capsule review

HTC Radar 4G Review: Stylish and Affordable Windows Phone

At a Glance
  • HTC Radar 4G

    PCWorld Rating

    With a chic yet solid design, steady performance, and an easy-to-use interface, the HTC Radar is an excellent Windows Phone.

The HTC Radar 4G ($100 with a new two-year contract from T-Mobile; price as of November 9, 2011) isn't a big leap forward for the Windows Phone 7 platform. The Radar 4G does ship with the latest software version, Mango, and it supports T-Mobile's HSPA+ network. But otherwise, the Radar relies mainly on an array of last year's specs. That isn't to say it is a bad phone. Its stylish design and zippy performance, paired with the clean, easy-to-use Mango interface and reliable coverage on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network makes it a solid, yet affordable Windows Phone.

Solid Hardware

The HTC Radar is a stunning piece of hardware. Like most other high-end HTC phones, it has a solid yet attractive unibody aluminum build. What makes it stand out, though, is its all-white color scheme. The white hardware is quite striking against the bold color-block look of Mango. Measuring 4.74 by 2.42 by 0.43 inches and weighing 4.83 ounces, the Radar won't take up a lot of space in your pocket or bag, nor will it weigh you down. Despite the low price tag, the Radar feels sturdily made and durable.

The 3.8-inch display seems a bit on the small side when compared to the giant 4.3-inch and 4.5-inch displays we've seen on recent smartphones, but it is larger than the iPhone 4S's (at 3.5 inches). I prefer a slightly smaller display because my hands are fairly small and those 4.5-inch giants feel a bit unwieldy.

The Radar's hardware includes two letdowns: Its nonremovable battery and its limited storage capacity (there's no microSD slot)--8GB of ROM and 512MB of RAM. Fortunately, you get 25GB of free cloud storage via Microsoft SkyDrive, so you can upload some of your photos, videos and music there.

Windows Phone Mango Is Delicious

Local Scout on Bing
I've covered the Mango update quite a bit, but I'll briefly review some of its best features. For the most part, Mango looks and behaves similarly to the first version of Windows Phone 7, but it offers some very significant additions. For a general overview of Windows Phone 7, go here. For a first look at the new features in Mango, go here.

With Mango, you finally get true multitasking with third-party apps, as well as Internet Explorer 9. You can quickly switch among recently used applications by pressing and holding the back button. All of your open apps are elegantly displayed in chronological order based on when you last used them.

In the messaging app, you can easily switch between SMS, Facebook chat, and Windows Live Messenger within the same thread. This concept sounds helpful, but I don't use Facebook chat or Windows Live Messenger. At least for me, AIM or Google GTalk integration would be much more useful.

All of your Hubs have been enhanced with sweet new features. For example, the People Hub connects Facebook, Twitter, Outlook, LinkedIn, and Windows Live Messenger in one place, so you don't have to jump from app to app to communicate with your friends and colleagues. You can also group and categorize your contacts based on how you think of them--friends, coworkers, enemies, or whatever.

The Picture Hub now has a tagging system, which simplifies the task of organizing your photos. When you share your photos on Facebook or SkyDrive, the Photo Hub automatically detects any photo of a person and asks whether you want to tag it. It doesn't handle face recognition, however, so it can't perform automatic tagging.

The Bing search engine gets a complete makeover. A new feature called Local Scout uses GPS to recognize where you are and then provides you with hyperlocal search results based on your preferences. If you want to find a restaurant, Local Scout will list restaurants in the Eat+Drink guide that lie within a 25-mile radius of your current location.

Another cool and useful feature in Bing is Music search. Hold your phone up to a speaker, and Bing will identify the track that's playing and give you information about the artist, the song, and where to buy it--sort of like Shazam on iOS and Android.

Visual search resembles Google Goggles to some extent, except that it's built into the Windows Phone platform. Suppose that you're in a bookstore, you see a book, and you want to know more about it. If you point your phone's camera at the book's cover, Bing will search for reviews, prices, and more information about the book.

And of course, you get all of the great features of Windows Phone 7 such as Microsoft Office (you can create, edit, and view Excel spreadsheets, Word docs, and PowerPoint presentations), XBox Live, and the Zune media player. The Radar also has a few added apps, including Netflix, Slacker Radio, T-Mobile TV, HTC Watch (for renting videos, a lesser Netflix), and the HTC Hub.

Camera

The Radar's 5-megapixel camera snapped pretty good pictures. The camera has a f/2.2 lens and a backside-illuminated sensor, which is useful for shots in low-light conditions. My outdoor photos had nice color accuracy and sharp detail, but looked a little muted when I loaded them on my PC. The cityscape picture, to the left, was taken at 4:30 p.m., as the sun was setting. The picture turned out nicely, with the Radar capturing details in shadows and nicely contrasting the different levels of light. When I tried to take a photo an hour later, however, it came out muddy and grainy.
The camera does have a flash, but it blows out detail and colors (as cell phone camera flashes are wont to do) while lighting up your subject.

Unfortunately, the Radar's camera can't record 1080p video; it maxes out at 720p. Still, it handled fast-moving action quite well without any artifacting and only a bit of pixelation.

Performance

The Radar is the first Mango phone to support T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G network. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC Amaze 4G, it doesn't support T-Mobile's faster HSPA+ 42 network; instead, it supports HSPA+ 14.4. I measured data speeds in three different areas of San Francisco and achieved an average upload speed of 1.04 mbps and an average download speed of 2.64 mbps. That's pretty fast, but we've seen much swifter speeds on Verizon's LTE network. For comparison purposes, the Droid Razr achieved 1.98 mbps for download speeds and 3.01 mbps for upload speeds

In a world of dual-core phones, a phone with a 1GHz processor seems a bit dated. But don't let the specs cloud your judgment: The Qualcomm Snapdragon processor was zippy enough for browsing the Web, handling multiple open apps, and gaming via XBox Live.

Call quality over T-Mobile's network was very good. My friends told me that I sounded clear over the line, with ample volume. One of the people I called sounded a bit faint, but that may have been due to their phone or network.

We haven't had a chance to lab test battery life formally (we'll update this article once the results are in); but in my hands-on testing, the Radar 4G kept a charge through a whole day of heavy use.

Bottom Line

The HTC Radar doesn't have a dual-core processor or the biggest display around, but its high-quality design and consistently smooth performance makes it a great choice. If you're upgrading to your first smartphone or not really liking Android, give Windows Phone a chance. If you're a tinkerer or advanced user, though, you won't like Windows Phone Mango's limited customization options.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    With a chic yet solid design, steady performance, and an easy-to-use interface, the HTC Radar is an excellent Windows Phone.

    Pros

    • Stylish, all-white aluminum design
    • Windows Phone Mango is clean and easy to use
    • Crisp display

    Cons

    • Nonremovable battery
    • Limited storage
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