HTC puts audio quality front and center with the Rezound, the company's first smartphone for the U.S. with integrated Beats Audio. When paired with the bundled earphones, the technology makes music sound like it was originally intended instead of a compressed mess. This $299 Verizon 4G Android phone is also the first for the carrier to feature a sharp 720p HD display. Does the Rezound do enough to make you forget about the Droid RAZR and the Galaxy Nexus?
Measuring 0.5 inches thick and weighing 6 ounces, the HTC Rezound feels solid but is quite plump compared with other high-end handsets. For instance, the Motorola Droid RAZR (0.3 inches, 4.5 ounces) and the Samsung Galaxy S II (0.4 inches, 4.8 ounces) look practically wafer-thin next to the Rezound. The Droid Bionic comes closest to the Rezound's profile (5 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches, 5.6 ounces).
On the plus side, you can tell that HTC took pains to design the Rezound with a Beats flavor. The phone's rectangular shape has attractively softened edges. Though there's no metal used, the Rezound's glossy black and gray plastic facade radiates conservative sophistication. Capacitive Android buttons (Home, Menu, Back, and Search) under the handset's 4.3-inch screen glow in a playful red.
Flipping the HTC Rezound over reveals the circular Beats symbol tastefully painted in red just above Verizon's subtle gray 4G LTE logo. More aggressively styled, the rear cover sports a raised hump, similar to the Droid Incredible 2, that masks the device's thickness. The back's soft-touch surface makes it easy to grip and repels fingerprints. A red ring outlines the 8-megapixel camera lens, which is joined by a dual-LED flash.
Opening the battery cover reveals transparent red plastic with circuitry peeking through and a crimson battery pack. There's a roomy 16GB microSD card, but accessing it requires that you remove the battery. Controls on the HTC Rezound are minimal, with just a tiny power key on top next to the headphone jack and a thin volume rocker on the right edge. Both buttons lie flush against the phone's surface, making them tough to press.
The Rezound is the first smartphone sold through a U.S. carrier with a 720p (1280 x 720) display. Those extra pixels made watching the HD YouTube trailer for Hugo a delight: Brick and wrought-iron train station backgrounds were crisply rendered along with billowing clouds of stream from locomotives. Playback was smooth, too, with no stuttering or hiccups, even when streaming over 4G LTE indoors.
Pixels aren't everything, though. Though the Samsung Galaxy S II's 4.5-inch screen has a lower resolution of 800 x 480, its Super AMOLED Plus display technology made the same trailer more engaging thanks to more vibrant colors. The Rezound had a higher measured brightness at 278 lux, verse 260 for the Galaxy S II.
The Rezound's display is also better for viewing websites, such as the full desktop version of The New York Times. We could see an extra column of text compared to viewing the site on the Galaxy S II's display.
Though it's been found on HP laptops for a few years, Beats Audio (a digital processing technology) makes its smartphone debut on the Rezound. In addition to the software inside the phone, the Rezound comes with a set of premium Beats earbuds; the audio processing kicks in automatically when the Rezound detects a Beats-compliant headset.
When the phone's music player is running, users have the option to toggle Beats on and off, but it's not compatible with other music apps. For example, while we were listening to tracks via Slacker and the Google Music app, activating Beats processing or adjusting its settings wasn't possible. When we connected our set of Marshall test headphones, the Rezound let us use either Beats audio or the HTC enhancer solution within the default music application. With the Beats earbuds inserted, only Beats Audio is listed.
Both the HTC Enhancer and Beats Audio improve audio quality, but the latter did a better job at enhancing higher tones. Bass, too, was more driving using Beats Audio, but it sounded cleaner, and didn't overwhelm tracks. When listening to Miles Davis' "Freddie Freeloader," bass wasn't as muddy using Beats Audio, and Bill Evans' piano solos were crisper. Sadly, adjusting EQ settings manually isn't possible.
With a bright red color, the earbuds have a premium look, and they come with multiple soft tips. The corded earbuds also have controls for skipping forward and back through tracks and answering calls using its microphone. Unfortunately, there's no in-line volume control, which is a huge oversight.
The earbuds served up impressive audio quality with a wide frequency range. While listening to the hip-hop classic "Pacifics" by Digable Planets we enjoyed a healthy dose of bass, warm vocals, rich horns, crisp hand claps, and tinkling bells. "Forget If You Can" by Billie Holiday had a similar amount of depth, and we clearly heard rich trumpet solos, clarinet refrains, soft drum whisks, and Billie's satiny voice.
Audio piped through the Rezound's large rear stereo speaker had similarly pleasing audio qualities with enough volume to fill a quiet room. While the speaker doesn't get extremely loud, it doesn't distort at its highest setting either.
Those familiar with HTC's other handsets will find an identical typing experience on the Rezound. We liked punching out messages on this layout, with large, well-spaced keys and just a touch of haptic feedback. Almost every key doubles as an often-used number or symbol. Trace, an input method similar to Swype that lets you form words by drawing lines through letters, is installed but isn't activated by default.
Software and Interface
Android and HTC Sense fans alike will certainly appreciate the Rezound's software. The phone runs the company's latest iteration of Sense UI, version 3.5, on top of Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread. Sense 3.5 adds the ability to delete home screens plus an updated browser with a cleaner look.
Like on the HTC Rhyme and HTC Sensation, a new lock screen displays a digital clock with time and date plus icons for Camera, Mail, Messages, and Phone. Pulling a virtual ring from the bottom to the center of the screen wakes up the handset. Dragging any of the icons directly into the ring launches that specific app.
There are seven customizable home screens to choose from, and swiping left or right flips through them. A finger pinch opens an aerial view of all seven screens for fast navigation. The notification drawer includes a couple of features you won't find on standard Android handsets. There's a list of recent apps up top for switching between programs, and a tab for Quick Settings down below for engaging airplane mode and toggling other settings.
The App menu on this and other HTC Sense phones looks dated to us, with unnecessary Downloaded, Frequent, and Verizon Wireless tabs at the bottom of the screen. It's time for HTC to modernize this menu.
Besides the typical bundle of Verizon software such as VZ Navigator, VCAST Music, and VCAST videos, the HTC Rezound includes Kindle for Blockbuster movie rentals and Kindle for purchasing and reading eBooks. Polaris Office lets users open and edit common file formats, such as Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, and an app called Scan reads QR codes using the Rezound's camera.
As per usual, HTC adds its own software to the mix. For instance, the FriendStream widget combines all your social media updates into one feed. And the HTC Watch app provides access to video titles including movies and TV shows. For example, Transformers: Dark Side of The Moon costs $3.99 to rent and $14.99 to buy.
Web and 4G Data
Connecting to Verizon's LTE network, the HTC Rezound turned in blistering data speeds on our tests. At a coffee shop near our office in downtown Manhattan, the phone pulled down data at an average of 28.3 Mbps. Uploads at the same location clocked in at a remarkably swift 5.8 Mbps. Out in Queens, speeds were slower but still impressive, with downloads averaging of 16.2 Mbps and 5.5 Mbps uploads. That's much better than numbers turned in by the Motorola Droid RAZR (12.3 Mbps down, 5.8 Mbps up) and the Droid Bionic (11.6 Mbps down, 3.4 Mbps up).
The HTC Rezound also proved very swift when loading websites, thanks to the combined might of its dual-core Snapdragon processor and LTE data radio. Mobile versions of sites such as ESPN and CNN.com took just more than 2 seconds to launch. Full desktop versions of NYTimes.com and Laptopmag.com fired up in about 5 to 6 seconds. These scores are among the fastest we've seen from a Verizon phone.
To share its data connection, the HTC Rezound can operate as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 10 devices. A dedicated app easily enables this feature so users don't have to dig through the phone's menus. The service costs an extra $20 a month for 2GB of data.
Equipped with a dual-core 1.5-GHz Snapdragon CPU and 1GB of RAM, the HTC Rezound held its own against other Android superphones. The handset turned in a Benchmark CPU score of 3,120, enough to edge past the Motorola Droid Bionic (2,955, 1.2-GHz TI OMAP 4430), but not the Droid RAZR (3,802, 1.2-GHz OMAP 4430). The Samsung Galaxy S II (T-Mobile) also outpaced the Rezound on this test, notching 3,365 using its 1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm S3.
The Rezound's score of 7,331 on An3DBench (a test that measures 3D graphics performance), also lagged behind the Droid RAZR (7,412) but managed to push past the Droid Bionic's score of 6,990. Samsung's Galaxy S II (T-Mobile) squeaked by the Rezound here, scoring 7,394.
In everyday use, the HTC Rezound felt agile and responsive, opening apps and flipping through menu screens with great speed.
Camera and Camcorder
Just like HTC's Amaze 4G, the Rezound boasts an impressive 8-MP camera that's fast. The phone's autofocus takes less than a second, and captured images almost instantly. We were generally pleased with the image quality, but colors appeared less vibrant than they did on other phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S II. For instance, yellow flowers and orange pumpkins lacked the same punch. Low-light pictures, though, were well exposed, and the camera's dual-flash system didn't blow out subjects.
The Rezound's camera offers a great number of settings and cool effects, such as Dots, Posterize, and Vintage Warm. There are special shooting modes too, such as Action Burst, Backlight HDR, and Panorama.
The 1080p HD video footage of city streets we shot had plenty of detail as well, but again colors weren't as saturated as we would have liked.
The Rezound also has a front-facing 2MP camera for video calls. On our tests using Skype, callers video chatting over 4G LTE said our image appeared sharp with no visible blur.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Voices sounded clear and warm during multiple test calls on the Rezound. The earpiece was loud, but callers could tell we were calling from a mobile line. Callers actually said we sounded better via the speakerphone, provided we didn't move too far away from the handset.
The good news is that the HTC Rezound's battery life is much longer than the Thunderbolt's, with the device lasting just 5 hours and 2 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing over 4G LTE). The Thunderbolt only lasted 3:56 over 4G.
By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S II (T-Mobile) managed a much longer 7:38 while running our benchmark on T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G network. That said, the Motorola Droid RAZR ran its battery down to 30 percent after just 3.5 hours of informal use. We'll update this review with a formal comparison between the RAZR and Rezound soon, but the bottom line is that you probably won't make it through a full day on a charge.
The Rezound has everything you want in a top-notch Android phone--blazing 4G LTE, 720p display, and a very capable 8-MP camera--plus Beats Audio for maximizing your listening pleasure. We just wish that the design were slimmer and that Beats Audio worked with third-party apps and Google Music downloads. Verizon Wireless customers have two other very compelling options. The Droid RAZR sports a much sleeker design for the same price along with slightly faster performance. And the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Nexus does 720p while packing Google's new-and-improved Ice Cream Sandwich OS. Nevertheless, if you like HTC Sense, the HTC Rezound will be sure to please.