HTC released five Windows Phone 7 powered smartphones in 2010, but for 2011 the tactic is going to be different. That’s the theory anyway and to kick off the Windows Phone 7 Mango update it’s launching just two smartphones, the HTC Titan and the HTC Radar.
Pocket-lint was given a chance to play with the new device, codenamed HTC Omega, before the official launch on the 1 September so we could let you know what’s what. So should you be putting the HTC Radar on your radar?
The Radar is designed to replace the HTC 7 Mozart and HTC 7 Trophy. It introduces a number of new features, while at the same time offering a mid-range entry point into the wonderful world of Windows Phone 7. While the Titan will impress the high-end users, those early adopters that like to show off their gleaming phone at the first chance, the Radar is going to be a more subtle offering, and the design reflects that.
Measuring 120 x 61.5 x 10.8mm it’s not the thinnest phone, the flatest phone, or even the most sexiest phone out there. Coated in white and silver the design mirrors the company’s tablet, the HTC Flyer, and we are surprised that we haven’t yet seen this design on an Android handset, so as to complete the set if you have both.
The 3.8-inch screen dominates the front with the three standard Windows Phone 7 buttons beneath that. There's also an extra, double chin underneath that. It’s a strange bit of design that, for us, doesn’t really work. It’s not as pronounced as the HTC Hero from 2009, nor is it enough to warrant being there, and considering the phone isn’t that flat we wonder what it's purpose is.
Double chins aside the rest of the phone is standard HTC “inner strength” design with a metal case, white plastic to allow the antenna to do its work. There's a slip-off cover at the bottom which slides off to reveal just the SIM slot. Yes, that's right, the battery isn’t user-replaceable.
Around the back you’ll find a 5 megapixel snapper with a single LED Flash. The front offers a VGA-quality front-facing camera. There is also a dedicated shutter button to make taking photos easier.
If the outside isn’t that hot, then maybe the inside will offer more hope. Sadly, whilst the HTC Radar does get a boost over the Mozart and Trophy, it’s pretty mediocre in terms of specs. You’ll get the same Qualcomm MSM 8255 1GHz processor from last year and 512MB of RAM to power it.
On the storage front you’ll get 8GB to store your pictures, apps, movies and the like. The phone comes with the usual connectivity options; Wi-Fi, HSPA, Bluetooth, and GPS. New for 2011 is DLNA, allowing you to share your music or video with compliant devices and computers. There is also a 3.5mm audio jack, for headphones. What you won’t get is Near Field Communications (NFC) capabilities for touchless micro-payments or microSD expansion (as standard for Windows Phone 7).
Although we weren’t able to test the battery life, the phone has a 1520mAh battery. That’s the same size as the HTC Sensation battery which in our tests just about got us through a days use and bigger than the Windows Phone 7 powered HTC Trophy which can also last a day. All of that means, in theory, that this phone should manage the same, given average usage.
We weren’t able to fully test the camera either. We were able to take pictures in the darkish room in which the phones were demoed to us, but we weren’t allowed to email them to ourselves. That said we were able to try out some of the new camera modes HTC has added including Panorama Sweep and Burst mode.
The HTC Radar comes with a HTC’s 5 megapixel camera and it likely to be the same as found on the HTC 7 Trophy (also a 5 megapixel sensor). The front has a VGA forward-facing camera so you will be able to make video calling when Skype makes its inevitable arrival on the Windows Phone platform.
Burst mode does what is says, lets you take five pictures in quick succession so you can capture a moment as it happens. Panorama automatically stitches three shots together, producing a super-wide image. What’s helpful is that the screen shows you when to pause and when to move, but also using the phones sensors adds in a horizontal 'spirit level' so you can try and take as level a picture as possible.
Images on screen looked okay, although not perfect, but this could have been done to poor light, pre-release software, or a host of other factors, so we aren’t going to judge the picture quality just yet.
As an optional extra you’ll be able to get a docking station for the HTC Radar. It’s a first for a Windows Phone 7 handset and HTC has created a dedicated docking app to benefit from the landscape cradle.
The idea is that you’ll be able to have this by your bedside and when docked not only will it charge your phone, but also automatically fire up the dock mode which gives you access to the media controls, Time and other bits and bobs within the HTC Experience. The problem comes when you exit the app, because the Windows Phone 7 menu system hasn’t been designed for a landscape viewing, so you'll need to tilt your head 90 degrees to make sense of anything.
Still, if you want a nifty way of charging the phone by your bedside, then this is certainly one way to do it. HTC has yet to price the new docking station.
It goes almost without saying that the new HTC Radar is running Mango. According to the device menu, the official name is Windows Mobile 7.5. Microsoft has done plenty to improve WP7 over the current iteration adding multitasking (if the app supports it), greater live tiles, front facing camera support, Wi-Fi hotspot creation and stacks of other useful stuff.
If you're after more detailed information about Mango, then take a look at our detailed First Look: Windows Phone 7 Mango review.
With Microsoft locking down the Windows Phone 7 experience, HTC has to be clever in how it adds value, as a phone manufacturer, to the eco-system without it just turning into a hardware fight.
Building on what it achieved in 2010 with the HTC experience, HTC has enhanced its apps to take advantage of Windows Phone 7 Mango as well as add some new apps.
The biggest and best of these new features is HTC Watch, the company’s movie download and rental service. Already live and active on the latest wave of HTC Android handsets, it's a nice addition to the Zune Marketplace, which has yet to launch a movie download or rental feature yet. In our quick hands-on, playback over the Wi-Fi network was near perfect. Purchases made on the HTC Watch service will be cross-platform. So if you also have an Android device downloads will work on both platforms.
Aside from HTC Watch there are the new features we’ve talked about in the camera app, new enhancements to the Notes app - it now has Evernote support, and better live tile support. This includes the current weather displayed on the HTC Hub tile. The Sound Enhancer is boosted with greater emphasis on Dolby 5.1 and SRS too.
Also coming across from HTC’s Android offerings is HTC Footprints which lets you create, and share footprints that contain information about your life and where you've been, so people can find you. You can also use the mapping to track down other HTC Footprints users you happen to know, assuming there are any.
The Radar is a small change over the HTC 7 Trophy or HTC 7 Mozart. Because owners of these phones will be getting a free update to Mango, we don't see this phone as being one to pre-order. That said, it does bring the latest elements of Windows Phone 7 to a mid-level HTC handset, something that will serve the Radar well.
With Nokia, Samsung, LG, ZTE and others all launching Mango handsets soon, it's hard to predict how this phone will be received. To attract users, it's going to need to appear more attractive than other similarly-priced phones. The HTC Experience will help with that no doubt, but in the middle of the market, there is a lot of stiff competition.
Based on our short time with the Radar there is nothing overly wrong with it, it just feels more like a first generation phone (arguably, what the Trophy should have been). Compare this to the Titan, and you can see that there's a huge difference with the Titan offering something unique to potential owners.
The HTC Radar will be out in October and we'll review it in much more detail then.