updated 01:40 pm EDT, Wed November 2, 2011
We try HTC Raider and Vivid with LTE
We just received our review unit for the HTC Raider, better known to Americans as the Vivid. With HTC just passing Apple in the US smartphone market based on its successes at Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, it's this phone that's expected to take the crown at AT&T. But with LTE-based 4G and a giant 4.5-inch screen, is it enough to finally give Android the edge at the iPhone's main carrier? We'll give a quick opinion in a hands-on below.
The inevitable first question surrounding the Raider and Vivid is whether it's too big. It's a full inch diagonal larger than the iPhone 4S and makes Apple's once large screen look petite by comparison. We actually find it just comfortable enough for average-sized male hands; because HTC prefers narrower but taller screens, it's not as much of as stretch for a grip as the larger Galaxy S II variants. If you have small hands, though, this might still be too much.
The display at 540x960 has enough pixel density that the 4.5-inch size doesn't seem too much. It's certainly very comfortable for typing. Visually, the Super LCD technology is bright, color-rich without being oversaturated, and has wide viewing angles.
Unfortunately, the design is fairly plain and gives Apple the edge. HTC isn't using its usual aluminum unibody here and is instead going for all-plastic. It's a very solid build and is certainly more durable than the glass-covered iPhone, but it's a far cry from feeling special. The HTC phone is noticeably thicker, although it's not bulky like the Thunderbolt and isn't far off from the Sensation.
LTE performance is something of a surprise, but not for the reasons you'd expect. The speed is certainly there: it's so fast that it outpaced our cable connection on benchmarks, at 23Mbps on 4G where it wasn't quite 15Mbps using Wi-Fi. Upload speed is difficult to check, though: Ookla's Speedtest app is still broken and reports an 18Mbps upload speed we know that the Rogers network we were testing wasn't capable of. We'd expect somewhat slower speeds on AT&T; it usually has a smaller frequency range to work with than Rogers and a more heavily populated network.
But is it unambiguously better than the iPhone's 14.4Mbps peak (6.5Mbps actual)? In short, no. For pure downloads, it's astonishing. Combined with the dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor, Android Market app downloads are often finished and installed as soon as they're started. For web browsing, however, it doesn't really gain anything and actually feels slower in some cases despite the supposed 200MHz clock speed advantage. With Flash disabled, the iPhone 4S still loads the page faster, even on mobile-optimized pages where the content is already supposed to be lean.
Part of this is HTC's unfortunate decision to ship the phone with Android 2.3. Google's year-old OS doesn't use a second core for browsing, so much of the advantage is wasted. Android 4.0 should close most of that gap, but HTC hasn't given a clue as to when it will arrive. As many found out the hard way with the BlackBerry PlayBook and Motorola Xoom, buying based on long-term promises usually just leads to disappointment when the additions are either delayed or scrapped.
Most of what's left is somewhat predictable in early shakedowns. We usually like some of the improvements from HTC Sense, and 3.0 on our phone helps make up for features that have since appeared in iOS 5 and Android 4.0, such as launching the camera (or in Apple's and HTC's cases, other apps) from the lock screen. We're not keen on HTC putting "quick" settings under a tab in the notification bar, though, since the two steps are only just faster than finding them yourself.
Hardware quirks so far are few, although they could be serious in prolonged testing. The camera is very noisy: HTC's Sense customizations produce a loud sound effect whenever the camera refocuses. It won't work if you're trying to grab a photo of a noise sensitive animal or in a quiet scene; you can't turn it off short of muting the whole phone, either. And as always, current LTE phones tend to be battery-hungry and visibly lowered the battery life bar in a few minutes of (admittedly heavy) testing.
We'll have a review of the Raider and Vivid soon to give a full verdict, but our initial view is that it won't necessarily shake Apple from its position as the top individual seller at AT&T. It's a very powerful phone, but like all first-generation LTE phones, it's still tailored first and foremost to what might be called alpha geeks: those who not only need the latest technology but are willing to make sacrifices in hardware and software to get those faster speeds and bigger screens. Apple might still be on 3G and have a smaller phone, but there's many who will still prefer its level of on-device speed and polish, not to mention those who like Apple's ease of use and better media handling.