HTC Explorer Review
In 2011 HTC became an even bigger player in the Smartphone market, possibly due to them releasing phones at a fair rate of knots! Here I have one of their lower end devices with a very nice low price tag attached to it, the HTC Explorer. One of this handsets main selling points is without question its low price tag as it is way below the 150 mark on both pay as you go and SIM free.
The question though is does this device have any more selling points, or is it just another cheap phone for the kids?
The 10 second review:
- Product: HTC Explorer
- Price: From £112-£125 pay as you go, also from £10.50 on a contract from various and from £115.95 SIM free.
- Summary: An average budget Smartphone with a slightly sluggish processor, although I can see it selling well in certain areas of the market but it's aimed at a minority really.
- Best of: Lightweight, Nice design, low price point
- Worst of: Too small, camera, no 720p video recording, processing power
- Buy from: Various
- Also consider: HTC Wildfire S, Samsung Galaxy Y, and the Blackberry Curve 9380
What's in the box:
As this is a review unit there is simply the phone with a sync/charge sub cable and a UK 3-pin sub charging adapter, in the retail packaging I am almost certain that you would receive headphones, warranty information etc.
HTC Explorer specification:
- 2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
- 3G Network: HSDPA 900 / 2100
- Dimensions: 102.8 x 57.2 x 12.9 mm
- Weight: 108 go
- Screen: TFT capacitive touch screen, 256K colors, 320 x 480 pixels, 3.2 inches (~180 pip pixel density)
- HTC Sense UI 3.5
- 3.5mm jack
- micros, up to 32GB
- Memory: 90 MB storage, 512 MB ROM, 512 MB RAM
- We-If 802.11 be/go/no, We-If hotspot
- Bluetooth: v3.0 with A2DP, EDR
- micros v2.0
- Camera: 3.15 MP, 2048x1536 pixels, check quality
- Android OS, v2.3 (Gingerbread)
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon S1 MSM7225A
- CPU: 600 MHz Cortex A5
- Proximity sensor
- Stereo FM radio with RDS
- GPS with A-GPS support
- Standard battery, Li-Ion 1230 mash
On top of the phone is the 3.5mm headphone socket and alongside that is the power on/off button which doubles as a sleep button too.
The left side houses the Micros sync/charge socket and the rest of this side is smooth.
On the right side is the up/down volume rocker which is quite hard to notice unless you specifically look for it, there is nothing else on this side.
The back of the phone is where the HTC logo is which is engraved into a metal plate and just above the logo is the 3.15 megapixel camera and the little loudspeaker alongside it.
Finally on the front of the device right at the top is the speaker grill for voice calls, below that is another HTC logo. The most important part of the hardware sits just below the logo, it is of course the 3.2 inch display and right at the bottom are 4 touch sensitive buttons, from the left they are: Home, Menu, Back and search.
. Lightweight and feels nice in the hand
. Lovely design
. Easy to use
. Super price
. Could be too small for most
. Screen size too small for today's market
. Lacks processing power
. Camera is awful
The Smartphone industry is continuing to boom with every passing minute it seems but with HTC we have a manufacturer who prides itself on bringing innovation to the fore, with the likes of the HTC Hero way back in 2009 which seemingly changed the mobile phone industry massively. And as they have moved on from that device, they have continued to innovate and to perfect their designs to become one of the largest most well known mobile phone manufacturers in the world. Their interests don't just lie in the upper end of the market no, they are also concentrating some of their time on the low to mid range Smartphone but with the HTC Explorer they have released their cheapest Smartphone ever, coming in at just over £110 depending on where you buy it from. This to me tells me that HTC are very much all about their customers which is such a massive selling point to anyone looking to buy a Smartphone whether they have owned one before or not.
Moving onto the phone itself now and as I always do I will begin with the build quality and design of the handset. Now compared to other handsets that HTC have released over the past few months such as the HTC Sensation XE or XL the Explorer isn't anywhere near those in terms of sheer elegance and innovative design. What the explorer does have though is a quirky little design and decent build quality for its price point it is at.
The materials that the device is made from are definitely something that we don't see very often from other manufacturers. The fully removable back cover is made from rubber and the phone itself is very similar to the HTC Hero type of build, mostly plastics which isn't necessarily a bad thing because it means that HTC were able to release the phone with an awesomely low market value which will bring in the customers I am sure. All in all I would say that the build quality is not brilliant but it's not awful either, I would say that the best thing I could say at this point is you get what you pay for.
As for the design I quite like it, possibly because it's very different to what I am used to using (iPhone 4S which is fragile to say the least!). The phone feels really nice when in the hand with its curved rubber outer shell and Gorilla glass screen, the connections and buttons are all nicely placed as well which was nice to see for a change. If I had a pound for every time I've moaned about button placement on phones I reckon I would have a good few pounds in my pocket by now, but with the Explorer I'm impressed to see everything in the right place for easy access. When I opened the box and saw the phone for the first time I was also very happy to see that HTC have ridded one of their smaller devices of the awful chin! Very glad to see the back of that as you can probably tell.
Anyway the upshot of this section is that the HTC Explorer has a lovely cute design and decent build quality, so you will be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed if/when you purchase this device.
Android as an operating system has moved on in leaps and bounds over the last couple of years and we are now on Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 (not sure where the rest of the .3's went mind you!) but installed on the HTC Explorer is the last version of Gingerbread which is 2.3.5. This isn't the only thing installed on every HTC Smartphone though, as they have been implementing their Sense overlay for a long time now, with small improvements over the course of a phones lifecycle. The version of sense installed on this little device is somewhat a surprise addition as it has the same version as the HTC Sensation range of phones, 3.5. Now to put that version on a phone of this size and stature is a brave move indeed and in practice it really doesn't work quite as well as on a more powerful and larger screened handset, which to be honest is quite disappointing from a personal point of view because I was growing to like sense again after my last review which was of the Sensation XL, but on this phone it just isn't as good at all.
I mentioned a little earlier that the phone is quite easy to use and to get used to for almost anyone, beginner or not and this process begins with the setup process which is shown in the below images so that it shows you what to expect if you decided to take the plunge and buy this handset.
You will notice that the setup stages are really basic and easy to understand, as it is basically just to ease you into the kind of things a Smartphone does and it does it well I think.
Once you have set the phone up for the first time you will be greeted with the first of 7 home screens, which has been set up by HTC to show certain aspects of the overlay and of the operating system itself. I however don't like the way that they set things up for the customer, so for the purpose of this review I have taken the liberty of setting up all of the home screens the way that I personally use a phone, every individual is different but the way that I have done it shows a little better how much you can customise the screens.
The first image you will see though is of the sense UI lock screen which incidentally is also customisable, only to a point though as I will explain shortly.
The lock screen on the explorer is exactly the same as on the HTC Flyer, and the Sensation smartphones too and if you aren't aware of what is different with it, basically the 4 'App shortcuts' can be customised to be whatever you want them to be. I have chosen the 4 that I use most often as its easier that way, what the lock screen then allows you to do is drag any of the apps into the semi-circle at the bottom of the screen. As you do that the semi-circle will change into a full circle and then jump straight into the app of choice without the need to unlock the phone first. Overall it does work well but I tend to just unlock the phone anyway without thinking so for me this feature isn't useful but for many I am pretty sure it will be.
To unlock the phone by the way all you have to do is drag the semi-circle from the bottom to anywhere above the shortcuts and it will unlock.
Onto the rest of the home screens now, I will show you them first and then explain what is possible with them afterwards.
You can hopefully see that in each of the 7 screens I have customised the content quite heavily to make it to my taste. You can do so much in the way of customisation that I would be waffling on for a long time telling you all of the different things you could do, so I've decided to give you a little shortlist of what to expect rather than me explaining how to do things, as that would be boring for you guys reading this.
. You can add/move/remove app shortcuts
. You can add/move/remove widgets such as the clock
. Wallpapers are interchangeable with Live wallpapers and still ones too
. You can choose from pre-installed scenes from HTC
. Also there are skins to choose from also from HTC
. You can add direct links to your favourite websites to any of your home screens
So as you can tell there's a lot that can be done with the operating system + overlay that can enhance your Smartphone experience, plus it's a great way to show off to your friends!
As you would imagine with the mass of applications and games you are bound to download, there needs to be a place to keep the shortcuts right? Well there is and it's called the app tray/s. There is not really much to say about this section due to the fact that all it is there for is for you to access your apps and games.
Finally for this section of the review I wanted to briefly touch upon the settings section of the menu, simply because this is a Smartphone and as a user you are going to be seeing the settings a lot, sometimes for simply switching the Wi-Fi on/off but for other times you might have to uninstall a troublesome application so you will need to know what to expect.
Smartphones are such a vital part of our society now that for a phone to have the ability to browse the web and send/receive e-mail is second nature. It is important to point out though that not every Smartphone does these two things well which leads me to talk about how the Explorer performs in these two areas. The short way of putting it to you is that it performs OK and nothing more, the longer way of putting it will come after the below images of the internet browser in action.
Now as you can see in the above images the standard zoomed out view is unreadable due to the screen size, but the zoomed in images show clearly that the text is perfectly readable but I often like to read web pages slightly zoomed out. On this device I was unable to do this due to the screen size and quality. A shame really as the loading of the pages was slick considering the device only has a 600Mhz processor, which let's be honest is like the reliant robin of the processing world where as we are now used to the dual-core Ferrari like processors in other more expensive smartphones.
The browser works best on a good Wi-Fi connection but it is still so slow compared to what I am used to so it can definitely become frustrating to browse on this phone, but if you have slightly more patience than me I am sure you will cope fine. On a 3G connection the story is exactly the opposite as the speed is well snail like and the quality of the web pages seem to deteriorate also, so I would say that this phone is only worth browsing the web outside of the home if, 1- you are close to a BT Open zone or Cloud Wi-Fi network or need to find something in an emergency, otherwise I wouldn't bother if I am honest.
The e-mail functionality on this phone is much the same as any other HTC android device. You can synchronise multiple e-mail accounts from a range of providers such as Hotmail, Googlemail, Yahoo etc. Once you have all of your accounts synched you have the option of viewing all of your mail in one unified inbox, or you also have the option of viewing each account separately with the press of a button. The phone has push functionality which means that pretty much as soon as an e-mail has been sent to you it will arrive on your device (in theory!) but of course it doesn't always work as fast as you would expect. It isn't that important to a lot of people that it is super fast I wouldn't think.
The set up stage of the e-mail application is fairly straight forward as providing the username and password of your account/s then the phone will search the provider's servers to then fetch your address to the phone, simple really which is a good thing for beginners. The rest is up to the user, as once you've set your accounts up you will begin to receive e-mails straight away, a good function if you need an e-mail fast. The only problem I found with e-mail on the explorer is the small screen again. I found it difficult to type e-mails due to the tiny keyboard and the e-mails I received on a regular basis tend to have lots of images in them, but on such a small device I found it difficult to read them. Disappointing as I really love HTC's e-mail application and always have ever since I owned the HTC Hero.
The story is exactly the same with the Gmail application that comes pre-installed on the device,. It does its job ok without being spectacular and is at times frustrating due to the small screen, thank goodness for my iPad 2!
Below are some images of the e-mail applications in action to show you what to expect.
On a HTC Smartphone or tablet you receive two options for social networking, the Friend Stream application is the first one and the second is the option to download the official Facebook, Twitter etc apps from the Android Market (that is of course if they aren't pre-installed which on the Explorer they weren't) Both of the options are worth taking a look at and It will definitely be personal preference that determines which you decide to use, my preference is to use the separate applications because I find its nicer to keep everything separate as it then doesn't confuse me.
The Friend Stream application has been around since the original HTC Desire and it's been updated slightly since then, but in general it's the same app as back then. I think the saying 'if it aint broke don't fix it' comes into play with this as many HTC customers really like the simplistic, nice looking nature of the application as it makes social networking much simpler (again personal preference).
The reason that I am not a fan of the application is because most of the screen is taken up of black, not necessary if you ask me as people use social networking applications to SEE tweets and posts rather than to look at categories within the app. It just bugs me a little but I know that a lot of people find the app really good, so I understand if you think I am a bit weird for not liking it, as it is a good looking app that does the jobs it's made for really well. I just don't like the design of it.
The second social networking method you could use is the official application of Facebook and Twitter, which as I said earlier are my preferred choice for the simple reason...They are simple but effective! I will begin with Twitter as it is my social networking app of choice at the moment.
As you can see above the interface is beautifully simple, the tweets are displayed clearly and are completely readable even on a small display such as this one. The app basically makes social networking awesome because it is exactly the same as on iOS which I love, so it was a super surprise to see the same version over on Android too!
The story is the same with the Facebook application, as this too is much the same one as on iOS which since its latest update is so much better than it used to be. I used to get annoyed when it crashed for no reason or simply refused to load posts etc but with the Android app none of this happened once. So I was very happy to use it every day even if it was just to browse through everyone's posts rather than posting myself. This app too makes social networking fun again! Which I am sure all of you will agree is the whole point of being part of social networking anyway.
Obviously as this is an Android device there comes with it the Android Market application. It is the same application that comes with every Android phone, so if you have seen it before then the below image will look no different to you unless you've not seen the updated market which includes books and film rentals.
Although I believe that this device isn't aimed at the business world I thought I would show you what to expect from the calendar as it does become a very useful tool even if you aren't in the business world with meetings etc.
The app is very nice in itself and it is very simple to use too. It brings together all of your calendars be it from Facebook, e-mail addresses or the calendar you've synchronised from your PC. The cool thing about having multiple calendars synched to the app is the fact that you can have every appointment, birthday or event in your calendar at any given time, or if you'd prefer you can simply choose to look at the individual calendars one by one. I prefer not to get confused by having all my calendar updates in 1 place so I tend to just look at my most used calendar instead.
For the purpose of this review I thought I would just show you the basic side of the calendar as it will give you an idea of what you could do with it yourself rather than looking at all of my appointments.
As this is indeed a mobile phone as well as being an all round media device is does have the ability to make a phone call! Shock horror! Something that the little phone does rather well actually I might add. The only problem that I found when making a call is that at times as the call connects there is a few second time delay between the other person answering and me being able to hear them, nothing a bit of patience can't fix but a slight inconvenience nonetheless. I tested phone calls inside, outside and in remote areas too where signal wasn't maybe as good as in the town centre, and overall the phone performed quite well, I didn't have a dropped call once and I think I made around 10 while I had the device so a positive thing to say the least.
Onto a section of the review now that I have to admit I am no expert on but I do know a lot more than I used to about the different settings etc, so what sort of camera does the HTC Explorer have? The answer is a 3.15 megapixel camera with no autofocus and no flash either and I have to tell you that it really shows! It is one of the worst cameras on a Smartphone I have ever used! With no autofocus it just doesn't take nice photos at all and with the lack of flash too it is impossible to take photos in low light situations, so if you go to concerts a lot then don't expect to be able to take photos as this just does not cut the mustard at all I'm sorry to say.
There isn't much in the way of settings to further enhance the image you capture once the picture is taken either, so I would say that if you are an avid photographer and take quite a few photos on your phone then this handset is definitely not for you.
Below are a few images of the application first of all and then right afterwards will be some example photos that I took for you.
Hopefully with the above images you will able to identify what I am talking about when I say that the camera isn't very good?
Now for those of you that have read my reviews before you will know that when the phone has a camera capable of recording in either 720p or 1080p HD, then I would take a video and upload it to YouTube for you to see the quality. Well in this case the phone doesn't have HD recording and the 480p recording resolution it does have is awful. I didn't think that you lovely people would want to see something like that so I haven't uploaded a video due to lack of quality more than anything.
You access all of your photos and videos via the gallery shortcut in the application tray. There is an individual videos shortcut as well but it's just as simple to just go into the gallery. The gallery itself is very nice, the visual aspect of it is very appealing to the eye and it makes looking through your photos and videos very nice indeed.
Here is something that always seems to cheer me up on a dark day, YouTube. The application on Android devices is simply awesome! No matter what size of device it is used on, it always seems to shine above everything else that the phones/tablets have to offer, which I think rocks as I watch YouTube videos on a very regular basis. I now expect at least higher than average video quality which; fortunately even on such a small display such as what the HTC Explorer has is still pretty good in my book.
I thought that at this point it would be a great idea to talk to you about music and video, which always impresses me on HTC devices of any size really as they always seem to have a defining feature built in that improves the overall listening/viewing experience. In the Explorers case this feature is the SRS enhancement for the music playback, which in basic terms impressively enhances the audio when listening to music with a headset or set of headphones.
The music player itself uses a tabbed interface. The tabs group your music collection in different ways - by artist, album, playlist or just all songs.
The now playing interface is a Cover-Flow-like visualization of the current playlist - you can swipe sideways to skip songs but that worked rather strangely, I say strangely due to the app only allowing you to can skip between different albums/artists and not individual songs.
Two shortcuts in the bottom corners act as toggles for shuffle and repeat. Other goodies include looking up a song on YouTube or updating the album art for the current or all songs. You can also enable auto update too. One other feature in the menu is the option to 'trim' the current song to set it as your phone ringtone, but this wasn't pre-installed on the device I have reviewed so I went into the HTC Hub and downloaded it from there, it's a nifty feature to have really.
The lock screen has a funky feature - a 3D card stays on the lock screen just above the 4 shortcuts and it allows you control the music player with the previous, next and pause functions being features here. One other thing is that you can also use the notification area and the Shortcuts & Clock widget to control the music player too, really cool if you ask me.
Using the music player was overall a very good experience but it couldn't replace the iPod function in my iPhone! But I would say it does an admirable job of playing back your music and its worth having your library of songs on a media card just in case you fancy a little listen.
Video playback is slightly less appealing than the music player because due to the screen size yet again, it makes watching videos less fun. The video files are displayed as a grid and can be shared over Bluetooth, MMS, e-mail, YouTube or Facebook.
The video playing interface on the HTC Explorer offers something called full screen toggle which stretches the video to the screen's aspect and you can scrub through videos, which is more of a standard feature these days with the iPod etc, comes in handy though. As well as the music player having SRS sound enhancement the video player utilizes the feature too, plus there is another sound option which is 5.1 virtualization. Subtitles are not supported though, but I'm not sure a lot of people will be bothered at the lack of this feature to be honest. DLNA is a no-go too with the Explorer which these days is a real shame as I think wireless streaming of your files is definitely the way forward, especially for video playback.
The video player did well enough for the range of phone - sub-HD videos with DivX or XviD codec were generally not a problem, even entire movies. 720p videos wouldn't play though, nor would MKV files, but given the screen size and resolution and lack of TV-Out, we hardly think this is a problem, but I really don't think that this is a device designed for heavy media usage if I'm being totally honest. I feel it's more of a beginner phone to ease people into the Smartphone market.
HTC Apps is a relatively new concept from HTC and I covered it quite a lot in my review of the HTC Sensation XL. There are two HTC Apps installed on the Explorer, they are called HTC Hub and HTC Likes and they both do a similar job but with a distinct difference. The HTC Hub offers apps specifically for your device that have been created by HTC. and HTC Likes provides app suggestions directly from the android marketplace to offer the most varied list of apps you are ever likely to see.
Google maps is an application that I personally rarely use but I thought that for this review I would have a go at using it whilst out and about. My conclusion is that it works great! Obviously it is reliant on finding a decent enough GPS signal but when it does have that signal it works superbly. I tried using it whilst on foot walking the dog and it followed me the whole way, I thought this was super! I will be using it more often I think even if it's just for fun!
The functionality of the app hasn't really changed much to be honest. It allows you to either search for a location or search for directions to and from a location which is as you would expect really. The feature that I find awesome though is street view. I like it simply because when you are in a place you don't know that well, more often than not Google have taken images of that location for you to look at on your Smartphone. It really works brilliantly on a 3G signal too which I was very surprised at seen as though the internet browser was relatively slow compared to it.
The app has the option of different layers, Satellite, Traffic, Terrain and latitude. Of these I tend to prefer using the satellite layer as its just better for my preference. Just for the record I didn't randomly go to Old Trafford while I was reviewing this phone, I just wanted to show a place that thousands of people know of.
This is the final section of the review and for the record it's the least impressive so I really apologise if you were expecting this device to have decent battery life and performance? Well I'm afraid that battery life is expectedly shocking for a small Smartphone. I rarely managed a day out of the phone even with medium usage. On very little usage I only just managed a day from 9 in the morning to 9 at night! Needless to say I was annoyed!
As for the performance tests I performed on the phone I was relatively pleased with the outcome of most. For instance when I ran the Quadrant Standard benchmark test three times the score was 925 every time, which is what I think Matt got in his unboxing review too. It's not awful but it certainly isn't brilliant. Although in practice the phone doesn't lag at all during swiping trough the 7 home screens or the app trays, in fact I only noticed that the phone lacked processing power when browsing the web, watching videos and playing any sort of game on it. So I guess you could say it's not too bad performance wise really considering where it's been placed in the market, and with its low price point I'm pretty sure that not many people will be particularly bothered by benchmark scores etc.
For an indication into how well the phone performs doing simple tasks please go take a look at Matt's unboxing of this device. I am sure that, along with this review will go some way to helping you decide whether to buy this device or not.
WOW, here we are at the end of another review. Hard to believe really as the time really has flown by. Overall my time with the HTC Explorer has been quite a pleasant one although I wasn't blown away by the sheer quality of the phone. I was however impressed with what HTC have managed to fit into such a small package, as I believe it is worth a commendation.
I honestly believe that this phone has been aimed at the younger population because of its size, price point and actually the way it feels to use every day is an obvious indication for me that Smartphone junkies like me could never own a phone such as this one, but beginners or kids wanting a change from their Blackberry, Sorry James! But it could happen.
Reviewed: by Chris