We bring you an exclusive hands-on with the elusive global horizontal slider

HTC Merge on Verizon

Slim, sleek and ready to do business -- that's how we'd decribe the HTC Merge. The Merge (aka the Lexikon -- and both of those names are subject to change, by the way) on Verizon looks to be the Android smartphone you worldwide travelers have been waiting for. Take the best HTC has to offer -- hardware, build quality, physical keyboard, user interface -- toss it atop Android 2.2 and slap on a global SIM card. That's the Verizon HTC Merge.

Pique your interest a bit? We go hands-on -- all the way hands-on -- after the break.

More on the Merge: Hands-on video |  Photo Gallery | Benchmarks | More in the forums

OK, let's preface this hands-on with a couple of things: The device we took a look at feels pretty solid. But the phone hasn't even been announced yet, so specs and details are subject to change. And, yes, Verizon has put Bing on it. For the purposes of this hands-on, we all need to get over it. Or maybe we won't. read on.

HTC Merge video preview

The hardware - usual HTC greatness

HTC Merge

So what we have here is a horizontal slider with a four-row physical keyboard. And let's start with that keyboard. If you had to pick one thing that HTC excels at, it'd be keyboard design. And they've pretty much knocked it out of the park here. The keys a near-perfect size. They're clicky and responsive and very well spaced. They're flat with rounded edges -- like the Sprint Epic 4G, but better, with not nearly as many crammed into such a little space.

The slider mechanism is a true slider, in and out. No weird hinge action. It's stiff, without much play that might otherwise leave you worried about it breaking down over time. Again, though, that's something we'll want to revisit with a production unit.

In addition to the usual letters and numbers, you get a home button, a menu button and an oversized FN button for secondary functions. And the FN button's size is nice -- no pecking around for it.

There's also a user-defined "API button." Note to all you budding designers out there: Never, EVER put the letters API out in front of your customers. Let's hope that's just a pre-production thing and that the button will get a more friendly stencil come go-time.

HTC Merge keyboard
The four-row keyboard on the HTC Merge.

The secondary functions -- punctuation and numbers and the like -- are stenciled the Verizon red. Not sure if it was our unfamiliarity with them or if it was the color, but we had a hard time picking them out. And if your'e color-blind, well ... But that's a small thing. The color fits with dark red highlights, and we're OK with that.

The shell of the phone is done in a charcoal gray. It's just a tad plasticy, and the phone has a great balance to it. It's just weighty enough, but you don't worry about taking off a toe, like you might if you drop the Motorola Droid.

HTC MergeHTC Merge

The HTC Merge camera is your basic 5-megapixel shooter. It can record video in 720p resolution.

HTC MergeHTC Merge

The top of the phone is home to the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack, like you'd expect. The volume rocker and microUSB port are on the left-hand bezel, and the right-hand bezel is free and clear.

The screen -- we'll assume for the sake of argument that it's SLCD -- appears to be about 3.7 inches in diagonal, same as the Droid 2 and Droid Incredible. We've said it before about screen types -- unless you have a half-dozen phones in front of you, you'll never notice. And the Merge's screen looks just fine to us.

HTC Merge

The Merge feels just a tad thicker than the Motorola Droid 2, but mostly they're about the same size. The Merge is pocketable and fits nicely in the hand.

Under the hood

The Android System Info app lists max processor speed at 800MHz, so that's what we're going with here. Max internal memory was listed at about 1.3GB, and there were about 363MB of RAM available to the user. (That's you.) Benchmark tests list the Linpack score at about the same as the Nexus One, and Quadrant has it above the Nexus One with Android 2.2.

HTC Merge

The battery cover pries off to reveal, well, the battery and MicroSD card. The extra storage can be swapped out without first having to remove the battery, but it's held in place by a little piece of plastic that you have to depress while sliding out the card. It's a little tricky, but you get better at it with practice.

One feature that sets the Merge apart from just every other Android phone is that it's a "World phone." That means it also has a SIM card slot. Traditional CDMA (that's Sprint and Verizon) phones don't have SIM cards, little wafers of info that contain your phone's fingerprint and can be easily swapped from one GSM device to another. A "World phone" is a Sprint or Verizon phone with a SIM card, so it can work on GSM networks. But that's not to say you'll be using the Merge on AT&T or T-Mobile. No, it's intended for use overseas. And then you'll likely be tied down to some sort of Verizon (or Vodafone, more likely) roaming plan. But the upside is you get to use your phone. And hackers have cracked open this sort of thing before.

HTC Merge with Bing

Android 2.2 is on board out of the box, so no waiting for a pesky Froyo upgrade. (And, really, that's the way it should be at this point.) HTC Sense is the user interface of choice, naturally. It's not the newer version that we're seeing on the Europen HTC Desire HD and Desire Z, and that's a shame, what with its quick-hibernation restore and UI improvements. Here's to hoping the Merge will get an update. Otherwise, we're looking at the usual Sense experience. There's also Verizon's 3G Mobile hot spot app, so you can tether at home, if you pay, of course. (Will that work overseas on GSM?)

The ROM on the device appears to be the same as what we saw from that leaked RUU a few weeks ago. That means it's looking pretty unlikely this will get the Droid branding.

We actually broke the bad Bing news a couple weeks ago. Yes, Bing's on board. (Read our review of Bing here.) And that Verizon has made it the default search and mapping option is B.A.D. But you can download Google Maps from the Android Market. And once the phone is rooted (and does anybody think that'll take more than a day?), we should be able to squash Bing for good. Don't hate the phone for Verizon's choice.

HTC Merge

The HTC Merge is a phone that we can't wait to get into our hands in its final form. It's coming at a slightly odd time, as we all pretty much expect and know that Verizon is lauching its LTE service later this year, though we're not expecting any smartphones to take advantage of it for some time. But the Merge very much feels -- even in this unannounced, unleleased version -- that it should have some real staying power. Hats off to HTC.


Reader comments

HTC Merge initial review


Bing?! Grrrr

VZ's 4G phones (that are coming soon I hope) better not have Bing on them or I'm gonna have to find an alternative

No, Bing is fine. It is Verizon preventing you from easily changing back to Google that we have a problem with.

That's what I thought, but it's only a fatal flaw for people who don't want to root. If I get this phone, which is a strong possibility, I hope to have it rooted, googled, and xtrSensed, tout de suite!

Rooting is like pringles: once you pop, you can't stop!

Last time I cheak my g1 and droid are Google experience phones not google phones like the nexus one stop complaining and if u want to use Google set Google as ur home page cuz I know all of people with android phones and when they search they go to the Google homepage... its a goddamn phone and if u don't like it oh well don't buy it there's other phones out there this is a android phone with a bing experience that's powered by google... this kinda bashing makes me wana go back to iphone we are a android family and this phone its just a android stepchild but u know what its still a android phone......phil the bing app isn't that bad its like everytime u guys say bing on android it gets bashed be like phandroid and try it out its not bad

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Google Search a market app now? Couldn't you just install that, delete the Bing widget, and you're done? Although the browser would still probably use Bing as the default engine..

This was the phone I was waiting for. My contract with VZ is up and I'm due for a new phone. Want a keyboard but didn't like the D1 or D2. Sense > Ninjablur. But this F***ing Bing thing just bothers the heck out of me. Why should I be forced to root a phone to have a choice? IE 8 allows me to choose between Google and Bing. The lack of choice may prevent me from buying this phone. Also, why not the new version of Sense?

Am I the only one who while i find it weird they load Bing on it, really have no problem with Bing? At least my bing experience on my desktop. Bing Maps is honestly more robust than Google Maps at this point (again on a desktop).

Bing maps more "robust " than Google?

That's absurd.

Bing mapping coverage is pathetic. It's usability issue a hopeless mess.

You have to understand, there is a group that acts like children when the word BING is spoken. They pout, swear, cry and generally throw verbal temper tantrums.
To be honest, I find it hilarious.

to get around bing and not be rooted, just set google.com as a bookmark and put it on your homepage or use google voice search from the market. holy hell, its not the end of the world people. verizon isnt killing puppies, its just a search engine...

Phone looks like it will much less internal memory and slower processor compared to proposed D2WE which it will compete against

New to Android, meaning don't have one......yet. But can't this phone be unlocked to be used on any carrier since it has a sim card? The blackberry world phones have this capability without having to pay Verizon a global plan price while overseas.

I would assume so, yes. Other phones can be unlocked either by paying a reputable service to do it or by calling Verizon and telling them you are going overseas and would like it unlocked. Obviously, they won't always believe you so you may have to try again but it should work just the same for this phone. For those that are thinking they are going to buy this and use it on another US GSM carrier: that might not be a hot idea since overseas carriers use different bands than US carriers so reception may be hit or miss. Also, I don't remember 3G working at all. (Hope you like EDGE) It really depends on what bands this phone is going to support. So, unless someone else confirms it, don't buy it if you aren't on Verizon.

Probably the phone is compatible with overseas GSM carriers, because, after all, that is what you will be roaming on when you roam with Verizon.

You may well only get EDGE service, and no 3G, except in select places when roaming, and you pay Verizon for their exorbitant roaming fees.

Buying this phone for use elsewhere is like buying a pickup truck with a dirtbike in the back, just so you can get the dirtbike. Way cheaper ways to go.

THE FATAL FLAW is that is is a corporate traveler's phone. Its not meant for US consumers.

Just a quick comment on the Sim Cards:

Every Verizon phone that ships with sim cards has a 800 number for verizon world support. As long as the phone is currently ACTIVE on a verizon line they will provide you with the SIM unlock codes. There is no fee/penalty for this, and to my knowledge there is no waiting period.

My next phone has to be a world phone so that I can actually use it when I go to Canada so I spent a lot of time looking at this,.

Am I the only one who thinks HTC's best keyboard was the TP2? Loss of the number row seems like a step backwards to me, especially since its a slightly bigger phone.

No you're not the only one, the TP2 has the best keyboard EVER. Period... The sliding/tiling action is awesome, and the 5 row design. Feel is perfect. This is definitely a step backward losing the number row and the tilting screen. Took me a long time to want to upgrade from my Tp2 to android just because of how much I love the hardware (other than the speed). I have a Fascinate now, and I miss my TP2's tilt and k/b a lot. But boy is the Fascinate fast!

second that! the TP2 keyboard is excellent. I find the slide/tilt combo to be natural and less cumbersome than a straight slide, and I've pounded the phone without raising any doubts about the robustness of the opening mechanism.
the loss of number row seemed dumb at first, but maybe I'd get used to a quick function lock, and appreciate the extra real estate enough to make it a non-issue.

Sorry phil and sorry to the readers for my rant my big thing is if u don't like the phone get na different one this is a android phone with bing and we should all be happy cuz its adding to the android amry the bing app is good in areas where google isn't but all in all its a android phone.. and again sorry phil I think I missed that artical

Verizon is smart, they want to make Google happy & at the same time they are making Microsoft happy with Bing. Then in 2011 they will make Apple very very happy.

No they won't. There is no reason for them to offer an iphone right now. period. They won't do it until Apple relaxes how much they are demanding for it.

Most people who would leave verizon for the iphone have already done it, and most people on verizon who are waiting for the iphone will continue waiting (paying) or they will switch to android, blackberry, palm, or winphone7 when it launches. All of those alternatives net Verizon a LOT more money.

I'm not so sure that Verizon won't get an iPhone.

There was a story the other day in the news (TiPb) that 80% of iphone 4 buyers in Canada were upgraders from prior iPhones. The rest came from feature phones. Very few new customers. Apple is eating its own young these days.

They will do a deal. Someday.

But Verizon is stacking their lineup with a lot of new flashy phones, if for no other reason to prove to Apple that they don't need the iPhone. But with iPhone losing market share faster and faster, Apple already knows they need Verizon.

Expect AT&T to start adding Andorid models in the next few months, prior to the rumored date of their apple exclusivity expiring.

unless you have a half-dozen phones in front of you, you'll never notice.

This is untrue: The PenTile display used on the Samsung AMOLED noticeably degrades text, and notably enhances "vividness" of colors.

I returned my two Epic 4Gs because of the poor text displays.

Far too many people have commented on this for you to maintain the claim that the displays are fungible.

I bounced back and forth between the DInc and Droid2,
cause I think HTC just has it right when it comes to simplicity (regardless of Bing) but settled for the D2 because of the physical keyboard.

I think this phone will blow any sales that verizon hoped for out of the R2D2/D2WE. I'm really hoping this phone comes out fast enough to still be in the "window" to return my D2.

Trying to figure out if I like this keyboard better than the G2's. I suppose it comes down to arrow keys vs touchpad...

I suppose anything I'd want the arrow keys for could be configured (emulators... of which I hardly use anyway..)

This is for all intents and purposes a G2 on verizon... with what appears to be less attractive base OS...

I will admit still not an android user but will be soon and I think this phone is definitely one of the ones I am looking to get despite all the bing stuff. Anyways I've been doing some research and I see how this version of the processor can be faster than the 1ghz phones. I've read that gingerbread won't be on phones that are less than 1ghz speeds, will that still be the case with the merge even though it is as fast?

whats the fuss for. yeah bing is gay. but if the merge ships with 2.2 all you have to do is download google voice search app. problem solved.

I'm confused about differences (aside from minor keyboard diffs) between this and T-mo's G2 which I am testing out at the moment. Any knowledge? Is the author familiar enough with that phone to share any tidbits there?

3.7" screen? What happened to the movement toward larger screens? I guess some people are still OK with small screens. I recommend, though, that before you buy something with a 3.7" screen you play with one of the new Samsung Galaxy-series 4" Super AMOLED phones or the EVO (4.3") or the Epic. 3.7" is soooo 2010.

The keyboard is just like my mytouch slide. If my mytouch got the 2.2 update I would have no reason to consider this phone. Come on official froyo. :)

The keyboard is just like my mytouch slide. If my mytouch got the 2.2 update I would have no reason to consider this phone. Come on official froyo. :)

I have been a Verizon BlackBerry (global model) user for years, and I'm looking for a new phone. It has to be global because I travel Internationally for work. I'm ready to jump off the BlackBerry ship and try out an Android device. This may sound like a stupid question to most of you, but since I'm trying to educate myself I'll go ahead and ask, is there any significant difference between something like this new HTC Merge global phone if it is just considered an Android phone and not a "Droid"? Does carring the "Droid" brand give a phone any special features or functions that others don't have, or is it just marketing? I've been waiting for a global Droid (or Android) phone to come out on Verizon and have been thinking that the HTC Merge might be it. So, Android versus Droid... what gives? Thanks!

Check out the new Motorola Droid Pro.....looks nice and has the BB form factor......looks good and is a world phone also!!

Droid is short for Android....period. All non-Apple (Iphone) smartphones are considered Android, but Motorola branded a few of their smartphones as "Droid". ie: Droid, Droid X, Droid Incredible, etc. It's all about marketing and Motorola just so happened to market the "droid" name first. Doesn't make it any more special than any other android smartphone. Pick a phone that will suit your needs and I'm sure you'll be happy you chose to go with an android smartphone....no matter what the brand.

Pretty sure the "Droid" tag is not a motorola thing but a verizon thing...after all the Dinc is not a motorola phone...I'm guessing that when this phone comes out it will be called the "Droid Merge" or something of that flavor.

Merge was rumored to have:

  • 4.3-in display,
  • latest Sense, and
  • 8Mpxl camera with dual flash.

It has none of those, kind of makes it run-of-the-mill (especially with a 3.7 display and 4-row keybrd requiring Fn to use numbers, ugh), it's good, but doesn't break new ground. And it's tied to Vzn which is a non-starter cost-wise. In my book here in the US, only Sprint on CDMA and T-Mobile on GSM are worth considering.

Basically a DROID is a full on Google experience phone. That means Google Navigation, search and so on. A non-Droid phone is not a Google phone (people need to stop equating Android with Google). It will have the usual VZW software on it (Verizon Navigator and such).

People need to shut the fuck up about Bing. It's NOT that hard to take off people. Just because it's there doesn't mean you have to use it. So get over your pathetic little attitude toward Bing and shut the hell up and start to love these phones and start appreciating HTC and all they do. They make amazing shit. I love my incredible. I would love it with bing. I would love it with google. Hell, I would even love it with Yahoo. Because it's an amazing phone.

Anyway, I want a Merge. Badly! It looks so sexy.

WHAT GPU DOES THIS PHONE HAVE?! Ok, I keep seeing that this phone has a 800 MHz processor, and while that is "slower", that it is "on par with the 1 GHz phones". However, I never see any mention of it's GPU or 3d performance. Can it play with the big boys like the 440 GPU in the Galaxy S phones?

This phone is everything I want, too bad I don't have big red :/ I love the whole phone itself but the keyboard could use a number row. But man can't wait when apple leaves AT&T hopefuly soon so AT&T will start throwing out more android phones since iphone exclusive is gone :)

Enough with the Bing haters already! Everytime Bing is mentioned on a phone, everyone starts whining and complaining that they'll never buy said phone or device because Bing is the default search engine. You should know by now there are so many options and ways around Bing that it should be a non-issue by now. Look at the phone or device over-all and base your decision on that, not whether or not it's got Bing on it!

I wonder why so many complain about Bing. I really like it. It is a great search engine with great photos each day. You can view videos by just pointing at them and not even opening them up. It beats google hands down in my opinion. It seems that people who hate Bing also hate Microsoft for some reason. Also, if you don't like it you don't have to use it. It is certainly not a show stopper.

I wonder if you get a copy of the Android Search Widget off a similar HTC phone like the G2, and then sideload it onto the Merge, if it will work?