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HTC Titan review: HTC Titan

While the HTC Titan's screen is impressive and we're pleased with Windows Phone 7.5, it just doesn't feel like a dramatic leap forward.

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Damien McFerran
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Damien McFerran

Damien McFerran has more than a decade of experience in the interactive entertainment and technology sectors. He is also the Editorial Director of Nintendo Life and co-director of Nlife Ltd. Damien is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.

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The HTC Titan is the first Windows Phone 7.5 handset in the UK, and comes with a gigantic 4.7-inch Super LCD capacitive touchscreen, a single-core 1.5GHz processor and an 8-megapixel camera.

orig-htc-titan-main.jpg
7.5

HTC Titan

The Good

Solid construction; Windows Phone 7.5 brings improvements; screen is great for Web and videos.

The Bad

No microSD card slot; screen resolution could be better; No Flash support in browser.

The Bottom Line

The HTC Titan is proof that size isn't everything. While the phone's screen is impressive and we're generally pleased with what Microsoft has done with Windows Phone 7.5, it just doesn't feel like the dramatic leap forward the platform badly needs right now.

The Titan is available on a monthly contract from around £30 and SIM-free for approximately £400.

Should I buy the HTC Titan?

The HTC Titan lives up to its name, with its imposing 4.7-inch screen requiring an equally imposing frame to encase it. Unless you possess gorilla-sized paws, you're going to need both hands to fully use this device.

Even if the big screen isn't for you, there's much to like here. HTC's handset is running the latest version of Windows Phone, codenamed Mango. It introduces a flood of cool elements, including multi-tasking and the ability to group together your friends and connections. It also boasts a revised edition of Internet Explorer, which is surprisingly accurate when it comes to rendering Web pages.

Despite these improvements, Windows Phone still doesn't feel quite as mature as Android and iOS. We're also at a loss as to why Microsoft continues to insist that hardware developers do not incorporate microSD card slots into their designs. Because of this, the HTC Titan is stuck with 16GB of memory, and this figure cannot be enhanced.

The Titan is surely the best Windows Phone handset to date, but it's not just competing with its own brethren, but also with the likes of the iPhone 4S, BlackBerry Torch 9860 and the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Set against that competition, the Titan's stature is diminished somewhat.

Interface

The HTC Titan is one of the first phones on the market to run Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) straight out of the box. On the surface, Mango doesn't seem to differ much from the previous version of Microsoft's mobile OS, but closer inspection uncovers a surfeit of cool new features.

HTC Titan Homescreen
At first glance, Windows Phone 7.5 doesn't look that different from Windows Phone 7.

Multi-tasking has to be the most interesting new element. This has long been a component of Google's Android OS, and even Apple's iPhone has it these days, so it's pleasing to note that the folks at Redmond have now factored it into Windows Phone -- although some critics will argue that it should have been on the table from day one.

HTC Titan Browser
Multi-tasking support has been added in Mango, allowing you to switch apps without having to shut them down.

To open up the multi-tasking menu, all you need do is hold down the 'back' command. A screen showing all of your current tasks is opened, and you can swipe through and flit between applications with a tap of your finger.

Unlike Android -- which keeps applications running even when they're in the background -- Windows Phone 7.5 appears to 'freeze' apps in the same way that Apple's iOS does. While this allows you to move between applications without having to endure the rigmarole of starting them up from scratch, it can cause issues.

For example, we noticed that when we pushed the Windows Phone Twitter client into the background and then restarted it, it had to think for a few seconds before actually loading. In fact, the time taken to load Twitter in multi-tasking was almost equal to the time taken to launch it from a cold start.

We also noticed that some apps and games refused to play ball with the new multi-tasking feature. Some restarted entirely while others refused to 'save' the state of the program. As developers upgrade their apps this will presumably become less of an issue.

HTC Titan User Interface
HTC has attempted to bring its Sense UI to Windows Phone.

Another big advance in Windows Phone 7.5 is the grouping of contacts (or 'People', as Microsoft is fond of calling them). You can place people from your phonebook, email, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn accounts into separate groups, and then perfect group actions -- such as sending an email -- to all of them.

Mango also supports Twitter and Facebook account integration from within the OS itself -- something that Android has been doing for a while. It's actually a lot more convincing in Windows Phone 7.5, unifying all of your social networking feeds in the 'People' tile.

Speaking of tiles, Windows Phone continues to rely on its USP of a vertically-scrolling bank of tiles which constantly update throughout the day with pertinent information.

While you can switch the arrangement of these tiles and even add in new ones, Windows Phone still feels incredibly basic when it comes to customisation. Aside from being able to change the colour scheme, you're pretty much stumped when it comes to introducing your own personal touch.

We can't help but feel that the guys at HTC have been a bit put off by this, as they've tried their hardest to carry over the lush Sense UI from their Android phones. The HTC Hub app shows animated weather reports, stock news and featured apps, while the HTC Watch portal allows you to download movies and trailers.

HTC Titan Controls
Taking inspiration from HTC Sense-powered phones, Windows Phone 7.5 now supports 'smart' functions, such as turning the device over to silence an incoming ringtone.

Aside from these isolated offerings, HTC hasn't been able to stamp its own personality on Mango at all. Although we admit that user customisation isn't always a good thing (some of the user-created Android themes we've seen recently look like modern art gone hideously awry), Windows Phone feels like too much of a swing in the opposite direction.

It's streamlined, intuitive and unquestionably slick, but we can't help but think that users are slowly going to become bored of its totalitarian look and stifling lack of customisation potential.

Screen

It's hardly surprising that the front of the HTC Titan is absolutely dominated by its Super LCD display -- at 4.7-inches, it's the biggest screen we've seen on a Windows Phone yet.

HTC Titan Size and Scale
The Titan's 4.7-inch display looks absolutely huge.

One has to question the wisdom of giving mobile phones these massive displays. Apple seems to think that 3.5 inches is perfectly acceptable for a mobile phone, yet the iPhone 4 looks like a child's plaything when placed alongside the beefy Titan.

This is not a phone you can realistically use with a single hand. Unless you have fingers so large they'd have made the late Andre the Giant jealous, there's no way you can comfortably reach the top corners of the display with your thumb.You'll need to quickly become accustomed to cradling the handset in one hand while prodding with the other.

HTC Titan Super LCD
Super LCD does a good job, but doesn't quite compare to Super AMOLED Plus.

Although the Super LCD tech lacks the punch of Super AMOLED Plus, the images generated by this gargantuan panel are impressive. Colours are bold and well-defined, while blacks and dark tones have a believable depth to them.

When you consider that the Dell Streak has a screen size of five inches, it's tempting to suggest that the HTC Titan is stepping dangerously close to tablet territory. Sadly, the screen is let down by its resolution, which is locked at 480x800 pixels -- the same as last year's Google Nexus One.

Because of the inflated screen size, the lack of pixels is painfully noticeable. Small text and highly detailed websites show up jagged edges, and it begs the question: why equip a phone with such a massive screen if it shows up the limitations of its resolution?

HTC Titan resolution
The Titan's screen may be massive, but the resolution of 480x800 pixels is a disappointment.

We're tempted to lay the blame at HTC's feet, but the manufacturer's hands were tied on this occasion. Windows Phone does not currently offer support for resolutions higher than 480x800 pixels.

Design

If we were to use one word to sum up the design of the HTC Titan, it would be 'stark'. When the screen is idle, it looks like a monolithic slab of metal. It's not a head-turner in the same way as the lush Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S, but it has its own intrinsic appeal nonetheless.

HTC Titan Case Remove
Like the HTC Sensation, the Titan features a two-part case construction.

Physical inputs on the HTC Titan are kept to a bare minimum. The only buttons on the phone are the power key, volume rocker and camera button. The three Windows Phone commands found on the front of the device are backlit touch-sensitive controls.

HTC Titan Touch buttons
There are no physical buttons on the front of the Titan -- they're touch-sensitive controls instead.

While we're big fans of this minimalist ethos, it's annoying that you can only wake up the phone by pressing the power button -- which is often hard to comfortably reach due the immense dimensions of the handset.

Like the HTC Sensation, the Titan sports a unique case construction. The main body of the device actually sits inside a metal uni-body shell, and this has to be unshackled whenever you need to remove your SIM card or change your battery.

HTC Titan Back View
The rear of the phone has a rubberised area at the bottom which aids grip.

This design grants the phone a robust and sturdy feel, with no creakiness or unsightly joins to diminish its imposing aesthetic. The muscular construction makes the Titan something of a porker, though -- at 160 grams, this isn't a device that will slip into your pocket unnoticed.

HTC Titan Side View
Although it's not quite as thin as the Samsung Galaxy S2, the Titan is still pretty slender.

Although the Titan's size is likely to give you hand strain if you grip it for too long, it's actually quite a thin customer. At 9.9mm it's only slightly thicker than the super-svelte Samsung Galaxy S2.

Processing Power

Unlike its Android-powered sibling, the HTC Sensation, the Titan doesn't sport a fancy dual-core processor. Instead, the company has used a bumped-up single-core CPU running at 1.5GHz -- a similar route to the one taken by Sony Ericsson with its Xperia Arc S, which contains a single-core 1.4GHz chip.

HTC Titan Voice Control
It's not as amusing as Apple's Siri or as accurate as Google's voice control, but Windows Phone does allow you to bark orders at your handset.

With the recent hype surrounding possible quad-core handsets in 2012, taking the single-core route might seem foolhardy -- especially on a flagship device such as this. The performance of the HTC Titan, however, is rarely less than silky-smooth.

There's a lot of debate as to whether or not a dual-core CPU is really a necessity in a phone, and the brisk performance displayed here is certainly interesting. A dual-core arrangement would have made the phone a little more future-proof, though. Should the next update to Windows Phone introduce more processor-intensive functionality, the Titan may struggle to offer the same smooth ride it currently does.

Internal storage

Like all handsets running Microsoft's new Windows Phone OS, the HTC Titan does not offer the opportunity to utilise microSD cards. There's 16GB of internal flash memory on board, and that figure cannot be increased.

For some, this is bound to be a frustration. The Android-powered Samsung Galaxy S2 boasts the same amount of internal storage space, but offers the chance to augment that amount with memory cards up to 32GB in size.

If you're fond of carrying around a lot of media on your handset, then you may want to look elsewhere. But the reality is that 16GB is a perfectly suitable amount of space for the vast majority of users, and will allow you to store a fair amount of music, photos and videos.

Application

Every new application eco-system needs time to evolve and grow, and in the past year the Windows Phone Marketplace has expanded tremendously. Microsoft insists that it's increasing at a faster rate than Apple's App Store, and while we're not totally convinced that is the case, pickings are a lot sweeter than they were this time six months ago.

HTC Titan Angry Birds
It's great that Angry Birds is available on Windows Phone, but that price is hard to swallow when compared to rival platforms.

Despite the increase in apps and games, there's still a yawning chasm between this and rival services, such as the App Store and Android Market. We also noticed some rather worrying price disparities. Angry Birds costs 69p on iOS and is free (albeit ad-supported) on Android, but on Windows Phone it will set you back a whopping £2.29.

HTC Titan Twitter
Official Windows Phone Twitter and Facebook apps are available, but they're a long way behind their iOS and Android counterparts.

You may argue that it's money well spent, but it is galling that Windows Phone users are expected to fork out more cash than their friends, purely because of the phone they own.

Internet

Because the HTC Titan is a Windows Phone, it comes with Microsoft's own Internet Explorer Web browser installed. Although we lack the extensive coding expertise to check, Microsoft insists that this mobile edition is running on the same framework as the desktop version, which means that Web pages should look exactly how they're supposed to.

HTC Titan Internet
The new version of Internet Explorer in Windows Phone 7.5 is apparently running on the same code as the desktop version.

A quick test of our favourite sites reveals that this is largely the case. The surfing experience is accentuated further by that massive screen, which allows you to peruse most sites with relative ease.

The lack of Adobe Flash support is annoying, however, especially when you consider that it features on most Android phones.

Camera and video recording

The HTC Titan has an 8-megapixel snapper with autofocus capability and a dual LED flash. A whole host of options are on the table as well, including burst shooting, face detection and the all-important panoramic mode for those times when your subject just won't fit in a standard photo.

HTC Titan Macro
Close-up shots are decent enough, although the autofocus camera does struggle when you get too close (click to see larger image).

Because the HTC Titan is equipped with a dedicated camera button, getting the device ready for snapping is child's play. You just hold down the button to activate the camera, an action which achieves the same result no matter where in the phone's UI you happen to be.

This is great news for those of you that have been missing golden images simply because your phone lacks a quick and easy way to fire up the image capture mode.

HTC Titan Photos outdoors
Shooting in broad daylight with the HTC Titan gives impressive results (click to see larger image).

Options are one thing, but the quality of the camera itself is what really matters. Thankfully, HTC has bestowed a pretty decent lens on the Titan, and it copes well in a wide variety of situations. Bold, natural light really allows the camera to shine, and the images it captures on a sunny day are second to none.

HHTC Titan Photos indoors
In dim light, the Titan's LED flash does a good job of illuminating objects, but it can be overbearing on occasion, as in the top left image (click to see larger image).

In darker environments, the results are predictably less enticing, but the Titan's BSI sensor does help. It's not quite as effective as the Exmor R CMOS lens on the Xperia Arc S, but we've certainly seen worse. The dual LED flash does sometimes blast your subject with white light, but this mercifully happens less often than with other mobile phones.

In terms of moving images, the HTC Titan can capture video at 720p, making it ideal for recording HD home movies. With flicker adjustment, white balance controls and continuous autofocus, this handset makes a pretty impressive micro-camcorder, but there are a few quirks.

Out of the box, the Titan defaults to VGA recording with mono sound, forcing you to dig into the camera options to enable HD and stereo audio. Why HTC has decided to do this is a mystery, and we imagine many inexperienced users will record footage thinking that it's at the maximum possible quality.

Thankfully, once you've adjusted the settings you can save them, but should you choose not too, the Titan's camera software will return to the default configuration every time you fire up the camera or video recording application.

Connectivity and battery life

Like all Windows Phone devices, the HTC Titan boasts 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Our review unit correctly detected that we'd inserted a new SIM card and allowed us to choose which network provider we were using. But upon doing so we were greeted with a SMS message telling us that our settings couldn't be downloaded.

In the end, we had to input them manually in order to get mobile data working, which is disappointing as we've never experienced such a problem with any of the recent Android phones we've reviewed.

The Titan comes with a powerful 1,600mAh, which is an above-average power cell for a modern smart phone. Although the lack of a dual-core processor may lead you to assume that the Titan's appetite for juice is low, that massive screen soaks up more than its fair share of energy.

As it stands, the battery stamina of the Titan was actually better than we expected. Heavy use saw us having to charge it once a day, but once we'd dropped down to a more typical pattern, we found that it made it well into a second day before displaying the dreaded 'battery low' warning.

Conclusion

There's a high chance you'll make up your mind about whether or not the HTC Titan is for you when you first lay eyes on its enormous frame.

That 4.7-inch screen is likely to sharply divide the mobile-buying public, and we can't see this beast of a blower appealing to purchasers keen on reducing the clutter in their pockets and bags.

Still, HTC is clearly onto something with this device. Rivals such as Samsung and Sony Ericsson are similarly enamoured with big-screen phones, so they obviously hold some appeal. Those of you that love Web browsing and watching videos on your mobile will fall head over heels in love with that expansive display, and we can see tech-heads falling for the Titan's sleek lines and uncluttered look.

Another big selling point is the presence of Windows Phone 7.5, but this isn't the big update that many were hoping for. Although it brings with it much-needed functions that will prove instrumental in the battle against Android and iOS, Mango still feels rather basic. To the untrained eye, there's little here that's massively different from last year's version of the OS, and it's only users of that OS that will truly appreciate all the hard work Microsoft has put in.

If you're one of those users, then you'll probably be as pleased as punch with this device. There's a lot to like about the HTC Titan, but the minor issues combine to make the entire handset feel compromised. Potential customers are advised to try before they buy, or possibly even wait to see what tricks Nokia (which will be launching its own Windows Phone 7.5 handsets in 2012) has its up sleeve.