Reviewed September 13, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Third time's a charm. This is the third version of HTC's groundbreaking Touch Diamond we've looked at. The first was the unlocked overseas GSM Diamond that had Euro but not US 3G, then the Sprint version with EVDO and now the unlocked GSM US 3G version. We expect the US unlocked Touch Diamond to be available from Best Buy by early October (according to their web site), and some online retailers and import phone specialists will have it sooner. We've already seen it online from several of the usual suspects at a variety of price points. Best Buy lists it for $699, and places like ImportGSM.com sell it for less, while Expansys lists it for considerably more as of this writing.
Is this the same unit as the original Euro import, with only a change in 3G HSDPA bands? No! Like the Sprint version, there are a passel of improvements, the most salient of which are a higher capacity battery, TouchFLO 3D performance and usability improvements and a matte finish back. The back of the US Diamond is still faceted, but gone is the high gloss finish that attracted and held onto fingerprints like crazy. Thank you, HTC. It still looks cool and unique without the gloss (though perhaps not quite as jaw-dropping), but it's easier to hold and looks good even after handling. Like the Sprint Diamond, it's a tad thicker than the original Diamond, to make room for the higher capacity battery (1340 mAh vs. the original model's 900 mAh battery). The Diamond's code is DIAM110.
The US 3G unlocked Diamond supports AT&T's 850/1900MHz HSDPA network, but not T-Mobile's US 3G bands. It is dual band 3G, so there's also no support for Euro 3G. It's a quad band GSM world phone with EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz), and that means you can make a phone call anywhere in the world GSM service is available, and you'll have access to the slower GPRS and EDGE data networks across the world. Since it's unlocked, you can use it with any carrier's SIM.
Features at a Glance
For those of you who aren't smartphone geeks, the HTC Touch Diamond is a Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional phone with a VGA 2.8" touch screen. It runs HTC's TouchFLO 3D user interface enhancements, bringing new life to the somewhat tired-looking Windows Mobile. This is a very high end PDA phone, with a 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0, 4 gigs of flash storage and a 528MHz processor with plenty of RAM.
There is no microSD card slot, so the 4 gigs of storage stand in its place. The Diamond supports mass storage mode and USB 2.0 for fast data transfers (handy when loading a music and video collection). The US 3G Diamond has 192 megs of RAM with 48 megs free just after boot. It has 256 megs of flash ROM, with ~58 megs free for your use (in addition to the 4 gig internal flash drive).
In the Box
Gone is the Diamond-shaped box, and the US version ships in an attractive square box, with HTC's usual heavy weight black inner carton with a magnetic lid. HTC includes the phone, 2 styli, the Diamond style compact world charger (with US prongs, of course), a USB cable, screen protector, software CDs, small guides and a Diamond-styled stereo earbud headset with inline mic.
TouchFLO 3D, HTC's elegant and attractive interface on top of much of Windows Mobile, is functionally the same as the original Diamond, and in terms of performance and usability, nearly identical to the Sprint Diamond. Hence we'll say here largely the same things we said about the Sprint Diamond. In case you haven't seen our videos of the other Diamond models, here's a short video that shows TouchFLO 3D in action, and overs a visual overview of the phone.
TouchFLO 3D covers 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, music playback, camera and photo viewer (all in the same pane), 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. Weather for the 6 cities are pre-populated with US cities, but you can change them to any major city across the US and the world.
Still Diamond-backed, but this time a matte finish.
Happily, the occasional lags and stutter we saw in the first Diamond are gone and TouchFLO 3D is remarkably responsive. Like the original Diamond, the US version has 192 megs of RAM, yet it's a bit more responsive. That said, TouchFLO 3D is sometimes (not always) killed when running Opera 9.5, and it relaunches when you exit Opera. Like the original Diamond, landscape mode (via the accelerometer) works only in certain applications like Opera (but not IE), the photo viewer, Windows Media Player mobile and Streaming Media player. A free hack called GSEN works well to add accelerometer-based rotation most everywhere. 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 US 3G and Sprint versions are 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.
Phone and Data
Voice quality is very good, and reception in 3G mode on AT&T's network is average for a US 3G phone (not as good as the Nokia E71, similar to the HTC Tilt and better than the LG Vu). Like many current phones, the Diamond's cell antenna is at the bottom rear of the device, and we noticed that covering that area with a hand reduced reception. Data speeds on AT&T's network are averaging 1020 kbps according to DSL Reports Mobile Speed Test, which is superb. In fact, it's the highest number we've seen in this area on any phone. The Diamond supports HSDPA 7.2 Mbps down/384k up speeds. The phone has a connection wizard that detects the current SIM and offers to set up data and MMS settings automatically. This worked fine with both AT&T and T-Mobile US SIM cards.
Call volume is good by GSM standards, and we were able to hear our caller while standing on a busy city street. The speakerphone is anemic though-- it sounds tinny and isn't terribly loud. It's good enough for in-car navigation (assuming you're not driving a semi or a top-down sports car with an aftermarket free-flow exhaust), barely OK for a mall or convention hall and disappointing for music playback. Thankfully, the included stereo earbud headset is loud, clear and full sounding. The phone also supports Bluetooth headsets, car kits and A2DP stereo Bluetooth headphones. We found compatibility and audio quality to be very good with both headsets like the Jawbone and Plantronics Discovery 925, and with stereo headphones like the Plantronics Discovery 590.
The Diamond ships with MS Voice Command 1.6, Microsoft's excellent voice command software and an improvement on Cyberon that's bundled with the Euro 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.
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 when it's ringing. There's no way we've found to disable this feature, but have no fear, if you forget and leave the phone face down on the table, it will still ring. You must pick it up and turn it over while it's ringing to silence the phone.
The Touch Diamond has the usual Windows Mobile Professional bundled software: MS Office Mobile (mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note), Internet Explorer mobile, Windows Media Player mobile, Outlook (Messaging, calendar, contacts, tasks and notes), Internet Connection Sharing, MSN Messenger and Picture and Videos. HTC adds Adobe Reader LE, a Java VM, their Comm Manager (manages wireless connections), QuickGPS, the Opera 9.5 web browser, Zip Manager, Google Maps, MS Voice Command 1.6, and HTC's Streaming Media player (youtube player). Sorry, the FM radio is gone, though it's easy enough to download the Euro Diamond's FM radio CAB file from XDA-Developers and install it (works fine). Also included is Teeter: HTC's very cool Labyrinth game that uses the accelerometer.
HTC also includes Sprite Backup, WorldCard Mobile (business card reader that uses the camera) and Spb GPRS monitor one one of the two companion CDs. ActiveSync 4.5 and a trial version of Outlook 2007 are included for syncing to Windows PCs. We tested the Diamond with Missing Sync under Mac OS X, and it worked fine. The Diamond supports mass storage mode for data transfer, and this also works fine with the Mac.
The Diamond has an integrated GPS, with Quick GPS, a utility that downloads satellite data to speed satellite acquisition times. It ships with Google Maps pre-installed, and it works with Windows Live Search as well as CoPilot 7. In our tests so far, acquisition time is a little quicker than the original Diamond, though it's not as lightening fast as the Sprint version. Then again, the US 3G version doesn't get as toasty as the Sprint version when using the GPS. We got a cold start time of 30 seconds outdoors, and warm starts under 10 seconds indoors near a window indoors.
We tested the GPS with Windows Live Search, which worked fine using the auto-GPS detection settings. We also tested CoPilot 7, which worked fine with the Diamond. Since CoPilot comes on a microSD card, we transferred the contents of the CoPilot microSD card (1.5 gigs) to the Diamond's 4 gig internal flash drive using a card reader and the Diamond's USB cable (with the phone in mass storage mode) on a Mac (a PC will work fine too ).
The 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, though this one is larger. 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 shots to come out.
Though the Sprint Diamond's orientation sensor was a little wonky, we had no trouble with the US Diamond, and images were saved in the correct orientation. There are three autofocus options, and we opted for the easiest, which is pressing the d-pad's center button completely down to autofocus and shoot. There are options that allow you to first touch the d-pad to focus (since it's actually a sensor and not a traditional mechanical d-pad it knows when you've touched it), the press down to shoot. A small box center screen turns from white to green to let you know the camera has successfully focused.
As with the other Diamond models, at the default setting, images are over-sharpened, which is sometimes pleasing but at other times not so nice. In outdoor landscape shots, tree leaves are overly sharpened and have too much contrast, making images harsh. Change sharpening and contrast settings and these shots are more pleasing. Indoor shots, which tend to lose sharpness with most camera phones, look fine with the default settings, as do close-ups and architectural shots. Human portraits look nice, with good skin tones and not too much sharpening, but (hairy) pets' fur become distractingly detailed. Again, play with the settings and the images improve. Colors are biased toward the blue/cyan for outdoor shots, and you'll notice that the landscape shot below has an unreal, though pretty, blue sky.
Auto-focus is decently fast for an autofocus camera, being a bit faster than the Nokia N95 but not as fast as the zippy Samsung Omnia. The Diamond's image quality is very good, and certainly the Diamond line have the best cameras we've seen to date from HTC, though the N95 and Omnia win. It's not quite fair to compare a 3 megapixel camera to those phones' 5 megapixel cameras, but we'll say the N95 has an easy win while the Omnia's lead is slim.
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. The camera application runs in landscape mode and uses the full screen as its viewfinder. There are a wide variety of photographic settings, accessed via on-screen touch controls.
These sample photos were taken at the highest resolution. Click on a photo to see a larger version in a new window.
The third time around we still like this smartphone. In fact, it beats the original Euro Diamond and fixes our complaints with that firstborn. The Diamond is certainly the wave of the future, with its innovative and pleasurable user interface with the power of Windows Mobile underneath. HTC's software is well-designed, with finger-friendly targets, an enlarged Start Menu option and controllable finger-scrolling in places like contacts and the weather country/city picker. Opera 9.5 might not beat Safari on the iPhone, but that has more to do with hardware differences between the two phones: the iPhone's much larger screen makes it easier to read text in overview landscape mode.
Pro: Beautiful design, fast CPU with a good amount of memory and graphics acceleration. TouchFLO 3D is a pleasure to look at day-in an day out, and it's responsive enough on the US version. The camera is quite good, and only the Samsung Omnia competes among Windows Mobile devices (at least for now!). GPS works with most applications, and 4 gigs of storage afford room to store maps plus multimedia files. We also like the higher capacity battery and matte back after living with the forever-smudgy gloss-backed Euro version. Good softare extras like Sprite Backup, HTC's youtube player and MS Voice Command.
Con: Speakerphone is anemic. No expansion card slot means living with 4 gigs forever. Landscape mode isn't supported in all applications as it normally is in Windows Mobile Professional (a hack remedies this but we really want to see HTC open it up themselves).
Phone:Unlocked GSM quad band world phone, 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands with EDGE. US (AT&T) 3G HSDPA on the 850/1900MHz bands.
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, with aGPS.
Mobile 6.1 Professional operating system, 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, Java VM, HTC's photo viewer, YouTube player, Zip manager, Streaming Media Player, RSS reader, MS Voice Command 1.6. Also Teeter: HTC's very cool Labyrinth game that uses the accelerometer.