Although it started selling it in mid-May, we just couldn’t say no when Mobilicity reached out to us and asked if we’d take a look at the HTC Panache, an Android smartphone that is exclusive to the scrappy Canadian upstart. Is a combination of the handset and network enough to make Canadians flee the Big Three in droves, or does one (or both) of them miss the mark? Click on through to find out.
As with virtually all handsets from HTC, the Panache’s build quality is impeccable. Not only did it feel solid, but it fit perfectly in our hands and had a nice heft to it. The front of the phone features a stylish earpiece and front-facing VGA camera, while the back is all all about the camera and LED flash, speakerphone, and stylized metal battery cover. On the top left of the phone is the power button, while the top right houses the 3.5mm headphone jack. The left side features a volume rocker and micro-USB port, while right side sports a dedicated camera button. Instead of going the capacitive route, the Panache features four physical buttons under the display in addition to a trackpad. We’re not sure why HTC bothered to include a trackpad. In all of our time with the Panache, we only used it once, and that was simply to check how sensitive it was.
The Panache’s display measures out to 3.8” diagonally and has WVGA resolution (480×800). Images were crisp and clear, and the range of colours produced were excellent. The only problem we had with the display was that the viewing angles weren’t the greatest. They were nowhere near as bad as they were on the HTC Sensation 4G, but it was bothersome nonetheless.
The brains and brawn behind the Panache are a single-core 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 768MB of RAM. While that should have been enough to keep everything flowing smoothly, there were a few more hiccups than we were expecting. One of the culprits was likely the Sense 3.0 overlay — pretty, but a notorious resource hog — while the others were something of a mystery. No matter the source, the fact remains that the Panache had a tendency to slow down at the most inconvenient times.
Capable of shooting 5 megapixel stills and capturing videos at resolutions up to 720p, the camera on the Panache is fairly decent. It took about two seconds to boot up and was adept at taking photos in rapid succession with the aid of the dedicated camera button. The images and videos took a hit in the quality department if the lighting wasn’t just right (read: very, very bright), but we found adjusting the ISO settings helped alleviate this issue to some extent. And while we could never find a way to mange what was in our opinion an overly liberal use of compression, we still felt the camera was good enough for most casual situations where lugging around a dedicated camera would be overkill.
We’re just going to throw this out there: Mobilicity’s network coverage in Vancouver is a spotty, to say the least. In the area we typically test handsets, we found the Panache performed terribly. When we were lucky enough not to be stuck with roaming on an EDGE network (which means roaming fees), we managed to achieve an average of one to two bars of coverage. It didn’t have much of an impact on call quality which we found to be very satisfactory both from the earpiece and speakerphone, but we really noticed it when it came to data. Our average download speed came in at just under 800Kbps, while upload speeds were consistently in the neighborhood of 550Kbps. When we contacted Mobilicity about our network issues, we were told that “Mobilicity is constantly enhancing our network in Vancouver and it’s only been up and running since November.” We feel this is a terrible excuse. Mobilicity had lots of time to get things right before its network went live in Vancouver, as well as the past nine months in which time it has been active.
We mentioned that we were constantly roaming while using the Panache, and here’s how it works. When you leave a Mobilicity coverage area or coverage drops off, you will be charge roaming fees to use your phone. The roaming fees while in Canada and the United States break down as follows:
- 20¢ per minute for voice
- 10¢ per SMS
- 10¢ per global SMS (an additional plan is required)
- $1.50 per megabyte of data
In order to prevent bill shock at the end of the month, Mobilicty has a pay-per-use roaming system dubbed My Wallet. The idea behind it is quite simple. Simply deposit money into My Wallet, and all roaming charges will be subtracted from the balance in My Wallet.
Supplying the power to the Panache is a 1400 mAh Li-ion. We found the battery life was average for an Android smartphone, much of this being owed to the power-sipping Snapdragon processor. When looking at the battery stats provided by the OS, we did notice an unusual amount of power was being consumed by the cellular radio which definitely prevented the battery life from reaching its full potential. We attribute this to the weak reception and the fact the phone was constantly switching between Mobilicity’s network and roaming on one of the Big Three’s EDGE networks.
The bottom line is that the $499.99 you could spend on a Panache would be better spent on a more capable smartphone. As for Mobilicity itself, it’s really a toss up. While our experience with it in Vancouver wasn’t exactly a positive one, that doesn’t mean it will hold true for everyone. As always, it’s up to the consumer to do a bit of research and find out what they can afford and what works best where they live.
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