HTC Surround Review - Raising the Soundbar for Smartphones Literally

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HTC Surround Review

AT&T HTC Surround Review

The HTC Surround is quite an interesting release from HTC on AT&T’s network. Released on November 8th, 2010, the AT&T HTC Surround attempts to not only be a first generation Windows Phone 7 handset but also the first portable entertainment handset. Featuring a slide out stereo, which no other smartphone currently has, the HTC Surround is trying to stand out above its competitors. Due to Microsoft enforcing strict requirements for smartphones that will run Windows Phone 7, HTC has attempted to use the slide out stereo as the unique design statement for the HTC Surround. Normally the position for a physical QWERTY keyboard, the speakers are an odd addition to the HTC Surround.

HTC Surround Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 4.72” x 2.44” x 0.54” (120 x 62 x 13.7 mm)
  • Weight: 165 grams (5.82 ounces)
  • Display: 3.8 inch LCD capacitive touchscreen display, 480 x 800 pixels
  • Storage: 16 GB
  • OS: Windows Phone 7
  • Processor: 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250
  • Camera: 5 MP camera, 720p HD video recording with LED flash
  • Connectivity: HSDPA/WCDMA: 850/1900/2100 MHz / GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth 2.1, Stereo Bluetooth
  • GPS: GPS with A-GPS
  • Battery: Li-Ion 1230 mAh

Design and Display (3 out of 5)

The HTC Surround has the familiar smartphone design, a 3.8 inch LCD capacitive touchscreen display taking up the majority of the front of the phone and buttons below. Microsoft has mandated that all smartphones using Windows Phone 7 have the same button set, meaning the HTC surround, below the display, has Back, Start and Search buttons. The front has an overall clean design and looks like an HTC smartphone.

On the right edge of the HTC Surround is a dedicated camera button and the volume rocker, a bit of an odd position. Most smartphones have the volume rocker on the left hand side. On top is the power / lock button and opposite, down on the bottom of the phone is the microUSB for charging purposes. It’s a very simple layout that mirrors many of the Windows Phone 7 handsets that are on their way.

The unique design for the HTC Surround comes with the slide out stereo. Normally, most people would expect a physical QWERTY keyboard to slide out, like on the Samsung Epic 4G, but in the case of the HTC Surround, sliding the bottom causes a small quarter inch sound bar to appear. On the botton of the back after the soundbar slides out is a small kickstand. Once you unfold the kickstand the HTC Surround becomes a mini portable jukebox / media player.

Overall the design is fairly average and even the unique soundbar doesn’t have the luster or impact it should. It just seems like an almost useless add on that just makes the Surround bulkier.

Hardware and Software (4 out of 5)

All Windows Phone 7 handsets are mandated by Microsoft to have a specific set of hardware minimum specifications and the HTC Surround is no different. The HTC Surround has a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor along with 16 GB of internal storage which is enough to handle Windows Phone 7 with no problems. The processor is powerful enough to load Windows Phone 7 and run the OS smoothly with no lag. Scrolling through tiles is fast and smooth and the screen transitions are effortless for the HTC Surround.

The HTC Surround of course runs WIndows Phone 7 and is one of the first handsets to be released in the United States from AT&T to come preinstalled with this OS. Windows Phone 7 runs smooth and rarely ever crashes on the HTC Surround though it does have some limitations for the Surround, which I’ll get into in the User Interface section.

User Interface (2 out of 5)

The HTC Surround is marketed to be a portable media player with its sliding soundbar,

HTC Surround - A Landscape Phone That Has a Portrait OS

but sadly it can’t seem to meet its own marketing expectations. With the sliding soundbar and kickstand, the HTC Surround is to be used in landscape mode. Sadly Windows Phone 7 won’t reorient itself to landscape mode until you actually play your media. This means that while you have the soundbar out and the kickstand holding the phone up, your screen will still be in portrait mode. You have to scroll left and right while reading text that is on its side. This is an almost amateur level mistake for the HTC Surround. How do you market a phone that’s supposed to be used in landscape mode for the majority of the time but not allow the OS to orient itself in the correct position?

Beyond that, there’s one more strike against the HTC Surround. The soundbar has a small button that you press to switch from Dolby Mobile to SRS, a nifty little addition. The only problem? There’s nothing to tell you which mode you’re actually in. Neither mode sounds amazing by any means and there’s really no way to know when you’re in Dolby mode or SRS mode. A simple LED light would’ve been sufficient but no such identifier exists. In addition, when the screen turns off, pressing the button does nothing. You have to unlock the screen then press the button. Not a big problem but it shouldn’t be a problem for a phone that’s supposed to take on some extremely heavy competitors.

Windows Phone 7 itself is a very user intuitive and easy to use OS. The HTC Surround, as well as the other Windows Phone 7 phones, stand out from your Samsung Captivates, Apple iPhones and HTC myTouch 4G‘s. The tiles really offer a different functionality and user feel for people who are used to Android and iOS.

Features (3 out of 5)

The HTC Surround doesn’t have any handset specific features due to Microsoft’s rulings for hardware and software. The biggest feature is the soundbar that doesn’t function that well. As explained in the user interface portion of the review, the soundbar on the HTC Surround just isn’t adequate and has some kinks to hammer out. One would look at the name of the HTC Surround and assume that the soundbar is good enough to achieve Surround sound quality, but overall it’s really a let down.

The 5 megapixel camera is a good but average addition. Most smartphones at the moment come with 5 megapixel cameras so the HTC Surround doesn’t really stand out in the camera arena. The picture quality is crisp and clean but still, for some reason, feels like a cell phone picture. The video recording is nice and smooth, as well as easy to use.

Call Quality and Connectivity (2 out of 5)

The call quality on the HTC Surround was clear and people calling as well as receiving were able to hear and speak

AT&T - Network Problems

clearly. The big problem came when trying to go to speaker phone. The only speaker the phone has is the soundbar, meaning you have to slide the HTC Surround open to get a clear speaker phone going. This may not seem like a big issue, but at times it is an annoyance to have to slide out the soundbar when performing conference calls.

Being on AT&T’s network, it was fairly unreliable. Not sure if it’s the location the test was performed, but at times the HTC Surround did lose my connection and my calls were dropped. In some heavily urban areas the dropped calls seemed to happen a bit more frequently. AT&T needs to start investing more money in their network as there were times when the HTC Surround had a hard time connecting to the data network. Sites occasionally loaded slowly and sometimes errored out due to connection problems.

Final Verdict (3 out of 5)

Overall, the HTC Surround should be considered an ‘Average’ rated smartphone, and not on the higher side of that ‘Average’ rating either. The idea for the HTC Surround sounds a bit sketchy on paper but there’s that feeling that it just might work out, but in practice, it really falls flat. Microsoft’s limitation of hardware and software forces the HTC Surround to only have the soundbar as the distinguishing feature.

Sadly, that distinguishing feature is limited by Windows Phone 7 not orienting itself in landscape mode. It’s not HTC’s fault by any means, but it wasn’t really a bright idea to design a phone knowing the fact that Windows Phone 7 would not be compatible with the landscape layout phone. The soundbar, interesting idea, but implemented so badly. No sign on whether you’re using Dolby Mobile or SRS, it’s the only speaker on the phone, and overall the sound quality is average at best. Available starting November 8th, 2010, for $199 on contract, one has to wonder whether it’s worth spending that amount of money on the HTC Surround rather than on the Samsung Focus that was released at the same time.