Review posted September 10, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Editor's note, Nov. 2008: Like the Diamond but want a keyboard? Check out our review of the HTC Touch Pro on Sprint.
When we looked at the GSM HTC Touch Diamond that was released overseas in June 2008, we liked what we saw, with a few caveats. The smartphone featured HTC's new TouchFLO 3D user interface, which could be a tad laggy at times (much improved with subsequent ROM updates). It also didn't support high speed data in the US, so we were stuck surfing the web at EDGE speeds, which are comparable to 1xRTT in the Sprint world. The phone's gloss diamond back, though very attractive, attracted and tenaciously held onto fingerprints. Lastly, battery life was OK but not great. Well, say hello to Sprint's little friend, the Sprint HTC Touch Diamond that remedies all these problems. Nice. The Sprint Diamond is the DIAM500, for those who are interested in code names and manufacturer product codes.
The Sprint HTC Touch Diamond is a powerhouse Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional PDA phone with a VGA touch screen, 4 gigs of storage, 528MHz processor, EVDO Rev. A, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth and a 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera. The Diamond is one of the smaller touch screen Windows Mobile devices on the market, though it's not as thin as the original GSM version ( 0.6" vs. 0.45"). It weighs 4.1 ounces vs. the GSM's 3.88 ounces, but we're not complaining. The added weight and girth allow for a higher capacity 1340 mAh battery-- a definite improvement over the original's 900 mAh battery. It also feels better in the hand thanks to rounded edges, a soft touch red back, and there's just a little more to hold onto. That said, it's a very attractive and modern-looking device, but it's not the head turner that the original diamond-backed model is.
The front is all about minimalism: there are only 4 buttons: call send and end, a home button and a back button. We'd have preferred the more useful "OK" to a "back" button so we wouldn't have to reach for that tiny close box in the upper right hand corner in non-TouchFLO apps. Also, the back button often does nothing since it's not a standard part of the OS. Though the front buttons are mechanical buttons nested under the smooth front face, the d-pad is electrostatic which means you can swirl your finger around its perimeter to move forward in a music track and zoom in the photo viewer, Word mobile and a few other apps. The d-pad's perimeter lights and pulses in white to notify you of incoming calls, reminders and more.
The sides are likewise uncluttered: just volume up and down buttons on the left side. The power button is on the top edge and the HTC ExtUSB port that handles charging, syncing and the included wired stereo headset, is on the bottom. There is a stylus at the lower right corner, and it's magnetic like the first Diamond, so it pulls itself back into place (the Diamond doesn't wake up when you remove the stylus though). Beyond the iPhone inspiration for clean design, HTC intends this to be a touch phone, courtesy of their TouchFLO 3D. TouchFLO 3D makes the original TouchFLO on the Sprint HTC Touch look bare bones and dull. It's not only pure eye candy but it manages to hide much more of the usual Windows Mobile interface.
Rather than try to explain TouchFLO 3D, we've got a video that shows it in action. This video also covers a wide variety of features from the Opera 9.5 web browser, the GPS with Sprint Navigation, weather forecasts, included applications, Sprint TV and Sprint Music Store.
TouchFLO 3D covers only the following tasks/applications: home screen (with the usual TouchFLO large clock, list of appointments, call history, date, time and carrier), speed dial (visual with photo caller ID pictures you can flip through rather than a list), SMS text messages (threaded thanks to Windows Mobile 6.1), email, locally stored music playback/Sprint Music store, camera and photo viewer (all in the same pane), Sprint TV, Opera web browser with a list of bookmarks and a youtube player link, weather (for 6 cities), a selection of core settings and an icon-based application launcher. For these tasks, excluding HTC's weather and custom home screen which are only found on HTC's touch line, TouchFLO 3D is an improvement over vanilla Windows Mobile Professional. For power users using 3rd party home screens with launchers the gap narrows. The Diamond does it prettier but generally not more expediently.
Happily, the occasional lags and stutter we saw in the first Diamond are gone and TouchFLO 3D is remarkably responsive. Is it the additional memory (288 megs of RAM available to the OS vs. the 192 megs in the GSM version with a portion aside for Opera) that improves response or simply HTC's software engineering? We don't know, but we like it. Touch works better than on the original import Diamond, which could sometimes be fiddly, especially when scrolling through long lists (scrolling would go too fast and it was too easy to accidentally select an item when scrolling with a finger). The Sprint version is much better, achieving a near-iPhone experience in terms of controllable and enjoyable scrolling behavior. While you can scroll most anywhere and pan web pages and images by dragging a finger across the screen, there's no multi-touch support and hence no pinch or other 2-fingered gesture support.
Like the GSM Diamond and Touch Pro, landscape orientation is supported only in certain applications. We're not thrilled by this, since a "normal" Windows Mobile Pro phone works in both orientations. There is no screen orientation option under display settings as there'd normally be, and no accelerometer option to change the orientation sensor-related behavior. That said 1) existing hacks to enable screen rotation in most contexts will probably work 2) it is enabled in more applications than in the GSM version. Landscape mode is available (by turning the device sideways) in Opera, Sprint TV, the TouchFLO image viewer, HTC Streaming Media and Sprint Navigation.
But there seems to be a bug: turn the phone to landscape orientation when in Google Maps, or in the Programs window and nothing happens. Run one of the apps that does support landscape mode like Sprint Navigation or Sprint TV and then exit those apps. Thereafter the Diamond will generally rotate to landscape mode! Even the HTC home screen and TouchFLO 3D apps will rotate (creating some graphics artifacts and oddness in places since it's not designed to support landscape) before switching itself back to portrait. Fairly useful overall, though the smartphone sometimes slows down a bit when in this never-never land of supporting rotation anywhere.
The Sprint Touch Diamond obviously works only on Sprint's network. Call quality is very good (better than the Mogul's) and volume is quite good (louder than the GSM version-- CDMA phones in the US tend to be louder than their GSM counterparts). Reception is average compared to the many other Sprint phones we've reviewed, and data speeds stay surprisingly high even with a mediocre signal. Likewise, voice clarity and quality is still good with only one bar. We did notice an intermittent bug where pressing the hardware call send button would no longer bring up the phone dialer screen. When this happens, one can still use the left softkey shortcut to get to the dialer screen.
The Diamond ships with MS Voice Command 1.6, the Cadillac of voice command software and an improvement on Cyberon that's bundled with the unlocked GSM Diamond. It does speaker independent voice dialing and you need not record voice tags. It also handles quite a few commands such as "launch Internet Explorer", "what's my next appointment" and "flight mode on". It's accurate and works with most Bluetooth headsets.
We tested the phone with the Jawbone and voice dialing worked fine but we heard static even when the headset was only 3 feet from the phone. The Jawbone II had better range, but voice dialing didn't work (the Jawbone II doesn't work with the HTC Touch Dual's voice dialing either).
The Diamond family of phones have a neat feature that silences an incoming call if you pick up the phone and place it face down on the table. We didn't see this mentioned in the Sprint manual-- so don't worry, it's a feature and not a shorted speaker connection.
The Touch Diamond is a wonderful multimedia device thanks to its crystal clear VGA display, graphics acceleration, HTC Streaming Media player that handles mobile youtube with full screen playback, Sprint TV, Sprint Radio, Sprint Music and 4 gigs of storage. Despite the high screen resolution, Sprint TV looks very good and the Diamond can play TV content in landscape mode full screen (simply turn the device sideways to switch to landscape). Even with a modest EVDO Rev. A signal, playback was good in Sprint TV and in the mobile youtube streaming player.
Like all Windows Mobile devices, there's a built-in music player-- Windows Media Player Mobile-- and HTC's TouchFLO 3D puts a cover flow interface on top of it in the home screen. You can access Sprint's Music store directly from the Diamond if you wish to purchase music over the air. With 4 gigs of storage and a fast USB 2.0 connection, you can store a sizeable music library on the phone. Alas, there's no microSD card slot, so the 4 gigs of built-in flash storage are all you've got to work with.
The phone's back gets warm during video playback (local and streaming). Not hot to the touch, but noticeably warm. The GPS also gets the device toasty. We assume the CPU is located at the back below the battery (the warm area). Oddly, one time the phone got toasty with no applications running when in standby on the desk. We rebooted the phone and temps went back to normal.
The Sprint TV channel selection guide, in landscape mode.
GPS: a big thumb's up
The Diamond has an integrated GPS that really wow-ed us. It's one of the fastest in terms of satellite acquisition and it managed to lock onto 8 satellites indoors 10 feet from a window on the first story of a 2 story brick house. Very nice, and also much more impressive than the original Diamond. The smartphone has a Quick GPS applet that downloads satellite data to speed up acquisition time and in our tests, we got a cold fix in under 15 seconds which is remarkable. Sprint Navigation, powered by TeleNav, is pre-installed. It's a very strong navigation and mapping application that downloads maps and POI data over the air. It gives clear directions and the Diamond's speaker is loud enough to be heard in a car. Windows Live Search is also pre-installed, and it's a great free mapping and POI application that's perfect for finding chow, gas or a movie nearby.
What if you don't want to use Sprint Navigation? No problem. The Diamond works with other GPS applications both free like Google Maps and pay-for applications like CoPilot.
The Diamond is a high end Windows Mobile Professional 6.1 phone running on a 528MHz processor with 288 megs of RAM (that's a lot!) and 256 megs of flash ROM. Only 43 megs are available of that flash ROM, but no big deal since the Diamond has an internal 4 gig flash drive to store programs and data. The phone lacks a microSD card slot, so you can't further expand storage. The Diamond's fast USB 2.0 connection makes transferring MP3s and videos a bearable task and it supports mass storage mode (it mounts like a removable drive), so you need not use ActiveSync to transfer files and multimedia content to the smartphone.
Connections a Plenty
The Sprint Diamond has WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR with stereo Bluetooth A2DP support and EVDO Rev. A for fast data. Internet speeds over EVDO Rev. A are very good, even with 1/3 signal strength. Reception is good, with average reception compared to other Sprint phones. Opera 9.5 is on-board, and it does a good job of approximating a desktop browsing experience. It works in a similar fashion to the iPhone browser, minus the multi-touch gesture support. You'll first see the entire web page with text that's generally too small to read, and then drag the page to the portion you wish to read and tap on it to zoom in. Opera 9.5 had a way of bringing the original Diamond to its knees, but not the case with the Sprint version: the phone doesn't slow down and TouchFLO 3D isn't killed when Opera is running and re-launched when you exit.
There's no Java VM on the Sprint Diamond, so Opera Mini won't work. IE Mobile is here if you're nostalgic for a reasonably fast but not terribly attractive view of the web, and there's an RSS reader too. Like all WinMo phones, the Diamond supports POP3, IMAP and MS Exchange email along with MS Direct Push email. Sprint includes a download link for OZ Instant Messaging, which handles Yahoo, AIM and Windows Live Messaging.
The Sprint HTC Touch Diamond has a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus lens. Like the original Diamond, the back cover has a plastic window that sits above the actual camera lens, protecting it, but also possibly leading to some image distortion. Image quality is very good as long as there's decent available light since the phone lacks a flash. It can handle well lit indoor shots quite well thanks to the lens' large max aperture, but don't expect night club shots to come out.
The orientation sensor can get flaky and our sample images were taken while holding the phone in landscape orientation (that's the default orientation for the camera application). Yet, as you'll see if you view the full size originals, the images are incorrectly saved in portrait orientation (the cat's nose is pointing due south).
At the default setting, images are over-sharpened, which is sometimes pleasing but at other times not so nice. In our sample photos. the cat's fur is distractingly over-sharpened and in the pool shot, the leaves are overly defined. It's by no means horrid, but you may want to adjust camera settings to tone down sharpening.
The camera can also shoot video up to QVGA resolution in H.263, 3GPP2 and MPEG4 formats. Video is decent, though not as impressive as still shots.
These sample photos were taken at the highest resolution. Click on a photo to see a larger version in a new window.
The Diamond supports Sprint Picture Mail (MMS), and can send photos, video and audio messages using that service (there's a dedicated Picture Mail application for MMS).
The Sprint Diamond has a 1340 mAh Lithium Ion battery. That's a more appropriate capacity for a high end phone with a fast CPU and many wireless radios than the 900 mAh battery used in the unlocked GSM version. Battery life is par for the course among high end Windows Mobile phones and we averaged 1.5 to 2 days on a charge with moderate use. This included checking email on a 30 minute interval (not push email), watching Sprint TV for 30 minutes per day, downloading 6 songs from the Sprint Music Store and and listening to music via the built-in speaker for 30 minutes each day, using Sprint Navigation for a short trip, testing Google Maps with the GPS, pairing and testing several Bluetooth headsets and talking on the phone for 20 minutes/day.
Possible bug. . . we didn't have a lot of apps running in the background according to the HTC task manager, so we're not sure what's responsible for an occasional 50% drop in charge overnight. The phone really shouldn't have been doing anything, and even if the HTC weather plugin was checking every 3 hours for updates, the charge shouldn't drop that much (as it turns out, it had not been updating weather overnight while in standby).
In the Box
Sprint and HTC include the phone, 2 styli, a USB cable, Diamond-style compact world charger (USB cable plugs into the charger, it has no cord of its own), stereo Diamond-style headset, a horizontal case with belt clip, manual and software CD.
We'll say that HTC and Sprint have got it right! This is the best Windows Mobile phone that Sprint has ever released, assuming you can live without a hardware keyboard. It's fast, it's cool, attractive and packed with an excellent set of features and specs. We have a few niggles relating to bugs that we hope Sprint and HTC will squash sooner rather than later, but so far they aren't show-stoppers. If you're after a hardware keyboard, wait for the HTC Touch Pro on Sprint coming October 19th, which adds a side-sliding QWERTY keyboard.
Pro: Certainly one of the hottest Windows Mobile phones of 2008. The features are impressive, from the excellent VGA display to 4 gigs of storage to that very fast GPS. The camera is excellent, TouchFLO 3D is not only pretty but very usable and the phone handles serious business needs well. Fast USB 2.0 connection for transferring content to the flash drive, good custom on-screen keyboard, nice looks.
Con: A few kinks need to be worked out: 1) random accelerometer behavior after using an app that supports landscape orientation via the accelerometer; 2) like a trip down memory lane to old Pocket PC problems, the phone sometimes drains excessively in standby overnight. We have the same complaint with the Sprint version as we did with the import GSM Diamond: landscape isn't supported in many contexts, which is a step backward given that WinMo has supported orientation switching for years. No expansion slot.
Price: $249 after $100 Sprint rebate with 2 year activation
Phone:CDMA dual band digital 800/1900MHz. EVDO Rev. A for fast data with fallback to 1xRTT.
Camera:3.2 megapixel with autofocus lens. No flash.
in speaker, mic and HTC ExtUSB stereo headphone
jack (stereo headset with matching "Diamond" design included). Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 and video playback pleasure.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR with headset, handsfree, serial port, PAN, A2DP and AVRC profiles.
GPS:Yes. Works with Sprint Navigation and other mapping and navigation applications.
Mobile 6.1 Professional. TouchFLO 3D user interface. MS Office Mobile suite (mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote), Outlook mobile (Messaging, contacts, calendar, tasks, notes), Windows Media Player mobile, Internet Connection Sharing, MS Messenger, Live Search, Pictures and Videos. Opera 9.5 mobile web browser, HTC's photo viewer, YouTube player, Zip manager, Streaming Media Player, RSS reader, IM client. Sprint TV, Sprint Music Store, Sprint Radio, Sprint Navigation, OZ Instant Messaging and Handmark Pocket Express.