The phone runs Android V2.3 Gingerbread, but HTC has added its Sense user enhancements over the top. For example, instead of the standard Android lock screen, when you go to unlock the phone you have to drag a circle from the bottom of the screen towards the centre. There are also shortcuts for stuff like the dialer, email app, camera and messaging app, that you can launch directly from the home screen by dragging them into this circle, which is quite neat.
The version of Sense used here has been cut down a little bit, though, and is mainly missing the 3D animations of faster handsets. This is a perfectly understandable and almost laudable move as this takes the strain off this phone’s lower grade processor. Nevertheless, most of the other main features are present including great social networking integration.
The 600mhz clock speed of the processor would suggest that the Explorer would feel quite sluggish, but thankfully it’s a much better performer than we expected. We wouldn’t exactly say it rollicks along, but things keep ticking over at a fairly fluid pace, even when you’ve got a few applications running at the same time.
Camera’s have never exactly been a strong point of HTC phones, as even the shooters on the company’s high-end models tend to be pretty average performers. Unfortunately the fixed focus 3.0Megapixel snapper used on this phone is pretty poor even by the company’s not so high standards. Colour accuracy isn’t great, and shots lack detail as they tend towards the smeary end of the sharpness spectrum. The camera also usually adds a lot of noise into pictures when it’s faced with even slightly dimly lit conditions – something which isn’t helped by the camera’s lack of a flash.
The slower processor and smaller screen do seem to have an advantage when it comes to battery life, however. Whereas most of today’s smartphones last for around a day to a day and a half on a single charge, we managed to get around two days out of the Explorer for a mix of calls, music listening and webbrowsing/emailing, which is pretty impressive. The quality of voice calls was also very good during our test period – the earpiece is loud, while the mic doesn’t seem to be overly directional.
If you’ve owned an Android phone before, the chances are that the Explorer is not really going to appeal, as its specification is too basic. However, if you’re looking for handset that would serve as a sensible first dip into the world of smartphones, then the Explorer’s good build quality and neat Sense user interface makes it a good, if not exactly spectacular, option.