 doesn’t use the same interface paradigms as Android, there’s still a lot of issues with a 4.7” and near-16:9 screen which you can read about in detail here.

It seems like people are finally starting to catch on to what I’m saying about these huge phones. This Is My Next makes the following note:

…although the Windows Phone Metro UI keeps things relatively centered and easy for one-handed usage, it’s still not necessarily easy to reach the top of the screen with your thumb when holding the device in one hand, and accessing the power button required a bit of in-hand shuffling in order to climb a finger up to the button located along the top-right edge of the device.

That’s also a mighty big screen for the 800×480 resolution; it might not look as crisp as some of the other devices that have launched or are launching soon (ie: iPhone 4 [960x640], Atrix [960x540], Galaxy Note [1200x800]).

As seen in videos of the phone taken by Engadget and This Is My Next, the single-core CPU running at 1.5GHz runs Mango very smoothly and I that doesn’t surprise me as the 1GHz HTC Surround that I played with last March was able to run the WP7 UI with impressive fluidity.

This is My Next has a massive gallery and a hands-on video of the Titan, take a look.

HTC Radar

htc radarThe Radar appears to be for people like me, who actually want to be able to use their phone effectively with one hand. Instead of the classically too-big 4.3” screen, they’ve actually brought this one down to 3.8” which I’m quite thankful for. The annoying part, however, is that this smaller phone offers lesser specs, so the idea of top end phones being required to have giant ergonomically crippling screens is still firmly in place. But hopefully we’ll see a lesser price than the Titan as well.

  • WP7 Mango
  • Single-core Snapdragon MSM8255 @ 1.0GHz
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 3.8” capacitive LCD touchsceen
  • 5MP rear camera (BSI sensor), front facing camera (currently unspecified MP)
  • 8GB capacity
  • 720p recording-capable
  • 1520 mAh battery
  • 137 grams (4.83 ounces)

The Radar actually looks a lot like a mini HTC Flyer, and it doesn’t have a user-replaceable battery, which is a point of contention for some but not all.

Viewing angles on the phone look really good and even if the contrast ratio isn’t as ridiculously impressive as the Galaxy Note or Galaxy Tab 7.7’s AMOLED displays, I’ve found that the high-contrast visual design of WP7 negates that problem by a large degree (of course you’ll probably be quite upset if you try to watch any movie with a dark scene on the phone).

Like the Titan, the Radar’s rear camera uses backside illumination technology which helps capture more light for better low light performance (an area where smartphones are often extremely weak). This is great news because the HTC Surround’s camera took some pretty muddy shots in low light. The BSI technology is one of the reasons why the iPhone 4 still takes some of the best pictures in the smartphone category, so I welcome seeing it come to more phones.

This is My Next also has lots of great shots of the Radar as well as a hands-on video. If you’re interested, take a look.

HTC says that the Titan and Radar will become available beginning in October with initial releases in Europe and Asia. Pricing hasn’t been announced and it’s uncertain when/if they’ll see a US release, but we’ll keep you posted.

Thanks to Engadget and This is My Next for providing some of the information contained in this article.

Verizon’s Phone Leak, Visualized. Galaxy Tab 4G Coming in November (but which one?), Among Other LTE Devices

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IGN managed to get a hold of what their source claims is an internal document listing launch dates for 14 upcoming devices. Swing by IGN to see the original document, but also hang here to see that I’ve taken the information and plotted it on a handy timeline for you (I am a visual person, after all). Be sure to click to bigify:

verizon phone leak

Among the devices listed are the Motorola Droid Bionic (I accidentally didn’t note it as being 4G), which has seen a number of delays, and the Motorola Xoom 4G upgrade, both of which we had already heard were coming in September, so corroboration makes this leak seem quite legit.

According to the leak, Verizon is set to add five additional 4G LTE devices to their shelves that weren’t part of their initial 4G lineup. Those devices include:

  • Samsung Stratosphere
  • Blackberry Curve 9370
  • HTC Vigor
  • LG Revolution 2
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4G

The Droid Bionic and Xoom were part of Verizon’s early 4G lineup, so we already knew they were coming down the line. The ones listed above, however, are mostly new.

I say mostly because we’ve been eyeing the Galaxy Tab 4G which, at first, was announced as a 4G version of the original Galaxy Tab 7, but it may end up being the Galaxy Tab 8.9, instead. Verizon had it listed as the “P8” on the leaked chart, but it is unclear exactly what that means. Whichever form it comes in, the leak tells us that it’ll be happening sometime in November.

The HTC Vigor is specifically designated as being a replacement for the HTC Thunderbolt which was Verizon’s very first 4G device. Similarly, the Revolution 2 is going to replace the… wait for it… Revolution (bet you didn’t see that one coming!), which I’m hoping will provide better battery life, faster charging, and better standby than the original.

The Blackberry PlayBook is also listed on the leaked list, but its launch date is listed as “TBD”.

What’s obviously missing here is any information regarding the iPhone 5 or iPad 3, but any information regarding those devices is unlikely to be known outside of Apple until they announce it publicly. Still, that doesn’t stop us from speculating.

If all of this turns out to be true, Verizon has a powerful pre-holiday lineup; I can only hope that the other major carriers have such an exciting group of devices ready to go!

via: The Droid Guy

source: IGN Gear

Review Roundup: Sprint Motorola Photon

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The Motorola Atrix has been AT&T’s flagship device for several months. No other carrier has had a similar handset from Motorola to-date, until now. With the debut of the Photon 4G on the Now Network, Sprint has a hardware set that might be able to entice more customers in the market for a super-smartphone featuring the latest version of Google’s mobile OS for smartphones. Reviews have started popping up around the web, so we thought it was a good time to give you a consolidated view of how the media is receiving the device. Common themes from the usual suspects are discussed below for your perusing pleasure.

Hardware impressions are pretty good all-around. The Photon seems to be the start of a wave where the manufacturers are starting to figure out how to deliver 4+ inch displays and dual-core processors in packages that are a little less chunky. I love my own HTC Evo 3D, but it is certainly not svelte. While that does not particularly bug me (you guys know I will take ruggedness over litheness any day), it does bother a lot of the mainstream, so this is a good direction for Motorola to move in. The edges have a diamond-cut to differentiate the device from HTC’s handsets. Given that HTC tied RIM for spot number two in the most recent Nielsen sales charts, it is either a really good idea to look different from their kit… or really bad. Regardless, most reviewers give Motorola a nod for trying to not look cookie cutter in this age of all-slab smartphones, even if it is only just a little.

Other hardware touches of note include a kickstand, a soft-touch back panel, and an 8-megapixel camera. If you want to get the remainder of the very detailed hardware overview, we would recommend reading Phil Nickinson’s review over at Android Central.

As a flagship device, the Photon carries plenty of packed in features in addition to the core specs. There are business-centric capabilities, such as global data roaming and support for Microsoft Exchange Active Sync. The display is a qHD SuperLCD. Sound out of the speakers exceeded both quality and volume, and caused the reviewers over at LaptopMag to question whether they were actually listening to a smartphone’s speakers.

Motorola’s ‘MotoBlur’ interface is gone as a brand-name, but a lot of its elements remain in the proprietary GUI implementations on the Photon 4G. Most reviewers felt they were not nearly as intrusive as Blur used to be, but there are a lot of the technoratti who are never pleased with anything that disrupts the stock Android experience and removes them from that layer of customization control.

Early indications are that battery life is on par with the Evo 3D, and a little better than the average for most super-smartphones. There are mobile dock accessories that are available for the Photon; one for at home use, and one for the car. The at home dock also comes with a remote. Once connected to a TV via the HDMI port, a full-screen Firefox browser is available.

A lot of the reviewers have tagged the Photon with their editor’s choice award. Of critical interest, of course, is the question as to whether or not this becomes the premier phone to get on Sprint if you are in the window for an upgrade. And does it trump the HTC Evo 3D and Samsung Nexus S 4G, arguably Sprint’s top two smartphones as the Photon arrives?

I would have to say that a very slight majority of the reviews declare that the Photon trumps the Evo 3D and Nexus S 4G. I will add my personal assessment that I did not agree with some of the reasons behind those declarations. In one case, the Photon was designated the winner over the Evo 3D because of the kickstand and standard HDMI-out. I personally never use my phone to display video on my TV, so for users who are not worried about this feature, aother criteria would need to be established to determine a tie-breaker between the Photon and Evo 3D. Additionally, there are adapters which will allow HDMI out over microUSB from the Evo 3D, although the content that can be sent is restricted to content shot from the phone itself. This is an example of how your own use-cases may make deficiencies pointed out in some of the reviews be complete deal-breakers, or perhaps not matter at all.

The Photon was also considered a trump card to the Nexus S 4G based on call quality and internet speeds. I have personally found the call-quality on my Nexus S 4G to be better than on my Evo 3D, and better than any recent phone that I have owned. Additionally, the recent software update that was rolled out to the Nexus S this past week has improved internet access speeds somewhat. At $99 on-contract versus the $199 for the Photon, price versus features that a user may or may not use should be weighed. The Nexus S 4G is still a great deal at $99, and it has the advantage of providing the pure Android experience that some users clamor for.

This is not to discredit the opinions of reviewers that actually had hands-on time with the device, since I have not. It is to say, consider all reviews with a grain of salt, read several reviews to get an aggregate picture, and go into the store yourself to put any device through the paces as best you can, if at all possible.

 

 

Sources:

PCWorld

Boy Genius

PCMag

Laptop Magazine

Android Central

 

 

 

HTC Thunderbolt Testing Notes and Camera Quick-test

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IMG_5414If you’ll recall, the HTC Thunderbolt was released as Verizon’s first phone compatible with their 4G LTE network, which provided impressive speeds which are even capable of functioning as a high-end gaming connection for consoles. Beyond the impressive 4G speeds, the phone has HTC’s hallmark build-quality, a good camera, and a great kickstand to boot.

The HTC Sense overlay that takes place of the default Android interface is liked by some, but hated by others. While I don’t hate Sense, I will say that I lean more toward the latter group. Not that I don’t see the value in HTC Sense, they’ve actually build an impressive number of widgets and mini-applications for users to choose from, but I tend to prefer multi-platform solutions (and official ones at that), so that I don’t have to wait for a company like HTC to get around to updating their software to take advantage of updates to Twitter, Facebook, etc. I spoke a bit more about HTC Sense in my HTC Thunderbolt overview video.

Because the Thunderbolt has been on the market for some time, I’m going to give you a quick rundown of notes that I’ve taken during testing, rather than a full fledged review. If you’re looking for a formal review, the folks over at Laptop Magazine have a great one waiting for you.

Notes

  • Haptic feedback motor can’t keep up – if you type too quickly, the motor won’t be able to vibrate the phone as quickly as you type, this makes it feel as though the phone is dropping key presses when it’s really not.
  • Custom skinning (HTC Sense) is visually clunky, especially in the People (contacts) application
  • Twitter for HTC Sense is a nightmare – the widget for the homescreen is called ‘Twitter for HTC Sense’ but the corresponding app is called ‘Peep’ in the application screen; the DM section of which inexplicably doesn’t tell you who sent you the DM, or even the time that it was sent (looks to be a bug). The widget that interacts with Peep shows, at most, three tweets, and has no indication of what tweets have arrived since the last time you checked. You can’t directly click on anything within the tweets of the widget, such as a username or link, instead you have to click the tweet in the widget which launches Peep, then you can go ahead and click on the link or the username.
  • The ‘dismiss keyboard’ button is where the number pad toggle or shift key usually is on other handsets – annoying!
  • The lock button on the Thunderbolt is too small and too flush with the top of the phone. It’s a little bit hard to find with the finger and the feedback should be better.
  • HTC has included a cursor handle to make it easier to move the cursor around in text which is tremendously frustrating to do without such a handle. Thanks to HTC for adding this as it doesn’t get officially implemented into Android until 2.3 (Thunderbolt is running 2.2). It’s oddly inconsistent though; you can tap in the text field to evoke the handle, but if you hold your finger, a small magnifier will pop up and move with you as you move the cursor. It almost seems like they tasked two people to come up with a solution for cursor selection then accidentally implemented both.
  • When looking from a high angle, there is backlight leakage at the bottom of the LCD screen, and at two small points under the capacitive buttons.

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  • SMS doesn’t vibrate the phone by default which seems a bit silly (dig through the settings and you can fix this)
  • Thanks to HTC Sense, many of the default icons have been changed visually for no reason that I can think of, other than to be different, which isn’t a good thing if you are trying to cater to users who are already familiar with Android (perhaps they are going for people already familiar with Sense?).
  • I may rag on HTC Sense a good deal, but if you like to customize your phone, it has a number of great themes and options to do so.
  • Between the keyboard and the predictive input pop-up, little room is left for what you’re actually looking at on the screen.
  • The space bar on the landscape keyboard is off-center which causes me to hit the period key frequently when I meant to hit the space bar.
  • The Thunderbolt’s kickstand is top-notch and springs up and down with satisfaction. As a bonus, it also holds the phone up in portrait mode which is great for video calling. Sadly, HTC missed a golden opportunity with the stand. They should have placed the micro-USB port on the bottom of the device so that it could sit in landscape with the stand and be an excellent bedside alarm clock/info center while charging. Unfortunately they placed the micro-USB connector on the ‘bottom’ of the phone when the stand holds it in landscape, which blocks the micro-USB port.

IMG_5418

IMG_5422IMG_5420

  • HTC added four arrow keys to the already clunky keyboard which take up lots of space and I’ve never desired to use them.
  • You can calibrate the keyboard for a better typing experience, which is something that I haven’t seen any other phone manufacturer allow you to do (it’s unclear whether or not this calibration affects keyboard input only, or all touch input {I would hope the latter}). After calibration, typing on the Thunderbolt’s keyboard is a better experience than most Android phones. Unfortunately this advantage is counteracted by the fact that the Thunderbolt’s screen is overly sensitive. It’s quite easy to press a key by holding your finder near the screen without actually touching it (and issue I’ve found on other devices as well). This means that accidental key presses can (and likely will) occur during fast typing.
  • At 4.3” the screen is too large in my opinion, especially when asked to reach all the way up to the status bar for notifications, then all the way down to the capacitive buttons.

Camera

In my review of the Nexus S, I noted the following about the device’s camera:

What you see is not what you get. It’s very hard to visualize exactly how your photo will turn out after you press the capture button. Pictures are often suddenly brightened after you hit the capture button. Shooting good photos with the phone would be much easier if the viewfinder gave a more clear idea of what will actually be captured once you pull the trigger.

I’m very happy to report that the Thunderbolt is the opposite of the Nexus S. When you hit the camera button, you can be assured that what you see on the phone’s screen is exactly what you’re going to capture. This makes it much easier to snap good photos. Noisy low-light photos and the lack of an HDR mode makes the Thunderbolt’s 8MP camera still inferior to the iPhone 4’s 5MP camera.

The Thunderbolt is capable of capturing great photos given the right conditions (as with many smartphone cameras). Here’s a few unedited sample shots I took with the phone (click to enlarge):

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The colors could pop a bit more on some of these photos, but it does work in daylight as a great point-and-click camera.

HTC Flyer Unboxed [video]

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slashgear unbox photoOur pal Chris Davies over at Slashgear has a solid unboxing video featuring the upcoming HTC Flyer [tracking page]. We’ve got lots of upcoming coverage for this device, but this is a great way to get a jump-start on becoming familiar with this very interesting 7” tablet.

I’m happy to see that the Flyer includes a good-looking case. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen any decent included accessories in today’s tablet-world.

Chris’s video will take you through the box and into the software for a brief look at the totally new HTC Sense and you’ll see some stylus action.

I’m really disappointed to see that the stylus doesn’t work system-wide. As you’ll see in the video, there are times where the stylus can be used for some things, but the finger has to be used for others. I’ve seen such issues before on the Nokia N810; it creates a bothersome disconnect between finger/stylus input usage for the end-user. This could likely be fixed through software, but it’s going to cause some annoyance for people who are interested in using the stylus.

Also don’t miss their gallery at the bottom of the post!

HTC Droid Incredible 2 Now Available, New GPU Offers 4x Performance Over Original

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droid incredible 2HTC and Verizon have finally gone public with the HTC Droid Incredible 2, which has been known about for some time. It’s available now from Verizon for $299 on-contract.

While I’d love to tell you that the Droid Incredible 2 is going to be the best thing since sliced bread, it actually doesn’t have many distinguishing features, even when compared to the original Droid Incredible. While you may not see many new features, it looks like there may be a good performance bump in the graphics department (see below for more detail). Have a look at a comparison table that I whipped up:

htc incredible comparison chart

While most of the changes are relatively minor, internationally traveled types will enjoy the fact that the Droid Incredible 2 will play nicely when travelling abroad.

The jump from the Adreno 200 to the 205 doesn’t appear significant at first glance, but according to Qualcomm, it’ll provide over 4 times the graphics performance of the Adreno 200 in the original Droid Incredible. Along with the additional 256MB of RAM, it looks like the Droid Incredible 2 will bring the popular phone up to spec for current generation phones.

I’m sure many folks will be disappointed to find that the sequel to their favorite phone doesn’t feature 4G. I’d definitely recommend that anyone looking into buying a Droid Incredible 2 wait for one of Verizon’s several upcoming 4G phones, or go with the Thunderbolt [product page] which is already available.

HTC Flyer Demonstrated as an Artist’s Canvas, Unlikely to Satisfy Serious Digital Artists

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htc flyer inkingThe upcoming HTC Flyer [tracking page] is one of the only (if not the only) Android tablets that is built specifically with stylus driven input in mind. NotebookItalia.com has caught a video of an artist demonstrating what it’s like to use the Flyer as a drawing tool.

I don’t speak Italian, but the video gives us somewhat of an idea of what experience you can expect from inking on the HTC Flyer. My initial feeling is that while the N-trig capacitive/active digitizer screen will feel great for digital inking, the software on the Flyer is going to determine how seriously this tablet could be used for art.

I’m no artist, but from what I understand, layers and a robust brush tool are vital to creating digital hand-drawn art. Artists need to be able to selectively work on various layers of their projects, and need to have a huge brush-head selection to be able to do mass-outs and draw textures what would be difficult to achieve with manual strokes.

At first glance, HTC’s drawing application might look ok, but a major roadblock that I can already see is that brush sizes appear to be quantized, meaning that only specific pre-set sizes can be chosen, rather than being able to select from a virtually unlimited number of possible brush sizes. Layers also don’t seem to be present, so when if you are looking at the Flyer as a seriously digital-drawing art tool, you might be better off sticking with your Wacom pads. Drawing (not writing, mind you) on the HTC shift appears to be more useful for simple sketches than masterpieces.

Digital ink for note taking, however, will likely be well received to people unfamiliar with using a real stylus and active digitizer. HTC has talked about Evernote integration on the Flyer which happens to be my go-to digital ink (and regular text-based) note taking app, so they definitely picked a good ally in this department.

The on-device inking experience might not be up to professional artistic standards, but HTC could potentially pull a Notion Ink and allow the Flyer to function as a wireless drawing pad for a full blown computer. The Flyer appears to have pressure support (a must for life-like digital inking), so conceivably it could work as wireless drawing pad when linked up to an application like Photoshop. HTC hasn’t yet announced such functionality, but here’s to hoping (or at least a clever third-party implementation)!

The HTC Flyer is launching in the UE region on the 8th of May for a steep $792 (479 pounds) for the base model. Thus the Flyer is unlikely to be anyone’s first choice as a dedicated digital inking pad as Wacom’s industry-recognized Intuos drawing pad line starts at $299.

[via netbooknews.com]

HTC Unveil New Flagship Handset, The Sensation

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Its not difficult to understand how HTC posted $33.8b market capitalisation figures for the last quarter. HTC’s early Android adaption has propelled the company from a small Taiwanese manufacturer to a global player, overshadowing both Nokia and RIM with the market cap figures.

HTC-Sensation-2HTC’s popularity is ever increasing with both tech savvy and those new to the smartphone world, a theme they will hope to follow with the announcement of their newest flagship handset, the Sensation [product database].

Powering this new “multimedia superhero” is a 1.2Ghz dual core Qualcomm MSM8260 Snapdragon with a powerful Adreno 220 GPU, 768MB of RAM and 1GB of user accessible storage which can be expanded with the use of a microSD card. The multi touch 4.3inch S-LCD screen runs at a qHD (540×960) resolution, offering up HTC’s newest version of Sense (3.0) and Android 2.3, Gingerbread.

This new version of Sense includes customisable lock screen widgets displaying quick information on items like stocks and weather and also allows you to unlock the device by dragging an application icon into a circle, taking you straight to said application. Also on board is HTC’s Watch service, allowing downloadable movie rentals or purchases but on this occasion, unlike the Flyer, access to OnLive’s game streaming service is notably missing.

Europe is expected to see the HTC Sensation around May, with Vodafone getting a month of exclusivity in the UK. It will be released in the US as the Sensation 4G on the T-Mobile network sometime this summer.

You can track the HTC Sensation in our product database and see the press shots in the gallery.

Honeycomb Upgrade Confirmed for HTC Flyer Tablet, but How Will It Work with Inking and HTC Sense? (Updated With HTC Response)

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flyer android 3.0After watching the official HTC Flyer intro video, you’ll see that a lot of the device’s identity relies on customizations made to Android 2.2 made by HTC. The inking, for example, is completely dependent on the proprietary HTC ‘Sense’ UI, which has been modified from it’s phone roots to play nicely with tablets.

HTC has now confirmed that the Flyer will receive an upgrade to Android 3.0 once it becomes available. On their official Twitter page, they responded to someone inquiring about Android 3.0 on the Flyer with this:

We will be offering a Honeycomb upgrade when it’s made available. What feature are you most excited about?

What is less certain is how this will impact the Flyer’s inking capabilities and the features that rely on the custom HTC Sense UI. For the time being, Google has delayed the Android 3.0 source-code which means that developers have not yet been able to get their hands on the raw software for modification. Google also may desire to keep a tighter grip on the modifications that they will allow to be made to the tablet-specific interface (likely to reduce the potential for fragmentation that has been seen with the smartphone version of the Android.

There’s also the issue that the HTC Flyer has capacitive Android buttons built into the bezel of the device while Android 3.0 moves these into the software… which would create an odd redundancy, or force HTC to disable the buttons on the tablet (or within the software).

I’ve reached out to HTC to find out whether or not they’ll be able to retain the important inking features, and whether or not they’ll be allowed to bring the HTC Sense interface over to Android 3.0. I’ll update this post if we hear anything back from them.

via NetbookNews

Update: HTC has responded, rather vaguely, when asked if they’d be able to make Sense and inking customization to Android 3.0 with the following:

HTC will continue to implement the popular HTC Sense experience on future Android updates.

I’ve asked for further clarification, but this seems to indicate that there will be no barriers to adding HTC Sense and inking to the Flyer post Android 3.0 update.

HTC Thunderbolt Overview Video

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IMG_5412As promised, we’ve got a solid 30 minute video overview of the HTC Thunderbolt, Verizon’s first 4G phone. You’ll see a quick hardware tour in the beginning followed by a look at the software (Android 2.2 with HTC Sense UI) of the meaty and well built device. Have a look below:

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