The HTC Titan II is every bit true to its mythological namesake. If it were cheaper than the Nokia Lumia 900, or if its rival didn't exist at all, it would be the biggest, baddest smartphone running Microsoft's operating system. It has agreeable performance and a few standout features under its large 4.7-inch-screened hood, but that same display left me hanging in other ways. And though its design is metallic and sturdy,it wasn't without its flaws. Find out if it's worth the splurge or if a cheaper Windows handset is a better choice.
HTC didn't step outside the box when designing the new Titan II. The phone is almost identical to its predecessor, the original HTC Titan. At 5.1 inches tall by 2.8 inches wide by 0.39 inch thick, this handset is just as much of a behemoth. Sculpted in the flat, rectangular slab shape that's become so common in today's smartphones, the Titan II is the spitting image of many of HTC's Android handsets. Tipping the scales at a hefty 6 ounces, the Titan II will weigh you down. But even so, the phone's soft-touch metallic gray finish, rounded curves, and tightly beveled edges give it a premium feel. I had no trouble wrapping my paws around it, but the Titan II's large size will pose a challenge for smaller hands.
Almost the entire front of the Titan II is dominated by its vast 4.7-inch display. With a WVGA (800x480-pixel) resolution, the Super LCD touch screen has the same resolution as the first Titan (also a 4.7-inch Super LCD) and the new Nokia Lumia 900 (4.3-inch, WVGA). While the Lumia's display is smaller, images on its screen look sharper because of its higher pixel density. Also, thanks to Nokia's ClearBlack filter, the phone's AMOLED display produces much higher contrast. When I set the two smartphones side by side, colors on the Lumia popped compared with on the Titan II. On the other hand, the Lumia's colors were oversaturated while the Titan II's screen created hues that were more lifelike to my eyes.
The bottom edge of the Titan II is slightly curved, forming a gentle chin. Here, right below the Titan II's screen, are icons for the three standard Windows Phone buttons for Back, Start, and Search. Like the Lumia 900's, the Titan II's keys are capacitive and backlit, and provide a soft vibration when you press them. Placed above the display are the handset's 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera and thin earpiece, a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and a small power button. The only other controls are a thin volume bar and dedicated camera key on the device's right side.
On back of the phone are the ultrahigh-resolution 16-megapixel camera and dual-LED flash array. A small speaker sits here too, plus understated monotone HTC and Windows Phone logos. A small textured back plate covers the SIM card compartment, but sadly there's no SD card slot for extra storage, and the battery isn't removable.
As a Windows Phone 7.5 Mango smartphone, the HTC Titan II provides practically the same user experience as any other WP7 handset. Mango features some welcome improvements such as Twitter integration in the People hub, threaded conversations, multitasking, and enhanced Bing search. You can read more about them in our in-depth review of Windows Phone Mango.
Now, don't get me wrong--though I love the power and customization the Android OS offers, (personally I find the rigidity of iOS too constraining), I appreciate what Windows Phone's Metro has to offer. Indeed, the user interface is intuitive, attractive, and engaging. My only objections, and they can be deal killers, concern not being able to find certain applications I can't live without. TweetDeck is one and I'm sure Instagram is another must-have for many users, but both sadly are missing from the WP7 market. Yes, Microsoft's app collection is 70,000 titles strong and growing, but it still has its share of holes.
As with the original Titan, HTC added a few of its own flourishes to the Titan II's OS. The HTC Hub showcases HTC's signature clock and weather widget plus featured apps, news, and stock reports, and there are HTC-branded apps like HTC Watch, HTC's video download and rental service, HTC's Photo Enhancer, Locations, Notes, and Connected Media. As you might expect, AT&T preloaded several of its own apps, like AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T Navigator, and AT&T Radio. You'll find the usual Windows Phone apps on board as well such as MS Office, Local Scout, and Bing Maps. Unlike the bloatware currently afflicting most Android phones, you actually can uninstall these apps completely if you desire.
Discounting the advanced 16-megapixel camera, not much has changed under the hood compared with the previous Titan model. The HTC Titan II has the same 1.5GHz single-core CPU, 4.7-inch screen, and 16GB of internal memory. One big change however is the GSM/HSPA+ world phone's access to true 4G LTE. Other connectivity options include GPS, Bluetooth 2.1, and Wi-Fi radio. If you're into video chat, the Titan II also sports the same 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera as the first Titan, plus the Tango chat app.
Integration with popular social media platforms on the Titan II is just as tight as ever. The phone supports Windows Live, Google Mail, Facebook, and Twitter accounts and also aggregates them into one convenient People Hub. Contacts and calendar details are seamlessly carried over from these services. I especially like the way the Pictures function makes it possible to save Facebook photos directly to the phone, something I still can't figure out how to do in Android. Also slick are the Windows Phone operating system's voice command capabilities. For instance, If the phone is connected to a headset, hitting the call button launches options to search and call contacts, or dictate texts to them just by speaking.
Entertainment plays a big role in Windows Phone too, with Microsoft's Zune music service and Xbox Live built into the core of the OS. With Bing search I was even able to listen to music playing in the background, tag it, then have the option to buy the track directly from the Zune store.
With the sharpest image sensor that I've ever seen gracing a smartphone, the HTC Titan II's 16-megapixel camera raised high expectations. The handset certainly offers a wealth of features and settings such as smile capture, face detection, manual ISO, burst mode, and panorama, plus a heap of special scene modes. The Titan II's camera is nimble too, with its autofocus taking less than a second to lock on to subjects and a shot-to-shot time just as brief.
By all means I expected to be blown away by the images I captured with the Titan II. Surprisingly, though, in early testing they seemed on par with pictures I snapped with the Nokia Lumia 900's 8-megapixel camera. When I pit the Titan II against the Lumia 900 in deeper photo testing, however, it quickly became clear that the Titan II indeed has a better camera system. Images had more accurate and lifelike color, plus low-light performance was quite good. In both additional indoor and outdoor tests, the Lumia 900 painted shots with an unattractive blueish tint. Take a look at my Titan II vs. Lumia 900 camera shootout for more details.
Due to its lower reliance on multitasking, for good or ill Windows Phone 7.5 doesn't need a lot of processing overhead to run. As a result, the WP7 devices I've used all typically perform with the same amount of pep. The HTC Titan II is no different, and the handset flipped through its smoothly animated menus and apps with authority. I never observed a lag or hiccup during my short time testing the phone.
Equipped with a 1,730mAh battery, HTC says the Titan II should hum along for 14 days on standby, provide up to 4 hours of continuous talk time, and play audio for 20 hours straight. In my experience, the device should hold its charge for a full workday, but with a screen this big I advise plugging it in overnight.
As it's one of the first two Windows Phone devices out of the gates with LTE 4G (the other being the Lumia 900), I was very curious about how much bandwidth I could squeeze out of the HTC Titan II. And I have to say, I'm impressed with the results I saw. The handset managed a swift average of 16Mbps for downloads and 5.1Mbps up. That's on par with what fellow CNET reviewer Jessica Dolcourt and I got out of the Lumia 900.
HTC Titan II call quality sample Listen now:
As for audio quality, calls made with the HTC Titan II on AT&T's network in New York were acceptable and in line with other devices on the carrier's network. There was a slight background hiss, but in general callers said that I sounded clear and without any distortion. People on the other end could tell I was dialing from a mobile line, but that's not unusual.
Under most other circumstances, the $199.99 HTC Titan II would be a strong challenger to even robust Android machines. Its 16-megapixel camera certainly sets it apart from the field of typical smartphones with standard 8-megapixel sensors. These aren't ordinary times, however, especially with Nokia making an overtly aggressive, and some say last-ditch, WP7 push. And at just $99, the Nokia Lumia 900 has a more attractive screen, similar performance, fast LTE 4G, the same Windows UI, and a pretty good camera. What's more, it looks a heck of a lot more interesting.