Mobilicity HTC Panache Review

Daniel Bader

June 8, 2011 1:05 pm

The HTC Panache doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. It is aware of the fact that it’s a re-tooled Glacier, the device that would, in October 2010, become T-Mobile’s myTouch 4G. In fact, Mobilicity has taken a great many cues from T-Mobile since its launch, and for good reason: both companies are fighting their way up in a very competitive, saturated market.

The re-tooling has been kind to the Panache. Equipped with still-marketable internal specs and a shiny Gingerbread makeover, it packs quite a punch for the discount carrier, and slots in next to the Nexus S at the same $499 price point. Does the Panache have the right amount of… itself? Read on.

Specs:

- Android 2.3 Gingerbread with HTC Sense 2.1 UI
- 3.8” 480×800 TFT LCD display
- 1Ghz Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon processor
- 768MB RAM / 1.1GB internal storage / 8GB microSD card provided
- 5MP camera with LED flash / VGA front-facing camera
- 720p-capable video recording
- WiFi / GPS / Bluetooth
- 1400mAh battery
- 121.9 x 55.9 x 10.9 mm
- 141.8 g

The Phone

Panache. It sounds like a fruit drink. In the case of a smartphone, it should represent the attractive frame that holds the secrets to Android paradise. In many ways, the Panache was one of our favourite phones to hold, and it was easy to slip in and out of the pocket.

Made of a charcoal-coloured hard matte plastic, the front and sides of the device taper in a geometrically pleasing way. It resembles the BlackBerry Bold Touch in some ways, and because it is so thin its heft does not feel onerous.  The battery cover is made of a nice chunk of brushed aluminum, and since the phone tops out at 142g, only slightly heavier than the Nexus S, the extra weight, in exchange for solidity, was more than welcome.

But its front also gives away its aging pedigree: equipped with a rather cutesy speaker grill and four hardware buttons on the bottom, as well as a trackpad, the phone screams 2010 Android. None of these inclusions are bad, per se, but like certain fashion they seem out of date. Admittedly, it was satisfying feeling some physical feedback from the buttons, and even with the newest version of Sense and its excellent text selection the trackpad came in handy.

Another pleasant surprise, and a trend we wish more manufacturers would bring back, was the dedicated camera button on the lower right side. Metallic and clicky, the camera button was perfectly weighted. Once unlocked, holding down the button will launch the camera app, though not fast enough for our liking.

Performance & Call Quality

Sense UI has always been the athletic, attractive sibling of Android skins, and the small-but-significant upgrade to Gingerbread brings some zest to the Panache’s aging hardware.

Once logged into your Google account, you’ll be greeted with seven home screens, each of which is loaded with a removable widget. To some a blessing and others a scourge, the widgets offer quick access to weather, social networks, email, messages and maps. Sense has been given a nice aesthetic overhaul, too: the drop-down notification bar now shows the most-recently used apps, and on the bottom is quick settings tab, to quickly disable WiFi or enable GPS, among other things.

The phone took what we threw at it without complaint, and averaged a healthy 1576 on the Quadrant Benchmark test, right in line with the similarly-spec’d HTC Desire HD and Incredible S. Linpack scored a whopping 39.6 from the single-core processor. It reached 2.4Mbit/s download speeds with Speedtest, though the average was around 1.3Mbit/s down and 450kbit/s up, which is about what one can expect from Mobilicity’s growing network.

Overall, network speeds really slowed down the phone. Once a webpage loaded it handled flawlessly, but we were often waiting several minutes for the desktop version of NYTimes.com to load, our typical bandwidth-choking benchmark. Mobilicity has a long way to go before it will reach those 4G speeds the Big Three are advertising.

Call quality within the GTA was top-notch. Even with 1-2 bars we couldn’t drop a call, and they came through nice and clearly. Despite claims from critics and certain comment trolls, we have yet to encounter issues with Mobilicity’s reception, except indoors where other AWS carriers such as Wind Mobile equally suffer. There are some areas in the GTA where Mobilicity’s coverage is still lacking, and certain nooks without any at all, but since its launch over a year ago that number has diminished significantly.

The Panache does have some very cool call features. If you receive a call you’d like to mute, you can flip the device onto its face. If the proximity sensor detects the phone is in a pocket, it will increase the ringer volume. Similarly, when you pick it up to answer the call, the volume lowers slightly. Intuitive and helpful features from HTC, especially for those who still use their smartphones as phones.

For a more in-depth look at Sense 2.1, take a look at our HTC Incredible S review.

Camera

The Panache’s camera takes some nice photos in good lighting, but like most HTC lenses, it struggles with low-light situations. Grain is introduced at medium ISO settings, so the lens clearly isn’t letting in enough light. Software processing leaves photos a little softer than we’d like but otherwise unharmed. Shooting with the flash was hit and miss. Sometimes the scene would be lighted perfectly, and at other times the flash would completely overwhelm.

HTC’s camera interface is a blessing, and something we wish Google itself would crib from. It supports touch-to-focus, even while shooting 720p video, and there are custom ISO, exposure, saturation and contrast settings for you tweakers out there.  Because the camera is weighted so evenly, we found holding it in one hand a non-issue, and with the dedicated button, it became our shooter of choice for the time we had it.

HD video gets off similarly well. Little to no artifacting or distortion and crisp colours make for a decent point-and-shoot replacement, though like any small-lensed device the final product always had a little too much shakiness, regardless of how rigidly we held on.

The addition of a front-facing camera is welcome, but since HTC kept the device at Android version 2.3.3 and not the GTalk Video-supported 2.3.4, we were unable to test out native video chat. Apps like Fring, Tango and Qik work just fine, especially over WiFi, but if you’re trying to show your friends that new wrinkle that just popped up, you’re out of luck; faces are just a blurry mash.

 

Click to enlarge pictures to full 5MP resolution.

Battery Life

Like most HTC devices running Snapdragon processors, the Panache is kind to its users. The 1400mAh battery ran for over 16 hours of regular use before hitting the red, and that included regular background updates, browsing, phone calls and photos.

HD video seemed to be the most abusive on battery life, knocking around 5% for every 10 minutes shot, but overall gaming, browsing and tweeting won’t force you to charge every 4 hours like many other Android devices.

Quirks and Quarks

As much as we liked the Panache, there were a couple trouble spots. Firstly, the screen seems to be the same washed-out TFT display as on the myTouch 4G. It was discovered after a couple months release that HTC was sourcing LCD displays from two manufacturers: one located in Taiwan, the other in China. The ones from Taiwan had terrible colour saturation and narrow viewing angles, while the Chinese-sourced ones were much more like the Super LCD displays that shipped on later HTC devices: excellent viewing angles, deep blacks and accurate colours. Both screens use the same touch sensor, which is very accurate, so no concern there.

Our review unit had the poor display, but it is not known whether all units will ship with the same part. Whether Mobilicity acknowledges this as a defect and will allow returns remains to be seen.

The other main gripe we had with the Panache was price. For $499, one expects the best, a flagship device that brings the carrier brand forward. If this is the best Mobilicity can do – rebranding an eight month-old phone and calling it new – they have a lot of work to do on their device acquisition. But they are a small carrier on an even narrower GSM network, and until manufacturers begin releasing pentaband 3G devices in volume, AWS carriers like Mobilicity, Wind and even T-Mobile will always have less buying power than their AT&T/Rogers counterparts.

The End

We haven’t really talked about the benefits of owning a smartphone on Mobilicity, and that too is price. While you’re paying $499 upfront for the device, the amount saved year over year for service is truly quantifiable. Mobilicity offers an all-in $45 unlimited province-wide calling plus data plan, and for $10 more you can include Canadian and U.S. long distance, and global texting. We would be remiss not to point out that despite the limited service area (GTA, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) Mobilicity offers some of the lowest price comprehensive plans in Canada. And regardless of where you stand in the rivalry between Wind Mobile and Mobilicity, for city dwellers they really are becoming viable alternatives to the Big Three.

The HTC Panache is still, eight months later, a very good smartphone. As a phone it performs admirably; as an Android device it possess up-to-date software on slightly dated hardware, but not enough to call it old. While we can recommend it to fans of Sense, and of Android in general, it’s a hard call to make over the identically-priced and similarly-spec’d Nexus S, still our smartphone of choice. A little bit smoother, a little bit prettier but not nearly as ‘open’, the Panache will age faster than its Nexus counterpart. So if you’re going to get it, get it now.

Rating: 7/10

Pros:

-       Excellent, stable performance on Gingerbread
-       Nice build quality: love the aluminum battery cover
-       Dedicated camera button: great two-step feedback
-       Good still and video quality: HD video is smooth
-       Sense UI provides some excellent additions to Android’s feature roster
-       Decent battery life: lasts all day
-       Great call quality in high reception areas

Cons:

-       Price: it’s too high for the hardware specs
-       Inferior screen quality to similar devices: weak colour saturation, viewing angles
-       Questionable design choices: superfluous trackpad and ugly speaker grill
-       Some areas still don’t get Mobilicity service
-       Could be heavy for some users

 

  • EmperumanV

    Great review as usual Daniel.

  • EH

    Was your test model made in taiwan?

    • Sined

      I have the China made version and it still has a crappy screen.

  • Sined

    Too bad you were testing a Mobilicity version.

    I tested the Videotron version. Amazing speeds constant 5-7Mbps.

  • Mathieu

    Aside from the ‘but since HTC kept the device at Android version 2.3.3 and not the GTalk Video-supported 2.3.4′ and the ‘price’, this still looks like a nice Android device since it was first released in October 2010.

  • çstew

    Fair review!
    I’m sick of reading biased or confusing engdget reviews.

  • Beavertail

    The article forgot to mention wireless hotspot and FM radio. This is a Swiss-army-knife phone. I have my Mobilicity Panache unlocked. I have gotten as high as 7 Mbps download speed and 3Mbps upload speed in Hong Kong; average is between 3-4 Mbps download. I just love this phone.

    GolfCaddie with real GPS works great. I use the simple version without satellite view. I am able to preload the whole course in town before heading to the course. Once on the course, turn off mobile data and just have GPS on and it works the whole 18-holes and used less than half the battery!

    Multiple eBook readers and Acrobat reader. The reflow function and font magnification work great for reading.

    The camera quality is amazing. Color is good and focus is sharp. I was pleasantly surprise.

    Panache feels like a real phone instead of the pure plastic Nexus S which I don’t like. Also a big plus is the physical buttons. This way there is no accidental hitting the screen and the phone goes wild!

    Internal microSD card is great. I will upgrade to higher capacity later.

    I can see holding on to this phone for about three years or more. Switching from Bell, the phone will be paid for in 12 month. Bought it with my credit card that double the one-year warranty, so I am all set.

    I recommend the Mobilicity HTC Panache to anyone who is looking for a smart phone.

    • Daniel Bader

      Wow, thanks for filling in the blanks, Beavertail!

    • Bernice

      Do you think if I unlocked the Panache like you, would it work on the Fido network? I know that the Mobilicity frequency is 1700/2100 and the Fido one is 1900 but the Panache supports GSM/GPRS/ EDGE 850/900/1800/1900. Please answer! Thanks :D

    • Ben

      Hi Beavertail,
      I have a Panache too, but I don’t know where I can get it unlock. Could you share some info with me?

      Be

    • Eric

      Hi Beavertail,

      Thanks for your comments on the phone.

      I’m planning to buy and use the phone on Wind Mobile network. Do you know if unlocking the phone voids its warranty?

  • andré

    Donc vidéotron a acheté ce htc pour le vendre comme appareil moyen a des utilisateurs moyen de android.

  • Little Caesar

    What are the Pros and Cons of the Nexus S vs the Panache?

    I can’t make up my mind.

  • Val

    Moi j’ai acheté mon Panache chez Vidéotron aussi. Après environ 3 jours, j’ai remarquer un MÉGA problème. Quand je texte en mode “landscape” et que j’appuie sur le bouton backspace, ça me ramène automatiquement à un écran de suppression des messages. ÇA ME PURGE. J’ai retourner mon téléphone au commis chez Vidéotron, étant donné que j’avais encore la garantie il me l’a échangé contre un nouveau. MÊME PROBLÈME encore. Je cherche sur Internet… et oh magie! Je découvre que tous les téléphones HTC possédant la version 2.3.3 d’Android on des problèmes similaires. J’apelle chez Vidéotron pour leur dire, ils me disent qu’ils ne sont pas au courant du problème mais qu’il vont quand même le prendre en note dans leur banque. Pas moyen de contacter HTC ou Android pour leur dire… pourtant! J’attend avec impatience la venue d’un update à 2.3.4 pour mon Panache parce que si ça continue je vais le lancer par la fenêtre! À part ça aucun problème! Un peu lent parfois mais bon, je suis passée d’un LG Rumor 2 ( groooosssseee bullshit avec Virgin Mobile) Vidéotron c’est la paradis à côté d’eux! Em attendant en cherchant sur Internet j’ai découvert que si on tourne le téléphone en mode landscape avant d’appuyer dans la boîte de dialogue ( pour faire apparaître le clavier) tout fonctionne normalement! Avis aux intéressés!

  • Apexator

    Just got mine yesterday at a Mobilicity stand. At the moment they’re on promotion for $200 less and with the “Back to school” $40 promotion plan its really, “If you’re going to get one, get it now”. Love the look and feel of it. Performs great, and with unlimited internet, I can browse so much I want. Love it. True is, the screen should be an Amoled. Would make this phone almost perfect. Love watching YouTube in HD.

    This is a phone you can show in public. Looks stylish and interesting. Not plastiky – sophisticated.

  • Nicky

    Mobilicity Panache is a rip-off. Mobilicity doesn’t work inside of most concrete buildings. And once you bought it your’se stuck with mobilicity because 3g and 4g doesn’t work on this phone except using crappy Wind or double crappy Mobilicity.

    And I’m stuck with a new Panache that cost me $499, which I can’t use. And the snakeoildealer who sold it to me won’t take it back.

    DOUBLECRAP

  • randy

    this is my first touch screen phone and I love it. does all I ask of it. once I realized I needed to shut off background data it now runs all day instead of six hrs. ur review was excellent. I do find though my screen quality is awesome. also I only pay 45 a month unlimted everything through mobilicity. Thx again

  • Eric

    I’m wondering if anyone knows if unlocking the HTC Panache to use it on Wind voids its warranty.

    Thx.

  • Anti-Mobilicity

    Unfortunatelly the problem is Mobilicity, not the Panache. I have it and it is EXCELLENT!. Best phone I had in my life, but Mobilicity SUCKS. Slow internet speed, low reception inside buildings, the network connection to the phone drops all the time. I will try Wind.

  • Irfan

    I have had this telephone since yesterday and I find the user interface really confusing…:(

    There is simply too much information on the screen…with unnecessary icons etc…

    My old telephone was Nexus One and I had really loved the simple and functional interface…

  • tenzin

    If anyone knows how to use phone finder on htc panache,which is under location service in settings,My location.’Allows you to find your phone when it is lost or stolen.”

  • ejay

    i started out with mobilicity the very first day they started. their only and the biggest problems are as follows: 1) their policy’s are really the worst of all the cell phone companies that ever existed, and the people running the company really do not give a dam about how really really bad their policy’ are. 2) their tech support are no way up to standard on any of the phones that they sell. I bought one of their most expensive phones that they sell the “Panache which cost over $530 with tax’s included. since getting this phone and recommending it to at least 6 other people, who are now telling me off, though some of them have returned to Rogers and Fido and Bell, because of the policy’s of Mobilicity Leaders and decision makers. I have returned the Panache and was given a new one. well the new panache has the same problem, and so has every one that i recommended the panache to. it losses signal at all times, drops call and it is hard to sync it with any PC, even if you call mobilicity tech support for help, they then give you a number or tell you to call HTC, who them self are off very little help. I tried asking mobilicity to exchange the Panache for the Nexus S only to find out that they do not stand behind any of the phones that they sell, after seven days they will not exchange or return the money you paid for the phone. They will however tell you to call the phone protection plan people that you pay that $7 a month to if you buy the plan( that’s when you find out that you have been paying to a third party with their own rules, they charge you a deducible of between $100 to $150). This company has a lot of promise to be one of or the best cell phone companies in Canada If and only if they get rid of the people at the top who only interest is how much money they can stuff in their pockets and the customers be damned.

  • insigniaplas

    I thought I’d put my 2 cents in. I’m proud of my phone. The coverage is not up to par. Fights with my girl cause she thinks I’m ignoring calls. Mobilicity replaced my 1st phone in the 14 day period no problem and even gave me an extra set of headphones. Mine broke bcuz of my recklessness. That was the guy in my store though not policy. I’ll stick with mobilicity because I save too much cash. I owe the big three money because they hit you with false charges. They always say you go over on data plans and then return a credit after hours on the phone. I don’t expect the greatest service because I save too much cash.

  • tenzing

    To be frank this is completely garbage phone for sure,the battery lasting is totally sucked. Every time I have to carry charger along with me,the maximum time of battery lasting is three hours. Regarding the WiFi connection,even if you are in home it hardly catch home WiFi network. Speed of connection is even slower than any cheap internet service providers. I’ve done a big mistake by choosing HTC product. I’ll never recommend anyone to choose HTC products. I would have chosen iPhone or semsumg galexy 2 instead of htc. But the worse thing is moblicity don’t accept any of my choice of phone. Even the features of HTC is so complicated. Please do not buy any of HTC products,I am repenting on my choice..

  • Nadia

    I frankly have no problems with my HTC Panache. The camera is superb, I mean I could take a picture in bad lighting and it would come out perfect though, the battery could be better but there are ways to improve it if you actually take the time to LEARN how to use it I guess some people just expect perfection on a platter. All in all my phone was a great choice hell I’d choose it over the Samsung nexus 2 any day.

  • Anne

    Do not purchase HTC or go with Mobilicity!!! I am irritated to find I have the same problem as ejay (above). Multiple similar complaints should mean something to the company. Customer service is poor, they do not stand behind their products. The money I’ve saved on the plan will be going towards buying a new phone instead.

    Fail fail fail!!

  • Jax

    I didn’t find the battery lasted long at all. It sucks. I would never get this phone again. The camera is grainy too and the phone keeps crashing.
    My First HTC One phone’s camera was amazing but too bad it lasted less than a year.