Saturday, April 7, 2012

HTC Radar review

HTC was an earlier supporter of Microsoft Windows Phone 7, and was a launch partner, going so far as to announcing and releasing no less than five WP7 devices when the platform was launched a year and a half ago. These days HTC is all about Android, but that doesn't mean they have completely abandoned the Windows Phone platform. With the relaunched of Windows Phone 7.5 Mango and promising Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 due at the end of this year, it would be silly to do so.

The Radar is HTC's mid-level Windows Phone 7.5 smartphone. Released a few months ago, it was designed to replace two previous HTC devices, the cheap and cheerful 7 Trophy and the stylish and musical 7 Mozart. Currently priced at under £200 for sim-free and available for much less on contract, the Radar sounds on paper like a great device for anyone on a budget wanting to get onto the Windows Phone scene. Oddly enough, the Radar is more expensive on Pay As You Go, but whatever. Read on for my full review of the HTC Radar.
HTC Radar is one of the very few Windows Phone devices with a front camera
As a second generation Windows Phone 7 smartphone, the HTC Radar ships with Windows Phone 7.5 Mango pre-installed. It is powered by a Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon SoC with a single core 1GHz Scorpion CPU and Adreno 205 GPU, a fair upgrade over what was generally included with first generation Windows Phone 7 devices. While it is disappointing to see the Radar clocked so modestly in comparison to its competitors like the Lumia 710 and HTC's own Titan, Windows Phone 7 is so well optimised, you wouldn't miss the faster processor much.

Apps do seem to load quicker on the Lumia 710 and some apps do suffer from scrolling issues, but you won't run into many serious issues due to the slower clock. It would be nice to see a speed bump in comparison to first generation Windows Phone 7 devices, but to me it doesn't seem like much of a deal breaker. 512MB of RAM, the minimum required to run Windows Phone 7.5 Mango is included as is a fixed 8GB of NAND storage.

The 3.8" S-LCD display won't set the world alight. With a resolution of 480x800, the HTC Radar at least boast a screen resolution that is better than most smartphones at this price segment. The S-LCD display is sharp and offers a suitable brightness and contrast level that is slightly better than the older displays used on the HTC 7 series. Viewing angles are not that great, but honestly, who would use their phones from a different angle other than straight on? However, the contrast ratio and colour saturation could have been better as everything looks a bit washed out.
The S-LCD display won't wow you
Sadly the HTC Radar's WCDMA chipset only supports dual band frequencies - significantly impacting the phone's ability to roam the various 3G networks worldwide. At least it supports HSPA+ download speeds of up to 14.4Mbps. Like most modern smartphones, the HTC Radar has Wireless LAN, Bluetooth and A-GPS built-in. The single microUSB port takes care of syncing and charging, but like other Windows Phone 7 devices you won't be finding any form of HDMI-out features here.

With a unibody design, the HTC Radar owners will be getting a real treat. Not only is the HTC Radar stylish, the main chassis is made of a single piece of metal. So not only are you getting style for your money, but also build quality and durability - something unheard of for a smartphone at this price point. There are pieces of plastic to be found, but these are placed over the wireless antennas ensuring that the reception isn't hindered as it would if they were placed under metallic materials. The two-step camera shutter button is made of metal and offers better tactile feedback compared to Nokia's current Lumia offerings, including the more expensive Lumia 800, and definitely the poorly made 710.

The design of the HTC Radar bears all the hallmark of a typical HTC device, that it is stylish but also forgettable. It's an understated smartphone, something that you wouldn't mind being seen with one, but also is also conservative enough for those who prefer something that isn't attention seeking. Overall, the Radar is extremely well built, with only the SIM card door exhibiting some imperfections and even then it is only a minor issue.
None removable battery, but at least it accepts normal sized sim cards
Despite having a none-removable battery, the battery is rated at a capacity of 1520mAh, a little bit higher than the one found on the Lumia 800. Thanks to the lower clocked processor and more power efficient S-LCD, the Radar was able to last longer out in the field particularly with web browsing. The Lumia 800's AMOLED display simple could not cope with displaying websites with pre-dominantly white background, something that the HTC Radar simply laughs through. Having said that you do sacrifice the amazing contrast ratio that only an AMOLED display can provide, but life is all about trade offs.

On the back you will find a single 5MP camera with single LED flash. The back-illuminated sensor (similar to the technology found on the Sony Xperia S plus modern high-end compact cameras) coupled with the f/2.2 equivalent lens meant that the HTC Radar, in theory at least, is a well capable low light shooter. The 22mm wide angle lens also ensures you can get more of your subject. As with all Windows Phone 7 devices, the Radar can shoot 720p HD videos with continues auto focus. There is a front camera for video calling, but its use is currently only limited to a very small select number of third party apps.
The camera performs well, but the single LED flash doesn't
With Nokia's entry and advertising money that they have brought into the Windows Phone platform, it is easy to dismiss HTC's commitment to the platform. HTC's commitment to the platform has been questioned a lot lately, and to a certain extent this is mainly leveled at the lack of marketing and promotion done by HTC. Still you can't accuse HTC for not trying hard with Windows Phone. The Radar after all comes with a number of HTC exclusive applications, most of which are well thought out or offers genuine value for money.

HTC Hub is HTC's take on bringing parts of their HTC Sense user interface to Windows Phone. As Microsoft does not allow any form of customisation or home screen/Today replacements onto the platform, and rightly so, HTC was only able to showcase the best of HTC Sense within their proprietary app. Here you can check the weather forecasts, stock updates, news and also search exclusive HTC apps. These includes HTC Locations, HTC Watch, HTC Connected Media and a whole host of other minor apps.
HTC Watch is a unique service among Windows Phone manufacturers
HTC Locations is a location service app similar to Nokia Drive but with added social flavors. Here you can share your location data with friends and vice versa, similar to Google Latitude. But what impressed me most of HTC Locations is how it handles offline maps. As Windows Phone 7 does not have real multi-tasking, background downloads are almost impossible. I queued up a couple of maps to download totaling 2GB, went out of the app and even switched the display off a couple of times. Half an hour later, the maps were all downloaded, complete with POIs, ready to be deployed at any time. Unfortunately HTC Locations isn't free and will require subscription to use beyond the 30 days free trial.

With HTC Watch, you can rent or purchase films and TV series. While the prices may not wow people like me who tends to prefer cheap traditional media, but are actually pretty competitive and in line with Apple's iTunes offerings. Finally HTC Connected Media brings DLNA capability to the platform, so you easily stream those films and TV shows you just purchased on HTC Watch onto a DLNA capable machine (such as the PS3). However with only 8GB of storage (6.5GB of which are available after formatting), the HTC Radar just isn't the multimedia machine it aspires to be.
The understated design is both conservative and stylish
Other exclusive apps can be downloaded from a specific section in the Windows Phone Marketplace. These includes Photo Enhancer, a simple image editor that allows you to quickly enhance your pictures with filter effect, Calculator - a simple scientific calculator, Notes - a bulletin board-like app for jotting down notes, and Converter, which allows you to convert between units.

HTC has also embedded a couple of software enhancements within Windows Phone 7. One such enchantment is Attentive Phone, which resides in the Settings, allows you to set up the Radar's phone functionality in a 'natural way'. For example the Radar will increase the ring volume if it detects itself to be in a pocket or bag, or you can flip the phone during a call to activate the loud speaker, or flip it to silence the ringer. The Radar also supports SRS sound enhancement as well as HTC 5.1 surround sound playback via compatible headphones or speakers. Audiophiles will be glad to know that HTC has not sullied the Radar with 'Beats Audio technology'.
It may be stylish but the HTC Radar doesn't stand out much. At least it is slim
The rest of the device is typical Windows Phone 7.5 Mango. Windows Phone is a new OS build from the ground up by Microsoft offering a new and unique user interface completely optimised for touchscreen. The UI, which Microsoft dubs Metro, is a typography based design language. It is partly inspired by public transport signage, which emphasises readability; and partly inspired by International Swiss Typographic and Bauhaus design sensibilities. This explains why the Metro UI features a design language that favours large texts for navigation over tired grid-based icons. It is fresh and unlike anything we have seen yet from the mobile industry. In fact the UI is so good that Microsoft has chosen Metro as the design language for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

Windows Phone 7.5 Mango is a relaunch of Windows Phone 7, released about 1 1/2 years ago. The OS back then felt more like a featurephone than a smartphone OS, having more in common with first generation iOS than what it is now. These days Mango contains plenty of features that makes it a competitive alternative to Android and iOS, but Windows Phone as a whole still lacks when it comes to features aimed at power users. You can read my in-depth review of Windows Phone 7.5 Mango here. In case you are wondering, yes, Internet Sharing is enabled on the HTC Radar.
The Flash-less Internet Explorer 9 mobile is a fast HTML5-complaint browser
As a camera phone, the minimum camera specs dictated by Microsoft does mean that the HTC Radar is capable of capturing images that are at the very least printable. The 5MP camera lens has an aperture of f/2.2 equivalent meaning it allows in more light than other camera phones. This is good as it means you do not have to rely on the flash or slow shutter speed to capture images in low light situations. Still the HTC Radar's camera sensor is small, and no matter how fast a lens are, the technology will always be at the mercy of physics, even if the sensor here is back illuminated.

The image quality here are decent and actually a lot better than what previous HTC smartphones were capable. HTC has done well to improve the technology used in their imaging products and it shows. Images are detailed enough for web and e-mails, and while they exhibit the usual noise that will never escape smartphone sensors, are still clean for a camera phone of this level. Sure it won't compete against a good pocket sized digital camera like the Canon S90 or even the Nokia N8, but it is more than capable of being used as a good on-the-go snapper for all your social media needs. While the colour rendition seems dull, it does suffer from pinkish hue, but all camera phones I have tested do exhibit them as well. But it does seem more pronounced in HTC devices than others. Still the HTC Radar does not exhibit issues with exposure and white balance, something that all current Nokia Lumia smartphones on the market suffer from, badly.

You will find a couple of image samples, and 720p video sample demonstrating the auto focus capability, embedded below.
No barrel distortions here
Silent Hill days are tough to capture, but the Radar did well here
The camera could benefit from having a HDR mode
Picture by @hardij taken at Ecobuild China
With the HTC Radar, it is nice to see HTC attempting to differentiate their Windows Phone 7 offerings through value added applications, so I can't help wondering why they aren't being more pro-active. The HTC Watch video on demand service for example is unique among Windows Phone OEMs and even Microsoft's own Marketplace lacks such services. These aren't just merely token apps, they are all actually useful. A bit of promotion into making people aware of such offerings won't do them any harm.

The lack of confirmation by Microsoft on whether first and second generation devices will get Windows Phone 8 Apollo is unnerving and frankly irritating not knowing whether this device will be 'future proof'. However, if you are in the market for a cheap Windows Phone 7.5 Mango devices, the HTC Radar is currently going for a spiffing £190 at Amazon UK, making it a great value for money smartphone. Future proof or not, for a full smartphone below £200, you can't get any better than the HTC Radar.


Mobile Price List said...
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reymyst_619 said...

I own this one ! Its a rock star with Classy Looks!