Review: HTC Rezound


The HTC Rezound has a lot of hype to live up to. The 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and status as first phone to ship (in the U.S.) with a 1280 x 720 display are two major talking points amongst Android faithful. In a world dominated by spec sheets, every megahert and every pixel (or lack thereof) count immensely.

In the case of the Rezound we’re both excited and already feeling like we’re over it. Surprised and disgusted. Impressed and let down. It’s quite the roller coaster ride of emotions.

Before you decide on HTC’s latest or greatest (or write it off), check out our full review after the break…

 


Hardware

The first thing you’ll notice about the Rezound is it’s heft. It’s not particularly heavy, but it is more rounded/thicker than the latest crop of high-end Android devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and Motorola Droid RAZR. To that we say: Yes! Having the thinnest phone on the market is a nice bragging topic, and perhaps more rewarding if a fancy plaque can be affixed to your wall. But more often than not the thinner the phone gets the less comfortable it is to use. Case in point: the Droid RAZR is one of the least comfortable phones to use for extended periods of time. Because it’s so thin, you have to claw grip the phone continuously — not fun. The Rezound on the other hand has a very nice feel and is simply a joy to use. Kudos to HTC for not completely buying into the “thin is in” hype.

The display, oh the display. HTC slapped a now standard 4.3″ piece of glass on the Rezound but went ahead of the competition by incorporating 1280 x 720 (720p) HD resolution. Finally, they sealed the deal by using a Super LCD that uses a full RGB pixel layout. In comparison, the upcoming Galaxy Nexus will feature the same 1280 x 720 resolution but use a lower quality PenTile matrix layout that time and time again has left us underwhelmed and borderline disgusted.

With that said, the Rezound’s display is awesome. Everything from photos snapped on the 8-megapixel camera to multi-hour video sessions were met with calls for “more”. In the world of smartphone screens, HTC has now raised the bar.

We’ll note that despite the vast difference in resolution, Samsung’s 480 x 800 AMOLED display found on the Galaxy S II still manages to defy basic math and physics. At first glance, the Galaxy S II and Rezound could appear to feature similar screen tech/resolutions. The differences however pop out once you spend a few minutes looking more closely. The Galaxy S II’s pixels are more easily noticeable, and ultimately present an overall less sharp picture than the Rezound.

Display junkies, this is your phone.

Software

The Rezound ships with Android 2.3.4 and HTC Sense UI 3.5 instead of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. We’d much prefer the latter over the former. For starters, it features a dramatically overhauled UI that is both sharp and more complete throughout. On top of a prettier face, Android 4.0 has a ton of new features. All of that awesomeness won’t be found on the Rezound until early 2012 according to HTC. The reason — Sense UI has to be ported over. Love it or hate it, ‘dems the beans.

All that said, the experience on the Rezound is really no different than any other modern [read: the last 6-12 months] HTC device. Everything is laid out in the same way with only minor menu and a few tiny UI changes between Sense UI 3.0 and 3.5.

What gets us, however, is that HTC completely overlooked smaller details pertaining to screen resolution. For instance, many of the notification bar icons are fuzzy and out of focus because HTC neglected to update them for the higher 720p resolution. Even more disgusting is that when in Google Talk, the bar immediately under the notification bar that has the contacts name is too short, and ends up cutting off a good chunk of the contact’s name.

Overall we’re left feeling considerably underwhelmed with the Rezound on the software side as (1) it’s the same Android we’ve used to (and grown tired of) over the last 8-10 months and (2) is chock full of UI inconsistencies and graphical glitches that quite frankly, HTC has no excuse for missing.

We’ll take another look at the Rezound once the Android 4.0 update hits, as we feel it could turn this phone into a completely different beast.

Camera & Video

Mobile photographers will find the picture taking experience on the Rezound fairly enjoyable. While it’s not the best 8-megapixel shooter we’ve seen on a pocket surfer, it is certainly up near the top.

Pictures were generally pretty accurate if not a tad washed out. Lower light conditions of course exaggerated this.

One thing we noticed is that the overall color temp of the pictures tends to lean on the warm side. The thumbnails below all exhibit more of a yellowish tint — nothing a little bit of photo editing trickery can’t cure.

One aspect of the Rezound’s camera in particular that we gravitate towards is the ability to take good if not great close-up shots. Provided there is enough (and proper) lighting, the Rezound takes some absolutely stunning close-up shots.

1080p video on the Rezound is also fairly straight forward in terms of quality. When pumped out to an HD TV, you’ll find that the Rezound’s video chops are only bested by more serious, dedicated 1080p video cameras, and compare to other high-end Android phones such as the Bionic, RAZR, etc.

Beats Audio

Earlier this year (August) HTC and Beats founder and former rapper, Dr. Dre, announced a partnership destined to bring together HTC’s line of smartphones with improved audio quality. We’ll clear the air and simply say we haven’t really ever been a fan of “Beats” audio. For the price there are options that meet or exceed every Beats product we’ve ever tested (same with Bose). Soapbox moment aside, we’ll admit that we were fairly impressed with the Beats audio on the HTC Rezound. It’s more diverse in sound signature than previous encounters we’ve had. With that said…

On the software side of things, HTC failed. Hard. While the Beats software does a good job of adding more depth and punch to music, it only works in the the stock Android media/video players. That means that any 3rd party app (read: Pandora, Last.fm, Rdio, Spotify, etc.) won’t benefit from Beats audio. To leave out so many avenues to enjoy Beats audio is a major downfall in our book.

As for hardware, the included Beats headphones are a huge plus to music lovers. By themselves they retail at ~$100. When paired with Beats branded phones, the audio nirvana comes though in a perfect mariage of wares, hard and soft.

One thing we must stress is that the Beats brand is definitely geared towards listeners of bass heavy music (ie: Rap, hip-hop, electronic, dance, dubstep, etc.). Where bass heavy music is hard, punchy, and surprisingly deep, more complex music such as that of Dave Matthews Band, or more fast paced chaos from that of Slipknot is kind of awkward. Entire chunks of songs are barely audible, completely missing, or just sounded like a jumbled up mess of instruments (read: no separation or layers).

The bass lines (obviously) move forward to the point that they drown out the highs and even some of the mids of any given song. On top of that, we noticed that music with a lot of high pitched sounds and instruments sounded a tad rolled off. It’s nothing too terribly noticeable, but noticeable nonetheless.

Our other gripe with the Beats integration is that it isn’t customizable. If you’re like us and listen to a wide scope of genres, the bass centric sound signature won’t work everywhere. Unfortunately there isn’t a way to dial down individual frequency bands to your tastes — this is whether Beats audio is on/off.

Most consumers will find the Beats audio in the Rezound (and other Beats branded HTC hardware) a dramatic step up from the standard audio quality found in every other Android device. More discerning audio aficionados, however, won’t be so amused. Then again, one could argue that if they truly are a high-end audio guru, mobile listening of any type isn’t even an option. Make of it what you will.

Performance: CPU, LTE, and Battery Life

With a dual-core 1.5 GHz Qualcomm processor and 1 GB of RAM, nothing is slow on the Rezound. Every app we used from photo editing to gaming flew. Benchmark bragging rights aside, the Rezound actually feels fast in the hand — and that’s what matters most.

On the topic of data speeds, we averaged roughly 8 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up — not the fastest speeds we’ve seen from VZW’s LTE network, but certainly far faster than what we’re used to on their 3G EV-DO Rev A network.

Considering the Rezound uses the highest clocked CPU currently on the market (1.5 GHz) as well as featuring a large 720p display and LTE, we expected pretty abysmal battery life. And as we thought, when heavy into the Rezound’s nicer features, we could watch battery life fall pretty quickly. A 6-hour period of mainly screen-on usage that included a mix of web usage, Twitter, photo editing, and lots of game time all while listening to Beats audio in the background saw us at the 5% mark. Granted, our usage isn’t typical and as such, battery life will fare considerably better. Realistically we can see an easy 8-10 hours with more moderate usage, and perhaps even 24+ hours if you’ve got lots of standby time mixed in.

Pricing

The HTC Rezound is now available on Verizon Wireless for $299 w/ a 2-year contract.

Conclusion

The Rezound is “the” Android phone to get in the here and now. The only problem is that the slightly less powerful — 300 MHz less to be exact — but the more future proof Samsung Galaxy Nexus is coming in mere weeks. In terms of sheer specs, the two phones are almost identical with the only big difference being in software. As mentioned above, the Galaxy Nexus will ship with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The Rezound won’t get ICS until early 2012.

The Beats functionality is great if you’re into bass heavy music. If you’re not or enjoy a larger range of music, the un-customizable nature of the Beats integration is something that could make or break the day. (Why buy an audio-focused device that doesn’t sound good to your ears?)

It’s hard to say what exactly will be the new deciding factor/feature in ~6 months (roughly when the Rezound will get ICS). But as we’ve seen in the Android world many times over, the average life span of relevance is 8-12 months. Add to that the fact that quad-core phones will be dropping in the first half of 2012 making the Rezound itself seem a lot less of sure bet moving forward.

If you end up taking the Rezound we won’t fault you. It’s a solid Android device that will only be surpassed by the Galaxy Nexus in the near-term and has a guaranteed future with Android 4.0. The only question you have to answer is if the $300 price tag is worth getting the best dual-core Android device now when an arguably better one is weeks away, and quad-core hardware is just around the corner.

Gadgetsteria Rating

  • Hardware: 8.5
  • Software: 7
  • Performance 8.5
  • Battery life: 6
  • Final Score (Average): 7.5

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  • EJ

    Enjoyed this review.  I think a lot of reviewers WANT to hate this phone or ignore great features about it, but you did not. I had just a few comments to make. I waited and waited for the GN, which I supposed will release this week possibly, but my OG Droid was on its last leg and opted for the Rezound over the Razr for these reasons 1) Rezound had a HD screen, Razr does not 2) I was not that impressed with Motorola after having the Droid fall apart 3) the iBeats is a nice addition. If nothing else, I can sell them on Ebay to offset the cost of the phone. But also, I wanted a phone I could live with, because I could still exchange it for the GN if it came out in time before the exchange period ended, but if not, I would be stuck with this phone. Having it now for two weeks, I am impressed with it. I have high expectations with what it can do with ICS. I also heard from a HTC forum that they might be working on expanding the Beats to work with more than the Music app – that would be great if true. 

  • Tony Perez

    I feel like a bumper car at a carnival. Just when I think I’m going in one direction, I get bumped and start rolling towards someplace else. In my case, it’s still Verizon however, after testing the current RAZR in a local store, I’m impressed with its performance but displeased with its display. It’s a shame but I have to LOOK at the display to use a smartphone and unfortunately, Moto completely missed on the screen target. So, I kept hanging onto my OG Droid until the Rezound was released. The last time I tested the RAZR was the first time I saw the Rezound. I had the impression it’s a very capable handset with a terrific display. However, I’m also waiting until the Galaxy Nexus comes out to make a final decision for my latest upgrade. The longer it takes for the Nexus to be released, the more likely I’m not going to purchase the Rezound or the Nexus because we are getting closer to the release of quad-core handsets. Oops VZW! I’m sure I’m not the only one. You may be wondering why people aren’t flooding to your stores to get new handsets. This year, your releases were completely mismanaged. You still have my business and appreciation for purchasing more spectrum but because of the delay in releasing the Nexus, I may wait another 4-6 months to see what the quad-core work has to offer. After all, if I’m going to pay $100 more fo a replacement handset than last time, it’s got to be worth it and that includes future compatibility that will last me at least the next two years. What do you guys think?   -T  

    • http://www.gadgetsteria.com The Gadgeteur

      I can understand your position. While the wait for what’s next is never gone because mobile hardware evolves so fast, the move from dual-core to quad-core is a big enough advancement to justify a wait in my book. This position is even more respectable if you use hardware for the full 2+ years through your contract.