Review: HTC Amaze 4G
HTC continues its winning streak of killer devices for T-Mobile with the amazing Amaze 4G. It is one of the fastest phones available from T-Mobile and includes one of the best cameras that Phone Scoop has tested.
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The HTC Amaze 4G picks up where the Sensation 4G left off, with an even better display, faster wireless data speeds, and a more capable camera. Only those who want the zippiest, sharpiest, photographiest smartphone from T-Mobile need apply.
HTC's design language hasn't taken a dramatic step away from the earth-colored hues we've seen on its smartphones in the past year, but it has taken a little step. Rather than deep browns and brownish grays, the Amaze sticks with a more techie silver and black (or white) color scheme. The combination of black and silver is well balanced. Rather than exist as a black (or white) phone with silver accents, or a silver phone with black (or white) accents, the back and sides share a nearly proportionate amount of each. It's a really nice-looking phone. It's modern, it's edgy, I dig it.
It feels solid in the hand, as there are plenty of metals, glass, and plastic materials making up the shell and guts of the Amaze 4G. It's a wee bit on the big side, and comes off feeling heavy, as well. Any phone that packs this much glass and metal ain't going to be a dainty flower. Comfortably rounded curves along the back edges allow the Amaze to be gripped easily. There's no skimping on build quality, here. It'll slip into pockets, no problem, but given its large footprint and weight, you'll always know it is there.
Similar to the Sensation 4G, the Amaze has a very subtle rim that encircles the display. The only way you'll notice it at all is if you drag your thumb off the edge. This little rim puts the Amaze's display perhaps 1mm off of any flat surface that you might set it down on. The end result should be fewer scratches on the display. The four typical Android controls are capacitive buttons below the display. They offer haptic feedback.
As is typical of an HTC handset, there are barely any buttons to mar the outer edges. On the left, you'll find nothing but the microUSB port, which doubles as an HDMI port with an MHL adapter. The volume toggle is on the right side of the phone. It feels better than most of HTC's previous volume toggles, and has excellent travel and feedback. The power/lock key is on the top. HTC couldn't have done a better job with this button, it works perfectly. The 3.5mm headset jack is also on the top.
Perhaps most intriguing is that the Amaze 4G not only has a dedicated camera button, but it has a dedicated video camera button, as well. Press and hold either when the phone is asleep, and it will go directly to the camera or video camera app. The video camera key is the smaller of the two and has a red marking on it. It's a single-stage key. The camera button is bigger, and is a dual-stage key for focusing and releasing the shutter. Both buttons have excellent travel and feedback.
The battery cover encompasses the entire back of the phone, as well as the sides all in a single piece. It is easy to remove, though I found it a little tricky to realign correctly. If you want to access the memory card, SIM card or battery, you have to take the cover off. Thankfully the microSD card port is accessible without pulling the battery.
In all, the hardware is great. It reeks of quality, works as it should, and looks great while doing it.
The Amaze's 4.3-inch piece of glass rates qHD resolution, which means it packs in 960 by 540 pixels. That's a lot of pixels. It looks truly fantastic. Even when held close to my eyes, I had a hard time picking out individual pixels. Text, icons, graphics all look smooth, clean, and crisp. Colors are bright and cheerful. As with most large displays, it isn't as amazing outside, but I found that the Amaze 4G was at least readable under a bright, sunny sky. It's a great screen.Signal
The Amaze 4G performed very well in signal tests. I tested it in northern New Jersey, New York City, and San Diego. It performed best in parts of NJ and NYC, where I knew with certainty that I was under the fastest HSPA+ network available from T-Mobile. Keep in mind, this bad boy can use T-Mobile's HSPA+ at a theoretical 42 Mbps. In Bryant Park in midtown, I hit a maximum download of 11.7 Mbps, which is blazing fast. When under lower-speed HSPA+ variants, the Amaze 4G still performed well in NJ and NYC. It was always connected to the network, never dropped to EDGE, and was consistently fast.
(San Diego was an altogether different story. T-Mobile's network was iffy the entire four days I spent there, and it showed on two different T-Mobile phones I had on me. There, the Amaze never reached download speeds higher than 2.1Mbps, and dropped to 2G EDGE a few times. Obviously, this is more related to T-Mobile's San Diego network than the device.)Sound
Call quality was a bit of a disappointment. The earpiece produced plenty of volume, but calls had a persistent hiss and often voices came across as garbled. Rarely were calls free and clear of noise. Voices never sounded warm and present. Instead, they sounded scratchy and far away. As for the speakerphone, it barely has the audio power of a pair of headphones. It simply did not produce enough volume — even when set to the max setting — and was as crummy in the quality department as the earpiece. This is not a great voice phone. Ringers and alert tones could have been louder, too. Set to the maximum, they were barely audible in a room with the TV on. The vibrate alert, however, is plenty strong.Battery
With the huge display, fast 4G access, and dual-core 1.5GHz processor, the Amaze is anything but amazing when it comes to battery life. Most users will need to charge it every night. The Amaze made it through my standard "day" (7AM - 11PM) with little trouble, and most often had enough charge to last through the night. It was fully dead within 24 hours, though, so a nightly juicing is required. If you barely use the Amaze, you might get more use out of it, but a phone like this is meant to be used and the battery has trouble keeping up.
The Amaze ships with the newest Sense 3.0 software from HTC on top of Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread. With a dual-core 1.5GHz processor spinning this phone's engines, performance of the system software was top notch.
Sense 3.0 has truly useful feature on the lock screen, which Phone Scoop has noted in previous reviews. When the display is woken from sleep, there are four (customizable) app shortcuts at the bottom of the screen. Out of the box, they are the phone, email, camera, and text message apps. Pick the one you want and slide it down to a circle you'll see on the screen and the phone will go straight to that app.
The Sense home panels are mostly unchanged compared to previous versions. The panels are stuffed with HTC's typical weather widget, as well new music and HTC Watch widgets.
Sense 3.0 offers amazing flexibility for adjusting the look and behavior of the home screen and menus thanks to its scenes, skins, lock screen adjustments and on and on.
The main app menu uses the new Gingerbread-style set up with some added HTC flair. The apps are listed in grid fashion with 20 apps visible at a time. Swipe up and the entire screen slides up until there are 20 new apps to show. There are HTC-made controls at the bottom for marking favorites and looking at recently downloaded apps. The main app menu can be customized heavily depending on user preferences. This includes the addition of folders and other tools to organize applications.
There don't appear to be any changes to the behavior of the Sense phone call and contacts applications.
By default, the phone app opens with the dial pad on the bottom half of the screen and either your recent call log or your top favorites above it. The phone app sorts through your contacts as you type a name, so you can sift through a large contact database quickly. In-call features run the usual tried-and-true offerings, such as mute, speakerphone, add a line, or send to Bluetooth.
The contact app will easily handle thousands of contacts imported from Google, Exchange, Yahoo, etc. You can also make use of the "People" widget on the home screen, if you like. This widget is basically a speed-dial-style app in that it lets you quickly access your besties from the home screen. Tap the little face profile on the widget to get their contact data.
T-Mobile's Wi-Fi Calling service doesn't appear to be on board, even though it has appeared on most recent T-Mobile phones.
The Amaze does not break any new ground with respect to messaging functions or social networking software.
It offers the stock Gmail, Google Talk, SMS, and email apps, as well as a third, T-Mobile email application. There's no other instant messaging software on board. The stock apps all work well, as they do on other Android devices.
The newest version of Facebook for Android is preinstalled on the Amaze, though the native Twitter app isn't. HTC also tosses in its FriendStream application/widget and its Peep application/widget to cover Facebook and/or Twitter. Peep is acceptable as a Twitter app stand-in, but I prefer the official Twitter app. FriendStream performs better on the Amaze than I've seen in behave on earlier HTC devices. It updates more reliably and much faster. It merges all of your Facebook, Twitter and other feeds in one place. But it still doesn't replace all the functionality available in the full Facebook application.
The Amaze has Qik's video chat application on board, too. This software works, but I find it to be frustrating and limiting. It will connect via 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi, but only works with other Qik users.
Google's Latitude app is on board; Foursquare isn't.
What's perhaps most boggling is that the Google Talk with Video Chat client isn't available. The Amaze is one of the more powerful Android devices on the market. That it doesn't have access to Google's native video chatting client is a bit odd, especially since that feature is being added to some older phones.
The Amaze has a ton of ways to listen to music. There's the HTC music player, Slacker is preloaded, as is an FM radio.
The on-board music application is very good. It isn't 100% standard Android; HTC has given it a new skin to match the Sense 3.0 theme in the way the software looks, but the overall features remain about the same. If you use Google Music, you'll need to download the newest Android music player to access it, as Google Music doesn't work with the HTC music player.
The FM radio works well with headphones attached. I was even able to dial in some of the furthest stations from my house, and the local rock station the next town over sounded great.
On the video side of the equation, your options are almost as varied. It has the stock YouTube application, T-Mobile's Mobile TV application, and a new service called Watch.
Watch is HTC's movie rental/download service. The selection is far from fantastic, but it had a number of (near) recent releases, such as Green Lantern and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It also had TV episodes from a small number of shows. TV episodes could be purchased for $1.99. Movies could be rented for $4.99, and purchased for $9.99 - $19.99, depending on the title. Using this service requires a credit card. The few trailers that I viewed looked really good on the Amaze 4G's display.
Watch also comes with a homescreen widget that lets you sift through your library of purchases, where they can be played directly from the home screen.
Video content that you record, side-load, or download is played back in the gallery application. I didn't have any trouble playing DRM-free movies on the Amaze.
T-Mobile and HTC are really excited about the Amaze's camera, and you should be, too. it rocks an 8-megapixel shooter with dedicated buttons, constant focus, image stabilization, face/blink detection, and much, much more.
As noted, the camera can be launched without unlocking the phone. Just press and hold the camera key at any time and the camera app will launch in about two seconds. Alternately, the camera can be launched from the lock screen, as well as from the main menu.
There are convenient controls on the side of the screen that let you adjust the flash and scene modes without opening the menus. These controls also let you jump to the user-facing camera, or the video camera.
You have to touch the phone's menu button to get at the camera's other controls. These let you adjust the shooting mode, exposure, and add effects. The camera natively shoots in the 16:9 aspect ratio. You can manually select 4:3 shooting ratio if you want to be all old-school. Using the 4:3 mode uses fewer pixels, you're better off sticking with 16:9 Other options include geo-tagging, face detection, and an on/off switch for auto-focus.
The Amaze has touch-to-focus; if you see something on the display and you want it to be in focus, press it. The camera will focus on that spot. Press the dedicated shutter button or the on-screen button to actually take a picture. The Amaze focuses and shoots pictures very quickly. In fact, it is one of the fastest cameras on a phone that I've seen. It returns you to the shooting mode in perhaps one second.
The review screen lets you send the photo off wherever you want with just a few quick taps.
The Amaze uses HTC's gallery software. It presents pictures in either a timeline or via grid. The timeline mixes pictures and videos into one long stream of images and movies. The entire stream flows back and forth in a fluid manner as you swipe your finger to and fro.
I really like the sharing tools in the Gallery. While you're browsing your photos, you'll notice some sharing icons at the bottom of the gallery for Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, or Connected Media (like your HDTV).
Pictures can be cropped and rotated, and select effects can be applied. The effects include typical options such as black and white, vintage, antique and so on. If you want to edit things such as exposure, you can do so only with these effects, such as Auto-enhance, Overexposed, and High Contrast.
The Amaze takes the best pictures I've seen to date from an HTC device. The hardware combined with the software and imaging sensors appears to have hit the Holy Trifecta when it comes to putting together an excellent camera.
Focus was sharp, white balance was spot-on, exposure was perfect, and colors looked warm and natural. I had a hard time taking crummy shots with this phone. Even images that required the flash turned out exactly right. If you're looking for a great camera on a smartphone, you should put this one at the top of your list.
The Amaze can capture video at 1080p. The video I shot was crystal clear and full of sharp details. I was actually surprised at how well the Amaze was able to focus and get things such as exposure and white balance correct. The only thing you'll notice — and this goes for all 1080p HD video — is that it can be overly sensitive to motion of the camera. You'll get the best results holding the Amaze as still as possible. Panning around creates a lot of sharp jerking that can make you sick to your stomach.
You can definitely record YouTube-worthy moments with the Amaze.
As I mentioned earlier, testing in NJ and NYC, browsing sessions were lightning quick. There was no delay in loading web sites, and everything was fast, Fast, FAST. But NJ and NYC has really good T-Mobile coverage. The browser itself has been reskinned by HTC and has a slicker look to it than the stock version does. It offers all the tools and features that you expect from the Android browser.
Phone Scoop has noted in the past how HTC's Sense user interface is one of the best when it comes to user customization. The Amaze isn't any different in that regard. Sense lets users adjust about every element of the home screens, wallpapers and other behaviors of the phone. For example, Sense phones offer different modes befitting for different usages. You can create a "work" mode that prioritizes email, hides games, and centers on your work functions, or a "Play" mode that emphasizes the social networking and music apps.
The customizable lock screen, in particular, will delight many users. This is an added bonus to the Sense 3.0 software. You can choose just about any app as one of the home screen shortcuts.
There's a fairly typical selection of applications preloaded on the Amaze. A bunch of them are T-Mobile-branded (T-Mobile, Mail, T-Mobile Name ID, T-Mobile TV HD) or HTC-branded (HTC Hub, HTC Like, HTC Watch). There's a Groupon clone called More for Me, which offers daily deals at local businesses, Polaris Office, and a folder called "Pro Apps." This pro aps nonsense is really just a link to a web site with a bunch of apps considered to be important for business workers, such as Dropbox, Evernote, and the like.Bluetooth
The Amaze can connect with mono and stereo headsets with no problems. I didn't encounter any issues when pairing different devices, but sound quality was an issue. Mono headsets sounded terrible, amplifying the hiss-y sound that comes through the earpiece. Sending music over to stereo Bluetooth speakers was worthless; awful quality. The Amaze can also be used to push pictures (and other files) between devices, such as PCs or other phones. This feature worked just fine.Clock
The Sense 3.0 clock is the best to come from HTC. The lock screen has a completely customizable clock that is large, bright, and readable in most circumstances. There is a full clock application in the main menu that lets you choose between a dozen or so different clock faces and styles. There are enough in there to suit most tastes. Once unlocked, the Amaze has the standard HTC digital clock plus weather report widget on the home screen.GPS
The Amaze has Google Maps, of course. You know the drill there. It also has two variants of TeleNav's navigation application for Android. There's the free version, which gets you basic directions with turn-by-turn guidance, points of interest, and color-coded traffic. The premium version, which costs $10 per month, adds audio alerts, red-light camera warnings, real-time traffic re-routing, and speech recognition. TeleNav just updated its Android software and the new version is faster, more robust, and offers a ton more features than the free Google Maps.Mobile Hotspot
The Amaze includes Wi-Fi mobile hotspot, allowing up to five other Wi-Fi devices to connect to the internet via T-Mobile's HSPA+ network. The software is fairly intuitive and I had no trouble setting up a hotspot and connecting several devices.
The Amaze 4G is well-named. It knocks almost every feature out of the park. Save for the crummy voice call quality and average battery life, it is superior than most of its stablemates on T-Mobile's retail shelves.
The display looks great, the hardware and build quality are excellent and look good, the calling and messaging features are the equal to any other Android phone, and there are plenty of options for social networking.
While the music- and video-consumption tools are excellent, the camera and video camera really set the bar for what smartphone cameras ought to be able to do. The camera opens fast, focuses fast, shoots fast, and saves fast. The pictures don't look like they were taken in a hurry, though. Rather, they often looks as you'd expect them to come from a professional camera.
Throw in the insanely fast internet speeds (when the right coverage is available) and a Formula 1 grade processor, and you have a winning combination.
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