HTC Surround Review
Like we witness on many occasions, AT&T manages to pack in a healthy amount of carrier branded apps with the HTC Surround. Although we love seeing AT&T Navigator on board, which offers the striking figure of voice guided turn-by-turn directions, it's hard to say the same for some of the others. Some of the other apps include AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T myWireless, AT&T Radio, and AT&T U-verse Mobile – the latter of which allows subscribers to browse U-verse TV content on the handset. So if you're big on watching television, AT&T U-verse mobile will provide you that satisfaction of scheduling and managing DVR recordings. Aside from that, all of the other AT&T branded apps are just like the what you find on other handsets.
Nowhere close to the level of innovation seen with mature map applications like Ovi Maps or Google Maps, Bing Maps for Windows Phone 7 offers the most basic of functions – which can be seen as a turn off for some that are used to the intricate dealings with the competition. There's no arguing that browsing the map is a quick and responsive experience; and we especially like the cloud-like animation as it renders the map to reveal more detail. You'll have the ability to find your exact location, search for points of interests, and even get some directions. Naturally, you'll also be treated to things like aerial and traffic view, but still pales in comparison to the wealth of features found with rival maps applications – like street view. As we've noted earlier, Bing maps does not offer voice guided turn-by-turn directions, so that means you'll have to rely on a third party source like AT&T Navigator for that. Directions though, you're only limited to driving and walking – so that means no mass transit or bicycle directions just yet. When you perform a search on the map, the result will enable you to obtain pertinent information regarding it, reviews (if applicable), and also some nearby businesses to it. Yes, Bing maps does show off its relatively new offering, but as with most things, it will most likely be refined with each installment.
Upon clicking the "me" icon, the map instantly pans out to a zoomed out view and eventually zooms into our general location which is displayed as a yellow dot on the map surrounded by a larger gray circle. It surely didn't take long for it to get a fix onto our location; like 5 seconds which is surprisingly good since it was the first thing we did after doing a cold boot with the handset. Mind you that when we did this indoors, it inevitably obtained our exact coordinates in a matter of less than 15 seconds.
One brand value proposition that Windows Phone 7 clearly has riding on its back is the fact that it integrates with XBOX Live – providing that missing link when you're not tearing it up on the console side. Since the HTC Surround is one armed handset with some strong hardware under its hood, it didn't flinch one bit as we downloaded and played a game. With the “Games” hub, it'll enable you to sign in with your XBOX Live account and see your very own avatar on the phone, see any friend requests, and view all the latest collection of games. Now the great thing about downloading games is that you'll have the option of “trying” it out before making that sometimes difficult purchase – which can lead to buyers remorse. Although a majority of the titles right off the bat might not exude the high flying action games seen with the standalone console, we'll slowly begin to see some games fitting for both platforms which will allow you to start playing it on the XBOX 360, and then continue the fun on the go with the HTC Surround.
When you press on the search button, it'll launch Bing Search which acts as it should in obtaining relevant searches. The background with it will change occasionally and will add some insightful concepts to the mix. Specifically, there are some squares that you can see which will provide a relevant search to the associated background image with Bing Search. So if you're ever bored and wanted to read about something random, you can tap on any of the boxes for some time killing. Meanwhile, specific search queries are broken down to the web, local, and news.
What's a smartphone without a centralized area for apps? Well, the Windows Phone 7 powered HTC Surround has the “Marketplace” hub which will provide owners the opportunity to download apps onto the handset. General to all Windows Phone 7 devices, the categories are broken down to apps, games, and music. However, there is a section specific to the Surround aptly named the “HTC Apps” which will allow you to download apps exclusive to HTC. The main panel within the “Marketplace” hub will also display any updates required for existing apps on the handset – most of which are downloaded over the air, while larger sized ones require a Wi-Fi connection. The general Marketplace categorizes apps into specific things like games, entertainment, music & video, lifestyle, news & weather, sports, health & fitness, finance, travel, navigation, social, productivity, tools, business, and books & reference. When you select a specific title, it'll provide details regarding it – like screenshots, overview, and reviews.
Without any question, it's only fitting to find Microsoft Office integration with the HTC Surround. It's not something new, especially when it's the a common staple among Windows Mobile Professional devices, but of course will be looked on more intently now that it's making an appearance on a new platform. You'll be able to read Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files on the go, plus the added benefit of editing them as well. Seeing that it's always a nice feature to quickly write up a new Word document or Excel workbook, there are some basic formatting options you can enable. But when you compare them to the offering seen with Windows Mobile, it doesn't exactly include all of the formatting options you'd expect. Sure you can highlight, bold, italicize, and change the font color, but it's missing things like bulleting and manual indentation alignment. However, it still retains some of those basic elements that will allow users to start off a new document – while saving the rest later for use with a desktop. If you happen use SharePoint Workspace, you can even have the ability to view, edit, and download stored documents on Microsoft SharePoint Sever 2010.
Although the iPhone popularized the notion of syncing and retrieving data from a handset by using an application on your computer, Windows Phone 7 follows in almost a similar manner since it forgoes hot-swappable microSD cards. Before you do anything, it'd be wise to download and install Zune on your computer, and thankfully Mac users will also receive a version for OS X. Unlike other handsets, your computer won't recognize the smartphone as a removable mass storage device – which would obviously make it easy for most of us to quickly access data on the device; like photos or videos. Instead, you'll need to have Zune running on your computer which will then synchronize content such as photos, video, songs, and playlists.