By now I’m sure you’ve read a lot of reviews for the HTC Surround.  So I’m going to start this review by saying those guys are full of crap.  Most of the reviews I’ve read were by people who could have gotten the same impressions from the display unit in an AT&T store.  My review is awesome for the simple reason that the HTC Surround, for all its glories and follies, is my phone.  I use it daily and have waited until I could experience every corner of the hardware, OS, it’s features, functions, and idiosyncrasies.  I’m finally back, about 50$ deep into app investments, to share my experience with you guys.  If you want the bare bones, no foreplay style review then just scroll to the last paragraph.  Everyone else, prepare yourselves for a technological journey through HTC Surround ownership.

So I’ve already done the “before I get the phone Windows Live set-up” stuff and posted on it here.  I’m going to skip on to actual hardware experience.  Open Scene – Me at work in the camera department, complete with goofy smile and blue polo with khakis answering questions about cameras and what not.  Just past the customers I’m helping I see my friend in the Mobile department walk by with a box and a big ass grin staring right at me.   I know exactly what he has and I completely forget everything the customer has told me during our entire conversation.  They are not happy, but I am.  As soon as I’m done regathering my thoughts and sending the happy couple off with a camcorder, I go on break and swing over to pick out my Surround.  I’m not picky about boxes so I grab one and gently tear the box in half to get to my phone.  I throw the battery in and fire it up.

As it’s turning on (obligatory HTC, followed by AT&T, followed by a short Windows Phone logo and then on to set up) I turn it over in my hands a few times.  The phone feels very good in your hand, specifically for one handed use.  Not too big and not too small.  I wouldn’t be upset by another 2/10 of an inch on my 3.8″ screen but I’m not hurting either.  Weight and heft is solid and it feels very well built.  People complain about moving parts and all but HTC makes one hell of a hinge.  Anyone with an HTC slider can attest to that.  The phone is thinner and lighter than my Fuze (which I know is an embarrassing comparison).  The back is a matte rubberized finish that is a relief after polishing the hell out of my Fuze or any other glossy finished fingerprint magnet of a battery cover (should you be lucky enough to have the privilege of removing your battery).

Set up is simple enough and I won’t bore you guys with Tolkien depth details.  It asks for Live ID and then Email, followed by Facebook if you haven’t synced it with Live already.  Bam, you’re done.  The phone begins to populate with stuff.  This isn’t so much the stuff I care about as it’s just status updates and Facebook pictures.  There are about a half-dozen phone numbers on my phone from Facebook friends who know how to use privacy settings and thus are not too upset with putting up their phone numbers, but none of my other numbers from my Fuze.  They aren’t on my sim card because I use outlook contacts instead since it carries more data.  Well Zune doesn’t sync with Outlook so I go through the process of manually entering phone numbers.  This is a two day process (there were some transcription errors that I blame on the phone for not having a better contact transfer system), start to finish, getting all my numbers in and accurate.  During this process I began to wear down the honeymoon period.

I decide I want to experience this phone in phases.  I want to focus on the experience of each section separately and so I’ll do this review in that order.  First I get down to the bare basics of the phone itself.  Aside from the rehash Windows Phone settings you can find elsewhere the phone has its speaker button to change the eq settings.  I haven’t messed with it since I found the optimal setting (there are only 3 for the speaker but more for headphones and aux) which I think is Dolby Mobile.  The Volume and power buttons feel reliable but don’t provide quite firm enough of a click to feel while moving about and pressing buttons.  Sitting around at a desk or travelling you’d be fine but for running I’d get the Moto S10-HD’s so you can skip, play and pause from there. The button travel is probably due to the fact that its just a plastic button on the battery cover and not attached to the switch itself.  Not a big problem.  Capacitive buttons for the main three below the screen in standard Windows fashion.  Let me go ahead and confirm what I’ve said before, from 3.8″ (slightly larger than the HTC Incredible) to 4.0″ (Focus, Captivate and other Galaxy S phones) is the perfect screen size for one handed use.  Anything smaller just sucks and anything bigger is too much to comfortable use one handed.  Screen quality is great.  I use a black background with green, blue, or teal tiles depending on my mood.  I don’t really like the others that much and the white background makes my pupils burn.  Black or white background doesn’t seem to effect battery life which some have speculated.  Colors are good but not great.  Viewing angles kick ass so even if you have a bunch of people gathered around your phone for viewing you’re more golden than King Midas’ dick.  Kickstand is solid and works great.  Definitely want to close it before you start sliding the phone closed (especially if you have a case) because I can see that becoming a problem over time.  I’ve done it a couple dozen times because I have the insurance plan and want to give you guys a thorough review, but haven’t seen any loosening or wear on the mechanism.  Now to the most controversial aspect: the speaker.  This is why I know no one else has seriously used this phone.

On first play, listening to streamed music in Best Buy at full volume, before I’m aware of the sound enhancer app or playing with the eq button, I am at least impressed by loudness.  Best Buy is not a quiet place.  Even when we have the music off on our main stereo, it’s still louder than your average street corner.  After carrying it around I can say it is better than any speaker on any laptop, phone, mp3 player, and most other devices of similar size I have ever heard.  That’s all there is to it.  Quality is great and doesn’t distort at peak volume on multiple types of music.  For playing games, listening to music, or you tube videos with multiple people it is absolutely awesome (especially if you have headphones that go in you or your friends crusty ass ears.)  I’m not worried about the ounce and a half the speaker adds.  Some people are buying shoes to work out their butts and turning video games into viable ways to work out for forty year old ladies.  I’m going to buy a heavy phone.  Screw all of you weaklings.  Speaker verdict – Unless you’re the kind of person who doesn’t have ears or doesn’t use them the speaker is worth it.

Haven’t used many apps other than games and free ones.  I’ll give you a run down.  Adobe reader, AP Mobile, Attentive Phone (HTC App), Facebook, Flashcards (nice customizable flash card app), Flashlight, IMDB, HTC Notes (which is quite awesome and I use this extensively but wish it was live tile though,) QrReader (3d bar code reader,) Shazam, Weather Channel (way better than Weather Bug,) You Tube, and XKCD which is hilarious.  The apps have all worked well and the unified UI is actually quite nice.  Without having to mention it others have picked up on this and commented about it several times.  The marketplace on the phone is easy and quick.  I was sort of disappointed when Earthworm Jim and several other larger Xbox Live titles required Wifi to download but after downloading some of the ones that were probably on the cusp of that delineation I can see why.  Depending on your signal, 3g or not, it can take a while.  15-20 minutes is the high point with 1 or 2 bars.  Games are the shit.

Frame rates are awesome, load times are not.  The lack of multi-tasking really rears its ugly head when you’re balls deep in Rocket Riot and get a text message you want to respond to.  Waiting for the game to reload the level blows and is my biggest complaint with the phone.  The easy fix would be to sandbox individual hubs and allow each hub to operate independently.  This would solve any game, video, music, and messaging issues.  All the Xbox live integration is awesome and all my friends with an xbox (especially the achievement fiends) are quite jealous.

Camera is good outdoors in good light and gets very good macro shots.  I got a shot of a black lady bug with red dots that my brother wanted a picture of but his Aria was sucking it up and wouldn’t focus close enough.  I know the Aria isn’t on top of the heap but the point about this is the Surround is still better than most cameras out there.  Phone cameras all suck if you ask me though and nothing is going to ever replace your point and shoot.  The ability to launch the camera straight from the pocket is awesome.  Being able to scroll right back through your pictures and back to the camera is a nice feature too.  Sharing pictures is easy and super simple.  Making sure Sky Drive and Windows Live don’t upload pictures of your girlfriend naked takes a little more practice.  A simple setting that, overlooked, can cause major problems.

Zune software for pc and the music and video experience on the phone is top tier.  Easily the best experience in mobile phones right now.  Bought an album from the marketplace and it took about a half hour to download from start to finish.  What was more awesome was as soon as I plugged it into my computer it proceeded to throw it in my library.  The addition of Artist Bios, pictures, makes playing music an experience and not just a function.  Call me overly eloquent about it but anyone that uses the Zune HD or a Windows Phone to play music comes away impressed.  The lack of landscape playing music is more of a nuisance than a problem.

Browser rocks.  It’s fast but not the fastest.  For one area that Windows Phones don’t excel at, they shine in another.  It’s like looking at two hot girls at a bar and trying to decide between the one with the better ass or the one with the bigger boobs and what ever the female equivalent is because I don’t pretend to be in tune with the fairer sex’s psyche.  Now on to problems.

Haven’t had that many.  I’ve had the alarm problem that has been mentioned once, and had my music and game audio cut out once today.  Power cycle fixed those issues.  I’ve also had weird experiences with my keyboard.  Standard qwerty works great but on the alternate keyboard, sometimes, every once in a while, it registers my key presses as two to the left on the space bar which is enter.  Then after another press it registers on the period key.  A third and final press actually registers on the space bar but I’ve noticed this happen a few times.  I haven’t been able to narrow this down to anything specific but it keeps recurring.  The lack of customizable ringtones is starting to hurt, but at the same time I can’t even tell you the last time I heard my phone ring.  I’ve had my phone on vibrate 99% of the time I’ve owned it.  It’s not an excuse though.  This is something that needs to be addressed.  Shouldn’t be difficult either.  Something that Zune software should be able to handle.  Nothing here is major or game breaking though and can be tweaked via some minor software changes.

All in all this is a great phone.  Even if it is first generation it has just as many or fewer issues than any other phone I’ve ever seen released.  The whole idea that this speaker is not awesome and isn’t worth the weight is completely ridiculous.  I don’t know who started it, but they’re a liar.  Hardware is solid and the software is amazing for first generation stuff.  There are minor software issues that should work themselves out but nothing worth truly bitching about.  Let me know if I left out anything you guys wanted to hear about.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Great review Matt. One note; you could have saved yourself two days by using Hotmail Connector with Outlook. Moved all my relevant contacts (those that I chose) up to Windows Live and that automatically populated my phone, less the photos of course. But now that you have done it, your contacts should be synced with Live, so easier next time.

    Does Weather Channel have a Live Tile like Weather Bug? Didn’t bother looking at it cause I thought that was a Weather Bug exclusive.

    I agree on the speaker. The more I use it, the more I like it. And I am really glad it’s there. Clever that I can plug into a charger (bottom port) and listen to my Surround while propped on the kickstand. My only wish is that the volume could be tweaked about 25%, so that some quieter tracks could be boosted a bit more. But tracks that were recorded at good volume sound fabulous.

  2. Sorry to those who bought a Focus but the Surround is a one of a kind. The speaker is impressive, I wouldn’t call it groundbreaking, game changing but I’m glad that my device has that different edge over all others past/present. Kind of the phone equivalent of owning a Delorean, a cool piece of history but not too over the top. Yeah everyone checks it out when you pull it out of the garage.

    Matt this review is solid, well put and thought out. Thanks for a great read!

  3. I saw a Focus in the flesh today. Dont know about you but it made my HD7 look completely abysmal and I cant imagine the surround screen compares any better. My HD7 is going back, I’d rather go without a WP7 device than use HTC’s crappy handsets.

  4. @efjay: On launch day I spent two hours at the Windows Phone display, alternating with the Focus and Surround. Aside from a Microsoft Ambassador who came in with his wife and kid, no one else was interested in the phones so I had free reign. I compared the two screens and will acknowledge that side by side, the Focus was brighter and had deeper colors than the Surround. But not being an art critic and someone who grew up with Windows 3.0, I did not see that one feature as carrying a lot of weight with my decision. Holding the Focus in my hand felt to me like a pack of snack crackers. Maybe that’s a good thing, innovating a light weight feature phone, but it just felt cheap to me. It may be very well built but my perception indicated otherwise. And perception is everything. On the other hand the Surround felt solid. The speaker slid out nicely and snapped closed with a definitive click, a real feeling of solid craftsmanship in my hand. You can say that the Focus has a brighter display, but to call HTC devices crappy because they chose a different display is off base. Every device had to meet a minimum requirement, and that they all did. I just hope you continue to enjoy the goodness that is WP7, whatever device you choose to use. They are ALL great devices because of what’s inside.

  5. This is one of the best HTC Surround reviews I’ve read to day it gives the device justice. I think the surround is a solid device. I personally would’ve preferred and HD7 because I’m not too media oriented with my device and headphones would’ve been more than enough. Again, it is because I wanted a bargain and my carrier kind off sucks (ATT). I don’t know what the other reviewers were expecting from the speakers but I think they deliver and then some. As mentioned the speakers beat a lot of the speakers from other portable devices. They are clear, loud and have good bass.

    The Surround as mentioned above is just average for what the standards will be but compared to what is out there it is one hell of a device. The downfall it has at the moment is early stages of WP7 which although simple it delivers for what society wants at the moment.

    Aside from not having access to the MAC Address, copy and paste, and multi-tasking the OS also lacks text messaging forwarding.

    I’m really content with my device and hopefully when the update comes the experience gets further enhanced.

  6. I have a Focus and I enjoyed your review all the same.

    Wanted to confirm the alternate keyboard ‘quirk’. When typing, bring up the alternate keyboard, press the right arrow for alt keyboard #2. When pressing Enter, the | symbol appears, and pressing . the Enter is what registers. It doesn’t happen all the time, and I’ve only been able to reproduce it in landscape mode.

  7. Great review – I love my Surround! I even love the screen – the only time you’re likely to “notice” that there are “better” screens out there are those times when doing direct in-hand comparisons. I don’t see this as being a common occurrence, at least in my case.

  8. @LuiD: Tap and hold a text message and select “forward”. I tap and hold everything to uncover all of WP7’s hidden secrets.

  9. I think unless you put them all side by side and compare the pictures closely, the difference between displays of Focus and Surround is not that noticeable. To me they all look very sharp and nice. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned about Surround is the speakerphone capability. I use the feature quite often for work and also during driving and I suspect the experience is much better with the Surround.

  10. Great review; I love your conversational writing style.

    Someone already mentioned the Outlook connector solution for getting Outlook contacts into wp7, but I want to say that MS dropped the ball here. It is strange that other phones synch up with Outlook…even the iPhone & wp7 doesn’t.

    I bought the Focus but played with it and the Surround for a long time
    I think either decision is a good one. I preferred the screen of the Focus and the size. I might be wrong but I think battery life is better too. Coming from two generations of HTC Tilt, the build quality feel of the Surround did appeal to me, but I have little use for the speaker as hood as it might be. Maybe I’m selfish and need to share more
    :)

    I’d love to read a review from you comparing Weather Channel to Weather Bug…you seem to have a passionate opinion on that topic! I haven’t been pleased with the live tile functionality of either

  11. Jimski, thank you, i tried to do that several times and god knows where I was hitting that I couldn’t get it to do that. I’ve learned about holding and uncovering secrets. I also picked the Surround over the Focus because to me it felt like a more solid product. I’ve owned Samsung devices and they are phenomenal but HTC IMO makes a higher quality product except for the screen this round.

  12. As the other resident Surround owner on staff I can say unequivically that I love my Surround. Just got home from a leadership retreat of 70 people and 85% of the people had iphones. Instead of feeling ashamed to own a Windows Phone I whipped it out began to hold it up so everyone could see my live tiles in action. Then I started up Zune, started playing a movie and then placed it on the kickstand. As soon as everyone took the bait I interrupted the movie by finding a reason to use th quick photo feature and catching a shot of someone being “special.”

    Its a shame what Apple has done to so many otherwise intelligent people. They are so locked in their iEcosystem that they are completely oblivious to the great things going aroud them. My wife and our special events planner spent 10 hilarious minutes trying to connect with one another on GameCenter to play a game of scrabble. Started to put them to shame but my wife vetoed me showing off Xbox Live.

  13. The good news Murani is of those 85%, probably no more than 10-12% own other Apple products, so they have only taken a small sip of Kool-Aid, and they can still be saved. Times they are a changing.

    So to everyone thinking about it, check your contract and see if you qualify for an early upgrade. I got my Tilt2 for .01 this summer, 5 months before my contract anniversary date of 12/27.

  14. I have used weatherbug and weather channel and prefer weatherbug. It is slicker looking, the live tile is more accurate because it updates more frequently, and it can do everything that weather channel can do.

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