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Home / Reviews / Cell Phones

HTC Surround Review

By Mike Perlman, Friday 24 December 2010
Our HTC Surround review has arrived! Join 123 Party! as they spice up the holiday shopping with a slide-out Dolby Mobile stereo speaker and kickstand-boasting HTC Surround.

HTC Surround Overview

We've seen the Samsung Focus, the LG Quantum, and now we've finally got the third Musketeer in our clutches, and it's quite an odd duck. Aside from being a new Windows Phone 7, the HTC Surround is the first phone to offer a slide-out Dolby/SRS stereo speaker panel, and is equipped with a kickstand. Entertainment enthusiasts should be leaping for joy right about now. Not only does the HTC Surround specialize in superior sound, but the phone is just as speedy as the other Windows Phone 7 devices, and features the latest Microsoft mobile OS.

The HTC Surround also matches the Focus and Quantum with a 5-megapixel camera that offers 720p video recording, AT&T applications, the Zune store, and Xbox Live. Call it another phone to save us from our phones, call it an entertainment powerhouse, or just call it just another piece of Microsoft hype. The HTC Surround is certainly a breed apart, and went down in history in the infoSync labs as the first phone to act as a miniature ghettoblaster boombox.

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HTC Surround Design

The HTC Surround differentiates itself from the Focus and Quantum by sporting gunmetal grey plastic trim and a futuristic chrome band. Along the back, we weren't as impressed with the build quality of the battery panel, as it was just a slab of flimsy plastic. You also won't notice a MicroSD card slot anywhere on the HTC Surround, and that's because Microsoft decided to go with 16GB of internal NAND Flash memory, which is rather limiting if you plan on stocking your phone with HD movies.

Of course, the main event on the HTC Surround is its slide-out speaker with Dolby Mobile and SRS sound enhancements. In order to toggle Dolby or SRS, the stereo speaker panel has a square button embedded toward the top of the phone, but there are no indicators as to what mode you happen to be in. Therefore, you have to "listen it out", and after a few minutes it will become clear which mode you happen to be in. The driest mode is Normal, then it's SRS, and lastly Dolby Mobile. We found that Dolby Mobile offered the best overall sound quality when it came to volume, clarity, and bass.

Our display on the HTC Surround is a 3.8-inch WVGA. For some reason, HTC failed to integrate an adequate level of smoothness into the Surround's screen. While scrolling from side to side or up and down, text and icons would flicker, rather than solidly slide across the screen. This felt cheap to us, and definitely lacked the refinement native to the Samsung Focus's and LG Quantum's screens. The HTC Surround has typical controls, consisting of a large volume control, Power/Lock button, 3.5mm Audio jack, Camera button, and open USB terminal. We also can't forget about the kickstand that can be flipped out when the stereo speaker panel is opened.

HTC Surround Software and Interface

This Windows Phone 7 experience is brought to you by a 1GHz Snapdragon processor accompanied by 448MB of RAM. The Surround also has Wi-Fi Wireless-N, Bluetooth 2.1, and transfers files via the Windows Phone 7 Connector, which is strikingly similar to iTunes. The Connector allowed us to synch all of our music, videos, and files from the computer to the phone, just like we could with an iPhone. While Microsoft boasts its new OS and phone lineup as superior to the iPhone, the Windows Phone 7 Connector experience was the ultimate irony. Also, there's no Flash support in Internet Explorer, which really limited our browsing experience.

If you've seen our review of the Samsung Focus or LG Quantum, you know what the Windows Phone 7 experience is like€”the phone to save us from our phones. Obviously, the Windows Phone 7 experience is simplified and employs minimalist software architecture to achieve this. There are only two home screens, the main screen being equipped with live icons that update and synch. These icons are known as "hubs", containing different pieces to the mobile user puzzle. For instance, the People hub contains all of our facebook, Google, and other contacts, and enables us to call, search profiles, send emails, check recent status updates, etc. The Pictures hub combines all of our phone pictures and online pictures, including a list of recently uploaded pictures by our contacts.

As you can start to see the trend, we'll continue with the Xbox Live hub, where all of our games are stored, and the ability to buy games and applications is a simple swipe to the right. The Music and Videos hub includes all of the music and videos we loaded onto the phone, shows a recent history of all the music and videos we've watched, including YouTube, and links to the Zune store for purchasing more music or podcasts. We also had the ability to assign websites to the Start page as their own hub, and the HTC Surround offered Microsoft Office with Excel, PowerPoint, Word, and SharePoint. We will say that we weren't impressed with the virtual keyboard because it did not extend across the screen in landscape mode, limiting our typing real estate. Overall, the Windows Phone 7 experience was a good one, but it's not the best out there.

HTC Surround Sound Quality/Battery Life

Few phones offer the premium level of sound quality that the HTC Surround does. First off, the Surround has two microphones, and is equipped with dynamic noise suppression from Audience. This results in a stellar noise cancellation system that gave us crystal clear audio without any background sound. The HTC Surround also has a dedicated audio chip for its two speakers, and what we were left with was one of the best sound performances we've ever experienced on a phone€”calling and blasting the Beastie Boys in public.

The HTC Surround's battery life is a notch above the Quantum and Focus, and that's because the phone is designed for the entertainment junkie. It's supposed to be able to handle regular video screenings with the Dolby stereo speaker extended and the kickstand popped, so HTC equipped the Surround with a battery that could handle it. It's not BlackBerry life territory, but it's one of the better performances for a smartphone in this class.

HTC Surround Camera

For some reason, all of the new Windows Phone 7 devices are lacking in the camera department, and the HTC Surround joins the Samsung Focus and LG Quantum in the mediocre land of uninspired digital imaging. Lighting had to be perfect in order for us to capture an image that was not wrought with noise, and even in the best lighting, images were highly oversharpened. The flash helped, and should be kept on at all times.

Video mode was worse. Even though the HTC Surround captures 720p resolution videos, they're recorded at a variable framerate, which chops up fluidity to a silly extent. VGA blown up and cropped is more like it. Fortunately, sound recording was impressive due to the phone's enhanced microphones. We could record in stereo, or noise cancellation, and no other phone offers that.

The HTC Surround's camera interface was also the most robust, offering Scene modes that included Macro and Candlelight, Color Effects, and Metering. We could also access the camera from a locked state, but when we exited video mode, our settings were reset, always defaulting to VGA recording. It's almost like the phone was trying to tell us not to record in HD.


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HTC Surround Final Answer

Well, we've seen the Samsung Focus, which specializes in the best touch screen display with its Super AMOLED screen. Then there's the Quantum with its ample sliding QWERTY keyboard for the texter and avid Word document scribe. Then along comes the HTC Surround, which is abviously the entertainment aficionado's phone of choice, offering the ability to prop the phone up on its kickstand and take advantage of portable Dolby stereo sound with exceptional quality for a phone.

There you have it. The latest Windows Phone 7 devices are divided according to the user's preference. Their OS experience will be nearly identical, and they run on the same carrier. The HTC Surround has a few navigation glitches when it comes to its screen, and its virtual QWERTY is too small in landscape mode. But its sound quality and features are impressive. We wouldn't say the HTC Surround is the next iPhone killer, but it brings a fresh look to the smartphone world with Windows Phone 7. If you want to bust out in public with Grandmaster Flash, the HTC Surround is the phone for you.

Price and Availability

The HTC Surround is available from AT&T for $200 with a new two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate.
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