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Windows Phone 7 - HTC 7 Surround

Windows Phone 7 - HTC 7 Surround

Platform: Wireless Devices
Category: Cell Phones

The cell phone as we know it is dead. At least that is what the new wave of phones and messaging devices are telling us. Over the last few weeks I had the chance to play around with the new HTC 7 Surround Windows phone. To be honest it really is way more than a normal cell phone could ever want to be. The phone is available on the TELUS network here in western Canada under a few different plans.

Right out of the box you will find the usual items necessary to make the little mobile device run. Included in the box is the phone itself, 1 lithium ion battery, USB sync and charging cable, AC adapter, and stereo headset. The sync cable does dual duty and can be plugged into either your PC or straight into a wall socket via the AC adapter.

The HTC 7 Surround is quite like most other smart phones out there, having the same similar shape and size. Although it has one feature that is rather unique. It's a slider, which hides not a keyboard, but a quarter-inch aluminium speaker bar and integrated kickstand. Combining this with the phone's heavy Zune feel makes it a mini entertainment system. Mix in Dolby Mobile and SRS Wow virtual surround audio processing with 16GB of internal memory, and this package has some serious on-the-go media function.

The phone I got to play with was predominately black with a dark grey bezel that had a nice anodized shine to it. I remarked to myself that it was a sharp looking device. At almost 6 ounces I immediately found it to be quite heavy, having a very solid build quality to it. I liked the heaviness; it felt as if I would not break it the first time I dropped it. Comparatively it makes most of the new Samsung phones feel almost toy like, with their somewhat plastic feel. The massive almost 4 inch screen was also gorgeous to look at, but I must admit it made me nervous. I definitely did not want to scratch or damage it in any way; luckily there are plastic sleeve covers that can go on almost seamlessly. The screen resolution is 400 x 800 and it can display up to a 720p image, which really can wow most people using it.

I started playing with the phone's 5 megapixel autofocus camera, and thought the pictures I took looked quite good. The display really had beautiful colours, was very bright and I found it easy on my eyes. I didn’t have to strain to see anything properly and thought the images had great detail. I found the camera amazingly fast and responsive, and the Surround seemed to be up to any challenge I put on it. My pictures ranged from stills, such as leaves and smiling faces, to moving objects like cars and trucks — they all looked great until I began to transfer them to my PC. I found most pictures seemed to lose a great amount of detail and some colour. I was a bit disappointed with them until I realized how small these internal parts are. Your standard 5 mega pixel camera has got way more horsepower in terms of processing with many having more than a few dedicated processors. I also thought the sharpness was a bit off since most of my pics had certain softness to them. Don't get me wrong, for a phone camera it's a solid effort since it loads up very quickly and can snap off pictures with equal or better speed than any other phone camera I’ve tried.

The HTC 7 Surround’s controls/functions are well laid out and easy to navigate. On the phone's right side are the volume and camera control, with the wake/sleep button and headphone jack sitting on top. The Micro-USB is conveniently located on the device's bottom side, and finally its camera and flash is on its back side. There is no button or pad to make the phone slide (about a quarter of an inch) to the side, but it moves solidly and easily at the same time. Sliding reveals the speaker bar and the surround button.

After initially charging the phone I found the battery life to be poor. With zero surfing and limited play time the battery lasted only a day and a half. I thought this was terrible at first — what happens when I really start playing with this phone and its many features? I did some tinkering and after I synced with my PC and Xbox Live I turned off the Wi-Fi function. This really made a difference on the battery, as I got over three days of life with some solid play time included.

The Windows 7 OS is quite easy to use and figure out. After signing in to my Xbox Live account it pulled all my stats, achievements and hotmail account details. I loved how easy it found everything I needed. The virtual keyboard, although wonky at times, became second nature to use after some time, especially inputting friend details or typing out Word associated items.

One feature I really didn’t care for was the speaker bar and virtual surround button. While the screen is great for watching HD quality movies or video, the speaker bar left me thinking it was a bit of a waste. At no time did I get the feeling of having a surround sound experience while watching the little device; in fact I couldn’t completely discern the virtual surround from regular audio. Hitting the button did yield some kind of difference, perhaps a bit of muting, softening the sound a tad? I can understand the concept of having the speaker bar, but it really never does live up to its billing. Otherwise the sound generated from the bar is quite clean and clear, even at high volumes. Like some of the handheld video game systems I believe listening to your HTC 7 Surround is best done through the stereo headphones.

One other thing of note is the phone's kickstand. This little item basically enables the device to stand on its side so you can watch the screen without having to hold it. It’s good idea but, for me it’s an item that is rarely used. I like the idea of having hands free movie watching, perhaps while sitting on plane or train but it’s somewhat useless otherwise.

Here is a brief list of features and functions of the HTC 7 Surround:

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