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HTC Radar Review: In Depth

The Good

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The Bad

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Along with the HTC Titan which we recently reviewed comes the HTC Radar, the second of HTC’s Windows Phone line up for 2011.

Like the Titan, you get Windows Phone 7.5 aka Mango installed out of the box, giving you access to a cornucopia of new features and functions with a side-order of HTC apps like HTC Watch on-demand movies and Photo Enhancer photo editing.

The HTC Radar is a little bit smaller in size, featuring a 3.7-inch screen, a 5-megapixel camera and 8GB of internal storage.


HTC Radar design and build

The HTC Radar’s main body is sculpted from a single piece of aluminium, a design ethic that tips the hat to the HTC Legend Android phone, which followed a similar design scheme. This gifts the Radar an overwhelming feel of solidity, while the dense block of metal gives it an alluring aura of class as well. It’s a good fit in the hand; weighty but not overly heavy, small enough to be compact but not so small that using it is a fiddly nightmare. The HTC Radar looks like it means business.

In terms of shape, it’s not much of a throw from last year’s HTC 7 Trophy (another Windows Phone phone – see pics below for a comparison), so if you’ve seen that one then the Radar is cut from a pretty similar cloth; we’ve included the two phones in a pic side by side for comparison.

The SIM card slot is accessed by pulling at the ‘chin’ section of the Radar, a single plastic piece that’s easily removable and securely snaps back into place. Though you can’t seem to get at the battery from here, simply opening this section of the Radar will cause the phone to promptly say ‘Goodbye’ and start shutting down. There’s no slot for a microSD card, but that’s to be expected as Windows Phone’s minimum requirements don’t allow for them.

8GB of storage (on paper, 6.54 in real life) may be limiting for some, but you’ve always got the option to sling any pictures into the 25GB of space that you get with Windows SkyDrive. So at least there’s room to juggle things about, even without the option of microSD.

There’s a mechanical shutter key for the camera round on the right side which depresses with the minimum of fuss and is perfectly positioned. Just above this is a slim volume rocker which, depsite making a slight clicking sound, feels solid and robust. A power button sits up on the top next to a 3.5mm jack. Round on the left and opposite the camera button there’s a micro USB slot for charging and connecting to Zune through your PC or Mac.

Finally, the screen. At 3.8-inches it’s dwarfed by the HTC Titan’s huge 4.7-inch display, but boasts the same resolution – 800 x 480. So though the screen is smaller, icons, images on web pages look smaller and a little tighter because of it. Image quality is great and text on web pages and menus is super sharp. Brightness and contrast is high (perhaps not at AMOLED, but hey) and outdoor/direct sunlight legibility is fine, provided the screen brightness is cranked pretty high. Otherwise, the reflective nature of the glass on the front hampers outdoor legibility a bit.

 

HTC Radar user interface

As was the case with the HTC Titan, the Radar’s interface is Windows Phone Mango through and through with a smattering of HTC apps – Watch, Hub, Photo Enhancer, Locations, Connected Media – thrown in for good measure.

Unlike other smartphone OSs which have a tray of app icons floating on homescreens (in a manner reminiscent of icons on a desktop computer), Windows Phone lays everything out in a vertically scrolling ribbon of tiles.

You get one main menu on which sit shortcuts to things like the phone dialler, texts and email, and a sub-menu which gives you access to the rest of the phone’s features. From this sub menu, you can drag and drop icons up to the main menu and pin them to the start, as you might do on a taskbar.

It’s exactly the same on the HTC Radar as it is on any other device running Windows Phone 7/7.5 and it works beautifully. Though it’s been out for over a year and has remained virtually unchanged since the Mango/7.5 update we still love it; it’s easy to use and get around, looks great and it’s not a slavish copy of the iOS/Android/Symbian way of doing things.

We love being able to tag friends in Facebook photos as we upload them to said social network.
Aggregating contact information, i.e. fusing your friends’ mobile number(s), Facebook info and email messages, has the added benefit of pulling conversations into a single thread.

So if you’ve got an email from someone and you continue the conversation via texts or a Facebook private message, the HTC Radar will pull everything in under one conversational umbrella

Another plus is that you can also easily separate your contacts into Groups (‘work’ ‘the band’ ‘drinking buddies’ ‘the girls’ or whatever) and send texts en masse to everyone in that group. For a better idea of the benefits Windows Phone 7.5/Mango brings.

On the HTC side of things, you get HTC Watch which works nicely on the Radar. When watching movies, there’s the ability to full screen films and clips and audio sounds great through headphones. Due to the screensize, you don’t get quite the same impact here as you do with the Titan (or the HTC Sensation for that matter) but we found the quality of on-demand films offered by Watch to be ok all the same.

We’d still like to see a desktop-version of HTC Watch so you could, perhaps, start watching a film on your phone on the way back from work and then carry on where you left off on a bigger screen when you get home.

HTC Radar browser

Internet Explorer 9 on the HTC Radar allows you to browse with six windows/tabs open, and switch between mobile and desktop versions of webpages as it suits you.

The 3.8-inch screen is roomy enough for you to have a comfortable web-browsing experience, allowing you to pinch to zoom in on text and pictures with ease.

Pinch to zoom is a little wobbly it has to be said; the edges of text often looks jagged when you zoom in (this is particularly noticeable on large text and headlines) as do the edges of pictures. After you’ve finished zooming in the browser will correct this after a couple of seconds, but it does take a little of the shine off of the HTC Radar’s smooth operations.

To be honest, we experienced the same kind of thing with the HTC Titan, enough for us to conclude that this is more of a software/OS thing than an HTC thing. Still, the browsing experience is decent enough.

You’ve got the ability to add pages to a Favourites folder, pin URL shortcuts to the main home page and share pages straight to Facebook or via email, or, if you want to do things the old fashioned way, simply copy and paste links from the address bar and do what you will with them.


HTC Radar multimedia

The HTC Radar’s camera toes the line for Windows Phone minimum requirements here, rocking a 5-megapixel sensor with a single LED flash and 720p video recording. The camera is also backed with an f/2.2 lens and a backlit BSI sensor which ought to allow for better low-light captures. However unlike the HTC Titan, which similarly comes with a backlit sensor, we didn’t find that the Radar coped very well with night shots at all. Even with the flash turned on, pictures taken at night or in the dark were often blurry where the camera wasn’t focussing properly.

Where the Titan would automatically adjust to any gloom, easily allowing us to take night pics, the Radar struggled. Even with the flash turned on and the candlelight scene modes turned on, we simply didn’t get the same kind of response in dark or low-light areas as we did with the Titan.

That said it’s good enough elsewhere, with close up shots in particular looking incredible; check out the picture of the MXR effects pedal above; you can easily make out the little bumps and indentations in the metal.

The mechanical shutter key allows for effortless picture taking and the Radar processes shots pretty quickly; there’s a couple of seconds (if that) of waiting time between shots. There’s a panoramic shot mode that stitches three pics together and a burst mode, which rattles off five pictures in a quick succession.

Video recording is pretty smooth with results looking slick on the Radar itself; it’s a different story when you upload files though; things like the motion blur of vehicles are more apparent on bigger screens.

You can also tweak things light brightness, ISO and white balance to suit your specific settings at the time, hit save settings, and the Radar will remember your preferences. Useful should you need to duck out of the camera app and text someone back for example. When you want to turn everything back to auto, there’s a restore to default option too.

The front-facing VGA camera isn’t, as you’d expect, up to much, useful only really for video calls and funny self-portraits. As you’d expect, pictures taken on it are grainy and noisy, but for its intended purpose it does its job.

The music player here is the same as it is on other Windows Phone phones, coming with the ability to easily create playlists (another feature of the Mango update and a welcome one). Music quality is pretty good with the bass, mid and treble levels nicely balanced through both the external speaker and the supplied headphones and our own Skullcandy and Sennheiser ‘phones.

At maximum levels, volume distorted; we found anything north of the ‘22’ mark (Windows Phone’s volume control is measured in a 0/30 scale) resulted in distorted sounds through the speaker and on headphones.

Again, the app story on the Windows Phone side of things isn’t as varied or plentiful as it is on the iTunes App Store and the Android Market. But there is more going on in the Windows Marketplace in terms of games and apps than there was a year ago. If you’re not that fussed about mobile gaming but want something casual along the lines of Angry Birds to kill the odd hour then you’ll be happy.

Admittedly, most of the joys of the Windows Phone platform are found in the OS itself – it’s so nicely designed and easy to use that we don’t mind about the (comparatively) slim third party support so much – the first party support is pretty good already. But if apps are your thing, then this is obviously something to consider.


HTC Radar performance

The HTC Radar is a nippy little phone that performs all of the basic functions without any major hiccups. We didn’t notice any huge slowdown when browsing the web (save for when we were in a 3G-scarce area) playing games or performing tasks. Aside from the slightly jagged browser performance on pitch to zoom (mentioned above) there’s nothing really glaringly wrong about the Radar.

The screen is very responsive and easy to type on. That Windows Phone virtual Qwerty is a thing of beauty, offering accurate corrections and making a pleasant confirmation tapping sound.

Call quality is good; nothing terribly muddy or borderline inaudible anyway. On calls to both landlines and other mobiles on other networks we didn’t find anything terrible to write home about here. Call volume was loud enough in most noisy situations where we tested it (at rush hour train stations, in pubs) where we could just about hear the person on the other end.

That battery, depsite not being removable, reliable; after 12 hours of solid use (calls, texting, music, internet etc) we still had just under half a tank full by the end.

We reckon the average phone buyer would be perfectly happy with how the Radar functions as a phone and work device.


Verdict

The HTC Radar is a well designed smartphone that offers a solid, reliable Windows Phone experience. The battery gives you a decent day’s worth of power and there’s nothing really to grumble about at all.

That said, there’s not much to really, truly rave about either. There are areas where, for all its reliability, solid build and UI polish, we feel the Radar might dissapoint some buyers.

The 8GB of storage and no microSD card won’t be enough for some, even with the benefits that SkyDrive offers. The non-removable battery and camera performance in the dark (great elsewhere) may be issues for some as well.

The Radar is currently going for £150 on a £15.50 24 monther on Orange, (and free on £36 18 month deals. This is pretty competitive compared to the likes of other, higher end phones and will be attractive for someone not necessarily after the bleeding edge of smartphones.


However if its bleeding edge that you do want, the HTC Titan has more built-in memory, a faster processor and an all round better camera.

Specification

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