Hands on HTC Surround Windows Phone 7

It has taken a while but, I finally got my hands on a HTC Surround running Windows Phone 7. It is a nice combination of hardware and software but will it get Microsoft back into the mobile game?

The Good

  • Well-constructed hardware
  • Windows Phone 7 is fun to use
  • The Yamaha speaker pumps out fairly decent audio
  • The phone and the OS combine for a slick, smooth experience

The Bad

  • Windows Phone 7 is not as mature as Android or iPhone – it’s missing some key features
  • The Yamaha speaker sounds good but I wonder if it is worth the extra weight
  • Windows Phone 7 takes some getting used to.
  • Voice quality was not the greatest
  • No expandable storage –surprising with a multimedia-centric phone such as this

Let’s start with the phone. The Surround is a solid well built phone typical of HTC. It is a bit chunky because of the slide-out speaker..more on that later. The 5MP camera takes decent but not fantastic pictures OK for snapshots. the 3.8″ WVGA 400 x 800 touchscreen is bright and sharp and the three (standard for WP7) touch buttons for Back, Home and Search have the right sensitivity. The coolest hardware feature is the camera button that fires up the camera from a sleep condition in less than four seconds. Great for those situations when waking up the phone then starting the camera could result in a missed shot.

I was surprised at the voice quality of this phone..it is scratchy and tinny and when connected via Bluetooth to a Ford Sync system the quality was less than desirable with too many dropouts. None of these problems were evident on my HTC Desire (Android OS) which has the pretty much the same internals as the Surround.

Internal memory is 16GB and there is no way to increase storage. This may be a problem for those who buy this phone for its multimedia features as music and videos will chew up this memory in no time. Personally I don’t keep a lot of video and music on the phone so it is not a problem for me.

Now to the speaker…The high quality Yamaha speaker with Dolby and SRS WOW makes for surprising audio quality from a smartphone but when would I ever use it? I can’t think of too many situations when I would want to share my music with the world. I prefer a headset.

The Windows Phone 7 Operating System is a delight to use. I like the active tiles that indicate the number of email messages or phone calls. The transitions are smooth and snappy. I think the animations help to give WP7 a smooth feel. The pages behind the various tiles are fun to use and provide easy access to the related apps. Still this is a first release..and it shows. There is no cut and paste..Microsoft says it is coming soon..but I really miss it. And there is no screen capture function which explains the less than perfect screen shots in this report (or perhaps I need a better camera).

As well, the OS seems to be more portrait oriented..some apps rotate to landscape mode but the Music Player does not. This is a glaring oversight when the phone is equipped with a little kickstand so you can stand up the phone with the speaker open to play music..yet the player remains in portrait mode.

Battery life is normal for a smartphone this powerful. Moderate users will get a comfortable full day on a single charge but, heavy users might want to keep a charging cable in the car or office for a quick top up.

All in all it is a nice package, I like WP7 and I know it will become even more polished in the future. But frankly, I think Microsoft is late to the party. Initial sales didn’t set the world on fire and WP7  launched in the middle of a pitched battle between Apple and Android with both selling like hotcakes. Plus it’s all about the apps. At last count the WP7 Marketplace had 6000 apps while the Android Marked and Apple App Store count applications in the hundreds of thousands. So, I think the best WP7 can hope for in the near future is to be number 4 behind Apple, Android and Blackberry.

Perhaps the rumoured alliance between Microsoft and Nokia will change the picture. What do you think.

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