A draft of this post has been sitting around since late September – I am fairly behind with things at the moment, so apologies to all affected.
As some of you have probably guessed (I’m not sure if I ever explicitly announced the fact), I have been the proud owner of a HTC HD2 for two years. It has served me well on a personal level (apart from one or two bugs in early ROMs) and has been a dream to develop with (I’ve certainly pushed the limits of what phones can do). Indeed, in my over-excitement I even played my small part in its history.
However, it is now two years old. While the best phones out there are only beginning to notably surpass the HD2’s capabilities, my HD2 itself is showing signs of age. In the last few months it has been sent away for repair twice (the microUSB port had been slowly breaking for months, then the phone stopped responding to touches), had its headset replaced a second time (interestingly, the in-line controls work better with Android than they ever did with Windows Mobile), had its case replaced and had its and microUSB cable replaced.
Consequently, I have had my eye on the market with more intensity than usual for some time now, but have been frustrated by the offerings. The phones out there aren’t bad, but neither are they an all-out mobile extravaganza, like the HD2. Over the next few weeks I’ll be updating this post with my opinions on the problems with the current latest devices – comment with suggestions and maybe, between us, we’ll eventually find our HD3. The operating system is noted only when it isn’t Android as the majority of the phones I’m considering use it – WM is dead, and iOS and WP7 don’t currently offer particularly inspiring hardware (for example, the former has a limited screen size while the latter has a limited screen resolution).
As it is a current news item, the HTC Edge is our first stop. Let’s be fair, some of the specs are awesome and really make the HD2 look dated. However, look again. That’s right, at the picture. The back of the phone to be precise. Notice anything missing?
You may notice the frustrating single LED flash. The HD2 has two LEDs and I never like downgrading – indeed, my lengthy experience with a Touch Diamond, a Wildfire and a HD2 has convinced me that I need at least two LEDs to take decent photos in a reasonable range of situations.
But there is something else to notice – something more worrying. The top part of the back doesn’t look very removable (and even if it is, not much is getting in or out). The rest of the back looks like it’s part of a unibody that wraps around the sides and front – it’s not removable. This means no replacing or extending batteries and no possibly microSD card – huge limitations that many people who don’t have iOS devices are thankful for avoiding. Not only have further rumors/leaks confirmed this, but they have confirmed that the screen is a S-LCD – annoying as I have been craving an AMOLED screen since a few months after I got my HD2 (after seeing the the Nexus One and HTC Desire).
This range of issues, coupled with the fact that I technically don’t need a lot of processing power and no mobile operating system can utilise those cores effectively, make the HTC Edge an unlikely purchase for me. Though I must say that it is a marked improvement on HTC’s recent efforts, not only in terms of specs but also design – the mixing of some of the qualities of the Sensation with a more HD2-like slab definitely works for me. I remain open minded on this to some extent as rumour suggests that the Edge will be based on a Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC, which may prove to have particularly impressive battery life in practice due to the additional low-power companion core that can take over things from the other cores when not much is happening.
Samsung Galaxy Note
Is it a tablet? Is it a phone? No, it’s a note. And what a fine note it is.
Unlike the HTC Edge (which we don’t even know the true name of yet), the Samsung Galaxy Note is available as of around now. This is useful because one of the most frustrating things about it is that like the HTC Edge, it has a single LED flash. Pictures taken with this flash are still super-rare (I could only find one last week, and it looked surprisingly decent), but will increase in number soon.
The main attraction of the Note is the 5.3-inch Super AMOLED display – I can only imagine how amazing that must look. The included stylus and related software might be useful too, to use the device in a similar way to a notepad – I am increasingly using my HD2 in a way that, according to the use cases in the promotional videos, would benefit from a stylus and the ability to quickly make notes or write on a screenshot. My handwriting would probably benefit too – I’ve barely written since my last exam, in June.
The rest of the specs are fairly decent and proportionate to each other. However, 5.3-inches is pretty big – it’s frustrating that this can both be an asset and a curse. Is the trend really towards devices that large? HTC made 4.3-inches reasonable and is now pushing 4.7-inches, but the Dell Streak (or Dell Streak 5, as larger Streaks are now available) failed to sell particularly well (though this may have been due to other factors).
Overall, the Galaxy Note is very tempting, but only the right price point would be able to make me look over the problems with the size and the probably inadequate flash.
Another freshly leaked smartphone, the HTC Ville, looks promising with a 4.3-inch qHD AMOLED display and a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 CPU. Supposedly it will be very thin too and have a metal case. The battery (1650mAh) and camera (8MP, 1080p (probably at least 30fps)) are also fairly good.
The image that everyone seems to be using for it (and which the original report of the leak doesn’t explicitly refer to as being a render of the phone) reminds me of a generic image someone coaxed out of HTCSense.com quite a while ago (the ageing wallpaper and lack of HTC logo are also suspect), so it is probably not particularly informative. Thus it remains to be seen whether the HTC Ville will have the same new limitations as the HTC Edge.
A possible purchase if I end up waiting long enough and the price is reasonable, though I am glad of its existence regardless as the Ville proves that I don’t need one of the best phones available to be excited.
Samsung Galaxy S II
Like the Galaxy Note, the Galaxy S II has an unconvincing single-LED flash and, like my HD2, only has a WVGA (800x480px) display – something I am wary of tying myself to for a few years as the HTC Touch HD had a WVGA display back in 2008 and newer phones are now coming out not only with qHD (960x540px) displays, but 720p (1280x720px). As we look toward the hardware that will be available in 2012, the dual-core 1.2GHz CPU looks increasingly like a previous-generation CPU. Unless the price suddenly plummets, I will let this phone pass.
HTC Sensation and Sensation XE
Only after the announcement of the superior Sensation XE did the Sensation hit the price point I would have paid for it back in April. The Sensation XE is similarly overpriced now and the Sensation looks increasingly previous-generation, like the Galaxy S II. If the Sensation or Sensation XE had been cheaper initially, I would have been a happy owner today. Like the Galaxy S II, I will not be tempted enough to get the Sensation or Sensation XE unless the price plummets.
HTC TITAN and Sensation XL
Despite the former running Windows Phone 7.5 and the latter running Android 2.3, these two are variants of the same design. That design looks fairly nice but is not inspiring on the hardware specs front with two frustrating features. The first frustrating feature is a particularly large (4.7-inch) screen with a resolution (WVGA – 480×800) no better than my HD2 and based on a similar technology (S-LCD). The second is a single-core 1.5GHz CPU.
While I am wary of the lack of software that can take advantage of the Edge’s four cores, the momentum does seem to be towards multi-core and I would therefore think that the best compromise at the moment between investing in future capabilities and buying something that’s good now is a dual-core CPU. A practical example of this is that the TITAN and Sensation XL can only record video at 720p – dual-core models are typically capable of 1080p, even if those cores are slower. Supposedly the HD2 is capable of recording 720p video when running Windows Phone 7, demonstrating that the TITAN and Sensation XL struggle to justify themselves as a pointful upgrade to the HD2. (As far as I’m aware, efforts for Android (the operating system I run on it now, for development purposes) have been less successful, with a pitiful frame rate achieved).
It’s unlikely that I’ll buy the TITAN or Sensation XL unless I find one offered at a particularly unsustainable price.
HTC EVO 3D
The main attraction of this device is the forward investment in 3D technology. I am currently buying 3D blu-rays rather than 2D where available and the price is reasonable, so I have 3D content to watch when I finally get a 3D screen (I do hope that 3D doesn’t die, as I quite enjoy it). The specs are similar to the Sensation, though the EVO 3D is quite thick and I am not a fan of the design of the rear of the device. However, like the Sensation and Sensation XE, it was priced very highly despite being only a good high-end phone rather than a great high-end phone.
Pantech Vega LTE
With a dual-core 1.5GHz CPU and 4.5-inch WXGA screen, the Pantech Vega LTE looks interesting. However, Pantech has followed the same path as Samsung by adding a single-LED flash. Also, as far as I am aware, it would be quite difficult to get in these Anglo-Celtic Isles, it is probably not compatible with the cellular networks here (I haven’t checked), and I haven’t checked what the price is in a currency I am familiar with.
Sharp Aquos SH-12C, SH8298U and SH-01D
I’ve looked at these in less detail though they look impressive with the former two offering 3D recording capabilities and qHD displays and the latter offering a 720p 3D display (but no 3D recording capabilities). However, they share the same problems as the Vega LTE: single-LED flash, being difficult to obtain, probably being incompatible with the cellular networks here and I don’t know how much they cost.