HTC Surround Review

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The HTC Surround is one of the first few Windows Phone 7 devices to hit the market in the U.S. It will be available on AT&T, and in addition to featuring Windows Phone 7, it’s got a few other tricks up its sleeve. It’s not your average “black-slab” phone that everyone else keeps releasing. That’s right, it’s got a weird slide out Dolby Mobile speaker system, with a hidden kickstand. Is this rare form-factor worth the price of admission? Read on to find out!

BOX CONTENTS





Here’s the unboxing for the HTC Surround. You’ll see the usual AC adapter, Micro USB cable, battery, and 3.5mm stereo headphones. Nothing special like a case or screen protector is included.

HARDWARE





The HTC Surround is running a 1GHz Snapdragon QSD8250 processor with 448MB RAM, 512MB ROM, and 16GB of storage. The 3.8″ Super LCD screen has a 480×800 pixel resolution and four point multi-touch. You’ve also got WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, Assisted GPS, a 5MP camera with LED flash, a 1230mAh battery, a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, and a microUSB 2.0 port.

The device dimensions are 61.5 x 119.7 x 12.97mm, and it weighs 165 grams. For even more specs, check out PDAdb.net.

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The slide out speakers are from Dolby Mobile with surround sound simulation, and they really do sound great for something so small.



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The hidden kickstand flips out from the back. It’s made of metal and seems sturdy enough.

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The buttons on the front are flush with the screen. They’re activated as capacitive buttons with some haptic feedback.

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On the left side of the device we have nothing but a silver rim and bottom of the sliding mechanism.

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On the right side of the device we have the camera button and volume rocker buttons.

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On the top we have a power button and 3.5mm headset jack.

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On the bottom is the MicroUSB connector, a microphone hole, and a slit for prying off the battery cover.

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The back has a nice rubbery texture to it with subtle tiny silvery sparkles. Of course you’ve also got a rear speaker grill, Dolby Mobile SRS and Windows Phone 7 logos.

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Here’s the Surround next to the Samsung Focus. Outdoors, the LCD screen works pretty good, but you can see the difference between the Samsung Focus’ Super AMOLED screen.

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Stacked up with the Samsung Focus, the HTC Surround is naturally a bit thicker, but it’s still a very pocket-friendly form factor.

SOFTWARE





Here’s a look at some of the applications that AT&T has added. These are not the bloated add-on applications you might have expected. They can actually be quite useful. If you want, you can easily tap and hold on the application icon in the programs listing and choose “Uninstall”. That will remove the application from the phone permanently…that is unless you do a Factory Reset, at which point the original AT&T applications will get reinstalled in the background during first boot.

I think this is a really great compromise. When you buy the AT&T phone, you get a handful of AT&T applications that may be useful to you, but it’s your phone now so if you want to delete them, you are perfectly welcome to, and it is very easy. On Windows Mobile devices of the past that sold on AT&T, you couldn’t remove the AT&T programs.





Here’s the AT&T Navigator, used for GPS Navigation. While this is great for voice-prompting GPS navigation, unfortunately it does not work while music is playing in the background. Another major problem is that if you have to do something else like answer a text message or a phone call, you have to press the back button in order to get back to Navigator…AND it has to recalculate the route from where ever you might have moved to by that time.





Here’s a look at HTC’s custom applications and the HTC Hub. The Hub itself is way too flashy and kind of useless. The animations take way too long to be useful for checking the weather. The Photo Enhancer on the other hand is really nice. It can be accessed from within the Photos Hub while you are looking at a picture. Then you can easily add some enhancements or special effects to the photo and save a new version for emailing or posting to Facebook.

CAMERA

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The HTC Surround can take photos at 5MP with a single LED flash. Here’s a few photo samples at full resolution: outdoor bright light , indoor close up with flash. Launching the camera takes about 3 seconds either by navigating to the programs listing or press-holding on the camera button. The latter method works even when the device is off and the screen is locked. It proves to be a great shortcut for quickly launching the camera. When it comes to actually taking a picture, the shutter button is quite responsive, with practically no lag.



In terms of video recording, by default, as soon as you switch to camcorder mode in the camera software, it will record in VGA 640×480 mode. If you go into the settings, you can change the resolution to 720P for HD video recording, but the next time you go into video recording mode, it will go back to VGA resolution. That’s probably going to be pretty annoying if you like to record 720P HD video a lot since apparently you’ll have to go into the settings every time. There’s also interesting “stereo, normal, or noise reduction” audio recording options in the camcorder settings.

PERFORMANCE

Windows Phone 7 is no slouch at all. Performance is extremely good, and the phone is responsive even while waiting for animated transitions to complete. Sometimes games or certain third party apps will take a little while to load, but this is to be expected. You might also see some slowdowns depending on network connectivity, but there’s a nice animated non-obtrusive busy progression signal that tells you it’s trying to do something. Resuming third party apps from standby can be a bit slow sometimes as well since often the device has to reload the app you were using last. None of that applies to the native Windows Phone 7 OS apps though.

BATTERY LIFE

The Surround’s battery life is nothing special. It’s about average for any of today’s smartphones. Plan on recharging the device every night.

BUGS

A weird thing happened a couple times with the HTC Surround. While in the car, plugged into the stereo via the 3.5mm jack, randomly the volume either went all the way down, or another time, all the way up…without touching the device. The volume buttons didn’t seem to be stuck or bumped accidentally, and it hasn’t happened when not connected in the car. To be fair, this is one of the first devices to have been produced, so maybe there was some little hardware defect. I think I’m going to classify it as a fluke for now as it’s not reproducible and hasn’t happened recently.

PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY

You can’t buy the HTC Surround just yet, but you can expect it to be available through the normal AT&T channels for $199 with a new contract on November 8.

PROS

+ Dolby Mobile SRS speakers offer great sound quality

+ Windows Phone 7 is an exciting new mobile OS

+ Flip out hidden kickstand for watching movies

+ Quick-access camera

+ HTC added software

+ Great for Xbox Live gaming and Zune Media Playback

CONS

– Windows Phone 7 still lacks key features like fast app switching, copy/paste, and tethering/router support

– No DLNA media streaming built in

– No expandable storage (16Gb only)

– Speakers make the device a bit thicker

– Battery life is not fantastic

– Average camera image quality

CONCLUSION

While there will be plenty of Windows Phone 7 devices to choose from, each one offers some unique hardware features. The HTC Surround is one of the more unique hardware form-factors for Windows Phone 7. If you’re looking for something with killer speakers and impressive audio quality, the HTC Surround is the device for you. If you’re looking for a device with better battery life, a Super AMOLED screen, and a slimmer profile, check out the Samsung Focus.

I give the HTC Surround a 4/5.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!