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Review: HTC Velocity 4G

The HTC Velocity 4G is the first phone to work on Telstra's new 4G network

The HTC Velocity 4G is the first phone to work on Telstra's LTE enablement of its Next G network. Is the extra speed worth all the fuss?

Telstra launches HTC Velocity, more 4G phones coming
Australia's first 4G smartphone is the HTC Velocity 4G
Just how fast is the HTC Velocity 4G?

The need for speed

The key feature of the HTC Velocity is obviously 4G. The 4G network the phone uses is best described as Telstra's LTE enablement of its Next G network: it runs on the LTE 1800MHz network band but "switches across" to the Next G network when 4G coverage is not available. The Velocity 4G is just the second product to work on this network: Telstra released the 4G USB modem in October last year.

If you're wondering how fast 4G is, the answer is very fast. Officially, Telstra says the Velocity 4G will provide typical download speeds of between 2 megabits per second (Mbps) and 40Mbps, and typical upload speeds of between 1Mbps and 10Mbps. Using the Speedtest app in a 4G coverage zone, we regularly achieved speeds of almost 40Mbps. However, 3G speeds are also impressive: in a full 3G coverage zone we regularly managed speeds of between 13Mbps and 19Mbps, which is much faster than you'll get on most other smartphones including Apple's iPhone 4S, and Samsung's Galaxy Nexus.

If you're not interested in numbers, the benefits of the Velocity 4G mean mobile Web pages and YouTube videos load faster, it will take less time to upload mobile photos to Facebook and Twitter, e-mail attachments will be downloaded quicker and files can be uploaded to DropBox faster than most other smartphones. You get the picture.

To achieve the fastest possible speeds, however, you'll need to be using the Velocity 4G in a 4G coverage zone. At the current point in time, Telstra's 4G coverage is available in all eight capital cities (5km from GPO) and their respective airports in Australia, along with 80 regional and metropolitan centres (3km from city centre). In other words, coverage is rather limited: for example, we couldn't always manage to get 4G in North Sydney, only around five kilometres from Sydney's Martin Place GPO (General Post Office). We occasionally saw 2-3 bars of 4G, but other times during testing we only managed a 3G connection. While Telstra will quickly point to the fact that the Velocity 4G is also faster than its rivals even when not in a 4G coverage zone, we don't feel the speed difference is significant enough to warrant choosing it over some of its competitors.

Design and display

Putting its 4G capabilities aside, the HTC Velocity 4G looks like just another HTC Android phone. Admittedly, this is not a bad thing: the Velocity 4G has an attractive gloss black bezel, tapered edges and an aluminum rear battery cover that screams premium. HTC phones are well renowned for excellent build quality and the Velocity 4G is definitely not an exception. There is a little more plastic on the Velocity 4G than many of HTC's previous phones, but this in no way cheapens the look or feel of the device, even if it does make fingerprints impossible to ignore.

The Velocity 4G is a large phone but the weight is heavy enough to give it a solid feel without making it a burden to carry around. It's slightly thicker than the iPhone 4S, but the tapered edges make it comfortable to hold. All in all, this is a very well constructed smartphone.

The HTC Velocity 4G has a large 4.5in qHD touchscreen with a resolution of 540x960. Admittedly it's not as high res as the iPhone 4S or the Galaxy Nexus but the screen is bright and clear and displays crisp text. It's definitely no slouch and is one of the better displays currently available on the market.

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Software and performance

The HTC Velocity 4G looks and works like much like most other HTC phones. It runs the Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" OS and is skinned with HTC's Sense UI. While Sense has plenty of eye candy including fancy scrolling animations and home screen widgets, we much prefer Google's vanilla UI. This will come down to a matter of personal opinion though: if you like the software on HTC's current Android phones then you'll definitely appreciate it on the Velocity 4G.

All the usual features of HTC Sense are available on the Velocity 4G. You can remove home screens if you don't use them (there are seven by default), the lock screen comes with four customisable shortcuts, along with the ability to display a widget in the middle of the screen, and there's also a 3D rotating effect when scrolling between home screens. Your eight most recently opened applications, quick settings toggles and a link to all phone settings all remain at the top of the notifications panel.

A 1.5GHz dual-core processor makes the Velocity 4G a fast phone, but performance should only improve once it is upgraded to the latest version of Google's Android software, 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich". One of the major improvements in the new software is Web page rendering and faster loading times in the browser. Telstra says the Velocity 4G should be upgraded to ICS "within six weeks", though we wouldn't hold our breath for that exact time frame.

Camera, battery life, Australian availability

The HTC Velocity 4G has an excellent camera. It's an 8-megapixel, backside-illuminated sensor that promises better low light photos. We found the dual-LED flash washed out many of our photos, but colour reproduction is a highlight. The camera app starts almost instantly and is quick to snap successive photos, though it's admittedly not as quick as the shutter on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The camera doubles as a full HD 1080p video recorder, while the 1.2-megapixel front camera impressively records 720p HD video.

The HTC Velocity 4G has below average battery life: it struggled to last a full day with constant 4G coverage, though you should be able to get almost a day of use if you're in a regular 3G coverage zone. We've become accustomed to charging our smartphones before the end of the day, and the Velocity 4G is no exception.

The HTC Velocity 4G is available for $0 upfront on Telstra's $79 Freedom Connect plan, which includes $800 worth of calls and MMS, unlimited SMS and 2GB of data per month. month. The Velocity 4G is also available on a number of business plans.