HTC and T-Mobile have a history of teaming up on heavily customized Android smartphones seemingly informed by what T-Mo brass thinks its particular customers want from a phone. The myTouch lineup is, in a way, the anti-Droid. myTouches are full of rounded, colorful fonts, soft edges, and fun features where Droids are cold, angular, robotic assistants built to blow you away with their power to get things done. I mean, myTouch has Carly while Droids are hawked by a faceless guy with a foreboding voice. Comparisons aside, myTouch phones have long been the ones prominently featured in T-Mobile ad campaigns (or at least they have since the Sidekick's heydays came and went).
Once in awhile, however, Magenta will pick up a more standardized HTC device. When they do, it's sort of interesting to see how it compares to its myTouch counterparts, both in terms of specs and special features. The newly minuted Amaze 4G is an HTC Sense phone, and not a myTouch device. Still, it now sits atop the carrier's lineup, commanding a hefty $259.99 on contract/after rebate asking price ($559.99 contract free) – a full $60 more than the myTouch 4G Slide it shares some key features – and a manufacturer – with.
What sets the Amaze apart from the rest of T-Mobile's lineup? The camera, mainly. And what sets Amaze apart from the myTouch 4G Slide with whom it shares much of its photo taking DNA? A bigger screen, the lack of a hard QWERTY board, and HTC Sense … and faster data speeds if you use it in the right place. And what sets it apart from that other high-end HTC/T-Mobile phone, Sensation 4G? A newer dual-core processor and NFC support. Confused? Welcome to the wonderful world of mobile phones circa late 2011. Read on and perhaps things will become a wee bit clearer.
Amaze 4G Pros
- Camera rivals some point-and-shoots for still image quality
- Big, bright, high resolution display
- HSPA+ 42 network is fast
- Top-shelf performance from dual-core processor
- HTC Sense 3.0 (if you like Sense)
Amaze 4G Cons
- Big, bulky and heavy
- HSPA+ 42 coverage areas are few and far between just yet
- Annoying proprietary HDMI jack
About That Camera
Earlier this year I met with T-Mobile reps to see the then-new myTouch Slide 4G. They spent a good 20 minutes or so going over nothing but the device's camera with me, so excited were they about "The world's most advanced cameraphone" (their words). That was soooo yesterday! Today the Amaze 4G is the world's most advanced cameraphone! Or so says T-Mo. Me, I say Amaze's camera is pretty terrific when compared to the rest of the cameraphones trotting around the globe. I'd have to turn the thing over to Mike or Jon Q to get a truly comprehensive report on the performance of the device's manual mode relative to the point-and-shoot cameras of the world, but when it came to simply pressing the dedicated hardware button to take a picture with my phone, Amaze left me impressed.
Still images captured by the eight megapixel main camera were by and large clear, detailed and full of natural-looking color. Both the backside illuminated sensor and F/2.2 optics are in part to thank for the image quality. A ton of shooting modes and features like ClearShot HDR (to compensate for poor lighting) and SweepShot (panorama mode) are made easy to use by a well designed menu system that provides easily swipe-able access to various options while also offering up a sentence or two to help n00bs like me understand what "Perfect Pics" is meant to do. I particularly appreciated the image caching system that allows for near zero-lag shutter response, as there's nothing more annoying than waiting so long for your cameraphone to "reload" that the moment passes and you miss your Kodak Moment. Amaze really did exhibit near zero shutter lag, though in most cases waiting the extra second or three to frame the shot and lock in autofocus resulted in a better image than rapid-fire shooting could produce.
Unedited/Uncompressed 8MP Photo Samples (Click thumbnail to view full size in new window):
Amaze also features full 1080p video capture, and ranks amongst the best camcorder-phones I've yet tried. The dual-LED flash is great for getting something "on film" while in the dark, though it did have a tendency to blow out subject matter in dusky-but-not-pitch-black settings. And, of course, there's also a two megapixel front shooter that's better suited to video chat and occasional self-portraits than anything else. However your photos and videos turn out, viewing and sharing them is as easy as its ever been on an Android phone thanks to a slightly tweaked Gallery app and one touch sharing to various Web-based services.
The (Other) Particulars
Camera aside, Amaze 4G is a pretty solid high-end Android phone. It's also a pretty big and bulky high-end Android phone. On the one hand, the 4.3-inch Super LCD qHD display is large and pretty, offering more pixels overall and more per inch than its closes in-house competitor, the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S II. It should be noted, though, that the Sammy's Super AMOLED screen makes colors jump out and Kapow! you just a bit harder. On the other hand, Amaze is 11.7mm thick and weighs 6.1 ounces, making it the size of an offensive lineman relative to the GSII's wide receiver-like 9.4mm profile and 4.77 oz weight. Amaze's build and materials quality is great, and the device feels solid and well-crafted in hand, but where the GSII's light and thin design helps make it feel smaller than the giant screen might imply, Amaze somehow felt larger to me than it really is.
In other words, Amaze 4G is a big, heavy phone. That may or may not matter to you, but it's worth making a point over given that it sits next to a big, light phone in T-Mo retail stores.
As mentioned, that 4.3-inch display is a beaut, and 940 x 560 pixels on a cell phone screen ain't nothin' to sneeze at. Everything from the lock screen to Gallery photos to HD video looked sharp and detailed provided I wasn't trying to view it in harsh, direct sunlight. Amaze 4G is built with 16GB of internal storage, 12 of which are available to the user. A microSD card slot officially allows for another 32 gigs of expansion. For $260 I would have liked to have seen a full 32GB onboard, or 16 plus an included SD card, but 16 gigs isn't a deal-breaker.
Under the hood, a 1.5 Ghz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor makes everything go. This is actually the same chipset that powers T-Mobile's version of the Galaxy S II, and both phones are kicking butt and taking names on various benchmark leaderboards as of my writing this. You won't be suffering in the performance department should you choose Amaze 4G as your weapon of choice in the Smartphone Wars.
Along with said GSII, Amaze 4G is one of the first smartphones to support T-Mobile's newly christened HSPA+ 42 data network. Thing is, there aren't all that many parts of the country blanketed in HSPA+ 42 service just yet. Also, the "42" in HSPA+ 42 is functionally meaningless; the technology supports theoretical top speeds of 42 Mbps down, but T-Mo's own PR brags about nothing beyond 10 Mbps average and 27 peak, while a smattering of users posting to T-Mo's forums claim to be seeing speeds north of that. North of 10 Mbps down is nothing to sneeze at, mind you, but it's not 42, either.
HTC Amaze 4G (left) Samsung Galaxy S II for Sprint (right)
Then there's the OS. If it weren't for the legions of other Android Gingerbread phones that have come out this Summer/Fall, and the fact that Ice Cream Sandwich is the new Gingbread, I'd dive deeper here. Instead I'll say this: Amaze 4G ships with Android 2.3.4 and HTC Sense installed. I still like what Sense does for an Android phone, though at this point the changes are as much cosmetic as anything else, so much has Android OS evolved over the past few years. This latest iteration of Sense features some new widgets, an evolved take on customizing your whole system at once, and an active lock screen (which is kind of a contradiction in terms, no?). If you didn't like Sense before you likely won't dig it now, either. But for the less geeky of you out there, in particular, HTC adds value by giving the Android experience that much more mass appeal. At least for now.
T-Mobile customers wanting state-of-the-art Android phones basically have four choices right now: myTouch 4G Slide, Amaze 4G, Galaxy S II or the LG Optimus G2x. I omitted the HTC Sensation 4G from that list even though it technically sits above G2x in Magenta's lineup. Why? Because Amaze 4G is in many ways a successor to Sensation, whereas G2x offers a different take (LG's) on the high-end Android experience. Phew, that was kind of a mouthful, no? Like I said at the beginning of the review, welcome to the Mobile Marketplace in the Fall of 2011. T-Mobile alone offers a dizzying array of Android phone choices.
So which one should you buy, presuming you're in the market for a Magenta Android phone? Amaze 4G is a very good smartphone with an excellent camera, provided you like/don't mind its form factor and have a $260+ budget to spend. If you value speed and will often be in one of T-Mo's HSPA+ 42 service areas, it's your best bet along with the Samsung Galaxy S II. Sensation 4G offers very similar styling and only slightly downgraded features and performance – minus HSPA+ 42 – in a less pricey package. The myTouch phones are variations on the theme, with (even more) unique software; one sports a hard QWERTY board and both have smaller displays than Amaze. All are made by HTC, save G2x and that Galaxy II S I keep talking about
Which brings us to the real meat of my buying advice. If you want a high end device with a "pure" Android install, and don't mind trading a few of the latest upgrades for a relative bargain of a price, the LG G2x is a steal at $99 on contract. Otherwise, you're looking at Amaze vs Galaxy S II. One sports a killer camera, super high-resolution display, and solid but heavy build. The other sports a very good camera, ultra-large and superbly vivid display, and magically thin and light build. Both are blazing fast, and each offers a unique take on the Android experience.
It comes down to what you value most in your smartphone. I recommend HTC's Amaze 4G wholeheartedly provided you value camera speed, and pixel count over thin and light. Or if you just happen to dig the way it looks and feels when you use it. The choice is yours.