After the recent death of my W850, I fancied a change of Manufacturer (two Sony Ericssons in just over two years didn't inspire that much confidence). Having previously owned a HTC BlueAngel (aka QTEK 9090), I decided on a Windows Mobile device. The one problem with my old BlueAngel was its sheer size (huge screen with a slide out keyboard), and its brick-like weight.
I grabbed the T-Mobile variation of the Touch, quite ingeniously named the MDA Touch. Unlike previous handsets from T-Mobile, they haven't taken over the entire interface, instead, adding several useful icons (such as web'n'walk), and adding a bit of pink here and there (while I don't particularly like it, it certainly isn't annoying, and after about half an hour's usage, you simply forget it's there). The one thing on my mind, however, was whether or not this phone is really the iPhone killer it has been made out to be, or simply another handheld device which is overloaded with gimmicks.
First impressions with this handset are extremely positive. The box T-Mobile have wrapped it all up in is extremely sturdy, well designed, and I got the feeling that, while the design was fairly basic (glossy white with pink bits!, alot of thought and effort had been put into the packaging. The only downside to this is that the box itself is very hard to open, and it took me a good 10 minutes before I had everything unwrapped and inserted. Things are fairly fiddly when it comes to the memory and SIM cards (a 1GB memory card is included and pre-installed), but you can hot swap them without turning off the device. I have two SIM cards that I regularly use (one contract, one pay-as-you-go), and swapping these while the phone was still on resulted in no crashes or problems. The only problem (which is a known problem with T-Mobile and their MDA range is that if you activate the SIM PIN code, the device automatically activates roaming mode. This isn't really a problem, however, as I just use the device's password feature instead. The other thing that hits you when you open it is the size of the phone – if you thought it looked small in the shop's display, wait until you have it in your hand!
In the box, you get:
- The Phone
- Charger (USB)
- USB Sync Cable
- Headphones (USB)
- 1GB Memory Card (pre-installed)
- Two Styli
- Screen Protector
- Protective Case
While this isn't usually a large section, I thought that it deserved a large mention here.
The device is a fingerprint magnet (which is kind of unexpected considering that the device's nickname is the Touch), and to be honest, because of its extremely small size, I doubt that it would fair well in a pocket or handbag. HTC have gotten around this, however, by including a soft case, which you can slip the Touch into when you're not actually using it.
If you're like me, the first thing you say to yourself is "there's no way I'll use that". However, after about an hour, slipping the device back into its little pouch becomes second nature. It's extremely easy to insert and remove, and the opening at the top allows you to keep your headphones plugged in with it in the pouch. I've been using the device for just over a week now, and it hasn't picked up any damage (my w850i had a scratch within an hour), so this little invention must do some good. Another point to mention is that with the device in the case, if you press on the screen area (from outside the case), you cannot feel the screen itself bending, so the case must do its job extremely well).
HTC have also included a hole for a wrist or neck strap, but oddly enough, haven't actually provided one. It would have been nice to see a small neck strap, or even a little cleaning pad to occupy this space, but I guess you can't have everything!
The device itself sports a matte black look, which has a very rugged feel (I was unable to bend the battery cover by pressing on it). On top of the matte black, there's splashes of chrome everywhere, which complements the overall look and feel very well. Having this colour scheme on the device makes it look incredibly professional, and something that you wouldn't be ashamed to get out to show your mates in the pub!
The one problem with both the matte black and chrome finishes are the fingerprints that they attract. No matter what you do to this device, you can guarantee that after about half an hour's use, it'll need wiping on your shirt to give it a bit of a polish. Unfortunately, HTC have failed to include a cleaning cloth, and the included case doesn't do much in the cleaning department.
Using the TouchFlo interface doesn't particularly help this situation either, as it involves sliding your finger up and down the screen, and also left to right. If you look carefully at the device after using TouchFlo, you will soon see a smeary cross appearing, although, once the screen is switched on, they are very much unnoticeable.
The back of the device sports a very similar look, with the entire casing in matte black, and a chrome ring around the camera. Unfortunately, the camera and mirror are not protected in any way, and the mirror isn't really sunk into the casing enough, so I can see it becoming very scratched, very quickly. This, however, is a problem on most phones that feature a camera, and it's really nothing to worry about. It does have two nipple feet on the other end, however, I have yet to work out exactly what they protect.
HTC have pulled off the minimalistic look very well on this handset, and when I first realised exactly how many buttons there are, my first thought was "How am I going to map buttons that don't exist?". The front of the phone features very little buttons (a 5 way navigational keypad with an OK button in the middle, and two answer and reject buttons), and the sides don't have that many more either. In total there's 5 hardware buttons, plus the navi-pad (and yes, that's including the power button!.
As program features go, the Touch comes with the basic software set including Windows Mobile 6 Professional, Microsoft Office Mobile, and a few Multimedia applications (T-Mobile haven't included Windows Live, however, which does come preinstalled on HTC branded versions, and can be downloaded and installed from Microsoft's website).
The software on the Touch excels in two places: the Home screen, and the TouchFlo Interface.
First off, the Home screen features HTC's new plug-in, which features a large clock (with buttons to take you to your messages), a weather widget, and a shortcut panel. Each section is extremely finger friendly, and to do most things, you don't actually need to remove the stylus (I wish the same could be said for the Windows Mobile interface itself!.
While this does look big and bulky, it has literally no impact on the devices performance, however, if you don't have an unlimited data plan, this could cause a problem – as if it's been 2 hours since you last updated the weather status, and you click the weather icon, it automatically connects and downloads the latest data. It doesn't take long (~15 seconds on a GPRS connection), but could soon rack up the data bill if you're not careful.
TouchFlo is HTC's answer to the stylus. It is a 3D finger-friendly interface that lets you access your Music, Photos and Videos, make phone calls, and launch useful applications without actually touching the stylus. TouchFlo is activated by swiping your finger from the bottom of the screen up to the top (essentially dragging it up), and then the opposite to hide it. The interface can be shown and hidden from within any application (so you can easily change music tracks without disturbing your Excel spreadsheet!.
I won't go into the extreme detail of TouchFlo here, as it has been done to death elsewhere. If you really want to see it action, there's some rather cool videos of it in action on YouTube.
The coolness of the software on the Touch, however, goes beyond these two features. For instance, there's a new task manager in the top right corner, which allows you to select, activate and close running programs without having to go through the Start -> Settings -> Memory -> Running Programs route, and a new camera UI – which, similar to the Home screen, is extremely finger friendly – with huge buttons and a very easy navigational structure. The camera itself can be called from a hardware button as usual, and takes reasonably good photos – a demo of which I'll throw into the Hardware section below .
Unfortunately, however, past these few applications (and you cannot survive on just TouchFlo), you have to return to the Windows Mobile 6 interface, which is anything but finger-friendly. But that said, anybody who doesn't like using a stylus simply wouldn't purchase a Windows Mobile based handset – so, while it gets frustrating, it's not the end of the world. HTC have improved the WM6 interface by adding flick-based-scrolling, so you can scroll lists and web pages my flicking your finger, but before you can do that, you have to actually launch the application first, and navigating the Windows Mobile menus with a finger isn't exactly pretty!
There have been many complaints about the Touch's hardware – many of which are very realistic – when compared to other handsets (including a slower processor, lack of 3G etc).
While on paper the Touch may have a slower processor, it's certainly not slow in usage and actually outperforms my old BlueAngel, which was a much more expensive device with a faster processor. Other reviews have also said that the Touch has a lack of memory. However, they fail to mention is that just like 95% of other handsets out there that are made by HTC, this is a standard amount of memory. Granted, the device could perform better with more memory, but this is the same for every pocket pc I've used. If you find the memory too low on your device (it copes fine on mine with Wi-Fi on, Slingplayer streaming/decoding, and Pocket IE browsing), the memory on the device is actually upgradable, albeit very fiddly. Also, the lack of a slide out keyboard keeps the device nicely slim and light.
The phone comes equipped with a 2MP camera, which among mobile phones these days seems to be pretty standard. The camera can focus pretty well, and has a reasonable quality colour, although, if you're a photographer, don't rely on it. Photos can sometimes come out blurry, and can be a bit grainy. They are, however, 200 times better than those on my W850i. The lack of flash (or even an LED light) is somewhat disappointing, but that is the norm with HTC phones, so it's nothing unexpected.
The following images were taken with the touch. The fade on the sofa in picture 1 is actually the pattern (it's one of those wicker suites in our conservatory), and the second one is of our old Sky Disk (note the weird colour).
Another major downside to this handset is how it relies on USB. Everything is done via the USB port – including charging, syncing, and listening to music (yes, the headphones do plug into the USB port). Sadly, HTC seem to have given up on the good ol' 3.5mm socket, however, there is an adapter available from HTC that incorporates a remote control for audio and a 3.5mm jack, which unfortunately also comes with a Â£25 price tag attached.
The headphones that come with the phone, although USB, are incredibly nice to listen through. They're miles better than the stock phones that came with my W850i, and actually look the part. Unlike other headphones by HTC, they're a very nice glossy black colour, and feel very sturdy indeed.
I realise that this has dragged on quite a bit, so I'll try to keep it short and sweet.
Text and voice through the device are fine in the UK, but the phone lacks 3G, which is a huge disappointment. This means that there's no video calling facility (and no front-facing camera to show for it), and no high-speed internet. In the UK, you can currently get about 1mbps over a mobile connection (if you remortgage your house), but the Touch is limited to dialup speeds via GPRS. Surfing is not painfully slow, and most pages are fully loaded within about 5-15 seconds, depending on what type of page it is. One word of advice though: don't use T-Mobile's DNS servers. Ever!
So, after all of that, what's the verdict?
I believe that I can safely say that, even though this device has been marketed as an iPhone killer, it is certainly not. Not because it lacks features, but because the two devices are simply too different to compete. The chances are that anybody who owns an iPhone wouldn't look twice at the touch, and anyone who owns a Touch wouldn't dream of owning an iPhone.
That aside, the device is absolutely wonderful to use, which features extremely long battery life (listening to music for 5 hours dropped the battery by 10%, on standby for an entire day the battery drops about 1-2%) and has a great feature set. It is however limited by its slightly slower processor, and the lack of 3G. Anybody who really wants 3G may want to wait for the HCT Touch Dual, which features a slide out keyboard an 3G, however, if you're not interested in 3G, go for the touch, as its sleek and slender design, and extremely light weight definitely outweighs the advantage of 3G and a slide out keyboard.
Overall, I can say that I would highly recommend this device to anyone, although don't expect an iPhone killer device, as, at the moment, none exist. Considering the price of the unit (Â£260 SIM-Free, or Free on a contract - I pay Â£27.50 a month on Flext-25 + Web'n'Walk (12 months)) - it is an extremely good buy!
My Rating: 9/10