HTC SurroundNAME: HTC Surround


PRICE: $199 w/ two-year contract, $550 w/ no contract


FUN FACT: Microsoft set its own guidelines for what specs are featured in every Windows 7-based smartphone.



THE BACK STORY: A few years ago, while BlackBerry was still gaining ground and before Apple and Google entered the game, Microsoft had a strong foothold in the smartphone market. But the computer giant's mobile fortunes turned for a couple reasons: fragmentation of its Windows Mobile OS—every carrier and handset maker put its own spin to the OS, causing for different user experiences and, in turn, different sets of problems—combined with the introduction of more user-friendly, streamlined, consumer-oriented phones. Microsoft recently took another shot at making a smartphone with its short-lived KIN device, but it would probably like you to forget all about that. To help with the amnesia is Microsoft's newest mobile offering: Windows Phone 7 (WP7). A completely new mobile OS, WP7 aims to combine the unified user experience of the iPhone approach with the available-to-any-hardware-marker approach of Google's Android. A bevy of phones have already been introduced to the public, all slated for release within the next two months. We got our hands on one of the launch models, the HTC Surround, to see how Microsoft's latest mobile phone OS stacks up. How did it do? Read on to find out...

DOPE:

Jaw-dropping animations: The graphics presentation looks incredible and runs smoothly on the 3.8-inch, 480 x 800 WVGA resolution screen. The weather app featured in the HTC Hub is a marvel to watch in action, offering climate and time specs for several worldwide locations. Also, the addition of Bing Maps give you a spot-on street-level view, as well a really dope bird's-eye view.

Xbox LIVE and Zune integration: The Surround caters directly to LIVE users, offering more than 10 launch titles and promising other flagship entries before year's end. You also receive 200 achievement points for every download, which get added to your LIVE account. Plus, the Zune Pass lets audiophiles browse and download music, films, and TV shows. The well-designed Zune interface is thankfully kept intact, and you can still preview songs and albums before making any purchases.

Sleek design: Recent HTC phones have sported straight-up stunning design, and the Surround is no exception. The metallic, solid finish is pretty sweet and the 165-gram weight, while a little on the heavy side, gives the phone a premium feel.

Multimedia Madness: The integrated slide-out speaker sports some serious specs with Dolby Mobile audio engineering and SRS WOW HD technology. Considering HTC made the kickstand an essential for multimedia-friendly phones with the EVO 4G, it's only right it features one here as well. There's also a better-than-average five-megapixelcamera with LED flash and geo-tagging. Also included: a 720 HD-video recorder and multi-format support for audio and video files (MP3, WAV, WMA, eAAC+, MP4, WMV, etc.).

Great business and messaging support: This is one of the few smartphones that balances both business and social-networking needs with ease. The ability to access Microsoft Office is a godsend for those consistently editing spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, while the messaging and email widgets make communicating with friends easy and convenient.

Simple to use: A major gripe about Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS was the complexity of its user interface. All that has been changed with Windows Mobile. The interface is clean, well-designed, and quick. Flipping between the two screens is a lag-less breeze. Also great are the buttons located beneath the screen on the phone itself. There's a search button which instantly brings you to a Bing search screen, a Windows logo button that brings you to the home screen, and a button that takes you back a page. Even better: These buttons will be on every Windows 7 phone.

HTC SURROUND (2)

NOT SO DOPE:

Limited interface: While we like the clean simplicity of the interface, we wonder what will happen once we fill it with a number of apps. Yeah, there are two screens—one of your favorite, most-used apps, and one for everything else—but the ability to have several, like with the iPhone and Android, wouldn't hurt. Also, it'd be great if the bar showing the time and signal strength was static.

Unbalanced features: We're still caught off-guard at the fact that a smartphone that features an external speaker requires users to plug in headphones to use the pre-installed FM radio. You're also required to install several apps, such as the Video Player, in order to watch YouTube videos. We wish they came standard. Also, for a phone geared towards multimedia freaks, a better screen on par with the iPhone 4 and even some HTCs would have been better.

Slide-out speaker: While cool in theory, we would have preferred a slimmer profile over a slide-out speaker. A large majority of the time, we found ourselves listening to video through headphones.

No copy and paste: For all its messaging capabilities, we were surprised to learn that there was no way to copy and paste text. Microsoft claims it will be added in 2011. It's not a big deal, but a deal nonetheless. Any phone made nowadays should have it.

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FINAL SAY:
As we stated earlier, Microsoft has set a few standard features that each company that plans on building a handset for Windows Phone 7 must adhere to. The HTC Surround flaunts them all: fast processor, great screen, 3.5-inch headphone jack, and dedicated, hard navigation buttons. The phone itself, while geared more toward multimedia freaks (the speaker will be hit-or-miss with most customers), proved to be a nice jack-of-all-trades model. Though, when compared to the other WP7 models, the Surround leaves you wanting more. Can Microsoft give the Big Three a run for their dough? It's a work in progress, but this is a promising sign.

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