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The T-Mobile Amaze 4G should be one of the top smartphones on T-Mobile and on all carriers this holiday season. In this review, we’ll see if its just a myTouch 4G Slide without the keyboard and if it can truly amaze us in a time when there are an embarrassment of great smartphones out there.
At this point in the game, you know what to expect from an HTC smartphone: it will be a well-designed device that packs in the latest horsepower in an elegant way. The Amaze 4G follows this same design ethos in a brilliant way, as its industrial design is stunning and it's enough to stand out from the crowd of full-touchscreen slate devices. It's not dramatically different than some of HTC's recent devices, as I find it to be a good combination of the Sensation 4G and the myTouch 4G Slide without a keyboard. It's packed to the brim with the latest mobile technology, too.
The Amaze 4G is a well-designed device that is quite visually pleasing while also fitting comfortably in your hand. All of the corners and the backing are rounded and smooth, so it's easy to hold in a variety of ways and more importantly, it feels really nice to hold. The back cover comes off in a similar way to the Sensation 4G (it includes radios in it), so there's a really cool feeling of peeling that back cover off and it allows for a cleaner overall look to the face. There are little touches that I like too, as the screen is intentionally not flush with the aluminum when you look at it from the sides and this creates a neat visual contrast while also elevating the screen (and the associated content) closer to you.
The 4.3-inch qHD Super LCD screen takes up most of the face and it's bright and beautiful. I'm still a bit partial to the blacks on the Super AMOLED Plus screens that can be found on the Galaxy SII but the amaze 4G screen is still pretty darn good. Toward the top of the device, there's a front-facing camera, as well as the T-Mobile and HTC branding. Beneath the screen, you have your standard Android Home, Menu, Back and Search buttons in a responsive capacitive form.
Moving to the right spine, there is a dedicated camera button and a dedicated video camera button. I'm not sure the dedicated video camera button is necessary but it's super responsive and if you take a lot of mobile video, you'll appreciate it. Above that, there's a single bar which operates as the volume buttons and I would have preferred separate volume up and volume down buttons. On top, there's the power and unlock button and the standard headphone jack on a slightly sloped surface. Thankfully, headphones plug in and stay in quite easily (nope, this one doesn't rock Beats Audio, you'll have to wait for the HTC Rezound).
On the left spine, there's just he micrUSB port and on the bottom, you'll find a microphone and the button to help you take off the back cover. It's a very nice back cover too, as its a polished mix of black, aluminum and black. It's very nice to look at and it feels very nice and smooth. You'll also find some speakers on the back, as well as the 8-megapixel camera with a dual-LED flash.
Everything about the Amaze 4G just exudes confidence, as it looks, feels and is a premium device.
The Amaze 4G is packed to the gills with powerful horsepower, as it packs a Snapdragon S3 1.5 dual-core processor and this makes most of the operations silky smooth. I've noticed some random lagging here and there with too many open but that may be a Sense UI thing. Still, I'd be exaggerating if I said this detracted from the phone's overall performance, as the Amaze 4G can take nearly anything you can throw at it and still perform like a champ. Games ran smoothly, web pages rendered quickly (if I had a solid connection) and swiping between apps or home screens was a pleasant experience.
You have all the goodies you'd expect in a modern smartphone including "4G" support for the carrier's 42 Mbps HSPA+ network, Bluetooth, GPS and even NFC. While things like Google Wallet and ISIS aren't a big deal now, these need NFC to work and you may be glad the Amaze 4G has this when you're entering your second year of your contract. This doesn't pack the Beats Audio like future HTC devices will but I think it's okay to overlook that for now unless you're a hardcore audiophile.
The Amaze 4G is powered by Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread and, like I've said with nearly every Android phone I've reviewed lately, the platform is well-suited for making phone calls, sending e-mails and texts, browsing the web and downloading new apps. It should also be noted that Android was doing pull-down notifications before it was cool. Some may prefer the overall polish of iOS but Android is an excellent smartphone platform that offers a bit more customization even if it's a little tougher to fully dive into at first.
This is an HTC device though, so that means the company's Sense UI is all over the Amaze 4G and some of you hardcore Android fans may not like that. I've found Sense to be a visually-pleasing UI that does add to the functionality of the device but if you're looking for a pure Google experience, then this is probably not the device for you - or, you could always just root it.
I actually like Sense a lot, as it brings a more cohesive vision to Android than what Google provides with Gingerbread and there are a lot of little touches which make the device more usable. You pull up a ring from the bottom of the screen to unlock it to get to the homescreen but that lock screen also has a few apps that you can drag into the ring to quickly launch. Let's say you want to unlock your phone and jump directly into the calendar, you can just pull the calendar icon into the ring and you're there. You can also hit the camera or video camera button from the launch screen to launch directly into those apps too.
The 3D carousel effect when panning through the multiple home screens is visually interesting and I've yet to experience a slowdown on it and I really like the tweaks to the pulldown notification bar, as there's a tab to hop into your quick settings to adjust WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and more. HTC has been making multiple acquisitions to bolster its Sense-only services and the Amaze 4G comes with its Watch service for videos. It's a decent way to buy videos on the go and the screen is quite nice to view them but I'm rapidly growing tired of these locked-in multimedia services. I know there are DRM issues that aren't HTC's fault but there's nearly zero incentive for me to use Watch for my video-viewing needs.
The Amaze 4G comes with multiple apps preloaded, as you'll have the T-Mobile Mail, Name ID, TV HD, More For Me and the Qik video-chatting app. You also have Lookout security, Polaris Office, Slacker and a few other HTC apps on your phone once you turn it on. Removing these is still a pain in the rear, if you can at all. I'm a super-experienced Android user, so I know exactly how I want to set up a device and which apps I need and want. I understand that a brand new user would find many of these apps helpful (I love Slacker) but I still think that removing these apps should be a much easier process.
As for the overall app market on Android, the quality and selection in the Android Market has improved greatly over the last few years. Android apps now (or will soon) surpass iOS apps in terms of numbers and the flexibility of Android allows you to go to other app stores like the Amazon App Store. I still think that iOS apps generally have a higher level of polish and it still has more momentum in that the major app developers will likely come to the iPhone first with Android shortly behind it.
I'd notice a tad bit of lag here and there but nothing persistent that distracted from the experience but these minor hiccups were still a little annoying. Most of the time, the software experience was silky smooth.
Of course, one major issue for some users is the fact that this doesn't have the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich. While Android 4.0 is not officially on the market yet, it will be coming with the Galaxy Nexus in a few short weeks and it offers a variety of new features and user interface updates. While it's unfair to blame the Amaze 4G for not having this, you do have to wonder how long it will take for HTC to adapt its Sense UI for Android 4.0 because the platform does have some major changes in it. HTC has been pretty good at getting updates out in a timely manner, so let's hope that it won't be too long before Amaze 4G owners can get a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Amaze 4G can theoretically get 42 Mbps down but even in ideal conditions, I never really cracked 10 Mbps down. What's worse, I found T-Mobile in the San Francisco area to be wildly inconsistent, as I'd get a strong 4G signal and it would drop down to 2G depending on where I was. In my house, I rarely even saw 3G coverage and Blake's experiences in other parts of the city lead me to believe that it's not just my area. If you have strong T-Mobile coverage where you live, this shouldn't be a problem.
The story on multimedia for the last few years has been that Android phones aren't quite as good as the iPhone because there's no real iTunes equivalent for Google's platform. That's slowly starting to change and the Amaze 4G is quite a mobile multimedia powerhouse, but I'd still rank the iPhone slightly above it.
To be fair, Google has taken many steps to make Android a better multimedia experience, as you can rent movies directly from the Android Market and it's a shame that the Google Music service isn't fully up and running for everyone because this is an awesome way to listen to nearly your entire music collection on the go. T-Mobile and HTC have also done its parts to make the Amaze 4G a good multimedia device, as you have access to the HTC Watch service and the T-Mobile TV HD also provide ways to get more video content on your phone. Easily-downloaded apps like Spotify, Pandora, Stitcher and Slacker should also take care of your audio needs.
One of the best features of the HTC Amaze 4G is the 8-megapixel camera because it's essentially the same camera that's in the myTouch 4G Slide but with some additional features. That's great news in my book because the Slide produced great shots and the Amaze 4G is good enough to truly replace a digital camera ... well, almost.
The Amaze 4G comes with 10 different shooting modes (automatic, SmartShot, SweepShot, Clearshot HDR, BurstShot, Night, Action, Macro, Portrait and Manual) and each does a really good job of capturing moments at different times. The photos generally turn out pretty darn well, the camera app launches quickly whether you're tapping on the icon or hitting the side button and the shot-to-shot lag is almost nonexistent. The macro shots, in particular, come through with stunning clarity (click on the first picture to see how much detail comes through).
The camera UI is simple and clean, as there's a capture button on the bottom and the options on top - in landscape mode, the capture's on the right and the options are on the right. You can zoom with the volume rocker, capture with the hard button and there's also a tap to focus feature. The tap to focus could be a bit snappier in my opinion, but it's nothing egregious.
If I had to nitpick, I'd want a quicker way to switch between the modes, as you have to click the setting, then scroll through the different options. This is fine for composed shots but spot magic moment shots can be a pain with this. The zooming isn't as good as most standard digital cameras but that's pretty much expected. Overall, I'm very, very happy with the Amaze 4G's camera and the shots it produces. Check out how the Amaze 4G's camera compares to the Galaxy S II, iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S in our photo shootout.
I'm a bit conflicted on the dedicated video camera button, as I tend to follow the Dieter Rams philosophy of design: less but better. The dedicated video camera button does make it quicker to dive into the recording process, which can be in 1080p HD, but I don't see myself really using this that often. The video quality is pretty nice though, as you can see from the video below.
Call quality wasn't an issue with the Amaze 4G, as calls in the San Francisco Bay Area came through loud and clear without any distortion or tinniness. Callers said I sounded clear and I even found the speaker phone to be just the right volume. I experienced occasional hiccups here and there but that was only when I was using Google Voice, calls from the native dialer on the T-Mobile number were great.
My expectations for a smartphone's battery aren't that great, as I expect it to be able to sustain a full day of work and play before I have to recharge and the Amaze 4G did just that. I'd take it off the charger around 8 a.m. and it would still be kicking when I plugged it in at 10 p.m. even with heavy e-mail usage, some light location-based services, lots of web browsing and streaming audio. I didn't have to really change the way I wanted to use my phone in fear of having a dead battery, which is a welcome change after having used 4G LTE phones recently.
Is this phone amazing? Yes. The Amaze 4G combines an elegant design, an amazing camera, powerful hardware and some smooth software into a smartphone that is a delight to use. The lack of the latest Android software or some fancy Beats Audio aren't enough to really detract from what is a really nice smartphone.
If you're on T-Mobile and trying to choose between this and the Samsung Galaxy S II (read that review here), I'd honestly suggest just flipping a coin because you'll likely be happy with either device. If you're looking for a prettier industrial design and some flair to your software, then the Amaze 4G is probably right for you. Just make sure that you're in an area with strong T-Mobile coverage.
With the iPhone 4S, Galaxy Nexus, Droid Razr, Galaxy S II and HTC's Rezound, the smartphone market is filled with high-quality devices that should please most users. With its excellent camera and beautiful design, the Amaze 4G rightly deserves to be in the conversation for best smartphone out there.
Yes, it's pretty much amazing.