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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

It’s always exciting to see a new operating system like the one we found in the HTC Surround, offered in the US by AT&T. This is a Windows Phone running Microsoft’s newly developed Windows Phone 7 operating system. Microsoft has positioned its Windows Phone 7 operating system to go head-to-head against Apple’s iOS operating system and Google’s Android system. The Surround also has some unique hardware features including 16 GB of internal memory and a unique slide out speaker bar that offers "virtual surround" audio processing. We took a look at the HTC Surround hardware as well as the Windows Phone 7 operating system. Check it out.

As shown in Figure 1, the HTC Surround comes in a simple box.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 1: The box

Inside the box, is the phone, a small User’s Manual, a USB charging cable with wall outlet, a set of hard ear buds, a pair of soft covers for the ear buds, and a small clip, as shown in Figure 2.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 2: What’s in the box

With a 3.8-inch LCD touch screen, black screen bezel and silver surround, the HTC Surround looks similar to many other phones of this type, as shown in Figure 3. However the stainless steel bezel and soft-touch matte black back make it feel extremely solid. The Surround is 0.51 inches (13 mm) thick and weights 5.82 ounces (165 g), making it slightly thicker and heavier than similar models. While the added weight might be a detriment to some, it does add to the solid feel of the device.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 3: The HTC Surround

[nextpage title=”Controls and Use”]

The hardware specs for Windows 7 Phone devices are standard across all of the devices that run this software. This includes the 3.8-inch LCD with 480 x 800 resolution. The screen is bright and the colors are vibrant, but it cannot compare to the retina display on the iPhone 4 or the Super AMOLED devices like the Samsung Galaxy phones. That said, the screen is quite useable and looks good unless viewed side-by-side with one of these other devices. The screen brightness defaults to automatic, but it can be changes to low, medium, and high to suit your needs. At high resolution, the screen is very bright, but, of course, uses more battery power.

Although, in most cases, the rechargeable Lithium Ion battery will last an entire day, this phone seems to drain more quickly when it is not in use. So be prepared to charge it every evening, even if you are not a big talker.

Figure 4 shows the front of the Surround with the unlock screen. This screen shows the time, date, number of email, missed calls or texts, and your next appointment or event. The status bar at the top shows the strength of signal, battery, and other indicators such as Wi-Fi and airplane mode. On this screen you can also see the three main touch-control icons on the bottom: Back, Start (Home), and Search. At the top of the screen is the phone speaker.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 4: The Surround unlock screen

Unlocking the screen reveals the Windows 7 Phone Start screen, as shown in Figure 5.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 5: The Start screen

The home screen, which Microsoft likes to call the “Start” screen, has Tiles that line up in two columns. Some Tiles are double-wide which seems to be controlled by the app developer. You scroll vertically to see more Tiles. This screen can display both hubs and apps. It can also be customized with favorite pictures, web pages, and contacts.

Hubs are special areas in Windows Phone 7. There are six standard Microsoft hubs: People, Pictures, Games, Music & Videos, Marketplace, and Office. On this phone, there is also an HTC hub. Hubs are horizontal panoramas of information. Only a portion of the hub is shown on any screen. As shown in Figure 6, the side of the portion of the hub that you are viewing is visually cut off indicating that you can swipe your finger to reveal the next screen with more information. While this may sound a bit confusing, it is actually very intuitive and easy-to-use. This is the same methodology that is used in Microsoft’s Zune software. So if you are a Zune user, you will be very comfortable with it. If you are not a Zune user, you will still find it easy to learn.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 6: A hub

In Figure 6, there is also an arrow near the top right that indicates that you can scroll in that direction. Doing that will give you a list of all objects, including apps, hubs, and things like Settings. This provides an alternate way to view items and also lets you see the items that you don’t have displayed on the home screen.

All-in-all, the Windows 7 Phone operating system is well-thought-out and intuitive. Although there is swiping, zooming, and panning like other smart phones, the entire user interface seems smoother and more fluid. It is, however, very different from Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating system. With Windows 7 being the youngest of these systems, it is not surprising to find some excellent innovations like Hubs right alongside of some omissions like consistent support of landscape mode, which we will talk about later in this review.

The top of the Surround is shown in Figure 7, where you can see the sleep/wake button and the standard headphone jack. The bottom of the device, shown in Figure 8, has only two openings: the microphone and the USB charging and computer-connection port.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 7: The top of the Surround

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 8: The bottom of the Surround

Setting up the Surround is easy. You don’t need a Windo
ws Live ID to use the phone, but you do need one for the Marketplace and other features.

This phone supports standard POP3/IMAP accounts as well as Exchange accounts. Setting up most email accounts is easy. Outlook accounts not connected via Exchange ActiveSync, however, must go through Windows Live Mail in the cloud to get their calendar and contacts in sync. This is a bit more complicated, but still doable. There is no unified inbox, but the email feature is easy to use and powerful enough for the average user. Your Windows Live account can also give you a backup of your data and tools to locate or wipe your phone if it gets lost or stolen.

This Window 7 Phone integrates well with Facebook, but we didn’t find a Twitter app yet. The Marketplace is bare-bones compared to the iPhone app store, but it is growing.

With the 1 GHz processor, the phone is snappy with little lag time and so web surfing is pleasurable. The mobile version of Internet Explorer is quite useable and the default search engine is, of course, Microsoft’s Bing. The Office hub offers integration with Microsoft Office including limited creation and editing capabilities in Word and Excel. The mobile version of OneNote is a useful general purpose note taker.

Text entry on the Surround is easy. The screen is responsive and the standard on-screen QWERTY keyboard, shown in Figure 9, is well laid out and easy to use. It is the same in landscape and/or portrait mode. As you start using it, you will find little things that are very welcome. For instance, this Windows Phone 7 visibly changes between caps and non-caps, so, unlike the iOS keyboard, you know exactly what you are typing. While both cut and paste and flash were missing on the phone we reviewed, Microsoft has promised that both will be available soon.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 9: The on-screen keyboard

When using this phone you will quickly notice that landscape mode is not available in all areas in Windows Phone 7 operating system. For instance, you can reply to an email in landscape mode, but hubs do not work in landscape mode, so if you want to search a hub, you will have to type in portrait mode. Also, the verbal search mode is available when using Bing, the default search engine, but is not available in several other areas, like the Marketplace or People search.

Of course, the HTC Surround has all of the necessary voice features for a smart phone. While AT&T service was still spotty in several areas where we tested it, it was good in most urban environments. The Surround supports quad-band world roaming and has a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, text and multimedia messaging. It also supports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3G, and GPS. The dialer app is a tile on the home page which takes you to a list of recent calls. You must then press the small keypad icon to make a call. We would have liked that process to be a bit more streamlined, but didn’t consider it a big inconvenience, especially since we could press and hold the Start button to verbally tell the phone who to call and to speak commands. We could also put often-called people on the Start page.

[nextpage title=”Music, Video and Camera”]

The Surround gets its name from it most unique feature: a slide-out speaker bar. Shown in Figure 6, this bar pops up above the landscape screen protruding about half an inch (13 mm). You open this bar just as you would a slide-out keyboard. In Figure 10, you can also see a button on the left side of the bar that acts as an on/off switch for the surround sound. When listening to music, you will notice a difference when the surround sound is activated.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 10: The slide-out sound bar

While the sound of this device is not spectacular, it is certainly better than most cell phones. As shown in Figure 11, the Surround has a kickstand that can be opened when the speaker bar is open. This makes the phone a free-standing music player and video display. While we were not terribly excited about this feature, we found ourselves enjoying it quite frequently.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 11: The back of the Surround showing the kickstand and camera

When using the Surround to listen to music, the first thing that you will notice is that due to the deficiency in the Windows 7 software, landscape mode is not supported for music. So when listening to music, you often wind up with the device in landscape mode and the screen in portrait mode, as shown in Figure 12.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 12: Listening to music with the speakers open

We were often frustrated when listening to music or watching a movie using the kickstand because it was difficult to control the volume, especially to stop or mute the music or video when someone entered the room. It would be nice to have a pause button on the speaker bar. Perhaps HTC will work on that.

The Surround works with the Windows Zune software which, like iTunes, handles all the syncing and handling of your music. The HTC Surround comes with a 30-day Zune Pass for unlimited music and 30-day trial of AT&T Uverse mobile apps which lets you download TV shows. You must supply a credit card for the Zune Pass and remember to cancel at the end of the trial if you no longer want to use it, but if you love music, you may really like some of the features in Zune’s music community.

While the Surround is focused more on audio, it also has a very good 5-megapixel camera. On feature that we loved was the ability to take a picture without unlocking the phone. You simply press and hold the camera button on the side of the phone and the camera turns on ready to snap your photo.The camera button is shown in Figure 13 along with the volume control button.

HTC Surround Cell Phone ReviewFigure 13: The side of the Surround

Camera controls are minimal, but the camera app is fast and responsive. There are scene modes, effects like sepia and grayscale, and zoom. You can view the photos or videos immediately or in the Picture hub where you have additional options. Pictures were clear and color representation was good. Videos shot in 720p, were impressively smooth. We were amazed by the ability of this camera to take good low-light photos and videos. We were able to take photos in a room so dark that we couldn’t see anything, yet the camera captured images that were very discernable. Movies taken in dark restaurant were, again, quite good. Photos and movies lost a little detail when shown on a computer, but were still good.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

The main specifications for the HTC Surround cell phone inclu

  • Dimensions: 4.71 x 2.42 x 0.51 inches (119.7 x 61.5 x 12.97 mm)
  • Weight (with battery): 5.82 ounces (165 grams)
  • Screen Size: 3.8"
  • Screen Resolution: 480 x 800 WVGA
  • Camera: 5 Megapixel (720p video recording)
  • Internal storage: 16 GB
  • ROM: 512 MB
  • RAM: 448 MB
  • CPU Processing Speed: 1 GHz
  • Operating Bands: 850/1900/2100 MHz (HSPA/WCDMA), 850/900/1800/1900 MHz (GSM)
  • Battery Type: Rechargeable Lithium-ion polymer or Lithium-ion battery, 1230 mAh
  • Talk time: Up to 250 minutes (WCDMA) or up to 240 minutes (GSM)
  • Standby time: Up to 255 hours (WCDMA) or up to 275 hours (GSM)
  • Connectivity: micro USB 2.0, IEEE 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR
  • More Information: https://www.htc.com
  • Carrier in the US: AT&T
  • MSRP in the US: USD 500.00, free with a 2-year contract ordered on-line (free shipping, minimum voice service of USD 40/month, minimum data service of USD 15/month, USD 325 minus USD 10 per used month contract termination fee)

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The HTC surround is a unique smart phone with a slide-out surround speaker system. The speaker system makes the phone a little heavy, but to some, that extra weight adds to the sturdiness of an already solidly built phone. For music lovers, the sound is good and the kickstand is useable.

If you are in an area where AT&T service is good, you will find this phone performs well and has everything you need to make calls, get email, send texts, surf the web, take photos, take movies, play music, play videos, etc. However, if you are a Twitter user, you will find better integration with other operating systems. If you are a casual gamer you will find more games available from the iTunes App Store or the Android Marketplace, as Microsoft’s app store is still very limited.

The HTC Surround runs Microsoft’s new operating system: Windows Phone 7. Microsoft put a lot of thought into the Window 7 Phone operating system: the interface is fluid and intuitive. Although this new OS is very useable, we were aggravated by the lack of landscape mode usability, which was especially detrimental when trying to listen to music using the kickstand. We also missed flash and cut and paste. While Apple could get away with omissions like this because they were the first out of the smart phone gate, at this point in time, these omissions cannot be so easily overlooked.

If you are already vested in the Microsoft environment, a Windows 7 Phone will be easy to integrate with your Microsoft Live, Zune, and Office programs. Although we didn’t test it, the Surround will also integrate with Microsoft’s XBox LIVE gaming device.

If you have to learn the Microsoft eco-system and phone operating system, it will not be terribly difficult, but we feel that Apple’s iOS is slightly easier and Google’s Android OS is more customizable.

Strong Points

  • Solid and sturdy design
  • Very good surround speakers
  • Camera excellent in low light
  • The ability to take a picture without unlocking the phone
  • Fluid interface
  • Kickstand for hands free viewing and listening
  • 16 GB built-in memory
  • Office integration

Weak Points

  • Limited support for landscape mode
  • Speakers add to weight of the camera
  • No cut and paste
  • No flash