HTC Radar Review – Beautiful Outside, Slick And Elegant Inside
Ever since I looked in to Microsoft’s slick new Operating System for Phones, Windows Phone 7, I’ve been wanting to get my hands on it. Finally, here’s HTC Radar. Sporting Windows Phone Mango, and a 3.8 inch Super LCD touchscreen, the Radar is trademark HTC – curvaceous, premium looking and something you cannot ignore. The good looks of the hardware, coupled with the slick Metro UI form a very good combo.
Don’t worry, I won’t bug you with a 8000-10000 words review. It’s such a passe, and definitely not worth it. Instead, I’ll just be talking about the hardware briefly and how the OS fared in day to day usage. Microsoft is aiming at the end users who aren’t very geeky. In fact, Windows Phone is pretty easy to get used to. Took me just 10 minutes, and the review will also be from an end user’s point of view. Let’s chug along now.
Right. Let’s take a quick look at the specs now.
- Windows Phone 7.5
- 3.8″ Super LCD display of 800×480 resolution, ~246 PPI
- 1 GHz processor, Adreno 205 GPU
- 512 MB RAM, 8 GB internal memory (available for use – 6.55 GB)
- 5 MP main camera, aided by a single LED flash, can record 720p videos at 30 Frames per second (FPS); front facing VGA cam for video calling
- HSPA, Wi-Fi b/g/n, DLNA, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
- GPS, aGPS, Maps (Bing Maps)
- 1520 mAh Li-ion battery
The HTC Radar has got the looks. Definitely a head turner, and that augurs well both for HTC and Windows Phone, in that it makes the device much more desirable, and for an OS that’s received lots of accolades from pretty much everyone in the mobile industry, it’s exciting.
The front of the device is dominated by the not-so-huge 3.8″ display. It’s Super LCD, so don’t expect the awesomeness of Super AMOLED class. However, indoors, it is pretty much good. It’s the outdoors, under the sunlight, that the Radar takes a beating. You cannot quite figure out what’s on the screen, which is sort of irritating. That’s when you’ve set the brightness to Automatic.
Just below the display, there are three standard soft keys – Back, Windows, and Search. They’re all backlit, but the device I received was a White one (it’s available in Metallic Grey, apart from White), and the keys are lit in White, but there shouldn’t be any problem in locating the keys. I did not face any issues, so yeah.
Just above the display, there are the light sensors and the VGA camera. A strip of metal runs around the front, and which is a part of the strip on the back. Light greyish, and looks good. That’s all about there is on the front.
On the top, there’s the standard 3.5 mm Audio jack to the left, so you can plug in your favorite pair of headsets. Oh, don’t worry, HTC has included a good pair of headphones, which also happen to be in White, giving the entire package a good look. Well, you know what I mean, right.
On the right, there’s the Power button, which also doubles up as a screen lock button. Now about this button, I sort of don’t like how it’s put in place. Sometimes, accessing it is not quite easy, in that I kept hitting the wrong places and had to look where it was exactly before I finally hit it. Not quite intuitive. Such buttons should be placed so that you don’t have to see where they are (even if it’s once or twice out of 20 hits). I know I’m ranting on a rather not-so-important aspect, but well.
The left side of the Radar has only the microUSB port, which is left uncovered. Again, it blends in nicely with the overall design of the device, and doesn’t seem like a cheapo spot (some devices have ugly looking exteriors of the ports). Again, nothing but a small teeny weeny aspect, but HTC comes good on this front.
The right side houses a couple of buttons – the Volume rocker and the Camera button. The Volume rocker is quite long, at least it wasn’t this long on any device I’ve used till now (or my memory is acting up), but well, it does enough for you to guess that it’s indeed the volume rocker, just by looking at it. Oh, there’s nothing printed/written on either the Volume rocker or the Camera button, if that’s what you want to say.
Tip: You can use the Volume rocker to quickly switch between profiles, even in apps. Neat stuff.
Camera button is quite good, but when you are holding the device in portrait mode, it could be a bit tricky to press the thing. A bit, but still. Also, you can long press the Cam button even when the device is locked, to quickly snap stuff. Quite useful when you want to click pics in a hurry, and don’t have the time to unlock it and do it the usual way. It not just saves time, but you won’t miss those special moments anymore. Smart eh.
Coming to the back of the device, you’ll find a 5 MP camera, an LED flash to its left, and the loudspeaker to the right. Below these three things, there’s a metal strip where you’ll find the HTC and Windows Phone logos. Again, it all adds to the looks of the device, and it definitely feels rich.
Below the metal strip, there’s a cover which can be removed to insert the SIM card. Just slide it down with both your thumbs and you’re done. The inside, however, doesn’t look as good. But well.
That’s pretty much about the exteriors of the device. Definitely premium looking.
Software – Windows Phone Mango tastes nothing like anything
Now comes the main part – the OS. The Radar comes with Windows Phone 7.5 Mango installed out of the box. It was one of the first two HTC Windows Phones to be launched with Mango (the other one was the giant Titan). Although the Radar’s specs are modest enough, what with it having a 1 GHz processor (while other devices were being launched with 1.4 GHz ones), just about 8 GB internal memory, it is as fast as a phone could feel. In short, specs don’t matter much if the OS is optimized properly *cough*Android*cough*.
For someone who’s been used to Homescreens, I was quite curious to see what I’d feel about the Metro UI and the concept of Live Tiles. After all, the Live Tiles are the essence of Windows Phone and they play the most important part in distinguishing it from the other OSs in the market. And while I’ve been reading up a lot on this, asking different people what they think about it, I found out that the Live Tiles are quite helpful. Apart from acting as shortcuts, they display some information as well. For example, the ‘Phone’ Live Tile displays the number of missed calls, the Messaging Live Tile display new messages etc. It’s quite helpful, and you don’t have to pull down the Status bar to see if there’s something new (to see more details about the notifications). Actually, in Windows Phone, you cannot pull down the Status bar at all. If you’ve got a huge device, pulling down the Status bar every now and then to see what’s new can be quite a pain. Not to forget, one hand usage becomes quite difficult. Radar’s size is just about right, and coupled with the Live Tiles concept, it becomes very easy to use the thing using just one hand.
The best part about the Live Tiles is that it is not limited only to Microsoft’s or the device manufacturer’s apps, here HTC. Even third party apps can utilize this, thus extending the benefits to just about everyone. Doing otherwise would have been nothing but a mistake.
You get only two screens to play around with, or say, only one. The first is where the Live Tiles are, and the second is the Apps screen. You’re already familiar with the Live Tiles screen. The Apps screen shows a list of all the apps you’ve installed, arranged in alphabetical order. It’s sort of boring, to be honest, but it also saves time, as in you don’t have to scroll/swipe across like you do in Android, Symbian, or iOS, where bigger icons are shown in Vertical/Horizontal view. Microsoft has forced this view onto the users, and there’s nothing you can do to change this. That’s in total contrast to Android, where you can basically change most of the stuff. And if you have a lot of apps installed, then it can be quite irritating. Well, win some, lose some.
You can search for apps by hitting the virtual ‘Search’ icon (and not the soft key), and just like other aspects of the OS, even this thing is super fast. If you don’t find an app in the list, you can even search for it in the Marketplace directly from here, and install it. Easy and neat. And smart too.
The three Windows soft keys
Before I delve into further details, let me explain you about the three soft keys – Back, Windows and Search. Each button does more than it seems, which is why I feel the need to explain it.
First, the Back key.
For starters, it does what it means. Hit it, and you go back one step from where you are at present. It also lets you exit apps. Oh, you cannot understand how in this holy world would you be multitasking in here? Just long press the Back key, and a card view comes up, showing you all the apps that have been suspended in the state you left them in. And no, if you want to suspend an app, you should be hitting the Windows key and not the Back key. Think of it like hitting the Home button on other OSs. Back key will exit you from an app, whereas the Windows key will let you suspend the app in its current state. Simple enough.
If you want to exit from all the suspended apps, keep hitting the Back key until you reach the Live Tiles screen. That’s how this works.
Oh, I need to let you know, only those apps will be suspended in the background which are compatible with Mango, and not just Windows Phone 7. Mango is v7.5, FYI.
The Windows key can also be used to fire up the voice recognition system. Just long press it till you see a popup asking you to speak. Microsoft calls it Tellme (oh how boring! Sounds better than Google Voice though), and although I’d like to see it work nice and all, it failed on me every single time I tried. Maybe it’s got something to do with my non-US/UK accent? Perhaps. But if Microsoft wants this thing to work, it’s got to do a lot of work.
That’s as much about the Windows key. Now, the Search key. I’ll not be using any of the marketing vocabulary that Microsoft has used. Rather, simple English. I don’t want to confuse you, and myself, too.
The search feature of Windows Phone is interesting. Hit the Search key, you’re taken to the search app, which shows a distinct wallpaper every now and then, with a Search bar on the top. Type anything you want, and you’re served with results.
So, what’s interesting about it, you ask?
Within the search app, if you look around, you’ll find two icons at the bottom. One’s for the Voice Recognition system, hitting which will fire up Microsoft Tellme, the VRS (ugh, Voice Recognition System). Another one is the scanner. It can read two things – QR codes, and text, using the phone’s camera, of course. Everything out of the box. Yes, you’ve read that right. You don’t need to install any app whatsoever to do simple stuff like this (yes, scanning QR codes is oh-so-common these days, if you’ve been living in a cave all these years).
So, that’s interesting? Oh for everyone’s sake, it definitely is. Imagine having to go through the chores of search for a QR code reader, looking up the reviews to see if it works, and then screenshots, and THEN finally installing the app, if it does work, that is. Pretty irritating, eh? I know. Hence I called it interesting. The best part about this is, it works, and does so very fast. In only a matter of couple of seconds, you have the QR code scanned, and the link to that particular web page ready. Hit it, and you’ve done what you wanted to. Everything out of the box. Sweet.
I’ve scanned nearly a couple of dozens of QR codes with the Radar in just a couple of days, something which I’d barely do so with my Android device in over an year. Oh and before you label me as a fanboi, let me reveal a secret – specs of the device don’t matter, not when you want to scan a QR code, at least.
So, the basic stuff has been covered. Live Tiles, Apps screen, the functions of the three Soft keys. Let’s talk about other stuff now.
Now let’s move on to Messaging. Up until now, all you could do with the Messaging app was text your friends (Android and Symbian). Windows Phone does a bit more. It throws in Facebook chat in to the mix. And it does so very nicely. Once you add your Facebook account, all your contacts from the social network show up in the Phonebook. And if the phone detects that a contact also has a Facebook account and a phone number, it will let you switch between the traditional text/SMS to Facebook chat and vice-versa, all with a couple of taps. Smart, as I found out over a period of time.
If you cannot type a message, you can always put to use the voice capabilities of Windows Phone, called Microsoft Tellme. Word of caution: the recognition system is very, very spotty and inaccurate. Redmond has to do a lot of work on this. And fast.
The Me Tile
There’s also a ‘Me’ tile – aggregating your updates from Twitter and Facebook, as well as Notifications. Got a new notification? Click on it, you’ll be taken to that respective post, where you can reply to the tweet, RT it, or comment on the Facebook post besides liking it. And it just works.
Oh I forgot, you can even post Status updates from this app/tile (I’m confused what to call this thing, yeah). You can post new updates to Windows Live, Facebook and Twitter, all in one go.
Now the Me Tile would let you react to your posts on Facebook and Twitter. There’s another hub, called the People hub. However, if you want to read your friends’ posts on these networks, you’ll have to use the People hub. More on that below.
The People hub
The People hub is also where you will find ALL your contacts. All. The usual phone numbers, and, Facebook contacts, apart from the Twitter ones. Then your purely Email contacts (pulled from all the Mail accounts you’ve set up). So many contacts show up here, then the Social Network streams, and Recently contacted people, it could have been a huge mess. Rather, it’s excellent. Minimal, and doesn’t confuse.
Swipe to the “what’s new” tab if you want to read all the updates from Twitter, Facebook in a single stream. Oh, Windows Live too, but well, who really uses it? Anyways, if you feel intimidated by seeing everything, from Facebook and Twitter, in one place, you can always choose the account from which you want these updates to show up on here. All it requires is a couple of taps – click on the ‘all accounts’ which appears below the ‘what’s new’ tab and you can select which network you’d like to show up in the stream.
Switching between these networks takes as little as a couple of seconds, and it won’t slow down the stream (stuff slows down in Android whenever it starts loading). As pleasing as it could get, really. There’s nothing more annoying than the app slowing down like a snail when it looks for new items.
Just like the People hub pulled in all your contacts from the accounts you’ve added, even the Calendar app does so. All automatically. Once you’ve added an account, all the events are pulled in – from Hotmail/Live, Google, Facebook etc.
How do I transfer Music and Videos from my PC to my phone?
The Radar has a nice Music Player, called Zune. And the only way you can transfer media to the Radar is by connecting it to a computer, and installing the Zune software. Once you have the Zune software up and running on your computer, simply connect the phone to it by using the USB cable provided. Zune (on the computer) will launch automatically and you can then sync stuff you want to.
If a particular media file format cannot be played on the phone, Zune will convert it to a supported format automatically. Everything is seamless, and the next time you connect the phone to the computer, any changes will be sync’ed automatically. Of course, you can change the settings and go the manual way.
That’s about getting stuff onto your phone. Once it’s there, you can play them all using the Zune player. There’s nothing special that Zune offers here, apart from the refreshingly nice UI. You can’t fiddle much around, but that is a consistent aspect of Windows Phone itself.
Songs are sorted in the usual way – Artists, Genres, Albums and the regular list of all the songs.
You can also watch videos from within this app. They’re sorted into different categories – All, Television, Music Vids, Films and Personal. Considering the fact that the Radar comes with only 8 GB internal memory, of which only 6.2 GB is available for use, you can’t be having lots of videos and stuff. That is one thing I hate, and hope it will be resolved in the next release. In this day and age where we are so used to popping memory cards in and out, not being able to do so in Windows Phone is off putting (whether the OS supports this feature or not is not my concern. That all the 2nd Gen Windows Phones do not come with slots for memory cards, is.).
The Email app that Windows Phone has is stunning. Small little animations here and there make the entire experience awesome. And it is not just stunning, it also feels stunning. Probably the best I’ve seen yet (Android, Symbian considered), and that’s a lot for an OS that’s only got its first major update in the form of Mango, recently.
You can set up mailboxes just like on any other OS – select the mail provider, and then enter the credentials. If the mail provider is listed, the settings will be pulled by the app, and you don’t have to do anything else. However, you can also set it all up manually.
Now, the mail experience – first up, Mango now lets you link multiple mailboxes, and you can have a single Live Tile for this on the homescreen. Next up, there’s Conversation view now, making it easy to keep track of threads on the go. And it does a good job at it, too. No fuss here.
Something I noticed here – with respect to Hotmail, Gmail (and Google Apps) accounts, mails were pushed pretty quickly. When it came to Yahoo! Mail, mails wouldn’t be pushed as soon as they arrive. Instead, you’ll have to set intervals manually – 15 mins, 30 mins, 1 hour and so on. The app will poll for new mails, and that’s not quite good on the battery. I’d set it to 2 hours. Setting it to 15 minutes will drain your battery, just so you know.
Oh, there’s only HTML view. Images aren’t downloaded, and you’d have to click manually to download the images. Apparently, Windows Phone does this to reduce spam. How? If the app downloads images automatically, and if the mail in question was a spam, it’d get your mail verified, resulting in ever more spam. Neat solution, but could be annoying here and there. For a good cause, though.
Another major attraction of Windows Phone is Office. It is a ‘full blown’ suite that lets you create, view and edit Office files like Word and Excel, and lets you view PowerPoint files. Doing a PPT on a phone would be difficult, given the screen size. The Word section is the most logical part, I have my doubts about creating/editing Excel spreadsheets. But that could be just me.
You can format text – changing size, style and highlights. That is as far as I bothered about it – Office suites for phones are overrated as it is. However, the Office app will let you sync/upload these files with your Skydrive, and that is awesome. Oh, the app also pulls all the documents you’ve uploaded to Skydrive, to let you view them on the phone from the Office app. You can just view them, or edit and save them back to the cloud. By far the simplest solution I’ve come across. Best part – you get 25 GB free space in the cloud.
I’d read a lot of praises about the browser across blogs, and I was quite curious about it. Else, I was too used to Opera Mini/Mobile, that I rarely bothered about using the stock browsers. However, Opera doesn’t have a version for Windows Phone yet, and so here I was, doing all the browsing using Internet Explorer.
And I wasn’t let down. It’s one of the fastest, and solid, stock browsers I’ve used. The Android browser is quite potent, and it also fares better in benchmarks, but it’s just not as solid as Internet Explorer. The Symbian browser has become quite good of late, but the last time I used it, it wouldn’t load sites as fast as I’d have liked it to.
You can select to view Mobile or Desktop versions of sites, and having this option is really nice. However, text reflow isn’t present yet, and so, reading stuff on desktop version of sites will be…annoying. I cannot help but wonder why it isn’t present already. Oh, and no flash too. And I’m actually happy about this. May Flash die.
In plain words, Internet Explorer is good. Very good, in fact. It relies on hardware acceleration, and that certainly seems to help. Things don’t slow down when sites load, and you wouldn’t want to hit the phone anymore. Dank ye, Microsoft.
I’ll say this now itself – the Camera is not really impressive. The 5 MP snapper doesn’t feel like a 5 MP snapper.
Moving on. The Camera UI is pretty minimalist – zoom-in and zoom-out, switch to front facing camera, a toggle for videos/stills, and the Settings icon – that’s all there is.
There’s one neat addition here, though. If you want to view recent images, you don’t have to click a button, or exit the Camera app and go to Gallery. All it takes is a swipe to the right, and voila! you can see the stuff you’ve clicked. Pinch in, and you can quickly glance through all the images clicked.
There’s Face Detection, ability to change ISO, Saturation, Sharpness etc. And now, you can save the settings too.
Here are some samples. All shots taken at default settings.
Say hello to Xbox LIVE on your phones! Although I’m not a gamer by any means, I do play some racing and arcade games, and now, the serious gamers can rejoice. More accurately, Xbox LIVE fans.
There’s an Avatar you can create, view your achievements, messages etc. Spotlight section shows you some recent info on the games and the likes.
Coming to games, you can download/try/buy games from the marketplace. The ones which support Xbox LIVE have a tag saying so, on the top of the icon of the game. I tested Kinectimals and Need For Speed Undercover, and I can say the graphics are handled efficiently. No hang ups, no slow downs.
The Pictures hub is awesome. It is.
You can view all your captured images, uploads from Skydrive, upload stuff to Skydrive. And just not that – if you’ve connected your Facebook account to the phone, you can also view pics from all your albums, and also, save them to the phone.
The awesomeness doesn’t end there. If there are any picture posts from your friends/pages you like, on Facebook, they all also show up on the phone. Not sure if any OS does that. But Windows Phone does it awesomely.
Wait. Did I tell you that you can view your Facebook friends’ photos right from within this app? You can. Every time you view a certain friends’ pics, those friends show up in the recent view. Oh, you can also download the photos you like, even if they’re of your friends.
One more thing – you can share photos too. Any app that lets you upload media will show up under the Share menu. You can also set up quick share account – Twitter, Facebook and Skydrive are supported here.
Everytime you share a photo, the app will try and detect faces, and let you tag them. If it doesn’t, you can do so yourself. Most of the times, it detected successfully, though. Neat stuff.
Bing Maps and Location
Nokia Drive ain’t coming to non-Nokia Windows Phones (at least that’s how the situation is, now), and hence, there’d not be true Voice-guided navigation.
You get Driving and Pedestrian navigation for free, with the Mango update. And most of the times, the app has been pretty accurate about locating me. Not sure how to reach where you want to? Select the start and end point. You’ll get turn by turn directions, but the voice over will only work when you tap the next instruction. Smartly, the phone will highlight and beep when it’s time to do so. Not bad, but it’s not as accurate in terms of returning results. Well, not every Maps app is same now, is it.
The title is self explanatory. The HTC Hub will let you get the latest weather information from your selected list of cities. And you don’t have to select your location – it gets detected automatically, although it may take a while when you fire the app for the first time. One less app to install.
Swipe across and you’ll find the Stocks app on the right. Some stocks are pre-listed, and if you want to, you can add more. The app fetches news from Yahoo! Finance, and it’s a delight using it. Admittedly, it’s one of the better apps I’ve come across. As with any other app from HTC, it looks good too.
Another app in the hub is, News. It’s an RSS reader, if you were thinking. The app lists a pre-loaded set of feeds, and although I tried to add a new feed by entering the feed address and searching by name, it wouldn’t work. Either ways, I don’t like what I see here. Better grab a third party app from the Marketplace.
An app that lets you watch the latest movie trailers for free (yeah, as if trailers are paid), and rent or buy movies and TV shows. Nothing more than streaming videos, but it’s sort of good to have a list of good stuff to watch. Useful app for movie buffs. And for when you’re bored and would like to watch some stuff.
Another good addition from HTC.
The Notes app does what it says – lets you write some quick notes, with a rather good UI. It feels as if you’re writing it on a paper and pinning on a board.
However, if you don’t like it this way, you can also go for the boring ol’ list view. That’s as much about it.
I’ve been a long time Symbian user, and I still swear by it. It’s just that it treats you like a poor kid at times – hangs are frequent, so are reboots. And I’m talking about S60v3 (I still own and use the Nokia E63, and I’m so used to the awesome Qwerty keyboard that the virtual keyboards I’ve been forced to use (read: Symbian^3 and beyond, Android) have left me wanting for a better keyboard.
- Windows Phone is elegant.
- Nothing hangs. No matter how much you strain the phone by opening apps quickly and jumping between them, the experience remains as smooth as ever. Symbian and Android could do with some of this.
- Apps are of better quality; the Metro UI experience remains intact mostly, even if you have a lot of third party apps installed.
- The soft keys are actually nice. Having to press a back, home or search button on a touchscreen device is kinda bleh. Spoils the experience to an extent.
- Brilliant mail client.
- Excellent keyboard.
- Syncing stuff with Zune is seamless. Although that is the only way you can transfer media and stuff onto your Windows Phone from your PC, the process is both time, and energy saving.
- The HTC Radar has got premium looks. Definitely a head turner.
- Windows Phone is restrictive. While that could be subjective, I’d like to be able to fiddle around with it a bit more.
- Cannot transfer stuff over Bluetooth. Hello 1999? Meh.
- Lacks true multitasking. Apps get suspended in the background, and only a certain number (6) of apps are suspend. You will have to start the older apps again.
- No memory card slot. Makes me feel highly uncomfortable. C’mon Microsoft, cards are awesome even while the Cloud is beginning to find its feet.
- Windows Phone falls short on delivering when it comes to Camera. The Radar’s is disappointing.
- Only way to transfer stuff to a Windows Phone is via Zune on PC or Windows Phone Connector on Mac.
- A File Manager is desperately needed. Desperately.
Windows Phone is a looker. And this looker ain’t just that. It works, and does so beautifully. Not to forget, efficiently. The UI is new and it’s nothing that you’ve seen elsewhere. While the hardware restrictions mean that most of the Windows Phones will be similarly specc’ed, the manufacturers can differentiate using their own set of apps, which are exclusive to their devices, apart from how the device itself looks. But that’s about it. However, that lets Microsoft keep Windows Phone awesome. And that’s what matters. The end user matters.
And from an end user point of view, I’d prefer Windows Phone over others. It suits for people who are neither geeks, nor absolute noobs, as well. And it also works fine for the ones who don’t fiddle much with their phones. It also suits for the ones who want a smartphone that just works. However, for the geeks, it’s not an option (unless you Chevron unlock it and know your way ’round the SDK and other such mysterious stuff).
I listed some cons above, and if they are sorted out, Windows Phone could as well be the OS of choice (I can’t bear Android’s UI already) for me. For you? You better try it out once.
As for the HTC Radar, it’s a good phone. Perhaps if the price could come down, it’d be a really good option. It’s a tad over priced at the moment.