Give up! We have you (HTC) Surrounded!
Product Category: Windows Phone 7 Smartphone
Where to Buy: Expansys [affiliate]
Price: $589 USD unlocked (my unit was $450CAD from Future Shop with no contract)
System Requirements: Windows Phone 7. You'll need a Windows Live account to take full advantage of the social media and marketplace.
Specifications: 1Ghz CPU with 512MbROM, 488MbRAM, 16Gb internal storage; 3.8 WVGA (480 x 800) screen; Quad band (850/900/1800/1900), GPS, 5mp colour camera w/autofocus + flash, 720p HD video recording; BT 2.1 w/A2DP, 802.11b/g/n; 3.5mm stereo audio jack; microUSB 2.0; digital compass and G-Sensor; 120mm (4.7in) x 62mm (2.4in) x 13mm (0.5in); 165g (5.8 oz). Full specs are available at the HTC site.
- It's Windows Phone 7!;
- Comes with 16GB of user available storage;
- Very useable, high quality phone and multi-media device.
- The slide-out speakers are gimmicky and don't really improve the sound;
- Overall build quality is a bit 'soft' especially around the screen edges and the fit of the back cover;
- The available applications are clearly lacking some polish.
Summary: The HTC 7 Surround is among the first of the Windows Phone 7 smartphones to appear on the market, and clearly HTC is aiming this one toward people who like to share music and videos with others (or don't want to bother with earbuds :-). But how does it fare as an actual phone? ... and does the addition of extra speakers and Dolby Surround Sound (TM) really create a '...richer listening and viewing experience'. Let's take a closer look (or listen).
In my quest to become amongst the first to own and use a Windows Phone 7 phone in Canada (nay, North America?) I started searching for available phones on the very first days they were announced on North American carriers. My primary cell carrier here in Canada (Rogers) proudly displayed their ads for the Samsung Focus but I quickly found that none of the local retailers had any stock ("It's coming soon!") and Rogers was not willing to entertain a trade-in on the Xperia X10 I had recently acquired. So, I started looking at the other carriers. First of all, I had to convince myself that the other phones would work on Roger's network, since they only recently came onto the GSM platform. After a quick check of various websites, I was fairly confident that I could make a Bell or Telus phone work on Rogers 3G. Bell carries the LG Quantum with no contract, but every store I approached said I had to at least buy a month-by-month contract which I could cancel after the first month. Finally, I happened to be browsing through a local Future Shop when a bright young sales associate asked me what I was interested in. When I told him I was looking for Windows Phone 7 phones but no contract, he said he could sell me Telus' HTC 7 Surround for $450 and I could just contact Telus to get it activated. When I told him about unlocking the phone and using it on Rogers, he looked perplexed and said "Can you do that?" (I love newbies...) So, I happily paid my $450CAD, found a vendor on eBay who would provide me with an unlock code and proceeded to enjoy what I imagine to be the first HTC 7 Surround on the Rogers network!
What Comes in the Package
By now, we're starting to see some pretty consistent patterns in phone packaging. Typically with a new phone, you get the phone, some manuals, earbuds, a power supply and a charging/sync cable. The HTC 7 Surround is no different.
Figure 1: Here's what comes in the package. Along the left is all the brochure-ware including quick-start guides for both the phone and Windows Phone 7. At the top in the middle is the power block/charger with a socket for the USB to micro-USB cable (on the right near the bottom). In the middle is a set of earbuds with foam covers and a shirt clip for the microphone, and to the far right is the HTC 7 Surround itself.
Figure 2: As is befitting a typical WP7 phone, the front is rather simple and 'quiet'. At the top is the input for the earpiece. At the bottom are the three 'hardware' buttons for (left to right) previous screen, home, and search, as defined by Microsoft.
It's a shame that Microsoft (or HTC) didn't think about making these three buttons more 'active'. Although the icons are etched on the screen glass, they don't become active until the unit is powered on out of sleep mode. One of my peeves with the Surround is that the only way to 'wake up' the unit is via the Power button on the top of the unit. It would be a real bonus to be able to also press one of these icons as well to wake the unit up.
Figure 3: Absolutely nothing here on the left side. I wonder if Microsoft and HTC thought about our left-handed users out there???
Figure 4: On the bottom you find the microphone hole (just at the right side of the slot on the left of the picture) and the microUSB port for power and synchronization with the PC.
Just in case you were wondering, that slot on the left side of the picture is mostly for inserting your fingernail to remove the back of the unit. According to some of the forums, you have to be really careful doing this, since even though it's the way the instructions tell you to do it, you can damage the back panel so it won't fit back on 'tight'. That's what's happened to mine, I think.
Figure 5: On the right side of the phone, there's the camera button on the left side of the picture (near the bottom of the unit), and the up/down volume controls to the right (near the top).
The camera button is the only other button which can wake up the unit from its sleep mode, but you have to press and hold the button until the unit vibrates to get things going. After that, it starts up the Camera application. All told, the process only takes about 5 seconds, which isn't too bad, compared to other point-and-shoot cameras.
Figure 6: The top of the phone is probably the busiest as far as buttons, etc. goes with the power/sleep button on the far left, followed by a small hole (ambient light sensor?) and the headphone jack on the right. Thank goodness everyone has settled on microUSB for interface/power and 3.5mm for headphone/microphone sets!
Figure 7: The back of the unit is pretty minimalist as well, with the speaker on the left, the 5mp camera lens in the middle, and the LED flash beside it.
Figure 8: With the back off, you can see the battery in the middle (with the HTC logo), then the SIM card slot just beneath it. My suspicion is that there is a microSD card and slot hidden below that metal shield, but I didn't want to invalidate my warranty just yet. Besides, the Surround comes with 16G of storage which more than enough for me right now.
If you were wondering where the once-ubiquitous soft-reset button has gone, you missed it. It's been replaced by a power cycling (power off, power on) of the device. On the HTC 7 Surround (and I suspect many others in the future), you do this by a long press of the power button, waiting until the screen goes completely blank, then another long press of the power button until the unit vibrates, to turn it back on.
Figure 9: And voila! Look, you can slide out a pair of extra speakers with 'Surround Sound' capability from Dolby (TM). Personally, I would have preferred a keyboard in the extra bulk, but you takes what you gets....
Figure 10: When you slide out the speakers, it reveals a kickstand which you can use to stand the unit up for sharing movies, music, etc. with a (small) crowd of friends.:-)
Figure 11: The kickstand seems fairly stable, but I can't really see using it all that much.
As always with these types of reviews, there's the inevitable comparisons to what else is out there. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the other WP7 phones kicking around, but I do have an HTC Touch Pro 2 / Tilt 2 which I was using previously, and a Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10 that I recently acquired as my first foray into the Android world.
Figure 12: Here's a comparison shot of the HTC Touch Pro 2 (left), Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10 (centre) and the HTC 7 Surround (right). The X10 is clearly the winner in terms of overall screen landscape, being a full 4-inch screen, but the Surround does have a certain 'elegance' in the design which is very reminiscent of the Touch Pro 2.
Figure 13: Stacked up, with the X10 on the bottom, the TP2 in the middle and the Surround on the top. The X10 is the clear winner in the 'thin' category, but not by much. You can see here how the Surround is quite a bit less bulky in the pocket than the TP2. I'm sure HTC will come out with a Surround look-alike sporting a keyboard rather than speakers.
Windows Phone 7
As far as the new O/S is concerned, what can I say? Jason has done a stream of articles on the look-and-feel as they became available, and Doug did a pretty good job in his review of the HTC HD7 of the essential elements of the new Windows Phone 7 operating system. I thought though, that I would show you some more screen shots of the actual O/S as it was delivered.
Unfortunately, there is no screen capture utility available (yet), so these are actual 'pictures' of the screen, taken with my Nikon D70, so I apologise in advance for any imperfections.
Figure 14: The lockscreen provided by WP7. The wallpaper is a picture of a rainbow which occurred just before dusk outside my home. The information display is a good snapshot of what you want to see at a glance, with the phone network connectivity in the top left, the WiFi connection in the top centre and the battery level in the top right. The main part of the screen shows the time, date, and the next (or current) appointment. The icon at the bottom centre shows that I have 4 unread messages in my Outlook email account.
While the lockscreen does a good job of being informative, none of the icons are active. You can't press on the icons at the top to get more information or to turn things off (like the WiFi), and pressing on the unread messages doesn't take you to the Inbox (like I would expect). Instead, you have to slide this whole screen (upwards) out of the way to get to the Start screen, before you can do anything. Also, there doesn't seem to be any way to get rid of the lock screen and have the phone power/wake up directly at the Start screen instead.
Figure 15: By now, this WP7 Start Screen with its active tiles is becoming pretty familiar. It's pretty neat to see at a glance what's going on in various parts of my world, but I seem to remember that HTC's Sense interface presented some of this as well on the start screen. Just not in the same way.
Figure 16: This is the new version of the Agenda screen, which provides a rolling display of all of your upcoming (and preceeding, if you go backwards) appointments. The colour bars on the right indicate which one of your 'calendar accounts' (Outlook vs Windows Live vs Google) the item is found on. The intensity (solid vs. greyed vs transparent) shows whether the item is Busy, Tentative or Free time. The + icon at the bottom adds a new appointment, while the calendar icon on the right goes to the month view.
Figure 17: Here's the same display in Day calendar view. The elipsys (three dots) at the bottom right prompts that there are additional 'menu' options available. On this display, it provides text description of each of the icons, plus a Calendars option to set colours and update for each of the calendar sources.
Figure 18: WP7's Monthly Calendar. I thought I'd include a shot of this to show that now, WP7 provides a pixelated (greeked?) version of what's going on in each day. The entries are not actually readable, but they do give you, at a glance, an indication of how busy your day is going to be.
Having worked with Windows Phone 7 for a couple of weeks now, there are definitely some 'oddities' in terms of things that just don't seem quite right or that seem to be missing. Apart from the ones that we already know about (and that Microsoft is hinting they will address in the next release), here are some things that I think need to be addressed in WP7:
- Caller-ID not integrated with Contacts -- On this O/S, if I get a call from the mobile phone of one of my contacts, it shows up as 'Unknown'. Yes, I know Caller-ID is a supplier-specific feature, but if I put the same SIM card into a WM6.5 phone and the same person calls on their cell phone, I get their picture displayed to me. Similarly the same SIM card in an Android 2.1 phone shows me their picture, taken from the Contacts file. On the plus side though, Caller-ID for other phones (not in my Contacts) is working much better -- showing the name of the person calling plus their number. On WM6.5 and Android, I was just getting the phone number.
- When I receive a meeting cancellation notice in Outlook, there's no option to Remove the entry from my calendar. (I guess I have to do it manually)
- Outlook categories and colours are not reflected in the WP7 calendars.
- There's no way to create 'folders' of applications, so the list of installed apps can get very long. (Good thing the scrolling works quickly, and there's always the Search function...)
- No support of Outlook Tasks! (I really can't live without these, and I know there are many others on the WP7 forums complaining about this)
- Currently, there are no applications which show the status of the GPS satellite capture/lock. (I hope Chartcross is working on a WP7 version of their GPSTest application)
- WP7 needs more options for power management e.g. leave the screen on while attached to external power.
- You can't sync 'regular' (non-audio/video) files with the phone. To get them onto the phone, you need to email them to an account managed by the phone, then de-attach.
- When you hook the phone up to a laptop via Zune Sync, you can no longer listen to music or watch videos on the phone.
- The only way to use the phone is to press the Power/Sleep button on the top, and then you have to slide the lock screen away. I would rather have the Lock screen automatically show up when I bring the phone out, and have it go directly to the Start screen if I press ANY of the buttons. (after all, it IS only in 'sleep' mode)
- The notification bar should be 'active'. Pressing (funny how 'tapping' just doesn't work anymore...) on the i network icons should go to a screen where I can turn on/off network options (flight mode, etc.) Pressing the battery icon should provide more detail on battery use, remaining life, etc. or power off options.
- Icons on the lock screen (e.g. # of unread emails) should be active, and take you to the appropriate Inbox.
- Configuring an Outlook Exchange email account is not straightforward as it used to be in WM6 or WM6.5. For some reason WP7 just asks you for your email address and then tries to figure out the enterprise server name from that. Most times, it doesn't get it right, and then it simply (unhelpfully) says 'Sorry, can't help you.' What you need to do is go to the Advanced Settings so you can input the name of the server and your domain name directly. In WM6.5 this was much more visible and direct.
For any who have read any of my other phone reviews, this is where I feel the 'rubber meets the road', phone-wise. If the radios in the phone don't perform, it doesn't really matter how pretty or flashy the operating system and apps are. Microsoft has set some pretty high standards for Windows Phone 7 in terms of minimum hardware specifications, so let's see how they translated into the Surround.
The HTC 7 Surround sports a quad band celluar radio supporting pretty much all the 'world' frequencies (GSM: 850/900/1800/1900Mhz; HSDPA: 850/1900/2100 Mhz.) (Note, this is a GSM phone, which uses a SIM card so it will not work on CDMA networks). As I mentioned in the introduction, the model I bought was for Canada's Telus network, so I wasn't all that sure it would work, especially at the higher data speeds (3G and H) on my Rogers network. No fear though -- since I got it SIM-unlocked, it works flawlessly on Rogers with full speed support. It even shows the higher speed connections (a little 'H' in the notification bar) when I'm browsing, emailing, etc.
Signal strength seems to be pretty much the same for all the latest generation of cell phones -- 3 to 4 bars almost every where I go in the city, and the same signal coverage I was getting before in the outlying areas -- and I've never had a problem with dropped calls.
The 'In Call' volume is MUCH better than the X10 I was using previously. For those who didn't read that review, the X10 suffers from significantly low volume on incoming callers. No problems with the Surround though. Lots of volume, no matter what the situation. And a number of people I called commented on the difference in voice quality versus the last phone I had (the X10).
As I noted in the 'Uglies' part of the Windows Phone 7 part of this review, there are some weird things happening around Caller ID. I have Caller-ID turned on as part of my subscription with Rogers, so on most of my phones, when a call comes in from a cellular phone, I usually get either the number calling in or, if the person is in my Contacts list, I'll get their picture, name, etc. from that. It worked like this perfectly on the X10, the Tilt 2, and the Touch Diamond 2 I had previously. So, I'm sure it's not a problem with the subscription or my SIM card. On the Surround, however, no matter if the person is in my Contacts list or not, if the call comes from a cell phone, I get 'Unknown' as the ID of the caller. I'm thinking this is something within the firmware of the radio or the O/S.
The Bluetooth radio on the Surround is also the fairly standard BT 2.1 with Enhanced Data Rate we see on most devices now with A2DP for stereo headsets. The Surround also supports AVRCP, HFP (hands free), HSP (head set), and PBAP (phone book access) profiles.
I had no problems pairing the Surround with my BT headset, BT Stereo Headphones or the Toyota Prius. Everything seemed to work just fine and range was the usual 10m (30 feet).
This is the first phone I've owned that claims to provide 802.11 b, g AND n support. Unfortunately, there are no utilities available to confirm the connection types and speeds over WiFi, but the Surround connected easily with my home network (an N router), the router thinks its connecting to an 'N' device, and data throughput seems pretty speedy on video downloads and page loads, so I guess it's working pretty well.
Range and sensitivity of the WiFi radio seem on a par with the X10. There is no problem connecting to the home network from anywhere in the house. In previous WM6.5 phones, there would be areas where I couldn't get a reliable connection.
The only real downside to the WiFi under WP7 is having to go to Start/Settings/WiFi to turn this radio on and off, since using it does chew up battery. Kind of reminds me of the old WM6 days. I would much prefer to have something in the notification bar or a tile on start screen which could turn this off and on.
Sorry guys, I couldn't find any information on the specific GPS chipset included in the Surround. My guess is that all the phones using the Snapdragon CPU will have the same GPS chipset.
I can't find any applications (yet) which let you see the status of the satellite signals and lock, but it seems to be about as sensitive as the Xperia X10 -- achieving location locks in Bing Maps and other Marathon within seconds. I know though, that the phone is also using cell-tower triangulation to assist in getting initial location information, so it's most likely that AGPS (Assisted GPS) is activated by default.
It was nice to see the FM radio application again, having missed it in the X10. As usual, the radio won't work without the earbuds/headset plugged in, since the Surround uses the headset cord as its FM antenna. Unfortunately, the actual FM radio application is pretty simplistic and looks like it's been just thrown together quickly.
Figure 19: The FM radio application that comes with WP7. Pretty minimalist, but it works. The star icon in the middle (with the bar) is for adding the current station to your list of favorites. Sliding your finger left and right tunes the radio to other frequencies.
Figure 20: Pressing the star icon at the bottom of the previous screen takes you here -- to literally a list of favorite station frequencies. I'm thinking/hoping this will get an update in the next version of the O/S or by some enterprising developer out there.
Thankfully, Telus decided not to add a whole bunch of bloatware to their version of the HTC 7 Surround. In fact, the only visible evidence I could find that Telus was at all involved was a quick splash screen when the unit is power cycled.
HTC, on the other hand, has provided some additional applications to show they are actively involved in the WP7 platform.
Figure 21: This is the main screen of HTC's Hub application which comes bundled with their version of WP7. There are significant similarities to the Sense overlay for Windows Mobile and Android, but there is less integration with the O/S and more emphasis on selling other apps from the Marketplace. This is probably the first version out of the gate, so hopefully future ones will integrate more fully into the system.
Figure 22: HTC also provides a Connection Setup utility that automatically configures various parameters (APNs, etc) to access and use the carriers' network interfaces to the Internet. Having this available is much handier than having to rummage through the carrier's web site(s) to find the various settings.
Figure 23: Looks like HTC is missing a couple of the major players here in Canada -- like TELUS and BELL. Oh well, they have my carrier (Rogers) listed, so I'm good.
Figure 24: The Photo Enhancer application (also supplied by HTC) provides basic, all-over photo enhancements.
Figure 25: As you can see here, the range of adjustments is limited and can only be applied to the entire photograph, not specific elements. The Auto enhance did a reasonable job on this exterior shot at dusk, but there's no adjustment capability -- it's an all or nothing proposition. I didn't see anything to handle red-eye correction either, which I would have expected.
The battery in the Surround is a 1230mAh rechargeable Li-Ion polymer unit. According to HTC specifications, it should provide up to 240 mins (4 hours) of talk time and 275 hours standby (according to the specs). A lot of what you get from phone batteries these days depends upon how you use it. For me, I find I can usually get about 2 days of use from a single battery charge on what I would say is 'light' use (a couple of phone calls, push email, some Internet browsing, etc.)
Overall, the power management functions in WP7 seem to be better than what we saw in Windows Mobile. From what I can gather from 'visual' signals in the icons in the notification bar, it appears that WiFi and other 'battery burners' are turned off when the unit is put in sleep mode. When you wake the unit up, they appear to restart and reconnect with their sources. Using the GPS in Bing Maps, etc. also drains the battery pretty quickly.
The screen on the Surround is a 3.8 inch, 480 x 800 WVGA capacitive touch screen, with multi-point touch capability. That means it supports pinch-to-zoom strokes etc. The touch sensors on the screen are very accurate and precise, which provides a very smooth responsiveness to the O/S -- easily on par with iPhones, and better than most of the Android phones I've played with.
The display is very bright -- easily readable in direct sunlight. WP7 comes configured with auto brightness control using an ambient light sensor located at the top of the Surround. It seems to work very well and unobtrusively, since I don't notice that the screen changing intensity even when sitting up in bed and reading vs. reading in the office or outside. In all situations, it seems to pick just the right setting to make things easily visible.
The Surround's camera is a 5 megapixel colour camera with autofocus and flash. It also supports 720p HD video recording.
After all the neat features and settings available on the X10's camera, the software provided on the Surround seems pretty sparse.
Figure 26: The camera operates in landscape mode only and the settings provided (see above) are pretty minimal. Each one of the highlighted (in white) entries is selectable to show the various options.
Figure 27: Here are the options available for the Effect setting. It's a bit odd that there isn't a red-eye reduction/elimination setting since I would think this would be a common problem with phone cameras.
Figure 28: Here's an example of an indoor shot, taken with available office lighting (no sunlight) and no flash. The colour balance was set to automatic and is pretty accurate, given that the lights above are 'warm' fluorescents.
Figure 29: This is the original of the shot you saw as my background wallpaper on the lock screen. No retouching here (except resizing for the article). This is exactly as it was taken by the phone.
Figure 30: Same shot, taken during a typical winter day in Victoria. Yeah, not as much colour as in the spring, but at least there's no snow! (It's the middle of December when I took this...)
Figure 31: Here you can see the focal length of the camera, where some a few of the pods in the forefront are out of focus but the ones a little further back are in focus. I used the 'automatic' setting here, so I think it was looking for focus somewhere in the middle of the frame.
There is a separate button for the camera on the right side (bottom) of the phone, which allows the camera to be turned on even if the phone is in sleep mode. It takes a couple of seconds for everything to get ready to take a picture, and that's not too bad when compared to most digital point-and-shoot cameras these days. Once you frame your picture in the screen viewfinder, you press the button again to take the picture. The autofocus is different from previous versions that I've worked with, in that it works automatically (and pretty fast!) when you take the picture -- there isn't a need to press the button once to get the focus, then another time to take the picture. This can be a real advantage when you're just trying to capture that special, fleeting moment.
This is supposedly the big selling feature of the Surround. The marketing brochures hype the 'Pop Up Cinema' capabilities "...with a richer listening and viewing experience". Even the back cover boasts about the Dolby Mobile and SRS WOW HD technologies built in. But do the slideout speakers really make a difference?
Well, to my ears, not much. Yes, the sound is a little clearer and there seems to be better response at the top end, but you're not going to get much thundering bass from this thing no matter what you do. (Unless you hook up the headset jack to an exterior 7.1 amplifier with sub-woofer). I know Bose and others have done some amazing things with small speaker technology and psych-acoustics, but that's just not audible here.
Figure 32: The Audio Enhancer application lets you adjust the sound effects applied to music and video sound. The equalizer option at the bottom presents sliders at low, mid, and high frequencies so you can adjust each to your own liking.
I tried all of the various combinations of sound enhancements -- both with and without the extra speakers extended. I didn't notice a lot of difference between the Dolby and SRS settings, but both definitely sounded like more 'reverb' was being added than in 'No Effects'. Most noticeable was trying Dolby or SRS with headphones plugged in. In these cases, the main voice of the song (e.g. the lead singer or solo artist) seemed to have their voice sent way into the backgound, almost as if a track were missing from the mix or one of the stereo channels wasn't working.
I tested all of our usual video files on the Surround and they all worked perfectly. No jumping or stalls and perfect synchronization of sound and picture. This included DivX, MPEG4, h.264 and WMV files at various sampling rates. The only ones that wouldn't run were an AVCHD 1080p clip and (funnily enough) a Quicktime 14mps, 1080p .MOV file.
I also browse YouTube quite a bit using the provided link to the mobile website, and there has never been a problem with display or synchronization of any of the files at any resolution.
Am I sorry I bought the Surround? Not a chance! I couldn't wait to get my hands on a WP7 phone and start working with the O/S. It does have a completely different look and feel from what I was used to in WM6 and Android (which I found very similar to each other and the iPhone) and I'm really enjoying using the phone on a day-to-day basis and showing it off to friends and family.
Is there any benefit to the Surround slide-out speakers? Not really -- I could happily do without them, or rather have them replaced with a slide out keyboard. However, this was the price to be paid for being one of the first on the block with a WP7 phone.
Don is a Solution Architect for Fujitsu Consulting, specializing in Enterprise Mobility, Security and Privacy. When not bugging the local Rogers retailers about the availability of the latest and greatest handsets (which they never have), he's helping his sons and wife fully appreciate the wonderful, social side of cell phone ownership :-) (By the way, I LOVE Microsoft's commercials for WP7 -- the "Get off the phone sooner and enjoy life" focus is right on.)
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