It’s Digital Christmas time again and I’m having my annual déjà vu with a smartphone. Around this time last year, I was handed a nifty toy to play with, boasting excellent tech specs and a windows OS. On paper, it looked like a win/win situation for a Windows fan boy like me, but the reality of the situation was it ultimately led to disappointment. The reason for the déjà vu is I find myself in the same situation. Wonderfully spec’d smartphone – check, new Windows phone OS – check, not quite liking the set-up despite my best efforts … check :'(
While I can’t fault either sides in this two-piece puzzle by themselves, the conflict of interests cause the HTC Titan to be a little forlorn with some features. The tug-of-war between the phone and the OS is quite obvious, with HTC wanting to take you on one experience and Microsoft slamming that door shut but opening another one instead. Overall it’s not as dramatic as I’ve made it out to be and I do like a lot of the features that run smoothly, it’s just the small cumbersome ones I find annoying. That’s not to say it’s a bad smartphone, far from it, it is just a few small dents in what could have been great. Let’s take a closer look.
Look and feel
The first obvious thing from looking at the Titan is the sheer size of the device. HTC is synonymous with having large smartphones but the Titan is one of the biggest in the range, measuring a whopping 131.5mm x 70.7mm (which is larger than the Sensation and HD2). It is not the most agile phone to be carrying around in your pocket, but using the phone makes up for this minor inconvenience.
With a large frame in which to sit, the screen has been ramped up to an eye-bulging 4.7 inches (compared to the iPhone’s 3.5 inches) but it does sacrifice a little on the resolution, as a result. The Titan doesn’t compare to the resolution of the Super AMOLED screens featured in Samsung smartphones but it does use its own Super LCD technology to deliver a fairly decent 200 pixels per inch (480 x 800 resolution). It results in videos and images being viewed in stunning quality.
The one complaint I have with the size is it could have been used to accommodate other features quite comfortably but fails to do so. The most glaring omission is the lack of a micro SD slot. The phone itself has 16GB integrated memory, which may seem like enough, but the OS will eat into nearly 3GB of that so we are left with 13GB usable space, and that’s our lot. Considering a number of people would rather load videos/movies onto the phone via Zune than use HTC Watch, then that space will run out pretty quickly.
OS and processor
HTC has long been a supporter of the Windows phone OS (those with good memories will probably remember the other HTC Titan with Windows 6.1 OS, so it would make sense to be one of the principle users of the new windows OS. While the look and feel is everything like WP7, the 7.5 (Mango) update has added a few features to its arsenal (most notably multitasking and IE9 for mobile). I like the start screen and the well-placed block format in which the apps are in, it does, however, get a little too crowded when you install quite a few apps and the lack of grouping adds to this.
The processor featured in the Titan is a 1.5GHz Scorpion, backed with 512MB RAM which does support the OS well. Functionally, it zooms along and doesn’t stick when power-heavy apps are in play. The importance of the processor with Mango is massive, due to the aforementioned multitasking. Multitasking is a little hard to find and the usability is sketchy, though. To even see it in progress you hold down the “back” arrow and the five most recently used applications appear. So it’s not the traditional “open the things you want” type multitasking, which is a little odd, considering it is a Microsoft creation.
This time last year, I had a little whinge at the lack of apps available to WP7 users. Thankfully, Microsoft has been working away at expanding the range available for the latest update to the OS. The greatest features of the Titan, though, are the pre-installed apps from both HTC and Microsoft. Particular highlights being:
Bing search – You can do a traditional search, use voice search, scan a QR code and even scan text and translate it to another language. Perfect for anyone thinking of heading abroad over Christmas.
HTC Hub – A handy all-in-one app that aggregates news/weather/stocks together.
XBox Live – This is what originally drew me to the Windows phone OS. You can play games and keep your XBox Live profile up-to-date. The games even offer XBox Live points as a reward.
Maps – I’m really starting to come around to Bing Maps, the voice-enhanced turn-by-turn navigation on this is superb and far outshines Google Maps as a free service. The “local scout” included is a nice touch.
People Hub – This is where Mango really shines. In my Samsung Omnia 7 review, I got a little too over-excited by the account synchronisation with people’s Facebook, Google and Twitter accounts and the ease of use. In Mango, this has gone a step further with the “People Hub”. You can now assign people into groups and see the full extent of your interaction with them, based on email, Twitter, Facebook, text and phone contact you have had in the past. You can also assign priority to those based within your closest circle.
Video, photo and music
It seems smartphone manufacturers are starting to wise up to Sony Ericsson’s tactic when it comes to cameras, and HTC is no exception, matching the Xperia range in terms of spec. The Titan features an 8MP auto-focus back camera with LED flash and a front-facing 1.3MP camera. The quality on the camera is immense, if I’m being perfectly honest. I normally swoon at the sight of a Sony Ericsson camera phone but I think I have found a new favourite. Zooming into the images taken on the Titan does not distort the images either, and the handy “Photo Enhancer” app adds little touch-ups to your photos. Video recording is registered at 720p and this is the first smartphone I have seen with the capability to record from both facing cameras.
Photo: Feeding "Lolly" and "Pop" taken with the HTC Titan 8MP camera (also pictured, Ciara’s feet). For more images, see Siliconrepublic.com’s Flickr page
As mentioned above, the Titan comes with HTC’s much talked-about “HTC Watch”, which gives users the ability to watch and download movies, series and trailers. However, if like me, you are more likely to just load already downloaded content to the phone. Thankfully, Microsoft has updated Zune (and stopped it from crashing my laptop every five minutes) and it is actually starting to become more user friendly. The sound and video quality is very good, both in loudspeaker and when using headphones
I know I’ve spent the vast majority of this review praising the Titan, but there’s a mismatch of ideas from both HTC and Microsoft and I just can’t quite pinpoint where they are. Everything is Microsoft heavy and there are blocks in the way to fully enjoying the phone. While I’m quite aware both Apple and Google use the same methods for data collection and sign-up restrictions in smartphones, they just don’t seem as in-your-face as Microsoft’s here.
One particular frustration that highlighted this was when I tried to add a Twitter account using the built-in account synchronisation. “Microsoft will be able to: follow new people, update your profile and post tweets for you” it read. No, thank you, I thought, pressing the conveniently titled “No, thanks” button. The result was it sent me back into the application to try the process again, like a Microsoft representative was standing over my shoulder saying, “Look, you pressed that button, you were supposed to press that one. See, SEE?”
Overall though, the HTC Titan is a fantastic phone with great specs and is very easy to use. While Microsoft hasn’t quite got the OS to match the phone yet, it is still a good OS for those who enjoy using Windows features. I feel as though the Titan would thrive on Android and Mango will really shine on the new Nokia range it has planned.
The HTC Titan is available from Vodafone, from free on bill pay, and from €499 on prepay.