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Since the introduction of the Apple iPhone and the LG Prada, the slate PDA form factor has taken a hold within smartphones. At the same time, device makers have been taking the idea of touch-as-interface to the next level. Forgoing the stylus, it seems that designers from all manufacturers are taking finger control as far as it can go.
On the Windows Mobile side, moving to a finger-based user interface has more challenges than some other mobile platforms, and with the Touch Diamond, HTC has taken another significant step forward as a leader in this area. This device expands on lessons learned with the original HTC Touch and Touch Duo models, and looks to give Windows Mobile users a more efficient interface for most tasks.
Sprint’s introduction of the HTC Touch Diamond aims to be a more powerful alternative to Sprint’s already popular Samsung Instinct. Let’s look at this device in depth to see if the ring fits.
The Diamond is a small smartphone. Pictures don’t really give much credit to the device’s size. Dominated by a 2.8-in VGA (640 by 480 pixel) touchscreen, the device measures in at 4 in. by 2 in. by ~0.5 in. It just feels small though, similar in hand to a low-end feature phone.
Unfortunately, it also feels as cheap as some feature phones. The plastic rear, smoother than the jagged battery cover in the GSM version, just makes the device feel less than high end. The rear also houses the 3.2 megapixel camera, which does a solid job of blending into the design of the device.
With the exception of the directional pad, the other buttons (power and volume) are hard to press, and at times required me to look at the device to be sure that they are being touched. The power button in particular suffers from being too flush, so that doing a press-and-hold to turn the device off can take a few attempts.
The directional pad is a depressed circle, but the actual directional controls are outside of the circle. The circle piece of the button is just a simple select button. Home, The directional pad, well, it’s just not one that works well for much of anything. You are better off just swiping and touching the screen to move.
Back, and the call Send/End keys flank the directional pad, and due to their generous size, the feedback when pressing these is noticeable.
From a materials standpoint, the Diamond is a finger-print magnet. Between skin oils and just a general dullness, the front side of the device always seems to need to be cleaned. Thankfully, Sprint provides a screen protector in the box with the device.
Getting past those aspects, it really is a beautiful device. I found the opinions of those around me who have less than fair vision most useful. Many of them remarked that it was possibly the best screen they ever seen on a device – especially a mobile one. Once getting past the idea that this isn’t an iPhone, they were also able to accept the user interface and start to see the positives in it.
As we all find out within a few minutes of owning any smartphone, if it can’t do the primary function of being a phone, then it’s almost of no ‘use. Thankfully, the Diamond’s beauty goes more than skin deep, though it’s something of an acquired taste — something that Windows Mobile devices seem to get tagged for.
Starting from the home screen, a clock, call history, and calendar items show what is available. The Call History feature when clicked goes to a finger-friendly menu showing calls received, missed, and made. Clicking on an item shows a history of all the calls to that contact with duration and date.
Clicking the calendar button shows you of the flaws in the TouchFLO 3D user interface that HTC developed. While many aspects of the device are finger-friendly, the calendar isn’t. Which is fine because there is an included stylus and several input options, but this is just one of the many places where the user interface disconnects from itself.
Below those areas on the home-screen is a ribbon widget which points to other applications that are commonly used. The initial screens of these applications are tweaked with the TouchFLO 3D user interface, which is good. You have to figure out how to scroll, then spend some time scrolling, in order to use it, which is not so good.
Applications in this ribbon include:
- People (Contacts)
- Messages (SMS, MMS)
- Mail (Outlook Mobile)
- Sprint Music
- Photos and Videos
- Sprint TV
- Internet (Opera 9.5)
- All Programs (a shortcut program launcher)
Unfortunately, because there is no hardware numberpad, you generally to use the People tab to call people. If you don’t know the number, then hitting a button at the bottom of the screen labeled “Phone” will bring up a normal on-screen phone keyboard to dial.
A word should be stated here about the input options, as there are a lot of them. A normal phone keypad, a compact QWERTY, a full-sized QWERTY, Block Recognizer, the regular Windows Mobile keyboard, Letter Recognizer, and Transcriber (natural handwriting). There are a ton of ways to send a message, and the list of options is pretty daunting. I found best success with the full-sized QWERTY with predictive text turned on. The screen was responsive enough to write SMSs and web addresses. It took a while though. Fewer options would have been better, though the finger-friendly ones are at the top and usually easiest to get used to.
Voice quality was solid, but patchy here in Charlotte. It’s a common complaint of some in the city that Sprint’s service is like this, so the mobile cannot be blamed.
Overall, I can’t say that the Diamond really stands out on the phone side. Sure, the People (Contacts) selection is good, and having threaded SMS with its plethora of input options is great, but it’s just there. It doesn’t really improve on the experience in any way, and dulls the shine of the Diamond in some respects.
The Windows Mobile foundation to the Diamond provides an excellent start to what becomes a tedious display. This is mainly because the HTC Diamond has many ways to do the same action, and several points to get there. Having two user interfaces (TouchFLO 3D and the Windows Mobile shell) will do this. Nevertheless, the Diamond is a hard and powerful tool when pushed.
Everything starts with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. The Diamond takes this most recently released iteration of Microsoft’s mobile operating system and presents it in its best possible light. Despite much of the underlying menus and features being unchanged from other more stylus-driven models, the Diamond manages to be at least finger-receivable in most menus.
The built-in Calendar, Contacts, Messaging (SMS, MMS, and email), and Tasks applications carry over from most other Windows Mobile devices. Nothing stands out, they just kind of exist there when they need to be used.
Web browsing is taken care of by Opera Mobile 9.5. As with a few other recent HTC releases, Internet Explorer Mobile has been pushed aside for the better Opera Mobile. This isn’t the beta version that’s all that’s available to everyone else, and is quite nicely tuned for the Diamond. Sprint adds a custom homepage to other Sprint services, and a Sprint color theme, but the rest of the browser is about as great as it gets on a mobile — which is to say that its a pleasure to browse the Web as larger-screened devices do, but won’t make you completely sea-sick with a lot of zooming/panning/scrolling.
Speed of browsing is thankfully not an issue with the Diamond. Your wireless options include EV-DO and Wi-Fi. Both are plenty fast, and with the HTC Comm Manager, easy to enable when needed. EV-DO was especially nice as it not only worked quickly, but without the latency that I sometimes see with my Nokia N95 (GSM, using UTMS and HSDPA for 3G). Wi-Fi was as simple as most Windows Mobile devices are to get connected, but if the network is secure, you are back to using one of those five input methods descried above to insert passwords and wireless ID names. Suffice to say, EV-DO won for convenience.
There is also support for tethering built in to the Diamond. A simple setting puts that seamless EV-DO connectivity to work for occasional laptop connectivity needs.
Other applications bundled with the Diamond include:
- Sprint TV
- Sprint Navigation (which uses the built-in GPS)
- Sprint Music
- Windows Media Player Mobile
- Adobe Reader LE
- A universal IM application
- Live Search and Messenger
- A dedicated YouTube application
- and Office Mobile (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote)
Of course, with Windows Mobile, you aren’t limited to these applications, there are several thousand more which can be downloaded and used. Some will even look a lot better than you might be used to with the higher resolution.
On the multimedia side, there is more of the same in terms of “it just works,” including easily playing MP3s and videos.
The 3.2 megapixel camera is great for taking shots when the lighting is good and there are no extreme colors or lights in the view. It has a problem with a shaking hand though. I could not seem to get a straight shot until I trained myself to wait for the 5 sec. delay between hitting the directional pad (shutter button) and the picture being taken.
What did strike me as neat was how easy it was to just take a picture. Even with the on-screen controls, there was not much need to configure settings. It was just launch the application, turn the device on its side, and then take a picture.
The 4 GB of internal memory were great. I honestly forgot that there was no memory card slot because the extra space kind of just was there and worked. Connecting the Diamond to my Windows PC had the device show in USB Mass Storage mode just as a memory key would. Transfers were very quick in moving those 3.2 MPx images and any audio.
Battery life was OK, not great, just OK. When just using it as a mobile, getting 2 days of use was about right (struggling by 5 PM of the second day). When using EV-DO or Wi-Fi or things such as browsing and email, or if you want to use the camera on a nice day, expect to have an 8 hr. battery life before needing to consult the charger. Thankfully, the charging connector is compatible with mini-USB cables, and trickle charging from a laptop works, too.
You will have to pardon me if I don’t come off as extra excited about the Diamond. Yes, the screen and browser are unbelievable in person. But the usability after getting past TouchFLO 3D, limiting battery life, and way too twitchy motion sensor leaves me more feeling like this is a diamond that cuts me, versus one that cuts the mold for mobile devices.
That is not to say that it’s a bad device, only that its not as good as it could be. I would choose this over an Samsung Instinct any day of the week, Windows Mobile is just too well done in comparison. But the overall package comes off more as a cubic zirconium than its namesake when compared to other jewel-like smartphones of this type.