HTC Touch Dual Review

by Adama D. Brown Reads (38,638)

The HTC Touch Dual is a smartphone similar to the popular HTC Touch, but with a sliding keyboard added. In addition, there is a brand new U.S. version that includes Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional.

This device actually comes in two versions: one for Europe, which is tri-band GSM and single-band 3G, while the new U.S. model is quad-band GSM and dual-band 3G, and has a newer operating system. There’s also a difference in the keyboard, noted below.

The Dual is only sold in unlocked versions, meaning that it can be used on any GSM carrier such as AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S., Rogers in Canada, or virtually any international operator.

HTC Touch Dual

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In This Review:

Design and Construction

The Touch Dual has pretty much the same styling that the older Touch models do, with one big exception. It has a split casing with slide mechanism, similar to the sliding keyboards found on many of HTC’s other units. Unlike those, though, the Dual doesn’t slide horizontally, it slides vertically.

As I said earlier, there’s a slight difference between the North America and Europe/Asia versions of the Dual as far as the keyboard goes. The E.U. version can be bought with either a 16-button keypad, which uses standard T9 text input on its ten numerical buttons, or a 20-button extended keyboard: not quite full QWERTY, but halfway between that and T9, somewhat akin to the predictive text input found on some newer Blackberry models. The U.S. version is available only with the latter 20-button system.

HTC Touch Dual

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I’ve found myself ambivalent to the keyboard style. It’s not as intuitive as QWERTY, but it lacks the standardization of T9. While you can get used to it, it remains an ugly stepchild-kind of solution, seemingly enacted only because the developers felt that they didn’t have room for a full keyboard.

Whether you go for the text input option or not, though, the physical keypad makes dialing easier, since you no longer have to rely entirely on the touchscreen.

On the bright side, I like the feel of the buttons and the casing much more than I have on the last couple of HTC units I’ve used. The designers seem to have gotten the message that a flat, papery texture is not ideal for comfort, particularly on keyboard keys you may be using your fingernails on. The Dual’s design is more cognizant of how the device feels, rather than just how it looks.

The slider mechanism itself features the robustness that we’ve come to expect out of HTC. It’s simple, spring loaded, and feels for all the world like it’s not going to break easily.

HTC Touch vs. Touch Dual

HTC Touch vs. Touch Dual
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The rest of the design follows almost exactly from older Touch models. Sleek, with a minimum of buttons (or at least plainly obvious ones) and prominent touchscreen.

I can’t say “large” touchscreen because it’s not: at just 2.8 inches, and quarter-VGA resolution, the Dual’s screen is plain oatmeal as far as Windows Mobile phones go.

The touchscreen merges with the casing at the edges, rather than slipping under a bezel as is usual. I like this, since it makes the screen more accessible and keeps dirt from slipping down into the edges.

I had a surprising amount of difficulty finding the microSD slot on the Touch Dual, when you consider the fact that it’s actually labeled right there on the casing (see here). My only excuse is that I was expecting to find it somewhere under the side bezels, where some of its siblings kept their expansion slots. Instead, this space has been reserved for the SIM card on the Dual, which makes a lot more sense, since a user is a lot less likely to need to take out their SIM than their memory card. Fortunately, neither one is under the battery, though removing the SIM does require you to pull off the battery cover.

Don’t get too excited over the fact that HTC left the front-facing camera (see here) in the North American model–the only way to use this is though the standard camera software, for taking low res photos. No U.S. carrier supports videoconferencing, and no carrier-independent VC software for Windows Mobile knows how to use the secondary camera.

Software and Operating System

The pre-loaded software package on the Dual pretty much sorts out into two categories: Windows Mobile 6.1, and the Touch branded interface widgets. Windows first.

HTC TouchFLOYou’re not likely to notice much of a difference between Windows Mobile 6 and the slightly newer WM 6.1 on touchscreen-equipped “Professional” devices. While they get the same updates to Internet Explorer and support for threaded SMS messaging, the new interface that non-touchscreen devices got has passed by the bigger cousins. It’s regrettable, since I think that it would look good on them. As it stands, the user interface on 6.1 Pro is more or less untouched, with only some small cosmetic tweaks to give it away.

Next up is the customizations introduced by HTC as part of the HTC Touch brand. Foremost among them is TouchFLO, the finger-friendly combination dialer/launcher that HTC includes with its Touch-branded models.

Specifically, the Dual comes with TouchFLO 2, which is a slightly more robust update to the original, letting the user access a few more features through the customized interface than the original.

My feeling about TouchFLO 2 is similar to my thoughts on TouchFLO 1: while I wouldn’t buy a device just for the TF interface, it’s a nice value-added bonus.

Of course, if you decide you don’t like it, actually using the TouchFLO software package is optional: you can stick to just the standard Windows Mobile user interface and get along fine, without missing any major features.

Performance and Battery Life

When I first fired it up, the Dual seemed oddly languid considering the fact that it has a relatively speedy processor, at least for a Windows Mobile phone. It behaved more like a device running on a 200 MHz processor than a 400 MHz one. This might be fixable in a later ROM version, but as it stands now, the Dual is decidedly slower than some of its own siblings, even those that run the same processor it does.

The increased thickness and weight of the Dual allows it to sport a slightly larger battery than its smaller relatives, 1350 milliamp-hours versus 1100 mAh. While far from being the most potent battery on the market, it’s large enough that combined with good power efficiency the device has a decent run time, in the range of 4 to 5 hours of talk time, even on 3G.

 

Processor:

400 MHz Qualcomm MSM7201

Operating System:

Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional (Pocket PC)

Display

2.8 inch, 240 x 320 touchscreen LCD

Memory:

128 MB RAM; 256 MB flash (120 MB available)

Size and Weight:

4.2 inches long x 2.2 inches wide x 0.67 inches thick; 4.2 ounces

Expansion:

Single microSDHC slot

Docking:

HTC ExtUSB connector

Communication:

Quad-band GSM/EDGE, dual-band HSDPA (US version, as reviewed); Bluetooth 2.0/EDR

Audio:

Earpiece and microphone; rear speaker; headphone/audio out via ExtUSB port

Battery:

1350 mAh replaceable Lithium Ion

Input:

Touchscreen; 5-way directional pad; 20-button predictive keyboard/keypad

 

Specifications

Conclusion

The Touch Dual tries to combine the best of both worlds, a touchscreen-centric device with a physical text-entry system. I think that this can certainly be done, and done elegantly. But I’m not convinced that the Touch Dual is that device.

The predictive keyboard manages to feature the uncertainty of a T9 system without having the standardized nature of it. It’s fine if you dial more than you type, but I wouldn’t recommend you think of it as a serious text-entry method.

HTC Touch Dual

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Furthermore, the Dual doesn’t really offer anything to make itself stand out. With the upcoming models from Apple, Samsung, and even HTC itself that offer better screens, GPS, and Wi-Fi, the Dual’s spec sheet looks decidedly unimpressive.

Pros:

  • Easier dialing
  • Improved battery life

Cons:

  • Laggy performance
  • Text input not as good as a QWERTY keyboard
  • Unremarkable feature set

Bottom Line:

A model which fails to stand out on performance, features, or usability. It’s not terrible, but the Dual doesn’t have anything that makes it particularly wonderful, either.

The HTC Touch Dual is available now on the Best Buy website.


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