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Review: HTC Titan Windows Phone with Mango

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Nov 1, 2011, 4:28 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC's Titan is an amazing entry for its line of Windows Phone 7 Mango smartphones. This Microsoft-powered handset offers a brilliant display, good looks, and solid performance. Here's Phone Scoop's full review.

Form

Is It Your Type? 

If you're looking for the King Kong of Windows Phone devices, look no further than the HTC Titan. Aptly named, this enormous handset hopes to stay afloat amid the dangerous waters of today's smartphone market. With good looks, a large display, and plenty of processing power, did HTC do enough to differentiate it from other Mango handsets?

Body 

HTC knocked the Titan out of the park with respect to hardware design. It avoids some of the pitfalls of HTC's most recent Android handsets and sticks with the same design features it has lent its flagship Windows devices for several years now. That means dark surfaces, quality build, and excellent feel in the hand.

Reminiscent of the HD, HD2, and HD7, the Titan is a large slab of obsidian thanks to its pocket-stretching 4.7-inch display. It’s amazingly large, though HTC has done its best to make sure it's not a monstrosity. The back and side surfaces are smooth, rounded, and feel comfortable in the palm of your hand. Only those with the largest hands will be able to wrap their mitts all the way around this phone. Thankfully, it is thin. It'll fit into larger pants pockets, but thanks to the weight and footprint, you'll know it is there. Small jeans? No way.

 

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The front face of the phone is almost all display. The bezel is thin, and lets the display stretch nearly from edge to edge. There are three capacitive buttons below the display to activate and use the typical Windows Phone controls: Back, Home, Search. These buttons worked well, but I found that they blinked off too quickly, making them hard to see in darker environs.

The microUSB port is notched into the left edge of the phone. The volume toggle and dedicated camera buttons are on the right side. The volume toggle is a thin sliver, as is the norm for HTC handsets. It has very good travel and feedback. The camera button, positioned closer to the bottom of the Titan, is a two-stage key for focusing and releasing the shutter. It has excellent travel and feedback, and the two stages are perfectly defined and easy to tell apart.

The lock button is on the top edge, as is the 3.5mm headset jack for stereo headphones. The lock button is thankfully easy to find, and the travel and feedback is satisfying. This is an important button, so I’m glad HTC got it right.

On the back surface, the camera is positioned close to the top edge. It reminds me of the portal you'd see on the side of an ocean liner, with its round, protruding design. The dual-LED flash is a few millimeters to the left of the camera lens. Though the camera sticks out a bit, it isn't an annoyance of any sort.

To remove the back cover, you have to press a little button on the bottom edge of the phone. Rather than lift off a small panel, the entire back and side surfaces of the Titan are removed. The antenna is clearly built into the back cover, and you'll see metallic parts and contacts on both the cover and exposed back surface of the device. The SIM card is next to the battery, which must be removed to pull out the SIM. Windows Phone does not yet support expandable media, so it doesn't have a slot for a microSD card.

In all, the HTC Titan is a great piece of hardware, especially for those who like it big.

The Three S's 

Screen

What's not to love about 4.7 inches of display? Not only does the Titan provide more real estate for viewing content, but the display looks fantastic. It is bright, colorful, rich, and though it is limited to 800 x 480 pixels, graphics and on-screen elements look smooth and free of jagged edges. Perhaps the most compelling feature is that the Titan's display works very well outdoors, meaning it is easy to use as a camera or send messages when out and about. To give you an idea of just how bright the display is, it outshone several flashlights I have when I was trying to navigate my pitch-black house after losing power to the October snowstorm.

Signal

I was able to test the Titan on three different networks: AT&T's in the U.S., and Vodafone and 3 in London. This gives me a unique perspective on how the Titan performs when it comes to network prowess. (Keep in mind, Phone Scoop tested the version optimized for European markets, though it does have support for AT&T's 3G network in the U.S.)

In the U.S., AT&T's 3G network worked well on the Titan. I was happy with performance overall. The device didn't drop calls, though it did miss several. Data sessions were generally speedy under solid 3G coverage, though I noticed the Titan dropped down to EDGE service more often than other AT&T phones in iffy coverage spots. When on EDGE, the Titan was nearly useless for data needs. If AT&T decides to sell a customized version of the Titan in the U.S., chances are its network performance will be even better than what I experienced.

Sound

Phone calls placed through the Titan sounded excellent. I was very pleased with the quality of calls on all three networks, though AT&T's was the best of the three. Voices on the other end of the line sounded warm and present. There were no echoes, no hissing, and no other weird noises. The earpiece is capable of good volumes, though I would have preferred a few more decibels. Ringtones and alerts can be set to extreme volumes, making sure that you don't miss incoming calls/alerts. The speakerphone was also plenty loud, and offered good quality for conversations. The vibrate alert was good, but could be a bit stronger in my opinion.

Battery

Ah, there has to be a fault somewhere, right? Battery life is not one of the Titan's strong points. No matter how intensely I used it, the Titan consistently died after about 12 or 14 hours of use. It never made it through an entire "day" (7AM to 11PM) during my test period. Several times, it died in less than 10 hours. This was with Wi-Fi on, the display set to medium brightness, and email being delivered constantly. With tweaking (turning off Wi-Fi, setting the display to minimum levels, etc.), I was able to get a maximum of 14 hours with intense use. Light use might see the Titan last a full "day" but it will need to be charged every night. I'd be sure to have back-up power sources available when out and about.

Basics

Menus 

The Titan runs Windows Phone 7.5 Mango from Microsoft, with only the most minor additions from HTC.

Using Mango, it is hard to pinpoint any obvious changes that stare you in the face when compared to Windows Phone NoDo, or even the launch version of Windows Phone. But as you use the platform over the course of a day, you'll see the smoothed out rough patches, longer menus, additional settings and apps, and other small indicators that tell you you're using a better platform than before. Screens are clean and clear, transitions are crisp and present, everything about the platform feels polished and like it belongs. It has a very attractive “Metro” user interface. Microsoft has done a fine job at crafting a very user-friendly smartphone platform that is extremely powerful and feature-rich.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

First, on the unlock screen, there's a great set of notifications placed at the bottom of the screen that let you see in an instant what new missed calls, emails, and messages you may have received. They are easy to jump into once you unlock the phone.

The home screen is still made up of the live tiles, but you'll see that more of the tiles are dynamic, updating apps with content that changes throughout the day. Mango supports more tiles, and more types of tiles, such as email folders and message threads. You can pin these tiles -- some active, some static -- to the main home screen, where they can behave, in effect, like widgets. This means you don't have to go digging into the main menu for them, but place too many tiles on the home screen and your problem isn't really solved.

The Metro UI requires you to swipe your finger to the left to discover more content/info in most apps/menus you happen to be using. For example, swipe to the left from the home screen, and you go into the main menu. The main menu is where all the applications, settings, and other tools are stored. They're piled into one long list. This is perhaps one area I dislike about Mango. The more you add to the Titan, the more you have to scroll up and down this list to find stuff.

The Hub concept continues to work well. Hubs are not just apps, but places where content is centralized based on what it is. For example, the People Hub brings together not just contact data, but content generated by those contacts, such as social networking posts, photos, as well as messages, emails, and phones calls to/from them.

Most individual apps can also be adjusted through tool that are most often made visible by the presence of three little dots near the bottom of the screen. Tap these dots to make adjustments to the app in question.

Mango also brings fast app switching, which some might call multitasking. Press and hold the back button, and you'll see a collection of all the recent applications you've used in a coverflow-style layout. Simply pick the app you want to return to, and you'll jump directly there. Mango preserves the state of each app, which goes into a hibernation mode each time you switch apps. That means if you've started to type an email, and then switch to the browser and then back to the email app, your draft is preserved as-is.

Calls/Contacts 

Calls

If you need to make a phone call, you'll have to do so from the main Start screen. Press the Phone app, and the call history is the first thing you'll see. There are icons at the bottom that open the dialer, the People Hub or voicemail.

If you'd like to dial a number right away, press the little phone icon next to the number and away you go. Press a call log, and it will open up the basic information about that entry. There's a little icon of an old floppy disk (how retro, Metro!) at the bottom. Press that if you want to save the number to your contacts.

After a call has connected, a small pull-down menu lets you do most of the expected things, such as add a call, put a call on hold or mute, or activate the speakerphone.

 

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Contacts

The People Hub is an essential part of the WP7 Mango experience. With Mango, Microsoft has fully integrated the contact application with Facebook and now Twitter and Linked In.

Because People is a Hub, it has the left-to-right layout with columns separating everything. The main view is "all", which is a huge list of all your contacts. Your most recent Facebook status appears at the top. There are two little buttons that, when pressed, allow you to search through your contacts or add a new one. The fastest way to search for contacts is to open the People Hub.

Swipe the entire page to the left, and you see the "What's New" column. This is a list of the most recent status updates from your contacts. This includes rich content such as images, links, and videos. Pressing any of the status updates from your contacts will pull up that person's entire list of recent status updates.

WP7 Mango allows users to sync Google, Yahoo, Windows Live and of course Exchange contacts to their device. Each contact page holds plenty of information, including email addresses, numbers, street addresses, birthdays, web sites, and so on.

 

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Messaging 

The HTC Titan has all the modern communication tools that today's smartphones owners expect to have. That means email, social networking, messaging, and so on.

It supports Microsoft Exchange as well as POP3/IMAP4 email. The Mango email client is one of the few tools of Windows Phone 7 that I dislike. Don't get me wrong, it is perfectly functional, I just don't like the way it looks. Emails flow in as often or as sporadically as you wish. You can send, save, archive, forward, flag, and search through emails with ease. Gmail works really well in Mango, and thanks to the Exchange support built into Gmail, you can add Google Calendar and Google Contacts as easily to the Titan as you can Gmail itself.

The SMS/MMS application, which is one of the core tiles on the device, offers threaded conversations. Text appears in colored bubbles in a way that will be familiar to most people. Images appear in-line with the conversation. It’s a cinch to sort through entire conversations, delete whole threads, and keep your conversations organized.

As for instant messaging, the only client built into the OS is for Facebook. For all other IM services, you'll have to seek out third-party apps from the Marketplace.

On the social networking, Microsoft is breaking new-ish ground with Mango. The People Hub has the same support that it did for Facebook, but by adding Twitter and LinkedIn into the People Hub, you now have access to a richer, more well-rounded social networking experience with the added incoming Twitter and LinkedIn feeds.

In addition to the People Hub, there are excellent Twitter and Facebook apps built for Mango availabe in the Marketplace.

 

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Extras

Media 

Music

Since we last reviewed a WIndows Phone 7 device, Microsoft has released an even better version of the Mac syncing client, which makes transferring content from a Mac to a Mango handset a pain-free experience. (WP7 has always synced well with Windows-based machines.)

The music app is called the Zune player, and it’s so interactive and graphically rich that it’s great to use. The media player interface itself is easy to navigate and use, and the on-screen controls make controlling your tunes easy.

This is one place where Mango's App Connect* concept really comes to the fore. In the Music and Video Hub, for example, you have access to your music, the Zune Music store, and the FM radio, just as before. Now, however, you'll also see any other music/video apps you've installed on the device, such as Slacker, Vevo, Pandora, etc. Before, these third-party apps were only available from the main app menu. Now they are accessed directly in the Music and Video Hub.

*App Connect works with Marketplace, so results include both apps already on the phone and new apps that can be downloaded should the user so wish.

As far as multitasking is concerned, tap the home button to return to the Start screen. The media player controls will float at the top of the screen for a moment before disappearing. The controls will return with a tap of the screen.

 

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Video

Pretty much everything I said about the music experience applies to the video experience, as well, since they are part of the same Hub. HTC has done its best to supplement this with some of its own software. First, it has created its own YouTube application that far outclasses the official one available from Google. It has also installed a Mango version of its HTC Watch application, which lets you rent/buy movies directly from the device. This application requires a credit card, and doesn't support carrier billing (at least, not yet). The selection of movies is pretty good.

Using the Mac syncing tool, I was easily able to sideload movies and watch them in the native video player. The huge screen makes viewing movies awesome.

 

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Camera 

Camera

The Titan -- and all WP7 Mango devices -- will launch the camera when you press the camera button, even if the phone is locked and asleep. This is such a great feature, that HTC has started putting it on its Android phones, and Apple even put it on the iPhone 4S.

There is a box that appears in the center of the screen to help with centering the shot. Basic controls to access zoom and the video camera are stacked on right side of the display. The Titan offers a lot of tools for controlling the camera, including shooting modes, face detection, smile detection, scenes, burst shot, and of course control over the flash.

One feature I liked is touch-to-focus. It works really fast, and will focus on whatever object you select in the viewfinder. As for taking pictures, the physical camera key is the best way to go, thanks to the really well-defined two-stage controls, but there is also an on-screen software button if you prefer.

Once images are captured, they are whisked into the gallery app. The right edge of the previous photo serves as the frame on the left side of the viewfinder. It can serve as a quick reminder of what it is that you've most recently shot, and swiping it provides quick access to the gallery.

 

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Gallery

The Pictures hub is a great way to treat photo galleries.

Your own photos are stored in one place, but it also syncs the photos shared by your Facebook friends. That's a neat idea. It also automatically syncs your own Facebook photo galleries with the device.

The Pictures Hub is all about sharing. It lets you easily upload images to Facebook, SkyDrive (Microsoft's photo upload service), Flickr or send them along via MMS or email. Pictures Hub sure looks nice, and is fun to use. Pictures can also be loaded to a favorites list, set as wallpaper, and so on.

The Titan includes the HTC Picture Enhancer. This is a separate application that can be used to touch up photos you've capture by applying effects, such as Enhance, Overexposed, etc. The Picture Enhancer shows up in the same way (via App Connect) that Slacker and Vevo show in the Music and Video Hub.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Pictures/Video 

Pictures

The Titan has an excellent 8-megapixel camera. While it doesn't live up to the incredible camera found on HTC"s Amaze 4G, it is still one of the better 8-megapixel shooters I have tested in recent memory.

Images are crisp in focus, rich in detail, free of graininess and noise, and are mostly accurate with respect to white and color balance. The dual-LED flash is definitely helpful for making indoor shots turn out, though I sometimes saw a bluish tint to "flashed" photos. The Titan gets exposure right most of the time, and I found the resultant images to be really good.

Given how easy it is to share photos with a Windows Phone Mango device, you're going to want to share, share, and share again.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video

The Titan captures video at 720p HD. As with the still images, video looks mostly excellent. It is sharp and clear, warm and colorful, and the Titan handled sweeping changes in lighting without breaking a sweat. The one thing I noticed -- and this is typical for 1080 and 720p HD video cameras -- is some stuttering when the Titan is panned about. It is best to shoot 720p HD video holding the Titan still. If you're going to be panning around a lot, I'd suggest dialing down to 480p HD or less to reduce the stuttering effect.

Browse/Customize 

Browser

The Titan ships with the newest version of the Windows Phone browser, which Microsoft is called Internet Explorer 9. It supports the must-have features, such as pinch-to-zoom, and full HTML as well as mobile web sites. Double-tapping zooms in and out quickly. Web pages for the most part loaded quickly over AT&T's 3G network. It's easy to open new windows/tabs, add favorites, search for items on the page and so on.

Microsoft has been boasting about IE9's speed for nine months now, and there's no doubt the browser is fast. I found it to be lacking in HTML5 powers, though. For example, many of the rich web apps that Google has created for Android and iOS devices are simply unavailable or don't work in IE9. Either Google hasn't created Windows Phone versions of these apps, or it isn't recognizing IE9's true capabilities. Either way HTML5 content is missing in action.

 

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Customize

Windows Phone 7 Mango offers a typical set of features that can be customized. The tiles can be recolored, rearranged, deleted, and otherwise organized how the user might prefer. The main menu is stuck in the list view, however. Being able to pin apps, shortcuts, web pages, etc., to the home screen as Live Tiles is a nice touch and makes up for the lack of true widgets (a little bit).

Each of the applications has its own little list of settings that can be adjusted to control behavior. Users can also adjust the background color (white or black) as well as the color of the majority of the tiles.

Beyond these simple controls, however, the WP7 Mango is nearly as locked down as the iPhone is when it comes to the ability to change the appearance and behavior of the device. Android devices have way more flexibility.

Extras 

Apps

The Windows Phone Marketplace has almost 40,000 applications. That may not be the half million of the iPhone App Store or the 300,000 of the Android Market, but you'll find that many of the basics are available.

The Marketplace uses the same Hub layout. The Apps are added to the main menu once downloaded and installed. Games are added to the XBox 360 Hub. The Marketplace shows screenshots, user reviews (including text and stars), related apps, and how much the app costs to download.

Because the Titan is made by HTC, it has access to the HTC Hub. The HTC Hub is sort of like a mini Marketplace for the Titan. There are a number of apps in there that were developed by HTC that work with the Titan (such as a Sound Enhancer, Photo Enhancer, Stocks, etc.).

Bluetooth

The Titan supports mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets. I was able to pair with both types, as well as my car, with no problems. Sound quality of phone calls through my car was outstanding. Stereo Bluetooth headphones did admirably when streaming music from the Titan wirelessly, though I found it sounded a bit thin.

Clock

It's easy to read the time from the Titan's lock screen. Press the lock key, and the screen pops to life with a nice digital clock. The time also appears sporadically in the status indicator bar at the top of the screen. The HTC Hub offers a typical HTC-like clock and weather widget. However, it can only be seen when in the HTC Hub and not set as the lock screen or the home screen.

Local Scout

The Local Scout app is a bit like Google's Places, but for Windows Phone. Rather than opening the Bing search app, you can open Local Scout to seek out the businesses and points of interest that are closest to your location. I found it pretty easy to use, and it provided reliable results -- if the GPS system was able to find the phone. The Titan did not like to be found, and it often was unable to connect with location-based services.

Maps

The Titan uses Microsoft's Bing Maps. It is OK, though I prefer Google Maps (at least visually). The feature set is the same as most other free mapping services, and it offers a rich user interface. The one problem was the Titan's GPS radio. The Titan has a hard time connecting to GPS satellites, and that had a profound effect on its ability to serve as a navigation tool. We've contacted HTC regarding this issue are are awaiting a reply.

Notes

The Titan includes a new Note-taking application called Notes, which was developed by HTC. The notes are dynamic and rich, and are fun to interact with. They appear as "stickies" on a cork board. Neat! Any Notes created on the device automatically sync up with your Microsoft account, which is helpful.

Office

Of course, the Titan syncs amazingly well with Microsoft-based work and productivity tools. The versions of MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint that are in the Office Hub sync perfectly back and forth with the desktop versions. Users can save files to their personal SkyDrive for access later or from PCs. The Office Hub also lets people share documents and files if using the Titan on a corporate network.

Wrap-Up 

The HTC Titan is the king of the Windows Phone 7 Mango hill at the moment. It offers an excellent array of features, all-around good performance, and a few items that set it ahead of the pack.

For example, the industry-leading 4.7-inch display is second-to-none in terms of size, and the performance is on par with the Super AMOLED displays from Samsung. The industrial design is appealing, and despite the device's size, it still feels good to use. The wireless performance across several networks was good, and phone calls sounded good. Perhaps the biggest chink in the Titan's armor is battery life, which I found to be lacking.

On the communications and media side of things, the Titan offers all the tools that are on other smartphones: email, social networking, messaging, and contacts/calendar support. Its media prowess -- thanks in part to App Connect -- is excellent and visually appealing. The camera and video camera perform extremely well, and the results are sure to please most users.

The HTC Titan is a terrific phone in almost all respects. Looking to out-power your smartphone-using friends? The Titan is the totally tubular tech gadget to tout over your friends' tiny telephones.

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