Windows Phone 7 Mango is here and that means a selection of new smartphones to choose from. The new version of the OS is aimed at users who are either upgrading from the first batch of 2010 handsets, or moving over to the platform for the first time.
The HTC Radar is a pretty risk-free handset. It has not got the massive 4.7-inch screen of the HTC Titan, nor is it as small as the iPhone 4S. The question is, does the Radar have anything to offer an increasing sophisticated mobile phone audience? We've been using one, so let's take a more detailed look.
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 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 subtler offering, and the design reflects that.
Measuring 120 x 61.5 x 10.8mm and weighing 137 grams it is not the thinnest phone, the fattest phone, or even the sexiest phone. It comes in white and silver, or gun metal grey, and at first glance is similar in design to the company’s HTC Desire and Desire S handsets.
The 3.8-inch Super LCD screen has a resolution of 480 x 800, and it is this that occupies the majority of the phone's front surface. You'll find the three standard Windows Phone 7 buttons beneath it, as you will on any Windows Phone 7 device.
The screen is crisp and the HTC Radar doesn’t suffer from the same resolution problems as the larger-screened Titan. That’s because the Windows Phone 7 resolution is set the same across all devices, so larger screens have to stretch the same resolution over a larger surface. Somewhat silly, but this helps Windows Phone maintain a unified look on all phones.
There is also an extra, double chin underneath the buttons, at the bottom. It's a lot more pronounced on the white model and is created by the SIM card casing. Were this an Android phone, then you would also expect to find a microSD slot and removable battery here. Sadly neither are present meaning it is an awfully big case with little flexibility, aside from the ability to change the SIM card.
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.
Inside and the HTC Radar does get a boost over the Mozart and Trophy, but it is 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. It is not as fast or as nippy as the HTC Titan with its 1.5Ghz processor.
On the storage side of things, you'll get 8GB for all 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) for touchless micro-payments or microSD expansion.
The phone’s aerial reception seems good. We’ve tested it in Berkshire, Surrey, London, and San Francisco and not had any problems. We are happy to report we’ve had no issues with the call quality, either making or receiving calls.
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, however, been enhanced with Dr Dre's "Beats Audio" like the new Sensation models from HTC.
The HTC Radar comes with a HTC's 5 megapixel camera with 28mm lens F/2.2 aperture and LED flash. The front has a VGA forward-facing camera so you will be able to make video calls 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 uses the phone's sensors to add in a horizontal "spirit level" so you can try and take as level a picture as possible.
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 (something that is easily done on all phones) you have the chance to take some really great photos. Given the right light colours are vivid, and in low light situations we found the sensor coped well enough, but it's not perfect and there can be a lot of noise in the images. The camera on the Titan is noticeably better.
After you’ve snapped your picture you can apply an auto-fix to it. This 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, especially devices like the iPhone 4S. You won’t be disappointed, nor will you be excited.
The Mango user interface and apps
The new HTC Radar comes with Windows Phone 7.5, which was codenamed Mango. It offers over 500 new features over the previous version of Windows Phone 7 and that’s very much welcomed.
Those new features mean that the operating system as a whole has had a vast improvement. Now you get a faster, better browsing experience, Twitter and LinkedIn integration, better management of groups in the people hub and plenty more. It's by no means perfect, but compared to the original WP7 from October 2010 it is light years ahead. Rather than detail all the new features here in our HTC Radar 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 Radar 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 worked 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.
As for "other apps", Microsoft is doing well to appeal to developers and there are new apps appearing all the time, but it's by no means perfect. There are a lot of apps that just aren't there yet. No Spotify, no Dropbox, no Tiny Wings, no Amazon shopping app and probably no "whatever your favourite app is on iPhone" either. It is getting better, but it is something to take into account.
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 Radar you've got to load them in yourself via the Zune software on the PC or Windows Phone 7 Connector on the Mac. Supported video formats include .3gp, .3g2, .mp4, .m4v mbr, .wmv. Not a brilliant selection.
The battery life compared to the Trophy is vastly improved. We were able to get a good weekend worth of battery life from the phone while it happily survived a heavy day of use out and about. With a non-replaceable battery, however, we wouldn’t recommend going over night without charging.
As an optional extra you'll be able to get a docking station for the HTC Radar. It is a first for a Windows Phone 7 handset and HTC has created a dedicated docking app to benefit from the landscape cradle.
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.
The HTC Radar is designed for those that want to take advantage of the latest Mango features on a new phone from HTC without having to go for the massive HTC Titan. The Radar is a solid handset that delivers a good Windows Phone experience, but not an amazing one. For us there isn’t enough of advancement on the HTC Trophy, considering it has had the Mango update too.
A faster processor, bigger storage capacity and the addition of Beats Audio would have made this phone really stand out from the rest of the other Windows Phone 7 smartphones already released and many of the Android ones available too.
And with Nokia launching its phones in the coming weeks we would recommend holding off for a little while longer to see if the Finnish company can produce a better phone. If it can, then the Radar will be dead before it even gets going.