Review: HTC Butterfly
HTC’s been having some tough times lately. While one of the major manufacturer of Android devices, the company is having a hard time enjoying the same amount of success as its key rival Samsung, who, other than Apple, is the only other company in the mobile segment making any appreciable amount of profit.Updated: Apr 16, 2013 11:27 IST
HTC’s been having some tough times lately. While one of the major manufacturer of Android devices, the company is having a hard time enjoying the same amount of success as its key rival Samsung, who, other than Apple, is the only other company in the mobile segment making any appreciable amount of profit.
However, that hasn’t stopped HTC from coming up with some great phones. Last year’s HTC One X was hailed as one of the best smartphones on the market, thanks to its amazing design, gorgeous display and a powerful processor. It’s a tough act to follow but HTC seems to have just the right tool for the job in the form of the HTC Butterfly. At least on paper.
The Butterfly is the first phone to hit the market with an astounding 1080p display. It also bumps the hardware, with a new quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 2GB of RAM and several other improvements. I got a chance to play around with one for a while. Let’s see how it performs.
If there is one thing you can rely on HTC for, it’s to make great looking devices. Their recent phones, especially, have been very good, particularly the One X, the One S and the Windows Phone 8X. Unfortunately, the Butterfly is a bit of an exception.
Although not a bad looking phone per se, the design of the Butterfly is quite bland, to say the least. It has none of the charm and charisma of the aforementioned handsets and just comes across as a slim, unremarkable slab of plastic. The only design element worth noticing are the faux-grilles on the sides, and even those are nothing special.
Going around the phone we find the volume rocker placed on the right side, the headphone jack, power button, and the micro-SIM and microSD card together under flap on the top and the microUSB port at the bottom.
On the back of the phone is the camera lens with an LED flash, a secondary notification LED and the loudspeaker near the bottom with the Beats logo.
Ergonomically, the Butterfly is a bit if a mixed bag. On one hand, despite the 5.0-inch display, the Butterfly isn’t much wider than any of the 4.7-inch display phones, which means it is still fairly easy to grip with one hand. The thin body with tapering edges and flat sides also facilitates using the phone singlehandedly.
On the other hand, HTC continues to make life difficult for users by placing the power button directly on top of the phone. The Butterfly may not be much wide but it is very tall and having to reach the button on top is a herculean task that requires constant shifting of the phone in your hand every time you have to operate it, which simply increases the chances of dropping it.
Another complaint I have with the design is the use of the annoying flaps for the SIM/SD slot and the USB port. The flap for the car slots is still fine as you don’t have to open it too often but the one for the port is completely unnecessary and annoying considering how often you have to access it. Not only do you have to open and close it every time and then keep it held aside while you plug the cable in, it’s also frustratingly difficult to open. Unless you have a screwdriver or the claws of Wolverine, opening the flap proved to be nearly impossible.
One of the reason for the flaps on the ports could be the fact that the Butterfly is water-resistant. This information appears on the company’s website as a single item on the spec sheet and nowhere else does the company boast or even acknowledge it. As such, I refrained from testing the phone under water. The USB port may be closed but there was a gaping headphone jack left open on top that did not inspire much confidence.
I briefly mentioned the secondary notification LED on the Butterfly before. It is the first phone that I know of that has not one but two notification LEDs.
Unfortunately, it’s easier to spot the Pole star during the day than either of these when they are on, which makes them practically useless.
The one on the front is hilariously small and sunken into the earpiece grille, which means when seen at an angle or under bright light it is damn near impossible to see. The one on the back is similarly lame; it’s not bright enough to be seen during the day and its visibility degrades rapidly when you see it an angle. It’s as if the designers thought people hovered directly above their phones at all times or live in a cave to be able to see these properly. In comparison, the notification LEDs on BlackBerry phones can probably be seen from the outer space.
The Butterfly is sold in two colors in India: Stealth Black and Glamor White. The former has a matte black finish for the rear whereas the latter has a glossy metallic finish for the back. The white model also has a matte silver strip above the earpiece. The black model looks a bit nicer but the back would pick up scuff marks faster than the glossy white model. Both phones have good build quality and feel fairly sturdy in hand.
The display on the Butterfly is easily the best feature of the phone. The 5.0-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution Super LCD 3 is an absolute joy to behold. It is the cleanest, sharpest display I’ve ever laid eyes on, all thanks to the insane number of pixels being crammed into that little space. 440 PPI, to be precise.
In terms of image quality, the Butterfly does not disappoint. Colors look completely natural, blacks are fairly deep for an LCD and the viewing angles and sunlight legibility are excellent. I had some issues with the contrast, where some of the lighter colors would blend easily with a white background but other than that the display is superb.
One thing I would like to point here, though, is that as amazing as having a 1080p display sounds on paper, it doesn’t really make a difference in the real world.
Having compared the Butterfly’s display to the One X’s side by side, it was nearly impossible to spot the difference. Of course, the One X does have a brilliant display of its own but it also tells us that 1080p on 5.0-inch or smaller phone screens is an overkill.
Hardware and Software
The HTC Butterfly runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 APQ8064 SoC, with a 1.5GHz quad-core Krait CPU and Adreno 320 GPU. This is one of the fastest chips on the market and also what you’d find under the hood of the Google Nexus 4 and the Sony Xperia Z. On the memory side, it has 2GB of RAM and 16GB internal memory with a microSD card slot.
Those who type a lot on their phones would be glad to know that the stock HTC keyboard is still one of the best around, with fairly accurate word prediction and auto-correct. It still has its fair share of idiosyncrasies, however, especially when it comes to typing contractions or symbols. It also can’t automatically add spaces between words if you miss them, which makes typing in a hurry frustrating. So even though it is better than what you get by default on most Android phones, SwiftKey remains the best keyboard to have on Android, for now.
In terms of crapware, there was a lot less of it installed on the Butterfly compared to the One X and most of the pre-installed apps such as SoundHound, Dropbox, Twitter, etc. are quite useful.
The performance of the HTC Butterfly was a bit of a mixed bag. In most cases, the phone performed respectably, with quick app launches and smooth scrolling, as one would expect from a device running Jelly Bean and such a powerful processor. However, the phone would inexplicably stutter when scrolling through homescreens, particularly when you do the pinch gesture to tile the homescreens. I place the blame squarely on Sense UI for this and HTC should really look into optimizing it further as it sours the overall user experience of the device, especially one as expensive as this.
The Butterfly comes with the usual Beats branding that has now become common on HTC smartphones. Like the 8X, however, the Butterfly goes beyond just having an equalizer preset and has dedicated amplifiers for the headphone as well as the loudspeaker output.
The results of this are quite dramatic. The loudspeaker on the Butterfly is quite loud, especially for a single speaker. The quality isn’t particularly fantastic and it would have been nicer if HTC had tuned the speaker to sound a bit better but at least it’s loud.
The headphone output is also similarly loud but it gets even louder once you enable the Beats Audio mode. Along with boosting the volume, Beats Audio also boosts the low as well as the high end of the audio spectrum, making your music sound richer. Of course, this is purely subjective and I personally preferred to keep it switched off most of the times, although it did make certain genres of music sound better. Thanks to the dedicated amplifier, the sound no longer drops whenever you hit a bass note at higher volumes as it used to happen on older HTC phones as the amp has more than enough juice to sustain that level of bass at those volume levels without distorting the sound.
As before, Beats Audio setting is universally available for every app installed on the phone and not just the default music player. Unfortunately, if you use the default music player, Beats Audio is all you get, with no option to tune the sound using a custom equalizer or use any other preset.
The video player continues to be a disappointment on HTC devices. The format support just isn’t there and even though it might seem as if the phone supports a particular video it would either play it without sound or won’t play it at all. In comparison, the video players on Samsung and LG phones can play pretty much any video file you throw at them without a hitch. Annoyingly, it also lets you choose only between Beats Audio and HTC Enhancer for the sound output. If you watch a lot of videos and movies on your phone, then it’s highly recommended you download a third party video player.
When it does manage to play the video, however, viewing them on the gorgeous 1080p display is an absolute joy. It’s also great to finally have a screen where you can watch your 1080p videos with 1:1 pixel mapping (if you have OCD like me you know what I’m talking about). Also, because the display is so dense, even 720p videos look great on it.
The general network and radio performance was quite good on the Butterfly. The earpiece is quite loud, so I often had to drop it down a couple of notches during calls. GPS was quick and reliable and the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth performances were respectable.
The HTC Butterfly has an 8 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor on the back, shooting through a 28mm f/2.0 lens. The phone also uses the ImageSense Chip, a dedicated processor that runs separately from the main SoC and is meant exclusively to process the camera images.
For all practically purposes, the camera on the Butterfly is identical to the one on the One X, and it shows in the images. Although the performance is reasonably good, the images still suffer from the overzealous noise-reduction and sharpening. The sharpening, in particular, sticks out like a sore thumb when you zoom 100% into the image. That is also when you’ll notice that the images aren’t as detailed as they should be, the dynamic range isn’t quite good and there is still a fair amount of noise in them.
For simply viewing on the phone’s screen on sharing on social networking sites, the camera on the Butterfly does a respectable job. However, even the two year old Samsung Galaxy S II and the iPhone 4S outclasses it when it comes to outright image quality.
The front facing camera on the Butterfly is a 2.1 megapixel sensor with an f/2.0 lens and an exceptionally wide 88-degree field of view. First seen on the 8X, this new front facing camera is a definite improvement over the FFC on the One X, not just in the amount of area you can have in the frame at once but also in terms of image quality. It is definitely one of the best front facing cameras I’ve seen on a phone.
The Butterfly has a 2,020mAh battery, which is sealed inside the phone and non-user-replaceable. Considering the high-resolution display and the powerful processor, I was wary of the battery life on the Butterfly. Thankfully, it turned out to be better than I expected. With nominal usage, consisting of a few calls and mostly using data in IM and social networking apps, the phone managed to last for around 10 hours, which was enough for me to get through the day.
When running the phone through the video playback test, the Butterfly lasted for around six hours while playing back a 1080p MP4 file on loop at 50% brightness setting and using headphones.
The HTC Butterfly seems like an impressive piece of hardware on the paper. It has all the cool sounding specs such as a 1080p display and a quad-core processor. But in reality, the phone just doesn’t quite manage to impress as much.
Although not a bad phone in general, there are few things about the phone that truly stand out. One of them would be the exceptional display, which is easily one of the best I’ve seen on a phone till date. Then there are some other things as well, such as the great audio quality and the decent battery life.
Those things aside, the Butterfly does not have much to offer. The design is quite humdrum, the performance isn’t as smooth as the quad-core moniker would suggest and Sense UI continues to be a sore point. The software neither looks particularly good nor works all that well.
Still, some of the flaws would have been easy to ignore if it didn’t have such a catastrophically high price. At Rs. 45,990, HTC has priced the phone out of contention and is the equivalent of throwing an axe and then proceeding to place your foot squarely in its path. The truth is, the phone just isn’t all that great, nor all that much better than, say, the Galaxy S III or even HTC’s own One X. And those phones cost over Rs. 15,000 less. What’s more, HTC doesn’t quite have the clout of Apple or even Samsung to pull this sort of stunt off in India.
If that’s not bad enough, HTC has just launched the One in India, which is not just better in every way, but also cheaper. It’s like they don’t want anyone to buy the Butterfly.
In the end, it’s hard to recommend the Butterfly to anyone, especially at that price. Although a decent phone in and of itself, there are better options out there, some for a lot less money.