Last week's I sat down with Microsoft for a hands-on demo of their latest WP7 handsets and a walk-through of the Mango OS. And though my eyes and hands continually wandered over to the two flagship models, the ninja quick Samsung Focus S and expansive IMAX-screen HTC Titan, it was the mid-tier HTC Radar I went home with for a hands-on experience with the latest Mango-fied handset marketed for the mainstream...
To be frank, the HTC Radar was the model I've been least excited about since the slew of new model announcements were made in hopes of jumpstarting the struggling WP7 platform. After 5 years away from using a cell phone, I found myself quickly falling in love with everything Windows Phone 7 offered from the user experience perspective. Even before the latest Mango update, my HTC HD7 exceeded expectations and made me a believer in the dark horse contender in the mobile device race. Label me a fanboy, but considering my deep Mac roots, there's something to be said about finding pleasure in an uncluttered UI that does everything I ask it to do without getting lost in icons and submenus.
But the one knock I had with WP7 (and to a certain degree, still do) is the uninspired design and specs of the WP7 platform. The tile-based Metro UI characterizing the Windows Phone 7 experience is deceptively sophisticated, a UI design in line with something Apple might have imagined, rather than something expected from the traditionally (and overly) conservative Microsoft team of the past. Microsoft has engineered a highly efficient operating system which really does not require the dual core engine of its competitors, with sluggish performance or crashes not even a rumor using the phone for months now. The worst that could be said is WP7 Mango is like an attractive shy guy or gal whom you need time to get to know before their true charm becomes evident.
And that brings us back to the HTC Radar. Upon first glance, I wasn't necessarily crushing on the white and brushed chrome combination case design (I would have preferred a commitment to one or the other, instead of both together). The most disagreeable characteristic marring the Radar design is an unusually large Jay Leno chin, which extends out further than the ideal length which have otherwise given the agreeable appearance of an iPod. I wouldn't call the Radar unattractive, but it's like a Saab or Volvo...it's appeal is unique to itself.
But once in hand, the Radar begins slowly winning you over: it's heavy, but in a "this feels well made" sort of way. The improvement in fit and finish are immediately noticeable when coming over from the overly plastic feeling HD7 or even the feather light Samsung Focus. The 3.8" Super LCD is smaller than the 4.3" we're used to navigating upon, but it's also brighter and more clear even though the resolution is the same. The 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255 processor powering this phone is more than sufficient to keep scrolling, pinching and app use at a snappy pace all throughout the day without draining the battery; it was hard to argue much about single vs. dual core after using this modest speed chip device...it never really seemed to need that second core except for tech ego sake. With regular use, the battery can last well into two days without requiring a charge, and this was reproduced while traveling around the city using GPS, wi-fi on, and using T-Mobile's 4G network.
Oh yeah, the Radar is a phone too. Call quality on T-Mobile in our otherwise fickle section of Los Angeles was clear, even when used for conference call with our team; speakerphone wasn't as hot, due to the tiny, rear-facing speaker, but overall voice quality won't disappoint. The Radar is equipped to take advantage of T-Mobile's 4G network and we were able to pull in a connection from the hills of Griffith Park all the way to the beaches of Malibu without losing a data connection to send photos of ourselves sunning it up while friends over in NYC suffered snow.
And then there's the upgrade we were most eager to check out: the Radar's f/2.2 5 megapixel camera. If there was one thing we'd often complain about given the chance, it was about the HTC HD7's subpar camera performance; blurring was too easy, colors were unnatural, sharpness was lacking due to poor optics, and a pink tinge was often evident in every photo. The Radar addresses all these nagging issues remarkably, producing photos that exceed it's mid-tier category, especially in outdoor daytime settings; low light setting photos require a little post processing using the Thumba Photo Editor app, but the foundation of images captured by the fast f/2.2 is solid and even iPhone 4 users gave a begrudging "not bad" props reviewing shots side by side.
Everything else I liked about the Radar is really attributed to the the 7.5 Mango OS and deserves a post unto itself. Let me just say, if you're a minimalist who appreciates efficient design sans UI clutter, the WP7 platform is really worth consideration; the Live Tiles design language has won us over both aesthetically and functionally, while the level of social network integration for Facebook and Twitter users like ourselves is remarkable (providing an integrated experience which makes iOS and Android social network use seem clunky in comparison). An where iOS and Android both suffer from issues specific to their hardware and operating system, the only hiccup I've experienced using any WP7 device is related to the the hardware deficiencies, many addressed above.
The Windows Phone 7 experience is all about integrating social networks, easily accessible at a glance or touch.
The Radar is the Marcia of the WP7 Brady Bunch family, a midrange device that does everything with confidence without bringing too much attention to itself, and yet still doesn't address what I think the WP7 line is missing (the sexy). But as someone who has found himself extremely pleased with switching the other way around, the Radar has proven to be the surprising little charmer and an affordable smartphone we'd recommend for anyone looking to give WP7 a try (in fact, you can get the HTC Radar 4G for free for a limited time with any trade-in via T-Mobile, sweetening the deal).
Pros: Quality metal case has satisfying, but balanced heft; major improvement in camera quality with f/2.2 lens 5MP rear camera, vibrant screen visible even in bright SoCal sunlight; WP7 Mango out of the box performs satisfying fast; top notch social network integration throughout, long lasting battery life even with all connections on.
Cons: Jay Leno chin on the device ruins otherwise handsome design; back facing speaker is ill-positioned for listening; modest 800x480 pixel resolution feels one step behind competition, the front facing .3 megapixel camera is "why bother" feature until Skype integration arrives; side micro-USB port is awkward, 6GB storage capacity is pushing minimum and non-expandable.
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.