review The HTC Titan 4G is the first Windows Phone 7-based smartphone available through Telstra which supports the telco’s speedy new 4G network. But does the Titan 4G’s powerful innards and suave design justify its hefty price tag? Read on to find out.
Design-wise, the Titan 4G can be considered quite similar to several of the other major smartphones which HTC has released in Australia over the past year. With a high-quality light and dark grey combination casing highly reminiscent of the HTC Incredible S, but with a more smooth design which reminds one of the white HTC Sensation XL, the Titan 4G is a melding of HTC’s overall recent style philosophy.
The good news for buyers is that this means a great deal of consistency. The camera is the top back of the smartphone’s case, volume buttons on the right-hand side, a headphone jack and on/off button on top, and standardised Windows Phone 7 buttons on the bottom. There’s also a dedicated camera button on the bottom right-hand side of the Titan 4G’s case, designed so that you can hold the phone horizontally and operate it as a traditional digital camera. Unlike some smartphones such as the Galaxy Nexus which come with slightly curved displays, the Titan 4G’s touchscreen is flat. The case has a little lip at the bottom of the screen, making it comfortable to hold in the hand and easy to press the touch-sensitive Windows buttons.
What we liked about the Titan 4G’s design was this feeling of consistency. There are very few surprises here; if you’ve used a non-Apple smartphone in the past 2-3 years, you’ll likely know what to expect here. Virtually everything is in the right place, and generally easy to access, although the physical buttons on the side of the Titan 4G were a little finicky to push — a little thin for our hands. We also liked the soft matte plastic feel of the Titan 4G’s back. The surface is grippy, meaning the phone is hard to drop, and this feel goes well with its overall weight for a nice fit in the hand.
What we didn’t like about the Titan 4G’s design, however, was that in comparison to other new HTC models such as the One line-up or Nokia’s Lumia line, the Titan 4G just felt like it didn’t stand out in any way, shape or form. It’s a nice little lump of grey and black plastic with a nice large touchscreen, but that’s about all. HTC doesn’t appear to have put the same amount of design innovation into the Titan 4G as it has other lines, and we found the phone a little boring, visually. In some models, such as the Samsung Omnia W, this can work to the phone’s advantage. But we didn’t really find this with the Titan 4G.
In addition, be warned that the Titan 4G is a little large, at 132mm by 69mm, for those with small or even medium hands. The model is no monster Galaxy Note, but it’s not too far off. Many people will find it a little odd to be holding something of this size next to their ear, and we would suggest that the Titan 4G is clearly in the class of new smartphones which are being used more for their Internet and app capabilities than they are basic voice calling. This isn’t unusual in 2012; apart from Apple, most major smartphone manufacturers have launched gradually larger models over the past year or so.
There are several hero features on the Titan 4G which help it stand out of the crowd.
Firstly, and most notably, this is the only Windows Phone 7-based smartphone in Australia which supports Telstra’s 4G network. That network currently reaches across 1,000 or so base stations across major slices of all of Australia’s capital cities, and offers typical download speeds ranging from 2Mbps to 40Mbps and typical upload speeds from 1Mbps to 10Mbps — as compared with the 1.1Mbps to 20Mbps available on the 3G portions of Telstra’s Next G network in most non-4G areas. So basically, if you want to access those kinds of speeds, and you want a Windows Phone 7-based device, the Titan 4G is really your only option at this point.
Perhaps the other major feature which the Titan 4G offers is a camera with a whopping 16 megapixel rating, plus dual-LED flash, image stabilisation and so on. In an age where most phones have half that megapixel rating, the Titan 4G’s camera rating is quite attractive, although it only shoots 720p video, as opposed to the 1080p rapidly becoming standard on high-end phones. We’ll have more info on the performance of these two hero features a little further down in the review. The other features of the smartphone are still very high-end, but more similar to most high-end smartphones sold in 2012.
The Titan 4G’s sharp and colourful 4.7″ Super LCD display is unfortunately set at a resolution of 480×800 due to Microsoft’s standard Windows Phone 7 requirements, a major disappointment given the screen’s size and the fact that most modern smartphones these days feature a higher resolution. Its CPU is more acceptable, running at 1.5GHz (it’s a single core Qualcomm S2 Snapdragon model), while it comes with the latest Windows Phone 7.5 version of its operating system (‘Mango’) and 16GB of storage. The front-facing camera is 1.3 megapixels. An FM radio comes built-in, and the Titan 4G’s battery is a 1730mAh model, rated at 4 hours, 20 minutes of ‘talk time’ and, according to HTC, up to 290 hours of standby. The phone connects to its charger and USB cord via a micro-USB cord.
First, you’ll want to know about the speed.
It’s difficult to test the Titan 4G’s real-world speed in Australia, as the Speedtest.net platform which we normally use to test Internet speeds to Australian servers is not available for the Windows Phone 7 platform, and Windows Phone 7 doesn’t support the app’s Flash-based website.
To get around this issue, we used several methods. Firstly, we tested the Titan 4G’s speeds using network speed test applications which connect to US servers (instead of Speedtest.net’s Australian servers). Secondly, we connected a HTC One XL handset to the Titan 4G through Windows Phone 7’s Internet Sharing facility, and tested the network speed of the One XL when accessing Speedtest.net’s Australian servers through Wi-Fi connected to the Titan 4G. We conducted this testing in six different locations in Sydney’s inner suburban areas, ranging from the Eastern Suburbs to various parts of the CBD. All of the areas where we tested the Titan 4G had support for Telstra’s 4G infrastructure.
What we found through these tests is that you can consistently (even during peak hour on public transit routes) achieve download speeds of between 15Mbps and 20Mbps on Telstra’s 4G network with the Titan 4G, and upload speeds typically ranging from 8Mbps to 12Mbps.
However, even this probably isn’t the real story about the Titan 4G’s capabilities. In the exact same places, we also tested HTC’s One XL model, which has very similar specifications and design to the Titan 4G, and is obviously manufactured by the same company and released in a very similar timeframe in terms of mobile phone hardware. In these same areas, we found the One XL capable of regularly achieving speeds of between 25Mbps and 35Mbps downlink, and between 20 and 25Mbps uplink.
When we did real-world tests such as web browsing and YouTube access, there was very little real-world difference between the network performance of the two models; their latency, download and upload speed ‘felt’ the same in practice.
What this leads us to suspect is that the Titan 4G is capable of very similar network access speeds to the One XL on Telstra’s network, but that the lack of accurate speed measuring tools means the device was taking a percentage hit in practice when compared to its sister model. Is the Titan 4G capable of achieving the top-line speeds possible on Telstra’s 4G network? We strongly suspect that yes, it is. You can safely buy this phone knowing that it will be able to take advantage of the full speeds which Telstra’s 4G network is capable of.
And this is great. The browsing speeds of the Titan 4G and the One XL blow every 3G device we’ve ever used out of the water. Get used to never waiting for a web page to load, as long as you’re in a 4G zone on Telstra’s network. These new 4G phones are fast; as fast as being at home on an ADSL2+ or HFC cable connection, and very often, in our estimation, faster. We simply love Telstra’s 4G network; it speeds up everything network-connected that your smartphone does inestimably.
Secondly, what’s the camera like? In our estimation, pretty awesome.
We took a variety of shots using this 16 megapixel monster in both low light and well-lit conditions, and had trouble faulting the shots it took. It focused well, the flash worked well, and in general this is the sort of camera which will lead you to stop using dedicated digital cameras for 90 percent of your shots. For us, in 2012, it’s generally now our camera phone plus a digital SLR when needed, and we suspect many people will feel the same way.
For comparison’s sake, we took these three shots on a rainy night this week in Sydney’s CBD. The first was taken with the Titan 4G, the second with the HTC One XL, and the third with an iPhone 4 we had sitting around. If you get up close, you’ll see that the iPhone 4, now several years old, has a bit less fidelity than the newer phones. The Titan 4G shoots a bit warmer than the HTC One XL, and the One XL seems to have a bit more light bleed from bright lights such as traffic lights, but they both seem to take excellent shots.
Shot taken with HTC Titan 4G:
Shot taken with HTC One XL:
Shot taken with Apple iPhone 4:
In terms of other factors, you should be warned that the Titan 4G’s battery life is not that great, as you might expect from a whopping huge 4G phone. We had to charge it after about a day and a half, and we’d suspect that many people will need to charge it every night, if you’re a heavy 4G and multimedia user.
Without wanting to go too far into the many user interface inconsistencies of Windows Phone 7 (a subject for another whole article), we should note that the Titan 4G implements the platform well, with some additional customisation and unique apps bundled in from HTC and Telstra, such as HTC Hub, Garmin’s Navigator app, Telstra’s gradually improving TelstraOne and FOXTEL apps. Due to the Titan 4G’s snappy CPU, we had no user interface slowdowns, and the device played video and carried out all tasks with aplomb. CPU speed and memory are not issues here, as they rarely are on modern smartphones, which are typically overpowered for their tasks.
If you want a 4G smartphone, and you want Windows Phone 7, run, don’t walk, to your local Telstra store and buy the Titan 4G now. It’s the only device in its class, and you won’t walk away unsatisfied, although as the device is primarily sold on a $79 plan, you also won’t walk away without a hit to your wallet.
For the rest of us, however, the decision is a little more difficult. While it has some of the best Internet speeds and camera hardware available in the smartphone market, the Titan 4G suffers from unremarkable design, mediocre battery life and all Windows Phone 7’s normal quirks. We’d suggest that most people are better off right now with a HTC One XL right now than a Titan 4G; it’s a more sophisticated smartphone in a large range of areas, as our review of it next week will make clear. The Apple and Samsung faithful, of course, have their own options — but without the game-changing 4G access which HTC enjoys right now through Telstra, most rival smartphones are looking a little weak. And, if we haven’t recommended it enough by now, listen again: You do want a 4G smartphone. The difference in network access speeds is extreme, and very visible. It’s time to get on the 4G bandwagon.
Image credit: HTC, Delimiter