HTC Vivid review

htc-vivid-review

Late last month, AT&T unveiled the first two smartphones that would launch with the ability to access its brand new 4G network (not to be confused with its old 4G network). The Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket was a mouthful and a pocketful, identical to T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II save for the addition of an LTE radio. The other device was a brand new handset from HTC dubbed “Vivid.” In terms of hardware, the Vivid is a fairly substantial departure from other recent HTC phones. It is built with different materials and its shape is unlike any other handset from the vendor. Are its unique design, high-end specs and 4G LTE compatibility enough to make this smartphone worthy of your consideration? My full review follows below.

The Inside

Like every high-end smartphone released these days, the Vivid is packed to the brim with cutting-edge technology. At the heart of the handset is a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset that powers Android 2.3.4 and HTC Sense 3.0. The Vivid touts 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, microSDHC support up to an additional 32GB, a 1,620 mAh battery and all the trimmings.

More important than the specs is the device’s performance, of course, and the Vivid most certainly performs. Gingerbread is as smooth as I have even seen it on the Vivid. HTC’s Sense UI is very heavy when it comes to animations, and the Vivid displays them all in stride. Multitasking is a breeze for this phone and I had a tremendous amount of trouble trying to trip it up. In fact, it’s easily one of the smoothest Android phones I’ve used.

Couple the Vivid’s silky smooth performance with well-made apps, and you’ve got yourself one of the most enjoyable smartphone experiences on the planet. The Android Market is rife with garbage, as are all mobile app stores, but the gems buried within the Market shine even brighter on the Vivid. One example is Seesmic.

I’m not a big fan of Seesmic in my browser or on my iPhone, but I’m a huge fan of the company’s Android app. It is well designed and on most Android smartphones, it’s among the fastest Twitter clients available. On the Vivid, Seesmic is a scorcher. Android is typically not thought of as the quickest platform on the market, but even the fastest Twitter apps I’ve tested on iOS seem slow compared to Seesmic on the Vivid. And forget about Windows Phone; while the OS itself is smooth and fluid, apps take forever to refresh with new data. And again, Seesmic is just one example. All well-made apps seem to fly faster on HTC’s Vivid.

Also inside the Vivid is an 8-megapixel camera with auto focus, a dual-LED flash and an f/2.2, 28mm lens. It’s capable of recording full HD 1080p videos, and those 1080p HD videos are made infinitely more accessible than they are on some other modern smartphones thanks to the Vivid’s HDMI-out and integrated DLNA support, which allows users to display content from the phone wirelessly on compatible TV sets and other devices.

There’s support for AT&T’s 4G networks buried in there as well. That’s plural, by the way — “4G networks” — so the Vivid features support for AT&T’s next-generation 4G network based on LTE technology, and the carrier’s previous-generation next-generation 4G network based on HSPA+ technology.

The Outside

HTC’s Vivid is a very solid smartphone. Less so than some of the vendor’s other phones like the Titan and Legend, but it is without question a sturdy handset. The face of this full touch smartphone is glass that offers very little in the way of resistance to oils. This is very annoying. There are simply no excuses in this day and age for omitting an effective oil-resistant coating on a touchscreen smartphone. Especially one that costs up to $200 on contract.

A thick plastic surrounds the sides of the Vivid and continues to the back of the device, sloping as it moves toward the center of the case. On the top of the phone lies a lock button and a 3.5-millimeter audio jack, and the bottom is home to a lone microphone. A chrome-look plastic volume rocker sits on the right side of the phone and a microUSB port is included on the left. Beyond the plastic on the back of the device is a solid metal plate that covers the battery, a SIM card slot and a microSD card slot. The camera lens and dual-LED flash sit near the top of the metal plate, and above the plate lies a narrow opening for the speaker.

Circling back to the front of the phone, HTC included a terrific display panel on the Vivid. The 4.5-inch super LCD display features qHD resolution, or 540 pixels by 960 pixels, and it reproduces colors very well. Picky people with 20/20 vision may complain that some edges can appear jagged on the Vivid thanks to the display’s PenTile sub-pixel arrangement, but it really didn’t bother me at all. Images are crisp, colors are vivid — no pun intended — and the display gets remarkably bright.

Worth noting is the fact that HTC managed to keep the Vivid at a fairly reasonable size for a phone with such a large display. While the 4.5-inch panel is among the largest available on supersized smartphones, the footprint is significantly smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S II or the HTC Titan. In fact, when using the phone with one hand I can almost reach every corner of the display and all four of the capacitive Android buttons without striking a yoga pose. Almost.

The Upside

People seem to be less enthusiastic these days when it comes to HTC’s Sense UI, but I am still a big fan. It is my clear favorite among Android skins, though it is becoming increasingly complex. I carry an Android phone with me most days, and I switch phones on a near-weekly basis. Every time I get a new Sense-equipped phone to test and I begin configuring it to my liking, I find new settings, widgets or other features that I didn’t know about before. While this makes HTC’s Sense phones remarkably customizable, it also brings a seemingly endless number of variables that will be appealing to some users but overwhelming to others. The majority of users, however, will probably never explore all of Sense’s capabilities.

Sense’s transition animations, 3D effects and other visual elements are terrific. There are dozens of gorgeous and functional home screen widgets to choose from, and seven home screens to spread them out across. Seven home screens is a bit excessive, but tapping the home button on any one of them will take the user straight back to the middle home screen. Tapping the home button while on the middle home screen will then spread out thumbnails of all seven, and tapping on any thumbnail will take you right to that home screen.

I also like the look of apps skinned to match the Sense UI. In particular, the email app on HTC’s Sense phones is one element that I have always loved. HTC has added much more than just graphical elements to the app, allowing users to drill down to unread items, flagged items and more by sliding a selector across the bottom of the screen. It makes it all too easy to be productive and next to Windows Phone’s email client, HTC’s is likely my favorite.

Another bright spot on the Vivid is the camera. We don’t need to dig up the past, but cameras have historically been a very weak area for HTC. This is clearly not the case any more. The past few HTC smartphones BGR reviewed have been equipped with fantastic cameras that can go head to head with the Nokias and Apples of the world. The Vivid is no exception. The camera takes very impressive images in adequate lighting, but I did find low-light performance to be a bit lacking compared to other phones I have tested recently. I’m not sure if this is a software issue, but images often appear excessively grainy in dim lighting.

Voice calling is crystal clear on the Vivid, but beyond all else, performance is the star of the show. It is absolutely among the most responsive Android phones I’ve used, and I’ve used plenty. Even scrolling in apps that have been nightmarish for me on lesser phones is almost always smooth and free of stutters. I can’t emphasize it enough: this is how Android should work on a smartphone.

The Downside

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is fortunate in the case of the HTC Vivid, because I am not a fan of the handset’s look at all. The face is fine; it looks just like every other full touch smartphone on the planet. Issues arise when the phone is turned around, however, and I personally couldn’t get past the design.

HTC used a thick glossy plastic for much of this smartphone’s case and I don’t care for it at all. First, it somehow collects oil and dust even more aggressively than the phone’s glass screen, which is quite a site to behold. As a matter of fact, the Vivid might pick up dust better than a Swiffer. You can see it in the images peppered throughout this review. As a borderline mysophobe, my hands are always dry from being washed 20 times each day and Purelled even more frequently. And yet after just a few minutes of using the Vivid, there are finger prints, dust and oil smudges all over it. It’s very unbecoming.

The plastic also feels quite cheap. It’s not light or flimsy like the plastic is on so many Samsung phones, but it falls well below the standard HTC has set with other devices like the Titan, with its unibody aluminum construction, or even the soft-touch plastic material it uses on many of the vendor’s phones. This plastic is also incredibly slippery, no doubt helped by the oils it collects, and I’ve had a number of close calls and bobbles while handling the Vivid. It comes close to feeling like a toy instead of a high-end smartphone, but its weight is likely its saving grace in this department.

The first thing I noticed about this phone beyond its physical appearance, in fact, was how unbelievably heavy it is. The larger Galaxy S II version (T-Mobile) weighs 4.77 ounces, the metal and glass iPhone 4S weighs 4.9 ounces and the massive HTC Titan — with its 4.7-inch display and aluminum case — weighs 5.6 ounces. Despite being shorter and narrower than the Titan, the Vivid weighs in at a hefty 6.24 ounces. I can’t think of a heavier smartphone I have held in recent history. I do like a smartphone with a bit of heft to it, but the Vivid tips the scales a bit too far for my taste.

Finally, battery life is not great on the Vivid. Less is the new more, and the phrase “it should last a day on a full charge with moderate usage” is anything but obligatory now that 4G radios and gigantic displays are making their way into many smartphones. The Vivid is not among the worst smartphones I’ve tested recently, but users should expect to charge the phone more frequently than once every 24 hours. It also seems to shed a charge faster than most phones while sitting idle, so definitely purchase an extra wall charger and maybe even a car charger if you plan on buying a Vivid.

The Bottom Line

If I didn’t mind the look of the Vivid, it would be a phone I could carry regularly. As it stands, unfortunately, HTC designed this phone right out of the running for me.

The HTC Vivid is a remarkable, modern smartphone with performance that matches or bests any Android phone I’ve used. It’s fast, it’s smooth, it’s capable and HTC’s Sense UI wraps it all in a gorgeous package. Battery life is a sore spot but smartphones across several platforms seem to be headed south in that area. Users who take particular care may be able to get from one day to the next on a single charge, but I wasn’t able to with regular usage.

Since I work in Manhattan and live just outside the city, I was not able to test the Vivid on AT&T’s young LTE network. On HSPA+, I regularly saw speeds between 2Mbps and 3Mbps down, and 1Mbps up. The Vivid won’t be setting any speed records on AT&T’s previous-generation 4G network, but it’s plenty fast enough to suit the needs of most users. And circling back to battery life, I should note that the phone does not allow users to disable LTE out of the box. Third party switches I’ve tested are not yet compatible with the Vivid but once they are, users unhappy with the phone’s battery performance will likely see the situation improved by disabling LTE when the added speed isn’t a necessity.

I highly recommend that prospective smartphone buyers on AT&T head to a local store to check out the Vivid before buying another phone. The look and feel of the phone were issues for me but they certainly won’t be for everyone. Those who enjoy the Vivid’s style will find themselves with a future-proofed 4G phone that performs as well as any other Android phone on the market.

The HTC Vivid is available immediately from AT&T starting at $99.99 in select markets when purchased online.

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