HTC Touch review
Could the HTC Touch be a Windows Mobile iPhone Killer?
The Touch appeared at the same time as the iPhone initial release date and the TouchFLO™ interface is certainly innovative but it’s no iPhone pretender, nor do I suspect was it supposed to be.
The key to understanding the Touch is bioscreen, the driver behind TouchFLO™ and the touchcube, but more of that later.
I’m a bit of a 'GUI spotter' and the touchcube interface really intrigued me, so I awaited the Touch’s arrival so I could have a play.
First thing to say is that the Touch comes as a really nice Package, see Matt's unboxing video for the packaging porn but throwing excess consumption to the winds it was really refreshing to open a box containing a £300 device and feel like you’ve opened a box that should contain a £300 device. Nice styling details including the magnetic clasp and the subtle stamped indents and the device is presented very professionally. I’ve seen the Touch criticised as a 'Paris Hilton' device, certainly the package would please anyone obsessed by design or receiving it as a present. The form factor is a little feminine but the overall feel is very slick.
Specification wise the Touch is as I have said, a Windows Mobile 6 professional device with a TI OMAP™ 850, 201 MHz processor; only 128 Mbyte ROM and 64 Mbyte RAM ( a bit underpowered) and connectivity through GSM/GPRS/EDGE Tri-band 900, 1800, 1900 with 802.11b/g thrown in.
As always the Touch has been used in a real business environment, as part of an Exchange 2003 messaging system using Exchange Activesync. As a comparison, my current two devices of choice are my SPV E650 (HTC s710 or Vox) and the Orange SPV m3100 (HTC Hermes/TyTN).
Form Factor: the finish is the now voguish HTC matt black, the Touch is tiny and light and the screen is pretty bright.
Bioscreen: this is the technology that underpins TouchFLO™ and the touchcube and means that the screen on the Touch senses the area you’ve touched and decides what you were actually aiming for, no more back of the fingernail tapping, even I can use my stubby thumbs to use the interface one handed.
The HTC Today Screen Theme: very informative, showing the key things you need to know. Email, texts and missed calls along with a big bold digital clock and two more tabs nicely located that reveal an accuweather application and an application launcher. The weather app needs tweaking as the cities are pretty limited but you can find details here.
Battery Life: pretty damn good, it’s gone a full weekend with fairly heavy phone, WLAN and Bluetooth use with no need to recharge. I’ve used the Touch as my GPS (with an external Bluetooth unit) so it’s on and off its cradle and it’s never run out on me.
Package: you get a lot of stuff in that box, not only the USB cable and mains charger and the now standard HTC extUSB headphones and handsfree, but also a natty pouch, a 1Gb MicroSD card an 1100 mAh battery and an applications CD that includes SPB GPRS monitor and Sprite Backup.
Touchcube: Ok it was vaunted by journalists as an iPhone killer but it’s far from it, just a jazzy launcher that you can’t customise enough. It sits precariously on top of the Windows Mobile UI with poor integration and doesn’t really add that much to the user experience; it looks pretty but that’s about it. It certainly has a wow factor but I’m rarely wowed by wow factor alone
NO 3G: come on it’s the 21st century! I’m sure it would have resulted in a slightly larger device but it’s a shame you have to compromise on bandwidth and simultaneous data and voice access.
The screen: it’s a bit dim on standard battery setting, too dim to see in direct sunlight at least, but you can turn the backlight up a bit.
Speed & Memory: the device seems slow at times, I can’t decide whether it's the additional processing power needed by bioscreen or the underpowered device itself, you do get used to it but it’s a bit of a bind and causes temporary hangs every now and again. The lack of memory is a pain as all too frequently the Touch screams to free up memory when using the camera for instance.
Performance of Activesync: now I know ideally the connector of choice would be Vista and the mobile device centre but using Activesync 4.5 to sync mobile favourites etc, really, really grinds. It seems to adversely affect PC performance as well to the point where it becomes unusable with the Touch connected – this is a little unscientific observation and warrants more investigation really but it’s a pain.
Frankly the touch is a good looking bit of kit, it might be a bit feminine for some peoples taste but there’s no denying its good looks. It’s compact and a departure from normal utilitarian Windows Mobile devices; it’s the first Windows Mobile device that I’ve had that has ever elicited the question "is that a new Blackberry?". The size is a big winner, I remember the excitement I had when I first used the iMate JAMin, and I thought it was the perfect size, and the touch definitely beats that. It sits easily in the hand and can be used one handed with little difficulty.
The matt black finish is great although the screen and the case are magnets for fingerprints, when my wife saw it I nearly lost the device as she loved pretty much everything about its styling.
The touch has very limited buttons, a combined four way rocker and action button and two barely decipherable end and send buttons on the front, a camera button to one side, intuitively positioned and power and volume control, the latter seems a little flimsy, the action is not particularly positive but it does the job. You'll notice the lack of softkeys under the screen which is a real bind until you get used to it.
MicroSD and SIM slot are under a flap on the right hand side which is a little awkward to locate and even more awkward to open, you need to remove the battery cover to manage this; I have to admit to reading the manual to discover how, a first for me! That said in normal operation this is not something you’ll be doing everyday so it’s not too much of a problem.
There’s no cover on the extUSB port, thank heaven, and there’s a reset hole on the base of the device.
The Touch is a little too slow, not so slow as to make you want to throw it against something but slow never the less. Memory is lacking and far too often the camera application complains that there’s not enough memory on launch. A problem only rectified by a soft reset. This may be a memory leak and this might be addressed in a patch, here’s hoping as it’s one of the few things that let the Touch down. Slow it may be, but actual hangs were rare, maybe a function of how much more robust Windows Mobile 6 is. Voice quality was good no hints of tinniness and the volume more than adequate.
Battery: life is great, using WiFi, Bluetooth and Cellular extensively over a full weekend caused no problems at all no battery warnings.
It was interesting to go back to a touchscreen-only device after enjoying my QWERTY devices. I thought I’d miss having a QWERTY keyboard, however, after a little while the benefits of the bioscreen driver began to shine through. With a bit of practice you can use the on screen keyboard with your thumb making text entry a reasonably easy one-handed affair.
The screen needs firmer than usual pressure but once used to this you can reel off a text or two in fairly short order.
The winner on the touch is the HTC today plug-in:
A nice big digital clock with Outlook mails, texts and missed call registers clearly visible. The three tabs below are the home screen, and an accuweather connected forecast app.
With a five day forecast.
And a useful application launcher.
A mini task manager is included as well.
Which allows you to kill memory loaded programs to free up the Touch’s sparse resources, unfortunately a necessity rather than a helpful addition to the home screen.
TouchFLO™: TouchFLO™ is the much talked about interface that operates on the touch, running you finger from the bottom to the centre of the screen (just like using gestures on a tablet PC) launches the touch cube, a swipe right to left or left to right rotates the cube.
To reveal a second application launcher.
(Completely superfluous as you have one in the HTC today plug-in, it even has less (6) unconfigurable options). There's also a quick contact selection screen which allows you to store 9 contacts with their pictures.
BUT (Only if you have the pictures in your contacts) you can click to open the appropriate contact, launch the phone application, the call register or your contacts.
The final option is a media screen.
Which allows you to access HTC audio manager (a media player with an interface remarkable due to it’s resemblance to an iPod) or pictures or videos.
Touchcube is a great idea just really poorly implemented, the gestures could be great and if any of the launcher screens added anything to the device they could be pretty useful. Instead it’s a waste of time apart from the afore mentioned wow. It’s not an iPhone clone, it’s not multitouch, the key is bioscreen; the averaging technology which is a way of making a Windows Mobile 6 Professional device manageable. Like a standard phone, one handed operation is a breeze.
Office Mobile: Microsoft continue with their incomprehensible hiding of the office suite not visible in the programs folder just in the start menu. It’s an implementation of Office Mobile professional so you get spell checking and all the other bells and whistles.
Windows live messenger is included in this build. I bit the bullet and decided to make use of this, pretty standard fare but useful nonetheless.
CD based Aplications: The inclusion of full versions of Sprite backup (a very useful backup and restore program, even restoring after ROM upgrades) and SPB GPRS monitor to track those so called unlimited downloads.
Overall application stability is pretty good, only a couple of application hangs in a months use. Speed is an issue as sometimes you can wait 10 seconds whilst the touch contemplates it’s next move. Hopefully a patch will rectify this. The speed doesn’t make the device unusable just a little frustrating.
Ease of Use
The handset is tiny and one handed operation is pretty easy, the bioscreen driver makes the delicate device usable by even the most ham fisted - with a little practice.
Despite the speed problems I love the Touch. It’s the most appealing form factor I’ve had the pleasure of using and it’s going to replace my m3100. No more the geeky pouch on my belt, the portability of the Touch means you can lose it in a shirt pocket.
It runs TomTom 6, memory map and OneNote Mobile without a hiccup (only on their own mind you). Battery life is fantastic and the only way I would improve the Touch would be to beef up the memory and add 3G support.
In conclusion, the Touch is a very portable device that requires a little patience but provides a very satisfying user experience. TouchFLO™ is a gimmick (a pretty one) but if your looking for a fully featured yet discrete device you’ll have to go a long way to beat the Touch.
So, could the HTC Touch be a Windows Mobile iPhone Killer? - I don’t think so... however I don’t think HTC thought so either.
Review by: Alasdair