|Of the six smart phones on the market that run Microsoft's latest phone OS, Windows Phone 7, HTC designed and manufactures three of them. It's latest, and most expensive, is Sprint's first-and currently only-WP7 option, the HTC Arrive and it arrived at Sprint just last month. Meanwhile, prices on WP7 phones from AT&T and T-Mobile have recently been drastically reduced. (You don't have to pay more than $100 for the other HTC phones or the Dell Venue Pro, and can pick up a Samsung Focus or LG Quantum for as little as $49). Yet, Sprint still wants $199 for the HTC Arrive and that's with a two-year contract.
That said, the HTC Arrive offers a combination of Microsoft's latest and easily most impressive handset OS to date, along with a slide-out backlit keyboard and HTC's unmistakable design quality. So there's at least a bit of differentiation to the product to pique the interest of thumb-texters looking at a WP7-equipped device.
We wondered if the Arrive was worth its price premium. So, in the pages that follow we'll answer that question, and delve into all of the phone's strengths and weaknesses, but first we'll note that we were surprised by how much we generally liked this phone. The Arrive we tested was running the updated version of Windows Phone 7, known as NoDo, with copy and paste capability at the ready.
With a Snapdragon 1GHz processor and high-quality capacitive touch screen, we found the phone to be quick and responsive. We didn't find it to be as simple to use as Microsoft's advertising would have us believe (and we'll document that more in the upcoming pages), but it certainly wasn't bad. Tasks such as connecting it to e-mail accounts, including Gmail, were extremely easy to setup, for instance. But finding features in various applications (particularly some of Microsoft's included applications) had us scratching our heads. That aside, the overall experience of the new HTC Windows Phone operating on 3G or WiFi was ... fun. One of our teenagers, after playing with the device for a few hours, likened it to a cross between an iPhone and an Android.
|Some have said about the HTC Arrive that it is a brand new phone built from year-ago technical specifications, and that's partially true. Notably, the phone is missing a 4G radio but then again, that's also fledgling technology. It does however sport a somewhat dated 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, though that seems like standard issue specs for WP7 devices these days. However, the Arrive has other nice attributes too.
At first glance, the HTC Arrive looks a lot like many other HTC smartphones and is particularly reminiscent of the HTC Evo Shift, an Android phone also sold by Sprint. But push open the slideout and you'll find one of our favorite design features: its angled display. When using the slideout keyboard, the display pops open to about a 30-degree angle. This feature made it a lot easier for us to alternate our use of the keyboard and touchscreen commands. The more we gazed at that angled display, slightly shaded from glare, the more we loved it.
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On the other hand, the display is on the small side for a touchscreen, at 3.6 inches. In comparison, HTC's other two Windows phones feature 3.8 and 4-inch screens. Folks using this phone with smaller hands will have no trouble with the smaller screen. However a large hand might have trouble with the smaller icons featured in certain sections of WP7's navigation. This is something to consider.
The phone measures in at 4.63 height x 2.32 width x 0.61 thickness, which is a pleasant size to use as a phone, slim enough so even a small hand can wrap around it and comfortably hold it. We found call quality to be consistently excellent, too.
But another downside is that, at 6.5 ounces, the phone was noticeably heavier than other similarly sized smartphones. The phone was so weighty that it gave us a cramp when we engaged in one of those hours-long conversations with a far-flung loved one. We suspect the hinge that creates the nice angle is the culprit adding the weight.
As we noted, under the hood of the HTC Arrive is a 1 Ghz Snapdragon CPU beefed up with 512 MB ROM, 576 MB RAM and a healthy 16G of storage for apps, data and multimedia. But 16G better be enough, as the memory is built-in and there's no microSD slot. (It is possible, we have been told, to crack open the case and change out the memory card. But the phone is not designed for it, and doing so violates your phone's warranty. We didn't attempt this ourselves.)
The keyboard was lacking a cursor and some specialty keys included on the HTC Evo Shift slideout, like the ".com" key. But the upside to this is that the keys are a little bigger and nicely spaced. We were able to comfortable type a few hundred words in the included version of Word in about 30-minutes. Loved it.
Also missing: front-facing camera, HDMI output and again, most notably, no 4G. That's disappointing for the $199 price, the same price Sprint's killer Android 4G HTC Evo and Sprint's 4G Samsung Epic. The dual-screen Kyocera Echo Android phone is expected to be available sometime soon for $199 as well. Honestly, the Arrive's price is a little hard to swallow compared to the prices of other WP7 offerings. Expand your search for phones beyond Sprint at the $199 price and needless to say, a world of options await you, including an iPhone 4 with 16G of memory from AT&T or Verizon and numerous Android choices.
Price aside, the HTC Arrive's design has other pluses and minuses. For instance its accelerometer is quick and responsive which made games like Monkey Ball really fun to play. But it doesn't work in every Window. Several of the main WP7 Hubs including Phone, People, Call History, Weather didn't support landscape mode, even with the slideout open. By the way, the included weather app doesn't show the weather in the tile on the main hub either, either. You have to click on it to see the temperature.
The phone rounds off its features with a 3.5mm headset jack and ear buds, a 5 MP camera with flash that takes decent shots and a 720p camcorder.
Point-and-shoot shot of Kodiak and full-zoom shot of a flower taken with the HTC Arrive. Click to enlarge.
|If we have been sounding too harsh in our review of the Arrive, we'll repeat it again: Microsoft got a lot of things right with its current mobile phone platform, but, it also got a few things wrong. When we booted our phone up for the very first time, we were greeted by Microsoft's legal team. Before we could do anything with the phone, we were first forced to agree to all Microsoft licenses. (We tried to refuse the license agreement but were only told we couldn't use our phone until we signed ... essence of Al Capone?)
Well, Windows users are trained to mindlessly agree to the EULA, whatever it says. So we were mostly amused by this, not put off. (Other platforms also sneak in their license agreements, but they do usually let you turn your phone on first.) Licenses dully signed, we were curious if the phone was easier to use as its commercials promise.
The HTC Arrive was a breeze to set up with existing Windows Live and Facebook accounts. The home page already has most of the tiles people want on their home screens and it is easy to pin new applications or documents or notes to it, to delete them, or to arrange them. The familiar HTC click/date/weather screen is there, too, though you have to click on the HTC home tile to get to it (which defeats its at-a-glance purpose). That screen gives you a second customizable screen to hosts links to other applications, including Notes. But it was buggy and crashed often while we tested it. We installed the required update, which didn't help much.
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It doesn't take long to discover that all of the settings are not located in a standard place in each Hub or application. There is an ellipses symbol with most Hubs and applications that hold some of the settings, but often not all of them. Other Hubs had their settings in odd spots, and the phone didn't come with a lot of documentation on this.
For instance, the first time you activate the People hub, the phone walks you through setting up Windows Live and Facebook accounts. If you want to add additional accounts, you press and hold on the world "People" and the settings tab appears. We found no other applications where pressing the Hub label caused any action to occur and this particular action wasn't documented in the Basics Guide. Once you found the secret place to get to settings, your choices were limited to Windows Live, Outlook (Exchange and the Outlook Web App), Google and Facebook. While we give Microsoft props for including Gmail in the People Hub, if you want Twitter or any other social media app, you need to add it as a separate application through the Marketplace.
We fully expected the crowning jewel of the Windows Phone 7 experience to be the Office Mobile software. We were half right. The integrated Office applications looked good and worked well for viewing Office attachments, even relatively large spreadsheets. We were a little baffled by Excel Mobile 2010, which has a secret, hidden way to access a list of function formulas (put the cursor in the function bar and press and hold "fx") but does not support the ability to select a range of cells. You must click on every cell you want included in a formula, even for a simple function like "sum." Not even manually typing the colon into the formula works. For example, in order to create the formula =sum(A1:A100) you would need to tap the formula bar, then the cell for each individual cell you want included, i.e. =sum(A1,A2,A3,A4 ...) and so on ... to 100.
What makes this a little maddening is that the HTC Arrive we tested was using the updated Windows NoDo Phone 7 software, so it did support text selection. You can select a range of cells in order to change their formatting (font color, fill color, etc.), you can even create a graph from them, but you cannot include them in a formula. Insane.
Again, WP7 NoDo software now supports copy and paste. Note that this is "copy and paste" ... not cut, copy and paste. Cut is an odd feature to be missing from a software maker that built much of its fortune on Office applications, especially when cut, copy and paste was supported way back in Windows Mobile 5.0 (known as the Pocket PC Phone Edition, released in 2005!). To delete text, place the cursor in the right spot and backspace your way through it.
Earlier this month at the MIX show, Microsoft previewed the next update to Windows Phone 7, code-named Mango, coming in the fall. While we didn't hear that "cut" would be coming, it will include the IE9 browser, improved system performance, and application multitasking letting you run software in the background like transferring audio or video while other apps are running. Developers will get better access to the camera and motion sensor, so we'll see what apps develop from that as a result.
When you set up your phone, you are asked (required) to sign in with a Windows Live ID. This offers some cool features such as a phone tracking service which will locate your phone, or remotely wipe it. It's a spot to back up your photos, contacts, the apps you purchased. It can also sync files between the phone and your Windows Live cloud but ... only for one application, OneNote.
Because Windows Live is required for WP7, and it includes cloud versions of Excel, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote, we thought it was a no-brainer that Office Mobile 2010 documents created on the phone could be synched to your Windows Live account (or vise versa). Alas, not true. Only OneNote documents sync to Windows Live.
They can, however, be synched to a SharePoint 2010 Server. We love the idea of the phone integrating with a SharePoint server for work. But we wish it integrated with versions other than just 2010 (there are a lot of SharePoint 2007 servers out there), and we wished our phone's documents could be backed up/accessed/shared via the Windows Live cloud we are required to use with this phone.
If you install the Zune Marketplace app to your desktop computer, you can use it to search for, sync and buy music and other apps. If you want unlimited access to music, that would be the Zune Pass, a $14.99/month subscription that lets you stream unlimited music to your phone, Xbox or Windows desktop. If completely free music is more your thing, there's WP7 apps like iheartradio, which streams 750 radio stations, including commercials. (Pandora has not yet announced plans to port its app to WP7.)
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Another caution is that the main Windows Live ID you are required to use with the phone can only be changed by performing a factory reset of your phone. So if you ever want to give your Arrive to your kid, that's something to consider.
Annoyances aside, between the Office Mobile Apps and the dozens of productivity apps available -- many for free -- from the marketplace, the phone does a good job with work-related documents as well as entertainment. Of course, it also integrates well with Exchange, too, another plus.
One of the bright spots of the phone was games. The phone integrates with Xbox Live and through the Xbox Live Hub, we found dozens of entertaining games many of them free. You can connect to Xbox LIVE to play a variety of games with your friends or even take turns playing a Web game on the device. We found a few games that tapped into the accelerometer and the ones we tried worked flawlessly. Your game stats will be automatically stored to your Windows Live account and you can update your Avatar from your phone, too.
At the MIX show earlier this month, Microsoft announced that Angry Birds will be coming to Windows Phone 7 in the spring. So even if you can't add a column of numbers in the included version of Excel with this phone, you will soon be able to smash pigs, and that's just as good, if not better.
|The HTC Arrive delivers performance on par with the Dell Venue and the Samsung Focus (all phones based on the 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon platform). While we found the phone to be responsive to use, we have to again wonder at the price. Given that the Focus is now selling for about $50 and the Venue for $100 (subsidized prices under contract), we were hoping for a bit more performance in spots.
We also tested the talk-time battery life and the Arrive performed surprisingly well. The literature promises 6 hours, but we found that for talk time it lasted well over 7 hours (medium screen setting, WiFi turned off). In our WP Bench battery test, the Arrive didn't fair quite as well but this is a worst-case test that exercises the CPU continuously. Think of it as a multimedia type workload.
|Despite a list of annoyances with obvious-but-not-mandatory features that were lacking, we enjoyed using this phone. Its quirks required the same kind of patience needed to master the Windows desktop. But we grew quickly adept and found the phone did everything we asked of it, and more.
HTC's hardware met our high expectations. Its vibrant touchscreen was as much a pleasure to look at as it was to use. The phone's camera took nice pictures. As for the operating system, WP7 offered us enough options for customization to make things work, yet didn't require us to build our entire user workspace from scratch. We were able to get our contacts loaded and start playing games almost instantaneously.
We would easily recommend this phone but for one nagging problem ... it's price. The three phones from HTC offer similar hardware profiles yet cost half the price. Meanwhile, Windows Phone 7 bargains abound, too.
Given the competition, and the fact that there is nothing -- not even Windows Office Mobile apps -- that can't be done equally well on other phones with either superior hardware or lower costs, it is hard to give an unwavering thumbs up to the Arrive.
That said, if and when the price drops to the $100 range, it definitely is great phone for those of you that need a slide-out keyboard.