HTC Explorer and Orange Signal Boost Review

A little over a month ago, I was sent, by Kineto’s PR company an HTC Explorer to review, and on it came a new piece of software Kineto had developed for Orange, called Signal Boost. I was politely asked if I could do reviews on both products for Kineto. I’m now at the end of the review period, and I have been reminded that I must give it back. So, after spending a month trying to figure how to go about writing a review for these two products, here goes.

Exploring the Possibilities

The HTC Explorer is, on the face of it, not a very interesting device. It has, a now aging, Snapdragon SoC running at an unimpressive 600MHz. The screen isn’t very big and doesn’t have any fantastic features like SLCD. It hasn’t got ground breaking amounts of RAM, the ROM is tiny, and it runs Android 2.3. Compare it to my HTC One X, and it looks like a child’s toy. The rubberised casing makes it feel even more like a child’s toy. The HTC Explorer is particularly uninteresting. I played with it for a few days and found the onscreen keyboard hard to use, because it was tiny. I found the interface slow and jerky, especially when I was doing anything more than making a phone call (even the text messaging app had problems presenting a smooth experience once it had to load more than 10 messages). I had issues getting some of my favourite Android apps to work at all because of the antiquated version of Android. Granted, that last part is probably partially my own fault for trying to be clever, but I am an IT engineer, and I do have a strong hobbyist interest in what Android can actually be made to do, so if I struggled with issues, I can’t imagine what the issues that someone who isn’t technical in any way would have. This was an interesting question, one I pondered for a good week, and the one thing that bothered me about it was I kept coming to the same conclusion. The conclusion was that if I struggled then a non-technical person, Joe Bloggs on the street, would be very much put off by poor compatibility and a slow and jerky UI. I figured this couldn’t be right so I decided to create a test.



The Proof is in the Pudding

The Test was this: Give the Explorer to someone who wants a phone to be a phone. A person who isn’t that interested in having massive screens and quad core processors. Someone who’s just an average Joe. The idea was perfect! But who will be my Joe Bloggs? And then the perfect person came to mind. My dad had just come back from Switzerland and, in some sort of freak accident, a metal detector had wiped the SIM card in his phone and it was going to take a week for a new phone and SIM card to be supplied. So I give this 50 something, partially deaf, Joe Bloggs the phone. I tell him it has unlimited free credit and it is his till his new phone arrives, and then I tell him to report back with his thoughts and opinions. A week goes by and the phone is returned, credit run out, and I ask the question.

DW: So did you like it?

JB: Yeah, it’s a nice little thing isn’t it?

DW: No, I really hate it.

JB: I really liked how small and unfussy it is and I love the keyboard, it could be a little bigger but it’s OK

DW: Anything you didn’t like?

JB: Well at full volume the sound is a little distorted in phone calls and the case is a bit tricky to get into to insert the SIM card. Also the screen quality isn’t as good as my Samsung I have for work.

The Surprise Explorer

That was a surprise! Joe Bloggs liked it! Besides the fact it can reproduce sound at full volume cleanly and some minor design flaws, He liked. He also said that he liked that fact you could install lots of games and apps on it, and it didn’t phase the phone. He did say if it was his money he would probably go the next step up and go for a more middle of the road device but also said that Mrs Bloggs wants one. When I pressed him for an out of 5 stars rating, he gave it a 3, which is respectable. Who would have thunk it?

Boosting the Signal

Part of the review, as I said earlier was to review a new piece of software, for Android that Kineto had asked me to look at. The App is called Signal Boost, and it is supposed to automatically switch calls from the Cellular network to the internet, via WiFi, when the cellular network is unavailable. It’s a really nice idea, but it’s not without its problems. For example, in my testing I was only ever in a place that had no cellular coverage and an internet connection ONCE. And I really tried to make that happen. I went all over the place looking for somewhere that didn’t have cellular coverage but had an internet connection and the only place I found was at a friend’s house. The only problem with that is being on orange, the signal never went out because it just switched to T-mobiles network and carried on like nothing had happened. To actually get a test of Signal Boost I had to force it by disabling the radio on the phone and then making a call. The Sound quality was good and there wasn’t any noticeable lag. The web browser still worked fine and everything was just great.



Houston? We have a problem!

The only problem is unless you happen to live in a very convenient spot on the edge of the traditional telephone network where you can just about get ADSL but are also unlucky enough to live in an Orange and T-mobile dead spot this program is pretty useless because unless you live in that very particular little niche of a situation, you will either live in a large city where both internet and cellular coverage are very good or you’ll live somewhere obscure, like at the top of Ben Nevis or at the bottom of the English Channel, and in those situations you’re still pretty screwed for Internet and cellular connectivity. Although, even if you do live in that niche “goldilocks zone,” you’re unlikely to be an Orange or T-mobile customer anyway because there is probably another provider that does have coverage in your area. Add to that, that Vodafone have a similar, hardware based system that also provides 3G connectivity to all devices in proximity and all Signal Boost is going to get is a ribbon for taking part with a special commendation for being inventive.