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It's always exciting ushering in the first thing of its kind, and in this case, it's HTC's first 4G LTE smartphone for AT&T. It runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread and the HTC Sense 3.0 interface. It also comes with a hearty helping of high-end specs, including a 4.5-inch qHD (540x960 pixels) touch screen, a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera, a front-facing camera, support for 1080p HD video, and 16GB of internal storage. That's a pretty hefty package for $199.99 with a new contract.
Yet in the price/materials trade-off, HTC seems to have sacrificed its trademark craftsmanship and build quality when birthing the Vivid, which feels and looks notably cheap and plasticky rather than the polished premium device we've all come to expect from HTC.
I hate to say it, but with its high-gloss, black plastic body and rounded corners, the HTC Vivid resembles a Samsung device more than HTC's typical meticulously crafted designs, which is a bit of a letdown for a handset with such high-caliber capabilities. The fact that it's a jumbo phone--at 5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick (depending on where you measure it)--makes the plastic slab-iness of it all even more apparent. The Vivid still has some styling in the angles sides on the back of the phone (I'm lukewarm on the design), and it also carries HTC's characteristic metal accents and weightiness (6.2 ounces). This time, however, the metal is a thin plate of the battery cover that slightly protrudes and feels a little ungainly in the hand. The combination of slippery plastic and the phone's angles also made it a bit more difficult to pick up off flat surfaces than other phones.
I also take issue with the build quality. In addition to using cheaper-looking material than HTC usually opts for, the back cover never sat flush in my review unit, emitting creaks whenever I pressed down. And here's another demerit that HTC usually avoids: you have to remove the battery to access the microSD card slot. Sure, keeping costs down to offer a phone at up to $100 less than some of the high-end superphones we're seeing these days does require concessions, but even with its more affordable devices like the $100 HTC Evo Design 4G it's clear that the company took pains to create a polished device.
The 4.5-inch Super LCD display looked sharp, clear, and colorful with its qHD screen resolution of 540x960 pixels and support for 262,000 colors. In the screen wars, it ranks on the higher end of the scale, but it did wash out the normal amount in direct sunlight. Android 2.3 Gingerbread runs the show on the OS level, with HTC's excellent Sense 3.0 interface on top, adding extra features, functionality, and rich graphics.
Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel camera for self-portraits and video chats, and an indicator light. Below it are four touch-sensitive navigation buttons. A tall, thin volume rocker is on the right spine, with the Micro-USB charging port on the left, and the 3.5-millimeter headset jack and power button up top. The 8-megapixel camera lens with dual-LED flash is on the back.
Thanks to the uniformity of both Android and HTC Sense, the Vivid has all the smartphone essentials, and then some. There's Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth 3.0, and communication standards like multiple inbox support, and multimedia and text messaging. Contact importing, social networking syncing, and the works are here, as well as access to Google's usual services: Gmail, Maps, turn-by-turn voice navigation, and YouTube.
Besides that, HTC and AT&T shovel on a load of apps besides. On the HTC side of things, you have things like HTC Hub, Dock Mode, Friendstream, Watch for entertaintment, and the Footprints location app. AT&T adds branded apps like AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T Family Map, and AT&T Navigator, but you'll also find Live TV, Movies, and visual voice mail.
Why stop there, when there are so many other apps to be had? The Vivid also comes preloaded with Amazon Kindle, FM Radio, MOG Music, the NFS Shift game demo, Polaris Office, Yellow Pages Mobile, and Qik Lite for video chats. Of course, there's also the calendar, clock, and calculator, the music player, and voice search, too.
It's painfully obvious that not every 8-megapixel camera is created equally. Some are too blurry, with tiny sensors that never let in enough light. HTC got it right with the Vivid, which also boasts a f2.2 lens for better low-light performance. Indeed, the camera performed very well in a number of low light situations. Overall, images taken in both indoor and outdoor settings with a variety of light were generally crisp and colorful, with high color fidelity. It did well translating textures. There were a couple of off instances here and there (see the gallery for a closer look), but I found myself taking more photos with the camera phone because I could trust the high-quality outcome.
The same can even be said for the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, which produced smooth images that weren't grainy, and with correct color.
The camera software itself has more options than the usual fare, thanks to HTC Sense. Extra settings include widescreen (16:9) in addition to standard (4:3) resolution, plus there's auto-focus and auto-enhancing. You can also apply one of sixteen effects before shooting, including HDR and panorama modes. Adding effects, cropping, and rotating images are all options after you snap a photo as well.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that the Vivid's 1080p HD video (60 fps) captured and played video smoothly, without any jerkiness or stuttering.
The Vivid has a lush 16GB of internal storage, with a microSD expansion slot that allows for up to 32GB more.
I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; LTE 1700, 2100) in New York using AT&T's network. Call quality was disappointing on my end, but mostly passable. Volume was strong when I tested in a quiet location, but I had a hard time hearing outside on a city street; I wish the phone had gone louder then. I heard a soft yet persistent background crackle and voices didn't sound quite rich. I also detected a high, sharp "whine" that occurred in step with my caller's words.
On his end, my test caller said I didn't sound natural, adding that my voice sounded distorted and clipped, almost garbled. However, I was loud enough if not clear.
HTC Vivid call quality sample Listen now:
For the speakerphone test, I held the phone at waist level. Volume was robust on both ends of the line, though voices sounded muddy to me. They also sounded richer than through the standard speaker, and not tinny. My test caller called speakerphone "acceptable," and noted that it retained the same poor voice quality as the standard call.
Performance on the Vivid was excellent, thanks to its speedy 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor, which made navigation and program loading respectively responsive and rapid.
Speeds were a little more difficult to test, since at the time of writing, neither New York nor San Francisco were within AT&T's LTE coverage area. In the absence of LTE, the Vivid will (and did) still run on 4G HSPA+ speeds, however. While I never saw it drop to 3G, data did sometimes hang for stretches, especially when inside buildings or mysterious dead zones. I used Ookla's Speedtest.net app to get a diagnostic reading on the speeds in Manhattan's Soho and Midtown areas--they ranged from 2-to-6Mbps down, with a mere 0.41 as the lowest dip and 7Mbps as the highest. (Stay tuned for more in real-world tests.)
When it comes to the HTC Vivid, I feel much like a teacher scolding a star pupil for turning in B+ work instead of a solid A. HTC dropped the ball on the handset's chintzy plastic design, especially compared with most of its other beautiful, thoughtfully crafted phones. That's a real shame because the high hardware production value and rich Sense software experience are more often HTC's most important differentiators among the ranks of Android phones.
On the other hand, the rest of HTC's work is top-notch, from the excellent 8-megapixel camera that was both simple and powerful, to the LTE support, large screen, high resolution, dual-core processor, and memory store. Plus, add in the $200 price tag for a phone that you might see on another carrier for 50 percent more, and that icky plastic stops being quite so offensive. Or does it?
I can't quite get over the ungainly design of the phone's back, that creak of the ill-fitting battery cover, and the inconvenient placement of the microSD. Once again, I'm back to the stance of that teacher who can see the obvious success of a piece of work, but who's also wary of encouraging repeat mistakes.