Short Version: Shutterbugs will love this well-built and powerful Android phone, but folks looking for thin and light may want to look elsewhere.
8 megapixel camera
16 GB on board memory/MicroSD card support
$259 with contract
Big and heavy
Some issues with low-light shots
Casing and screen take fingerprints and dirt
The Amaze 4G is by all rights a bog-standard Gingerbread phone with a very specific purpose. It was built to take great pictures and little else although it does run on T-Mobile’s “4G” network with theoretical speeds of 42 Mbps on HSPA+. I saw 1161 kbps down and 1238 kbps up in a known 4G area in Brooklyn, which isn’t exactly hitting 4G speeds but where I am it’s pretty fast. Speed results naturally vary based on tower position and location.
The phone is running a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 Processor with Gingerbread 2.3.4 on board. HTC has added Sense 3.0, a UI improvement to the standard Android experience that adds detailed widgets and improved icon menus to the experience. Going from Sense to a phone running stock Android is fairly jarring and its one of the best aspects of this phone.
Otherwise, we’re talking about a big and bulky beast. The phone weighs 6 ounces and it feels like it weighs more. The rear panels are made of matte plastic and metal and the case is sturdy, though a bit sensitive to dirt and fingerprints. Battery life is good – about 48 hours of use on one charge, 24 hours with a day of heavy use. It has 16GB of storage space on board and supports MicroSD cards for expansion.
The Amaze as a few other bells and whistles including SRS simulated surround sound and an FM radio. However, the real draw here is the camera.
The camera is the centerpiece of this phone. It has an 8-megapixel sensor and can shoot 1080p video. It supports a number of interesting shooting modes including SmartShot, a multiple exposure method of grabbing the best shot, and ClearShot HDR, an “HDR” mode that allows for clear shooting in low and odd light. There is also BurstShot, a 5 frame sports mode that grabs action, and a panoramic SweepShot. Finally, there is Perfect Pics for crowds of subjects. It has smile and blink sensing so you can grab the right photo of the whole family.
There is also a terrible “portrait” mode that adds a blurred vignette around the subject. Stay away. The camera also has a manual mode for handling white balance, sharpness, saturation, contrast, and exposure. It adds a bit of control to the image that some folks may enjoy.
Most are reporting zero shutter lag although I did find some issues with image handling after the shot. You can take a great photo quickly, but it takes a few seconds of processing to modify and store it, at least in some of the more imaging intensive modes.
The camera has F/2.2 wide angle optics (bright for a camera phone) and a backside illuminated sensor for greater light sensitivity. The camera is, in short, fantastic in most light. I took some excellent shots on a trip to the beach last weekend including a sunset shot of the beach in the late afternoon. It starts to break down near dusk night and HDR mode allowed for some clever fixes. Once the sun goes down, however, it’s another story.
Unfortunately, in the end, Amaze needs lots of light to produce great shots. Evening shots, even in night mode, are often blurry and fuzzy even in HDR mode. The flash is adequate but definitely washes out the subjects and, provided you’re shooting a still object like a sunset. Consider this:
If you’re taking photos of your friends in a big, fancy nightclub in the dark, the dual flash LEDs can do quite a job. Want something a little less emphatically lit? You might be out of luck.
In full sunlight, however, the camera is as good or better than most point and shoots I’ve used. The front-facing camera works well, although not as well as the rear sensor. The phone supports video messaging through Qik and Skype.
The Bottom Line
I’m a big fan of the Amaze’s impressive camera but I came away wondering if the size and weight of this behemoth won’t bog folks down. It’s a massive phone with a big, hefty screen and it definitely has all of the tools necessary to be a great phone. However, compared to thinner and lighter phones like the Galaxy S II, this is a boat anchor.
If you’re an avid photographer, however, and you don’t want to lug around a point and shoot, this phone will definitely do the trick. Whereas previous Android iterations depended on gimmicks (the 3D phone, the huge screen phone), this one excels at picture taking in a way that will impress friends and family. This isn’t a camera for “in a pinch” situations. This is a standalone camera replacement.
Is the Amaze 4G worth the $249 price tag? Potentially, although I’d be hard-pressed to recommend it as a “phone” and not as a cameraphone. Sure it has all the right pieces in all the right places but it’s a bit too big, even in an era of huge phones. If you like the camera features, this is the phone for you. If you’re looking for a more well-rounded – and thinner – package, perhaps the Amaze will not amaze.