T-Mobile HTC Radar 4G Review

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The HTC Radar 4G is the first new device available in the U.S. running Windows Phone 7.5. Sure, the upgrade has been available on existing devices for a while, but now we finally get to see some of the new enhancements and new hardware improvements. If you were to only go by the basic specifications list that accommodates the HTC Radar 4G, you might think it’s just a rehash of last year’s HTC Trophy and certainly isn’t anything special. Read on to find out if this guy is just last year’s model with a different color, or if it’s actually got some skills that you may have underestimated. Read our full review to determine whether the latest Windows Phone should be on your radar.

BOX CONTENTS







This is our unboxing video of the T-Mobile HTC Radar 4G. Inside the box, we’ve got only a microUSB cable, and charging adapter…it doesn’t even come with headphones but the 3.5mm headset jack should work with whatever you want to plug into it.

HARDWARE







As what may sound familiar from last year’s Windows Phone 7 device specs, the HTC Radar is running a 1GHz Snapdragon MSM8255 processor with 512MB RAM and 8GB of storage. The 3.8″ Super LCD screen has a 480×800 pixel resolution and 4 point multi-touch. You’ve also got the usual WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, Assisted GPS, 5MP camera with LED flash, 0.3MP front-facing camera, 1520 mAh battery, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, and a microUSB 2.0 port. The device dimensions are 61.5 x 120.5 x 10.9 millimeters, and it weighs 137 grams. By the way, this device does not include a digital compass, so that means certain apps that require that type of hardware will not work (things like augmented reality; the reality scanner feature in Navigon, for example.) Keep an eye out for warnings about hardware features in the Windows Phone Marketplace.

For even more specs, check out PDAdb.net.

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The first obvious unique feature of the HTC Radar 4G is its color. This device is built with an aluminum matte silver uni-body frame with areas of white around the back and around the screen bezel under the glass. If you can get the ambient light temperature to be the same as the screen’s “Light” themed white background color, it looks quite beautiful. It’s good to see HTC deviate a bit from their current usual “black slab” design schemes. Actually it reminds me a bit of the old HTC Magician, which was an excellent smartphone of its time.

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Here’s a close-up of the front-facing camera, which is now supported in Windows Phone 7.5. You can also see the nice silver metal look of the unibody rim and the white finish under the screen’s glass. The front-facing camera is a low resolution 0.3 megapixel resolution, but it’ll work fine for mobile video calls. Unfortunately at the time of this phone’s release, there are no video calling applications available for Windows Phone 7, however that should change in the near future.

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On the left side of the device we have the microUSB port. I don’t really like having the USB port on the side since it makes for a strange connection when the device is mounted in a car. On the other hand, the connection is in a good position for attaching to a horizontal dock.

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On the right side of the device we have the camera button and volume rocker buttons. The camera button has a half-press for focus and then a full press for shutter. It has a bit of a texture on it so that you can easily feel for the button while its in your pocket, then you can hold it down while taking it out of your pocket so that the camera software launches right away. Compared to the HD7’s thing and difficult-to-feel camera button, this button works so much better. The half-press to focus and full-press to shoot is much easier to feel as well. I really like what HTC has done for the camera button and it’s one of the best camera buttons we’ve seen on Windows Phones.

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On the top we have a power button and 3.5mm headset jack. The power button is thin, but it is still easy to press and activate, which is great.

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On the bottom we have nothing but a rounded rubbery white cover which hides the SIM card slot.

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The back has a very nice feel to it and this is where you’ll see the HTC and Windows Phone logos. You’ve also got a rear speaker grill here along with the 5MP camera and LED flash. The speaker is very loud and boasts some great sound quality. Maybe not as good as the HTC Surround, but certainly better than the HD7, Dell Venue Pro, and Samsung Focus that we’ve got on hand.

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Our unit seems to have a bit of an imperfection in the molding of the SIM card cover that attaches to the bottom of the phone. You can see it doesn’t quite fit perfectly.

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Removing the rubber/plastic piece on the bottom reveals the SIM card slot. There are also some contacts that cause the phone to shut down when the cover is removed. This ensures safe removal of the SIM card, and I imagine could also be the equivalent of a forced shut down. You don’t have access to anything else under here. You can’t remove the battery and there is no Micro SD slot for memory expansion.

SOFTWARE

The Radar 4G is pretty light on carrier customizations. From T-Mobile, you get Netflix, Slacker Radio, My Account, Telenav GPS, and T-Mobile TV. If you want, you can easily tap and hold on the application icon in the programs listing and choose “Uninstall”. HTC includes the new HTC Hub, Photo Enhancer, and HTC Watch along with some great new features in the Settings area, as well as Panoramic and Burst Shot options for the camera.



For more about the operating system in general, check out our full Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 7.5 reviews.

CAMERA

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The HTC Radar’s camera sounds like it would be the usually not-so-great-image-quality that you would expect from HTC’s older phones, but this one has actually be revamped. While the megapixel count is only at 5, the image quality is actually much better than most of last year’s Windows Phone 7 devices. The improvements are partly due to the camera’s new backside illuminated sensor and wider f2.2 aperture.

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In the above right image, the photo was taken in almost complete darkness with the flash turned on. The Radar 4G does not have an autofocus illuminator, so you’ll need at least a tiny bit of light in order for the autofocus to work. From there, the flash does a pretty good job of lighting the composition evenly. The flash’s range works pretty nicely even up to 10 feet away.



Above are two test shots in decently lit areas. The exposures and color reproduction turned out to be quite accurate though there is a significant amount of sharpening applied to the photos.



Above is a series of 100% crop selections from a variety of smartphone cameras. The 100% crops will give you a pixel for pixel comparison. You’ll notice differences in color balance, sharpening levels, as well as lens viewing angles. The Radar 4G seems to have the most accurate color, though the Nokia N8 is still king when it comes to detail.







Above is a 720p video recording sample from the Radar 4G. The Radar is not capable of recording 1080p video, but at least now with Windows Phone 7.5 you can save your settings and always launch to the 720p recording option as opposed to the default VGA resolution. I was quite impressed with the video recording and audio recording quality however. Exposure was good as was the frame rate smoothness.

BATTERY LIFE



I was very satisfied with the HTC Radar 4G’s battery life. As you know, the 1520 mAh battery is not removable, so you won’t be able to get a second battery and swap it out as the phone dies over a long weekend. However, I am quite confident that the battery life will last all day and well into the night for most users. It will certainly last longer than most iPhones. To give you an example, I kept the phone off the charger all day and used it for various little things like emails, downloading an app or two, weather updates, etc, things that would have something like the HTC MyTouch 4G Slide screaming for a recharge by 6pm and threatening to shut down. In that situation, the Radar 4G’s battery may have only gone down to around 70%.

PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY

The HTC Radar 4G will be available from T-Mobile USA retail stores as well as the T-Mobile website on November 2, 2011. It will be priced at $99 after a $50 rebate and with a new contract.

PROS

+ Unique design and color

+ Windows Phone 7 Mango is even faster than first generation devices

+ Much-improved 5MP camera with flash, BSI, and f2.2 aperture

+ Front-facing camera

+ Great hardware buttons especially for the camera

+ Great battery life

+ Stereo audio with 720p HD video recording

+ T-Mobile’s 4G HSPA+ network makes cloud transactions much faster

CONS

– Only 8GB of storage and no way to upgrade

– Non-removable battery

– SIM card cover doesn’t fit quite right (on this phone at least)

– No digital compass

CONCLUSION

When we first heard about the T-Mobile HTC Radar 4G, it sounded pretty disappointing. The paltry 8GB of storage space, a regular 1GHz processor, only a 5 megapixel camera, and a non-removable battery? If you call yourself a power user, you would easily look over the specs and scoff.

Fortunately, the device is actually a decent upgrade to the HD7 Windows Phone that T-Mobile started carrying last year. It’s noticeably faster than last year’s Windows Phones, mainly in the graphics area which you’ll notice in the 3D avatar of the Games Hub. That’s saying something since last year’s Windows Phones are still pretty fast on the new Windows Phone 7.5 upgrade too. The camera button is one of the easiest and quickest I’ve ever used on a smartphone. And even though the camera is only 5 megapixels of resolution, it is still a huge improvement over many other phones. Heck, I found the Radar 4G to be the most enjoyable and trouble-free smartphone that T-Mobile has carried in a very long time.

I also love the size, weight, and build quality of the Radar 4G. The matte metal body is very sturdy and feels great in the hand. I feel like I can drop it and it will either bounce off the rubbery plastic bottom or bounce off the metal rim without much damage at all. It’s clearly not something that feels like it’s made of glass and will shatter at the slightest slip from a car dashboard. I know some people will think the 3.8″ screen size is too small, but I really like it since it’s easy to reach all parts of the touch screen while holding it with one hand. The larger screens make navigation more of a two-handed affair.

My biggest complaint is the small amount of storage space, however, if you’re the type of person that doesn’t care about how many movies, songs, and videos that you can load up on the device, then the 8GB would be just fine for a healthy number of apps, games, and photos. If you can get by with that and are looking for something that’s fast, responsive, easy-to-learn, doesn’t require any tweaking, and is generally a joy to use, definitely consider the Radar 4G.

I give the HTC Radar 4G a 4.5/5.

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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!