HTC’s been around this block before — the LTE one, that is. Back in March, the manufacturer was the first to hold Verizon’s hand as it tested the 4G waters with the Thunderbolt. That launch may have been fumbled (see: hotspot cycling and 3G connectivity for starters) and the device plagued by battery issues, but as far as head starts go, Big Red got a big leap. Now the time has come for AT&T to play catch-up, shedding its reliance on an HSPA+ faux-G crutch and shifting over to LTE wireless speeds.
To do this, the carrier’s enlisted HTC’s veteran expertise, taking advantage of its 700MHz know-how and offering the manufacturer a redemption song of sorts. This round two redux takes the form of the Vivid: an all-black, metal-backed unassuming plastic slab that houses a dual-core 1.2GHz processor and 8 megapixel rear camera with dual LED flash under a 4.5-inch qHD display. Impressive as its specs may be, AT&T’s not betting the entire farm on this phone and is trotting out the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket alongside to shoulder the burden. But for a device once codenamed the Holiday, its battle for consumers’ attention and disposable dollars could prove to be anything but leisurely. Will LTE history and its battery draining missteps repeat themselves? Can AT&T get a leg up on its first place competition with this $199 device? And is the allure of “true” 4G even worth your hard-earned dollars? Follow us after the break as we find out.
HTC Vivid review
Ralph de la Vega made a bold statement at this year’s CTIA, claiming LTE phones on AT&T’s network would be thinner and more longevous. We’re not exactly calling the CEO’s bluff here, but it appears he may have been solely referring to the Galaxy S II Skyrocket. Make no mistake about it, the Vivid is a hefty handset — a fact that becomes apparent when it first plunks out of the box and into your hand. Weighing in at 176 grams (6.24 ounces) and measuring 11.2mm (0.44 inches) thick, you’d assume this heavyweight trade-off would be the result of an outsized battery, numerous ports and LTE radio. That is, unfortunately, not the case at all. With a 1,620mAh battery that pales in comparison to the 1,850mAh of its featherweight 4G LTE stablemate, the phone’s mass is simply baffling. If you were hoping its casing would be to blame for this excessive girth, prepare to be sorely disappointed.
HTC’s design flourishes are some of the most distinctive and daring in the industry, and most have come to associate the company with its aluminum unibody constructions. The Vivid, however, misses out on this traditional treatment. That’s not to say the phone’s chassis feels cheap. On the contrary, it’s a sturdy hulk of glossy piano black plastic (yes, it’s a fingerprint magnet) that’s more reminiscent of the original Motorola Droid’s angular build than any other HTC handset we’ve seen. There’s no soft touch plastic here, though. Rather, we get a hard, shiny exterior that extends around the device to its back and abruptly slopes inward to surround a gunmetal grey, removable metal plate. This Droid-like battery cover is bisected by a faintly dotted, texturized pattern on its lower half and a smooth upper portion broken only by the OEM’s grooved logo and a recessed 8 megapixel camera with dual LED flash to the top left. The phone’s speaker peeks out in a strip above this plating which, when slid down, reveals the aforementioned battery, SIM card and barren microSD card slot hidden beneath. HTC’s packed in 16GB of internal storage, but if you’re the type to load up on media, you can expand that capacity by an extra 32GB. Interrupting the smooth perimeter up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left and, opposite, a flush (maybe too flush) power button. The silvery volume rocker barely juts out over to the right, leaving the micro-USB port to stealthily occupy the lower left hand side.
Whip this phone out in public and you’re not likely to attract much attention. That’s because, much like a mullet, HTC built this beast to be all business up front and a party (however lame and unattended) in the back. AT&T’s logo is really the only splash of flash your eyes will be treated to, located as it is just beneath the Vivid’s imperceptible sliver of an earpiece, with the front-facing 1.3 megapixel VGA camera flanking it to the right. Swallowing up the majority of the phone’s face is that 4.5-inch 960 x 540 qHD TFT Super LCD display and it’s a knockout. True, you’ll encounter a certain degree of difficulty reading this screen in strong sunlight, but take it indoors and you’ll notice an ample brightness to the crisp display that delivers well-balanced contrast and excellent viewing angles. Colors reproduced on the handset belong neither to the over-saturated Super AMOLED realm nor the just-so quality of an IPS display, falling somewhere comfortably in between.
Performance and battery life
By now, you’re probably wondering what’s powering this HTC dark horse and we’re happy to report it’s the same dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8060 processor that’s inside the Skyrocket and HP TouchPad, clocked at a respectable 1.2GHz. The Vivid’s CPU may fall below the 1.5GHz territory of other rival dual-core phones like the Amaze 4G and Skyrocket, but as we’ve seen in the past, a higher speed doesn’t always translate into smooth performance. Here, that horsepower works admirably with the Sense 3.0 skin atop Android 2.3.4, treating users to a responsive, lag-free jaunt through HTC’s homescreen carousel and sub-menus. This brisk performance also extended to the device’s healthy collection of apps which loaded almost instantly.
VividGalaxy S II SkyrocketDroid RAZRQuadrant2,0053,0352,798Linpack (single-thread)44.949.750Linpack (multi-thread)38.970.195.66Nenamark143.759.850.34Nenamark220.127.116.11Neocore58.357.259.98SunSpider 9.14,5402,7392,140
We put the Vivid through its fair share of benchmark testing and brought along Motorola’s Droid RAZR and AT&T’s other LTE flagship, the Galaxy S II Skyrocket, for a handy comparison. We weren’t surprised to see HTC’s black beauty repeatedly fall behind the 1.5GHz Skyrocket, but we certainly didn’t expect a 0.3GHz difference to forge such a drastic gap in Quadrant scoring between the two. It’s hard to say what the culprit is, but if we had to guess, we’d point our finger at Sense and the amount of pixels rendered on the Vivid’s qHD screen versus the Skyrocket’s WVGA. The Vivid’s consistent loss to Moto’s similarly clocked beastie and its TI OMAP 4430 processor also caught us off guard. Despite multiple trial runs in each category, the Vivid claimed no title, but that of last place performance.
A solid workhorse this phone is not. If you need a daily driver to rely on for a two day stretch or even a full day, it’s best you buy elsewhere. HTC hasn’t exaggerated the meager battery life offered by the Vivid’s 1,620mAH Li-ion, of which it promises up to 5.1 hours for WCDMA usage and 7.6 for GSM. In our formal battery rundown test, the Vivid held its charge for a paltry five hours and ten minutes — right on par with the company’s claims, so you’ll want to keep that charger nearby. In real world use, however, we managed to extend that timespan to about ten hours. That’s with one push email account, Twitter set to 15 minute syncing intervals, GPS and WiFi enabled, the screen set to medium brightness, and moderate use of the LTE radio. The Vivid does have excellent standby power management, so if you’re mindful of your phone, you can get through the majority the day unhampered.
New York City’s long been regarded as the capital of the world, and has called itself home to many a “first.” But as far as AT&T’s LTE network goes, we’ve been shuffled back on the priority list. The carrier’s recently extended its “true” 4G imprint to four additional markets this month, bringing its total coverage area to nine cities — that’s small potatoes compared to Verizon’s 175 city-strong footprint. To get a real sense of how blazing fast and dependable AT&T’s 700MHz signal is, we traveled to Boston and wore down the soles of our shoes with an exhaustive neighborhood tour.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t note this was Boston’s first day with live LTE and, as such, was subject to early jitters. AT&T definitely set up specific hotspots around the city’s majorly trafficked sections, but oftentimes the difference of one block, or even standing on the opposite side of the Hynes Convention Center would see the phone drop from LTE to HSPA+. It’s not a terribly disappointing fallback; faux-G performs admirably and you’ll hardly notice the loss unless you’re paying close attention. When we did firmly latch onto an LTE signal, though, we couldn’t suppress our glee — speeds hovered between 20Mbps to 25Mbps down and 10Mbps to 15Mbps up, with rates maxing out at 32Mbps down / 17Mbps up. Coverage was strongest around four distinct areas, so if you purchase the Vivid and plan to make the most of its radio, you’ll want to find yourself hanging around Kenmore Square, Back Bay, Downtown and South Station. And enjoy it while you can, as these are most definitely the early, honeymoon stages of AT&T’s build-out where network congestion is at an absolute minimum — a short-lived privilege for early adopters that’s bound to overturn given time and a more expansive selection of handsets. Still, it’s hard to justify shelling out for the Vivid when an HSPA+ only handset does the double duty of sparing your battery while zipping along at a pace just below LTE.
Keeping in step with the company’s recent high-end handsets, the Vivid sports a respectable 8 megapixel rear camera with an f/2.2 lens capable of 1080p video and a dual LED flash. Missing is that special, constantly auto-focusing sensor that comes outfitted on the myTouch 4G Slide and Amaze 4G, but you won’t really miss it here. In our time with it, the camera module had no problem focusing on our intended subjects with a simple double tap, though there were a few moments of fussiness when shooting too close in macro. Of course, we cycled through HTC’s familiar gamut of scene modes and were more than pleased with the results. It wasn’t apparent at the time of our picture-taking, drenched in bright light as we were, but photos taken at full resolution vividly captured the array of fall colors decorating the sunny New England tableau. Even shots taken at full zoom seemed to retain a meritable sharpness of detail, although you’ll still notice a small loss of quality.
HTC Vivid sample shots
Video, on the other hand, left much to be desired. We tested the Vivid’s powers of full HD in two separate areas of Boston — one noisy and close to traffic, the other a quieter thoroughfare for Sunday strollers. In both instances, the abundance of natural light resulted in incredibly washed out colors and the phone’s video stabilization didn’t do much to remedy our shaky hands. framerate, on the whole, seemed to hold up well, but audio recording is this handset’s definite weakness. Even when taken in a relatively wind-free, calm environment, clips played back with obvious voice distortion.
Android purists, you can stop holding your breath. HTC’s hasn’t taken this flagship opportunity to dispense of its battery-hogging, custom UX. Nor has it shipped the Vivid with the latest Sense skin to wrap around the Rezound and Rhyme, namely 3.5. No, this is firmly a 3.0 experience running atop Gingerbread 2.3.4. The good news for prospective owners is that Ice Cream Sandwich is on its way, as the company’s recently added the handset to its official shortlist of upgradeable devices. Just when that Android 4.0 update will be delivered is anyone’s guess, so content yourself with the knowledge that it’s coming… at some point.
Until that major UI revision makes itself known, you’ll have to make due with daily navigation through the company’s finely honed interface. Yes, that means you’ll have access to HTC’s much-praised lockscreen implementation with accompanying widgets, in addition to the slick weather app. There’s not much else at play here we haven’t seen before, so if you’ve ever called an HTC Android phone you’re own, you’ll know what to expect.
Browsing wasn’t without its own share of hiccups. Full desktop versions of websites would sometimes refuse to load at all, forcing us to clear out cookies and cache before attempting a refresh. When we did manage to pull up flash heavy pages, they rendered in about 15 – 20 seconds. Pinch to zoom performed better than we’ve seen on recent handsets, following our fingers movements closely and never once resorting to white space or checkerboarding.
Unlike some of the carrier’s more recent Android offerings, the Vivid doesn’t come bogged down with an offensive amount of bloatware. Yes, it’s still there and HTC’s added to the mess, but you won’t find yourself eagerly awaiting the day you can root this puppy and clean it up. On AT&T’s side, you’ll find branded Navigator, FamilyMap, U-verse Live TV, Radio and Music apps to complement the handful of third-party applications like Facebook, Twitter, Need for Speed, MOG and Qik lite. Whether you make use of this crapware or not, you can’t uninstall it. So learn to live with the load and move on or just hold out for a Galaxy Nexus.
LTE is well-trodden territory for HTC, thanks to its previous dalliance with Verizon and the Thunderbolt. And with AT&T now taking “real” 4G to consumer’s hands, it’s understandable that the operator would want valuable hardware insight on its side. Sadly, the Vivid falls short of clearing a few performance hurdles, but if you absolutely must have an LTE device on the carrier’s network, it’s not an altogether terrible choice. Does it benefit from the company’s early experience with Verizon’s LTE? Without a doubt there are noticeable improvements made to the phone’s power management abilities and Sense 3.0 is as refined as could be at this stage in the game. Where the Vivid falls short, though, is in the looks department. There’s just no excusable reason for its ugliness and heft, especially when de la Vega’s LTE remarks are taken into account. It doesn’t fall completely into the trap of being a juice-deprived paperweight, but that’s going to take a lot of attention to settings adjustment on your part. When you compare it side-by-side with AT&T’s only other LTE phone, the Galaxy S II Skyrocket, the winner is clear: Sammy’s elegant handset puts the Vivid to shame. It’s lighter, faster, sleeker and packs enough battery power to really let you surf the blistering 700MHz waves. Really, though, the decision boils down to the chunk of change you’re willing to dole out. With a two-year contracted price of $199, the Vivid is the more frugal option of the two — albeit by $50. Seen from this angle, all that separates you from a lasting and stylish LTE experience versus a chunky, underpowered weapon of Sense 3.0 destruction is a matter of half a Benjamin.