I got an HTC Rezound for testing right in between the two hottest Verizon smartphones of the moment: the Motorola Razr and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The trio comprise Big Red’s most current LTE-enabled offerings, but the Rezound hasn’t received nearly as much press as the other two. I understand the reasons — the Razr grabs attention with that ultra-slim physique, and the Nexus stands out from the crowd as the only Android (so far) that comes with Ice Cream Sandwich. There’s nothing “special” about the Rezound (other than the hyped Beats Audio, which I found to be nice but no big deal) — except that almost everything about it is quietly outstanding.

I said “almost.” There seems to be a conspiracy among smartphone makers, with all of them agreeing to never include in any one phone all of the features that I want. Instead, they spread them out among several different phones, so I’ll have a tough decision to make when the time comes to make another two-year commitment. And that’s where I am now, with my contract finally up again as of this week. Even though I get to play with and carry these test models, I badly want to trade in my “real” phone (the venerable HTC Incredible) for a shiny new 4G model. But I’m torn between sheer beauty, top functionality, and the desire to live on the cutting edge.

There are currently only three contenders; Android is my cellular drug of choice, and even if I wanted an iPhone or a Windows Phone, once you’ve tasted LTE in the market where it zooms, there’s no going back. If I’m going to get a new phone in the next few weeks, it will be one of the three mentioned here. A few weeks ago, I would have thought the Nexus would win hands-down. However, after test-driving both the Razr and the Rezound, I’m not so sure.

Taking speed for granted

All three of Verizon’s top LTE phones have one thing in common: they’re fast. They download data at speeds that rival or even surpass many home broadband Internet connections; I consistently show downstream speeds above 12Mbps (sometimes far above) and upload speeds around 8Mbps, using Ookla’s Speedtest app for Android.

It’s not just the network, either. All three phones show no lag when switching between home screens, opening apps, or performing other tasks. All three have dual-core processors; the Rezound’s is a 1.5 GHz and the other two come in at 1.2 GHz — but for practical purposes, the experience is the same: immediately responsive to user input. You can find the rest of the Rezound’s specs here.

The Rezound had no problem connecting to 4G, falling back to 3G when 4G was unavailable, connecting to Wi-Fi, or switching automatically from Wi-Fi to 4G when out of the Wi-Fi network’s range. Unlike with some phones I’ve tested (the Samsung Droid Charge, in particular), I have not had to turn off Mobile and turn it back on to get 4G back after a drop to 3G.

Form factor: a pleasant surprise

The Rezound is HTC’s successor to its (and Verizon’s) first LTE phone, the Thunderbolt, and my expectations for the phone were based in large part on my experience with its predecessor. Don’t get me wrong — I liked the Thunderbolt a lot, but not enough to buy one. Its size and weight presented a problem, but I might have been able to overlook that. However, I just couldn’t get past its dismal battery life (more on that later).

Coming off two weeks with the svelte Razr, I was sure the Rezound would feel huge and clunky to me. Based on its specs, I thought it would be the physical equivalent of the Thunderbolt. I was wrong. Although both are described as having 4.3 inch displays, the Rezound is a bit narrower than the Thunderbolt. It’s only a tiny bit, and it doesn’t really affect what you see on the screen, but it makes all the difference in the world to the way it fits into my hand. It’s also slightly thinner than the Thunderbolt. The combination means I can operate the Rezound with one hand, which is something I couldn’t do on the Thunderbolt.

Speaking of the display

When I first turned it on and got a look at the display, all I could say was “wow.” I thought the Super AMOLED screen on the Samsung Charge was great, but the Rezound’s Super LCD display with 1280 x 720 resolution and 342 pixel density tops it, at least to my eyes. The colors are vivid and the sharpness is downright incredible. That pixel density is the highest on a Verizon LTE phone, and it doesn’t use the Pen Tile technology that has generated some complaints from users of the Razr and the Nexus.

The display on the Rezound’s 4.3 inch screen admittedly isn’t as impressive, size-wise, as the 4.65 inch screen of the Nexus, but it’s plenty big to display a web page nicely. When it comes to phone displays, bigger is better — until it isn’t. There’s a point at which the extra screen real estate isn’t worth the awkwardness of handling the phone, and the Nexus is pushing that limit. The Rezound is just as comfortable to hold as my original HTC Incredible, with a significantly larger screen. I think 4.3 inches is pretty close to the sweet spot.

OS and UI

I’ve always preferred HTC’s SenseUI interface to Samsung’s TouchWiz and Motorola’s MotoBlur, and the latest version of Sense, which comes on the Rezound, is no exception (although MotoBlur is much improved in its most recent incarnation that comes on the Razr).

Of course, the Nexus is a “pure Google” phone that doesn’t include a UI overlay, and it runs Ice Cream Sandwich, the newest incarnation of Android (4.0). The Rezound and Razr come with tried-and-true (but not latest-and-greatest) Gingerbread (Android 2.3). However, both are expected to get ICS updates in early 2012, so that doesn’t have much impact on my decision of which phone to get.

Camera goodness

One of the primary reasons (I’ll get to the other in a moment) that the Rezound is currently my top candidate when I upgrade my phone is its camera. I find myself using my phone cam a lot, and I’m less interested in things like editing tools or megapixels (after a certain point) or even decreased shutter lag like the Nexus boasts (although that is nice) than in the sharpness and overall quality of the photos. I’m amazed at the pictures I’ve been able to get with the Rezound’s 8 MP camera.

As with most phone cams, it doesn’t do as well in low light, but with adequate ambient light or with the dual LED flash, I got surprisingly sharp detail, as good or better than most dedicated compact digital cameras and at times (with a still subject) hard to distinguish from those taken with a prosumer-level DSLR. That’s quite an accomplishment for a phone camera, and unlike my DSLR, it’s going to be with me almost everywhere I go, so I can grab those unexpected photo opportunities.

The effects and editing tools are nothing special, but I don’t want to do serious editing in the camera, anyway — I have high-priced software on my computer for that, and I’ll want to do it on a large, color calibrated monitor. The phone’s tools allow me to crop, brighten, or change the overall color tint of a photo before I upload it to Facebook or email it to someone, and that’s good enough. I tried the panoramic mode with decent results; I think with a little practice, it will work fine.

The Razr’s camera, at least on the one I tested, was downright lousy. Every photo looked soft, even those taken in bright light. The camera on the Nexus is, for some reason, only 5 MP, and while that would be fine if it took great photos, they’re only mediocre — better than the Razr’s but without the razor sharpness of the Rezound. HTC definitely wins in the camera department, and that didn’t surprise me, since the best phone cams I’ve used in the past were those on the Incredible and Incredible 2.

The all-important battery life issue

The fly in the LTE ointment is always the same: battery life. As mentioned, I could have accepted the Thunderbolt’s weight and supersize, if not for the battery issue. Even with tweaking, I couldn’t get through a whole long day without charging, and I certainly didn’t want to make a hefty phone even bigger by adding an extended battery.

The Rezound comes with a 1620 mAh battery, whereas the Thunderbolt’s battery is a measly 1400 mAh. It makes a difference — so much so that some folks are ordering Rezound batteries to use in their Thunderbolts. Out of the box, the Rezound was able to last 8-10 hours with my normal usage. After a bit of tweaking (setting email to check manually, lowering screen brightness, etc.), I was getting about a day and a half out of it.

The Razr and Nexus have bigger batteries (1780 and 1750 mAh, respectively) but the Razr loses out because its battery isn’t removable. And even with the bigger battery and the same tweaks, I was getting about the same battery life (30 to 38 hours) that I got with the Rezound. I haven’t fully tested the Nexus yet, but I’ve heard reports that its battery life is better.

Space for my stuff

Some people will tell you that storage capacity no longer matters, because everyone is going to keep everything in the cloud from now on. Not me. I want local copies of things, like my music; I don’t want to have to stream songs from the cloud whenever I want to hear them. Contrary to popular belief, there are times when you don’t even have an Internet connection, much less a fast one. I also want to be able to install lots and lots of apps without worrying about running out of room.

The lack of a microSD slot has always been one of the deal breakers for me with the iPhone, and now the Nexus has gone and done the same thing, locking you forever into the 16 or 32 GB of internal storage that comes with the phone. The Rezound doesn’t; you can add up to 32 GB via a microSD card to the 16 GB of built-in storage. You do have to take the battery out to insert the card, as with the majority of today’s phones. One advantage of the non-removable battery on the Razr was that the microSD slot was external. But that’s not a big enough deal to make up for the inability to carry and pop in a second battery if I get low on power.

Sounds good

The signature feature on the Rezound that’s supposed to make it stand out from the crowd is the Beats Audio. The included earphones are very good; they’re close to the quality of my Shure set, for which I paid $150. However, Beats doesn’t work with many apps; you have to use the built-in music app or play videos from the Gallery. You won’t get the Beats effect when, for example, watching music videos on YouTube or listening to Slacker radio (although you will get better sound through the earphones than with any other earphones that come with a phone).


As with the Razr, I’m more impressed with the Rezound than I expected to be. However, unlike the Razr (non-removable battery) and the Nexus (no microSD slot), the Rezound doesn’t have any “deal breaker” characteristics (or lack thereof) that I discovered in two weeks of heavy, intensive use. Even though it has gotten much less attention than its Motorola and Samsung siblings, it’s a top contender for those who want an LTE phone now and don’t want to compromise.

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