HTC Touch Review

by Reads (156,515)

Like it or not, at least for a while, any new smartphone that comes out is going to be compared to Apple iPhone. One device that seems to actively invite this comparison is the HTC Touch.

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This new model runs Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system, but it includes a system that, like the iPhone, lets you perform many tasks by running your finger across the screen.

In addition, this HTC device has a design similar to the iPhone, with a sleek shape and minimal buttons.

But don’t think the Touch is a pale imitation of the iPhone. It includes features that users of Apple’s first smartphone can only dream of.

Update: There are two versions of this device available now. The original is an unlocked GSM model, while the newer one is available from Sprint.

The Sprint version has a faster processor, more memory, and support for this telecom’s 3G network. It gives up Wi-Fi, though.

Additional changes are noted below.

On the Outside

The Touch is one of the slickest looking smartphones I’ve seen in a while. It uses a standard tablet shape, but its rounded corners and minimalist design really make it stand out of the crowd.

Plus, the Touch is very small, especially when compared to the typical Pocket PC. It’s just 3.9 inches tall, 2.3 inches wide, and 0.55 inches thick (99.9 mm by 58 mm by 13.9 mm). It weighs 4.0 ounces (112 g) with battery.

And what’s even more surprising is how much HTC fit into this little package, like both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Buttons: Be warned, there is a drawback to the Touch’s sleek minimalism. This device has a very limited number of buttons. There is exactly one programmable button, with the other four being pre-programmed. This means you’ll need to get used to touching the screen for almost every task.

Screen: Everyone wants their phone to be small, but they also want it to have a large screen. The Touch’s 2.8-inch, QVGA (320 by 240 pixel) display is a decent middle ground.

Card Slots: This smartphone has a slot for microSD cards. This is located in a somewhat unusual place: behind a door on the right side.

The card isn’t easy to swap in or out, as the battery cover has to be removed before opening the little door. I know some will consider this a flaw, but not me. microSD cards are so tiny, if one was accidentally ejected from an external slot, the odds of you ever finding it are vanishingly small.

TouchFLO

Aside from its sleek hardware, what sets the Touch apart from all other Windows Mobile smartphones is its TouchFLO control system, which lets you do many common tasks with just a fingertip.

The other Windows Mobile 6 devices offer one-handed control too, but they primarily do this through hardware buttons located below the screen. The Touch, on the other hand, lets you launch applications, read emails, and access web sites by sliding your finger around on the screen.

I’ll try to describe this, but it’s something that’s easier to understand if you see it. That’s why I’ve put together a video of TouchFLO in action.

No matter what application you’re in on the Touch, running your finger on the screen up from the bottom opens up the Touch Cube. I’m not sure why it’s called a cube, as it has only three faces.

One of these is an application launcher. This lets you open your email, access the Web, or perform other tasks with a single touch.

The second face is sort of a photo dialer. If you have an image associated with one of your contacts, you can make it appear here, and just touching on it will open their entry, where you can call or email them.

The third face is a dedicated media launcher, for opening music, images, or videos.

However, as much as I like TouchFLO, I’m also aware of it’s limitations. It’s mostly an application launcher. The applications themselves are the standard ones from Windows Mobile, and these are not fingertip friendly at all.

This means that you can, for example, use TouchFLO and the D-pad to easily open and read an email, but when it comes time to write a response back you’ll need to pull out the stylus.

I’m a bit surprised HTC didn’t include a larger, more fingertip-friendly on-screen keyboard with this smartphone. I can only hope one is added in a later ROM update.

Update: Happily, Sprint’s version of the Touch includes the finger-friendly on-screen keyboard I was hoping for.

And while the application launcher is nice, it’s limited in many ways. The most irritating of these, to me anyway, is that you can’t change what applications are displayed for easy launching.

Touch vs. iPhone

HTC has never come right out and admitted it, but it’s obvious that the Touch was created to compete with Apple’s iPhone. So how does it stack up?

HTC Touch -- Right Side

The competition is pretty close, but I think the Touch comes out ahead, especially for appearance-conscious executives.

The iPhone offers some great multimedia capabilities, but it’s weak when it comes to the sort of features business users need, like the ability to work with Microsoft Office files. This is an area where the Touch excels, thanks to Windows Mobile 6 Professional.

Touch users can open, create, and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents in their native formats right on their smartphone. The iPhone has very limited support for Office files, and only as attachments.

Speaking of email, the Touch supports Microsoft’s push email system, while the iPhone doesn’t offer any version of push email.

Both devices include audio and video players, though naturally the iPhone is the only one that can work with Apple’s proprietary iTunes store.

The Apple device is a bit superior when it comes to text entry. To type anything on the Touch you’ll need to pull out the stylus.

In the hardware department, the Touch is smaller and looks at least as good as the iPhone. Apple’s offering has a higher resolution screen, though.

The iPhone comes out ahead in built-in storage capacity, too, but the Touch has a microSD card slot with SDHC support, so you can currently add 4 GB of storage. And as higher capacity cards come on the market — an 8 GB microSD card is expected later this year — you can easily upgrade your smartphone. That’s not something that’s going to be possible with the iPhone.

The Touch ships with a 1 GB card to get you started.

Both devices offer a 2.0 megapixel camera.

Wireless Networking

The HTC Touch is a GSM phone with GPRS/EDGE. The version that’s currently available uses the European cellular-wireless bands, but a version for N. America is scheduled for this fall.

It does not include support for 3G, which might be a deal breaker for some. To me, though, EDGE is fast enough for most tasks.

Update: Naturally, Sprint’s version of the Touch uses this telecom’s CDMA network, and unlike the GSM version it includes the 3G standard EV-DO.

Many of you can also turn to another option: Wi-Fi b/g.

The range for this is outstanding. For example, I can pick up Wi-Fi networks in my house that my laptop can’t even see.

I wouldn’t recommend keeping Wi-Fi on all the time unless you’re going to be constantly using it. For one thing it uses a lot of power, but for another it has to reconnect to a wireless access port whenever you turn the device on, and this takes up most of the Touch’s processor power. This means that you can’t use the device for much of anything until Wi-Fi re-connects, which always takes 5 or 10 seconds.

Update: Sprint did not include Wi-Fi in its version of the Touch, but EV-DO goes a long way toward making up for this.

Bluetooth 2.0 comes in handy for wirelessly connecting to peripherals. I’ve used the Touch with a headset, GPS receiver, and keyboard without a hitch.

 

Setup

Dell Axim X51v vs. HTC Touch
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The Touch is far and away the easiest smartphone to get set up I have ever used.

I plugged in my SIM card, ran an application called Network Wizard, and the Touch automatically configured itself to connect to my wireless carrier for both voice and data.

I just can’t get any easier than that… but it can be a whole lot harder, as other smartphones have shown me over the years.

Camera

The Touch’s 2.0 megapixel camera is a step above the 1.3 megapixel one you typically find in mobile phones these days.

It handles still images quite well, but movement in videos tends to be a touch blurry. Both of these can be sent as MMS messages.

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a couple of examples of what this camera can do:

Accessories

This smartphone doesn’t come with a cradle. Instead, you’ll need to hook it up to your PC and an electrical socket with the included cables.

The Touch comes with a pouch to protect the screen when you’re carrying it around, but I’d suggest you get yourself something you can clip on your belt, or better yet a flip-cover. Because I have to take this device out of its pouch every time I’m using it, I tend to put the pouch down in random places, and I expect to lose it in the near future.

The stylus is nice and solid, but it’s almost absurdly short. It barely fits in my hand.

The included headset for making calls also acts as a set of stereo headphones. In a somewhat irritating move that has become the standard for HTC, the Touch doesn’t use a standard headset plug. Instead, it has an ExtUSB port, which does triple duty as headset jack, synchronization port, and power port.

And I’ve already mentioned that this smartphone comes with a 1 GB microSD card.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to like about the HTC Touch. It’s small, sleek, and yet still powerful. It definitely a solid competitor for the iPhone.

It’s not for everyone, though. If you write a lot of emails or text messages on your smartphone, you’d be better off with a model that includes a built-in keyboard.

And be warned, the Touch isn’t gong to be cheap. At this point, it’s being sold directly to consumers, so there’s no carrier subsidy. This means it’s currently selling for about $500. Still, that’s not a bad price for an unlocked model that offers as much as this one does.

Update: Sprint offers the Touch for $250 with a two-year agreement and after a $100 mail-in rebate.

Pros:

  • Small and sleek
  • Easy fingertip-friendly application launcher
  • Wi-Fi b/g and Bluetooth 2.0

Cons:

  • Minimal buttons

 


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