Americans in search of cool may be drooling over their new and expensive iPhones, but Apple isn’t the only company that’s spent the last couple of years working on a new ‘touch-technology’ smartphone. HTC, who makes most of the world’s Windows Mobile devices (usually rebranded by other companies) has just launched itself as a brand in Australia. And it’s brought the impressive, svelte and highly-tactile HTC Touch along with it.
Based around Windows Mobile 6 Professional, HTC has added an additional layer of large-icon, finger-friendly, touch-sensitive navigation menus which it calls its TouchFLO system. Transitions are three-dimensional and HTC has specially tailored the hardware to keep everything running smoothly; you can’t install TouchFLO on existing devices.
It all makes the Touch more one-hand friendly than any WM6 device before. But the first difference is the welcome screen. The most important information is most prominent: a big digital clock sits above prod-friendly buttons for new email, text messages and missed phone calls. Below this sits three more large buttons, which change the above to a weather display or a set of quick launch application buttons. All of this is simple to access via one hand and it’s far better than going through the Start menu. Below this area sits upcoming calendar appointments. There are only five hardware buttons on the whole device: two for accessing and ending phone calls, a multidirectional key for menu navigation, camera and power buttons. There’s also a slider switch to adjust volume.
But a quick, upwards flick of a thumb from the bottom of the screen accesses the real feature: the TouchFLO system. The interface springs up giving you even easier access to your applications. There are three pages and you cycle between them by flicking your thumb left or right – fun on its own thanks to smooth transitions on the cool, rotating, 3D prism structure. One menu has six large buttons for email, text messaging, Internet Explorer, Tasks, Calendar and Comm Manager (which controls the device’s radios: BlueTooth and WiFi are both included). Another page has three buttons for music, photos and videos while the third page offers ‘proddable’ shortcuts to your nine most-used contacts. It’s designed very well and you’ll find yourself simply flicking between pages in moments of boredom just to watch the transitions.
Unfortunately, once you’ve selected your application it won’t be long before you’re reaching for the (rather-short) stylus. It’s annoying that you can’t use TouchFLO to write a text message once you’ve selected it: instead you’re dumped back to WM6’s stylus-based input. HTC’s (very good) new media player has been given large, TouchFLO buttons but everywhere else TouchFLO only accesses top-level menu structures – leaving us with the feeling that the Touch is very much a version 1.0 – though it’s certainly not half-baked. We also disliked the system slowing down when too many programs were open at once, and Media Player stuttered through almost every WMV video we threw at it.
But there is evidence of HTC implementing touch technology further. Although it takes a fair bit of practice to be accurate, you can flick the screen up and down to send the it spinning through large lists (like contacts).
The two-megapixel camera is OK, but get used to a half-second shutter response and noisy photos in low light. HTC also includes a 1GB microSD card but we weren’t fans of the miniUSB-connected headphones, which also sport a microphone for handsfree calls: a universal 3.5mm jack is always better.
With WM6 it will always integrate better with Outlook than any Apple product ever will, though like the iPhone, the limitation to GPRS and EDGE, rather than 3G, will detract some users.
But at 112g and 14mm thick (2mm thinner than the iPhone) it’s highly pocketable and we found the battery lasted for a respectable three days under moderate usage before needing to be charged. Optus is selling it for various prices under contract but www.phoneshop.com.au’s price of $614 is very respectable. It suits ‘voice’ callers, who want the features of WM6 more than data specialists, but few people won’t like it. It’s sexy but lacks the wow factor of the iPhone. But it also lacks the fashionista stigma too and it’s actually available in Australia, right now.