Reviewed June 10, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Say hello to my little friend: the HTC Touch Dual North American version. It's small, it's soft-touch cuddly, yet it packs the power of Windows Mobile 6.1 Pro, 3G HSDPA for the US and a slide-out 20 key QWERTY keyboard that uses predictive text. At 400MHz it has the power to keep up, and there's ample RAM to keep things moving smoothly. It runs HTC's TouchFLO user interface, let's call it TouchFLO 2.0 because it has new features since TouchFLO first debuted on the GSM HTC Touch, and it's had the kinks worked out. While the recently released (overseas) HTC Touch Diamond may have stolen some of new US Touch Dual's thunder with its even fancier and sexier TouchFLO 3D interface and shiny, slim good looks; the Touch Dual US model is the one folks here can actually put to better use now. Why? Because the Touch Dual is a quad band GSM phone that supports all US bands unlike the Diamond, and because the Dual has US 3G while the Diamond doesn't. And while TouchFLO 3D shows great promise, it's slower than TouchFLO "classic" on the Dual-- call it growing pains.
A Little Background
About five months ago, HTC launched the Touch Dual for the European and Asian market. This sibling to the original GSM Touch added a slide-out 16 key number pad (there was a 20 key keyboard version as well) and addressed several of our complaints with the original Touch such as low memory, slow CPU and microSD card location. Alas, like the Touch, the Touch Dual was still a triband phone lacking the 850MHz band used by AT&T in the US and by T-Mobile US for roaming (yes, there are discussions that the original Touch might really be quad band but we won't go there) and it had no US 3G. Not unlike the recently announced HTC Touch Diamond, US users were initially left out in the cold.
But then at the end of May 2008, HTC, one of the largest manufacturers of Windows Mobile phones, announced a US version of the Touch Dual with a quad band GSM radio and US 3G! Oh happy day for WinMo fans. The Touch Dual is currently sold exclusively by Best Buy for $549 unlocked for use with any GSM carrier. They carry it in some of their stores and online at BestBuy.com. This is a US phone with a US warranty (no gray market issues) and Best Buy has a 30 day return policy should you decide the phone ain't for you. The price is high because there's no carrier subsidy-- that's the price you pay for not signing a contract for a locked phone.
The US version ships with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, the newest Microsoft OS, and the phone features a 20 key slide-out QWERTY keyboard that works similarly to the HTC-made T-Mobile Shadow smartphone and the BlackBerry Pearl, though it uses XT9 rather than SureType for text prediction. Alas there's no WiFi, but 3G does obviate the need, and there's no GPS (HTC's Touch Cruise is a better choice if you want a GPS and can live without the keyboard). The 4.23 ounce smartphone has a soft-touch finish and curves that feel great in hand. It's a little heavier than the 4 ounce featherweight Touch and a bit longer and thicker but still relatively light and compact. The keyboard slides down and is spring loaded, making it easy to open with one hand while ensuring it stays firmly open or closed during use and transport. The mechanism feels solid and there's just a slight bit of side-play when the slider is closed. When you slide the keyboard down, a quick action list appears on screen for several seconds: new email, new text message, new note, new appointment, new contact, new task). We like this little usability touch, but just in case you don't, you can disable it under settings.
The Touch Dual has a bright 2.6" QVGA flush screen and it features HTC's TouchFLO user interface. Not as fancy as the Touch Diamond's, it's still a usability improvement over vanilla Windows Mobile and it supports gestures to bring up HTC's home screen and launcher, as well as finger scrolling in apps like Word Mobile and IE. The UI is responsive and doesn't bog down the device. The screen requires a firmer touch than the iPhone but is more accurate and responsive that some of the haptic touch screen phones currently on the market. For those who are used to Windows Mobile Professional and stylus input, that works fine too and there's a stylus in the silo at the lower right corner of the Touch Dual.
Here's a 1.5 minute video of HTC's Touch home screen and TouchFLO in action:
The 20 key keyboard is similar to the BlackBerry Pearl's, where most keys are assigned 2 letters. The phone uses XT9 rather than SureType for predictive text and it works quite well for notes and documents. When entering URLs and contacts, the phone defaults to multi-press since dictionary prediction doesn't work well in those contexts. For multi-press, hit the "QW" key once to get a Q and twice to get a W. For predictive text, type "normally" as if each letter were really on a separate key and the software figures out what you mean. You can switch between input methods by pressing holding the *XT9/SYM key until the on-screen input selector appears. The keys are backlit in white and the number keys have white blocks behind the black numbers to make them stand for easier dialing. The import Touch Dual was first available with a number pad, and a 20 key version followed, but there is no number pad version for the US.
I'd personally never been a fan of SureType style keyboards, and this is a matter of personal preference and habit. But I found that the Dual's larger keys relative to the standard QWERTY keys on the AT&T Tilt and BlackBerry Curve were easier targets, making typing simpler. And once I learned to "forget" that each letter didn't actually have it's own key and I learned to trust XT9, I found myself typing as quickly as on a full keyboard within a day. That said, URLs, names and other non-dictionary items aren't as quick and easy to enter since they require multi-press input.
As with all WinMo devices there are on-screen input methods too: handwriting recognition, on-screen QWERTY and HTC's 12 and 20 key software keyboards. Handwriting recognition, both print and cursive, works well as always under Windows Mobile, but the on-screen QWERTY keyboard is small and requires a stylus (or load a 3rd party software keyboard).
This little phone rocks. It's running Windows Mobile Professional 6.1 on a 400MHz Qualcomm MSM7201 CPU. Gone is the laggy behavior we saw at times on the original GSM Touch (note that both the Verizon Touch XV6900 and Sprint HTC Touch CDMA versions also have more memory and a faster CPU and so are faster than the original GSM Touch too). TouchFLO has grown up and and it's a definite pleasure on the US Touch Dual.
With double the memory, we didn't find ourselves constantly using HTC's handy task manager to kill programs. There's 128 megs of RAM on-board and 256 megs of flash storage. That's more than enough memory to leave several large programs running and quite a lot of room to install programs and store data. For more storage space there's an SDHC microSD card slot located on the Touch Dual's lower left edge with its very own dedicated door. No need to slide the back cover off just to access the slot.
The Touch Dual can open a 50 page PDF in 5 seconds or less using the included Adobe Acrobat Reader for Windows Mobile. Windows Media Player Mobile played 450 kbps MPEG4 files easily with no dropped frames or loss of sync and can handle the demands of Skype. Windows Mobile's typical lag opening menus and windows is minimal.
Phone and 3G, North American Style
We enjoyed fast HSDPA connections on AT&T's network and web pages load relatively quickly thanks to 3.5G, the fast CPU and speed improvements in IE Mobile under WinMo 6.1. We suggest you download the free technical preview of the NetFront 3.5 web browser that runs superbly on the Touch Dual and supports touch-- just drag the page around with your finger. The Touch Dual got a healthy 765 kbit/sec average download speed rating on DSL Reports mobile speed test with 2 out of 4 bars reception, making it one of the faster 3G phones on the market in the US. The Tilt can be used as a high speed wireless modem for a notebook over Bluetooth using the PAN profile.
The usual Windows Mobile Internet Explorer is included, but new for version 6.1 are speed improvements that make IE Mobile less of a pig and more of a pleasure. We'll still take NetFront or Opera Mobile for the prettiest desktop-style rendering and fuller feature set, but based on speed, IE is a good choice, though not as fast as Opera Mini (which relies on server-side caching and other tricks to speed things up). Esmertec's Java runtime is on-board so you can load Opera Mini and other Java-based applications without the usual carrier-locked phone nagging every time that app pulls down data.
Messaging handles POP3 and IMAP email along with MS Exchange and push email if your company runs Exchange 2003 SP1 or newer. You'll get HTML email support and other goodies if your company runs Exchange Server 2007. There's also a threaded SMS text message client and MMS support.
Like most HTC smartphones, the Touch Dual has solid reception on GSM and 3G. Here in our office, 50% AT&T HSDPA signal strength is slightly above average, and that's what the Dual manages. The signal doesn't fluctuate and the phone makes clear calls and maintains solid data connections at that signal level. The only phones with consistently stronger 3G reception in our tests are high-end Nokia phones like the N95-3 and the Moto Q9 Global. Voice is clear on both incoming and outgoing ends and incoming volume is above average for a GSM phone.
The Touch Dual comes with MS Voice Command 1.6 which works with Bluetooth headsets and directly with the phone (press and hold the volume up key to start voice command or press and hold the dial button on a Bluetooth headset).The Jawbone and the Plantronics Discovery 655 worked fine with voice dialing but not the Jawbone II. Beyond voice dialing, MS Voice Command can launch programs, announce upcoming appointments and tell you the time all using true speech recognition (no voice tags required).
Windows Mobile PDA and smartphones sync with Outlook on the desktop over USB or Bluetooth using Microsoft ActiveSync under Windows XP and Windows Mobile Device Center under Vista. There is no Mac syncing software in the box, but 3rd party sync applications are available for less than $50 such as Missing Sync for Windows Mobile and PocketMac Pro. ActiveSync and a trial of Outlook are included on the companion CD.
The camera is a 2 megapixel model with an autofocus lens. Focus speeds are decent by camera phone standards and images are slightly above average. The autofocus significantly improves portraits and close object shots but does little for landscapes and there's noticeable over-sharpening at fine and superfine quality settings that makes tree leaves and water ripples distracting. There are plenty of settings to tweak images including white balance, brightness, contrast, sharpness and these do help. There's a self-timer and pre-sets for action shots, multi-frame shots and more. The Touch Dual can save directly to a microSD card or internal memory and it can send these files via Bluetooth.
The camcorder records up to QVGA resolution in MP4 format with mono audio. Videos are again, average by recent 2MP camera phone standards and audio is clear.
We like HTC's Camera Album application-- it's finger friendly with support for scrolling through photos with a swipe, zoom (using a circular motion on-screen) and orientation switch. The app is is also fast and has a slideshow mode with adjustable transitions.
The Touch Dual, like all WinMo phones, has Windows Media Player Mobile for music and video playback. It supports MP3, AAC, WMA and Windows Media DRM files. It also handles a variety of video formats including ASF, WMW and MP4 formats. For additional format support we tested the phone with Core Player Mobile, which worked well.
Stereo Bluetooth (A2DP) worked well with a variety of stereo Bluetooth headphones and headsets. Music sounds great through the included stereo earbuds with in-line mic and volume control. The Audio Booster application enhances wired stereo headset audio for EQ, 3D sound and treble/bass boost. Overall, like the Touch, we found the Touch Dual one of the better sounding WinMo phones for music playback. With a 4 or 8 gig card, the smartphone makes a viable portable music player.
We tested the Touch Dual in 3G HSDPA mode, which uses more power than GSM/EDGE and were pleased with battery life. PDA phones and 3G often mean short battery life but the Touch Dual lasted us 2 to 3 days with light to moderate use and 1.5 to 2 days with moderate to heavy use including automatic email checks every hour from 9am-6pm, 30 minutes of phone calls per day and an hour of Internet use over AT&T's HSDPA network. The smartphone ships with a 1350 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable. Simply slide off the back cover (the entire back cover) to reveal the battery and gain access to the SIM card slot on the phone's side. Battery life is better on the Touch Dual than on our HTC Tilt (HTC TyTN II) and in fact better than the LG Vu feature phone.
I have too many phones on my desk, including a Nokia N95-3, LG Vu, iPhone, HTC Touch Diamond, Treo 750, Samsung BlackJack II and more. Yet I find myself gravitating to the Touch Dual thanks to it's comfortable and pocketable design, fast 3G, Windows Mobile power/tweak-ability and HTC's TouchFLO "classic" which speeds access to common tasks and adds an element of fun without bogging down the device. It's cute more than it's sexy, competent rather than bleeding edge and it's US-friendly. It takes the original Touch design and extends it significantly with a keyboard, faster CPU, better performance and 3G. Not bad. The market challenge among import-loving Americans is that it doesn't offer all the bells and whistles like GPS, FM radio and WiFi. But then it does offer a US warranty and a more friendly return policy than most online imports. With strong 3G service and an AT&T unlimited data plan, I haven't pined for WiFi, though folks in EDGE areas might.
Pro: Fast, TouchFLO is smooth and responsive, good looking, soft-touch finish keeps the device safely in hand and doesn't require constant polishing (though the display might). Stable, very fast 3G HSDPA speeds on AT&T, strong reception, good voice quality and volume. MS Voice Command is a plus as is voice command over Bluetooth and A2DP Bluetooth stereo. Good video playback performance, very good sound quality for music playback. US warranty. Good battery life for a 3G PDA phone.
Con: No WiFi or GPS.
Price: $549 unlocked for use with any GSM provider, no contract required.
Web site: www.htc.com/us(as of this writing, HTC's web site specs are wrong for GSM/3G bands and battery capacity, we're sure they'll update them soon!)
Display:65K color LED backlit
color touch screen (flush design). Screen size diagonally: 2.6". Resolution:
240 x 320, supports both portrait and landscape modes. Runs HTC's TouchFLO user interface and enhancements.
Input and Navigation:Touch screen, 4-way d-pad and 20 key QWERTY keyboard with (mostly) 2 letters per key .
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1350 mA. Claimed 3G talk time: 4.46 hours, claimed standby: 5.4 days. Claimed GSM talk time: 6.8 hours.
x 2.16 x 0.67 inches. Weight: 4.23 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band world phone: 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands with EDGE support. 3G HSDPA/UMTS on the US bands: 850/1900MHz.
Camera:2.0 MP camera with autofocus lens and self-portrait mirror but no flash. Can take photos at a max. 1600 x 1200 resolution as well as video up to QVGA 320 x 240 resolution at 15 fps max. Has front-facing CIF video conferencing camera but no US carrier supports 2-way video calls.
in speaker, mic and HTC proprietary ExtUSB stereo headphone
jack. Stereo headset included. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included.
Bluetooth 2.0 with headset, handsfree, serial port, PAN, FTP, SIM Access, A2DP and AVRC profiles.
Mobile 6.1 Professional operating system. Office Mobile suite: Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Internet Explorer Mobile, Outlook Mobile (Messaging), threaded SMS support, HTC's Today Screen and touch-aware "cube-launcher" application, HTC Task Manager, HTC Streaming Media player application, HTC Camera Album, HTC Zip (un-zipping app), Audio Booster, Adobe Reader LE, Esmertec Java VM, MS Voice Command 1.6, Pictures and Videos, MSN
Instant Messenger, Windows Live, Windows Media Player
10 Mobile, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (game), Voice Recorder
as well as handwriting recognition and on-screen keyboards. Additional applications:
Camera, Wireless Manager,
SIM Manager, MS Bluetooth software, Clear Storage (wipes
out all data and resets unit to factory defaults).
ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook trial edition for Windows XP/Vista PCs included.
microSD card slot, SDHC compatible.
In the Box:HTC Touch Dual, battery, charger, USB cable, stereo earbud headset with inline mic and volume control, screen protector, cloth pouch, spare stylus, software CD and manual.