Friday, November 25, 2011

HTC Amaze 4G Review

The "4G" arms race has been one for the ages with some companies relabeling 3G standards (HSPA+) as 4G and other companies racing to proliferate their emerging next generation technologies (LTE and WiMAX). Rogers and Bell have been going neck and neck trying to outdo each other with their LTE networks. TELUS on the other hand seems to be headed in another direction. Like T-Mobile in the US they haven't officially committed to LTE but are rather focusing on their network's Dual HSPA+ capabilities. Today we take a look at one of TELUS' two Dual HSPA+ 4G smartphones, the Amaze 4G HTC's first Dual HSPA+ 4G Android smartphone.

Overall Construction
HTC now has a reputation of being one the best manufacturer when it comes to build quality of their devices. This sentiment isn't lost with the Amaze 4G. The overall construction is absolutely solid. Taking a design cue from the HTC Sensation 4G, the Amaze 4G can be opened into two distinct parts; the internal components housing and the unibody aluminum shell that wraps around the components.

With a thickness of 11.8mm and a weigh of 178g the Amaze 4G certainly is one "beefy" device. Anyone who picks up the phone will immediately realize the heft of the device. The extra internal hardware could be the culprit in the fact that the Amaze is thicker and heavier than the Sensation but it's worth mentioning that the curves and weight distribution make it feel very nice and comfortable in the hand while giving off the feeling of a premium build quality.

Unlike the Sensation 4G the Amaze uses more conservatively cut plastic inserts for the antennas. Instead of the avant-guard triangular shaped cuts the Amaze 4G instead uses straight cuts with soft curves. In addition these plastic inserts are coated with a soft touch matte coating providing a reassuring grip that is somewhat missing from the elegantly brushed aluminum shell.

On the subject of ergonomics the Amaze 4G continues with HTC's trend of 16:9 ratio screens and this results in pleasant one-handed experience as well as a better multimedia experience.

One off cue element of the design is the slightly elevated screen bezel that isn't flush with the unibody aluminum shell. We're sure there is some design or maybe engineering reason behind it but honestly we can't figure it out.

Overall we still find the Amaze 4G to be one of HTC best designed phones in recent times even considering the polarized opinions on the device's design by other mobile tech writers.

HTC Amaze 4G

HTC's relationship with screens on their phones has been hit or miss ever since the HTC Desire and Nexus One. They started off using AMOLED screen, then due to supply constraints had to switch to Super LCD screens, which they have been using on the majority of their devices ever since. The problem is that Super LCD screens themselves have been hit or miss. We've seen FANTASTIC screens (like on the Incredible S), decent screens (like on the Sensation 4G) and not so great screens (like on the Panache).

We went into the Amaze 4G hoping to see a Super LCD screen comparable to the Incredible S. Unfortunately this isn't the case with the Amaze as we found it to be closer to the Sensation 4G and wouldn't be surprise if it came from the same production batch from the same manufacturer.

That being said, this doesn't by any means a bad display. Colors, contrast, black levels and viewing angles were quite solid. The qHD resolution is once again our favorite feature of the screen and made reading text, viewing videos and playing games an absolute pleasure. One noticeable con that seems to have carried over from the Sensation 4G is the color degradation at extreme viewing angle. Of course this is not a deal breaker by any means since no one would want to use their phone at such ridiculous angles but it does reflect badly on the quality of the display.

Overall touch responsiveness is where it's supposed to be with any given high end Android handset. Touches were accurate and the same could be said with multitouch gestures.

We're especially glad to see that once again HTC has opted to choose a traditional RGB stripe equipped Super LCD screen. While RGBG PenTile is a hotly debated subject, we believe there is no replacement for the viewing experience of a tradition RGB stripe arrangement, and on the Amaze 4G's qHD screen it certainly speaks for itself.

Buttons & Keyboard
Power and volume rocker are pretty much status quo for HTC handsets, they both have a solid feel and good travel to them. What sets the Amaze apart from most other Android offerings is that has not only a two stage camera button but also has a dedicated camcorder button.

We can't emphasize enough how natural using a shutter button feels compared to using a software shutter button. The camcorder button is a very nice addition but is a little bit overkill as you only need to press it twice during any given recording; nevertheless it's definitely a plus more so than a con.

Capacitive buttons were as usual well-spaced and did not miss a press register. It's basically status quo as far as capacitive buttons on a high end Android device.

Battery Life
The HTC Amaze 4G is packed with a 1730mAh and from face value this should mean it has excellent battery life since 1730mAh is significantly higher than the usual 1500-1600mAh batteries. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with Amaze. That being said, other reviews have pegged the Amaze 4G to have TERRIBLE battery life and while we were disappointed in the Amaze's battery life given the high mAh rating, we respectfully disagree with reviews from our friends in the US. The Amaze is capable of carrying you through the entire day with moderate usage.

Of course there are several factors that could affect the battery life of the device such as usage and cellular coverage. We believe that TELUS' (as well as Bell and Rogers) HSPA+ network provides world class coverage as well speeds and could have been the factor that made the huge discrepancy between the battery life on our Amaze 4G and that of the T-Mobile Amaze 4Gs.

Another point worth mentioning is that the Amaze 4G is one of the world's first Dual-HSPA+ phones we can't imagine that the Dual channel radio is very power efficient (like LTE), so it's very possible that the less than stellar battery life is a result of a less than mature tech.

Internal Hardware
TELUS was falling a bit behind Rogers and Bell in terms of powerful Android phones in their lineup as Rogers and Bell were nabbing up all the Dual-Core smartphones that were being pushed out from manufacturers. They've certainly struck back in a big way as the Amaze 4G is a clear step above previous Dual-Core offerings from its two main competitors, at least when it comes to internal hardware. The Amaze 4G features;

- 1.5 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
- 42Mbps Dual-HSPA+ capable chipset
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- 8MP auto-focus camera with dual LED flash and 1080p HD video capabilities
- NFC Capable

Simply put the Amaze 4G's internal hardware is everything that the Sensation had but better. Faster processor, more RAM, fast connectivity all deliver a blazing fast experience. The Amaze 4G also has more internal storage at 16GB. Basically making it a Sensation 4G (which we really liked) but on steroids.

While responsiveness was already pretty good on the Sensation 4G in our review, other reviewers noted slowdowns in certain situations. There was no notable signs of lag on the Amaze 4G when it came to gaming, browsing or navigating the UI. Everything was fast and fluid thanks to the 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor.

The Adreno 220 was rock solid as it was capable to handle all the 2D/3D games we could throw at it. The increased RAM (which we believed is shared with the Graphics Processor) also substantially improved gaming performance. At this point hardware has surpassed most if not all of the 3D games available on the Android market and we eagerly await titles that will push the envelope.

The last thing worth mentioning is that the Amaze 4G is NFC equipped. Right now NFC use is limited but is gaining traction in adoption. This future proofing could be a nice bonus for potential buys as NFC gains ground and Android 4.0 with Android Beam is available to the Amaze.

Dual-HSPA+ 4G Capabilities
One of the shining features of the Amaze 4G is of course it's 4G Dual-Channel HSPA+ capabilities. Now we've certainly been hard on carriers here at Android Bugle about carriers using the "4G" label on HSPA+ but to be quite frank we don't think the mainstream consumer cares as long as the speeds are significantly faster.

In this case it certainly is as the Dual-Channel HSPA+ is more deserving of the "4G" moniker than regular HSPA+. With our tests we managed to pull constant 8+mbps. We have seen other reviews even pulling down up to 14mbps, which is really impressive.

As usual we have to remind everyone that these result will vary depending on your location. If you live in an DC-HSPA+ area than these tests should be a good indication of what to expect.

Speaker and microphone
HTC hasn't really made any big innovations in the sound department since the Nexus One with its noise cancelling secondary microphone. This will stay the same until Beats equipped handsets start making their way to Canada (possibly the HTC Sensation XL). The Amaze doesn't buck the trend by providing decent earpiece and microphone performance. The noise cancelling mic works wonders as usual, although we do wish the loudspeaker was a bit louder but should be sufficient for your gaming and multimedia needs.

Recent history will tell us that HTC's offerings were never pushing the envelope in terms of camera and video capture performance. They got better with the Sensation, but still was short of the iPhone 4s, Nokia N8s and Samsung Galaxy S IIs of the world.

With the arrival of the Amaze 4G, Canada is finally getting their first taste of HTC's best cameras. It started with the myTouch 4G Slide in the US, where HTC claimed it had the "most advanced" camera on any smartphone. Those lenses and improved camera software have made it onto the Amaze 4G and what a difference they make.

Still shots and 1080p video are simply fantastic and came out sharp and crisp. As already mentioned the software is also tweaked with a bevy of new features like Panoramic mode, burst shot, and a huge selection of different scenes like negative, sepia, HDR, greyscale, etc. HTC has also been touting almost zero shutter lag and we have to say that it is as advertized and taking dozens of shots (once image preview is disabled) is child's play.

In combination with the hardware buttons we have to say the Amaze provides, hands down, one of the closest to Point and Shoot experiences on any smartphone we've tested. From the feel of taking pictures with the shutter button, to the myriad of camera settings, to the infinitely short shutter time the Amaze 4G offers the best camera experience on any smartphone.

With the rear facing camera being so good, one can imagine that the 2MP front facing camera would be ordinary. That certainly is not the case, as still came out quite good and video is capped at a surprising 720p! Easily one of the best front facing cameras we've used in a while.

Sample Pictures


HTC Sense 3.0 /w Android 2.3
One letdown here is Sense 3.0. There isn't anything different between the Sense 3.0 on the Amaze 4G and on the Sensation 4G and therein lies the problem. While Sense 3.0 was a significant jump when the Sensation 4G was released we expected the Amaze 4G to at least launch with Sense 3.5 found on the HTC Sensation XL or the recently launched HTC Rezound.

While Sense 3.5 isn't dramatically different Sense 3.0 it's a bit concerning to see HTC's custom UI being fragmented amongst its own handsets. Compound this with the fact that we are on the verge of seeing the first Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich handsets while this phone is equipped with good old Android 2.3 Gingerbread leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Sense UI still remains one of our favorite user interfaces but feels like it's in need of a bit of makeover. Nevertheless, if you're coming from an older HTC device equipped with an older version of Sense, like the HTC Desire, the Amaze 4G and Sense 3.0 will certainly feel like a breath of fresh air.

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.

Thankfully, HTC has committed to upgrading the Amaze 4G to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.


TELUS may have been late to the Dual Core frenzy, but biding their time may have been a wise decision as the Amaze 4G is without a doubt a cut above HTC's first Dual Core offerings. From the improved internal hardware, to the blazing data speeds, to the fantastic camera the Amaze 4G is certainly one of the best smartphones available in Canada and one of the first to truly deserve the "4G" in its name.

This will sadly be short lived though, as we are on the cusp of seeing the advent of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. While we are sure the Amaze will eventually get this upgrade it's clear that most Android enthusiasts will bide their time till the Galaxy Nexus is released. But for those imply looking for a solid feeling device, with a great camera and super-fast data speeds the Amaze 4G will certainly be a compelling choice.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 9/10
- Classic HTC unibody aluminum shell design. Like with most HTC designs people either love or hate it.

Screen: 8.5/10
- Very solid screen but not an improvement over the Sensation's screen.

Buttons: 9/10
- Responsive capacitive Android buttons, good volume rocker and power button. Great addition in the in the camera button and camcorder button.

Internal Hardware: 9.5/10
- Fantastic internal hardware. 1.5GHz Dual Core Processor simply makes the device fly. Dual HSPA+ is the best (non-LTE) incarnation of 4G we've seen on any phone so far.

Speaker and Microphone: 8/10
- Decent earpiece performance and good microphone performance with noise cancelling mic. Decent sounding external speaker.

Camera: 9.5/10
- Fantastic stills and great 1080p video recording (although bad audio). Definitely a potential replacement for a Point and Shoot. Rivals iPhone 4, Galaxy S II and N8 in performance.

UI Changes: 8/10
- Sense UI 3.0 that many are familiar with. Unfortunate that it isn't launched with Sense 3.5.

Addition Enhancements: 8.5 /10
- Fantastic camera software enhancements with a plethora of options. NFC is nice addition.

Included Apps/Bloatware: 9/10
- Like most other TELUS phones we've reviewed in the past, little to no bloatware.

Final Score: 8.8/10

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