HTC Titan 2: Impressive camera, not so impressive screen

With its excellent camera, the HTC Titan 2 is perfect for mobile shutterbugs--if your hands are big enough to hold the phone comfortably.

Walking the line between "phablet" and phone, the HTC Titan 2 ($199 with a new two-year AT&T contract as of April 18, 2012) is a monster-sized Windows Phone handset. We first encountered the Titan 2 at this year's CES, and back then we liked its 16-megapixel camera and LTE connectivity. The Titan 2 is certainly an impressive phone, but it has a few quirks that you should take into consideration before you buy.

Design

The Titan 2 lives up to its name: Sporting a 4.7-inch Super LCD screen, the Titan 2 dwarfs nearly every other smartphone on AT&T, with the exception of the 5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note. The Titan 2, like many other HTC phones, has a minimalist design that makes it comfortable to hold for long periods at a time.

Aside from the aforementioned display, the front of the Titan 2 has the standard Windows Phone navigation buttons (Back, Home, Search), and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera sits just above the top-right corner of the screen. Flipping the phone over reveals the 16-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash (more on that later), as well as a small removable cover that lets you access the Titan 2's SIM card. The cover takes some work to remove, but it comes off after a few tugs.

The Titan 2's dimensions can take some getting used to, especially if you are migrating from an iPhone or another device of a similar size. I recommend getting your hands on one in-store before you commit, so that you can see if you're comfortable using a phone of this size.

Performance

The Titan 2 runs smoothly thanks to its 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor. I was able to perform basic tasks, such as navigating the menus and sending email, smoothly and without incident. The only time I noticed performance issues was when I ran the game Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit--the frame rate dropped at times, and on one occasion the game froze entirely for a few seconds. Such glitches are disappointing, considering that one of the big selling points of Windows Phone 7 is its ability to play Xbox Live games and help you earn achievements while you're on the go, but they shouldn't affect you much if you're not a big gamer.

Alongside the Nokia Lumia 900, the Titan 2 is one of a small handful of phones that can connect to AT&T's relatively new LTE network. Here in our San Francisco office, I saw download speeds of up to 15 megabits per second and upload speeds of up to 10.66 mbps. If you have good reception, you should be able to download and install most apps from the Windows Marketplace in just a few short minutes.

The phone's call quality was very good in my testing, with voices coming in loud and clear. The Titan 2 filtered out background noises quite well, and I detected only the faintest hint of static in phone calls. Your call quality will vary depending on where you live and on how strong the reception is in your area, so be sure to consult network coverage maps before making your purchase.

After using the Titan 2 extensively for the better part of a day (around 6 hours), I managed to drain the battery down to 60%. My activities included taking a sizable number of photos and video clips, and browsing the Web over LTE. You should be able to make it through an entire day on a single charge, but if you are using the phone to watch a Doctor Who marathon via the Netflix app, you'll probably want to have a charger handy. The battery on the Titan 2 is not removable, so you can't swap out the battery if the phone dies and you're nowhere near an outlet. Check back later for the results of our formal PCWorld Labs battery test in order to get a better idea of how long the battery will hold out before the phone needs to be plugged in.

Software

Say what you will, but I'm a fan of the Metro interface in Windows Phone 7. It's elegant, and the interface looks great running on the Titan 2's jumbo screen. The Titan 2 ships with the latest version of Windows Phone (7.5) and comes preinstalled with a handful of AT&T and HTC apps. Unlike on Android phones, you can uninstall these apps if you don't want them.

Being a Windows Phone, the Titan 2 comes preloaded with the mobile version of Microsoft Office, allowing you to be productive on your commute or whenever else you're away from a computer. The phone's larger-than-average screen makes it useful for viewing PowerPoint presentations and writing short Word documents, but you most likely won't want to use the Titan 2 to create complicated Excel sheets.

Entertainment

If you prefer gaming over spreadsheets, you'll enjoy the Titan 2's integrated Xbox Live functionality. Through the Xbox Live app you'll be able to see your avatar, send messages to other Xbox Live users, and play games and earn achievements to raise your Gamerscore. Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja both ran well on the Titan 2 in my tests, but graphics-intensive games such as Need For Speed have moments when they slow down a bit.

One annoying thing about the Titan 2 is that, as with the iPhone, you'll need to use a desktop client to move your files on and off the phone. Although the Zune desktop software is better looking than iTunes (and runs slightly better too), it's still a clunky way to manage content on a phone. The worst part is that the Zune software is available only for Windows--preventing a chunk of people (such as myself) from being able to use a Windows Phone to its fullest because we use OS X or Linux.

The Titan 2's bright screen shows colors beautifully, but the 800-by-480-pixel resolution is low compared with the 1280-by-720-pixel resolution on other phones with similar-size screens. This means that text and images look comparatively blurry at times. Certain Web pages and text appeared fuzzy in my tests, and the mediocre resolution didn't do video or still images proper justice.

The phone comes with 12GB of usable storage space; that isn't a lot, but it should be sufficient for most people (aside from those with massive media collections). Windows Phone doesn't allow for expandable storage, so you may have to juggle your media a bit if you have a large amount of music and videos in your Zune library.

Camera

HTC generally does an excellent job on phone cameras, and the Titan 2 is no exception. Outdoor photos that I took with the 16-megapixel camera looked crisp, clean, and sharp. The Titan 2 has a handful of aperture settings you can toy around with, and it includes a panoramic mode--in case you're like me and you're fond of taking panoramic photos of things. Unfortunately, photos I took indoors didn't come out as great as the outdoor shots. The few pictures I took indoors looked a bit dark, though I'm willing to chalk that up to a combination of my poor photography skills and the substandard lighting in our office. After I played around with the lighting some, my photos came out looking better--though still nowhere near as nice as the ones I took outside.

If you're a fan of Instagram, you'll probably enjoy HTC's included photo-enhancement software. The program lets you apply filters not only to the photos you take with the phone, but also to photos from your Facebook photo albums. Once you've settled on a look, you can then share the photo on Facebook or Twitter, or via an email or text message. It's a neat little extra, though I wish it had more variety in the filters.

While the Titan 2 is great for still photos, it doesn't fare as well when it comes to recording video. In my tests the camera seemed to have trouble focusing, and it would take a significant amount of time to regain focus when I moved between environments with different lighting. The phone has a continuous focus mode, but that didn't seem to help much, and it caused the camera to go in and out of focus at random. Audio pickup wasn't all that hot either: The Titan 2 was barely able to pick up the voice of a coworker who was standing only a few short feet away and speaking at a reasonable volume. The phone can shoot in 720p, but is set to record in 480p by default. For the best picture quality, you'll want to change that in the settings before you start recording.

Bottom Line

The HTC Titan 2 is the largest phone I've reviewed, and it definitely has its charms. Yes, the screen is fuzzy at times, and the video recording may not be the best, but the Titan 2's LTE connectivity and excellent picture-taking capabilities more than make up for those faults. If you think the phone is too big (and some people may feel that way), I recommend looking at the Nokia Lumia 900 instead; its camera may not be as good, but it will still give you a nice, big helping of Windows Phone goodness.

This story, "HTC Titan 2: Impressive camera, not so impressive screen" was originally published by PCWorld.

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