CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell contributed to the Beats Audio portion of this review.
The HTC Rezound is one of three hot new Android handsets headed to Verizon this holiday season--the other two are the superskinny Motorola Droid Razr and the Google-approved Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It's an embarrassment of riches for Verizon customers: they're all top-of-the-line phones with dual-core processors, support for Verizon's 4G LTE network, and features galore.
What sets the Rezound apart from its brethren, however, is that it is the first U.S.-bound handset with Beats Audio Technology, which HTC developed after it bought a majority stake in Dr. Dre's Beats Electronics. The phone ships with a pair of Beats Audio earbuds that are supposedly worth around $100 on their own. When they are plugged into the Rezound, the phone will instantly recognize them as Beats earbuds and the user will then be able to boost the sound via a special Beats Audio algorithm.
The Rezound is a rather hefty phone, but it's also blessed with an amazing 720p HD display that showcases HTC's attractive Sense 3.5 user interface. It sits atop the Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread OS, but HTC has promised that Ice Cream Sandwich will be available for the Rezound "early next year." It also boasts an impressive 8-megapixel camera with an f/2.2 sensor, a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor, 1080p HD video capture, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, and of course support for Verizon's 4G LTE network.
Out of all the 4G LTE handsets we've handled, the Rezound is probably the bulkiest. At 5.08 inches tall by 2.58 inches wide by 0.54 inch thick, the Rezound is undeniably beefy, and at 5.78 ounces, it's not that light either. The flip side to such heft is that it feels fairly solid in the hand. Clad in a matte soft-touch material similar to the coating on the Incredible and the Incredible 2, the Rezound has rounded corners and a topographic back cover that adds character to an otherwise simple slab. There's a wide island of ridges on the back to help with grip. The narrow bezel and tapered edges helped our small hands hold the phone without much discomfort.
Similarly to the first Droid Incredible, the insides of the phone are red, which complements the phone's red and black coloring. Sure, no one will notice it unless the cover is taken off, but we appreciate HTC's attempt at making the phone beautiful inside and out. HTC carries the touch of red to other parts of the phone, like the ring around the camera lens, the speaker grille, the touch sensor lights, and the wired cord of the Beats earbuds. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Beats logo has the same color scheme as well, and is prominently placed on the battery cover.
All eyes will likely focus on the Rezound's stunning 4.3-inch Super LCD display instead, however. The display boasts 1,280x720-pixel resolution, which places it at 720p HD quality. Frankly, it's simply gorgeous. Images and text are buttery-smooth, with amazing clarity and vivid colors to boot. The colors look almost painted on. Video looks luscious on such a generous screen size, and browsing the Web is a treat.
The capacitive touch screen felt very responsive, thanks to the Rezound's 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor. There's a slight lag when scrolling through the browser, but on the whole, we were pleased with the snappiness we experienced when swiping and tapping. It offers pinch-to-zoom as well as a built-in accelerometer, light sensor, and proximity sensor. The LCD display does wash out slightly under the bright sunlight.
Like the HTC Rhyme, the HTC Rezound runs HTC Sense 3.5. This includes a new lock screen that provides instant access to four of your favorite apps--simply slide the appropriate shortcut over the metal ring and it'll launch immediately. Other welcome improvements include a three-dimensional home screen carousel, refined widgets, and the ability to add and remove home screen panels--you can have up to seven home screens overall. The main menu is divided into all apps, frequently used apps, downloaded apps, and Verizon apps.
Beneath the display are the usual four touch-sensitive controls for the home, menu, back, and search functions. On the right spine is the volume rocker, while the Micro-USB charging port is on the left. The Micro-USB port doubles as an MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) port that you can hook up to an HDMI adapter. The 3.5mm headset jack sits on top. The front-facing 2-megapixel camera is located on the upper-right corner of the display and the rear 8-megapixel sits on the back along with the LED flash.
Beats Audio experience
The Monster Beats brand has found its way into this phone in two ways. First, there's the included pair of Monster Beats in-ear headphones. These headphones come with all the expected Beats branding, red cable, and multiple ear fittings, as well as on-cable track control buttons and a microphone for taking calls. They sound great, though we wouldn't confuse their flimsy design with Monster's more durable $149 Dr. Dre Tour in-ear headphones.
The second part of HTC's Beats infusion is a software button that toggles a sound enhancement effect on and off. The enhancement boosts the audio's volume, the bass is deepened, and the audio simply sounds rounder and fuller. This button is accessible from the notifications pull-down while you're playing music in the stock Music app, but, oddly, the button isn't available in other multimedia apps, including Google's own Music app (a separate but worthwhile download). Still, the Beats enhancements seem to carry over sonically to any running multimedia app, but only the stock Music player will afford you the displeasure of hearing the enhancement disengaged.
If you're buying this phone strictly on the basis of its superior sound quality, you may want to reconsider. Any comparable smartphone will be able to step up to this same sound quality with an investment in some high-grade headphones, which you'll probably end up buying anyhow, since the included headphones use a cable design that seems designed to fail.