Every day I carry my mobile phone, my day planner, my two-way pager and my diary around with me as tools to help me get things done. Over the years, the diary and day planner were melded together into my PDA then my mobile phone joined in but the most recent win was when the keyboard from my two-way pager moved to the front of my phone and now, everything’s together in one neat little box – hurrah. But what next? Well, it seems that 411 (Directory Services) has joined in too. Leveraging the nice screens and plentiful data services Microsoft and Google have launched the electronic hand-held equivalent of Directory Services and that’s one of the tools I’m going to test out on one of the latest and possibly greatest Smartphones available, the HTC S630.
Design and Ergonomics
The HTC S630 is the next installment from HTC in the popular ‘Blackberry’ clone line of Smartphones. It takes on the baton handed to it from the S620, also known in the US as the T-Mobile Dash.
In short, the S630 adds to the S620:
Windows Mobile 6 out of the box
HSDPA/UMTS 3G wireless modem
400Mhz Samsung Processor
10g lighter weight
It subtracts from the package too; gone is the soft feel coating and rounded edges on the case that made the S620 feel great in the hand. The S630 is more functional in shape and style, it’s typically squared off at the sides but does have curves at the top and on the back to soften the shape and make it more comfortable in the pocket. Like the S620 this unit can be carried in a top shirt pocket without it looking awkward.
The extra size is no doubt to support the extra features, to pack in that 3G modem. We now have an HTC smartphone with all of the data features available in one place Quad-band GSM, Tri-band UMTS/HSPDA, Bluetooth 2.0 and WiFi 802.11b/g.
Its rivals are the Samsung i607 (aka Cingular/AT&T Samsung Blackjack), the Motorola Q and the Blackberry Curve. Each one is matched or bettered in a side-by-side comparison of features, only the Samsung gives away a feature with its slightly lower weight.
At the tape, the S630 is 4.4 x 2.4 x ½ inch (112.5 mm x 62.5 mm x 13.5 mm) and weighs in at 4.2oz (120g). Shown in the picture is the S630 with its peers: The Samsung i607, T-Mobile DASH (S620), S630, Motorola Q, Blackberry 7290. In front is the HTC710 slider candy bar for reference.
On the front is the now familiar compact 37 key keyboard plus the Smartphone Home, Back, Left/Right soft-keys and 5-way D-Pad. Best thing about the keyboard is that the illumination is white on black; great stuff as it’s very clear and legible. Key feel and feed-back is top notch and it’s a one-key per letter design so no weird T9/T15 to learn. If I had any gripe I’d level it at the number pad; it’s a little indistinct with an odd placement for the # key, it’s to the right of the 3 key, not at the bottom as usual; ok when you know it less so when you’re trying to find it after one of those “Enter your whatever and press # to continue…” voice prompts.
HTC have retained the “JOGGR” which is HTC for “cheap thumbwheel replacement”. It’s on the right hand side, I don’t like it and I turn it off. It’s supposed to act as a context sensitive navigation, volume, whatever device that you caress with your digits to enact some change… for me, it’s just a thing that turns down the volume on me when I’m in the middle of a call.
Also on the right hand side is the Camera button for the new 2M pixel camera.
On the left are the power button and the Voice Tag / Voice Command button that triggers the standard OS Voice Tag function or, if you install the excellent Microsoft Voice Command 1.6, holding the button triggers Voice Command recognition allowing for voice control of the phone, calendar, contacts and application launch as well as status requests. On the T-Mobile version of the S620, the T-Mobile Dash, Voice Command is included, on the S630 you’ll have to buy a copy but well worth it.
Also on the right is the trap door for the MicroSD reader which supports MicroSD HC chips; in my case I have 4Gb chip working perfectly. It’s nice to be able to swap chips without dismantling the unit as was the case with the S620.
On the top is the HTC modified Mini USB connector for power and HTC ear bud headphones (supplied). This is a good choice as I can vouch that other car chargers and power adapters with mini USB work with the S630.
The 2M pixel camera is located on the back, no flash though.
The battery compartment was targeted for weight reduction and is flimsy to say the least. I looked at two units and saw the same; the back doesn’t fit snugly so flexes as you hold it giving a cut-price feel. I remedy the problem with a little blue-tack/white-tack to stick the back in place; it resolves the problem.
Overall the unit feels ok but not as classy as the S620; that device was a bit of a dark horse; on camera it always looked a bit ugly but in the metal much better. I’ll still take the S630 though for its white keyboard backlight, I just couldn’t see the blue backlight on the S620.
Phone Features and Reception
Quad-band GSM, Tri-Band UMTS/HSDPA, WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 with Audio Gateway. It has it all or perhaps it has too much? The GSM radio has suffered in the upgrade and is not as sensitive as the S620. I’ve tested with both T-Mobile and AT&T service in the tri-state area and in the UK but have to report a poor result. It’s not so bad that you’d ditch the phone but more like the GSM network in the US just regressed two years. On T-Mobile, it’s pretty much two bars wherever you go, on AT&T it flits from five bars to ‘No Service’. HTC includes the Settings utility to allow you to switch the Phone radio between GSM and 3G only (WCDMA – That’s Wideband CDMA, and not the CDMA that Verizon/Sprint use), chose Euro, UK or US frequencies or, leave it in Auto. Pinning the radio down to local conditions does speed up the search for network access after a loss of signal so I’ve not seen the ten minute blackout that we’ve had before with some HTC Smartphones. None of this resolves the sensitivity of the radio though.
One thing that seems to have cropped up in my time with the S630; interference. GSM phone often interfere with electrical devices with a speaker but the S630 has an uncanny knack of making all sorts of systems buzz from PC’s to Hi-Fi to the clock radio at the other side of the room… could this be the root of the reception issues – a poor internal antenna assembly?
Other than that gripe the phone performs well with clear audio and snappy response from the 400Mhz Samsung processor. Speaker phone mode is strong with the rear speaker being loud enough for occasional use.
Being unbound to any provider (There are no plans at large from T-Mobile or AT&T) means that HTC gets to install all the useful extras that can be had and this includes the Internet Sharing app that allows you to share out your Internet connection over the USB cable or the Bluetooth Personal Area Network. This is good stuff as you can leave it in your pocket hooked up to AT&T’s HSDPA network and enjoy the potential for 1.8Mb/s downloads in the right areas. Using the USB cable with Vista sees the phone showing up as a network card all connected up plus, it charges the phone at the same time.
Horsepower and Performance
The processer has been switched to the Samsung 32442 at 400Mhz. The effect is good, it’s not twice as fast as the Intel PXA processor at 200Mhz but pulling contacts up and initiating calls is quick. Windows Media can finally playback movies at 30fps. In use it simply performs well, never frustrating me with ponderous responses.
There is the standard 128Mb FLASH ROM on board for storage and 64Mb RAM for running applications as per all of its rivals.
MicroSD with support for MicroSD HC is right on the side, ready for action without performing surgery each time you change the card. This seems like a simple requirement that is missed off of many other units that bury the memory under the sim, under the battery inside the unit!
The USB connector on top supports ActiveSync and NDIS mode allowing the phone to be quickly provisioned as an external Network Card under Vista.
Display, Gaming and Multimedia
The landscape 320x240 display is top notch; crystal clear, high contrast super-bright. The brightness is fixed with LED illumination making best use of the power whilst the light sensor in front prevents that keyboard backlight from coming on at all when the ambient light is good.
The keyboard is very positive and the five-way pad reliable in operation – good for gaming.
I obtained 3+ hours movie playback with the radio turned off. The integrated Windows Media Player is great supporting DRM’d music and automatic synchronization to your PC but now adds support for MPEG4 with AAC audio.
Sound quality is fine, plenty of dynamic range and good clarity. The supplied phones are ok I suppose but I recommend an upgrade for great audio. The Bluetooth stack supports audio over Bluetooth so break out those wireless headphones for best mobile effect. Choose carefully though as there is a great variety of Bluetooth headphones out there and they range from good to very, very bad.
The 2M pixel camera is fine; better than 1.3 and ok for occasional snaps. In good light it turns in good color and depth. The detail is good but in low light the shutter times are very long and motion blur is a problem in anything but bright light. It has a fixed focus lens and no flash.
For video it’ll grab 176x144 video at a modest frame rate; it’s no camcorder replacement.
Bluetooth support is provided through the built in Windows Mobile tools, Bluetooth audio is there and pairing with all my test devices was a snap. Volume and clarity from the in-car setup I have was top-notch.
HSDPA sharing anyone? The unlimited AT&T plan allows me to access the 3G network from my laptop using the Bluetooth PAN feature in both the S630 and in Windows Vista. Setup was quick and painless; not even requiring a degree in Bluetooth technology.
You can kill its battery in a day without too much trouble. A dozen calls, an hour of surfing and a days email brings on the low battery warning. That said, it complains about low battery at around 20% which is a bit cautious. It’ll go three days with just a few calls and little or no data access but I wouldn’t bank on it.
It’s a 1050mAh battery which is common at this size. I leave it charging each night; that’s my normal regime so it doesn’t bother me.
HTC includes a car charge in the package which may be a first; it’s a very nice one too with a glowing HTC logo on it. Nice touch.
HTC sell the S630 directly, its unlocked so can be used with any GSM SIM plus, it’s unlocked from a software perspective too; it includes the full Mobile Standard 6 Office readers plus Adobe PDF reader but as it’s unlocked it also includes tools to share out its internet connection over USB or Bluetooth, it has the task manager and doesn’t limit or control web access.
Being Windows Mobile 6 you can find HTML email support, quick search feature for emails (very useful), Windows Live, and MS Direct Push email support .
Being HTC it has the HTC Camera application which is fine, tweaked a little it now asks on first launch where you wish to store pictures, main memory or storage card. It includes the Jeodek JAVA runtime environment. HTC have chosen a Green theme for the company and that’s extended to the color schemes on the phone; green everywhere; graphics, logo and keyboard legends. Looks good though.
As normal third-party software for the Microsoft Smartphone abounds and there are version optimized for the new OS features. It’s unlikely that an investment in Microsoft Smartphone would leave you wanting for any application. Check out pocketgear.com and handango.com for a large selection of 3rd party applications.
Testing Windows LiveSearch with a Bluetooth GPS Receiver
One such free download had me thinking; if I were travelling to the UK and walking around London, what if I didn’t use my trusty Garmin Satnav but instead used the free mapping tools from Microsoft? As it happens I am in London walking around seeing the sights and I did download Microsoft LiveSearch (UK edition) and I do have a tiny Bluetooth GPS receiver from Holux; the GPSlim 240.
LiveSearch is a mapping program that can download satellite maps and road maps over the Internet. When combined with a small GPS receiver you have a low cost GPS navigation solution.
It’s not a Garmin / TomTom replacement, but it was able to help me find where I was in London and show me a map back to the hotel. Interestingly, one area that the Live on-line solution can offer that a static solution can’t is the ability to show an aerial view that can help you visualize where you’re going… in this case, around the park…
To locate where you are and to find a local restaurant for example you can browse categories to find local resources, then map them from your location…
Whilst the software is free, a word of warning though, when roaming in another country, the unlimited data account is now being charged at a rate of $0.05 / KB and those KB’s add up quickly!
The HTC S630 is a logical successor to the HTC S620 or T-Mobile DASH. It’s not a perfect successor though; the drop in radio performance and general quality is a disappointment.
If you’re a DASH owner and have already availed yourself of the free upgrade to Windows Mobile 6 then I’d stay put. The improvements aren’t worth breaking a contract for and anyway, T-Mobile hasn’t completed its 3G roll-out yet so there really isn’t anything to be gained.
If you have an HTC S620 then the upgrade makes more sense; there is no sign of the rumored Windows Mobile 6 upgrade from HTC. If you can make use of 3G then you’ll enjoy that and the extra features in Windows Mobile 6.
I recommend MobilePlanet.com as a great supplier of unlocked phones in the US.
Size: 4.43 x 2.46 x ½ inch (112.5 mm x 62.5 mm x 13.5 mm) 4.23 oz (120g).
Phone: GSM quad band unlocked phone supporting the 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands for GSM and EDGE. Tri-band HSDPA 850/900/1900MHz (compatible with AT&T in the US). Has speakerphone, voice dialing, smart dialing and speed dial.
Camera:2.0 megapixel with fixed focus lens (no flash), 1600 x 1200 max resolution. Can shoot video at 176 x 144 resolution.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0.
Mobile 6.0 Standard (Smartphone) Edition operating system.
Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions
of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet
Explorer, and Outlook with Direct Push email support. Windows Live including Messenger, Live Search and Hotmail, Windows Media Player
10, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (game), Voice Recorder. Additional applications:
Camera, Comm Manager,
Internet Sharing (use the phone as a modem over BT,
IR or USB), Clear Storage (wipes
out all data and resets unit to factory defaults), Java runtime, speed dial and voice dialing.
ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook 2007 60 day trial for PCs included.