Verizon XV6900 Review

by Reads (30,003)

Let me make one thing crystal clear right from the top. Despite being called the Verizon XV6900, this device is in no way, shape, or form either a successor of or a replacement to the XV6800. They are, in fact, radically different devices. The XV6800 is a business-oriented machine, while the XV6900 is targeted at civilian customers. So to all those of you hoping for a sudden price drop on the XV6800, I’m afraid you’re waiting in vain.

The XV6900 is Verizon’s version of the HTC Touch. An almost identical model has been sold by Sprint under that name since last fall, while a GSM version is widely available in Europe.

This is a Windows Mobile device with an emphasis on its touchscreen, and supports Verizon’s EV-DO network.

Verizon XV6900Inside This Review

Design & Construction

My first impression on firing up the XV6900 concerned how incredibly small it was. It’s by far the smallest Pocket PC phone that I’ve ever used. It’s actually smaller than my Samsung BlackJack, which while it has a keyboard, doesn’t include a touchscreen (see here).

The new Verizon version of the Touch follows the style of the older Sprint and unlocked GSM versions almost exactly, with a rounded minimalist design. The one big change is that the casing on the Verizon version is all white, which is a bit unusual, and led Ed Hardy to describe it as making the Touch look like an egg.

Verizon XV6900

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Despite this, users need have little fear of showing off dirt on their smartphone — the anti-stick glossy finish repels most grunge. It does take fingerprints, but they’re not very visible unless you turn the device at angle to the light.

The overall build is pretty solid, despite being a plastic casing. It feels good in the hand; rounded corners do wonders, making the small size feel even smaller. HTC went out of its way to give the device a slick, aerodynamic feel, hiding the edges of the battery compartment and all the other major functions of the device that could detract from its smoothness.

Emphasis on the touchscreen, the device’s greatest strength…

Something that I had completely forgotten about the Touch line before I started this review is about the touchscreen. Unlike most devices, where the touchscreen is recessed and has a bezel around it, like a desktop or laptop’s LCD display, the Touch’s digitizer is flush to the face of the device. There’s no gap; the digitizer adheres directly to the rest of the case.

I’ve come to really like this approach for several reasons. One, no seam means no chance for dirt or debris to slide in between the screen and the casing. Second, it makes the edges of the touchscreen easier to access with a fingertip. Of course, there is the issue that the touchscreen is more prone to accidental contact when it’s turned on in a pocket, but that’s a fairly rare event.

For obvious reasons, the touchscreen is probably the most important piece of hardware on the XV6900. Though the original Touch actually came out a few weeks before the iPhone, the family of devices is clearly intended to invite comparison with the touchscreen-based slides and gestures of the Apple device.

To that end, while the Touch does include a stylus, it’s very much designed so that you don’t need one. Featuring HTC’s own custom TouchFLO launcher, as well as a few other customized pieces of software for the touchscreen, you can go just about anywhere in the OS without having to pull out the stylus. Examples include swiping your finger up or down to summon or banish the TouchFLO launcher screen, which provides finger-friendly access to a limited number of contacts and common applications.

HTC TouchFLO

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TouchFLO has been reviewed elsewhere, so I won’t go on about it too long. Suffice to say that it’s not a complete replacement to the device’s user interface by any means — it’s primarily a simplified means of getting to contacts, major features like email and web browsing, and a modification to the Today screen that increases its single-glance informational content. It’s neat to use, no doubt, and well designed. Transitions are smooth, and the actions are straightforward. I’m not sure I’d buy a device just to use it, but it’s a very nice value-added feature.

…and also the device’s greatest weakness.

HTC includes a special finger-friendly predictive soft keyboard, designed to let the user input text without needing the stylus. It operates along the lines of the multi-tap system used on phones and other devices with less than the full number of buttons. Each large button gets a couple of letters: tap once for X, twice for Y, etcetera.

Frankly, I wasn’t too impressed with this. While it makes a slightly more finger-friendly keyboard, the letters are rearranged from their normal positions, making for an added learning curve before inputting text. Fairly soon after getting the device, I installed Resco Keyboard, which is much more friendly and easier to use for text input.

However, “easier” should not be confused with “easy.” The Touch lags well behind keyboarded devices in being able to input text, and you’d be about on par with a skilled user on a T9 setup.

Make no mistake, data entry is the big weakness of the Touch. Combining a relatively small screen with a lack of any kind of button input, anything more than putting in a few short words becomes quite laborious. Frequent texters and those needing to edit Office documents would be well advised to look elsewhere.

Communication and Wireless

Unlike the GSM versions of the Touch, the XV6900 features no internal Wi-Fi, just Bluetooth and its CDMA/EV-DO cellular radio. Presumably, Verizon would rather direct its civilian customers to the company’s own high speed (and high priced) network, rather than letting them at that unseemly “Wi-Fi” thing that the business users of the Mogul/XV6800 get.

Performance on the local Verizon network seemed typical of most recent smartphone devices, with data speeds in the predictable 400 to 1000 Kbit range, averaging 800 or so. Signal strength I would also describe as average, not getting an excessive lock on the nearby towers, but not experiencing any unusual dead spots either.

Note that the EV-DO does not include Revision A, even though the hardware supports it: like the internal GPS, this is locked out by software until such time as an update is available.

The device’s Bluetooth 2.0 module is regrettably still governed by the Microsoft Bluetooth Stack, which provides an excellent example of why people assume that Microsoft doesn’t know how to do a user interface. At least it’s the newer Windows Mobile 6 version which is more reliable than its WM5 ancestor, if no more pleasurable to work with.

Expansion and Connectivity

The XV6900 uses the by now familiar HTC ExtUSB port, allowing for mini-USB cables as well as HTC’s proprietary headphones and headsets. None of the latter are included in the box, though, so you’ll need to go Bluetooth or pick up a set of HTC headphones separately.

Where, you ask, is the microSD card slot? Well here’s the good news: it’s not under the battery. The bad news? You might wish it were.

Here’s how you get at it. First, remove the battery cover by sliding it upward. Then, work a fingernail under the silver strip on the right hand side of the device, right above the camera button, and pry outward. Do the same at the other end of the bar. Once this is loose, pry it upward, toward the battery compartment, and hold it there. You’ll see revealed in this tiny, hard-to-access space the microSD slot.

Yes, this really is as ridiculous and unnecessarily difficult as it sounds. OK, so it maintains a sleek exterior look for the device, and it protects the card from being accidentally ejected, but did anyone ask about how the user would feel being so inconvenienced if they ever wanted to access their memory card for any reason? Too many steps and things to pry.

Software Issues

A couple of things that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else, so I mention them here.

First off, like the Sprint version of the Touch, the Verizon version includes a built-in internal GPS receiver. Also like the Sprint Touch, GPS on the Verizon XV6900 is disabled in software, making it impossible for the user to access without hacking the device. This is possible, certainly, but it requires a moderately high level of knowledge, some unofficial software, plus nerves of, if not steel, at least cast iron. If you don’t know what a ROM flash is, leave it to the experienced gadget-heads.

The Sprint Touch is slated to receive an update later this year that will enable the GPS receiver, but at this point no one knows if the Verizon version will get it too. My advice to potential buyers: don’t assume that you will get an “official” GPS fix. That way, if it goes the other direction, it’s a bonus and not a disappointment.

Verizon XV6900 vs Samsung BlackJack

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The second software-related thing on the table is, I had an issue with the device’s phone dialer application. Whenever I’d try to punch in a number, it seemed a bit slow to respond to my input. Not critically so, but just enough to be annoying, and possibly to trip you up if you’re dialing quickly and miss a tap. I hope that this gets sorted out in a software update.

Battery Life

Due to its size, the Touch has a smaller battery than most Pocket PC phones. Weighing in at 1100 mAh, this compares about equally to many slim non-touchscreen devices, but is lower than the 1500 mAh cells that are fielded by its bigger brother, the HTC Mogul/XV6800.

Obviously, given that it’s driving about the same hardware, this means a shorter battery life. The official specs list 3.5 hours of talk time, and 10 hours of other use, both of which may be a bit generous based on my use. But not excessively so. The Touch is still quite usable, it just requires a slightly more watchful eye on the battery gage. 


Conclusion

The XV6900 is an incredibly slick device, and you can’t help but like it at least a bit, even if it’s not necessarily to your taste.

The unusual design makes it a lot different in terms of how it feels to use than most Windows Mobile devices, despite the fact that fundamentally the hardware is almost the same.

Personally, I’m still not convinced that a phone almost completely without buttons is really as reliable as it should be, but if that’s your thing, then the XV6900 offers an interesting alternative to the iPhone.

Pros:

  • Small and light
  • Different and interesting touchscreen system
  • Easy to use with just fingers

Cons:

  • Absurd MicroSD slot location
  • GPS disabled in software
  • Dialer slow to respond

Bottom Line:

A sleek and inviting smartphone for those who don’t care about the lack of either a keyboard or keypad.


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