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11/3/2011
09:47 AM
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HTC's Radar: A Windows Phone For The Mainstream

HTC's new Radar smartphone running Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" is inexpensive and easy to use.

Microsoft and HTC hosted a launch event for the HTC Radar smartphone last night in San Francisco. Given the modest specifications of the HTC Radar, I was initially skeptical about the market relevance of the phone. But after holding it in my hand and playing with the Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" operating system, those doubts began to fade. Here are the hardware and software highlights.


Hardware highlights

  • $99* price (*requires T-Mobile with two-year contract and after $50 mail-in rebate).
  • Solid metal body construction makes the Radar look and feel like an expensive phone.
  • 3.8-inch super-LCD with 800-pixel-by-480-pixel resolution.
  • 5MP rear camera with an f/2.2 lens and low-light sensor.
  • 720p video recording (I was told 24fps maximum but this isn't listed in the official specs).
  • Built-in panorama mode that stitches multiple photos together.
  • Physical shutter button with two-stage depress like a real camera where you push half to acquire focus and full to snap photo (standard on all Windows Phone 7 smartphones). Pushing the shutter all the way down also brings up the camera application instantly. The alternative on Apple or Android phones is to hit the on button, swipe to unlock, find the camera app, and then hit an onscreen button to take a photo. No matter how much Apple and Google brag about their low shutter lag, nothing compares to a physical camera button.
  • 0.3MP VGA front camera. With Microsoft's finalized acquisition of Skype, it's a good bet that Skype will be coming to Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 and the front camera will almost be a requirement for video conferencing unless you intend to stand in front of a mirror. Nokia's recently-announced Lumia 710 and 800 Windows smartphones inexplicably omit the front camera.

Software highlights

  • Microsoft Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" out of the box
  • Instead of dumb icons that offer very little information about the application they represent, Windows Phone has a more functional tile home screen that offers a bird's-eye view of the most commonly used applications.
  • If the iPhone's battle cry is "there's an app for that," Windows Phone 7's seems to be "you don't need an app for that" because the functionality is deeply integrated into the phone in a very elegant way. When I asked the Microsoft representative about the Facebook app, she seemed to look at me as if to say "why would you need that?" After seeing how Facebook and Microsoft Live and Twitter updates are consolidated into "People Hub" and how Facebook and Microsoft Live photos are consolidated into Photos, it made me wonder if I even need a Facebook or Twitter app. The message app consolidates all SMS text messages, Facebook chat, Live Messenger chat--and I presume Skype chat in the future--into one place. That seems to be a much cleaner and simpler alternative to the kind of app and icon sprawl I'm used to on my Android smartphone.
  • Because this is a Microsoft operating system, integration with Microsoft Exchange, Outlook, Calendar, and Office is about as good as it gets. All the native applications run smoothly and look elegant. The one thing I didn't like was the wide margins in the calendar monthly view which wasted so many pixels that the events of each day were unreadable.
  • There is no native Facebook app yet although Microsoft provides its third-party Facebook app. But with the aforementioned Facebook integration embedded into the core functionality of the phone, it hardly seems necessary for most people.

Criticisms

  • Somewhat small screen in the age of 4.3-inch and upcoming 4.65-inch Android smartphones.
  • The 800-pixel-by-480-pixel WVGA resolution of the LCD is not exactly exciting in the age of qHD 960-pixel-by-560-pixel and full HD 1280-pixel-by-720-pixel Android smartphones. In fairness, many Android and Apple budget smartphones that sell for the price of the HTC Radar still run 480-pixel-by-320-pixel HVGA resolution.
  • None of the new Windows Phone 7.5 smartphones come with 1080P video recording capability like the newest Apple iPhone 4S and high-end Android smartphones. This isn't an issue with the HTC Radar because of its low price, but Microsoft and its partners need to catch up to the competition.
  • The Radar's 10.9mm height is reasonably thin, but it is slightly bulky in the age of sub-9mm-thick Android and Apple smartphones. This is forgivable for a budget smartphone like the HTC Radar, but it's baffling why the higher-end Windows Phones are still too thick.
  • No USB Mass Storage which rules out easy file copying between computer and smartphone, especially when the Zune software isn't installed.
  • No MicroSDHC external flash memory slot on any of the Windows Phone 7 or 7.5 smartphones. This is something that is hard for a "PC guy" like me to swallow. I avoided the iPhone because I didn't want to be charged $200 for a flash memory upgrade when 32GB MicroSDHC cards can be purchased for as little as $40.

Overall, I think the HTC Radar's price, quality, and user experience should attract plenty of T-Mobile customers. With many "feature phone" customers coming off contract looking for their first smartphone, the HTC Radar and Windows Phone 7.5 seems like a very friendly choice. It's one of those phones that I would give to my parents so I wouldn't have to worry about training or supporting them.

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