Mini Review of the HTC Dream


The HTC Dream (otherwise known as the G1 in the US) is the first smartphone in Canada to be based on the Google Android operating system. I got a chance to play with a Dream for a couple of hours and this mini-review represents my impressions of the phone over that period of time. Iíll try and get one for a more in-depth review at a later date.

Last Updated: 12-Jun-2009

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

RF Sensitivity: Because this was only a mini-review I was unable to perform any serious RF testing. From what I saw however, the Dream seems to have excellent RF sensitivity in both 3G and 2G modes.

Audio Performance

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Tonal Balance: Iíd never had very good experiences with HTC models prior to the Dream, and so I hadnít really expected much. I was therefore very surprised to find that the Dream had excellent tonal balance. In fact, tonally it was one of the best-sounding phones Iíd tried in ages and it had a slightly richer tonal quality than my N95.

Sound Reproduction: This aspect of the Dream was also excellent, with clear reproduction and virtually no detectable hiss (though I never got a chance to try it in a really quiet environment to be absolutely sure).

Earpiece Volume: Great sound would be naught if it wasnít backed up by half-decent audio volume and the Dream comes through with flying colors yet again. The maximum volume of the Dream was just a hair shy of the maximum volume on my N95 with the volume boost feature kicked in. Even low-volume sources come out of the earpiece sounding loud enough to hear well in day-to-day situations.

Outgoing Audio: Happily the outgoing audio is just as impressive as the incoming audio. The volume, clarity, and tone of the sound is simply stunning. It even handles the background noise at the Square One food court with aplomb.

Speakerphone: Sadly the phone doesnít really provide a particularly good speakerphone implementation. The single back-mounted speaker produces tinny and often distorted sound at rather low volumes. Itís one of those speakerphones that are okay for times when you get put on hold for ages, but it doesnít really have the quality or volume necessary to use in a real conversation.

The same speaker also provides second-rate audio for multimedia applications, so you might want to use headphones when you watch videos or listen to music. The phone does support Bluetooth stereo (A2DP), but it does not have a 3.5 mm headset jack. To plug in a standard wired headset you have to buy an adapter that connects to the proprietary jack at the bottom of the Dream.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: Iíd hoped to test the ring volume by sending over a copy of my Loud Ringer.mp3 file via Bluetooth. However, I was unable to do so because the Dream does not support OBEX file transfer under Bluetooth. This is a glaring omission Iíd get to in a minute. I was left with testing the ringer based on the ringtones provided in the phone. As with most modern phones however, the speaker used for the speakerphone is also the sounder for the ringtones, and so the volume and clarity of the ringers was along the same lines as the speakerphone performance. That is to say, the ringers are fine, but nothing great.

Keypad Design: This is a bit of mixed bag. While the Dream has a physical QWERTY keyboard that is exposed by swinging the screen up, it does not have a physical keypad for phone operation. For that it relies on a virtual on-screen keypad like the iPhone.

Iíll start with the physical QWERTY keyboard. The mechanism for getting the screen out of the way of the keyboard is quite ingenious. Rather than using a slider, it had a multi-armed lever system that allows the screen to swing up and come to rest in the same horizontal position as it had before you moved it. The keyboard has relatively small keys, but they are laid out in the standard QWERTY fashion and they are easy to use. I was quite pleased with the physical keyboard.

The virtual keyboard was another matter all together. Unlike the iPhone, on which I could easily get the screen to respond as intended to my gestures, the Dream was much more frustrating. For example, to swipe the numeric keypad out of the way to get at the recent calls list below it I often found myself pressing the 2 key instead. When I typed in phone numbers the 0 key mysteriously failed at least 1 out of 3 times I used it. The general feeling I got from the Dreamís touch screen was that I wanted to use a stylus to avoid the inaccuracies. And of course, there is no tactile feel whatsoever and no feedback that youíve pressed a key, other than by observing the response of the application youíre running.

Display: The display was gorgeous. It sported the same resolution as the iPhone (480 x 320), but in a slightly smaller size (3.2 inches vs 3.5 inches in the iPhone). The Android operating system made excellent use of the screen real estate, with a handsome-looking UI that was rather reminiscent of the iPhone. I tested the Dream at night, and so I was unable to find out how well it worked in direct sunlight.

Icing on the Cake

Camera:
The camera provided with the Dream is a 3.1 megapixel unit that isnít great, but itís not too bad either. I managed to take a few photographs to compare with those taken with my N95. The results were okay, but the Dream doesnít really provide a particularly great photos. It has no flash and no night mode (that I could find), meaning that it has very limited functionality in low-light conditions.

It also suffers from the same design flaw as the N95 8GB, which is to say that the lens protector is flush with the back of the phone and prone to getting fingerprints all over it. To get the best results from the camera you must ensure the lens is spotless, which means protecting it in some way, or cleaning it with a microfibre cloth before each use.

Bluetooth: I was rather shocked to discover that the Bluetooth implementation is for audio only. Like the iPhone, this serious limitation is inexcusable in a smartphone. I can see dumb phones having Bluetooth just for audio, but the lack of OBEX file transfer on a smartphone is just mind-numbing. It was bad enough that Apple didnít put it in the iPhone, but that doesnít mean HTC has to wear the dumb-design dunce cap too.

Conclusions

Based on my very limited exposure to the Dream I was both very impressed and rather disappointed all at the same time. As a phone the Dream is a dream. It has incredibly good audio qualities both incoming and outgoing, and great RF sensitivity to go along with it. However, the clumsy virtual keypad for phone operation makes it a frustrating device to use as a phone (unless you only receive incoming calls, in which case answering such calls is really not an issue).

I didnít have enough time to really delve into the operating system, which is something I hope to do in the future. On the surface the Android O/S seems as competent as the iPhone, though in Appleís defense the Dream does lack the really useful multi-tap user interface (which allows the iPhone to offer such stellar input features such as pinching your fingers together to decrease zoom for example). Hopefully I can provide a more in-depth review of the O/S at a future time.

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