HTC Radar Review

Posted Oct 26, 2011
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Microsoft’s new Windows Phone platform turns one year old this week, and despite a simultaneous launch of nine devices last year, it didn’t really make much of a dent in the Smartphone universe. In fact, thanks to poor marketing efforts, the platform just spent the whole year being ignored by just about everyone instead of getting the attention it deserved. Well the good thing is, the Microsoft and its partners aren’t standing still and are adamant on pushing forward in hopes of taking a sizable chunk of the market from Android and maybe Apple’s iOS.

And the fruits of those efforts are finally starting to roll in. The HTC Radar represents the second generation of Windows Phone 7 hardware which includes improved CPU, graphics and memory hardware along with more sensors and a front camera built in. On the software front, the Radar is running the latest Windows Phone 7.5 ‘Mango’ OS which adds support for multitasking, IE 9.0 Mobile with HTML5, native Twitter integration along with Facebook, and about another 500 new features.

On the hardware front, the Radar is running a Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 chipset with a 1GHz Scorpion CPU and an Adreno 205 GPU, which is almost twice as powerful as last generation’s S1 chipset while reducing power consumption. The phone also packs 512MB or RAM and 8GB of storage, not expandable with a MicroSD card. The 3.8” device carries a Super LCD panel in a white aluminum shell which is a reminiscent of the HTC Desire S, but doesn’t feature a removable battery. Speaking of which, the battery is 1520 mAh capable of a massive 600 minutes of talk time and 480 hours of standby.

On the sensors and optics front, the Radar has a 5 megapixel camera on the back with an F/2.2 back side illuminated lens and an LED flash. The camera is capable of shooting 720p video at 30 frames per second. The phone also has a standard VGA camera on the front side for video calls – which is a new feature for Windows Phone 7.5.

Other sensors include the regular proximity sensors, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, GPS with A-GPS capability and a gyroscope, another new entry for the Windows Phone 7 Chassis specification. Windows Phone 7.5 also gains the capability of DLNA and Internet Sharing over Wi-Fi though it is subject to carrier approvals.

Design

Even though the HTC Radar is based on the HTC Desire S, it really doesn’t look anything like an HTC handset in from recent memory. That is because of its clean white design instead of the traditional dark gray/black construction HTC goes with. I must admit, I was first quite skeptical about a white Windows Phone given how the whole OS is optimized for a dark background, but a quick change to the light theme from within the settings and the Super LCD panel really starts to shine.

The light silver unibody aluminum shell blends perfectly with the white soft plastic sections which cover the top and the bottom on the back side. The HTC logo engraved on the back side adds to the overall elegance of the device, as do the silver chrome on the rim of the camera lens.

HTC kept the bottom of the device clean and placed all the buttons and connectors on the top and sides. This would really make it easy to slip the phone into your pocket while the headset is plugged in.

The three Windows Phone capacitive buttons on the bottom are quite responsive and are placed at the perfect distance from the screen. This minimizes accidental taps while still keeping them in the reach of your thumbs.

The display itself, while not being a Super AMOLED panel is gorgeous – in fact, after using the light theme on the HTC Radar for a while, my Samsung Omnia 7 looks boring and dull. Also the size is what most people consider to be in the comfortable range between 3.5” to 4”, though I personally prefer larger panels between 4” to 4.3” because of my larger hands.

Software

Thanks to Microsoft’s tight regulations, you won’t find bloat ware on the HTC Radar like you do on most Android phones. HTC does throw in a couple of OEM apps though but you can easily uninstall them if you don’t like them around.

The first of these is the HTC Hub, which has received some updates compared to the older version which came with the 7.0 devices. Launching the app now brings you to a new screen with the HTC clock and weather widget along with the weather of other cities you have added. Pivoting right show Stock, News and Featured apps section – which lists more HTC developed apps available in the marketplace along with a couple of Xbox Live games. None of the paid apps here come for free though.

HTC has also included a couple of newcomers this time around – HTC Watch and Connected Media. The Watch service is the same as you get on the Android devices – and also suffers from the same geographic limitations. I wasn’t able to stream anything but movie trailers here in Pakistan. Interestingly, the app didn’t ask for any login credentials which is a striking difference from the Android version.

The Connected Media app is HTC’s DLNA client through which you can stream media (including videos, photos and music) to and from your phone to any DLNA capable device. It worked like a charm and was relatively quick compared to Samsung’s AllShare app on the Samsung Omnia 7. Other HTC bundled apps include HTC Locations (which is the successor of Footprints) and HTC YouTube, a YouTube client.

The HTC Radar also comes with the Tango video calling service which makes use of the front camera on the phone. You can video chat with any other Tango user on Windows Phones, Android, iOS, PC and the Mac. It might not be as elegant as Skype, but it does get the job done. At least until Microsoft release the official Skype app in the coming weeks.

Apart from these additional apps, the Radar runs Windows Phone 7.5 through and through. Major new additions to the OS, like multitasking, enhanced Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn integration as well as Group Messaging really shines on the Radar. Another killer feature in Windows Phone 7.5 is speech control, which lets you control your phone using just your voice as well as doing advanced tasks like dialing a contact, composing a text message or making a search on Bing. Of course now that Siri has come along, these features don’t sound all that impressive. But hey, something is better than nothing right? And the speech recognition in Microsoft’s TellMe service is generally better than Android’s.

Office apps have also received updates and now support Microsoft Office 365 in addition to SkyDrive and SharePoint. But perhaps one of the biggest improvements to the overall phone experience is Internet Explorer 9 Mobile, which runs on the exact same core as the desktop version of Internet Explorer 9, meaning you get high quality HTML5 web experience with full hardware acceleration. Speaking of which….

Performance

The HTC Radar is running the second generation Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset with a 1GHz Scorpion processor and an Adreno 205 GPU. This equates to about 10% more CPU performance while the GPU performance nearly triples.

The increased visual performance is easily noticeable throughout the OS if you are comparing the phone side by side with a 1st generation Windows Phone, like the Samsung Omnia 7. The transitions and animations on the HTC Radar were a lot more smoother compared to the Omnia 7. This specifically means better performance and frame rate in games, specifically Xbox Live titles like Need for Speed Undercover and Hydro Thunder Go. Even the Xbox Live hub performance was a lot smoother in the HTC Radar.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not saying that the Samsung Omnia 7 is a slow device. It’s pretty fast on its own, but the HTC Radar is even faster when it comes to performance. It is hard to imagine how the operating system would perform once Windows Phone starts to support multi-core chipsets by the end of next year.

But you might be wondering, does this upgraded hardware actually equate to any better performance in apps? Well by our testing, the HTC Radar was always faster in loading graphic intensive apps, like Xbox Live games. The difference varied anywhere between a second and as much as a five second lead. This performance was reflected in the benchmarks as well.

On WP Bench, the HTC Radar consistently posted a score between 81 and 85, well ahead of under 60 points by the previous generation devices. Of course, some newer devices like the HTC Titan are even going as high as 97 points here, but they are high end devices with higher clock rates.

Camera

Let’s face it – when we talk about the best mobile phone cameras, HTC devices don’t really come into mind. Well that is about to change, because HTC really went out its way to get a high spec camera on its latest Windows Phones. Radar’s shooter packs a 5 megapixel CMOS sensor with a F/2.2 backside illuminated lens, which means it would capture more light in low light conditions producing better results. The lower F-speed also means that the phone would snap photos a low faster and be able to take further shots far more quickly.

But as we all know, just good numbers don’t make a good picture – the optics and the construction of the lens also go a long way. It’s good to see that HTC hasn’t disappointed here either. Gone are the days of the over sharp, pinkish and unnatural looking images that plagued the likes of the HTC HD7 and the Mozart. The Radar takes the pictures with an amazing amount of detail preserved – even in low light.

There is some post processing involved, but it doesn’t hurt the overall quality of the shot like the previous models. And since the camera packs a continuous autofocus lens, along with face-detection and a new tap-to-focus-and-shoot mode in Windows Phone 7.5, the shots turn out to be really amazing. HTC also adds a couple of scenes and effects to the camera app, along with a few advanced modes like Burst and Panorama – the later takes advantage of the accelerometer in the device to take the shots automatically as you follow an onscreen guide line and move the device.

There isn’t a macro mode here, or support for HDR shots like on the Samsung phones, but the image quality more than makes up for the lack of these features.

In video mode, the HTC Radar can shoot 720p at 30 frames per second with continuous autofocus. It also supports the same amount of effects as the image mode. You can shoot video from both the front and back camera, though the front cam is only limited to VGA mode and is quite noisy.

Video output from the Radar also complements the imaging experience. Videos preserve a great amount of detail compared to older HTC phones and the post processing noise reduction filters are smart enough to note filter out the details. The rolling shutter is still present however – which is specifically evident in low light conditions.

Here are a couple of camera samples of Radar along with an Omnia 7 for your viewing pleasure.

Here’s one comparing the camera with that of an Omnia 7 (left).

Battery Life

Diehard fans of removable batteries would be disappointed here, because the Radar doesn’t feature one. Instead, HTC opted to slightly modify the design of the HTC Desire S to make the battery non removable. While we aren’t sure about the exact cause for the change, we hear it enables a better antenna design. Earlier up in the review, I mentioned that the 1520 mAh battery in the HTC Radar promises a massive battery life — you would be pleased to know that HTC has delivered on the promise, and the Radar does indeed have a fantastic battery life for a smartphone of this caliber.

While using the phone as my primary device for a week, I was able to make it last over almost 30 hours on a single charge – which is a sharp increase from an over 20 hour battery time on my Samsung Omnia 7. And all this was while having instant push enabled for three email inboxes with multiple folders, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Windows Live, Messenger, and a number of third party background apps enabled. This also included my usual web browsing, Wi-Fi, GPS based check-ins on Foursquare, music and playing a number of games.

Of course, Windows Phone 7.5 offers a brand new Battery Saver feature which reduces battery usage. But get this – I have never even enabled that feature even once on any Windows Phone device I have used. The truth is that Microsoft have done a wonderful job with power management on Windows Phones, which makes them last a lot longer compared to their Android counterparts.

For instance, during my review of the HTC Desire S (the phone on which Radar is based), I was thoroughly impressed by its battery which managed to last over 20 hours. My Radar review unit lasts almost 10 hours more on average. A whole 50% more. This is just insanely amazing progress!

Conclusion

So far you have probably seen nothing but praise for the HTC Radar. This is because HTC have really delivered a marvel of a device, at the mid-range. It has an elegant design coupled with a beautiful Super LCD display and amazing battery life. It even performs a lot better compared to previous generation Windows Phones and most of Android devices as far as where the UI and animations are concerned. And to top things of, it has an exceptionally good camera.

If this were a dream, the Radar would probably have no flaws. Unfortunately, in the real world, most devices don’t afford that luxury. And HTC Radar is one of them. The biggest concern I have with this phone is that it only has 8GB of storage, out of which only about 6.5GB is usable. So if you have a large music collection, or you don’t like to sync your photos and videos often, then things might end up being a bit cramped.

Another issue which technically isn’t HTC’s fault is that the Windows Phone Marketplace isn’t nowhere as big as iOS App Store or even Android Market (though it clearly has Blackberry beaten). This might not be a problem for people who have been using Windows Phone 7 for as their primary platform for the past year (like myself), but for some people – the number just does matter, even if it’s for bragging rights.

In the end though, those of you who could look past these minor annoyances would have no reason to not fall in love with the HTC Radar. It is a solid device built on an elegant, modern and robust operating system which is more than capable of holding its own against the competition, and even manages to teach them a couple of new tricks!

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