Full HD screens are set to become the norm on smartphones in 2013 and one of the first to bring this feature to market was HTC. The HTC J Butterfly was exclusively released in Japan in December last year but the company has now unveiled an international model simply called the Butterfly. Thanks to online store MobiCity, we've managed to go hands-on! Here's our first impressions.
All about that display
The HTC Butterfly isn't exactly new -- the J Butterfly was first announced in October 2012 and a slightly modified version called the Droid DNA was launched on Verizon in the US in late November. The Butterfly is simply an international variant of the device that works on Australian 3G networks. HTC is unlikely to officially release this model in Australia, but MobiCity is claiming a "world exclusive", selling a the Butterfly unlocked and outright as a grey import.
The key feature of the HTC Butterfly is obviously its full HD display. It's a 5in screen with a resolution of 1920x1080 and it's seriously impressive. The screen boasts a pixel density of 440ppi, among the highest on the market. As a comparison, Apple's iPhone 5 has a pixel density of 326ppi while the Samsung Galaxy Note II offers 267ppi.
It's not the numbers on a specification sheet that are important, however. The HTC Butterfly's screen is without a doubt the most impressive we've ever seen on a smartphone. Colour reproduction is excellent, viewing angles are superb and brightness is almost unrivaled. This is an excellent display and one that has to be seen in the flesh to be fully appreciated.
The design of the HTC Butterfly also makes a great first impression. The phone is constructed largely from plastic, which strays away from many of HTC's previous aluminium unibody designs. However, the Butterfly is a very solid feeling device and there's no evidence that HTC opting for plastic has come at a cost of build quality.
There are a number of small touches that add to the premium feel including a metallic-like, gloss white finish on the back, thin edges that taper in from the centre of the device and what HTC calls a "micro-grill pattern along both sides. As a direct comparison, we prefer the fit and finish of the Butterfly over the popular Galaxy Note II. Both are large devices, but the Butterfly is just over 9mm thick and is very lightweight at 140g. By comparison, the Note II weighs 180g and is slightly thicker at 9.4mm.
There are a few design elements that we dislike, however. The top-mounted power/lock button is positioned in the centre, which makes it awkward to press without avoiding an awkward grip. The micro-SIM and microSD card slot is covered by a plastic flap that's ridiculously hard to pry open. The flap covering the micro-USB port at the bottom is easier to open, but given the phone isn't water or dust-resistant, we don't see the need for it. The battery isn't removable either. That helps achieve the attractive, tapered design but Android users who long for this feature will be left disappointed.
Sense UI: a positive or negative?
The HTC Butterfly runs the 4.1 Jelly Bean version of Google's Android operating system. Like most of HTC's smartphones it's skinned with HTC's Sense UI, an overlay over the top of the standard Android interface. Whether you like the interface or not will ultimately be a personal preference, but we feel the company often makes changes for changes sake. The default keyboard and the multitasking menu, for example, are two examples where Android's default options are both better implemented and more effective than HTC Sense.
We do like many of HTC's Sense widgets and there's a few nice touches throughout the OS that you won't find on any other Android phones. We've only used the Butterfly for a few hours so we can't make a final judgement on performance. However, our initial impressions are positive as there is no evident lag or slowdown so far. Many previous HTC Android phones have suffered performance issues as Sense is a fairly heavy UI skin. We'll be keen to put this to the test when we publish a full review of the Butterfly in the next week.