HTC Explorer review
The Explorer is a budget handset aimed at first-time smartphone users, with a focus on keeping things simple and easy to use. It's a small but chubby handset which fits nicely in the hand, with a rugged plastic casing that feels sturdy and has a rubbery surface that helps with grip. Despite its budget price, the Explorer comes with all the usual smartphone features, including a 3-megapixel camera, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and access to the Android Market.
Our first worry was the small 3.2in screen, which has a small 320x480 resolution, but in practice we found it bright and colourful, with very little noticeable pixellation. There's not a lot of room, however - widgets on the home screen feel far more cramped than we're used to, and web browsing requires landscape mode. You'd also need to scroll around a lot to look at Office documents, but there's no document viewer installed as standard.
The phone is powered by a 600MHz Qualcomm Snapdragon system-on-a-chip, and despite its low clock speed the operating system still felt fast, even with a few applications running. The phone could also play HD video files, although of course they're downscaled to fit on the lower-resolution screen.
One major problem is the small 85MB of free storage space for apps. Most apps range from 3-5MB in size, whereas games can be 20MB or more, so you'll be very limited in what you can install. You do get a microSD card slot, so if you're careful you can stretch out your storage space by moving some apps to the SD card.
A major surprise is the camera: despite its lowly 3-megapixel sensor, it produced crisp, bright shots with very little noise. This was most evident in our low-light test, where we managed to capture reasonably detailed images, even though the camera doesn’t have a flash. Videos were crisp and colourful too, with much less jerkiness when panning than we've seen from other smartphone cameras. The low 480x320 video resolution is the only downside.
The Explorer runs a later version of HTC's Sense interface than the larger Sensation XE, but we didn't notice any major differences. You still get all the social networking features, such as merging your contacts across a variety of services such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, although not all Sense apps are installed by default - you can choose to install the missing ones through the HTC Hub app, which gives you more control over how much space is taken up with apps.
One small but important addition is the inclusion of a data monitor, which gives first-time smartphone users more control over their data usage and allows them to get an idea of how much surfing or YouTubing they can get away with. This is especially useful as many people interested in such an inexpensive smartphone may want to pay for their data as they go; in fact, most of the contract deals we saw for the Explorer came without data.
The Explorer's chunky construction and easy-to-use Sense software make it a good buy as a simple smartphone, but we feel it's just pipped at the post by the Huawei Blaze, which also has some useful preinstalled apps but is available for just £70 on prepay from www.tesco.com.
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