Sprint HTC Arrive Review

The very first Windows Phone 7 device has shown up on Sprint’s website and stores (note how I avoided the obvious pun there?), which Microsoft should consider a huge victory for its overall smartphone market share in the US.

Now that WP7 is finally available on CDMA, we should see the floodgates open for multiple handsets running the platform on Sprint and Verizon both. This is going to be great for Microsoft, since up until this time the OS was only available on exactly 50% of the major nationwide networks, and it’s only going to continue growing.

But before we see any sort of floodgates in action for WP7, let us first reflect upon the HTC Arrive, the phone responsible for leading the charge against the CDMA carriers. With one more OS platform becoming available on Sprint, I love seeing carriers offer more OS choices to their customers.

Let the HTC Arrive review commence!

Here’s Part 1 of the Video Review.

 

First impressions and Unboxing

Check here for my first impressions of the HTC Arrive immediately after unboxing it, and watch the unboxing video below.

 

Software of the HTC Arrive

Windows Phone 7 devices are the most consistent of any OS platform (with iOS perhaps excepted) currently, which is another way of saying it’s the most boring across the board. Every single device running WP7 has to be running a minimal hardware standard, and the most customizing any OEM or carrier can do on WP7 is restricted to the Hub for that company.

It’s a locked-down OS to the max, which makes Microsoft sound a heckuva lot like Apple. My guess is that they have chosen the same closed-OS model as its competitor because they were too worried that an open-sourced or open-to-customization WP7 would easily just spiral out of control, essentially turning into the same exact problem Windows Mobile 6.x ran into.

The software of any WP7 device is going to be boring to review, because there’s very little room for each OEM and carrier to innovate and be different from their competitors. The only hope for each WP7 phone to shine is to find a nook or cranny on the software or hardware that makes it look or feel different than the rest. In the case of the HTC Arrive, they were supremely different in 3 things: NoDo pre-installed, Sprint Zone, and a couple new design ideas that had me sold from the first moment I tried the phone.

NoDo Update on the Arrive

The HTC Arrive is the first to come pre-loaded with the new NoDo update, which is finally now starting to roll out to select WP7 handsets. This NoDo (which stands for “No Donut”, a direct crack at Android’s naming scheme system) update is the famous one that finally makes copy-and-paste come alive along with a few other important bug fixes and performance enhancements.

Here’s the laundry list of enhancements in the NoDo update:

  • Copy and paste – still not implemented perfectly, but a massive improvement over the non-existent kind of copy/paste on the original version of the OS. See the video review for more detail on exactly how the copy and paste works. Like I said, though, it is definitely not a perfect system as we would like it to be; there are restrictions on developers that force them to have to rewrite the code for their apps in order to have their apps properly work with the copy and paste functionality. But natively, the copy/paste actions seem to work flawlessly in emails, messages and web browsing.
  • Marketplace search. My largest complaint about the Marketplace is not how few apps there are in it — I understand it will take time to get developers to hop on the bandwagon — but how difficult it was to filter through all of the search results. Previously, you could only do a general search through every aspect of the Marketplace, so your quest to find the band “Crazy Leg Warmers” would also reveal a list of apps, artists, albums, and games that would fit under that same search, and there’s no way to separate them out or categorize them at all. In the new Marketplace under NoDo, simply go into the games or apps section, and the new search menu will let you search ONLY apps and games. Same with the music section. Again, not perfect but much improved.
  • Other Marketplace enhancements. Added stability in downloading apps, and improved the experience of downloading apps larger than 20 MB. NoDo also made it easier to upgrade from trial apps to fully-puchased versions, using a credit card from outside the US, and other improvements to XBox Live.
  • Faster app/game loading. Another big complaint about WP7 has been focused on how long it takes to actually load a game or app before finally letting you in. This update will help each app on the WP7 system load up faster, so you can get to enjoying your apps sooner.
  • Better Facebook syncing, improved ability to switch from camera to camcorder and vice versa, improvements in the Wi-Fi performance and Microsoft Outlook, bluetooth improvements, and many more general bug fixes.

NoDo is considered a major update, technically, though it doesn’t really add a whole lot to the WP7 experience. It’s definitely not an overhaul of the OS, and doesn’t come anywhere close to the kinds of improvements you can expect to see in the next major update, nicknamed Mango, likely coming out late 2011 or early 2012.

Here’s part 2 of my video review:

 

Hardware and Design of the HTC Arrive

The Arrive is a hefty phone, even more so than the HTC Thunderbolt I just recently reviewed. This particular phone is thicker (at 15.5 mm) and heavier (6.5 oz) because it has a full horizontal slide-out keyboard, and it is comprised of more durable materials. For instance, the battery cover is made of brushed aluminum, and the top and bottom of the back are all soft rubber. Finally, plastic lines the sides and edges of the phone. I prefer lighter phones, but I’m willing to make a sacrifice if it’s made of durable materials.

I think one of the biggest differences in the weight/size issue that I had with the Thunderbolt (in short, I did not like having such a large and wide phone be so thick and heavy) is that the Arrive has a smaller screen and they compact a physical QWERTY keyboard into a smaller package. It reminds me much of the HTC EVO Shift 4G in that it’s a skinnier phone and the weight, though heavier, is all condensed. Thus, the Arrive has a natural feeling when you’re holding it in your hand, like it belongs there.

Beyond the types of material used and the overall look, HTC threw a couple other design innovations into the mix for good measure. The most important design element is in the keyboard slider: when open, the phone’s screen tilts up. the slider uses a bar that goes length-wise across the back of the phone and pivots up and down. As soon as the keyboard is slid all the way out, the pivot is freed up and automatically flexes upwards, pushing the screen up with it. This particular style certainly differs from anything else I’ve seen in a slider phone; for instance, the HTC Touch Pro (AT&T Tilt) used a plate on a hinge to allow the screen to tilt.

The drawback to the pivot style for the screen tilt is that you’re not given the option to push the screen down and use it like normal. It’s tilt, and tilt only. Not everybody enjoys having their screen tilt upward at an angle. I prefer it this way because I don’t have to look at the screen straight-on in order to see what I’m typing.

However, this pivoting style does add to the complexity of opening and closing the slider itself. Opening it isn’t much of a problem, though sometimes there is a little too much friction caused between the keys and the slider, making me have to push a bit harder. Closing the slider is different than usual because I have to push the screen down to be parallel with the keyboard first, rather than diagonal. The pivot only releases its grip on the screen when it’s pushed down, finally giving the slider a chance to be pushed back in at that time.

Keyboard

This is one of the best keyboards I’ve tested recently. For starters, it uses a 5-row keyboard with a dedicated number row. I can never emphasize strongly enough the importance of having a row of numbers on the top of the keyboard — if it’s not a dedicated row, it becomes a large nuisance because it’s treated as a symbol. Trying to toggle the Sym or Fn key several times is a huge hassle if you need to type a string of numbers at the same time.

The keys are separated slightly (not too much space to make it awkward trying to type back and forth, but not too little space that my thumbs are constantly smushing on the wrong keys), made of a comfortable soft rubber and is elevated off the board perfectly, so that it offers enough feedback when pressing the keys in but doesn’t cause it to bounce back too much. It sounds weird to say, but the higher the keys are off the board, the harder it is for me to type on them; I think the extra bouncing down and back up throws off my rhythm. And I can’t stress enough the importance of having a rhythm when typing on a smartphone keyboard.

Also, the keyboard has 2 LED lights on the left-hand side that will light up when the caps lock key or FN key are activated. I enjoyed seeing these light up to indicate I was using an uppercase letter or one of the yellow symbols on the keyboard. There’s also a dedicated direction pad, emoticon button, and comma button. Anyone who has read my reviews of other phones with keyboards will know that I strongly dislike the lack of a .com and / button. I heavily use both of these buttons, whether it’s just for emails or for web browsing; either way, these two activities are huge when using a smartphone.

Performance of the Arrive

The Arrive has similar specs to that of any other Windows Phone 7 device: 1 GHz CPU, 576 MB RAM, 5 MP camera with 720p HD video capture and LED flash, 16 GB internal storage space with no MicroSD accessibility, and no front camera.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the Arrive is not an international phone. It only uses dual-mode CDMA, so there is no GSM and no 4G WiMax either. That’s right — any international travelers or speed enthusiasts need not apply here. You will still get access to the 3G network on Sprint, but it almost feels like a step backwards these days, considering every other high-end device on Sprint’s lineup is 4G-capable.

The processor and RAM are not excessive, but still sufficient on WP7. Every transition is a smooth one, with no ghosting effect when scrolling up and down through various screens; the apps all boot up fairly quickly (faster with NoDo, for sure) and the games run smooth with no lagging.

I absolutely love the audio quality and volume control on the Arrive. I could hear the other end of the line clearly and loudly in every environment, even on speakerphone. Most smartphones have a difficult time keeping the volume loud enough, forcing me to put the volume on max almost exclusively, but I never had to go to maximum volume on the Arrive.

The battery life on the Arrive is nothing spectacular, but certainly is average for a smartphone. It’s rated to last 6 hours for constant talk time, which is true to my tests.

Overall, I felt like the phone performed very well, with few bugs or lags.

Overview of the HTC Arrive

I recommend it for: those who prefer a physical keyboard to touchscreen-only, need their phone calls to be nice and loud, want a new OS experience, and for smartphone novices that are just learning the ropes.

I don’t recommend it for: international travelers, screen display enthusiasts who like the best possible screen resolution, anyone who wants to have 4G-capable phone, or those who prefer the lightest phone with the largest screen.

You can find some great deals for the HTC Arrive right now. On Sprint you can get it for $199.99 with contract, but you can find it on Amazon for $49.99 (new customers) or $149.99 (upgrades). Either way you’re still saving more by taking that route.

Also, you can find it at Let’s Talk:
HTC Arrive (Sprint)

Author: Brad Molen

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