All the phone basics are handled by simple yet effective apps that make it quick and easy to just make a call or send a message. Take the picture viewer, for instance. There’s no fancy 3D gimmickry; just a list of folders, each one containing a grid of thumbnails. Likewise, the mp3 player simply shows you a white on black list of artists then albums and tracks. It handles mp3 tags properly, shows the album artwork, and just works.
The web browser also puts in a decent turn. It copes with full web pages and has a nice cut down interface. Particularly clever is the zoom control that appears as a horizontal bar across the lower portion of the screen whenever you touch the display: just drag the green spot left and right to zoom in and out.
As for social networking, you can log into Facebook and Twitter accounts through the phone and view updates using a single app called Friend Stream, but there are no dedicated apps for the services themselves. Instead, you’re simply taken to mobile optimised versions of the sites.
Other apps include a calculator, FM radio, File browser, a rather neat flashlight, and a couple of games. If you want more, however, the Smart will let you down. There isn’t a map application and there’s no app store to download more. You also can’t multi-task and there’s no Wi-Fi for speedy local web browsing. You do get 3G for slightly faster mobile browsing but you can’t seem to switch it off to maximise battery life. Then again, considering we quite easily got about three days of use out of the Smart, battery life isn’t a major concern.
Another negative is the screen, which at 2.8in and with a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels isn’t particularly sharp. The operating system does its best to keep everything looking smooth and readable but there’s definitely a slight and constant graininess. Overall brightness isn’t great either so it can be difficult to see in bright sunlight. Viewing angles and colour reproduction are more than adequate, though.
The Smart’s fixed-focused camera limits its use but overall performance is decent so you can rattle off a few shots in quick succession. It’s comfortable and easy to use, too, thanks to a dedicated camera button on the right edge. Photos are as mediocre as you might expect with fairly poor sharpness, slightly iffy colour accuracy and a general graininess. However, outdoor shots are still perfectly usable and the flash helps prevent indoor shots from turning into abstract motion-blur art. Video is also available and you can, again, use the LED light while shooting. However, with a resolution of just 240 x 320 pixels and framerate of just 15fps, the results are of very limited use.
The HTC Smart is available for free on contracts as low as £15 per month and will set you back £180 SIM-free. At this level, its high build quality and good external features make it a strong competitor in the value sector. However, some ‘true’ (if slightly old) smartphones, such as the HTC Hero, can be had for around the same price, so we might be inclined to go for one of those deals.
The HTC Smart is a fascinating new entry from the smartphone stalwarts. Its brand new finger-friendly operating system brings a level of usability unseen in this segment before and its build quality is also a step up. However, HTC’s claims of it being a smartphone are far wide of the mark. It’s good for a budget phone but that’s about it. Considering you can pick up slightly older smartphones for bargain basement money these days, we might be inclined to do that instead.