HTC Rezound

It's going to be a very busy holiday season for Verizon Wireless. With last week's release of the Droid RAZR, Big Red has made it very clear that it wants to be, at least for a few months, atop the Android heap. Now, with this week's release of the HTC Rezound, Verizon has upped the ante even further with a powerhouse of a device that skimps not on the specs. The Galaxy Nexus will close out the trifecta, leaving consumers with a pretty difficult choice. Of the three new releases, which one is worthy of your money? And which one is worth signing over the next two years of your life for?

I can't help but think of the HTC Rezound as the awkward middle child in Verizon's three-sibling family. If the RAZR is the oldest with a reputation of being able to take care of itself, and the Galaxy Nexus is the youngest who gets all the attention, where does it leave the Rezound? Is it the silent star who'll go on to outshine its siblings, or will it be the brother who lives with its parents till he's 40? I think it'll manage to avoid both extremes, and you should read on to see why. 

 


The Good

Jaw-dropping display. Beats Audio is the real deal and it sets a new bar for music on a smartphone. Verizon's LTE is still unbelievably fast.

The Bad

It's really, really hefty. HTC seems to have overlooked style for function. Battery life could be better. Oh, and did we mention it doesn't have Ice Cream Sandwich?

Conclusion

If the Galaxy Nexus weren't right around the corner, I'd be singing the Rezound's praises from the rooftops. If you are a music junkie and want a beautiful display atop a powerhouse device (with LTE!) right this instant, the Rezound is for you. For the next few weeks, it'll be the best Android device on the market. If you could care less about Beats and are even contemplating the Galaxy Nexus, I'd wait it out.

Inside this review

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YouTube link for mobile viewing | Read our intial hands-on feature

Hardware

The Rezound is a gorgeous device, in HTC terms. What does that mean? Well, it's certainly not as thin and light as the Droid RAZR, or as thoughtfully styled as the Galaxy Nexus. But in terms of what HTC considers beauty, the Rezound is top notch. Deeply rooted in HTC tradition, the Rezound feels like the natural evolution of the Incredible line, despite it not being a proper successor. The rubberized back with protruding red camera lens is iconic HTC, as is the transparent inner-workings visible underneath the battery cover.

HTC Rezound HTC RezoundHTC Rezound HTC Rezound

 

HTC RezoundHTC Rezound

HTC Rezound HTC Rezound

The most striking physical aspect of the Rezound has got to be that breathtaking screen (duh!). Just, wow. This 4.3-inch slab of super LCD goodness packs a 1280 x 720 pixel density, earning it the title of a true 720p HD display. It will leave you stunned. I'm a very big fan of Samsung's Super AMOLED displays and I'm waiting with bated breath to see what the company does with 720p resolution, but for right now, I can honest say that I think the Rezound's display is the best in the business. It's crisp, clear, bright, and colorful. It doesn't have the oversaturation that makes AMOLED pop; instead, it maintains a realistic quality with pure readablity and unprecedented brightness. Even in the sunlight the Rezound maintains respectable visibility, though glare  is still certainly a factor. And stop searching for individual pixels-- on the Rezound, you'll just be left with a headache. Viewing angles leave a bit to be desired but regardless, for now, this is as good as it gets. 

HTC Rezound HTC Rezound

HTC Rezound


Underneath the screen you've got the four standard navigation buttons that are tinted HTC-brand red, a subtle but lovely touch that I really like. Surrounding it all is a black reflective bezel that is one of the few physical qualities of the Rezound that I dislike. To me is looks cheap and plasticky-- not saying that the rest of the phone isn't plastic, but this just looks subpar. It's not huge though, so that's a saving grace. 

HTC Rezound

I can go on and on about the screen but of course, every rose has its thorns. HTC doesn't appear to be ready to fit such a high-res screen on a thin device, and it shows here. The Rezound is morbidly obese, a big-boned smartphone in a world full of super models. It's wide, but more importantly it's thick. Really thick. A thickness of 13.65 mm (.54 inches) might not seem like a lot on paper, but in the hand it's hard to ignore. Keep in mind, the RAZR is 7.1 mm, which makes the Rezound nearly double the girth. The battery protrudes out of the back of the Rezound, adding another layer of fat that ruins the Rezound's chances of competing with the likes of the RAZR and the Galaxy Nexus. But don't let the size fool you: At 164 grams, the Rezound isn't as heavy as it looks (though it's certainly not the lightest.)

HTC Rezound HTC Rezound

Under the hood is where HTC has really focused, and the Rezound is a product of the company's constant innovation. Pushing the Rezound forward is a next-generation 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon and man, does it fly. I was mortified to find a slow, laggy, and nearly unusable device upon initial setup, but after a quick factory reset, the Snapdragon came out of hiding and reared its powerful head. The processor, paired with 1 GB of DDR2 RAM, can handle just about anything you throw at it. It chewed through HD video (which looks ga-ga-gorgeous on that display), opened and closed apps in a breeze, and multitasked like a champ. The UI is smooth and fluid, thanks no doubt to what's pushing it along. Unfortunately I cannot say I was completely lag-free: As with any HTC phone I have ever used, I've noticed that Sense can make the device occasionally stutter. But to be honest, it's rare and can be lived with. If you're looking for heavy-duty computing power, the Rezound's got it.

Memory wise, the Rezound has a whopping 16 GB of internal storage, which is really refreshing to see these days. Coupled with a preinstalled 16 GB microSD card, you've got 32 GB of storage to play around with, which should satisfy even the greediest of media consumers. Internally, the Rezound has top-notch components: you can argue about Qualcomm vs. TI or Super LCD vs. Super AMOLED Plus, but when it comes down to a total user experience, the Rezound has got what it takes to impress.

To be thorough, the actual spec sheet looks a little like this:

  • Processor: Qualcomm MSM8660, 1.5 GHz, Qualcomm MDM9600
  • OS: Android Gingerbread w/HTC Sense
  • Memory: 1 GB DDR2 RAM, 16 GB memory, 16 GB microSD
  • Dimensions: 5.1” x 2.6” x .54” (LxWxT)
  • 4.3” (diagonal) super LCD WVGA (1280x720)
  • Display: HD 720p
  • Battery: 1620mAh LiIon
  • Connectivity: HDMI, Bluetooth 3.0 + Headset, WiFi®: IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Sensors / Charging: G - sensor, Light sensor, Compass, Proximity sensor, MicroUSB, USIM/CSIM/ISIM, audio jack, Wireless Charging
  • Camera: 8.0 megapixel camera with auto focus, /2.2, 28mm wide angle lens, 2 x LED flash, 2 megapixel front camera, 1080p video recorder

Software

The HTC Rezound ships with Android 2.3.4 , which is not the latest and greatest version of Gingerbread, let alone the latest-and-greatest verison of Android itself. And that's disappointing, but not a deal-breaker. I love Gingerbread, but I've loved it for months now. And during our collective months and months with Gingerbread we've grown quite familiar with it, perhaps to the point of bored. Is there even anything else to say about it that we haven't already covered ad nauseum? With entirely next-generation components, it would have been nice to have a next-generation OS out of the box (cough, ICS, cough.) 

Don't fret, though. HTC promised when it introudced the Rezound that Ice Cream Sandwich is coming ASAP, perhaps even as early as January of 2012. That's good to know, especially if you're hesitant about purchasing a device with Gingerbread. Still, I think it would have been worth the wait to have an exciting new UI to play with out of the box.

And about that UI: it's Sense 3.5, HTC's latest iteration of its custom software, and it's fun enough. I'm a very big fan of Sense, and always have been. I hold the personal belief that Sense is is best manufaturer overlay out there. But just like Gingerbread, it's beginning to feel a little long in the tooth. Yes, even version 3.5. I didn't notice enough difference from previous verisons to really get me excited. There are some new graphics, and some revamped widgets, but all in all, Sense 3.5 is a miniscule upgrade from previous versions. It works well, it's smooth, and it's beautiful. But unfortunately, it's just not exciting anymore. Though I am still in love with the lock screen.

But let's be honest. HTC packed an ace in the hole on the Rezound that makes all other software shortcomings seem irrelevant. I'm talking about Beats, which HTC is using to create a niche for itself in the ever-growing Android ecosphere. Just like the Sensation XL and the Bliss before it, the Rezound ships with Beats software as well as Beats headphones, and let me tell you, I am smitten.

I'm by no means a music expert but I do rely heavily on my smartphone for all of my music listening. If I'm not using my headphones I have my device plugged into Bose speakers on my desk to listen to my music collection. I was always happy with output from other smartphones but upon hearing Beats, I'm afraid I've been spoiled. 

Beats is no fad, and it truly lives up to the hype that HTC has built for it. Music sounds incredibly crisp with more detail than I have ever heard elsewhere. I can honestly say that I've never heard richer sound on any device, anywhere, ever. To listen to The Beatles' White Album and be able to hear every single instrument, every note from Paul's bass, every detail in Ringo's drum, is worth price of admission alone.

HTC Rezound HTC Rezound

And even when you're not using the included Beats headphones (they are fantastic), Beats still shines. Plug in an external speaker and Beats enables itself: on my desktop Bose set, sound is noticebly improved from when I plug in my HTC Thunderbolt. I cannot stress enough, and I'm willing to repeat it to the point of annoyance: Beats is amazing. The one and only flaw that I have found is the incompatability with music from sources other than your library. Only HTC's music player enables Beats, which means that if you fire up Spotify or Pandora, you've got just generic playback. Bummer.

Battery Life

The 1620 mAh lilon battery is the culprit behind the Rezound's girth, and unlike on previous HTC devices, the ends justify the means. I'd be lying if I said that battery life on the Rezound is stellar, but it's so much of an improvement from the first generation of Verizon's LTE devices that it's hard to dislike. 

You're not going to have the problems you had with the HTC Thunderbolt. You're probably not going to find yourself frantically scrambling for an outlet halfway through the day. But I cannot suggest leaving your charger (or a spare) at home. Though improved, battery life on Verizon's LTE still have some evolving to do. You'll easily get through most of the day with a single charge, and with light use you'll make it to the nighttime hours, thanks no doubt to improved standby performance. But if you're tinkering all day at work like you shouldn't be, you're going to need to plug in before the day is up. I'm hesistant to count this against the Rezound, as it seems the status quo with LTE devices right now, but oh how I yearn for a day when I can leave my charger at home. 

Camera

HTC has admitted that its previous camera offerings have been hit and miss, and when they miss, they miss hard. But those dark days are behind us, we've been reassured, and the Rezound marks the next generation of optics from HTC. The 8MP rear camera packs a /2.2, 28mm wide angle lens with two LED flash bulbs. HTC says that it has also improved start up and shutter speeds, which is fantastic, since the lag on both made the camera on devices like the Thunderbolt a headache to use.

HTC Rezound HTC Rezound

HTC Rezound HTC Rezound

HTC Rezound HTC Rezound

I found the camera's UI intuitive, easy to use, and quick to start, though shutter speeds aren't nearly as fast as the iPhone 4S or the Galaxy Nexus.  HTC has included some goodies including panorama mode, macro shooting, action burst, and backlight HDR, among others, and when tickled just right, they result in some stunning photos. Unaltered photographs have respectable quality, and to my untrained eye can compete with what Samsung is including on its devices. The Rezound's camera definitely marks a step in the right direction for HTC, and I'm excited to see how the company will continue to evolve its technology.

The front-facer is just fine for what it's intended for. You're not going to submit the results for any awards, but for vanity shots and video chatting, it'll do.

HTC Rezound

Another result of HTC's commitment to optics is the camcorder. It shoots beautiful 1080p video that can compete with the stunning capabilities of the Galaxy S II. Unfortunately, HTC didn't bump up the camcorder to 60 fps like it did with AT&T's Vivid. To many this doesn't mean much, but for those forking over $300 for the best of the best, it's worth noting.

YouTube link for mobile viewing

Call Quality and LTE Speeds

I'd be remiss to end this review without a shout out to Verizon's LTE network. Simply put, it's the best in the biz. As annoying as Verizon can be with all it's bragging, it is still the network to beat. Voice quality is unmatched, in my opinion, and you can tell with the Rezound. Callers sound loud and clear with no interference or static to speak of. And if you manage to drop a call on Verizon's network, you're trying too hard. 

And even with its rapid growth, Verizon's LTE still produces unbelievably fast speeds. On a good day I can get upwards of 20 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up. That blows my Time Warner broadband out of the water. I haven't had a chance to use AT&T's LTE network, but I'm confident in my assertion that Verizon is still tops in the market.

HTC Rezound HTC Rezound

And thanks to those 4G speeds, you'll be able to get your money's worth out of the Rezound's Mobile Hotspot feature. If you're lucky enough to be locked into an unlimited data plan and have the option to purchase the $30/unlimited tethering add-on, I suggest doing so without hesitation. You can replace your home broadband if you truly wanted to. You can connect up to five devices and notice nary a slowdown or stutter. Sure, it zaps your battery and can even cause the Rezound to get quite warm, but if you really want to appreciate what Verizon has done with its LTE network, give the Mobile Hotspot feature a spin. 

Wrap-up

I keep saying time and time again that this is the most exciting time for Android since its birth back in 2008. Manufacturers have gotten used to the competition and are churning out some truly unique and innovative devices. The HTC Rezound is one of them. It's got stunning specs, a gorgeous display, and the coveted Verizon LTE under the hood. In a word, it's a monster. A big, hefty, loveable monster. 

But unfortunately for HTC, the Rezound isn't the only loveable monster heading to Verizon this holiday season. You've got competition from Motorola, who has managed to cut the thickness of the Rezound in half with its RAZR. And let's not forget the Galaxy Nexus, which will be available "soon", and will undoubtedly raise the bar for all Android devices from this point forward.

So where does that leave the Rezound? Simply put, the Rezound cannot escape its awkard middle-child identity. I like it better than the RAZR, as I tend to like HTC much more than Motorola in any matchup. But with the Galaxy Nexus oh so close, it's hard to justify plopping down $300 to last you the next two years. 

The HTC Rezound is big, but like all HTC devices, it has a certain undeniable style. It's fast thanks to its top-notch processor and radio. That screen is really to die for, and don't even get me started on Beats again (I'm in love!). If you need a device right this instant, I do not hesistate to recommend the HTC Rezound. If you can wait, or if you're the type to experience buyer's remorse when the "next big thing" comes down the pike, I'd hold out for the Galaxy Nexus, just to be safe.