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HTC Explorer review: HTC Explorer

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The Good Affordable Android action; specially adapted Sense 3.5.a user interface.

The Bad Small screen; low-powered specs.

The Bottom Line The HTC Explorer is aimed at those using a smart phone for the first time. We reckon this straightforward Android handset could find plenty of fans.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.5 Overall

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It's all too easy to fixate on the latest, shiniest smart phones packing hugely powerful processors and massive screens. But if you're not much of a phone user and just need something simple to handle the essentials, the world of the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S2 can be a frighteningly expensive place.

The HTC Explorer provides a simple interface and cuts back on screen quality and processor speed in order to come up with a much more affordable price tag.

It's available now SIM-free for £120 pay as you go or from £10 a month on contract.

Should I buy the HTC Explorer?

Rather than offer a massive screen packed into an even more massive body, the HTC Explorer comes in a much more bite-sized form. It's so slight you'll barely notice it shoved into your jeans.

A compact body means a small screen though, so the Explorer only has room for a 3.2-inch display. With a lower resolution than similarly-priced models, it's not going to make life easy for those of you who want to do a lot of web browsing. To its credit, it's fairly bright and handles colours adequately so it will be fine for Twittering or a spot of Angry Birds.

Inside the Explorer is a 600MHz processor, which isn't very powerful considering the oncoming wave of mighty quad-core phones. However, it's an acceptable effort given the low price tag. It won't handle demanding photo and video editing tasks, but it will cope with your messaging and social networking needs and even the odd game.

It's running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which has been given a lot of tweaks by HTC to make it easy to understand and simple to operate. Big, easily-pokable buttons dominate the central home screen, allowing for quick access to the essential tasks.

If you're looking for a top-of-the-range smart phone to load up with the latest apps, this handset won't be for you. However, if you're after a blower that provides a simple interface and enough power to chew through the essential tasks, the HTC Explorer is a good choice.

Design and build quality

At a time when many phones come packing huge 4.7-inch screens that barely fit in your hand, the HTC Explorer offers a much more pocket-friendly experience. At a mere 103mm long and 57mm wide, it's considerably smaller than the smart phone goliaths such as HTC's Sensation XL or the whopping Samsung Galaxy Note.

On the one hand, that means that it will slide into your pocket without putting up a fight and will let you hold it up to text without having to wear a supportive wrist brace. On the other hand, a smaller body means a smaller screen, so it won't be the phone for you if you want to watch a lot of video or play graphically intense games.

HTC Explorer in hand
The Explorer's small size makes it much easier to fit into your hand than the smart phone giants.

With a weight of only 108g, it's almost light enough to be blown away in a mild breeze. You might want to anchor it down with some lead, or with a heavier phone like the 137g iPhone 4S. Although it's light, it manages to avoid feeling cheap and nasty. It was satisfyingly resistant to pokes and squeezes in our hands and didn't show any signs of distress when we chucked it about. (Although if anyone asks, we took only the best of care of it, okay?)

The rear of the phone has been given a rubber casing with a strip of metal down the middle. We like the look -- it gives it a more premium edge than other budget phones like the Orange San Francisco 2. Although the rubber isn't designed to make the phone more shock absorbent, it definitely feels like it can take a few knocks and won't shatter like the brittle cases found on many handsets.

The rubber also helps to add extra grip, which will be very welcome to those of you with massive hands who find it difficult to keep hold of tiny phones. If you're desperately trying to call home while power-walking to the bus stop, you need not fear dropping it too much. Unless, that is, the reason you're late is a few too many drinks at the pub, in which case no amount of rubber casing will help you.

HTC Explorer back
The rubber casing on the back looks good and might help you keep hold of this little guy.

Around the edge you'll find a power button and a volume rocker. These buttons are rubber too and are part of the casing. This has the effect of making them slightly awkward to press -- especially in a hurry -- but does at least mean that they won't get clogged up with dust, dirt and other pocket detritus. There's also a 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro-USB port for charging or for connecting the phone to a computer.

The phone comes with a rather measly 512MB of internal storage and only 116MB of that is usable. You'll therefore need to take immediate advantage of the microSD card slot if you want to take photos or download apps.

Annoyingly, to view the gallery requires you to have an SD card installed, even though photos have been saved to the phone's memory and can be viewed via the camera app. It's an irritating quirk and one that is likely to baffle new mobile users who don't wish to shell out on an SD card to go with their new blower.


On the face of the Explorer you'll find a 3.2-inch screen. Three inches clearly pales into insignificance next to the vast displays on offer on many smart phones, but if you prefer pocketability above wide swathes of glass, the Explorer will go down a treat.

It's packing a 320x480-pixel resolution, which is pretty poor. The Orange San Francisco 2 offers 480x800 pixels and costs around £20 less so it's disappointing to see such a low spec on the Explorer's display.

HTC Explorer Screen
That screen doesn't have a great resolution, but it will do fine for the odd YouTube clip.

Although resolution isn't everything, it does mean that certain tasks will be more awkward. For example, less of a web page will be displayed on the screen at once, which results in you having to do a lot more swiping. If you want to kick back with a long article then you'd better have your scrolling finger sufficiently warmed up.

On the plus side, it's fairly bright and handles colours adequately so if you do decide to fire up YouTube clips, the Explorer will handle them well enough for you to get a few laughs at Maru. We just wouldn't recommend watching entire films on it.

Android 2.3 Gingerbread

The Explorer comes with the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system. This is not the most recent version of Android -- that honour goes to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which promises a unified experience across mobile phones and tablets. Gingerbread still dominates the mobile market though so there's no reason you should feel short-changed with it on a budget handset.

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