HTC Velocity 4G Review: Fast, But Not The Best

Australia has waited patiently for its first LTE smartphone, and it has finally arrived in the form of the HTC Velocity 4G. It is by all accounts an excellent high-end smartphone, but there are some limitations around Telstra's 4G service that take some of the sparkle away and restricts our buy recommendation to the few, not the many.

Also: What Will Be Your Next Australian Super Phone? 22 Hot Phone Specs Compared (including the HTC Velocity 4G)

Why It Matters

The HTC Velocity 4G is Australia's first LTE smartphone. Theoretically this means data speeds of 100Mbps peak downloads and up to 50Mbps uploads on Telstra's 1800MHz LTE spectrum. Typical speeds, however, are obviously much less and depend on a number of things, including the speed of the website you're trying to visit and how close you are to a base station. You can expect real-world download speeds of between 2Mbps and 40Mbps, which is about five times faster than what you'd normally get on 3G, and typical upload speeds of between 1Mbps and 10Mbps, which is three times faster than upload speeds on 3G.

What this means is that web pages load faster, streaming videos take less time to buffer, photos take much less time to upload and large files can be emailed more quickly. You get the idea. It certainly sounds great on paper, but it's definitely not as "instantaneous" as Telstra says, and I actually laughed out loud when I saw the words "mach speeds" on HTC's website. They might have gotten away with passing off LTE as 4G, but let's not get carried away here.

Optus and Vodafone have both announced plans to roll out a LTE service, but Telstra was first to launch and says that its 4G footprint is currently available in all Australian capital city CBDs (within 5km from the GPO), associated airports and some regional areas (within 3km from the GPO). Outside of these areas, the HTC Velocity 4G will default to dual-channel HSPA+ connectivity, which is a faster 3G service that provides theoretical speeds of between 1.1Mbps and 20Mbps.

What We Like

There's a bit more plastic on the Velocity 4G than we've seen before on HTC phones, but its build quality is superb and it feels every bit like the high-end smartphone that it is. The battery cover is made of a slick charcoal aluminium while the rest of the phone is encased in a glossy black plastic. It has a distinctly geometric feel, with its straight lines and angular form factor. At 4.5 inches the qHD 960x540 screen on the Velocity 4G is a bit smaller than the one on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but it feels quite a bit larger and heavier thanks to a raised back. We love that it feels solid and heavy in the hand.

Photo taken with HTC Velocity 4G, default settings.

The rear camera on the Velocity 4G is not to be underestimated. It packs a 28mm wide-angle F2.2 lens and back-illuminated sensor for superb daytime shots with a shallow depth of field, as well as surprisingly good shots in low light. HTC Sense 3.5 brings an "instant capture" camera to the Velocity 4G, but it's not quite as instant as the zero shutter lag feature that you'll find on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

The 1.5GHz dual-core processor inside the Velocity 4G is impressively efficient, providing a clean and snappy user experience and a seamless integration of HTC's Sense 3.5 user interface. Battery life is better than expected, although it does deplete much faster on 4G. Getting a full day out of the phone will require a top up, but as with all high-end smartphones these days, we just put up with it and think it's normal. I personally found that the HTC Velocity 4G outlasted the Samsung Galaxy Nexus by a few hours, although the former would start bugging you about low battery at 25 per cent, while the latter leaves you alone until the battery is on its very last legs.

The Velocity 4G comes with Android 2.3.7, which is the latest iteration of Gingerbread. Android 4.0 will be available within a few months, according to Telstra, but if Ice Cream Sandwich is what you're really after, you're probably better off waiting for one of the handful of 4G smartphones that Telstra will be letting loose by winter.

Speedtest.net gave us some very impressive stats that put our ADSL2+ fixed line connections to shame. There's a noticeable speed bump when loading Facebook photos, streaming YouTube videos and emailing large files, but your mileage will vary depending on what you're doing. If that website you're trying to access is running off a shitty server, not even 4G speeds are going to help you much.

While Telstra doesn't give you any extra data allowances for being on 4G, it's worth noting that Telstra isn't charging a premium for its 4G service — they could have legitimately charged extra but chose not to. And be prepared to see your data usage jump — I've switched from a $40 plan with 800MB of data to a $50 plan with 2GB.

Click image to enlarge. I've included speed test results for my home ADSL2+ connection speed test result (Wi-Fi symbol) and Edge (the line with the worst results).

What We Don't Like

Although the phone comes with a fairly standard 16GB of internal storage, the phone's bundled software and operating system takes up 3GB, leaving you with 13GB for widgets and apps. We're happy to see that HTC has bumped up the internal storage capacity in its most recent phones and stopped crippling them, but you'll have to bring your own microSD card for the Velocity 4G. I'm not going to grumble too much — more internal storage for no microSD card is an excellent trade.

Our main complaint is not with the phone but with Telstra's 4G service. It's inconsistent and unpredictable to the point where you stop seeing the 4G as a feature of the phone and more as a bonus when it does appear. For instance, as soon as you walk into Wynyard station or the QVB, the phone switches over to the 3G network despite being well within the 5km 4G inclusion zone. The first day I took the phone home (I live 4km from the Sydney CBD), I was appalled to find that I was on Edge — not 4G, not even 3G. Fortunately, it switched to 4G the next day and has been like that at home ever since. In our offices at Circular Quay, my review unit picked up a 4G signal from day one, while the phone that Angus tested never got a 4G signal and turned out to be faulty. On my way home from dinner the other day, the phone randomly picked up a 4G signal in Stanmore (6km from the CBD), and it looks like there are pockets of 4G coverage all over the place. My advice would be to check Telstra's coverage map — you may live or work in one of those random pockets of 4G service.

We also think it's a bit lame that Telstra is marketing its LTE service as 4G when in fact it does not satisfy the 4G standard requirements. LTE is considered to be part of the 3G standard, but for all intents and purposes it is being sold by carriers as 4G technology. US carriers are doing the same thing to mislead consumers, and nobody really seems to care. It's dodgy behaviour and sets a dangerous precedent for an industry that is known for its bullshit.

Should You Buy It?

The phone itself is great and only let down by a 4G service that is vague in definition and coverage. If you don't live within or frequent the 4G inclusion zone, the HTC Velocity 4G falls back to HSPA+ dual-channel 3G speeds (1.1Mpbs-20Mbps). So while the speed difference between your regular 3G and DC-HSPA+ connectivity is small, that bump makes the Velocity 4G faster than anyone else's phone. If you want the fastest phone you can get right now, the HTC Velocity 4G is the phone for you. For someone like me who works and lives within the 4G coverage areas — and totally addicted to being online all the time — the Velocity 4G is the ideal solution.

Also, if you want the Velocity 4G, you are forced into a relationship with Telstra (which isn't necessarily a bad thing) since it has the exclusive. By the time the other carriers launch their own LTE networks, there will be better and newer phones in the market and this one will be long forgotten. Telstra alone is getting ready to launch a portfolio of 4G phones within the first six months of 2012.

Specifications

OS: Android 2.3.7 (upgradable to Android 4.0) Screen: 4.5-inch qHD S-LCD touchscreen (960x540) Processor / RAM: 1.5GHz dual-core / 1GB Storage: 16GB internal (up to 32GB microSD) Camera: 8MP rear (1080p HD video), 1.3MP front Weight: 163.8g Battery: 1620mAh Price: $0 on $79 Telstra Freedom Connect Plan or $864 outright


Comments

    Lumia 900 will absolutely smoke this handset :D
    Nice write-up but :)
    Sheeds.

    (HTC Titan II may also be here in a couple of months)

      What, Lumia 900 with WP7 will beat a high end Android phone like this? While WP7 has a nice UI and stuff, it's capabilities don't come anywhere near. And worst thing is that Nokia's prices are so damn high for a single core phone. e.g Lumia 800 vs Samsung Omnia W. Omnia is better in screen and has a front camera, yet the Lumia is so much costlier than it. Nokia need to lower their prices or their way back in to the market will be further lost.

        Changed from apple 3GS. Awesome graphics but a massive disappointment with the battery life. Its a throw back to the 80's having to charge the phone every day. I even had to buy a in car charger just in case. Apple and HTC would do well to combine their good points.

    Re your comment " If you don’t live within or frequent the 4G inclusion zone, the HTC Velocity 4G is really just another 3G smartphone" - this is the first handset to fall back to HSPA+ Dual Channel outside of 4G coverage. This still offers up to 20Mbps downloads.

      Thanks for the heads up. I've corrected the article.

    The tone of the article seems overly negative, where you haven't actually pointed out any real tangible negatives :(

    In alot of ways it's better than SGS2/GNex, other ways it's not, but it has 4G, for example, while the GNex has 0 shutter lag, but the quality of the shots leaves something to be desired against some other smart phones, the new HTCs included.

      I disagree, article seems fair and I walk away with both the positive and negatives..

      The last question I would like answered is a real world test between the HSPA and 3G

    The current LTE Networks can be deemed to be 4G networks, both generationally, as well as under the ITU-R's guidelines.

    From a generational perspective, this is the fourth generation of cellular data network in Australia: Circuit-Switched data being 1G, GPRS/EDGE being 2G, UTMS/HSDPA being 3G and LTE/WiMAX being 4G.

    Additionally, using ITU-R's specifications as to what can be deemed a 4G network, the current LTE specification and deployment fulfils the criteria of a 4G network as it is a forerunner to the LTE-Advanced specification. This determination was changed in December 2010. From ITU-R's website:

    "Following a detailed evaluation against stringent technical and operational criteria, ITU has determined that “LTE-Advanced” and “WirelessMAN-Advanced” should be accorded the official designation of IMT-Advanced. As the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, IMT-Advanced is considered as “4G”, although it is recognized that this term, while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed. The detailed specifications of the IMT-Advanced technologies will be provided in a new ITU-R Recommendation expected in early 2012." [Source: http://www.itu.int/net/pressoffice/press_releases/2010/48.aspx Retrieved 30/01/2012].

    [I am a Telstra Employee. These views are my own and do not represent the views of Telstra.]

      This is technology; true of false. If you have to make exceptions for for terminology it's not good enough.

      ITU still defines 4G as 100mbps and this is 40mbps.
      Changing the definition of 4G will not make this a better product and it most-definitely will not make for happy customers who learnt what 4G was when it was announced and haven't been told it means something else now.

      Saying that LTE is actually 'LTE-Adviced' and therefore we should call it by a third term and ONLY tell the customers about that third term will only stand to create more trouble for the poor people who deal with customer complaints.

        As far as I'm aware, LTE-Advanced specifies a requirement of 1 Gbps peak download. The 100 Mbps requirement you mention is a requirement of 3GPP 4G, itself a candidate for ITU 4G designation, but later superseded by LTE-Advanced. So tecnically, even if it did offer 100 Mbps peak download, it still wouldn't be an LTE-Advanced device.

        4G is purely a marketing term ITU-R have their own definition of what it constitutes as "4G", other organisations have a different view. For example, LTE's chief competitor WiMAX has a very different view of what constitues a 4G network. Is it incorrect for WiMAX to advertise itself as a 4G network because it disagrees with its competitor's opinion.

        LTE is sufficiently different to the other networks in Australia, and represents a substantial generational improvement, that I don't think (in my opion) it's misleading to dub it 4G.

          I think it's fair enough to call this implementation of LTE a "4G" service. However without any standards compliance bodies behind the claim it opens up problems if other carriers wanted to call services "4G", like we see in the USA currently.

            Personally, I agree - let's move away from general monikers such as 4G towards more specific names, such as LTE. The technical literacy of users has improved considerably since 2006 and the days of CDMA2000/1x/GPRS/EDGE.

            That being said, Telstra do readily refer to the network as 4G (LTE) in most of their material, which I think is a good move and helps reduce confusion.

            Let's keep 4G to loosely describing the fourth-generation of networks, without tying it to specifics.

              4G.. faster than 3G. :) hehehhhehehhe

    Hi Elli,

    Your below comment is wrong.

    "We also think it’s a bit lame that Telstra is marketing its LTE service as 4G when in fact it does not satisfy the 4G standard requirements. LTE is considered to be part of the 3G standard, but for all intents and purposes it is being being sold by carriers as 4G technology."

    Yes it is true in US carriers are marketing HSPA+ as 4G, however according ITU LTE is the proper 4G.

    Hrmm this review was the opposite of what I was expecting. I was expecting lacklustre HTC hardware, and a good 4G service.

    I had a brief look at the hardware yesterday and was rather unimpressed to be honest. I guess the fact the phone had 3 things attached to it (including a freaking cable tie around the whole thing) didn't help it's image much. But overall it felt very cheap and plasticy. Also didn't like the crap HTC had installed on it, their launcher and app drawer leave a lot to be desired.

    Does anyone know exactly how different this is from it's foreign counterparts? Just thinking about ongoing support and how bad it will be waiting for Telstra / HTC to release updates, can we rely on the community to step up here, or will this be a local only phone thus resulting in a much more limited audience?

    It doesn't bother me too much about the 4G networks performance right now. This is the kind of thing that can be improved over time, unlike a phone where if you pick up a crap one you're stuck with it. It does worry me greatly though that this doesn't run on the 700Mhz band as well. Will Telstra only be running an 1800Mhz LTE network, or do they plan on a 700Mhz one as well once the spectrum becomes available? This would be my biggest concern with committing to a 24 month contract with Telstra right now.

      700Mhz is still going to be a while off and more than likely all current 4G devices will be well and truly obsolete by the time it is in use. From my understanding, it hasn't even come up for sale yet let alone entering major test stages.

      (Disclaimer: I am a Telstra employee and the above views are my own and do not represent the views of Telstra.)

        The 700Mhz spectrum is going up for auction this year, and becoming available for use in 2013.

        As the reviewer noted the 1800Mhz LTE network is pretty poor, and probably will continue to be until the 700Mhz one can be launched. 1800Mhz isn't well suited for longer range transmission, ie outside of major cities. I'd hope that the likes of Telstra (and maybe even Optus and Vodafone) would be well and truly ready to launch a 700Mhz LTE network by the time it's available for them.

      Very cheap and plasticky?? Were you holding the right phone? I've got a Samsung gs2 and compared to this htc it looked cheap!

    Why get this phone when at the end of the next month there will be MWC where HTC will probably announce their new line up on 2012 Phones with HTC Sense UI 4.0 and Android 4.0 ice-cream sandwhich as stock.

    Well... I was, and am, impressed by the HTC. Having test driven it over tha weekend. Compared to my current HTC Desire, which got download speeds of 2195kbs. The Velocity scored an impressive 17950kbs in the exact, same non-5km GPO location. An 8 times speed difference is impressive to me. If I can score even double that in a genuine 5km GPO radius location... I'm happy. Just wait till all
    Telstra towers are upgraded over the coming months. HELLO DUBBO and 60mbs.
    As for the Motorola Razr 4G, forget it. HTC RULES atm. Same for the Samsung 4G.

    Can you use a normal telstra 3g sim card to utilise the speed, or do you need to get a "4g" sim card?

      You can use a normal 3G sim card.

        Most phenos will not accept iTunes mp4 format. You have to burn them onto a cd and them re-upload them onto windows media player. I do not know if this person has ever used itunes before but not all tracks on itunes are mp4. those are usually videos. Itunes sometimes uses the .aac format but you can get a batch converter to change those to MP3 which ITUNES also uses as well! About using itunes Right now, i don't know if anyone has scripted a patch for this. For now, you may have to use a different player (Windows Media Player, VLC, WinAmp) to allow syncing. The other way is to just DRAG n DROP files while you have the phone's card mounted to the pc to transfer files. It is how i currently move music files onto the phone

    Ur a using a old SIM Card aswell thats not even Next G that SIM Card would be giving you shit speeds reagrdless if it switchs to 4G or not

    THE ONE THING i can't stand on these phones over the iphone is the ugly logo on front panel? is this something other smartphone manufacturers have to do so their phones don't look like iphones?

      logo? what logo? besides you can customise the phone pretty much how you want it to look like.

    Can the next G sim card work in this phone as I just had a quick look at it and looking for the specification's on it and compare it to the samsung S 2 as I am after another telstra phone to replace the one that was damaged but I still have my sim card and the number is still connected
    Regards
    Kevin

      kevin, did you try with a next G sim card ?
      thanks
      Margaret

    Does anyone know if this phone has a personal hotspot and if so would you then get the increased speed benefits if you paired a laptop to it?

      Tested the hotspot at a telstra store: I got 25 Mbs download on the nexus next to it. For the record the nexus was getting 10 Mbs while the velocity was getting 40 Mbs on its own

    crap phone

      Obviously an iPhone user.

        Had this phone for a week replacing my iphone 4 and am very glad I didnt waste my time getting the iphone 4S. The HTC is a little more diffucult to get around but at the end of the day runs rings around the iphones which are highly overrated

    i just bought a velocity. i love it but the speaker is not loud enough. especially wen recieving calls. is there a way to boost it?

    I want to know, is this phone worth getting? Or should i go with the Galaxy Nexus?

    From the Telstra mobile coverage map, it seems there are more than just "pockets" of coverage outside of the 5km GPO radius.

    There appears to be 4G towers as far west as Parramatta and Penrith.

    Of course this could all just be marketing, as it is heavily disclaimed.

    One question I asked before getting the Velocity was"can I make video calls?" Was told I could but of course got phone and tried guess what....you cannot without downloading a third party app which your contacts have to as well before you can video call them. But HTC still tried to convince me that that was a video phone call. Crap that the latest supa dupa mobile does not even do the basic things. It is going back now.

    Was looking for an honest response, my Desire contract runs out in less than 2 weeks, should I get this phone. I live in a large regional city and not sure if it will do as promised.

    I have recently purchased this handset and it is possibly the best phone ever.
    Previously i had an Iphone 4 with the IOS 5 update. Overall the phone was a total let down. The transition between the phones was easy, I have now all my itunes library on the phone currently. The 4G network really impressed me with the speeds. I had a bad experience with HTC to start with (due to a HTC wildfire) however this phone hasn't broken and it is very responsive. My friend has a galaxy S2 and the HTC is better by far.
    I highly reccomend this handset.

    Do not by this phone is you want:

    a) A phone that does not require recharging every 4 hours
    b) A phone that can reliably make phone calls
    c) A touch screen that works reliably

    Sure, the 4G data speed is nice but this phone does not do the basics - let me make several calls a day, have those calls work, and not run out of juice.

    My first HTC lasted a week - some of the features weren't working. They wanted to send it away for repair, but we are getting ready to tour Australia and after much jumping up and down they gave us a new phone.
    This one lasted 5 weeks, and suddenly it says there is no sim card in it. Four days later when I get to a Telstra shop in Canberra they checked the sim card, and shock horror that's not the problem. they say they want to send it away......
    I'm in Canberra for 2 days, back to Adelaide (where we purchased the phone) for a week then over to Canberra and Sydney for a week and then we are going on a 4WD holiday. We got this phone because we need something reliable while we are in remote places.
    Adelaide is in for a surprise when we are back again. I like the features and the phone, but the customer service has been shocking. NOT WORTH IT
    Cait :-(

    Ok, I have a HTC Desire at the moment and my contract ends in a month. I'm torn between this Velocity OR the Samsung Note. The last two comments above don't look promising for this handset.. Which one should I go for!?

    Is anyone syncing calendar and contacts from Outlook 2010 regularly ? HTC Velocity seems tempting but I want to make sure Outlook syncing will work.

      You'll have no trouble syncing with the HTC Velocity 4G. The default email and calendar app leaves a bit to be desired in terms of its user interface, but it definitely works.

    The HTC velocity is a great phone. Day to day performance beats the sgs2 or iPhone 4s. 4g is great when you have it. I've been getting download speeds of 20+ mbps screen is good and know has ice.

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