Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
9/29/2011 11:04:16 AM
A compact handset that blends functionality with a non-threatening navigation, and at a price point that should suit someone looking to take that first plunge into smartphones
The processor is slower than other recent HTC models, web browsing on the smaller screen isn?t that impressive and the screen resolution lacks sparkle
HTC was fairly busy in the latter half of 2011, releasing an array of high performance handsets such as the massive Windows-powered Titan and music powerhouses the Sensation XE and XL. Fine if you’re looking for a multimedia giant at a higher price point, but HTC’s secret weapon lies in it winning over those looking for a starter smartphone. Its latest in this game is the Explorer, which boasts a simplified user interface without compromising too much on performance.
As first smartphones go, the HTC Explorer is a rather cute little handset. Its screen measures a perfectly compact 3.2 inches, so it doesn’t have the wow factor of say the Sensation XL or the Titan (both 4.7-inch screens). That said, there is something about its dinky frame that has a curious appeal. It’s a bit of a pebble in your hand – rounded corners, relatively soft back casing made of texturised rubber that is almost rugged in appearance. If you’re looking for something compact, this is a great choice. Along the top of the phone’s casing is the Power button and 3.5mm jack, with a volume rocker top right and USB charging port bottom left. The entire rubber casing of the phone can be removed so you can access the SIM, battery and add a microSD card – and with just 90MB of memory you will need one. The phone packs a capacitive touch-screen with four on-screen buttons along the bottom; Home, Menu, Back and Search.
The Explorer’s appeal lies in its affordable Android functionality – £130 on pay-as-you-go – married with streamlined navigation. The device aims to tempt the talkers and texters away from low-spec handsets, gently breaking them into smartphones – and it’s pretty successful on that front. For instance, composing an email takes two clicks and you’re not baffled by too many options or icons. Same with apps, one click from the homepage and you’ll have access to all the usual fare – Calendar, Camera, Gmail etc. The handset runs on Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread out of the box, and on a simplified version of HTC Sense 3.5. This '3.5a' version has the same new tidy home screen (see page 18 for more on Sense 3.5), with lockscreen shortcuts, a more muted clock and five handy folders you can either instantly access or nudge for more info. The Explorer has much of that 3.5 sparkle without the flashier carousel movements and animations from screen to screen you find on higher spec models like the Rhyme (page 16), but as the cheapest of the HTC range to date, something has to give. Web browsing is fairly intuitive, but the pinch-to-zoom function can sometimes be a little too much for the Explorer’s 600MHz processor to handle. It’s the same with multitasking – you’ll find it needs a few minutes to catch its breath from time to time. The camera squeezes in just three megapixels and it’s a tad blurry in low light, but overall it’s not bad for a phone pitched at entry-level customers.The downside of the 3.2-inch screen is that for a phone that’s trying to tempt you with extra web functionality you won’t be able to see a lot, and the 320x480-pixel screen resolution is disappointing. But really, missing out on a little detail is a small price to pay for a smartphone with such a range of features – and a no-nonsense approach to those features.
In many respects, the HTC Explorer could be seen as a state-of-things-to-come phone. Lower-spec text-and-call-only phones will only last so long before smartphones become more or less the norm.Rather than battling with these simple devices, HTC is trying to tempt traditional talkers and texters with a spot of web browsing, mobile email and app fun via this affordable Android handset. There are similar phones out there, but for £130, the Explorer is a very sound choice.