HTC's first Windows 7 smartphone in absolutely ages is also Telstra's first 4G smartphone not running Android. Does the combination add up to a must-buy smartphone? Read on to find out.
Why It Matters
The Titan joins the very small band of 4G LTE 1800Mhz devices in the Australian marketplace; to date every other handset with 4G capabilities has been an Android handset, but the Titan runs Windows Phone 7 instead. It's significant for that reason alone; it's not as though Windows Phone 7 users are spoilt for choice in new handsets, so every one is quite welcome, especially with the promise of fast 4G data access. This is actually the Titan II 4G, but we never got the original Titan in Australia — at least, not officially — so it's known as the Titan locally. The Titan 4G is available on a $79/month Telstra plan; that buys you 2GB of data per month, and will cost you in total $1896 over the lifetime of the two year contract.
What I Liked
The Titan is a large smartphone with a 4.7 inch display, but HTC's made one important change that improves it over many competing devices. At the base of the screen there's a slight curvature that makes it considerably easier to locate the capacitive buttons at the base. It's a subtle design touch, but a very welcome one.
Windows Phone 7 is notable for making quite a lot of out of meagre resources, and the Titan 4G is proof positive of that. Despite only having a single core 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor, the Titan's performance is quite smooth across most applications. It's not the snappiest smartphone you can buy, but it definitely punches above its weight.
The 16MP camera on the Titan juts out in the same way as with the Android-based One X/One XL phones, and while that's slightly annoying, the shots it takes are very good. Again, it's not quite up there with the absolute best snappers in terms of very fast response, but for straight point and shoot photography it's more than adequate, and the inclusion of a dedicated camera button makes taking crisp shots particularly easy.
4G LTE should be fast, and on the surface, the Titan 4G can indeed be quick. My normal testing process for 4G data uses Speedtest.net (or an associated app) predominantly, and Windows Phone 7 poses a challenge here; there's no dedicated app and the website isn't natively supported. What I could test was the speedtest performance when used in Internet Sharing mode; while there's some natural lag there due to the stepped nature of the Internet connection, the Titan 4G still performed acceptably well in Sydney's CBD, with peak speeds of 14.47Mbps download and 13.21Mbps upload. Those are clearly lower than some speeds we've seen on 4G, but again, this was via a tethered connection. For most mobile purposes right now, 14.47Mbps is still nicely quick.
What I didn't like
The issue with 4G on the Titan 4G was that it was remarkably unreliable. We've complained about spotty 4G reception before — Elly was notably irked by it when testing the Velocity 4G, for example — but the Titan 4G was notably poor at getting a 4G signal, even in areas that should be rich with LTE goodness. I tested side by side with the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G, and the Titan 4G struggled for around 45 minutes to simply find the 4G network, while the Galaxy powered on quickly. Once a connection was made, I flicked both to airplane mode and back again; the Galaxy 4G was up and running quickly, but the Titan preferred a 3G connection for around ten minutes. It's certainly possible that this was a network rather than phone issue, but it doesn't look good for the Titan 4G's ability to hold a 4G signal properly.
LTE can be a battery hog, and the Titan wasn't much different in this regard. The periods where I could get satisfactory LTE signal were marked by drops in battery life; like most LTE phones, expect to be recharging every single day in other words.
The Titan 4G's 4.7 inch screen is large, but it's not a high resolution panel at all. That's not entirely HTC's fault, given that Windows Phone 7 only supports 800x480 pixel displays. Next to the kinds of displays seen in the Android and iOS worlds, 800x480 looks distinctly pixellated. For a phone that's sold in the absolute premium smartphone space, that's disappointing.
In the similar Windows Phone 7 constraints space, the Titan 4G has 16GB of onboard storage, and no capacity for expansion via microSD. I've complained about this before, and I'm not likely to stop any time soon; 16GB is a tiny amount of storage, no matter how much you want to talk up cloud computing.
Should You Buy One?
There's a point of smartphone operating system orthodoxy to address here. If you're firmly welded into the Windows Phone 7 camp, then the Titan 4G is the fastest model you can buy — when it gets a proper 4G connection running. I'd say the Nokia Lumia 800 is still the most attractive Windows Phone 7 handset available, especially given its screen size doesn't highlight the resolution differences quite as starkly as the Titan 4G. Still, if speed and Windows Phone 7 are your things, the Titan 4G is the phone to buy.
What of the rest of the market? Sorry, but I can't really recommend the Titan 4G by itself; for the same money you could get phones with better screens, expandable storage, and in the case of the HTC One XL, the same 4G speeds as the Titan can manage.
HTC Titan 4G
OS: Windows Phone 7.5 Screen: 4.7-inch 800x480 Processor: 1.5GHz Single Core RAM: 1GB Storage: 16GB Dimensions: 69x132x13mm Camera: 16MP rear, 1.3MP front Battery: 1730mAh Weight: 147g