Get used to new-fangled touch screen phones popping up like chic geeks at an LG Prada giveaway, thanks to the iPhone. HTC entered the game officially yesterday with their showing of the HTC Touch. This is a Windows Mobile Professional (aka WM6 Pocket PC Phone) with a screen that's not only stylus-friendly like all PPCs, but finger sensitive.
The Touch uses a difference kind of touch screen to achieve finger-friendliness, especially gesture-awareness. It's not a multi-touch display like the upcoming iPhone and you can use a stylus, again unlike the iPhone. Both the LG Prada and Apple's nifty new creation need a human touch to work correctly.
HTC has created a special home screen and an app that provide large, touchable targets and in fact written their own touch screen driver. Here's the challenge, HTC can't re-write the entire Windows Mobile operating system to make it finger-friendly and gesture-aware. We'd have to leave that up to the folks in Redmond who author the OS. So you won't see a major transformation of the Windows Mobile 6 we've come to know and (err, love?). The Programs and Settings groups look and work the same. So do IE, email, contacts, calendar and solitaire. You'll face the same stylus-sized scroll bars and tiny 'x" close box up top.
The HTC Today Screen.
So what is different? There's the Today theme with quick access to an application launcher, the weather and a listing of calendar events. More interesting is the swipe action: swipe your finger from the bottom of the display to the top to bring up a spinning 3-sided cube (OK, not really a cube since there are only 3 sides, but you get the idea). Swipe from right to left (or left to right) to move through these faces. One has a palette of user-assignable images for your contacts. Put your favorite folks' photos in their, then tap on the picture to bring up their contact info in the address book. No, it doesn't dial them, you have to then hit the call button at the bottom of the screen. Flip your finger left or right to move to the next face of the "non-cube" which is an application launcher. The third face is for multimedia: HTC's music player (which unfortunately doesn't support as many file formats as Media Player Mobile), Photos (this launches MS' Picture and Videos app) and Videos (this also launches MS' Picture and Videos app).
Swipe from the top of the screen to the bottom to hide the HTC UI. You can swipe up to bring up the HTC UI from anywhere, even inside an application. Swipe down to hide it again. Cool.
Above: the three faces of the HTC touch UI.
It's all very clever and pretty, though I'm not feeling it improves ease of use all that much. And again, HTC isn't the author or owner of the OS, so there's only so much they can do. Phones like the Prada and iPhone have an easier time since their OS and UI were written together, allowing the touch metaphor to be pervasive. The HTC goodies work well and are easy to get the hang of-- good going there.
How about the device itself, as a piece of hardware? It's really, really good looking and feels great in the hand since it's small and curvy with that lovely soft-touch covering that's been so popular on devices like the T-Mobile Dash. The display looks different with a large clear plate over the normal QVGA rectangular area, in fact it extends beyond that. It creates a slight sense of distance between stylus (or finger) and the actual LCD below.
The Touch is remarkably small-- not much bigger than the original GSM RAZR! It looks simply fabulous in soft-touch black with a shiny chrome that runs along all edges. The display is extremely bright and clear. The 2MP camera takes decent photos and the phone has Bluetooth as well as WiFi (how did they fit it all in this tiny phone?).
Above: The Moto RAZR and the HTC Touch. Below: the Touch and RAZR.
What's not so hot? The new UI seems to only work in portait mode, not when the device's display is rotated to landscape. You have to remove the back cover (and it is really on there tight) to flip open the right side chrome rail to access the SIM card and microSD card slot. We don't care about the SIM, but having to do this to get the storage card in and out is a pain. Nice of HTC to include a 1 gig card in the box though! The non-telescoping stylus is tiny. There's no T9. You will definitely need the stylus to enter text using the on-screen keyboard-- those virtual keys are tiny.
The Texas Instruments OMAP 850 processor runs at 201MHz and this not a fast machine. There were times when we thought the digitizer wasn't recognizing our finger gestures and it turned out to be device lag. Videos played with Windows Media Player Mobile stutter and drop frames, even those encoded at low bitrates such as 320kbps.
You've probably already read our post covering the HTC Touch release with specs. But to sum up again, this is a triband GSM phone with EDGE (no 850MHz band for AT&T, that version will come later this summer or fall). Why no quad band, we don't know . The Touch runs Windows Mobile 6 Professional, and it has a QVGA display, Bluetooth 2.0, WiFi and a 2 megapixel camera (no flash). The battery is 1100 MAh. The HTC Touch has a model number and it's the P3450.