By May 24, 2010

HTC Smart review

HTC Smart HTC have been releasing new devices with an impressive regularity and this HTC Smart is the fourth device to be launched since all of the major announcements at MWC this year.

The HTC Smart is HTC’s first ‘feature phone’ and their first device to have an OS other than Windows or Android and based instead upon Qualcomm’s BREW platform. BREW is one of those emerging operating systems that is beginning to see greater exposure.

Many have been pointing out that the name ‘Smart’ is a little ironic as it can be argued that this is in reality something of a dumb phone. I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment though, many features of the HTC Smart are on par with the ‘smartphones’ out there and where do you draw the line between ‘dumb’ and ‘smart’?

You’ll have to read on to find out exactly what I think of the HTC Smart!

What’s in the box?

  • HTC Smart handset
  • USB Charger
  • USB to ExtUSB cable
  • Wired headset
  • Battery
  • Manual & Warranty

Our review model is the final retail version of the hardware but not final packaging so please bear that in mind if you take a look at my HTC Smart unboxing video.

 

HTC Smart Specification:

  • Processor: 300 MHz
  • Operating System: Brew Mobile Platform
  • Memory: ROM: 256 MB / RAM: 256 MB
  • Dimensions (L x W x T): 104 x 55 x 12.8 mm ( 4.09 x 2.17 x 0.50 inches)
  • Weight: 108 grams ( 3.81 ounces) with battery
  • Display: 2.8-inch TFT-LCD touch-sensitive screen with QVGA resolution
  • Network: HSDPA/WCDMA: Europe/Asia:2100 MHz
  • Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
  • Bluetooth 2.0 with Enhanced Data Rate and A2DP for wireless stereo headsets
  • HTC ExtUSB (11-pin mini-USB 2.0)
  • 3.5 mm stereo audio jack
  • Camera: 3.0 megapixel colour camera with fixed focus and flashlight
  • Rechargeable Lithium-ion polymer battery Capacity: 1100 mAh
    Talk time: Up to 450 minutes for GSM
  • Standby time: Up to 450 hours for GSM
  • microSD memory card (SD 2.0 compatible)

 

General

Starting at the front then we have a 2.8″ TFT display, it’s QVGA (240×320 pixels). After using the Desire and the X10 recently I have to say that this screen feels a bit cramped but you ono get used to it.

Above the screen is the speaker behind a well designed grille that blends well with the rest of the design. There’s also an indicator LED behind the grille that shows when the phone is charging (orange) or fully charged (green).

Below the screen there’s a series of buttons. He first small silver one acts as a menu button then on either side of the keypad area are the green and red, send and end, phone keys. The hung up button doubles as the power button too.

The large silver button in the middle acts as a back button as well as bringing up the programs menu from the home screen too.

HTC Smart

The top of the handset has the 3.5mm headphone/headset socket and a small notch in the back cover to allow removal for accessing the battery etc.

HTC Smart-top

On the bottom you’ll find the ExtUSB connector for sync and charge. Many HTC handsets have had this style of connector in the past but this is the Smart is the only one to have it in recent times.

Just above that is the microphone and you should also just about be able to make out the eyelet for a lanyard or phone charm.

HTC Smart-bottom

Looking to the left side there’s the up/down volume control rocker.

HTC Smart-left

All the way around to the right the design is even more simple with just a single button for the camera. It’s not a two stage button for focus and shoot though.

Smart-right

On the back there’s a 3 megapixel camera with an LED flash. The back design is well rounded and smooth which makes the HTC Smart feel quite comfortable in the hand.

As is more apparent in the image below, this is the ‘pink’ version whatever you care to call the colour it looks anything from red to purple depending on the lighting. It’s also available in black and silvers versions too.

HTC Smart-back

Removing he back cover reveals the battery compartment and below the battery the SIM card socket. The microSD card socket is also tucked away under the back cover but there’s no need to remove the battery to swap the memory card.

HTC Smart-SD

 

 

Highlights

  • Inexpensive
  • Smartphone features

 

Lowlights

  • No WiFi
  • Resistive touchscreen

 

Review

To me the HTC Smart looks a lot like the HTC Touch devices from a few years ago. That’s no criticism though as the Touch brand was incredibly popular and were the devices that put HTC on the map. In fact the spec of the HTC Smart is similar to the HTC Touch too, the screen size and resolution, CPU speed etc. are all closely matched. What was cutting edge spec back then is now entry level!

One of the main differences with the HTC Smart is the departure from Windows Mobile and Android with Qualcomm’s BREW Mobile Platform there as the underlying OS. HTC have done a great job with the implementation, it’s not initially obvious that this isn’t Android. HTC have included their Sense user interface so the user experience will be pretty familiar to anyone that’s used one of HTC’s other recent handsets such as swiping left and right on the homescreen to see other panels with widgets on.

It does seem that HTC have ‘borrowed’ some of the features from Android. For example there’s the drag down to unlock and then the drag down of the toll bar at the top of the screen to see notifications.

Before I get going and take you through some of the screens and apps let me apologise for the screenshots not being up to the usual standard but there isn’t a tool for taking screen grabs yet so it was a case of using a camera!

 

Starting at the beginning then there’s the customary unlock screen that we’ve come to expect from these touchscreen devices these days. Simply a case of swiping the bar down to unlock.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that there are a few useful pieces of info on the lock screen. Firstly the date and time which is something of a given but also the battery level and the network status and whether or not the speaker is muted.

lockscreen

 

Once unlocked the first thing you will see is a home screen that may well look familiar to many, very similar to the home screen that you see on other HTC devices, this is running Sense after all. From here you could probably be fooled in to thinking that this was in fact a Windows Mobile or an Android device but as I’ve mentioned already, this is in fact BREW.

From this middle screen you have the option to swipe either left or right for an additional three screens with of widgets, making 7 in total.

Taking them left to right we have:

The weather widget sits on the far left. Again looking quite familiar it shows today’s weather and the weather forecast for the next four days. It also picks up you current location but as there is no GPS chip in the Smart I assume that it’s using cell locations to work out roughly where you are. For the sake of weather I guess it’ll be accurate enough.

Next along is the photo album. This will show you the images in a chosen album on the device and will cycle through the images. Tapping on the image will take you in to the album so you can email, delete or move images.

To the right there’s the media player widget. Just as you would expect it allows control of the playback of your music files and displays the album art. Again, you can also go in to the media player app from here if you want to for more control than the play and skip that the widget offers.

Back to the centre then and on the main home screen at the top you have the network and signal indicators, battery status and whether or not the speaker is muted. Notifications are also shown here when you have them and you can ship down the top bar to see the detail of a notification.

Below that we have the current time and date as well as the weather, including temperature, location it thinks you are at and the weather outlook. There are three program shortcuts on the bottom of the screen, the default ones being Radio, Internet and Camera. You can customise these depending on your preference and you can also swipe upwards to show a further six favourites which will be blank by default.

To the right of the home screen is a page of nine speed dials. You can set your favourite nine people up here and it will show their photo if you have it set for that contact.

Next is FriendStream. We first saw this on the HTC Legend a while ago and it has also been included on the HTC Desire and the HTC HD mini. What this widget will do is allow you to sign in to your Twitter and Facebook accounts and it will update periodically on the schedule you define from five minutes upwards. The tweets and Facebook status update will then be displayed here. More on this later on.

The final far-right page has the messages widget. Here you’ll see the latest SMS or text message your received, you’ll see who sent it and the body of the message. You can tap on it to see the full message or to get to the messages app.

weather Album media-player homescreen speeddial friendstream messages

 

So that covers the home screen elements, and I think you’ll probably agree that they are pretty similar to the HTC Legend or Desire for example. Many of the widgets on the homescreen have applications that go along with them for greater functionality.

There are other apps available on the HTC Smart though and there is a full programs menu. Pressing the big silver button from the main home screen will reveal three pages of installed apps and settings.

Im sure that most of what you see in the screen shots below will be self explanatory, with really just the last page having the more unusual items.

The first three, Memory, Rings and Whack ‘Em are fun little games, then there’s a Java applet which will allow you to use further games or apps that you choose to install. Flashlight is a useful app which as you may have guessed turns the LED flash on the back of the handset on so that you can use it as a torch. Pretty handy!

programs1 programs2 programs3

 

You may be wondering about text entry. Well there are a few options here. When you first start to enter text, when you are typing in a URL for example, the numerical style keypad will be displayed in a portrait arrangement. Here you have the option to use multi-tap or XT9 entry methods.

But what if you want to type a lot of stuff, when composing an email? Then you also have a full QWERTY keyboard if you want it. There is a button on the numeric keypad (top left) that changes the orientation of the screen to landscape and give you a full keyboard. This does make the keys rather small but they are just about usable. The keyboard takes up more than half of the screen though.

Switching between portrait and landscape is a manual thing, it doesn’t use an accelerometer so you have to remember to switch back. This can be annoying if you have a screen with multiple fields to fill out as you enter the text in the landscape view and have to deal with the form in portrait which can result in a lot of turning of the handset while you are using it. There is also no option for a landscape numeric key layout or a portrait QWERTY but then this is more down to how much physical space is available on the screen anyway.

In practice I found that the QWERTY keyboard worked rather well for me when typing emails and text messages, one just has to remember this is a resistive touchscreen that requires a little more of a positive press than a capacitive.

portrait-keypad Landscape-keyboard

 

The web browser on the HTC Smart is OK. It’s nothing spectacular but it does the job, most pages are rendered well, on par with a desktop web browser but in practice load and render times were a little slow even over 3G. Not terrible but noticeable compared to the like of the Nexus One or iPhone for example.

The other thing to remember here is that the screen is somewhat more limited in its physical size and the number of pixels available. Sites feel a lot more cramped than I am used to with the HTC Desire but they are perfectly workable and it is perhaps a little unfair to keep comparing the HTC Smart to a phone that costs in the region of four times the price.

The other thing to remember again is that there is no accelerometer on the Smart so although you can switch the screen in to landscape to see more of the page you’ll have to do this manually by pressing the menu button and telling it you want either landscape or portrait view. Once again, this isn’t the end of the world it’s just something you have to remember to do.

Browser-Portrait Browser-landscape

As I mentioned earlier in the review, many of the desktop widgets have more functional apps available too. So for example, there is a pretty looking FriendStream widget for the ‘desktop’ but there is then a more functional app that you can get to either by going into the programs menu or tapping on the FriendStream widget. Within the app itself you can scroll through recent status updates as well as change the settings for how frequently it refreshes and signing in and out of your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

FriendStream1 FriendStream2

 

It’s a somewhat similar story for the weather widget. Of course you have a weather summary on the main home screen but then there is also a dedicated widget for the weather which not only gives you the details for today but the outlook for the next four days too. If you then click on the weather widget you get taken to the weather app. This then tells you what the forecast is for the next five days, you also get to see this information for all the cities you have chosen. Particularly useful if you are a frequent traveller I would imagine.

weather weather-cities

 

I’m sure that most people will want to add email accounts to their device these days whether it’s a free Hotmail or Google account on a paid for account it’s something that almost everyone has. Whilst email integration is not the best on the HTC Smart, you wont find Exchange support for example, the other common email servers are supported. You can set up POP or IMAP email accounts which will cover most email servers these days. You can also set up multiple email accounts if you wish.

The email views on the HTC Smart are relatively simple, there’s no funky preview widgets but rather a neat inbox that lists email in date/time order, tells you the sender and the subject. It’s in a list format that keeps things neat. You may also notice form the screen below that the messages have a green. Tab on the left side. This coloured tab enables you to determine which email account each message belongs to, only relevant if you have more than one account but handy for seeing at a glance.

As you would expect, tapping on a message in the list view displays the full email message. Simple black text on a white background that aloes you to scroll through the message easily. Only thing missing perhaps is the ability to read messages in landscape orientation but not the end of the world.

Composing email is similarly straightforward. Select new, type in or select a recipient and the type the body of the message. As with SMS entry you can use either the numeric keypad in portrait mode or else the QWERTY in landscape.

Email-list Email-message

There is a calendar on the HTC Smart and it has been designed in a similar way to other HTC handsets. You have a month, week and day view available. Now because there is no Exchange support you wont be syncing your calendar (or contacts for that matter) over the air. There is a way to sync these with your desktop PC but I shall come on to that in a moment. Suffice to say that the calendar performs as a calendar should, there’s nothing particular good or bad about it.

Calendar

 

So you want to sync your calendar and contacts with your desktop PC? You can do that. When you plug the HTC Smart into a PC with a USB cable you will be asked whether you want to mount the storage card, sync with the computer or charge only.

Assuming you want to sync with your PC you are going to need a small piece of software that you can get free from the HTC website. You need HTC Sync for BREW. Once installed this sync agent will start each time you connect the Smart. Here you have a series of options so that you can choose what you sync, how you sync and what programs you sync with.

So you could, for example, choose to sync your contacts with outlook express and your calendar with outlook if you wanted to. You can choose whether or not. It automatically synchronises when you plug in or if you want to press the sync now button manually.

The sync software is pretty basic but does the job. If you want to sync music and media with the device then this won’t do that for you. Instead you’ll have to look for third-party options that sync media to the storage card.

HTC-Sync

 

On to the camera then. As I already mentioned it’s rather a basic three mega-pixel camera, fixed rather than auto focus. There is an LED flash though which will help when you want to take photos of your friends and a drunken state in your favourite club.

The camera isn’t going to win you any prizes or set the world on fire but it’s not the worst camera I’ve ever seen. If you take a look at the few sample shots below you can see that the colours are pretty rich but despite the first two being taken in pretty bright conditions, the one on the left indoors and the one in the middle outside, there’s a lot of image noise on both of them and the middle one looks really odd especially if you look at the grass. I think this is a result of over-compression but these images are direct from the Smart, no additional processing or re-saving.

As you can see from the image on the right the flash performance isn’t great and it’s pretty obvious to see in this image at the flash is offset to the left of the lens leaving over-exposure on the left and under exposure on the right. Despite not being overly close to the subject in the photo you can also see that the camera struggles when anything it too close to the lens.

Im sure that the camera will be just for for those ad-hoc photos that you care to take and share with your friends but don’t expect to get anything that you’d be able to print or enlarge later.

 IMAG_0002 IMAG_0005 IMAG_0007

The signal or reception quality of the HTC Smart is reasonable. Without having a great deal of equipment to test this I can speak from a slightly less scientific point of view.

I’ve mentioned many times before that I live in an area that gets virtually no mobile coverage on any network. I sometimes get a service but it very much depends on the weather, luck and the alignment of the planets.

With The HTC Smart the story is much the same. There were times I was able to get enough signal to hold a conversation albeit briefly before loss of the call but others where the handset would simply report no service. Generally speaking Nokia and BlackBerry devices seem to be able to get a signal where no other handset can and iPhone’s are often regarded as being among the worst. HTC handsets, the Smart included, sit between the two.

One of the main drawbacks of the HTC Smart is the lack of WiFi. These days i would have thought that WiFi would be included on almost all devices and certainly all smartphones. With the Smart not being a true smartphone then perhaps we should not be surprised not to have WiFi.

The lack of WiFi though caused me a specific problem when reviewing. As I just stated above, without network coverage at home that meant no data service on the device. This is a problem when you are trying to review such things as email and the web browser! Normally not too much of an issue for us as we’d switch to WiFi and be away but in this case I had to travel a few miles down the road to get coverage for the purpose of testing.

Perhaps not such a big problem for the other 80% of the population that the networks have not forgotten but the other thing you may want to consider is the cost of using only the mobile network even when you are at home where perhaps you would be able to switch to WiFi to save your data charges.

Call sound quality is one of those other things that’s pretty tricky to measure scientifically. I can tell you that the HTC Smart performs well in-call, the loudspeaker seems loud enough and calling James for the sake of testing he says that he had no problem hearing me.

Although I haven’t been using the HTC Smart for weeks on end, when I was able to use it in London for example I didn’t suffer any of those inexplicable dropped calls that some phones seem to be prone to.

Last of all let me just mention the battery life. The HTC Smart has a 1100 MAh battery which is reasonably high for this kind of phone. I got close to two days of use from the Smart while testing even when I was using it quite a lot for email, web and FriendStream. Overall battery life is much greater than the HTC devices of late but then that probably has a lot to do with things like the lack of WiFi and the relatively slow 300MHz CPU.

 

O2 Pay As You Go

One thing I really must mention is O2′s PAYG service as this handset is going to be offered on PAYG. This is no reflection on the handset itself.

I got myself an O2 PAYG SIM card and topped up with £10, put the SIM in the Smart and it correctly detected that it was an O2 SIM and set itself up with the required settings for the APN etc. I’d have thought that this would be all I would need to do to get up and running. I went to the web browser and was able to open web pages, albeit it slowly over GPRS.

It was then time to try to set up my email account. This is where I came to the first problem. As it would simply timeout and ask me to check my credentials. After several attempts I was unable to get it to work. I decided to give up and try FriendStream. Putting in my twitter account details the problem was the same, it simply would not connect!

After several tries and no success I decided to call O2 as I wondered if I needed them to activate something on the PAYG account. I spoke to a very helpful lady at O2 who explained that on PAYG you can ONLY BROWSE THE WEB. There is no way to configure email and, other than through the web page, you cant use Twitter or Facebook apps. This is a problem for the Smart as FriendStream connects to both Twitter and Facebook, apparently neither will work on PAYG.

Now, if this is all correct then it’s a bit of a worry quite frankly, as O2 are going to be offering the HTC Smart for £100 on PAYG. I would certainly hope that they come up with a different PAYG tariff for the Smart as otherwise many of the key features are not going to work! I’m seeking further confirmation on this at the moment and will update you later!

 

Conclusion

The HTC Smart has really impressed me. Generally ‘feature’ or ‘fashion’ phones are not my cup of tea but this is one of the first of such handsets to bring smartphone style features to a more ‘entry level’ handset, the lines between standard phones and smartphones has become even more blurred.

Since starting the review a few days ago O2 announced the price of the HTC Smart for both contract and PAYG customers. PAYG customers can get the Smart for just £100 which strikes me as a real bargain and I think HTC/O2 are going to see this handset sell in great volumes. Now HTC devices are going to be available to a whole new group of people that just cant afford the £400 price tag of many other HTC handsets.

 

As always, don’t forget that you can ask questions or post comments via our discussion forums.

 

Review by: Matt

[ Post Tags: HTC Smart, Brew OS, unboxing video, HTC, tracyandmatt.co.uk ]

Posted in: Phones, Reviews
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About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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