HTC Titan review
Whether it's Greek mythology or astrology, the notion of the titan is well established. The name brings with it a sense of size, a sense of power and a sense magnificence. But can the new HTC Titan, a Windows Phone 7 smartphone sporting a whopping 4.7-inch screen, live up to such a billing?
Coming in with screen real estate that surpasses rival devices, is it just a little too big, or can this monster phone be big and beautiful?
Everyone we have shown the HTC Titan to has said two things: wow look at that screen and wow look how big it is. It is bigger than the Samsung Galaxy S II and it is bigger than the previous Windows Phone 7 whopper, the HTC HD7. In real terms, the dimensions are 131.5 x 70.7 x 9.9mm with a weight of 160 grams.
The screen dominates proceedings and the rest of the phone casing is as minimal as possible. There is a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera to take advantage of new video calling features in Mango and three Windows Phone 7 buttons: back, home, search at the bottom as found on all WP7 smartphones.
There is a volume button on the right-hand side (the same as the HTC HD7, but the opposite side to the HTC Trophy) and a small camera button that if you blink you will miss. The left-hand side features a Micro-USB socket for charging, while the top offers a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack.
Around the back is an 8-megapixel camera with F/2.2 lens, dual LED flash, and a backside illuminated sensor.
Unlike some phones, even from HTC, the company has designed the back metal casing to be removed so you can access the SIM card and the battery. Like the HTC Sensation XL, which sports the same screen size but runs on Android, the entire rear casing comes off revealing the phone's carcass.
Build quality is very good, with the phone feeling solid in the hand. The size doesn't mean it has gone soft in any areas, and as we've become accustomed to from HTC, it feels like a good solid device.
The reason for the Titan’s massive size is the 4.7-inch display that HTC has opted to use here. Diagonally it is .4-inches bigger than the SGSII, .4-inches bigger than the HTC HD7, 1.2-inches bigger than the iPhone 4 and 4S, and almost 2-inches bigger than the BlackBerry Bold 9900 screen. To say that the screen dominates the proceedings here would be an understatement. The phone is the screen.
The screen itself is a Super LCD 4.7-inch screen with a resolution of 480 x 800. That’s Windows Phone 7 standard resolution and while that is lower than the 960 x 680 resolution enjoyed by Apple iPhone 4 or 4S users, it is still very crisp although there is noticeable jagging and aliasing issues on the fonts on all areas of the Windows Phone 7 operating system, something the larger screen highlights. A higher resolution would have been appreciated here but that is the fault of Microsoft and not HTC. It is just working with the tools to hand.
Font reproduction concerns aside, the screen quality is very good. The blacks are black and the vivid colours of the Windows Phone 7 interface certainly punch out at you. This is a really good "hero" device and one that will allow you to show off how colourful Windows Phone 7 really is against the barrage of icons from iOS and Android.
Aside from a lack of NFC, the phone has most of the latest tricks and features you would expect. On the engine room side of things you now get a single core Qualcomm 1.5GHz processor, a .5GHz increase on the first wave of HTC Windows Phone 7 devices.
You could argue that it’s not dual-core like some of the latest Android handsets, but it’s all about how you use that power rather than just shouting about specs. You aren’t likely to notice any difference, it’s still very nippy. Load times for apps are noticeably improved over our other WP7 phones in the office (Trophy, Optimus, Quantum) as is general scrolling and daily use of the phone. In some cases it's over 3 seconds faster which might not sound a lot, but in day-to-day use just means you get to the game or the app you want to use quicker. Time is money and all that.
Where the extra speed really helps is browsing. Microsoft has designed Windows Phone 7’s Internet Explorer browser to be hardware accelerated. That means the software will take advantage of the hardware you’ve got.
In a test of the HTC Titan (1.5GHz) vs the HTC Trophy (1GHz) both running the same build of Windows Phone 7, the Titan was between 7-9 seconds faster when loading pages from various websites. That’s a big difference and one that we’ve noticed time and time again in our testing. If you’ve got the network coverage the pages load quicker. Time is money and all that.
But the innards aren’t just about the processing speeds. For pictures, music and movies you’ll get 16GB of storage space. That’s nice, although given the size of the screen and the urge to watch movies on it we were hoping for a 32GB option, especially as after the OS install you’ll really only get 12.63GB to play with. Sadly with no microSD card support either you won’t be able to expand this either, but that's common to all WP7 devices.
On the connectivity front you get HSPA up to 14.4Mbps connectivity, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS and a plethora of sensors like gyro, proximity and a digital compass.
The phone’s aerial reception seems good. We’ve tested it in Berkshire, Surrey, and London and not had any problems, although we have noticed that the Wi-Fi aerial, like the SGSII, could be stronger in performance. A couple of times in our house it has dropped Wi-Fi connectivity while other devices, like the iPhone 4, have remained online. We are happy to report we’ve had no issues with the call quality listening to or talking to people.
On the entertainment side of things there is SRS and 5.1 surround sound enhancement available, for which you'll want to connect your headphones. The built-in speaker is situated on the rear of the phone next to the camera and for a phone it produces a good rounded sound. It has not been enhanced with Beats Audio like the new Sensation models from HTC.
As we’ve said, the HTC Titan sports an 8-megapixel camera with F/2.2 lens, dual LED flash, and BSI sensor. The camera is easy to use with a number of settings to help you get the most out of your shots. While HTC has refrained from going the full hog that we saw on the HTC MyTouch 4G Slide you do get controls over ISO (100-800) white balance, contrast, brightness, sharpness, saturation and metering.
There are further controls for scene modes and adding basic effects but nothing like Hipstamatic. New to WP7 is a burst mode feature that lets you take a series of pictures quickly and then choose the best one and Panorama. There is also face detection that will detect multiple faces. Tap to focus and tap to take are present and half pressing the hardware camera button will focus as you would expect.
In use and the camera is really easy to use and offers little or no lag when it comes to snapping a picture. Photos are instantly stored to the side so you can see what you've taken with a swipe from left to right, and as long as you don't smudge the lens cover (something that is easily done on all phones) you have the chance to take some really great photos. Colours are vivid, and in low light situations we found the sensor coped really well. The camera's capabilities really shine when you've got good light on your side.
After you’ve snapped your picture you can apply an auto-fix process to it, which does its best to improve the picture's colour (more akin to HDR) or load up HTC’s photo enhancer application and start adding effects like Cinnamon colour washes.
In terms of video capture you get 720p video recording and autofocus, although it is locked off once you start recording. There is a zoom, but this and all other controls are also locked off once you press the record button. Once you are finished there are a number of sharing options, however you can't share it to YouTube or Vimeo for example.
Image quality is good for a phone, better than the Trophy, but not up there with the best camera phones on the market. You won’t be disappointed, but it is not going to replace your point and shoot camera for "proper" shots anytime soon.
User interface and apps
The new HTC Titan comes with Windows Phone 7.5 or Mango, as you’ve probably heard it referred to over the last 6 months. Mango offers over 500 new features above and beyond the previous version of Windows Phone 7 and that’s very much welcomed.
Those new features mean that the operating system as a whole as had a vast improvement. Now you get a faster, better browsing experience, Twitter and Linked In integration, better management of groups in the people hub and plenty more. It's by no means perfect, but compared to the original WP7 outing from October 2010 it is light years ahead. Rather than detail all the new features here in our HTC Titan review, we’ve reviewed Windows Phone 7 Mango as a separate entity.
Unlike Android there is no chance for the phone manufacturer to change the design, add, or customise the user interface. A manufacturer like HTC is able to add apps or enhance settings options but that’s all. The HTC Titan comes with a number of dedicated apps. Some are pre-installed, others are available via a dedicated area of the Microsoft Marketplace.
Internet Sharing, for example, lets you turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot so other devices, be it your laptop or tablet, can share the internet connection. Setup is incredibly easy and it works too. The HTC Hub emphasises the time and the weather and gives you quicker access to stock reports and news.
Other new apps include HTC Locations, HTC Connected Media, and HTC Watch. HTC Locations is an app that allows you to pinpoint your location and then send that data to friends. It is an "I’m in the pub" kind of thing and lets you bookmark places for quick retrieval. A press of a button and you’ll instantly get directions from where you are to where you are going.
HTC Connected Media is HTC’s answer to LG’s DLNA offering found in the LG Optimus 7 and uses the technology to let you connect and stream music, photos, and video to a DNLA enabled device. For us that was the new LG Cinema 3D display. The app, although working perfectly letting us stream music, photos and videos to the television without any hassle. Setup was easy, however we found in our tests that the time from pressing play on the device to it playing on the TV was on the slow side, however once it started playing we experienced no problems.
Cleverly the HTC Connected Media App does allow you to control the volume on the television.
Other new bits from HTC are the move of the attentive phone app into the settings menu and the ability to enjoy panorama and burst mode from the camera.
As for "other apps", Microsoft is doing well to appeal to developers and there are new apps appearing all the time, but it is by no means perfect. There are a lot of apps that just aren't there yet. No Spotify, no Dropbox, no Tiny Wings, and probably no "whatever your favourite app is on iPhone" either. It is getting better, but it is something to take into account.
Movies and reading
One of the big reasons for opting for such a big screen is to watch movies or read books on the go. To help you get the most out of that HTC has brought HTC Watch to Windows Phone 7 and that means you’ll be able to buy movies to watch on the go - Zune in the UK doesn't currently offer movie downloads. There are a good couple of hundred films currently available, however in the UK that service hasn’t been turned on for Windows Phone 7 users so all you get is trailers at the moment.
You can of course side-load your own content to the smartphone via the Zune software on your PC or the Windows Phone 7 Connector on the Mac. Playback controls are simple, but the larger screen certainly lets you enjoy your movies. It is here that you really appreciate the extra screen space. For the train it will save you having to get out your tablet.
Like the iPhone there is no Flash support, and sadly no BBC iPlayer app to catch up on TV shows you've missed. That means if you want to watch movies or TV shows on the Titan you've got to load them in yourself.
Where the big screen also helps is when it comes to reading books via Amazon’s Kindle app (not pre-installed but available via Marketplace). The screen is about the same size as one of those little pocket dictionaries you used to have a school, or a prayer book for the religiously inclined. That means reading a novel on it is surprisingly easy and we’ve enjoyed reading Carte Blanche, the latest James Bond novel, over our week of testing. It is certainly better than the reading experience on smaller devices like the iPhone 4.
With all that screen you would expect the battery to last around 10 minutes. Thankfully that isn’t the case. With light weekend use we went a day and a half without the need to find power. In heavy use using services like Flux (an RSS reader), and Rowi (a Twitter client), plus email, phone calls, GPS and a bit of reading via the Kindle app, we got through to about 10pm after an 8am start. The battery saver feature (new in Mango) did help us greatly.
Look past the features, the improved specs, and the new Mango update and the big question is whether that screen really is too big. Those who enjoy consuming media are going to love it. If you read a lot, watch a lot, play games a lot, surf the web a lot, you are definitely going to benefit here.
The pay-off of course is the inability to conformably use the Titan with one hand. Unless you are a giant, it is just not possible. Holding the phone in your left hand you are unlikely to be able to reach the top right corner with your thumb. That means you’ve got to use two hands, which might be problematic at times. Think using it on the tube holding on to the railing. Think using it while carrying your satchel or briefcase. Think using it standing at the urinal.
Of course there are plenty of places you can use it given two hands free and plenty of times when you don’t need to reach the top of the device. Sitting on the train, sitting on the loo, or sitting outside a changing room waiting for Mrs Pocket-lint, walking down the street, the list goes on. One-handed use isn’t completely ruled out, but you need to bear that in mind. The smaller your hands, the more trouble you are going to have.
As for whether or not this impresses as a Windows Phone 7 device, it is one of the top WP7 smartphones on the market and goes as far making Android and iOS dull by comparison. We love the social aspects, we love the interactive feel of the device, and how everything is brought to life by the OS, oh and that screen. Big really can be beautiful.
Our wish list for improvements? Higher resolution and perhaps just a touch smaller.