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HTC Advantage

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Editor's Note May 2008: Check out our review of the HTC Advantage X7510 that will replace the first generation advantage, but will be available only through importers.

Review posted July 29, 2007 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Is it a PDA, a mini-computer or a phone? It's a bit of each. While the HTC Universal (commonly sold as the i-mate JasJar and other carrier-branded names) tried to be a phone, HTC has learned that most folks don't want to hold a handheld computer to their heads or keep in touch using something too large to slip easily in a pocket. Enter the Advantage, a handheld computer first and a phone second. In fact, the X7501's quad band GSM radio and triband HSPDA radio are there primarily to provide a network connection anywhere GSM and/or 3G is available. Yes, you can make phone calls, but you'll need to use the included wired headset, a Bluetooth headset or make do with the device's excellent speakerphone. There is no earpiece for "hold it to your head" style conversation.

HTC Advantage

The Advantage looks like a miniature notebook, but unlike many that squeeze an extremely high resolution display into a small piece of glass, confounding anyone over 40, the X7501 goes with VGA on a 5" display. Though my eyes are neither spritely nor keen, my first reaction was "display for the blind!". And indeed, the menu bars, taskbar and Start Menu font are quite large. But after using it for a few minutes I grew to appreciate the setup. It's easy to use a finger on larger targets, and it's easier to read the screen both close and at a distance. Given the tabletop mode (pictured above) this is a good thing: you need not lean forward from your comfy chair to press your nose to the glass to see the screen. Lean back, relax and you can still read text, enjoy video and more. And for those times that you really want to cram more info on screen, say when viewing a web page or working with an Excel document, you can. New in Windows Mobile 6, Internet Explorer Mobile has a res view option that runs the screen in true VGA rather than a pixel doubled version of QVGA. And that's where the Advantage X7501, newly released, shines over the several month old X7500: the X7501 runs Windows Mobile 6, while the X7500 had the older Windows Mobile 5 OS (and upgrade should be available for the X7500 this summer). The X7501, unlike the 7500, is sold in the US through retails outlets like CompUSA. The price tag is $899; not trivial by any means. But HTC sees this as an instant-on notebook replacement that's not prone to viruses, endless Windows Updates and other things that slow your notebook computing experience on the road.

Features at a Glance and Included Goodies

The HTC Advantage runs Windows Mobile 6 Professional (the new name for Pocket PC Phone Edition). It has an Intel 624MHz processor that's still the king of speed on PDAs and phones, 128 megs of RAM and 256 megs of flash ROM. There's an 8 gig microdrive inside, a miniSD card slot that's SDHC compatible, a 5" transflective VGA display, 3 megapixel camera with flash and autofocus lens, full GPS, WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0. The Advantage comes with a detachable QWERTY keyboard.

HTC Advantage X7501

In the box you'll find the unit, keyboard, 2 clear styli with black ends (how pretty), an attractive brown leather case with textured grain that uses a magnet to stay shut (more on the magnet business later), USB sync/charge cable, world charger with standard US prongs, 3.5mm stereo headset with inline mic, VGA-out cable, software CD with ActiveSync and a 60 day trial version of Outlook 2007, a very thick and well-written manual, getting started guide and a screen protector.

 

 

 

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Design and Ergonomics

The Advantage has two usage models: clamshell mode a la notebook and slate mode (like a PDA or slate tablet computer). When in slate mode you can use it in landscape or portrait orientation, with portrait being perfect for eBook and PDF reading. The Advantage has a few wow-factor features, and one of these is the wafer thin keyboard that attaches to the machine via a magnet. That's it: put the two close together and the ultra-strong magnet clamps them together. And boy, do they stay together: no chance that the Advantage will topple off the keyboard when bumped, jiggled or shaken. It takes a bit of effort to separate the two. In fact, there's a warning sheet under the keyboard in the box that tells you to keep two inches or so between the Advantage and your credit cards, lest the cards be demagnetized. Pacemaker users are warned as well. And this warning is repeated throughout the manual. You get the idea: the magnet is nifty, ingenious and cool; but keep your credit-card toting wallet away. The leather case has a metal plate in one side that bonds with the Advantage when the keyboard is in place as a screen cover. This keeps the case closed (it's magnetically attracted to the dual purpose keyboard/cover).

HTC Advantage X7501

The magnet on the Advantage's lower right edge.

HTC Advantage X7501

The keyboard is extremely thin, yet rigid. Just attach it via magnet and type away-- no waiting or utility fiddling required.

The keyboard itself is beautiful, and when clamped to the Advantage the package looks downright attractive. It's only 3mm thin, yet it's extremely rigid with no torsioning at all. It doubles as the screen cover when carrying the unit: put it with the clear plastic end at the bottom and the magnets do their thing to hold it all together. That clear section is there for a reason: when the cover is in place, a quick press of the power button turns on a sub-display feature that shows you carrier status, time, date and signal strength. According to the manual, if WorldMate is installed, you'll also see the weather and world times. The Advantage knows when the cover is on, and changes the display to show you these goodies at the bottom, there is no separate physical sub-display.

HTC Advantage X7501

Cover on with sub-display illuminated.

HTC Advantage X7501

The back section is clear so you can see the sub-display when the keyboard is used as a screen cover.

The keyboard's keys have little travel and just a bit of tactile feedback. You need only press very lightly on a key, no serious button-mashing required as on some QWERTY slider Windows Mobile phones like the T-Mobile Wing and Cingular 8525 (HTC TyTN). I personally like this: it's hard enough to press a small target accurately, pressing it with force is even harder. The keyboard is sufficiently large for rudimentary touch typing, but narrow enough that you can thumb type while holding the Advantage in your hands (again, the magnet is strong so you can hold the Advantage with keyboard just as if they were attached with a latch or hinge). The keys are square, flat-topped affairs with good spacing in between. The white letters are large and contrast well with the black background, and secondary function keys are visible in blue, but they're not distractingly popping. The top row has keys that launch IE, email and brightness settings, along with the two usual Windows Mobile softkeys, and OK button, Start Menu button as well as call send and end keys. Unlike the HTC Universal, there is no dedicated number row but there is a Ctrl key next to the space bar which makes cut, copy and pastes a breeze. There are 4 arrow keys in the lower right section of the keyboard that become page up/down when the blue Fn key is pressed. The Fn key is sticky, so you need not hold it down while pressing the desired key. Letters, symbols, spacebar, enter and other keys are in standard locations.

The Advantage weighs 12.66 ounces-- 3/4 pound. It measures only 5.25 x 3.85 x 0.63 (0.79 with the keyboard/cover attached) making it pocketable, depending on your fashion tastes, but you'll know it's there. Use a belt wink. In the world of haute mobile technology populated by the likes of the OQO, Sony Vaio UX and UMPCs, the Advantage is still relatively small and light. It looks good, very good when mated with its keyboard. The combination of gloss and matte black finishes suit the device, though it makes the iPhone seem fingerprint-resistant in comparison. The X7501 picks up fingerprints and hand oils like crazy, and they aren't easy to get off.

HTC Advantage X7501

There's that magnet again. The cover stays on so well that you can pick up the device by the lid.

On the front bezel you'll find the 5-way joystick that illuminates when charging (amber is charging, green is charged). It's on the left, I assume so your right hand is free to use the stylus or a finger. OK and Windows Start Menu buttons live on the left side of the display and the web browser launch button is on the right. Use that button to also activate VueFLO in the browser. VueFLO is another neat parlor trick: tip the Advantage sideways to scroll a web page sideways, tip up and down to scroll up and down. It works quite well and you can adjust the sensitivity. At the middle it worked well, but at higher sensitivity settings it reminded me of a marble that wouldn't stop rolling once started (and I discovered that I rarely hold a device perfectly still). When in a web browser (IE or Opera) with VueFLO enabled, you'll see a small ball with center dot at the top of the menu bar. The little dot rolls around as it senses movement.

The power button is on the right side: press it to put the Advantage sleep, press and hold to turn the unit completely off. Also on the right are the 3.5mm stereo headset jack, buttons for HTC's Comm Manager (press and hold to launch Voice Recorder) and the camera (this button has a 2-step press since it acts as the autofocus/shutter button, so press it all the way in to the second stop). The volume slider is on the top left side, and the combined proprietary HTC VGA/USB host 1.1 port are on the left. A VGA cable is included in the box, but you'll have to spend $25 to get the 4-in1 video/S-video/VGA/USB host cable. We got a hold of that cable, and it works fine with USB flash drives, card readers and mice. The Advantage can't supply much power to USB devices, so only low-powered and self-powered devices will work (or plug in a powered USB hub). There are speakers on each side of the X7501 (dual mono, as far as we can tell).

The battery, miniSD card slot and SIM card slot live under a plastic door on the bottom edge. While the device and keyboard are extremely well-build and exude quality, that plastic door feels a bit flimsy. The miniSD card slot is hot-swappable, but you must remove the battery to insert or remove a SIM card. The miniSD card slot is SDHC compatible. The camera lens and flash are on the Advantage's back, as is the reset hole. The stylus slides into a silo on the top right edge of the PDA.

Data, Phone and Reception

The HTC Advantage X7501 is a quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM world phone that works anywhere in the world GSM service is available. It has EDGE for data as well as 3G, and the faster HSDPA flavor at that. It's sold unlocked, which means you can use it with any carrier's SIM. HTC's network settings wizard detected our two SIM cards (T-Mobile and AT&T) and offered to create the correct settings for each. No need to find APN, MMS server and other settings and enter them yourself-- nice. You will have to remember to turn off HSPDA if your carrier doesn't offer it or if you're not in an HSDPA coverage area. This is a somewhat odd device to use for voice calls given the distinctly non-phone ergonomics. That said, voice quality is excellent and signal strength on the 850 and 1900MHz bands is quite good. If you make or receive a call with no wired or Bluetooth headset connected, the Advantage uses speakerphone mode, which is both louder and clearer than most phones. Note that there is no vibrate mode on the Advantage, though you do have the usual selection of ringtones and can use your own MP3s as ringtones.

HTC Advantage X7501
HTC Advantage X7501

The real purpose of the Advantage's phone radio is data, and it is indeed a pleasure to use on AT&T's HSDPA network. In the Dallas area, we got 565k- 929k on their 3G HSDPA network using the included IE Mobile and Opera with DSLreports's mobile speed test. Web pages don't load quite as fast as WiFi 802.11g, but it's close enough that we were never bothered by page load times. The Advantage's 624MHz processor's speed also makes for fast page rendering. On T-Mobile's US EDGE network, we averaged 120k, which made for quite bearable load times, but not the whiz-kid speeds of HSDPA. The Advantage loads pages more quickly than the HSDPA-enabled AT&T 8525 on the same network with the same SIM.

HTC includes Cyberon's Voice Speed Dialing, as per usual. This is version 1.2 and it supports dialing over headsets, including Bluetooth headsets and car kits. The application works well, with the only drawback being you have to record voice tags since it doesn't use true speech recognition. As with all Windows Mobile phones, the Advantage has smart dialing, so you can type in a few letters of a contact's name to bring up a list of matches from which to to dial. And it supports the standard goodies like call forwarding, conferencing and call barring. The Advantage X7501 is no different from other Windows Mobile phones when it comes to phone features (minus vibrate and an earpiece speaker for against-the-head calls).

Horsepower and Performance

By Windows Mobile standards, the HTC Advantage is fast, thanks to its Intel PXA270 processor running at 624MHz, which is still the fastest processor used on a Windows Mobile phone or PDA. Menus pop down quickly, the Programs group opens quickly and the icons are all there, no leisurely roll call and drawing of them as we found on the old T-Mobile MDA with its 200MHz processor. PDF files scrolled more quickly compared to most other handhelds and Office documents didn't send it crawling. The handheld has an ATI Imageon W2282 graphics chip, which handles digital video capture and playback, camera image processing, photo viewing and even audio according to ATI. Sorry, this isn't a killer 3D graphics processor for gaming.

HTC Advantage

The HTC Advantage has a double-helping of RAM and flash ROM. The 128 megs of RAM is a luxury, since we often see Windows Mobile devices with 20 to 28 megs of free RAM at boot, and that's just not enough to run several memory hungry programs at once. The X7501 has 83 megs of free RAM at boot! This means you'll rarely have to end programs to free up memory and speed up the device. This really helps move the Advantage out of the disadvantaged PDA segment and into more robust laptop replacement territory. As does the the 8 gig Hitachi microdrive inside, with ~ 7.625 gigs free for storage. No more praying for high capacity flash memory cards, the HTC has plenty of space for documents, images, videos and more. Though the Hitachi microdrive's specs are impressive in terms of speed, in our test flash memory was faster, so we recommend storing applications on the X7501's flash memory when possible. There's 130 megs free for use, so you'll likely not run out of room for new programs.

But should you need even more storage, or just a handy way to transfer files, the Advantage has a miniSD card slot that supports high capacity SDHC cards. The card is hot-swappable and lives under a plastic door on the unit's bottom. We tested it with a variety of cards up to 2 gigs in capacity (we don't yet have an SDHC 4 gig card) and all worked well.

Display and Multimedia

The Advantage has a 5" LED backlit display that's capable of displaying 65K colors. As we've noted, it's VGA resolution, and like all Windows Mobile Professional Edition and Pocket PC Edition PDAs and phones, it works in both landscape and portrait orientations. The display is clear, saturated and bright, though not the brightest we've seen (set it to near max and it's quite bright, but the mid-setting is average). The machine has a proprietary HTC connector for both VGA out and USB host 1.1. The VGA cable is in the box, and you can hook up the Advantage to your TV, monitor or projector. Get the $25 HTC 4-in-1 cable or the $120 HTC docking station with VGA and 2 USB host ports and you've got the makings of a low resolution mini-desktop when you attach a monitor, mouse and keyboard (we suggest a Bluetooth keyboard given the power requirements of USB keyboards). Use the included cable and a projector to give PowerPoint presentations-- pretty handy for the traveling business woman or man. HTC includes a settings applet called TV Out that allows you to turn on this feature, set NTSC or PAL and select between S-video and VGA-out (the included cable is VGA only, you'll need that 4-in-1 cable for S-video).

For those who have eagle eyes and want everything to run in VGA mode, there's a free utility called MvRTrueVGA. Note you may experience some bugs using the app, and beware of mixing it with other utilities that manipulate the screen. If you've used the old Toshiba e805 or a Dell Axim X51v with VGA utilities, you know the look and quirks associated with hacking everything to VGA. Personally, I'm happy with the large, finger-friendly targets of standard Windows Mobile 6 and the option to use high res modes where it counts-- IE and Opera, along with zoom and font changes in Office Mobile, eReader and Acrobat LE. Several GPS mapping applications, including the free Google Maps, run in full VGA resolution as well.

HTC Advantage left side
HTC Advantage right side

Given the 8 gig microdrive, the Advantage is a capable MP3 player replacement. As with all Windows Mobile devices, Windows Media Player Mobile is included, and it handles MP3, WMA and AAC files. Media Player Mobile supports playlists, protected PlaysForSure tracks (i.e. Napster), and background playback and can sync to Windows Media Player on the desktop. For those who want more features, there are several third party players, several of which are covered in our Pocket PC MP3 player review. Sound out through the included stereo headphones is excellent, and quality through Bluetooth stereo headsets is very good, though not quite as good as the keenly music-oriented HTC Touch. We tested regular headphones with the X7501 since it has a 3.5mm jack and had no problem using a variety of headphones.

Video playback is quite good thanks to the Advantage's fast CPU and ATI graphics processor. Files up to 600kbps played well and our killer 1400kbps test file that plays at 2 fps on most Pocket PC phones played at 9 fps on the X7501. Windows Media Player supports WMV, ASF and some MPEG4 format videos. Again, there are third party video players such as The Core Media Player Mobile which support many more formats. Regardless of which you use, watching video, especially VGA video on the 5" is a treat. HTC also includes their Streaming Media player for watching 3GP and MPEG-4 video streamed from web sites.

Software

The HTC Advantage X7501 runs Windows Mobile 6 Professional Edition (formerly known as Pocket PC Phone Edition). This isn't a Windows Vista machine, for those of you who were still wondering. Instead it runs the Windows Mobile OS and programs made for Windows Mobile (of which there are plenty). Our X7501 is running the first release version ROM (not pre-release): 2.19.453.4, dated June 28, 2007 with radio version 1.47.51.00 for you hardcore HTC fans.

Standard for Windows Mobile is the mobile version of Microsoft's Office suite which allows you to view, edit and create Word and Excel files as well as view and present PowerPoint presentations. Windows Live which includes Live Search, MSN Messenger and Hotmail support is there along with MS Pictures and Videos, a file manager, clock with alarms, Voice Recorder, Search, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker, Internet Sharing and ActiveSync. The mobile version of Outlook, called Messaging, handles POP3, IMAP and MS Direct Push email as well as text and MMS messages. It syncs email, calendar, contacts, tasks and notes with Outlook on the desktop or with an Exchange server. For those new to Windows Mobile, note that you must use ActiveSync 4.5 or newer on Windows XP and Windows Mobile Device Center on Vista to sync information with the Advantage. No Mac syncing software is in the box, but Missing Sync for Windows Mobile 6 is now in public beta for those who wish to sync with the Mac. ActiveSync 4.5 and a 60 day trial of Outlook 2007 are included on the companion CD.

HTC includes bundles a few third party applications including Opera 8.65. Opera is a very full-featured web browser that supports multiple windows, setting the user agent string (you can tell it to identify itself to web servers as a desktop browser if you wish) and in general does an excellent job of desktop-like rendering. It has a variety of view settings and runs in a VGA-like manner which means you can see a large portion of a web page. Excellent inclusion, HTC! Also bundled are Adobe Reader LE, a link to get TeleNav (an excellent mapping and directions application that works on a monthly subscription model) and Tao Group's MIDlet Manager for Java.

The usual suspects are here for an HTC device: Comm Manager and their WLAN applet to manage wireless connections, Clear Storage (reset the device to factory specs and wipe out data in flash memory), a Today screen plugin with shortcuts to brightness, GPS Assist, Comm Manager and TV Out along with a battery meter, HTC Task Manager which allows you to exit applications rather than minimize them with the close box and a utility to format the microdrive.

New on the Advantage is HTC's VueFLO that works in conjunction with a G-sensor inside the device to determine motion. This feature is only for IE and Opera (why?) and allows you to scroll simply by tilting the device in the direction you wish to scroll. It works well and my only wish to is see it used for more applications. Don't worry: if you're in a bumpy bus or SUV, you can turn this feature off.

OS version

 

Bluetooth and WiFi

WiFi is the usual HTC stuff, with their full-featured WLAN utility and overall good performance. With the power saving set to middle, the Advantage had average PDA phone range and with the radio power set to high performance, its range equaled our notebooks'. We saw 1370-1450k average download speeds using IE. Opera, though a more sophisticated browser in most all respects is slower than IE for data transfer speeds, averaging 700-800k (Opera is also slower over EDGE and 3G connections). Given the HSDPA connection and its relatively good performance, we found little need to switch to the more power-hungry WiFi connection (we're in a metro area that's well-blanketed with AT&T 3G).

The X7501 has Bluetooth 2.0 (not +EDR) and uses Microsoft's Bluetooth stack and software. With a device that's shaped like a mini-notebook, a headset is imperative, especially if you prefer to not host all calls on speakerphone. For those who are allergic to wires or carry the phone longer than the headset's cable length away from the head, a Bluetooth headset is a must. Happily, the HTC Advantage X7501 behaved well with Bluetooth headsets and the plug-and-play (non-integrated) Bluetooth car kits in our test arsenal. We tested the Plantronics Discovery 655, Plantronics Explorer 330 , Advantek multi-purpose hifi speakerphone/car kit and the Jawbone, all of which paired easily, had good range and sounded clear and loud for both incoming and outgoing voice. For stereo A2DP we tested the Advantek which didn't work (the Advantage would not send music to the speaker even though it discovered and used the A2DP profile), the Plantronics Pulsar 590A stereo headset with inline mic (it worked great for calls as well as music, with good sound quality and AVRC playback control) and the Motorola S9 stereo headphones which worked well and sounded good other than their usual background hiss.

Bluetooth profiles include headset, handsfree, A2DP stereo with AVRC, serial port, SAP (used primarily with integrated car kits), HID, BPP and PAN. The PDA uses Microsoft's Bluetooth stack and driver which lacks friendly wizards, but is stable and gets the job done. The Advantage has the WinMo Connection Sharing applet to make it easier to use the phone as a modem for a notebook or desktop.

HTC Comm Manager

The HTC Comm Manager.

GPS and TeleNav

The Advantage has a full GPS, not a 911-only version. The 20 channel GPS managed to acquire 9 satellites from a cold start under partly cloudy skies in a minute, with faster warm starts. The Advantage held onto 4 to 5 satellites on the first floor of a two story brick-front home as long as we stayed within 10 feet of a wall with a window. To speed up acquisition time, HTC includes QuickGPS which downloads basic satellite data over 3G/GPRS, WiFi or ActiveSync (we couldn't get a download most of the time over a solid HSDPA connection, but WiFi worked fine, though a bit slow). The machine doesn't ship with mapping or navigation software, though there is a link to download TeleNav which is a very good product, though it requires a $9.95 monthly subscription fee and a data connection. TeleNav is a joy to use on the Advantage, with large intuitive icons that are perfect for finger control and viewing in-car. Though like most Windows Mobile Professional devices, the Advantage's screen isn't fantastic outdoors, the screen remains viewable in-car (turn up the display brightness as needed to improve readability). Even if you haven't used a GPS before, you'll get going with TeleNav in no time; it's one of the most friendly navigation applications available. The only drawback is you can't load maps on the device, instead they're downloaded as needed over HSDPA, EDGE or even WiFi if the Advantage is in range of your hotspot.

When you launch TeleNav, you'll see large icons for Drive To, Search, Maps and Traffic and Tools/Extras. Maps and Traffic are likely where you'll spend most of your time, and these include Current Location, Favorites, Recent Places, Intersections and more (see screen shot below). TeleNav's POI database isn't the best we've seen for some categories: Shopping/Electronics shows lots of Radio Shack and local software companies but not the several Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA or Fry's locations within a 7 mile radius). That said, we could easily search by business names to find each of these stores. When you select a business, you can route to that location or call that business. We did note one bug: there are two icons for Gas Station and Gas Stations under the Business POI screen-- oops.

TeleNav main screen

TeleNav main screen

TeleNav main screen

TeleNav Maps and Traffic screen

Directions are shown on-screen in 3D and are spoken in a loud and clear voice. Routing is solid and there are options for fastest or shortest route. Maps download very quickly over 3G HSDPA and it's still usable over EDGE. We love the traffic feature which shows traffic levels along your route, so you can spot slow-downs easily. The device can also notify you with spoken traffic alerts, show 2D or 3D maps, allow for fastest/shortest/avoids highways/prefer highways/avoid traffic routing and it has a toll free call-in number if you wish to dictate your destination rather than type it. When updates are available, TeleNav notifies you and gives you the option to download them to your device (don't forget your 4 digit PIN, because you'll have to enter it again when running the new version for the first time). All in all, good stuff.

For those who prefer other solutions, any Windows Mobile 6 compatible solution should work such as TomTom or CoPilot. For those on a budget who don't spoken need-turn by-turn directions, both Google Maps and Virtual Earth Mobile work fine with the X7501 (you'll have to tell Virtual Earth that the GPS uses COM 4, but Google Maps figures it out by itself). The VGA display makes for wonderful mapping and large on-screen directions. The two side-firing speakers are loud enough to be heard in not terribly noisy cars. As with all Pocket PCs, the screen isn't at its best in direct, bright sunlight, so geo-cachers and hikers, stick with a dedicated handheld GPS meant for outdoor use or shield the Advantage's display from the sun.

Google Maps screen

Google Maps, very readable when not shrunk down to fit this web page.

Google Maps screen

Satellite view has never looked so good on a handheld (the E-TEN Glofiish X500+ does come close).

Camera

While the X7500 had a front-facing video conferencing camera, the X7501 forgoes this since no US carrier supports simultaneous 2-way video calling. The Advantage boasts a rear-facing 3 megapixel camera with autofocus lens, a first among Windows Mobile PDA and smartphones. Alas, this is an HTC product, which is generally a good thing unless we're talking cameras: theirs just never impress us against the competition. This is not a horrid camera, and it's certainly better than E-TEN's offerings, but 3MP Nokia and Sony Ericsson Cybershot phones still win. In fact, the 2MP fixed-focus lens Apple iPhone produces more pleasing shots. The camera falters on 3 counts: poor white balance, inaccurate color and higher than expected noise. Happily, all 3 are easily fixed with a desktop image editor, but we wish HTC would tweak their imaging software to match what's seems to be very good imaging hardware.

Sometimes, avoiding the auto settings and going manual improved white balance and color. The pool shot on the right repeatedly turned out too warm with a near-brownish cast and it was too dark. When we selected outdoor/sunlight white balance manually we ended up with the improved shot on the right. Colors are still too warm and the day looks darker than it was, but the shot is decent. Lots of detail and neutral color help the Advantage, as with the Buddha on the rocks image below, which came out fine with auto settings. It does have a tenancy to white out in moderate sunlight (note the blown-out rocks and loss of detail in the pebbled cement).

Indoor shots are extremely warm (orange), and surprisingly selecting the indoor incandescent white balance mode manually didn't change things much at all. There's also plenty of noise in indoor shots, as you can see from our indoor still life. In that shot, enough natural light was streaming in from a nearby window to prevent the orange color cast. The bright LED flash didn't improve colors much but it did reduce noise. You can turn the flash on and off with the tap of a button in the viewfinder. Once you turn it on, it stays on as long as the camera application is running (or you turn it off, of course). The flash is so bright we received endless complaints and exclamations about seeing spots when we used the flash on our human subjects (the cat squinted and walked away). As you might guess, it makes a great impromptu flashlight.

sample photo
sample photo
sample photo

The camera interface is the same as that used on other recent HTC Windows Mobile Professional phones such as the HTC Mogul, 8525 and Wing. The entire screen is the viewfinder, and that seems immense on a 5" display. There are intuitive icons to common settings and there's even an option to take a photo by pressing half way down on the shutter button (the camera button on the unit's side) or all the way down. It's a bit hard to press the button all the way without creating camera shake, so we love this option. Press half way down and the camera focuses relatively quickly then takes the shot. There's a post-view screen and there are options to save images and video to internal memory, the microdrive or a miniSD card.

The camera can take photos up to 2048 x 1536 resolution and has up to 8x digital zoom (not available at the highest resolution). It can take photos at a variety of lesser resolutions including those suitable for picture caller ID, Today Screen backgrounds and MMS and there's a panorama mode. The camera has options for center vs. average metering, 4 quality settings, white balance, image effects, burst and timer modes.

Video is more impressive and we liked the quality, which competes well with the Nokia N73 (but not the Nokia N93 or N95). The camcorder can shoot video with audio at CIF 352 x 288, QVGA 320 x 240 176 x 144 and 128 x 96 resolutions. It saves files in MP4 format that Quicktime under Windows but not Mac OSX could play.

Battery Life

The X7501 has a 2200 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable. Unlike most PDA phones, the battery isn't under a door on the back, but rather there's a plastic door on the bottom edge of the unit that conceals the battery. Lift a metal slider-latch integrated into the battery's end, and slide the battery out. The Advantage uses HTC's usual 5v, 1 amp world charger, but it's a more compact travel charger design with US prongs. You can use chargers from other recent HTC devices like the TyTN/AT&T 8525, HTC Universal (e.g.: i-mate JasJar) and HTC Wizard (Cingular 8125, T-Mobile MDA).

For a powerful device with triple wireless and a 5" display, the Advantage has excellent battery life. Put the Advantage in flight mode overnight and the battery level doesn't drop at all. You can literally read eBooks all day and into the night with the screen brightness set low. It can play MP3s with the screen offer for over 11 hours. For business use (email, web, Office docs), it should last all day with the 3G radio on and in use. That's certainly better than a UMPC or notebook. We'll update this section as we have more time to test the battery under more scenarios, but so far it looks very good by handheld computer standards.

The Value Proposition and a Few Comparisons

If you need full Windows Vista, then look elsewhere. And yes, the Advantage is expensive. You'll need to have the money and a need for extremely mobile computing. If you're nodding yes on both counts, then the X7501 offer excellent value and utility compared to other micro-mobile solutions currently on the market. It's a large screen portable GPS. It's half the price of the pint-sized Windows Vista micro computers: the OQO model 2, Flipstart and the Sony Vaio UX 380/390N. It's priced a few hundred below UMPCs like a decently-appointed Samsung Q1 Ultra and import UMPCs. It's one of the few solutions to offer integrated, unlocked worldwide WAN networking in the form of triband HSDPA 3G, and of course it's well-connected with Bluetooth 2.0 and WiFi 802.11b/g, as are most Vista competitors. A $1,500 HSDPA version of the Q1 Ultra is due out, to be fair. Since the Ultra has only an SD card slot, you can't use a PC Card or ExpressCard WAN solution. Ditto for the Sony UX, which has only a Memory Stick slot. The OQO model 2 has an EVDO option, but that won't work in Europe or Asia.

Size Comparisons:

HTC Advantage X7501

Samsung Q1 Ultra UMPC and the HTC Advantage

HTC Advantage X7501

I-mate JasJar and Advantage

Nokia E90 and Advantage

Nokia E90 and Advantage

HTC Advantage X7501

Palm Treo 700p, iPhone and Advantage

While HTC markets the Advantage's 3G capabilities (they are a PDA phone and smartphone company after all), the stronger selling point may well be that this isn't Windows Vista. I like Vista just fine, but so far all of the micro PC and UMPCs we've reviewed or used running Vista (and that's most all of them) are too darned underpowered to run Vista decently and their battery life is significantly shorter. Simple tasks take much, much longer to execute on these compared to standard notebooks, and even booting up or waking from hibernation can be a 2 minute affair. In some cases boot times can can be shortened by removing bloatware, but only the Sony Vaio UX is guilty of overdosing a tiny machine with too much trialware, sell-ware and browser toolbar overload. Even if you don't need instant-on, big plus though it is in an extremely mobile device, you'll save time avoiding Windows Updates, anti-virus updates and other time consuming foibles of full Windows.

We have qualms with Windows Mobile as a phone OS in terms of its UI which is too complex and takes too many taps-- but it makes a wonderful handheld computer OS that's simpler to operate and maintain than full-blown Windows, is quite powerful and reasonably responsive. If you need Word, Excel, PowerPoint presentations, email (including push email), good web-browsing (though still not as good as the iPhone's in terms or rendering), easy file transfer and syncing with Windows desktops and Exchange server, the HTC Advantage is an excellent choice. And there's enough room for a little fun inside thanks to 8 gigs of storage and the ability to play music and video.

Conclusion

Repeat after me: this is not a phone. OK. Yes, it has a phone radio inside-- and a capable unlocked quad band GSM one with EDGE as well as a 3G HSDPA. But this is a handheld computer first of the "honey who shrunk the notebook" genre. For those who travel frequently and need instant-on access to the web, email, MS Office documents, music and video, the well under a pound HTC Advantage X7501 might well be a godsend. It's not for folks who need the full Windows experience, say to run a database written in Access or to run QuickBooks on the go. If you don't need that kind of thing and want the smallest, most usable device with wide-area networking available, the Advantage is an excellent choice. It's fast-- much faster than Vista UMPCs and micro-computers, isn't beset by Windows Updates and viruses, doesn't take 2 minutes to boot or waken from hibernation and it's half the cost of the OQO model 2 and Sony Vaio UX. The Advantage is especially appealing if you travel frequently and get lost too often, thanks to the integrated GPS, which most competing Vista devices lack.

Pro: Attractive and innovative design, very good VGA display, fast processor, lots of RAM, flash ROM and microdrive space. Windows Mobile 6 is powerful and has enough to offer to make this a reasonable notebook substitute if you don't need specific Windows-only applications on the go. WiFi, bluetooth and especially HSPDA keep you connected just about anywhere in the world. Unlocked for use with any GSM carrier's SIM. Fast by Windows Mobile standards. We love that HTC included the excellent Opera web browser. The keyboard is large enough for touch-typing (if you're coordinated and slim-fingered at least) but is also two-thumb friendly. GPS is a big plus, and it's fast and accurate. Good battery life.

Con: Not cheap. No option to run everything in VGA for those who have excellent eyes. Shows and holds onto fingerprints mercilessly.

Price: $899

Web Site: www.htc.com

 

 

 

Specs:

Display: 65K color transmissive TFT LCD with LED backlight. 640 x 480 VGA resolution, screen size diagonally: 5". Supports both portrait and landscape modes. ATI Graphic Chip W2284.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 2200 mA. Claimed standby time: Up to 300 hours (for GSM/UMTS). Claimed talk time with screen off:Up to 5.5 hours for GSM, 4.5 hours for UMTS. Claimed 8 hours of PDA use.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA 270 Bulverde 624MHz processor. 128 MB built-in RAM (83 megs free at boot). 256 MB Flash ROM with 130 megs available for your use. 8 gig Hitachi microdrive with ~ 7.625 gigs free.

Size: 5.25 x 3.85 x 0.63 (0.79 with cover on) inches. Weight: 12.66 ounces.

Phone: GSM quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE, triband HSPDA 3G 850/900/2100MHz for use in the US and Europe. Unlocked for use with any GSM carrier.

GPS: Built-in 20 channel GPS. No mapping software included.

Camera: 3MP with autofocus lens and LED flash. 2048 x 1536 max still image resolution 2048 x 1536. Max video resolution: CIF 352 x 288.

Audio: Built in speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 and video playback pleasure.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0.

Software: Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional Edition operating system. Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint (PowerPoint Mobile is view only), Internet Explorer, and Outlook Mobile. Also included: Opera 8.85 web browser, VueFLO, MIDlet Manager Java VM, MS Pictures and Videos, MSN Instant Messenger, Windows Live, Windows Media Player 10, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (game), Voice Recorder as well as handwriting recognition. Additional applications: Camera, Wireless Manager, MS Bluetooth software, Clear Storage (wipes out all data and resets unit to factory defaults), microdrive format utility, Cyberon Voice Speed Dial. ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook 2007 trial edition for PCs included.

Ports and Expansion: 1 miniSD (Secure Digital) slot supporting SDHC. 3.5mm stereo/mic jack, HTC ExtUSB combined sync and charge port. HTC proprietary VGA-out/S-video/RCA video and USB host 1.1 port (VGA cable included).

 

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