Friday, December 23, 2011

HTC Raider Review

Rogers and Bell haven't been shy about declaring the progress being made on their respective 4G LTE networks. But all of this talk of their new networks means little without devices to harness the power of these new powerful networks. In comes the HTC Raider a 4.5-inch, dual core powered phone that is the first LTE phone in Canada to harness both 4G LTE and A Dual Core processor. After seeing the LTE speeds we got with Rogers' LTE stick, let's say we were a bit excited for this phone and in this review we'll see if that excitement is warranted.

Overall Construction
While HTC is well respected by the tech community for having some of the most solidly build handsets available that's not to say they haven't gotten their fair share of criticism. The primary complain from many Android enthusiasts is the fact that HTC phones, albeit named almost all completely different, all seem to look somewhat "similar". Now to some this is an annoyance as handsets won't stand out from each other, but I personally see it as a good thing as it provides HTC with something of an identity which it seemed to lack before the Nexus One.

With the HTC Raider however, HTC clearly took a step away from the usual unibody aluminum shell and instead with a very Motorola-esque design for the Raider. In fact, many times when taking a quick glance at the phone on a desk it really gave off the aura of the original Motorola DROID/Milestone. The mixed use of metal and plastic also reminded us a lot of the construction of the Samsung Captivate.

Many have criticized the design and other have been even harsher calling it plain ugly. In our time with the Raider we didn't hate the design but we certainly feel like it is a bit of a step back compared to other HTC offerings like the Amaze 4G.

At 11.2mm and 176g the Raider is thinner and lighter than it's similarly speced brethren the Amaze 4G. To accommodate the behemoth 4.5-inch screen the Raider is slightly wider than its 4G sibling but just about as tall. The weight can be a bit much for some but we feel it adds to the premium feel that is somewhat lost with the use of plastics.

In terms of ergonomics the Raider felt very well balanced but didn't feel as reassuring to hold as say the Incredible S. The glossy plastic sides and metal back simply do not provide enough friction between one's hand and the phone. The tapers on the side also felt quite exaggerated and could have been toned down slightly given that it is already slightly thinner than the Amaze 4G, which was respectably thin in its own right.

In terms of overall build quality, the Raider is a bit of a miss for an HTC built phone but still feels more substantial and solidly built than many competitor phones. I do have to commend HTC for stepping out of their comfort zone in terms on design and while some might not like its looks we find it neutral enough to please most people.

HTC Amaze 4G

If we only take into consideration HTC made Android devices, the Incredible S would be the gold standard for Super LCD screens used by the company. With the Raider , we've finally come across another Super LCD screen that is truly good enough to compare to the IPS screens and Super AMOLED screens of the mobile space.

When we reviewed the Sensation 4G we expected to see a screen as good if not better than the Incredible S' and sadly this wasn't the case. The same train of thought was given to the Amaze 4G and again we feel like while it was a good effort it fell short. The Raider has, fortunately enough, broken the cycle of disappointment.

Like most Super LCD displays, color, saturation, brightness and black level were very good for non-AMOLED screens and can certainly battle it out with the IPS displays of the world. But where the Raider shines and the Sensation and Amaze faltered was in the viewing angles. As we mentioned in the respective reviews the viewing angles weren't that bad (as we've seen far worse) but simply left a bit of a bad impression on what would otherwise be an impeccable display.

The Raider has what we believe is the best SLCD screen we've seen on an HTC device to date, couple this with a very crisp qHD resolution in a 4.5-inch form factor and you get a fantastic reading, gaming and multimedia experience. HTC really brought the A-game when it comes to the Raider's display.

Like almost any high end or flagship Android device you think of today, touch responsiveness, gestures and overall accuracy were as good as it gets.

Buttons & Keyboard
Pretty status quo as far as non-touchscreen user inputs to report. Power button and Volume buttons weren't the most raised buttons but there were got enough to notice without looking at the phone. We do however miss having a dedicated camera button and with a camera that is as good as the one on the Raider it really is unfortunate. Capacitive buttons were as usual decently spaced and registered every press.

Battery Life
At 1620mAh, the Raider isn't breaking any records for battery capacity and certainly is within the range of average battery sizes. That being said there is nothing average about the screen size or cellular radio (LTE 4G) found inside this phone. This would by conventional wisdom result in poor battery life but fortunately is not the case.

While the Raider was able to get us through a day worth of normal usage, LTE is still a huge battery hog. To stress test the battery we enabled the hotspot and tethered 2-3 devices simultaneous while still doing benchmarks on the phone and LTE really took its toll. Fortunately should the situation arise where one would need to tether for that long it's assumed that there would be a USB port available to keep the phone charge, and we highly recommend you do should you go this route. We would not be surprised if the phone could last almost two days on a charge with LTE disabled and only HSPA+ as a data connection.

That being said in the end battery performance has been fairly good and really good enough for almost any person considering this phone.

Internal Hardware
Both Rogers and Bell had a nice lineup of existing dual core phones but the Raider is an amazing addition to both their lineups. Being one of the first LTE phones on both their respective network, it's obvious that this phone was going to bring some killer specs.

- 1.2 GHz Dual Core Third Generation Snapdragon Processor
- 1GB of RAM
- 16GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card slot upgradable to up to 32GB
- Adreno 220 Graphic processor
- 75Mbps LTE capable chipset
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- 8MP auto-focus camera with dual LED flash and 1080p HD video capabilities

The specs are right on par with the Sensation 4G as well as the EVO 3D and only slightly slower than the Amaze 4G. So one should be familiar with the overall performance of the Raider if they've used one of the aforementioned phones. That being said overall the Raider delivers solid overall performance. We had no noticeable slow downs or hiccups in any general usage of the phone.

Like with the Amaze 4G, the Adreno 220 was rock solid in 3D applications. From the various games found on the Android market to the 3D effects in Sense 3.0 everything runs buttery smooth.

LTE 4G Capabilities
Not too long ago, LTE was simply a dream. A future of ultra high speed data that could allow a true, full faceted, multimedia internet experience on mobile devices. Today, that dream is a reality, LTE coverage in Canada is increasing by the day and becoming available to more and more Canadians.

4G has been a been a standard that has been used (and abused) over the past few months to designate any network that has significant improvements over 3G networks. Now depending who you ask, HSPA+ may or may not fall under the 4G moniker but ask those same people about LTE and they most likely will agree that it is 4G or at least the closest thing to 4G we currently have.

In our tests on the Rogers LTE 4G network in Montreal, LTE speeds were absurdly fast. Providing speeds that never dropped below 15mbps and reaching just about 30mbps we got the same speeds as earlier tests with the Rogers data stick.

Like with all our speed tests we want to remind you, our readers, that the speeds we get are from tests we conduct in Montreal and that your mileage will vary. If you live in an LTE covered area on either Rogers or Bell then you will definitely get the most out of this awesome smartphone.

Speaker and microphone
Like most HTC phones the external speaker and earpiece aren't of pristine quality but really are just good enough. While we certainly would like to see HTC make immediate strides in the regards of sound, we should expect things to get better as HTC uses the synergy made from their majority acquisition of Beats by Dr. Dre.

One aspect where HTC traditionally hasn't been a powerhouse has been cameras. But this changed in Canada with the arrival of the HTC Amaze 4G. It brought the first HTC phone equipped with what they claim is one of the best lenses and some of the best camera software on any smartphone. This new wave of ultra high end camera experiences on HTC phones is continued with the HTC Raider.

Still and video came out absolutely crisp, sharp and had immense amounts of detail. Although, unlike the Amaze 4G, the Raider was missing some of the camera features that the Amaze 4G had in the camera app but still produces quality shots. What we do miss the most however from the Amaze 4G is the dedicated camera and camcorder shutter buttons.

In our review of the Amaze 4G we noticed that the 2MP Front Facing Camera was surprisingly good and capable of 720p recording. The Raider on the other hand has a 1.3MP camera, and while from face value that seems like it might be a letdown that isn't the case. Pictures and video capture were decent and like on the Amaze 4G capable of 720p HD recording.

Sample Pictures


HTC Sense 3.0 /w Android 2.3
To get straight to the point, the Raider 4G is running Android 2.3 Gingerbread with Sense 3.0 on top. Again as mentioned in the Amaze 4G review we are disappointed not to see at least Sense 3.5 that made it to the HTC Rezound on Verizon in the US. We will have to wait and see what the Ice Cream Sandwich update brings to the Raider (and Amaze 4G) and hope that perhaps it will bring a revamped more lightweight version of Sense.

For a more in depth look at Sense 3.0 check out our review of the HTC Sensation 4G as it is essentially the same experience.

HTC has committed to upgrading the Raider 4G to Ice Cream Sandwich.


When we first heard that both Rogers and Bell were going to get the HTC Raider (and almost simultaneously) we were really surprised given the way exclusivities have been the norm in Canada as far as high end Android phones are concerned. In the end this is great for the enthousiast consumer who needs the latest and greatest devices as having it on two carriers with vastly different LTE footprints increases the chance of being in an area serviced with LTE 4G by either Rogers or Bell.

The Raider is certainly a solid phone that is in some ways built on the solid base of the Sensation 4G/EVO 3D and has the addition 4G LTE connectivity and a vastly improved camera. This overall package is just about as good as the Amaze 4G but with slight differences that make it a slightly inferior phone. That being said, if you're a user that absolutely need the FASTEST data speeds look no further than the HTC Raider. LTE is such a vast improvement over existing 3G technologies that is most certainly deserves the "4G" moniker and makes the Raider one of the best phones in Canada available right now.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 8/10
- A bit of an odd side step for HTC. Credit is due for changing up their design but this one is sadly a miss.

Screen: 9/10
- Fantastic screen, the best we've seen on any HTC device and one of the best on any Android phone.

Buttons: 8.5/10
- Hardware buttons are a bit too flush with the phone's chassis. Capacitive buttons were nice and responsive. Wish is had dedicated camera buttons.

Internal Hardware: 9.5/10
- Does slightly worse than Amaze 4G in benchmarks but compensates that with face meltingly fast LTE 4G speeds.

Speaker and Microphone: 8/10
- Status quo from Amaze 4G, decent but not exceptional quality.

Camera: 9/10
- Fantastic stills and great 1080p video recording (although bad audio). Lack of some Amaze 4G features (like Burst shot) and hardware buttons leaves a sour note on an otherwise great camera experience.

UI Changes: 8/10
- Good old reliable Sense 3.0. Hopefully overhauled in ICS Android 4.0 update.

Addition Enhancements: n/a
- Nothing to report that is significantly different from the Sensation/EVO3D or Amaze 4G

Included Apps/Bloatware: 7.5/10
- Both the Rogers and Bell version have their own set of carrier included apps that can't be uninstalled.

Final Score: 8.5/10

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