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HTC Surround Review

HTC Surround ReviewThe HTC Surround is a slider phone – but it doesn’t have a slide-out keyboard.  What DOES slides out is some “hi-fi” Yamaha speakers that are normally hiding behind the screen.  HTC also includes a little flip-open kick-stand on the back to reinforce the illusion of this device having hi-fi speakers.  As a long-time audiophile I can tell the phone sounds fine – but hi-fi?  I’ll let you be the judge.

On the other hand, it IS called the Surround for a good reason – there’s also Dolby Surround sound built inside to go with the HD video capabilities that bears some attention.

The Box contains:

  • HTC Surround T8788
  • microUSB cable
  • Wall Charger
  • 3.5mm Stereo Headset
  • Quickstart Guide

Design And Features:

First off, the Surround shares a lot of design cues with a number of other HTC devices – it’s got the off-grey metal from the Nexus One, the trim and speaker grating from the Desire, and some subtle cues from other HTC phones as well. Suffice to say, it’s an attractive piece of hardware in general despite being an obvious amalgam of design language from all over HTC’s device lineup.

HTC Surround ReviewHTC Surround Review

The Surround – true to its namesake – has a slide out speaker that runs along the side of the handset, for emulated surround sound. The speaker assembly doesn’t slide out much more than a centimeter, but still results in the same added thickness you’d get with a landscape keyboard.

On the other side of the Surround’s slider is an added bonus – a kickstand. The metal strip is held in place with a magnet, and pops out with a quick flick of the fingernail.

The kickstand is spring loaded to keep the arm in proper position, but ultimately works in a very different way than the EVO’s. Where the EVO’s kickstand is somewhat like a table leg at 45 degrees, the Surround’s is more like an arm that sweeps out at the base.

Where the Surround is different is the SRS and Dolby mobile branding square in the middle of the back. Up at the top is the camera and LED flash, and a grating to the left. The chrome region around the camera is raised slightly, protecting the camera from being scratched on a flat surface, but unfortunately the metal itself is ridged circularly and thus will show wear.

In fact, it looks like a generic Android smartphone. It certainly does have the HTC feel to it, so that isn’t necessarily a complaint. You’ve got a gray front with a nice-looking 3.8-inch LCD display with 480 x 800 resolution. Around back you’ve got a soft-touch matte black. Due to the slider mechanism, the phone is .51 inches thick, and weighs in at 5.82 ounces. Compared to the thinnest AT&T launch Windows Phone 7 device, the Samsung Focus, the Surround is 0.1 inches thicker and 1.6 ounces heavier.

Interface:

Without delving into a complete dissertation on WP7, suffice it to say Windows Mobile 7 is a remarkably intuitive and nearly fun OS to navigate. Two major advancements facilitate function. First, icons are large, either square or rectangular and nearly contiguous, which makes them easier to locate than the smaller, widely separated icons on iPhone or Android phones. Second, instead of separate screens to swipe past, both the primary home screen and the secondary screen with all the apps listed each on its own line in alphabetical order, are one long page. No need to remember which “page” a particular app is on, and you are free to populate the home screen with as many or as few regularly accessed apps as you need or want. The large sans serif font also eliminates all search squinting.

HTC Surround ReviewHTC Surround Review

Few functions are more than two taps away from the home screen, including the actual phone calling function. The app icons for phone, messaging, e-mail and even the app marketplace clearly indicate the number of messages or updates awaiting your attention.

WP7 merges as many phonebooks as you’d like (Google, Facebook, SIM, Outlook, etc.), bringing the advantages and communications options of all into the single People contact list.

The Surround is one of the first phones to run Windows Phone 7(read our full Windows Phone 7 review), the new Microsoft mobile OS, and its interface is beautiful and runs smoothly. The home screen has interchangeable tiles that launch whatever you pin to them–be it an app, contact, or URL–and it can be as simple or complex as you want. Even with many apps added to the home screen, it never feels cluttered and it is simple to launch everything.

If you want to add a new tile, swipe right to left and you will see a list of every application on the phone. Then, just hold down on the app you want to add and you can pin it to the home screen. Once you launch an app, you can return the home screen at any time Windows button in the middle of the phone.

HTC Hub

Aside from the slide-out speaker, HTC tries to distinguish the Surround with the Hub, a sub-interface that shows the time, weather, and downloads of HTC apps. When you open it, clouds whoosh by you slowly, which looks neat, but gets old after the second time. Most likely, after downloading the apps that HTC offers, a user would only want to use the Hub for checking the weather. App shortcuts include Flashlight, Photo Enhancer, Sound Enhancer, and Stocks. Sadly, there is no way to use the Hub as a primary interface and there is no way to customize it further to make it more useful.

The Windows Phone 7 keyboard works well, especially considering this is the first iteration, and is on a par with the stock Android keyboard. Taps on the screen were accurate and responsive, and we liked the popping sound and haptic feedback when we made a selection. Disappointingly, the keyboard does not stretch across the entire screen in landscape mode.

Camera:

The HTC 7 Surround’s 5 megapixel camera was just OK. Colors looked washed out and weren’t as rich as the camera on a Samsung Captivate, which I typically use. The white of an airplane during a sunny day looked overexposed. Also, some of my close-up macro style shots weren’t very focused when they were blown up on my computer screen. Darker shots without flash had noticeable grain, but the single LED flash did a decent job in low-light areas, such as a restaurant.

HTC Surround ReviewHTC Surround Review

The camera can be launched at any time, even if the phone is locked, by holding the camera key. That’s a neat feature of WP7. There are a number of shooting options available, including different scene settings, effects, and a flicker adjust option.

Music:

If you have ever played with the Zune HD, you will be right at home. It’s basically the same interface. However, given how many they sold, the odds are that you’ve never played with it. The user interface is very consistent with the rest of Windows Phone 7, however the music control are not so intuitive in my opinion. For example, some controls are hidden: you have to tap onto the album photo to see the Repeat, Like and Shuffle icons. Also, if you want to fast forward, you have to press and hold the Next Song icon. I think that the Zune folks can do better here.

HTC Surround Review

Video:

The good news is that the HTC surround can play a 720p movie (.wmv, 5Mbps) without any problems. The thing looks really good, so expect great movie rentals etc… the bad news is that Windows Phone 7 is not compatible with any of my MP4 movies that I have accumulated from my PSP (+other) days. This is a bit too closed in my opinion and if all you do is rent movies or use .wmv .

Battery:

HTC rates the Surround at a below average 4.17 hours of talk time. But after several days filled with intense phone futzing, not once did battery levels fall dangerously low by bedtime.

Browser:

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer on Windows Phone 7 was a letdown for me. Its lack of WebKit support really put a damper on my WP7 experience. That means specially formatted websites like Wikipedia and Touch.Facebook.com don’t look as good or offer the features that they do for the iPhone or Android powered devices. The browser is fast, though, and you can start interacting with a page the second it begins to load. Multi-touch for zoom, panning, clicking, all work well and immediately. I was able to have up to 6 different windows open at the same time, too.

The Surround also lacks support for Adobe Flash and its own Silverlight content. Not a huge deal breaker, but a feature that Android 2.2 Froyo smartphones offer. The browser doesn’t remember your recent searches, though.

Bing Maps:

Microsoft’s Mapping software looks pretty darn good. Overall, Google Maps still leads, but the Bing Maps are clean and readable (unlike Yahoo’s) and searching for directions as simpler than it is with Google Maps. After getting the step by step directions in WP7, you can click on each step and see where it is on the map. Overall the user interface is very fluid, and the only wait time is caused by the map tiles or directions download.

Mobile Office:

Most of the time people want to simply be able to look at office documents, and most modern smartphones have ways to do that properly. However, it’s not hard to imagine that Mobile Office is probably the best set of apps to manipulate and edit office files.

HTC Surround  Specifications

Highlights

Windows Mobile 7 Phone

5 Megapixel Camera with LED Flash

720p HD video recorder

Bluetooth Wireless Technology Supports Streaming Stereo

Built-in MP3 Player with FM

Email, Text, Picture, Video and Instant Messaging Capable

What’s In The Box With The Phone

Additional Items Included – Battery, Wall Charger, USB cable, Stereo Headphones with Inline Mic

Advanced Features

Digital Camera – Yes, 5 Megapixels (2592 x 1944 Pixels Max Resolution), 6x Digital Zoom, Auto-Focus

MP3 Player – Yes

FM Radio – Yes

Bluetooth Wireless Technology – 2.1, AVRCP, HFP, HSP, PBAP

Video Capture / Camcorder – 15 Frames Per Second, 1280 x 720p Pixel Resolution Max, Landscape View

Bluetooth Stereo Headset (A2DP) – Yes, Stream Stereo Music To and From Compatible (A2DP) Bluetooth Devices

Data Capable / Use This Phone As A Modem – No

PC synchronization – Yes

Infrared Port – No

Voice-driven Menus – Yes

Messaging Features

Mobile Web Browsing – HTML

Multimedia Messaging – Send and Receive Messages

Text Messaging (SMS) – Send and Receive Messages

Instant Messenger Built-in – Yes, Windows Live

Personalization and Fun Features

Polyphonic Ringtones – Yes

MP3 Ringtones – Yes

Ringer Profiles – Yes

Picture Caller ID – Yes

Multiple Languages – Yes

Games – Yes, Downloadable Windows Media and HTC Titles

Customizable Graphics – Yes

Core Features

Color Main Display – 3.8″ LCD, 800 x 480 Pixels

Speakerphone – Yes

Voice-activated Dialing – Yes

TTY Compatible – Yes

To-Do List – No

Voice Memo – No

Color – Black

Style – Slab

Alarm – Yes

Calculator – Yes

Calendar – Yes

Vibrate – Yes

Phonebook Capacity – Unlimited; Memory Dependent

Multiple Numbers Per Name – Unlimited; Memory Dependent

Standard 3.5mm Headset Jack – Yes

Battery Life

Battery Type – 1230 mAh

Talk Time – Up to 4.17 Hours

Standby Time – Up to 10.6 Days

Technical Specifications

Application Platform – Windows Mobile 7

Network Compatibility – GSM 800/1900

Data Download Speed – 3G HSPA 7.2 Mbps

Ringtone Types Supported – MP3

Predictive Text Entry – Yes

Built-In Memory – 16 GB Onboard

Expandable Memory Capacity – No

Dimensions – 4.71 x 2.42 x 0.51 in

Weight – 5.82 oz

Conclusion:

The HTC Surround’s heft and nearly unnecessary slide-up screen is forgivable, given the phone’s otherwise solid construction. Not forgivable is the Surround’s substandard camera. If you seek an AT&T Windows Mobile 7 phone, the Samsung Focus is the best choice.

PROS AND CONS

Pros

  • Windows Phone 7 OS
  • 16GB built-in memory
  • Long battery life
  • Kickstand

Cons

  • Poor photo and video quality
  • No expandable memory slot
  • Unnecessary slide-up speaker

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