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Review: HTC Titan (Mango Windows Phone, 4.7 inch display)

Some years ago mobile phone manufacturers competed in creating the smallest device not much larger than a credit card when it comes to lenght and width. Nowadays the race has changed, as it seems like smartphones are getting bigger year-over-year especially due to the display size. HTCs Titan is a prime example of the current trend. Sporting a huge 4.7 inch screen, most people will wonder if this is really a phone or more like a small tablet.

I have been using my Vodafone testdevice for about two weeks now, and prior to receiving the HTC Titan i was 100% convinced that i could never arrange myself with a smartphone having a display bigger than 4.3 inch. The HTC Sensation was a great device, but even with its 4.3 inch display it sometimes felt too big.

HTC Titan hardware

Taking the HTC Titan out of the box you’ll be first impressed by the sheer size of the screen, and then realize how thin the device is. While it’s not substantially thinner than the HTC HD2 it does feel much smaller. As always HTC used a very nice mixture of metal elements to create a premium device which also feels great in your hand. It’s strange that i write this in nearly all of my recent HTC reviews, but it’s true. When it comes to materials and built quality HTC is top notch. I had one little issue though, as pressing on a corner of the HTC Titan would result in a creeking sound as the backcover doesn’t seem to fit perfectly on the bottom right corner. This is probably just an issue on my testdevice but it’s still noteworthy.

The large capacitive display recognizes touch input very reliably, and color reproduction is natural looking thanks to the SLCD technology which seems to be more toned down compared to the very poppy colors of AMOLED screens. Its biggest flaw being the WVGA resolution which just seems insufficient for a 4.7 inch screen. While the result is not that bad, it’s just no comparison to other phones like the iPhone4S or HTC Sensation which both provide a much higher pixel density. In this case HTC isn’t to blame though as Microsoft just doesn’t support any other resolution than WVGA on Windows Phone devices. Rumours say that this will change soon, as we might see lowend Windows Phones with smaller resolution. Hopefully this also means that we will see HD resolution Windows Phones too at some point. Supporting different kind of resolutions for a mobile device is risky as fragmentation issues will arise, but it’s very clear that Microsoft can’t keep the highend models at WVGA resolution forever.

There is also no dual core CPU to be found on any Windows Phone device yet, as this is another Microsoft guideline. I don’t have any problem with this, because the HTC Titan is very fast and Windows Phone Mango performance is great. At the end of the day the customer doesn’t care if the device has dual core or not as long as its fast. And when it comes to general OS responsiveness Microsoft really delivered with Windows Phone 7.5 Mango.

The HTC Titan comes with a 1.3 MP front facing camera and the regular Windows Phone capacitive buttons. On the right side you’ll find the camera button at the bottom and volume controls at the top.

A micro USB slot is placed on the left side, while the power button as well as the mic plug are on the top. I just don’t understand why HTC is still putting the power button at such an awkward place. The power button is the most frequently used hardware part, and it doesn’t make sense to put it on the top of a 4.7 inch device where it’s hardly reachable. Having the button on the side is so much more convenient as Samsung proves with most of their devices.

Opening the backcover is possible by pushing the button on the bottom of the device. Taking off the backcover is easy and i love how solid the cover feels. It’s leaps and bounds better than the plastic cases of other devices.

I have relatively small hands, so i was curious to see how the HTC Titan would fare on daily usage. At first it wasn’t really comfortable to hold the device, but interestingly this feeling only lasted for about 1-2 days. After that i just appreciated the big screen which made reading news feeds and browsing the net so much more convenient. Of course there where some instances where i missed having a smaller device, especially when you realize that most things you could do in the past with one hand now requires two handed usage, but the overall experience is positive.

Comparing the HTC Titan to the HTC Mozart (3.7 inch screen) and the Nexus S (4.0 inch screen) makes these older phones look like tiny gadgets.

Battery performance is good, while not outstanding. You get your 24 hours worth of usage as with most midlevel and highend devices. The 8 megapixel camera takes good shots in bright surroundings and provides face detection as well as a panorama mode, but on darker scenes the quality is only mediocre. In both cases there is nearly no shutter lag though, which is nice whenever you want to take pictures of moving objects.

Recording videos in 720p is also possible, but the result is not much better than older HTC Windows Phone models like the HTC Mozart. I especially hate the autofocus option which just constantly changes the focus and since this is so slow the result will be many seconds of blurry refocus video footage. Luckily you can deactivate autofocus.

Windows Phone 7.5 Mango

The HTC Titan is shipped with the latest iteration of Windows Phone OS called Mango. I have written a lengthy article about all the Mangofeatures some time ago, so you might want to read that review to get an in-depth look. Besides all the general Mango features HTC also added some of their own apps into the mix, like the HTC hub, HTC Watch and Locations (aka HTC Footprints). Furthermore you can download more HTC apps from the market. Most of them are nice but not really impressive. In example i still don’t get the HTC hub, which tries to resemble the HTC Sense look of Android devices sporting that weather clock. It just doesn’t make sense to have an own tile on your homescreen which you can open in order to get another kind of homescreen view.

Additional tabs will show news and stock data. But for all purposes you’ll find better standalone apps, therefore i’m not a big fan of this app.

HTC also wants to get a share of the media streaming market and therefore released HTC Watch as another way to get access to movies. The selection is quite small at this point and the prices are also not really cheap. HTC will have a hard time convincing the customers to use their streaming offer instead of the products from bigger players around.

HTC Maps lets you plan routes, check out the surroundings for points of interest and take pictures with additional geodata as well as notes.

This is not new as HTC Footprints was already available on old Windows Mobile and Android devices many years ago. Using the mediaserver app you can stream pictures and movies from your phone directly on your TV or any other compatible player. This is really a nice feature i would like to see as standard app on all devices.

Overall it seems to be hard for Windows Phone 7 manufacturers to really stand out, as on one side Microsoft doesn’t allow 3rd party skins (which is a good thing IMHO) or beefed up specs (dual core CPU, HD resolution) and on the other side many companies haven’t found out how to enhance their smartphones with apps that really make a difference. A good start would be to analyze the Windows Phone 7 market and identify weaknesses on the marketplace in order to capitalize on this situation. Back then when Android was very young HTC made the great decision to add their HTC Sense layer on Android. This made a lot of sense because Android 1.6 was looking very premature and had no chance against the Apple competition UI wise. On Windows Phone 7 there are many areas where you still just won’t find good 3rd party apps, and HTC as well as other manufacturers should try to fill those voids. With the current HTC app selection for Windows Phone 7 this is not really the case.

Another issue that you will realize after using Windows Phone devices for a longer period of time is the fact that all Microsoft apps and hubs are working perfectly fast and fluid, but most 3rd party apps have some performance issues. Startup times a pretty long and multitasking doesn’t work very well too. Many apps still don’t utilize the possibilities of the mango update. Interestingly there are some apps which support multitasking, but ONLY if you open them via the card view (long press back button). In example if i open Twitter and want to switch back to it later, doing so with the card view will bring me right back where i was before. But opening Twitter from the homescreen will result in a restart of the app. So the whole multitasking concept is not really fleshed out yet.

Even though i love the Windows Phone UI from day one, there are some problems which come with the very stylish looks. One issue is the screen estate usage. Windows Phone uses very large headers on their different apps like the peoples app or Twitter, and this leads to a large chunk of the screen being practically wasted when you want to go through a lot of content. In example viewing Twitter in landscape mode results in approximately 45% of the screen being used for the header and the navigation area at the bottom. Even on the 4.7 inch HTC Titan screen you won’t see more than 3 tweets at once.

I would love to see all those apps providing some way of easily hiding those huge headers. And while we are at it, there should also be some kind of font size option too. The updates view on the peoples hub which unifies Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook status updates of your friends has TINY fontsize.

The verdict

The HTC Titan is a very solid device with great built quality and a huge display. After using it for a while i’m convinced that having a smartphone with a 4.7 inch screen is perfectly fine, you get used to it much faster than you might think. Of course the HTC Titan is not as compact as other 3.7″ devices and you can’t put this thing into the pockets of tight jeans, but for me the pros of the size outweight the cons. Many people basically stopped using their laptops at home because most things can be done on the smartphone, and they will benefit the most from large screen sizes. Reading news and ebooks, browsing the web and general media consumption for a prolonged period of time is just very comfortable on the HTC Titan. This reminds me of HDTVs where most people were blown away by the size of a 42″ screen when they saw it the first time, but give them 3 weeks and they wonder if 50″ wouldn’t have been the better choice. The same could be said for smartphone users which think 3.7 ” is big enough, until they have used a 4.7 ” display once.

Actually Microsoft is to blame for one of the biggest flaws of the HTC Titan: The low WVGA resolution for such a large display. Windows Phone 7 would look incredible on a HD screen, but as for now this is not possible. There are some rumours floating around that this has to do with Nokia not being able to produce their Windows Phone flagship on time, and Microsoft didn’t want to let other manufacturers steal the thunder from Nokias Lumia announcement by releasing Windows Phones sporting HD screens. At this point it’s completely unclear when Microsoft will add HD resolution screen support though, and i hope this will happen pretty soon. The HTC Titan would be that much more impressive if the screen would deliver the full HD experience like the upcoming Android devices.

Windows Phone also needs to mature further especially when it comes to app selection and quality. Microsoft made some great strides in the past months but they need to do much more to become truly competitive. It’s not just the number of apps, but also the very scarce updates of existing apps. On iOS and Android you will have updates for some of your apps (not counting bugfixes) nearly every week, while on Windows Phone 7 there might be months without any app update.
One thing which could also be a potential problem that keeps customers from switching is the ecosystem. While Microsoft has an email service, Bing maps, Bing search and cloud storage it just isn’t up to par with Googles or Apples offerings at this time. I can imagine using a Windows Phone as main device, but i would really miss all those Google apps and their nearly perfect Android integration without a doubt. And i can imagine iOS users missing all the possibilities of iTunes and the apple cloud.
If you are not bound to a specific ecosystem and you want to have a modern device with a incredible looking mobile OS as well as a large screen for great content consumption then you should take a look at the HTC Titan.

Check out the HTC Titan gallery for more pictures.