- Good battery life
- Solid metal unibody chassis
- No access to the battery
- No support for external storage
- No Flash support
Windows Phone is available in a fair number of handsets now, and is settling down as a smartphone operating system, having had a significant set of software updates and tweaks in the latter part of 2012. Windows Phone 7.5, codenamed Mango before its release, is the most recent version, and it's what you'll find in HTC's relatively affordable, no-frills Radar.
The HTC Radar has a certain tactile appeal, although it looks broadly similar to every other Windows Phone on the market. The similarities come in the placement of three touch buttons beneath the screen — for Windows Start Screen, Back and Search functions — and a side button for launching the rear-facing camera.
HTC differentiates the Radar by giving it a 'unibody' design. The chassis is made from a single metal piece, curved round to form the handset's edges. This makes the 137g handset feel solid and robust, but also means there's no backplate, so you can't access the battery. The SIM card slot lies beneath a small plastic cover at the bottom back of the chassis. This wraps around the bottom of the handset appearing on the front as a sort of extension to the lower edge. Visually it's not unattractive, but it does mean you can't carry a second battery or replace the internal one yourself if it malfunctions.
As well as the camera shortcut button, the Radar's right side houses a long, thin volume button. The bottom edge is clear of connectors, thanks to that plastic cover arrangement, so the microUSB port sits on the left edge. The on/off switch is on the top edge, along with a 3.5mm headset jack.
The HTC Radar is at the upper end of mid-sized for a smartphone, measuring 61.5mm wide by 120.5mm deep by 10.9mm thick with a 3.8in. screen. Our small hands can just about reach across the screen for one-handed use.
The screen itself is bright and clear enough, although we've seen better. Its 480-by-800-pixel resolution is standard for Windows Phone handsets, and it delivers crisp, sharp text. Perusing long documents or emails is relatively easy on the eye. In many ways, this screen is preferable to that of the HTC Titan which, as we commented in our review, could have done with a higher resolution due to its 4.7in. size. Larger isn't necessarily better.
To give the Radar a little extra appeal, HTC has produced a dock (sample price £22 ex. VAT from Clove Technology). We remember when most smartphones came with a dock, but these days such things are a real novelty. Drop the Radar into the dock, in wide-screen format, and it pops itself into 'dock mode' offering a screen that shows the time and provides media controls. The dock holds the HTC Radar at a good angle for screen viewing, and it'll charge the device too.
The HTC Radar is a well-connected smartphone with Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth (2.1), GPS and HSPA (14.4Mbps down, 5.76Mbs up) all present. As well as HSPA, the handset supports quad-band GSM, GPRS and EDGE.
As we've already noted, the HTC Radar runs Windows Phone 7.5. Microsoft locks a number of aspects of handsets carrying Windows Phone, including the user interface.
The more we use it, the more we're liking some aspects of Microsoft's tile-based Metro user interface. We particularly appreciate the ability to pin real information to the Start Screen, such as map locations. However, we're not sure that leaving hardware partners with no leeway for customising the UI really makes sense.
HTC has done what it can, offering its own HTC Hub as a Start Screen tile. Choose this and you are taken to a weather display very like the one HTC offers on its Android handsets. There are also the inevitable stocks updates, a news feed and links to a range of apps.
The extra apps include HTC Watch for hiring or buying movies, HTC Connected Media (a DLNA media streaming application) and HTC Location for sharing information about where you are with others. You can also add third-party applications via the Marketplace. The range of applications is growing steadily, but still can't compete with Android or iOS in this key respect.
Another feature Microsoft locks down is support for external memory. The HTC Radar doesn't have a microSD card slot — but nor do any other Windows Phone handsets. This means you have to make do with the device's 8GB of internal storage, of which 6.5GB is free in practice. It's a far cry from Android handsets which can be augmented with up to 32GB of external storage on microSD card.
Although there's only 512GB of RAM supporting the 1GHz Qualcomm processor, we found the device responsive enough in everyday use.
There is a 5-megapixel camera with a small LED flash at the back, and a front-facing VGA-resolution camera. The main camera can shoot 720p HD video, and you can get the HTC Radar to instantly upload photos to cloud-based SkyDrive storage (a standard Windows Phone feature).
The HTC Radar supports other generic Windows Phone capabilities such as over-the-air access to OneNote, Excel, Word and PowerPoint via SharePoint, Office 365 and SkyDrive, allowing the phone to support both business users and individuals wanting to take advantage of the cloud. But, unlike with other popular smartphone formats, there's no cabled synchronisation with a local PC for contacts or calendar. Cabled connectivity is only supported for audio and video content via Zune.
Bing Maps replaces Google Maps, and a service called Local Scout finds a variety of resources close to your location. We found this was very good in areas we know well, picking up a broad range of places to eat, tourist attractions and shopping facilities. But it wasn't foolproof: one pub we know whose name changed more than two years ago is still recorded with its old name, for example.
For all its features, Windows Phone 7.5 does not support Flash. We fail to see how a mobile phone can claim the term 'smartphone' and yet not play video that's embedded into, for example, the BBC news web site. It's a major fault in our view.
Nor does the screen fully support automatic reorientation into landscape and portrait modes as you turn the phone in your hands. Many apps do support this — the web browser obviously has to. But the start screen and hubs such as the Office Hub — where Excel, Word PowerPoint and OneNote material is accessed — do not. You have to use these in portrait mode, switching to landscape to view or edit content. It feels like a partial solution, even if Microsoft has good reasons for forcing portrait-mode working in some situations.
Performance & battery life
According to HTC, the Radar's1,520mAh battery will support up to 600 minutes of GSM talk and 480 hours on GSM standby. We found the battery lasted quite well for us, and we got through several two-day stretches without needing to charge it. But with no Flash streaming our usage patter was less strenuous than it is with our regular smartphone.
Remember, too, that if you're a demanding user who likes to carry a spare battery for situations when mains power isn't available, you can't access the HTC Radar's battery to swap in a replacement.
If you're a Windows Phone fan seeking a relatively compact and solidly built handset, the HTC Radar could fit the bill. The optional dock may prove attractive, although that must be balanced by the inaccessible battery.
We're still not convinced by the Windows Phone OS itself though. Hardware manufacturers can't skin it, there's no wired calendar or contacts synchronisation, external memory expansion is not supported, the marketplace still lacks some key applications and there's no Flash support.