Thursday, August 18, 2011

HTC Panache Review

Given that WIND, Mobilicity and Vidéotron all run on the AWS band and are relative newcomers to the mobile market in Canada they are somewhat at a disadvantage. Having to get 3G devices with such an odd wireless band coupled with the fact that together all three carriers do not match the customer base of any of the big three, Rogers, Bell and TELUS, presents a unique challenge. Fortunately T-Mobile in the US uses AWS and does carry a wide array of fantastic Android devices and HTC Panache, also known as the myTouch 4G, is one of the first of many (hopefully) to make its way to Mobilicity and Vidéotron.

Overall Construction
Given that the HTC Panache is known as the myTouch 4G in the US and that the HTC Magic is known as the myTouch 3G in the US it's only fair to treat the former as the successor to the latter. It's only natural that several design cues made it from the original to the successor. From the ever so slightly curved top at the speaker grill to the very slight "chin" at the buttons, the phone shares a distinct lineage to the HTC Magic.

Unlike the Magic, the Panache is very solidly built. Using a good mix of metal, soft touch matte plastics and glass the Panache has a nice premium feel. The overall design has garnered the ire of some tech reviewers while getting praises from others. We have yet to see such a device have such polarized opinions. Subjective sections aside, the Panache certainly is a well constructed phone and feels like it can take a beating (not that we recommend it).

In terms of overall thickness, at 11mm thick, the Panache certainly isn't "super model" thin like the Samsung Galaxy S II but is certainly thin enough to be comfortable in even the tightest pair of pants (should you prefer tight pants that is).

Weight on the other hand is a far cry from the featherweights of the Android world. At 150g it is quite hefty but is strangely tuned just right for excellent ergonomics both for calls and when using the phone to browse, SMS, gaming, etc.

Given the significant heft of the Panache, one must wonder where it comes from. Aside from the battery, we suspect that the most prominent part of the phone in terms in weight is the metal battery cover found on the back. It certainly is a major factor in giving the device an overall premium feel. From our experience, the cover was very difficult to remove assuring the safety of your internal parts such as the battery, SIM card and micro SD card (not that they needed to be protected all that much).

If there were anything on the Panache that would be unquestionably inspired from the Magic, it would be the hardware buttons and trackpad. Being somewhat of a fixture in early Android devices, they both seemed to be phased out in more recent devices and will be covered more in depth in the buttons section of the review.

Worth noting on the left hand side between the volume rocker and the micro USB port are 3 connectors for car and desk docks.

HTC Panache

The specs and form factor of the HTC Panache place it squarely as a competitor to the Galaxy S line of phones on Rogers/Bell/TELUS as well the Arc on Rogers, the Incredible S on Bell and the Desire HD on TELUS. That being said, the Panache is unfortunately one of the last in the pack amongst competing phones when it comes to screen quality.

The myTouch 4G was unofficially dubbed the Desire HD of the US (even if it eventually made it to AT&T as the Inspire 4G) for having similar specs and it seems like the Desire HD's underwhelming screen also made it to the Panache. While it isn't "bad" by the classic definition, it certainly doesn't fair well against the latest Super LCD or Super AMOLED screens found on comparable devices.

Colors, contrast and black levels were good but where the screen on the Panache falters against the competition is in viewing angles. When tilting the device in any direction colors instantly degraded and is VERY noticeable. That being said, I've personally never felt that viewing angles were all that important to a person looking to purchase a phone given that they will 99% of the time be looking at their device straight on. But for those time where you will have people huddle around the screen to watch that funny YouTube video of check out those Facebook pictures from the last night, it won't the best experience.

Outdoor performance in sunlight was okay and brightness levels were also good, so overall even considering the very poor viewing angles the screen is certainly not a bad one when considering the entire smartphone market but certainly is lagging behind direct competitors.

As mentioned earlier, the Panache has actual hardware buttons and a trackpad. Hardware buttons have made their appearance on many mid range phone as well as some high end phones but clearly has given way to the capacitive buttons.

The use of hardware buttons really sets this phone apart from other recent HTC as well as competing devices on form other manufacturers. While some like the clean look of the capacitive buttons other aren't so ready to give up the tactile responsiveness of real buttons. I personally love the feel of real buttons and it certainly helps me avoid those accidental miss presses. Of course personal preference is really the ultimate deciding factor. The usual Home, Menu, Back and Proper Search (unlike the Genius button on the myTouch 4G) buttons are placed perfectly, have decent size and require just the right amount of pressure.

While the trackpad isn't only a button, it's such a rare sight to see these days that we didn't really have a more appropriate section to include it. Instantly recognizable on several HTC Android devices (and Blackberries) the trackball has somewhat fallen out of favor as screens have grown in size. The trackpad, an evolution of the trackball, was put on some devices (like the Desire Z and Panache) but seems to have been abandoned all together by HTC and even on smaller devices (Wildfire S, ChaCha/Status, Salsa) where it could be useful. Nevertheless it is still a well welcomed input method on the Panache, there simply isn't a better input method for fine text editing where a finger is not precise enough.

We found that the Power button was pretty flush with frame but had enough of a gap to distinguish it without looking at the phone. The volume rocker was also quite flush with the left side of the phone but is satisfyingly large enough to use comfortably.

Lastly on the bottom right hand side is something of a rare occurrence on smartphones today and that is a dedicated camera button. The button has a good size to it and a nice texture to feel the two stage button. Unfortunately it is a bit wobbly and takes away a bit form this great addition. Nevertheless a dedicated camera button is always welcome and on the Panache it is no exception.

Battery Life
Without any scientific evidence, the average mAh rating of smartphones seems to hover around 1500 mAh. The Panache falls under the average at 1400mAh. Fortunately this was not a detriment to the Panache's battery life. In our tests a full day worth of moderate use was easily achieved.

Internal Hardware
As already mentioned the Panache is something of a modified version of the Desire HD. So naturally it packs the almost identical internal hardware.

- 1 GHz Qualcomm Second Generation Snapdragon MSM8255 Processor
- 768MB of RAM
- 1.1GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card by up to 32GB
- Adreno 205 Graphic processor
- 14.4Mbps HSPA+ capable chipset
- WiFi b/g/n
- 5MP auto-focus camera with LED flash and 720p HD video capabilities

As mentioned in our Incredible S review (which also sports the same internal hardware), the second Generation snapdragon processor is no slouch but is slightly dated by today's standards. But for every day use operations were snappy and responsive.

For gaming and multimedia applications the Panache will satisfy most people. Unfortunately upcoming games will probably be too taxing for this hardware. If you're definition of gaming is "Angry Birds" then by all means the Panache will perform like a champ.

HSPA+ “4G” Capabilities (On Vidéotron)
In Québec, Vidéotron has been touting this as a "4G" phone. While it's debatable whether HSPA+ is truly 4G the results of speedtests were great.

In multiple areas around Montréal, the Panache was easily pulling down from 4-6mbps, keeping up with the Incredible S. For everyday use, the speeds are more than sufficient to pull the data down for large, media rich websites or for your video/audio streaming needs.

As always, this is only a sample of the HSPA+ coverage speeds in Montréal so your mileage will vary, but this should give you an idea of the speeds to expect when in a well covered HSPA+ area.

As far as speeds on Mobilicity, while I couldn't personally test the speeds (being in Québec), from other reviews on the net, the speeds are not as fast as on Vidéotron. Again this varies from on situation to another.

Speaker and microphone
As with most HTC devices, the sound from the ear piece is good but a tad low and the external speaker is just average. During calls the microphone sounded clear, again status quo for an HTC phone. Although we couldn't find a hole indicating a noise cancellation secondary microphone, so we're going to assume it doesn't have one.

The rear facing camera on the Panache is a 5MP Auto-Focus and is 720p HD capable. Still from the camera were good but a bit behind comparable phones. 720p HD video was also decent.

One problem we had (seems to be an occurrence with some HTC phones) is it was a bit difficult to focus on a subject in very low light situation. It isn't a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination but it will probably mean you will have to take a few shots before you get the right picture.

The VGA front facing camera of course is not going to give you studio quality shots but studio quality isn't what you need for video chats.

Sample Pictures


Sense UI 2.1
As with any HTC branded device, the Panache is equipped with their proprietary Sense UI overtop Android. This time around since the Panache is a Gingerbread equipped phone it gets the Sense 2.1 treatment.

Much like the Incredible S many of the Sense UI enhancements have been inherited and refined since the HTC Hero, the first phone to have Sense UI. From the unmistakable HTC widgets to the enhanced Contacts with social network integration, Sense UI has really become a refined experience.

From Sense 2.0 (like on the HTC Incredible S before the 2.3 update) to 2.1 there aren't too many changes, so the bulk of what you need to know about Sense UI can be read in our HTC Incredible S review. But there are some noticeable additions such as the switch to a vertically paged launcher rather than a continuous scrolling list of apps and quick settings in the notification bar.

We are happy to report that this phone launches with Android 2.3, unlike the myTouch 4G in the US and the Incredible S on Bell and HTC Desire HD, all three of which launched with Android 2.2 and only got 2.3 recently.


Flash 10.3 Performance
Like the most HTC devices Flash HD performance is fantastic. The update to Android 2.3 seems to only improve the playback. The below video show the Incredible S performance which is basically a carbon copy of how well 720p performs on the Panache. In fact, the video of Qualcomm talking about their MDP shows a myTouch 4G going head to head with an LG Optimus 2X and coming out on top.

The Panache (like it's direct competitor the Incredible S and Desire HD) is a well rounded phone that is unfortunately sporting "older" hardware but fortunately enough the latest software. By no means is the Panache a slow device but it certainly isn't going to stand the test of time like a dual-core powered phone will. One must consider that the myTouch 4G was released in October 2010 making it over half-year old before hitting Canadian shelves, an eternity in mobile tech.

That being said, on both Mobilicity and Vidéotron the Panache is a compelling option is you like the looks of Sense UI and the styling of HTC's hardware designs. But for a power user who prefers raw specs or stock Android, the Optimus 2X (on Vidéotron) and the Google Nexus S by Samsung (on Mobilicity and Vidéotron) are compelling alternatives.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 8.5/10
- Great build, VERY solid construction and we consider design very nice but opinions are very polarized and might not be for everyone.

Screen: 7/10
- Decent Screen, sadly is inferior to competing offerings on different carriers.

Buttons: 9/10
- Great hardware buttons, love the inclusion of a trackpad which is a nice compromise for people who don't like trackballs/trackpads and great addition of the two stage camera button.

Internal Hardware: 8/10
- Middle of the road hardware but Good download/upload speeds that were VERY consistent.

Speaker and Microphone: 8/10
- Status quo for HTC's standards. Wish it had louder external speaker and higher volume for calls.

Camera: 7.5/10
- Decent camera for stills and video. Not good enough to replace a dedicated Point & Shoot though.

UI Changes: 8.5/10
- Sense UI not really changed from Sense 2.0 to Sense 2.1 but is equipped with Android 2.3 out of the box.

Addition Enhancements: 8/10
- Flash 10.3 performance is fantastic

Included Apps/Bloatware: 7.5/10
- Bloatware kept to a minimum (on Vidéotron version) which is great to see.

Final Score: 8.0/10

1 comment:

  1. I don't know how to take screen shots in my panache...i need help!