When HTC unveiled its second generation Windows Phone handsets on September 1, we knew they were something special. The TITAN’s massive screen wowed readers and garnered lots of press, but the Radar’s beautiful silvery-white design had an unmistakable allure. The Taiwanese manufacturer later announced that the TITAN would be making its way to AT&T in the US, while the slightly smaller Radar would be made available on T-Mobile with the 4G suffix attached.
We had our first chance to go hands-on with T-Mobile’s newest Windows Phone at the HTC Radar 4G launch party in San Francisco on November 2. We came away impressed, despite our limited time with the device. Now, having spent a few weeks using it on a daily basis, we feel it is time to deliver the final verdict. Is the HTC Radar 4G worth picking up? Read on to find out.
The first thing you’ll notice upon picking up the HTC Radar 4G is its striking design. The device is the only Windows Phone on the market to sport a predominantly white design with silver accents. The colors perfectly complement each other, lending the device a fantastic style that is sure to draw attention. A portion of this can be attributed to the fact that the body of the device was “crafted from a single piece of polished metal.” The white piece at the bottom of the phone–which might be mistaken for a slide-down physical keyboard–pops off to reveal the slot for T-Mobile’s SIM card. But don’t expect to change out the 1,520 mAh lithium battery without unscrewing a few things and potentially violating the phone’s warranty.
The device chassis encloses a Qualcomm MSM8255 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, and 8GB of internal memory (6.54GB of which is usable). We would have liked to see the Radar 4G come with more storage, since 8GB is fairly small for a device as focused on entertainment as Windows Phone. Of course, this is a complaint we could levy against nearly all of the Windows Phones on the market, not just the Radar 4G. Even 16GB is pushing it in our book; especially since only one device to date has supported expandable memory via microSD. Thankfully, this might not be as big of an issue for some people. Heavy app downloaders, big gamers, and music aficionados will probably feel restricted, but the average user might not notice the issue.
A 3.8-inch WVGA TFT capacitive touch screen covers most of the Radar 4G’s surface area, delivering up bright vibrant colors at a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels. The glass is nearly flush with the edge of the device, separated by an extremely thin bevel, and the force feedback on the Back, Home, and Bing buttons is perfect. It’s strong enough that you can feel it, but soft enough to be pleasant to the touch. Unlike some devices, which spread the hardware buttons around the device, the Radar 4G limits the button placement to just two sides. The dedicated camera button is located in the lower right, with the volume rocker positioned a little ways above it. The power button, however, sits on the top of the phone, so accessing it requires you to move your thumb or index finger a significant distance. The headphone jack is opposite the power button on the top left side, while the microUSB port–the only thing found on the left of the device–mirrors the location of the camera button.
The beautiful high-quality display isn’t as large as the TITAN, but not everyone wants to lug around an enormous phone. The Radar 4G is, in essence, the perfect size for the average customer. It’s big enough to type on and see content clearly, yet small enough to fit comfortably in your pocket. The device has a small heft to it, lending it a quality feel without actually tiring your arm.
The HTC Radar 4G also includes a GPS, accelerometer, and 5.1 surround sound speakers. GSM/EDGE networks are supported at up to 4G speeds, and both Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi are also included. Of course, one of the most important features on a modern smartphone is the camera. The back of the Radar 4G sports a 5MP camera with a F2.2 lens, LED flash, and BSI sensor, while a simple front-facing VGA camera graces the top of the device. 720p HD video recording is also supported when using the primary camera.
The image quality is pretty good for a 5MP camera, and it is relatively on par with those found on first generation Windows Phones. It sometimes struggled in poor lighting, but well-lit scenes came out quite well. HTC has also added some fantastic features to the stock Windows Phone camera settings, including a panorama mode which stitches together three individual photos to create a surprisingly good panorama. On-screen prompts and tracking information eliminate the guesswork; just line up the shot and keep the camera steady. The detection software can get a little finicky about fast camera movement–even when trying to hold it as steady as possible–but you get used to it after a few tries. The camera also includes a photo burst mode, which rapidly takes a series of five-or-so photos. The result, however, isn’t always ideal due to minimal focusing time and absolutely no flash. Then, of course, there is the front-facing camera, which works quite well for video chat. But don’t expect to take many photos with it, as the VGA resolution just isn’t good enough for high-quality photos.
The HTC Radar 4G runs Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango,” so the actual experience is very similar to the rest of the Windows Phones on the market. Microsoft allows the manufacturers and carriers to customize the operating system (OS) a bit, like with the additional camera modes, but most of the differentiation comes in the form of hardware and apps. The OS experience is, in a word, excellent. The Metro interface is fast, fluid, and extremely easy to use. Live tiles surface important information without requiring you to actually launch the app, and social networking is baked into the OS. We could discuss Windows Phone 7.5 at great length, but we will refrain from doing so as this is a review of the device itself, not the software. Suffice to say that Windows Phone provides a unique and extremely pleasant experience not found on its competitors.
Some of the unique software-related features found on the Radar 4G include Attentive Phone, sound enhancers, and internet sharing. One of our favorite aspects of Attentive Phone is the ability to silence the ringer by flipping the device over or, when a call is already in progress, activate the speaker phone with the same action. It’s a very convenient feature that we could see a lot of people taking advantage of. The phone can also dynamically adjust its ringer volume, increasing when in your pocket or automatically decreasing when it is picked up. Sound enhancements include SRS for audio and video, an equalizer for audio playback, and 5.1 surround sound for video. The latter two, however, require the use of headphones or speakers. T-Mobile also allows customers to tether the device to their computer for internet access on the go.
Like all manufacturers and carriers, HTC and T-Mobile have put their own touch on the experience. The phone comes pre-loaded with the classic T-Mobile ringtone, as well as more than 60 ringtones courtesy of HTC. HTC has also added a new accent color to match its logo. The green accent looks fantastic when combined with the light theme, and the two perfectly compliment the silvery-white chassis. The dark background works too, but it just doesn’t look as good. Of course, the reverse can be said for most of the other Windows Phones. The Radar 4G also comes with a collection of pre-installed apps–Help+How-to, HTC Hub, HTC Watch, My Account, Notes, Slacker Radio, TeleNav GPS Nav, and T-Mobile TV–which can be removed if you so choose.
The topic of performance generally comes up when discussing computing devices of any kind, be it smartphones, tablets, or traditional PCs. Windows Phone excels in this category, due in large part to Microsoft’s stringent hardware requirements. Unlike the competition, Windows Phones are always guaranteed to have excellent performance. Lock-ups, restarts, frame rate slowdowns, and other annoyances rarely, if ever, happen on Windows Phone. So while the Radar 4G’s hardware isn’t as powerful as the TITAN, you probably won’t notice any perceivable difference.
One standout feature of the Radar 4G, however, is its excellent battery life. It can run for approximately ten hours of talk time or 20 days on standby. This sounds great on paper, and it’s even better in use. While we don’t have specifics, we can say that we were able to heavily use the Radar 4G throughout the day without any problems whatsoever. HTC did a commendable job designing the battery to be as long-lasting as possible.
We came away from our time with the T-Mobile’s HTC Radar 4G wishing we could keep the it. The internal storage could be bigger and the camera could be a bit better, but the solid build quality and fantastic battery life more than made up for this weakness. T-Mobile customers in the market for a Windows Phone should definitely consider the HTC Radar 4G. It is, by far, the carrier’s best Windows Phone and an excellent choice for anyone in the market for a new device.
The phone normally retails for $99 on contract, but T-Mobile is currently giving the device away if you sign up for a two-year agreement. Microsoft is also giving new Windows Phone buyers a $25 Prepaid App Card to get them started in the Windows Phone Marketplace. If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, you should seriously consider the HTC Radar 4G.