It took me a while to write this. You don’t know how many times I crossed out Gorgeous, Incredible, Beautiful Screen from my drafts. Because that’s why, like a moth to a flame, you’ll be charmed by the Butterfly. No other phone display, save for that on the HTC One, is more stunning than the crisp and bright wide screen of the Butterfly.
That’s 441 pixels per inch of Gorgeous. It weighs like pure display glass in your hand, with the polycarbonate body barely there, and that wide aspect ratio makes for a long phone – too long. It begs to be used for movie marathons, for showing off pics of your cats and babies, and for viewing desktop versions of websites whose mobile incarnations suck.
But good luck pulling out the Butterfly from your pants pocket and immediately using it. The Butterfly is long: you need to make sure you’ve safely pulled out the entire length. The power button is awkwardly placed, on the phone’s top end: every time you power on the the Butterfly, you almost always need both hands. But when the screen is powered on and showing an image or a video, it draws you in so completely that, in tandem with the Butterfly’s slim body, you are only barely reminded of the phone’s shortcomings: a camera that disappoints in low light, the lack of a physical shutter key, and an only Okay battery stamina.
You only need a week to discover that that Gorgeous, Incredible, Beautiful Screen comes with trade offs - some of them you can live with. Let’s get the Spec sheet out of the way.
Now let’s put things in perspective.
Gorgeous display and impressive viewing angles. The HTC Butterfly is said to be the first to introduce a 5 incher with full HD resolution on a wide screen 16:9 ratio with 441 ppi. The colors are vibrant without oversaturation, contrasts are great despite this not being a clear black display, and the viewing angles are superb. There are benefits to having a screen this clear and sharp in tandem with great viewing angles. You don’t have to be conscious about squarely facing the screen to watch a movie. Of course that also means your seatmate has an incredible view of that Korean drama you’re watching. You can watch a video with the Butterfly inside your bag and with you only peaking at it. And unless your overhead lights are incredbly assertive, you won’t need a stand for the Butterfly to prop it up: rest it flat on the table and continue watching that film.
Incredible screen tandems well with a good enough camera. There is a kind of deception happening here – an 8MP camera that’s good only with generous lighting and its pictures showing on a high ppi and sharp screen. That means all the food pics and kid shots and cat cuteness you took all look brilliant. Congratulate yourself. You can brag about having taken pics that look superb, but only on the Butterfly’s screen. On a computer, those pics tend to show some post-processing magic, the compensating sharpness, the noise on the fringes. I’m thinking HTC hopes all you do is take pics and upload them there and then, because, and againd, the pics look on the Butterfly’s screen.
Beautiful display renders desktop versions of websites well. If you’re into online ads or web design, you may often want to see a website’s primal self: desktop mode. That way you can see the links and banners and ads on the sides and the footer below and we all know those won’t show faithfully on a mobile version. Thankfully, the Butterfly’s landscape orientation shows a width of a site that doesn’t look too cramped or condensed, unlike in, say, a tinier screen.
The camera is a joy to use and keep using. There’s something reassuring about pics and vids you took that look great on the Butterfly, if only because of that display. Makes you feel grand. So you keep using the camera and uploading shots. And you brag about the pics and vids that make you feel grand. And on and on in a loop. Some of camera’s settings are not so easy to tinker with, but that’s okay since the normal setting works okay most of the time.
Beats Audio is loud without being tinny. The speaker grilles on the phone’s left and right sides are enough to momentarily silence half a car of MRT commuters who all suddenly look in your direction because you’re playing a Korean drama on full blast, and you’re the only one reading the subtitles. The Beat Audio earbuds that come with the Butterfly are adequate.
Slim profile. The side’s edges taper down in a soft curvature, so that the Butterfly feels smug in your hand. There’s a solid weight to it that makes you think it’s premodinantly glass. This secure feel plus the long profile is somewhat reassuring when taking calls, at least to me.
Offline mode is great for movie marathons. You you can watch up to five or six movies, because battery life is conserved. Try being online throughout and you’re good for maybe four hours. I’m still surprised at this video use stamina.
Storage expansion possibilities. I wouldn’t mind pairing a Butterfly with a Seagate Wireless Plus, for a pocketable 1TB of streamed movies. What makes this worth it is, again, that lovely screen.
Disappointing camera performance under low light. While the 8 MP rear takes great photos under sufficient light – from harsh daylight to diffused ambient settings – the preloaded Normal settings disappoints under low light. You clearly get grainy and noisy shots. Only when you amp up the ISO and choose non-moving subjects do you get to pull off decent shots and without flash at that. While HTC advertises some kind of pre-set flash strength, depending on the distance to the subject, I’m not happy with sometimes forced-flash results. But if you’re a patient shooter with time to get used to this phone cam’s idiosynracies, you can definitely use the camera for on the road photography, assuming all you do is post on Facebook and other social media platforms, because the pics are mostly good only for those.
No dedicated shutter key. That means it takes longer, compared to a Sony Xperia Z, for example, to capture a fleeting cute-cat-or-smiling-baby-now-here-gone-forever moment. I’m probably being fussy here, since you can just drag the camera icon to the ring, when in lock screen mode, to go to the camera. I just miss having a dedicated physical shutter key.
Power button is awkwardly placed. Again, the power button which is the wake up button, is found on top of the phone. On the HTC One, the power button’s position has been retained, but that’s on a 4.7″ screen unit, a shorter unit. The HTC Butterfly is long. No way you can pull this out of your pants pocket and use it ASAP. I found though that putting the Butterfly in your left breast pocket – pull out with right hand, turn on with left hand – is fine. Also, a Butterfly kept in a girl’s handbag and stowed upright is okay: the girl only has to peak into her bag and touch the unit’s tip, the power button, to peak at the lock screen.
Incidentally, or maybe no so much, when you’re watching a film on the Butterfly and holding it landscape mode in your left hand, your left thumb is always ready to wake the phone up. I am really running out of rationalizations for this power button. So I’ll stop here.
Power saver mode is not that much of a saver, especially if you movie marathon while going online all the time. But it’s workable.
The long form factor means some pocketing and pulling out of your pocket issues. I’m always afraid of pulling out the Butterfly from my front jeans pocket. If I do it too fast, it might fly out or slip out of my hand. If a pedestrian or pesky pamangkin bumps against me while I’m pulling out the Butterfly, it could hit the ground. I miss simply pulling out a 4.3 or 4.7 incher from my pocket, with one hand and with one hand, powering it up, and pocketing the phone back.
While the typography and icons on the Butterfly are crisp, the HTC Sense UI doesn’t have much going on to distinguish it as aesthetically premium, at least when compared to the rest of the Android OEM skins. Of course, in this context, no other OEM seems to be doing better: take the cartoonish approach, for example, to skinning done with the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the never-seen-anything-like-it S4.
The water protection certification is not certifiably reassuring, since the audio jack is uncovered and exposed, unlike with the Sony Xperia Z. I’m thinking the Butterfly will survive spills and some quick exposure to rains, but that’s it.
I had to spend a week with the HTC Butterfly to find out why I could only love it as a secondary phone.
Obviously, that 5 inch full HD wide aspect ratio 441 ppi display will temp you. But are the trade offs – the bad-in-low-light camera, the physical gripes about that overlong profile, the God-awful placed power button placement – surmountable? Only if you’re okay with a phone that you’re worried of dropping on the floor and one that’s not front-pocket-pull-out friendly at that. I’ve been told in coffee shops, several times, that I was holding a beautiful girlie phone. Only now is that realization making sense: the Butterfly belongs in a bag.
The HTC Butterfly is wonderful. I can live with the Gorgeous, Incredible, and Beautiful screen (who in his right mind wouldn’t?), but I doubt this will be my go-to primary phone. You won’t see me Google mapping on this while weaving through a street crowd. It’s too long, it’s too pretty.
It’s in my bag.
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