Sprint recently introduced its version of the HTC Touch Pro. This Windows Mobile smartphone's features set includes a VGA touchscreen, sliding keyboard, 528 MHz processor, EV-DO, and GPS.
It's a consumer-oriented device merged with a business-oriented one to create a generally harmonious whole.
The Touch Pro is a little bit of an odd bird. It's actually the hybrid of two different HTC product lines: the popular Touch line, and the sliding-keyboard models that have been HTC's bread and butter for years, like the HTC Mogul.
I suppose I should be surprised this company hasn't combined its cash cows before now. But given the fact that the Touch line was originally designed to compete with the iPhone (albeit before the iPhone was actually available to the public), combining its nearly ascetic design with the button-heavy sliders has long seemed contradictory. Nevertheless, HTC has done it, and the result works surprisingly well.
The Touch Pro takes a lot of visual style from the Touch, without sacrificing controls. One of the ways the it does this is by keeping most of its buttons hidden safely out of sight. The front panel looks like it has only a single main button, but in fact there are nine membrane-style controls there: a five way directional pad plus four navigation and control buttons.
The rest of the buttons are inside the slider, on the device's keyboard. I haven't been too wild about the quality of HTC's recent keyboards. The Touch Pro does a little better, but it's far from everything it could be. The buttons are a bit more convex, making them easier to find and push than the more totally flat style used previously. What hasn't changed is the annoyingly papery texture of the keys. Come on, guys, rubber isn't that hard to figure out. Samsung did it.
The keyboard's backlighting is a little weak, and shuts off too fast. Unfortunately there don't seem to be a setting to change this.
There's also a few nice little touches, like the sliding keyboard overriding the device's tilt sensor. When the keyboard is open, no matter how you turn the thing, the screen stays aligned to the keyboard. Close it up, and you can go back to rotating the device from portrait to landscape by literally rotating it.
There's been some complaints about the Touch Pro being thick. I had the same first impression of it right up until I was able to compare it to similar devices. In fact, it's the same thickness as its predecessors, the HTC Mogul and the AT&T Tilt, but because it's a third of an inch narrower than the older devices -- combined with the ergonomics of the curving backplate -- it seems thicker in the hand than it actually is. While it's true that you're not going to get an iPhone-like thinness out of this, it's certainly no worse than any other keyboard-slider.
It may be that the Pro doesn't have every single thing you can pack into a smartphone, but if that's your goal, you can bloody well see it from here. A VGA (640 by 480 pixel) screen, 528 MHz processor, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth 2.0/EDR, GPS, FM radio with RDS, 288 MB of RAM, TV out, 512 MB of flash storage, memory expansion up to 16 GB through the microSDHC slot...
One thing you don't often see on the spec sheet though, is the HTC customized software. But it very much bears mention. The new and improved TouchFLO 3D is light-years beyond the simplistic fingertip launcher that preceded it. TF3D is closer to a total conversion for the Windows Mobile Pro platform: virtually everything you need to do can be done from the rotating home screen, barely if ever touching the underlying OS.
Add to that the device coming pre-loaded with Opera Mobile for browsing, clients for YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace, a weather tab that's so pretty you could get mesmerized by a rainstorm, etcetera, and you get what I can only describe as a complete smartphone experience... and one where you could forget that you're running Windows Mobile at that.
Part of that feeling is that HTC's also modified the navigation to more closely resemble Windows Mobile Standard, with "Home" and "Back" buttons instead of "Start" and "OK." All to the good, in my opinion, as any time I use a WM Pro device I find myself missing the back button.
My biggest issue with the Touch Pro comes in its performance. It's not speed: between the video hardware and the 528 MHz processor, it's about as fast and smooth as you could reasonable ask.
The problem is battery life. The Pro, to feed its massive hardware, features a 1340 mAh battery. Compare that to the HTC Mogul, whose battery is rated at 1500 mAh, and it only included 64 MB of RAM and a 400 MHz processor.
The Pro's battery life isn't unusable by any means. It's probably even good enough. But for a smartphone, particularly one on which you're going to want to use those cool features, the battery life is unsatisfactorily short. Unfortunately, there's very little that can be done about that without increasing the size of the device to pack in more battery power. However, I'd almost consider a little added width an acceptable trade-off.
In other areas, though, the Touch Pro doesn't disappoint, or at least nothing that you can't work around. The next closest thing that I have to a complaint is that on a 2.8 inch VGA screen; text can be pretty hard to read in Opera unless you crank it up to the largest text size.
Since both are obviously designed to compete with the styling set and features of the iPhone 3G, there's a natural degree of competition between the Touch Pro and the Samsung Omnia. Add to that the fact that they're both available either on Verizon Wireless or in an unlocked GSM version, and you've got a classic battle.
Lately, as a rule I've found hardware built by Samsung to be of better quality and more ergonomically sound than HTC's models. So it's with that in mind that I say the following: the Touch Pro is by far the superior device of the two. The Pro has a better screen, better controls, and more RAM. Although you lose the 8 or 16 GB of memory on the Omnia, the Touch Pro's microSD slot easily compensates for this. The Pro isn't quite as fast as the Omnia in the CPU department, but with the display hardware, you'll never know it. And TouchFLO 3D is infinitely more productive, better thought out, and sleeker than Samsung's TouchWiz.
If you're looking for an iPhone competitor running on Windows Mobile, the Touch Pro may not look exactly identical, but it matches the ease and sex appeal of the iPhone better than the Omnia.
The Touch Pro is one hell of a pretty smartphone, both in design and the souped up TouchFLO 3D. It's also a very impressive upgrade to the Mogul and the Tilt. There's generally a feeling that it's hard to produce a model which appeals to both civilians and business users, but the Touch Pro is about as good at it as any of them.
Obviously the form-factor isn't for everybody: standard warnings about touchscreen dialing and one-handed use still apply. But I think those who like a sliding keyboard are going to be very happy with HTC's latest upgrade.
A sexy and valuable upgrade for the sliding keyboard fans among us.
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