Windows Phone Thoughts: Give up! We have you (HTC) Surrounded!

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Give up! We have you (HTC) Surrounded!

Posted by Don Tolson in "HTC Windows Phones" @ 08:00 AM

Battery

The battery in the Surround is a 1230mAh rechargeable Li-Ion polymer unit. According to HTC specifications, it should provide up to 240 mins (4 hours) of talk time and 275 hours standby (according to the specs). A lot of what you get from phone batteries these days depends upon how you use it. For me, I find I can usually get about 2 days of use from a single battery charge on what I would say is 'light' use (a couple of phone calls, push email, some Internet browsing, etc.)

Overall, the power management functions in WP7 seem to be better than what we saw in Windows Mobile. From what I can gather from 'visual' signals in the icons in the notification bar, it appears that WiFi and other 'battery burners' are turned off when the unit is put in sleep mode. When you wake the unit up, they appear to restart and reconnect with their sources. Using the GPS in Bing Maps, etc. also drains the battery pretty quickly.

Screen

The screen on the Surround is a 3.8 inch, 480 x 800 WVGA capacitive touch screen, with multi-point touch capability. That means it supports pinch-to-zoom strokes etc. The touch sensors on the screen are very accurate and precise, which provides a very smooth responsiveness to the O/S -- easily on par with iPhones, and better than most of the Android phones I've played with.

The display is very bright -- easily readable in direct sunlight. WP7 comes configured with auto brightness control using an ambient light sensor located at the top of the Surround. It seems to work very well and unobtrusively, since I don't notice that the screen changing intensity even when sitting up in bed and reading vs. reading in the office or outside. In all situations, it seems to pick just the right setting to make things easily visible.

Camera

The Surround's camera is a 5 megapixel colour camera with autofocus and flash. It also supports 720p HD video recording.

After all the neat features and settings available on the X10's camera, the software provided on the Surround seems pretty sparse.

Figure 26: The camera operates in landscape mode only and the settings provided (see above) are pretty minimal. Each one of the highlighted (in white) entries is selectable to show the various options.

Figure 27: Here are the options available for the Effect setting. It's a bit odd that there isn't a red-eye reduction/elimination setting since I would think this would be a common problem with phone cameras.

Figure 28: Here's an example of an indoor shot, taken with available office lighting (no sunlight) and no flash. The colour balance was set to automatic and is pretty accurate, given that the lights above are 'warm' fluorescents.

Figure 29: This is the original of the shot you saw as my background wallpaper on the lock screen. No retouching here (except resizing for the article). This is exactly as it was taken by the phone.

Figure 30: Same shot, taken during a typical winter day in Victoria. Yeah, not as much colour as in the spring, but at least there's no snow! (It's the middle of December when I took this...)

Figure 31: Here you can see the focal length of the camera, where some a few of the pods in the forefront are out of focus but the ones a little further back are in focus. I used the 'automatic' setting here, so I think it was looking for focus somewhere in the middle of the frame.

There is a separate button for the camera on the right side (bottom) of the phone, which allows the camera to be turned on even if the phone is in sleep mode. It takes a couple of seconds for everything to get ready to take a picture, and that's not too bad when compared to most digital point-and-shoot cameras these days. Once you frame your picture in the screen viewfinder, you press the button again to take the picture. The autofocus is different from previous versions that I've worked with, in that it works automatically (and pretty fast!) when you take the picture -- there isn't a need to press the button once to get the focus, then another time to take the picture. This can be a real advantage when you're just trying to capture that special, fleeting moment.

Audio

This is supposedly the big selling feature of the Surround. The marketing brochures hype the 'Pop Up Cinema' capabilities "...with a richer listening and viewing experience". Even the back cover boasts about the Dolby Mobile and SRS WOW HD technologies built in. But do the slideout speakers really make a difference?

Well, to my ears, not much. Yes, the sound is a little clearer and there seems to be better response at the top end, but you're not going to get much thundering bass from this thing no matter what you do. (Unless you hook up the headset jack to an exterior 7.1 amplifier with sub-woofer). I know Bose and others have done some amazing things with small speaker technology and psych-acoustics, but that's just not audible here.

Figure 32: The Audio Enhancer application lets you adjust the sound effects applied to music and video sound. The equalizer option at the bottom presents sliders at low, mid, and high frequencies so you can adjust each to your own liking.

I tried all of the various combinations of sound enhancements -- both with and without the extra speakers extended. I didn't notice a lot of difference between the Dolby and SRS settings, but both definitely sounded like more 'reverb' was being added than in 'No Effects'. Most noticeable was trying Dolby or SRS with headphones plugged in. In these cases, the main voice of the song (e.g. the lead singer or solo artist) seemed to have their voice sent way into the backgound, almost as if a track were missing from the mix or one of the stereo channels wasn't working.

Video

I tested all of our usual video files on the Surround and they all worked perfectly. No jumping or stalls and perfect synchronization of sound and picture. This included DivX, MPEG4, h.264 and WMV files at various sampling rates. The only ones that wouldn't run were an AVCHD 1080p clip and (funnily enough) a Quicktime 14mps, 1080p .MOV file.

I also browse YouTube quite a bit using the provided link to the mobile website, and there has never been a problem with display or synchronization of any of the files at any resolution.

Conclusion

Am I sorry I bought the Surround? Not a chance! I couldn't wait to get my hands on a WP7 phone and start working with the O/S. It does have a completely different look and feel from what I was used to in WM6 and Android (which I found very similar to each other and the iPhone) and I'm really enjoying using the phone on a day-to-day basis and showing it off to friends and family.

Is there any benefit to the Surround slide-out speakers? Not really -- I could happily do without them, or rather have them replaced with a slide out keyboard. However, this was the price to be paid for being one of the first on the block with a WP7 phone.

Don is a Solution Architect for Fujitsu Consulting, specializing in Enterprise Mobility, Security and Privacy. When not bugging the local Rogers retailers about the availability of the latest and greatest handsets (which they never have), he's helping his sons and wife fully appreciate the wonderful, social side of cell phone ownership :-) (By the way, I LOVE Microsoft's commercials for WP7 -- the "Get off the phone sooner and enjoy life" focus is right on.)

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