HTC Explorer

Android is a mobile OS that clearly appeals to geeks. And its appeal to those who like flexible, powerful phones that have a great selection of games and apps is clear too. But where does that leave the person on the street? The normal Joe, the man or woman who just wants a phone for phone calls and text messages?

And that's just the market that HTC is trying to captivate with its newest budget Android handset: the Explorer.

Design

At Pocket-lint we're not about putting people in to categories. But we think it's reasonable to say that the Explorer is aimed at older users, and possibly with a skew towards women. We say women because the screen is quite small, and smallish hands are certainly and advantage. Certainly, Mrs Pocket-lint likes the HTC Wildfire S, which is a very similar size and shape.

Indeed, there are many Wildfire S similarities. The shape is very similar, with rounded edges, ports in roughly the same places on both handsets and a very familiar size and weight - the Explorer is both thicker, and heavier though.

It's fair to say that the Explorer is the less desirable looking device of the two though. It's finished in cheaper, slightly rubberised, plastic and it just isn't as pretty as the Wildfire. It's not an ugly phone though, and it's compact design will make it popular with people who want a phone, but don't want to go on about it.

At the top are the power button and headphone socket. We like the placement of both. Side headphones are a pain in the pocket, and power switches should be in a standard place, as it drives us crazy trying to find them on each handset we use - a problem unique to phone reviewers there though.

On the right, are the two volume buttons, and on the left is simply a Micro-USB socket for charging the phone, or syncing it with your computer.

Screen

When we turned the phone on for the first time, we were actually a little stunned. The display is incredibly vivid and bright. Colours yell out from the LCD panel in a way that you usually only see on AMOLED displays. To our mind, the resolution looks better than it does on the Wildfire too, although the specs tell us the two are identcial. Either way though, this is a nice display that's easy to read and works outdoors too. It's not perfect though. Scrolling through menus renders the whole thing a blurry mess. When you stop scrolling, everything sharpens up and the display is very readable again. This means the phone won't be well suited to watch video on, and it can be a little frustrating when you're reading Twitter or trying to find something in a menu.

Overall though, the most important part of a phone is its display, and the Explorer doesn't let itself down.

It is, however, quite small, and that can be a problem for some people. We struggled a little with our sausage fingers, and sometimes made typing errors - the HTC keyboard isn't the best at auto-correct either.

We also found that, on some screens, there's just not enough information on screen at any one time. This is especially true of the dialer app, used to make calls. Here, the keypad takes up most of the screen, and there's no space left to see your list of contacts. You have to collapse the keyboard to get to that, and that's faff and extra key presses we don't need in our lives.

If you hate it, change it

One piece of good news though, is that if you hate an aspect of the Explorer, you can more than likely change it.

That dialer problem became tedious for us, so we installed a new dialer app from the market. And it improved things. We also like to get a new keyboard, and both Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich android keyboards can be obtained from the market too.

HTC Sense, though, is nice, and there are some good features that we've enjoyed using. It's version 3.5 too, so the lock screen is the latest version, with the quick shortcuts to various apps. We like that, and if you can remember to use it, it's a fast way to speed up using the device.

There are also the usual HTC widgets. There's FriendStream, which will show Twitter and Facebook updates to you. It's decent enough, but it's pretty pointless if you use the proper apps for those services.

You can also turn the phone in to a portable Wi-Fi hotspot too, which is handy if you want to browse on a tablet or PC without internet access. You will need to make sure that your phone contract allows you to do this though, and be mindful of extra charges you might incur.

HTC is obsessed with telling you what the weather is like too, so there is a widget and an app for that too. There's also a clock widget that features a weather forecast too. You know, in case you were uniformed about matters meteorological during your day.

Audio quality

Calls on the Explorer are loud and clear. This is a good thing, as some time with the Nokia Lumia 800 has told us that sometimes handset volumes can be a problem. You won't struggle to hear this one though, but at high volumes, there's a little audible rattle.

Switch to the speaker, and you'll find a loud clear sound too, that's easily powerful enough to use when you're on your own, and want to go hands-free.

Camera

There is little to shout about with the camera. It's a pretty limited affair, 3-megapixels, fixed focus lens so everything is out of focus at all times, and a very average video recording mode. But we've seen how people that buy these phones use the cameras, and it's mainly for making a nice wallpaper for the phone. And for that, it is fine.

There is one oddity though. The phone will let you take photos with no SD card in the camera. It even stores some images on its internal memory, but what it does not do is allow you to send them anywhere or access them through the gallery app, until you've put a card in. This is baffling, but SD cards are very cheap and if you want to use this phone to anywhere near its full potential, you'll need one.

It does also have the abilty to shoot video, but it's 480p only. That's enough for YouTube clips, and again, we suspect that's all it will be used for. Steven Spielberg will not be chucking his Arri away any time soon.

Battery life

The Explorer has one epic claim to fame. If you use it just for phone calls and text messages, and leave the overnight battery saver enabled whilst keeping it on Wi-Fi most of the time, you can get a lot of standby time out of this phone. We fully charged ours over Sunday night, took it off charge Monday AM and it's managed the last two days, three hours and three minutes on battery.

According to Android, it's been awake for a little over one hour in that time and the battery has 67 per cent left. That means, it's got at least another two days of standby left in it, if we carry on with our light usage.

So, if you're the sort of person that wants light internet use, but also wants an Android-powered handset with the ability to run a wealth of apps, this could well be the phone for you.

Verdict

This might not be a phone for power-Android users, but it's a likable enough handset for most use.

It will certainly appeal to those who want a phone that can do more than their old Nokia thing that they haven't upgraded for years, and it should do so without scaring anyone making the switch. HTC has seen to that, with its trademark simple user interface and pretty design.

The battery is impressive, and we like the screen most of the time. Call quality is good, and that's what really matters on a phone like this, as it's likely to get heavy use. We worry for hardcore texters though, as they may not like the on-screen keyboard - easy enough to change, but unlikely to be high on the priorities of a potential owner.

All-in-all, this budget, compact handset has plenty to offer and we think it will find a lot of loyal users.



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