The HTC Surround was one of the first Windows Phone 7 smartphones to hit the market. As far as smartphones go, it has quite the leg up on the competition both in the hardware and software department. It introduces users to the exciting new Windows Phone 7 platform—the latest evolution of the now rebranded and relaunched Windows Mobile operating system—as well as the sleek design and workmanship that we’ve all come to expect from HTC.
Overall, this phone isn’t quite the iPhone killer that many expected to be. But compared to the plethora of Windows Mobile 6.5 HTC phones and Android HTC phones on the market, this one definitely holds up in most areas—and even exceeds its siblings in others. Read on for a detailed breakdown of this phone’s top features.
Email, Facebook and Contacts
This subheading lumps together all of these three facets of the HTC Surround because Windows Phone 7 does the same. Rather than having disparate phone number contacts, email address books and associated Facebook details, Windows Phone 7 chooses to corral all of this information into the People hub. At first blush, this is a bit overwhelming, since it instantly crowds your phone contacts with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Facebook friends whom you’d never dream of calling on the phone. Luckily, you can filter out your Facebook results from your People hub. This is highly recommended.
The point of the People hub, however, is to give you a single point of access for contacting your friends, family and associates without having to put too much forethought into how you’d like to contact them. Like the Microsoft Outlook Social Connector, the People hub pulls in data from Facebook as well as your address book, allowing you to seamlessly get in touch with them or get updates on them from any of these channels. Operating this way may take some getting used to, but chances are that more applications and platforms will begin mimicking this model in the future.
This is the best part of the HTC Surround, or any Windows Phone 7. Just like the iPhone has an integrated iPod Touch, the HTC Surround features a very nice, full-featured Zune player. It’s far better at pulling album artwork and other band paraphernalia than iTunes is, and the way it displays this content while music is playing is extremely cool. The Zune Marketplace has a nice selection of popular music, as well as some more obscure acts. The best deal, however, is the Zune Pass, which lets you listen to any song in its entirety from the Zune Marketplace for a flat fee of $15 a month. Plus, you get to download 10 tracks of each month, completely DRM free. Another cool feature: wireless sync. The Zune software will automatically beam songs from your library to your HTC Surround via WiFi when your phone is plugged into a wall outlet.
Kickstand and Speakers
This is the really unique feature about this phone that’s supposed to be its main selling point. The HTC Surround’s namesake is a miniature soundbar that runs the length of the phone. It slides out, revealing the speakers that are big for a cell phone, but tiny by any other measure, plus a button that activates HTC’s own sound enhancing software. This is best used in conjunction with the kickstand, which lets you prop the phone up in landscape view for hands-free viewing on a tabletop.
All of this is mildly cool. The sound is definitely better than anything that’s ever come out of a cell phone’s speakers before. But it still doesn’t hold a candle to most $20 iPod docks.
The call quality is okay—definitely passable, but not quite crystal clear. There are, of course, a number of factors that will affect quality from call-to-call. The HTC headset that comes with the phone is also merely satisfactory. The microphone is positioned closer to your belly than your mouth, causing it to pick up quite a bit of background noise, as well as shuffling from your clothing. As ironic as it may seem, however, the phone’s actual ability to perform voice calls is only a minimal concern in the feature lineup.
Internet Explorer for Windows Phone 7 is excellent. It’s fast, intuitive and very clean. The only downside is that few websites are optimized for the mobile IE browser, meaning that you’ll usually get a full desktop version of the website. This only poses a problem when you happen upon a site that uses advanced HTML5 features or Flash elements—neither of which are supported by Windows Phone 7.
There is no external keyboard on the HTC Surround, meaning you’ll use the Windows Phone 7’s stock soft keyboard. In terms of touch responsiveness and auto-correct, it’s a great keyboard. It may even rival the iPhone’s keyboard in terms of intuitiveness.
Most of the HTC Surround’s strengths are part and parcel to the Windows Phone 7 platform. The perks of the HTC Surround, including the kickstand and soundbar, are definitely non-essential. If you like this phone, you’ll probably like any other Windows Phone 7 just as much, if not more.