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HTC Arrive Is A Quality Handset With A Unique OS
on March 19, 2011
DISCLAIMER: This is an in-depth review, if you want a simple thumbs up or down review, this is a huge thumbs up. If you have time to spare, I'm long-winded so bear with me.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I own the HTC Arrive which I purchased through Amazon Wireless (full blog review + images + video coming soon) I also have extensive hands-on experience with Windows Phone 7 with T-Mobile and AT&T devices. I am also an application developer for the WP7 platform, and have been using the freely supplied development tools (Visual Studio 2010 Express Edition for Windows Phone 7) since they launched. I first experienced Windows Phone 7 hands on at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in March 2010 (over one year ago).
First of all, the 1 star review from "WOLFBANE" is an obvious troll. He "tried the phone for 14 days" but took it back? Well Mr. Bane, that is impossible seeing that they don't even go on sale until 03/20/2010 (tomorrow). The only units that have shipped are review units to the media and semi-functional display units for the stores. The first review of an HTC arrive was given by WireFly on their YouTube channel on 03/03/2011, and the device wasn't activated. Trust me, if it was possible to get the HTC Arrive two weeks ago, I would have it. I've been bugging my contacts at Sprint for WP7 since it's launch six months ago. I also know that most Sprint stores aren't getting the devices until deliveries later today (03/19/2010).
On with the review...
The HTC Arrive is a great phone, here are strong points about it:
- The overall design is extremely high quality. Because of the full slide-out keyboard it can seem heavy in the hand, but it is far from burdensome. Holding an Arrive and an Evo 4G I couldn't really tell the difference. I personally like the weight of it, it doesn't seem fragile.
- The slide out keyboard is large and works well. While the WP7 isn't completely integrated for horizontal displays the keyboard works in all the most important apps. You'll find yourself using a combination of the virtual keyboard and the slide out keyboard, but even on other mobile OS's you run into that. The keys on the full keyboard are large, and easy to type on. The keyboard is also back-lit so works well in lowlight situations. It is a real blessing for people with fat fingers like myself. The "popup" hinge for the keyboard is a nice touch and makes for better video viewing for students, cubicle workers on their lunch breaks or passengers on a plane or bus. It is also sturdy, and I don't think they'll wear out with normal usage.
- The call quality of the Arrive is great. I know that many HTC devices make sub-par telephones, but this is not one of those devices. The speaker is loud and clear and call quality seems to be great on the other end as well. It is one of the better cell phones I've used in recent years, and much better than most HTC devices, especially the speaker phone.
- Overall it is a very solid device, and one I'm happy to own. In my opinion it is easily the best WP7 device to date.
Here are a few shortcomings of the HTC Arrive:
- The 5MP camera is actually of decent quality. I didn't have high hopes for it initially as my HTC Hero also has a 5MP camera, but it is horrendous on all fronts. However, the auto focus on the Arrive works as needed and the LED flash is quite bright. The HD video is decent quality, but like most smart phones doesn't work all that well in low-light situations. HTC could have gone with an 8MP camera to add a little more gusto.
- I'd like to see more support for being able to use the full keyboard whenever you wanted, but this is more on Microsoft than HTC or Sprint. Until they update every screen for the WP7 platform to work in landscape mode I'm afraid we're going to be stuck in a hybrid usage of the virtual and physical keyboard. With that said, the virtual keyboard is a huge improvement over their competitors.
- The LCD screen isn't amazing. I'd love to have received an AMOLED screen like that of the Samsung Focus, but the LCD screen on the Arrive is about on par as you'll see on other devices from HTC, like the Evo 4G. For a mobile device it is perfectly fine. The response time is snappy and videos play smooth and clear. I'm just really nitpicking here, but an AMOLED would have been nice.
Windows Phone 7 is an innovative idea, it isn't another cookie cutter smartphone OS with simple icons arranged on a screen in no particular order. Let's be honest Android fans, but Android's UI design is a blatant ripoff of what Apple brilliantly released in 2007 with the iPhone 1. Since that time other manufactures have tried to emulate the "idiot proof" icon-filled UI. Android has done extremely well since it's release and it is arguably the mobile OS to beat, but it also wasn't exactly innovative. Put an average consumer side by side with an iPhone 4 and an Evo 4G and they'd have no idea what the differences are, and that's a fact.
Microsoft has been behind in the mobile game for nearly a decade. I've owned some pretty horrible Windows Mobile Phones in my day, and it was hard for me to fathom that they could come up with something as innovative as WP7, but they did. Here's where I think Windows Phone 7 Stands apart form the competition:
- WP7 is a unique experience, unlike any other smartphone. The design is simple, yet elegant. It is an inspired design and delivery from a company that makes us forget sometimes that they know what they are doing.
- The integration and convergence of your data, social media and contacts is completely seamless (almost). The only hiccup is that Microsoft just recently came to an agreement with Twitter about building WP7 into the device itself (like Facebook already is), so that will be added later in 2011. Until then you'll have to use the Twitter app (which Microsoft designed) or another 3rd party app like Seesmic (my choice). Otherwise your news updates, check-ins and photos from all of your friends can be located in once single place.
- The hardware standards are key to the success of WP7. The minimum standards guarantee that every WP7 phone released will be able to completely perform up to the standards set forth by Microsoft. All of the devices released thus far are snappy and perform well. As an example of how it could have gone wrong, there is a huge discrepancy between Android devices. While the higher end phones run brilliantly, the entry level Android devices crawl along. I'm glad Microsoft set high standards for the devices.
- The Zune interface on the phone far exceeds the competitors offerings. The music app in iOS is boring and stale and almost unchanged for four years, while the included Android music player is slow and clunky. You can download apps for Android like WinAmp, but even then they don't stand a chance against the Zune interface. I've been a huge fan of the Zune since their launch, even though they have been the butt of many jokes and the Zune software of WP7, is nearly identical to that of the Zune HD, a device even most critics applauded for it's great design and usability.
- The applications and games are extremely promising so far. Office Mobile is fantastic and a great free added bonus, and the mobile gaming and Xbox Live integration is great. I can't wait to see further XNA development that allows a user to be playing a game on their handheld on the bus ride home, then pausing it and then picking back up where they left off on their Xbox. Very cool possibilities. I am also happy to have Netflix, an app that you won't see on Android anytime soon because of it's openness. I think Apple has proven that a closed platform is good for business. The hacker community will crack WP7 eventually, but for now their closed platform may help attract more developers.
- Microsoft doesn't allow bloat-ware from phone manufacturers. Android devices are known to be filled with with useless and resource hogging UI "improvements." I should know, I've been struggling with my HTC Hero for a year and a half. The fact that Microsoft only allows manufacturers and mobile providers the ability to install applications, not edit the UI is a stroke of genius and far overdue in my book.
- The simplicity of the three physical buttons and a dedicated camera button are elegantly brilliant, and not something most people have come to expect from Microsoft. Microsoft's past devices have been clunky and generally had horrible touch screens, so even interacting with the phones was a chore. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. The "instant on" camera is a fantastic addition, and one I can't believe hasn't shown up on a smart phone before. The software integration for the camera is also a step above the rest, with integrated instant uploads.
- The integration with Live services is a huge plus. Some of the complaints with WP7 is that it is a locked platform (like iOS), and thus can't be mounted as a drive when plugged into a PC. Well, cry me a river on that one. Microsoft gives you a free 25GB of online storage with Skydrive. Or you could simply just install DropBox like most normal people who gave up flash drives a couple of years ago. Knowing that I can upload Word documents, photos and videos to and from my PC and phone to Skydrive with doing much of anything is a huge perk.
- WP7 has amazing developer tools. Microsoft has given would-be WP7 developers everything they need to succeed. Along with the SDK the tools to develop are also free (Visual Studio 2010 Express), and there are countless resources to learn more about Silverlight, C#, XNA and everything else you'd ever need to know. There is a thriving community at create.msdn.com and literally tens of thousands of documents and files in the MSDN repository. Not to mention that they give you free video training for absolute beginners from Bob Tabor of LearnVisualStudio.net. All developed apps also have a "built in" trial system, and they have a mobile ad network SDK for developers of free apps.
- Zune Pass. I don't care what anyone says, but being able to literally have instant access to millions of songs listed on the Zune Marketplace for just $14.95 a month is brilliant. No other MP3 store can compete with this (including iTunes), especially considering you can keep 10 songs a month, so the service actually costs you under $5 a month.
- Devices are now on all the major US carriers. With the recent addition CDMA support, and launches coming to Sprint (03/20/2011) and Verizon (03/24/2011) Microsoft can now be purchased by the vast majority of cell phone users in America. I have no doubt that over the next 12-18 months WP7 will eat into the big 3's market share, because when most people put their hands on a WP7 device they love it.
WP7 isn't all great, here's a rundown of what I think they need to improve upon, and fast:
- They need to be faster with their updates. Before the NoDo update, WP7 users have only seen one update for the WP7 OS, and that was simply an update to improve the update process (/facepalm). Meanwhile some users with launch phones from T-Mobile and AT&T have been stuck with a somewhat buggy OS for six months now, and that's ridiculous. Microsoft is the king of hot fixes, why in the world do they have to wait until they have a huge update to fix problems? Send out updates to bugs as soon as you fix them. Apple has been brilliant with this, Microsoft needs to move in this direction immediately.
- There need to be more devices that allow for expandable memory. Come on Microsoft, it is 2011... 8GB-16GB of storage on a phone that can be filled with apps and media just isn't enough. Give and/or encourage manufacturers to start integrating MicroSD into the newer devices. These phones are HD capable, but one HD movie can be 4GB!
- Application browsing on the phone isn't horrible, but it needs some huge work in the Zune desktop software. I actually really love the Zune software and have been using it over iTunes since the Zune launch. It's simplicity was a huge reason I loved it, but the application search on the marketplace is far too simple. Give us more ways to search and sort the apps, from categories, to best-selling, highest rated, newest, etc, etc. See iTunes for details.
- Microsoft needs to do a better job of wooing "big name" mobile application developers. Angry Birds' developers are finally on board, but why not six months ago? Some glaring omissions from applications that I love include Pandora (although Last.FM is available), Square (credit card payments) and Gowalla. There are countless others as well, but there needs to be some serious developer wooing going on on the part of Microsoft. Go find the biggest Android and iOS developers and convince them to also develop on your platform. WP7 is a super-easy platform to develop for, and Microsoft needs to do a much better job of selling that fact.
I could go on forever, and at this point I've probably lost everyone anyway. All I know is that anyone who sees an HTC Arrive in person will be able to admire it for it's intuitive and elegant design. The same can be said for the Windows Phone 7 operating system. Most people that use either the Arrive and WP7 for an extended period of time would appreciate both of them, even if they chose to go with another phone or a platform. To simply write off WP7 because it is from Microsoft is shortsighted and laughable. WP7 is far from perfect, but Android and iOS were far from perfect in their infancies and are are far from perfect now.
I for one love WP7 and am thrilled to have it in my hands.