Nokia's Lumia 900 proved a crucial release for Windows Phone, with its pairing of striking form and a very low entry price making the operating system appealing for a much wider base than past models had attracted.
The HTC Titan II launched with the Lumia 900, offering another headline Windows Phone option for AT&T's 4G LTE customers, but what makes this a potential standout option?
The Titan II looks largely similar in form to the original HTC Titan, which launched alongside the Mango release of the OS last fall, albeit with a more obvious lip at the base of the display – a light upwards curve where the virtual back, home, and search buttons are found.
As indicated by the title, the Titan II is a sizable handset, with a 4.7-inch display that luckily features little bezel along the sides, keeping it easily grasped.
The SuperLCD screen is bright and attractive, though at 800x480 resolution, the pixel density (199 ppi) leaves something to be desired.
A screen this large demands a much higher resolution, though the gorgeous Windows Phone interface still looks great on the display, with text and the large colored boxes appearing bold and beautiful as you swipe through pages. At times, the individual pixels can be quite clear, but it's not as common as expected.
The Titan II has a little heft, weighing in at six ounces, and it's 5.12 inches tall and 2.76 inches across -though it feels pretty svelte at just 0.39 inches thick. That said, the Titan II is no physical showstopper like the Lumia 900 is.
The Lumia 900 surprises and delights on first glance, the Titan II looks more akin to an average grey and black slate handset, with curved corners and a lightly textured plastic backing that feels good in the hand.
Flipping the phone around reveals the HTC Titan II's standout feature – the 16-megapixel back camera lens, which arrives in stark contrast to the standard 8-megapixel lenses seen on most smartphones, including the Lumia 900. We'll dig into the camera's performance later in this review, though it's fair to say that double the megapixels doesn't necessarily mean twice-as-sharp photos.
Next to the lens itself are two flash LED lights, as well as the small speaker grate. Due to the raised profile on the back to accommodate the lens, which still protrudes out, the phone does not lay fully flat - and the lens is perhaps prone to scratching as a result.
At the bottom of the back, a small plastic grate can be slipped off to reveal the SIM card. The cover is easily removed with a bit of force, though it did come off once in a pocket during testing, and the phone shuts down when the grate is popped back on.
Sadly, the HTC Titan II lacks upgradeable storage – you're limited to the built-in 16GB of space, minus what's taken up by the OS and installed apps.
The large volume rocker is found on the upper right side of the phone, while that side also houses a dedicated camera shutter button. Holding this button in on the main menu also allows direct access to the camera and video app.
On the left side is a mini-USB input, while the top of the phone houses a physical power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
AT&T offers the HTC Titan II at a price of $199.99 with a two-year contract, with the full contract-free pricing coming in at $549.99. It's a noticeable step up from the Lumia 900, which comes in at $100 less on both fronts, even with the same 16GB of built-in storage.
While the iOS and Android operating systems boast a lot of visual similarities, the current version of Windows Phone is truly a one-of-a-kind experience - and the large, bright tiles prove eye-catching, though perhaps not as practical for power users as rows of smaller icons.
The lock screen displays the day, date, and time with large lettering, as well as a calendar notification below and simple icon notifications for new emails or text messages. While incoming text messages display a brief preview atop the lock screen, email text cannot be seen while the phone is locked.
Icons for battery life, cellular, and Wi-Fi connections are seen at the top of the lock screen, though swiping up on the display reveals the main menu, which is where the UI really comes to life.
Large tiles are displayed in side-by-side columns, with the large squares used for everything from core functions – calling, text messages, email, camera, and more – to apps downloaded from the marketplace.
Most apps take up just one spot on the screen, though others – including the HTC Hub, which displays the local weather – fill both columns. These tiles can be pinned to the main screen and easily rearranged, and (refreshingly) even built-in apps can be cleared from the main screen.
However, every installed app is available from the listing accessed by swiping left or tapping the arrow on the upper right.
Many tiles offer live information at your fingertips, such as the weather, a currently played album cover, or your Facebook cover photo, and are constantly updated. It's not only helpful, but the fluid icons make the interface even more attractive – especially the Pictures tile, which alternates through Camera Roll photos.
The interface's color scheme is nicely customizable to match your moods and preferences, letting you choose between white and black backdrops, as well as several different colors for the primary tiles (however, some have their own unchangeable tile colors).
The size of the tiles always remains the same, and while some tiles do offer live info bursts, you cannot install widgets or shrink down the tiles themselves. As such, those who want a load of options on screen at once may be disappointed at having to scroll down to see more than about eight tiles in one glance. Windows Phone is tuned more for form than function, but the form really is something special.
While many apps run in the background, with all open apps accessed by holding down the back button and swiping between them, others always display an intro or loading screen when opened and may reload information.
It's sad that not every app supports multitasking, but it's something that still pops up regularly on the OS.
Many other smartphones these days pack dual or quad-core processors, but while the HTC Titan II only offers a single-core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon processor with 512MB of RAM in tow, the relatively slim specs don't shine through in usage.
The phone performed admirably throughout, with screens flipping quickly and apps loading in a breeze. To borrow a phrase from a major competitor, the Windows Phone operating system "just works," and it does so quite well on the HTC Titan II.
Contacts and calling
Contacts on Windows Phone is handled via the People app, which links up to various online accounts -including Windows Live, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Outlook, and LinkedIn - and pulls together contact info along with tweets and status updates. It also displays images of friends pulled from social networks on the outside tile.
Expectedly, this can create a long list of contacts for folks you might not need at a moment's notice (especially online pals), but People lets you sort the master list to leave out contacts from certain sources.
Adding multiple social networks may well result in multiple profiles coming over for a single person. But, you can link them together easily by clicking the chain icon at the bottom of a contact page, and finding the other contacts to combine as one.
As noted above, the People app also includes quick access to updates from social networks like Twitter and Facebook, as well as a centralized list of your own recent updates across networks, though heavy users will want to use the dedicated free Twitter and Facebook apps (from the marketplace) to keep up with friends' updates.
Calling on the HTC Titan II is handled via the Phone app, which is listed as AT&T on the home screen tile.
The dialer uses an elegantly simplistic interface with large digits that cumulatively take up more than half of the screen, and typed-in numbers can be saved locally from here as well.
The Phone app also displays a history listing when opened, and allows quick access to the People app for looking up contacts.
Call quality proved quite good on AT&T's 4G LTE network, with generally clear-sounding results coming through the earpiece. The only nagging issue is that you'll need to have the center of the wide phone's earpiece directly matched up to your ear, as being even slightly off-center results in a notably muted listening result. The speakerphone function works admirably, as well, with little distortion coming through.
Messaging of all sorts is handled via Windows Phone's dedicated Messaging app, which allows access to SMS/MMS text and picture messages, as well as Facebook Chat with friends.
A Threads listing displays your existing message history with contacts, and tapping the plus button down below initiates a new message, letting you type in a note with the virtual keyboard, tap the microphone icon to speak one in, or hit the paperclip icon to attach a photo. Videos are curiously not available to be sent via MMS.
Swiping over to the Online header reveals access to Facebook chat functionality, letting you set your online status and interact with pals while on your phone.
Using the keyboard
The HTC Titan II utilizes Windows Phone's virtual keyboard for typing, and the large display provides enough space for the individual keys to be comfortably spaced, avoiding the frequent typo issues seen in many other handsets.
As you type, a list of suggested words appears above the keyboard, letting you tap one to complete the thought, though the keyboard also will auto-correct typos along the way and does a pretty solid job of choosing the appropriate term.
Email and multiple accounts
A separate Email app is included to handle such accounts, and it can be loaded up with Windows Live, Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo! Mail, or other POP or IMAP accounts.
As with many such Windows Phone apps, the inbox of the Email app uses large, scrollable text to display your recent messages, and tapping on one brings up the full message, which usually utilizes much smaller fonts. Flipping from email to email is simply performed by tapping the arrows at the bottom of the screen.
Luckily, those users with multiple accounts can benefit from a Linked Inbox that takes shape once additional email accounts are synced, giving you access to a unified location with all of your latest emails in tow.
The HTC Titan II takes advantage of AT&T's 4G LTE network, but sadly, the network proved unreliable and underwhelming while used across the city of Chicago.
Websites often loaded slowly, reception dropped on multiple occasions while on an above-ground train or when 30 stories high in an office building, and the streaming music app Spotify yielded very long pauses between songs at times as the network struggled to stay sufficient.
Testing network speed numbers on a Windows Phone isn't quite as easy as on other handsets. No Speedtest.net app exists, while the website version is inaccessible due to Internet Explorer 9's lack of Flash support here. And the once-useful BandWidth app is now missing from the marketplace.
We tried the Free Speed Test app from the marketplace and recorded average download speeds in the 2-3Mbps range, with upload speeds around 1.5-1.8Mbps.
The numbers seem a bit suspect, but bear out in practice as far as AT&T's 4G LTE network falling short of Verizon's by a wide margin, at least in this area.
Internet Explorer 9
Even when connected to a Wi-Fi network, though, the included Internet Explorer 9 isn't one of our favorite mobile browsers. Pages render slowly and shift around as they load the last bits (much to your chagrin), and we experienced issues with images not loading properly on some sites.
Headlines on some pages appeared awkwardly enlarged, while elsewhere, the part of the page initially seen on the display looked fine, but scrolling downwards yielded issues with incompletely loaded pages and occasional glitchy results - so much so that the browser crashed at one point.
It's helpful to have the option to choose between defaulting to mobile or full versions of websites in the settings menu, though, and the settings screen also lets you pin individual websites to the home screen, access tabs, and scroll through and access favorites.
As noted above, Flash playback isn't an option on Windows Phone as of yet, which is disappointing, but not a situation unfamiliar to iPhone users. The third-party FlashVideo app in the marketplace allows playback and saving of Flash videos, but no official support has been released to date.
No doubt, the 16-megapixel back camera is meant to be a selling point of the HTC Titan II, putting it at double the megapixels of the average modern smartphone (including the Nokia Lumia 900) and on par with just a couple other options. The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera is meant only for video chats and quick self-shots, and doesn't provide a big step up from the average front lens.
Like all Windows Phones, the HTC Titan II includes a dedicated shutter button on the lower right side of the handset, which can be held halfway to focus before clicking all the way in to take the shot. Photos can also be taken by tapping anywhere on the screen in the app, which is a helpful addition, as holding in the shutter button may jitter the phone a bit.
At maximum settings, the Titan II takes 16MP photos at 4640x3480, though you can also snag 12MP (4000x3000), 10MP (3648x2736), and even smaller shots all the way down to VGA (640x480) images.
With stellar outdoor lighting, the HTC Titan II can take beautifully detailed shots, as we discovered in particular when snapping photos of flowers and plants. However, larger scene shots didn't flex much of the camera's extra muscle - appearing much like the 8MP shots we've seen on other handsets.
Indoors, the results are expectedly hit-or-miss. We've snagged sharp photos and blurry scenes alike, though certainly the dual LED Flash provides a nice boost for when lighting is low. Other handsets (like the iPhone 4S) seem to handle low-light shots better when the flash is disengaged, though.
Few phones offer this wide of an array of options, though, letting you adjust aspects like white balance, brightness, contrast, and saturation on top of optionally setting the ISO manually. The Titan II also includes red eye reduction, image stabilizer, and metering mode options, as well as face detection and smile capturing.
And the list of effects goes far beyond simple grayscale, sepia, and negative options, featuring a total of 10 on-the-fly filters that includes the pictured Posterize (below) and others that aim to provide more vintage-esque shots or faux-overexposed photos.
The 16-megapixel camera may not produce photos that appear twice as sharp or detailed as many other phones' results, but numbers never tell the whole story in such situations.
In many ways, the camera seems on par with those of other current smartphones, but the wider variety of options and dedicated shutter button make it a reasonable replacement for a point-and-shoot for casual photographers.
Many handsets aim for 1080p high-resolution video capture and tend to fall a bit short in delivery. The HTC Titan II sticks with 720p, and considering the solid job the camera does on the still image side, it's not that surprising that the phone shoots stellar video as well.
The Camera app is used for both still photos and video, with a little icon on the lower right swapping between functionality, and you'll shoot video using only the physical shutter button. Just three resolution options are available: 720p (1280x720), VGA (640x480), and QVGA (320x240).
However, the same wide array of still picture options are available for video, including the 10 visual filters, white balance, brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness settings, and a video stabilizer function. You can also swap between stereo and mono recording and enable continuous focus to keep the shot clear as you move about.
In the video samples we shot at 720p resolution, the handset performed well, with very detailed images of relatively close objects (though very tight shots didn't focus as well as desired) and good color and clarity throughout.
Both LED back lights can be engaged from the settings menu for use in low light filming, and do a pretty great job of illuminating what's in view – so much so that you can shoot in total darkness without an additional light source and still pull surprising detail from the shot.
As is standard on Windows Phones, music and videos are accessed through the Zune hub, which is modeled after Microsoft's own now-retired brand of portable media players. The Zune app holds not only your files transferred from a computer, but also your own photos and videos shot on the device.
It's an attractive app that includes easy access to recently used media, displaying album covers for local files and even songs heard on Spotify, as well as a listing of newly added content. Getting your content on the phone requires the use of the free Zune Music + Videos app on PC or Windows Phone 7 Connector on Mac, as simple drag-and-drop functionality isn't included.
Music playback is up to par via headphones on the standard settings, though the HTC Titan II includes SRS enhancement and equalizer options for customizing the sound. Expectedly, playback via the tiny speaker grate next to the camera lens isn't remarkable, but it does reach a decent enough volume for sharing a clip with a pal.
However, no matter the setting, we found that songs were consistently skipping the first half-second or so of playback. It's an odd quirk that provides some irritation when listening to albums, and something that needs to be fixed ASAP.
The Zune app also includes a built-in FM radio function, which is a nice touch, albeit one that only works via headphones (as they're reportedly used as an antenna). It's a dead-simple app, though the playback is stellar even indoors, and the screen lists the station and track info on the screen.
Battery life and connectivity
As with many Windows Phones, the 1730 mAh battery held within the HTC Titan II is sadly non-removable – and the talk time rating of 4.3 hours (12.2 days of standby time) didn't inspire a whole lot of confidence about the handset's longevity.
But the battery proves surprisingly capable with moderate use of the phone, as we were able to get through a day with a handful of calls and texts, regular email and occasional browser usage, and listening to locally stored music.
As usual, heavy use of the 4G LTE connection for calls or data can drain the battery with ease, and the HTC Titan II does become quite warm with steady use, which is a bit disconcerting.
But as long as you're not spending the entire day with your eyes trained on the screen, the battery puts up a pretty good fight. Optional battery-saving features are built into the OS if you wish to turn off email retrieval and multitasking to save precious battery percentage.
The mini-USB output on the HTC Titan II lets you connect the phone to a PC or Mac for file transfer, which as detailed previously relies on the Zune software for the former or the Windows Phone 7 Connector app on the latter.
With just 16GB of internal storage and no SD card slot, you're limited to a little more than 14GB of available formatted space for media and downloaded apps. It's awfully confining.
As noted earlier, the 4G LTE speeds on AT&T's network proved underwhelming when used in Chicago, where we've experienced fantastic performance on Verizon's network, though the phone also supports Wi-Fi and certainly works well using that kind of connection. Bluetooth 2.1+ is also available for connecting with headsets and other devices.
The phone also includes an Internet Sharing function for creating a local Wi-Fi hotspot using the 4G LTE data plan, though we weren't able to test it out on this review handset.
Maps and apps
The HTC Titan II arrives with a handful of extra AT&T apps installed, including AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T Radio, and AT&T U-verse Mobile – but in a refreshing touch, all of these can be excised from the phone immediately.
HTC has its own app on the handset – the HTC Hub, which includes local and worldwide weather, as well as stock quotes and links to news listings. It's mostly beneficial for its home screen tile, which displays the local weather with some nice visual flourish, as it's otherwise a pretty barebones option.
Otherwise, the phone arrives with the standard array of Windows Phone apps, such as previously detailed apps like Camera and Internet Explorer, as well as Calendar and Calculator. Xbox Live is also heavily integrated within Windows Phone, letting you link up your existing Xbox Live profile and view its details within the built-in app, plus downloaded games earn Achievements on the same account.
Myriad games and apps are available for download from the Marketplace, which offers the helpful ability to download a free trial on a wide majority of apps, giving you a brief taste of the experience before you shell out cash. Despite more than 80,000 titles on the marketplace, however – including games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope and apps like Netflix and LinkedIn – numerous big-name apps from other platforms are still MIA here, and many of the third-party options that come up appear of dubious origins at times.
The built-in Maps app offers a solid array of functions, from GPS location services to spoken turn-by-turn directions. It also includes helpful social abilities, which highlight local restaurants, shops, and attractions, using the GPS to recommend things to do in your area.
Alternately, the AT&T Navigator app offers another similar option, albeit one that requires a subscription of $9.99 per month after the 30-day trial, or you can purchase a day pass for $1.99. However, our review handset did not allow either option to process, so we were unable to test out the app.
Along with the Nokia Lumia 900, the HTC Titan II shows that the Windows Phone operating system can command serious attention, but is this AT&T 4G LTE handset worth $100 more than its OS ally and wider market competitor?
The Windows Phone interface itself is incredibly slick and truly unlike what we usually see on iOS and Android, with big, animated tiles and pages that elegantly flip through without a snag. Even with relatively light specs on the Titan II, it runs well throughout.
While the 16-megapixel camera doesn't blow the competition out of the water like its double-digit number might indicate, it is quite good – nearly to the level of being a point-and-shoot replacement. Video footage in particular is well done here.
Battery life is quite solid, despite the big screen and a relatively small internal battery that cannot be removed. You'll get through a day just fine with moderate use, though constant interaction can certainly bleed it much more quickly.
Despite a low pixel density, the screen looks great most of the time, and the minimalist Windows Phone interface and many apps still shine.
AT&T's 4G LTE network disappointed regularly in our tests around Chicago. Slow loading speeds and dropped connections had us in fits, despite solid call quality.
Much as the OS impresses, the hardware itself is fairly generic. It's solidly built and feels good in the hand, but the outward-jutting lens could be an issue, and it lacks the amazing visual oomph of the Lumia 900.
Being capped at 16MB of internal storage with no option to supplement that with an SD card is a real shame, especially since the phone's bright display is perfectly capable of running high-resolution media.
The Windows Phone marketplace boasts 80,000+ apps, yet it's lacking a lot of the big apps and games seen on other platforms. It just feels thin, especially when you're browsing around for options. That's not HTC's fault, but it's something to consider when picking a handset.
The HTC Titan II is a very good Windows Phone handset that excels in a number of ways, from the stellar (and bulging) camera to its smooth interface performance and solid battery life.
But to answer the above question: it's tough to give the HTC Titan II the nod over the striking Lumia 900 at twice the on-contract price. The two handsets are similar in many ways, but the cheaper Nokia handset is not only very capable, but also looks and feels impressive, while the Titan II is just a solid revision of a past release. At a cheaper price, it's worth a look – but as things stand, this stellar Windows Phone plays second fiddle to Nokia's headline option.