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REVIEWED: HTC Surround - solid Windows phone

REVIEWED: HTC Surround - solid Windows phone

The Surround puts a small pullout speaker console where the pull-out keyboard is supposed to be, with shrill results

HTC Surround

HTC Surround

The Surround is another solid smartphone offering from HTC. If you like the Windows Phone 7 experience (what's not to like?) this handset will not impede that experience in any way.

See our complete primer and review of the Windows Phone 7 operating system that runs the Surround. I will focus here on the phone itself, discussing elements of the OS where appropriate.

The Surround is meant to be a WP7 smartphone built to play music--out loud. It features a pull-out speaker console with a pair of small speakers inside where you'd normally expect a physical keyboard to be. From the promo material: "the HTC Surround blurs the line between home and mobile entertainment." HTC even goes so far as to call it a "boom box." Really?

The Surround goes a long way design-wise to do something you just can't do in a form factor this size: make it sound good--without headphones.

The pullout console has a little button on the side that changes the sound from "tinny radio sound" to "super-tinny radio sound. That's two modes of high-fidelity sound power! HTC has another name for these modes: Dolby™ or SRS WOW surround sound. Of course if you like annoying people on the bus, torturing dogs or ridding your basement of roaches, this innovation might be for you.

That said, Surround owners will have plenty of music and video available to them at the Zune service, which you access through a dedicated hub on the phone's home screen.

Another Solid HTC Phone

Other than the surround-sound gimmick I found the Surround to be a solid phone, and very much in the HTC design tradition, which we like. The phone at 5.82 ounces (with battery) felt sturdy in my hand, and it had a nice, substantial weight to it. Its measurements are 4.71 inches tall, 2.42 inches across and just a hair over half an inch thick. The phone has a brushed metal housing around the front, and is backed with black matte plastic. A standard headphone jack can be found on the top left edge, while up and down volume buttons sit on the right edge, with the camera button below, near the bottom. On the bottom edge you'll find a standard mini USB port.

The three hardware buttons that Microsoft requires on all Windows phones--the "back", "Start (home screen)" and "search" buttons. I barely used the search button, and the other two buttons, which I used extensively, seemed to cover my navigation needs just fine, in combination with the onscreen navigation features provided for in Windows Phone 7.

Inside the phone is a 3G cellular radio that can handle top speeds of 7.2 mbps down and 384 kbps up on AT&T's network. With an upload speed ceiling that low, good luck playing games with friends or uploading large files to the cloud. There's also the normal GPS radio, Wi-Fi radio (supports 802.11 b, g and n), compass, proximity sensor and accelerometer.

Call quality

The voice speaker on the Surround sounds almost as good as the 'hi-fi' pullout speakers. In our test calls, the voice on the other end sounded clear and crisp and even had a little body to it, beyond the usual "radio voice" sound. The voice microphone was equally impressive. Not only did my voice similarly clear and full-bodied to the person on the other end, but the noise cancellation circuitry cut out almost all of the noisy traffic whizzing by me during the tests. My testing partner said it sounded as if I were calling from a quiet room.

I have given similar praise the speaker and mic used in the iPhone 4, and while the Surround doesn't quite match the iPhone in voice quality, it comes very close.

Using the (included) bud headphones-talk mic combo, the voice sounds clear. But you're no longer using the voice-cancelling microphone inside the phone, so to the person you're calling your voice will sound small and tinny.

Photos and video

I was impressed with the photos and video shot by the phone. They seemed like a step up in quality from the content I shoot with my HTC EVO 4G (Sprint), which serves to document a moment, but it's nothing you'd want to watch more than once. The Surround sports a 5 megapixel camera with autofocus and flash, which I found to create crisp still images and sharp, smooth video (click on the thumbnail to see the full-size image). Also, HTC made a great move by putting a dedicated physical button on the outside of the phone. This alone made the camera far easier to use than the one on my EVO, which requires you to hit a spot on the touchscreen to activate the camera.

However, the Surround lacks the front-facing camera of the EVO, so video conferencing must not be a core function to the music lovers HTC and AT&T hope will buy this phone.

Processor speed

The Surround sports a 1 MHz processor, which, I found, was used to full advantage for media playback. Watching HD video on the Surrounds 3.8-inch 480 x 800 WVGA screen was a nice experience--movement in the video flowed smoothly and the details seemed sharp.

Since HTC used the slide out for speakers, there's no physical keyboard on the Surround. So you're left with the touchscreen keyboard. I found that typing on the phone was at least as easy as on the iPhone 4. When you land on a key, the key pops up in a larger size so you know you're finder or thumb hit its mark. In a two line text message that I typed at normal speed and making no allowances for the keyboard I made a total of two errors.

One thing perplexes me though: Using the keyboard in landscape mode, it's easy to see that HTC did not use the whole width of the screen for the keyboard. There's about four millimeters of unused space left over on both sides. This could have been used for key width, making typing on the Surround's one keyboard that much easier.

I'm being pretty hard on HTC's "boom box" vision for the Surround, but I just can't see why you wouldn't be better off another HTC WP7 phone that uses the pullout-out panel for a physical keyboard. In other words, the Surround's main gimmick adds nothing to the value of the phone.


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Tags HTC Surroundconsumer electronicshtcWindowsPhoneswindows phone 7

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