Price (RRP): $No outright price; available from Telstra;
Australia’s first LTE phone has landed, but just how well does HTC’s Velocity take advantage of the Telstra’s new super-fast mobile phone network?
The HTC Velocity is the first smartphone to take advantage of the fourth-generation LTE (Long Term Evolution) mobile broadband network, launched by Telstra in late 2011.
Known in Australia as 4G, LTE currently offers upload and download speeds greater than the highest speeds ADSL2+ can manage, effectively offering a faster connection than is currently capable at home. Telstra days that downlink speeds can range from 20 to 40 Mbps depending on proximity to coverage areas, while upload speeds can reach beyond 10Mbps. In comparison, an ADSL2+ connection can reach a maximum of 24Mbps down and 1Mbps up, with the download speed affected by your proximity to the exchange.
Inside the Velocity is a modem capable of jumping onto 2G, 3G, and 4G networks, achieving download speeds ranging from 1Mbps all the way up to 40. Upload speeds, too, are faster than smartphones have achieved before.
Where 4G isn’t available, the Velocity takes advantage of dual-channel HSPA+, offering between 1.1 and 20Mbps, making it the fastest 3G available.
There’s more to like about the Velocity than just a fast modem, though, with the handset offering a 4.5 inch qHD screen (540 x 960), dual-core 1.5 GHz processor, and 16GB of storage, expandable with a microSD slot.
Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread is the OS of choice on the Velocity, so it lags the Samsung Galaxy Nexus that debuted in December 2011 with Ice Cream Sandwich. The Nexus, however, has no LTE, so the Velocity will outrank it when the promised Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade becomes available in coming months.
HTC’s overlay to Android – Sense – is the same as was in the Sensation XL, with Sense 3.5 used in the Velocity. This overlay brings in custom weather widgets, vintage effects for the camera, and a few lockscreen modes. By default, the application menu is divided into three sections – All, Frequently Used, and Downloaded – but you can change it to a list mode which offers different ways of sorting your apps.
Unlike many of the HTC handsets we’ve reviewed in the past 12 months, the Velocity is mostly black plastic, with the aluminium favouried in other HTC handsets regrettably absent.
Multimedia is taken care of by a rear 8 megapixel camera that provides 1080p Full HD video capture and dual-LED flash. The front camera can snap 1.3 megapixel images and record 720p HD video.
Connectivity options are pretty standard for an Android smartphone, with wireless offered over 802.11 b/g/n, plus DLNA, Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP, and GPS.
A microUSB port is used for charging the smartphone and transferring data, and with an optional cable, can also be used for TV-out.
A 3.5mm headphone port sits on the top of the handset, to the left of the thin silver power button. The silver volume button is on the right of the device and the microUSB port is located on left edge near the bottom.
The plastic handset is a little slippery, but otherwise a good fit for most hands. The edges on the back are more obvious than those we normally see, with an angled back compared to the soft curved style that graces smartphones and aims to make them smaller.
The 4.5 inch screen dominates the front of the device, with four light-up soft buttons – Home, Menu, Back, Search – located below the display. With such a large screen, it’s nice to see HTC use a high-grade panel with strong colour and sharpness.
Powering up, it’s disappointing to see an older version of Android. Samsung managed to get Ice Cream Sandwich into the Galaxy Nexus launched in December 2011, so we’d have liked the same from this HTC, which arrives more than a month later. HTC says an update will be available “soon”.
HTC’s Sense overlay offers seven homescreens to do with as you please, providing room for widgets that offer live data and updates for your social life. There’s lots of interactivity here, as the widget screens exist on a never-ending carousel that rotates whenever you flick your finger left or right on the home screen.
Personalisation modes are offered too, with HTC’s online “Hub” presence providing downloadable colour schemes and layouts for the Sense interface.
It’s all very nice and customisable, which adds to the appeal of the hardware, but what you’re really buying in the Velocity is access to the 4G network… and the speeds to be enjoyed here are immediately noticeable.
With 4G internet, mobile web browsing from a handset is faster than it’s ever been. Websites and videos load almost instantly, and everyday browsing is super-zippy – certainly faster than the ADSL2+ fixed line connection used at the Gadget Group offices.
The handset also allows tethering, meaning the Velocity’s speedy 4G goodness can be shared with devices such as computers and tablets.
We tested this by enabling the phone’s WiFi hotspot option and making a connection to our tablet. Using a speed test app – appropriately named “Speed Test” – we recorded 4G speeds in excess of 26 Mbps downlink as we travelled via bus throughout central Sydney.
We later ran the speed test on the phone itself, achieving as high as 36.14 Mbps down and 15.25 Mbps upstream. That’s roughly 4 megabytes downloaded per second, a figure that becomes more significant when you consider how much data you could potentially chew through watching videos and surfing the web without the wait.
Overall, the speeds achieved via HTC’s Velocity are easily on par with the 4G mobile broadband dongle that Telstra released in 2011, effectively putting a level of performance available previously only to PCs into your pocket-sized smartphone.
The speeds experienced were up to three times as fast what we achieve at home using a fixed-line connection. With ADSL2+ capable of a maximum of 21Mbps, Telstra and HTC are delivering speeds that most home users can only dream of.
Also noteworthy is that 4G will be available to both prepaid and postpaid Telstra customers via the Velocity. As before, though, prepaid customers should keep a close eye on their data caps.
Where 4G isn’t available, the dual-channel 3G modem kicks in automatically. It’s good too, with us achieving speeds of 15Mbps down and 1Mbps up – that’s faster than every other 3G smartphone we’ve reviewed.
Equipped with a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, the Velocity performs well with these snappy download speeds, running multiple windows of websites without problem. We only had one issue where lag cropped up, and that was fixed by flipping to standby and back again.
Our only other gripes are to do with the Velocity’s plastic construction. With its premium feature set, it would have, we think, been more deserving of the aluminum body found on many other HTC models.
Then there’s the battery cover. While this is difficult to remove on other HTC models, with the Velocity you merely need to push up against the back plate for it to come off. This may be of no consequence at all, but the design doesn’t impress like the HTC Sensation XL or Evo 3D.
Like that Sensation model, the Sense overlay exhibits some curious keyboard quirks. This includes failure to run the word suggestion feature outside of message and email apps unless HTC’s Skype-like “Trace” technology is used. It’s still a curious oversight and one that surely needs a patch.
Battery life is fairly average, offering a little more than a day of use. You’ll need to recharge nightly, something that’s becoming a common occurrence in premium smartphones.
We were also surprised to discover that HTC does not include Beats Audio in this handset, a technology that aims to make music sound “the way the artist intended”. This is integrated into the HTC Sensation XL and XE models, which launched in 2011, and we’d expect this new top tier handset to provide it as well.
If you want internet access speeds well in excess of fixed lined ADSL2+, and you want them on your phone, the HTC Velocity is currently the only game in town. This won’t last for long, though, with more LTE capable phones scheduled to arrive from mid-year.
Until then, HTC’s Velocity provides an impressive Android smartphone experience on top of a unique point of difference.