Sprint is keeping on with its busy summer of phone releases. In addition to the Palm Pre and upcoming RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630, the carrier was the first to offer the HTC Snap. Announced at CTIA 2009, we were glad to see the sleek QWERTY device from HTC (it's been a while since we've seen this form factor from the smartphone manufacturer) and given the design, it's no surprise that the handset is optimized for e-mail and messaging.
The Sprint HTC Snap definitely delivers on the messaging front, and the Inner Circle feature for prioritizing e-mail is quite useful. In addition, the smartphone offers good call quality and is quite snappy. However, we're disappointed by the lack of Wi-Fi and the changes in design from the unlocked GSM version we saw at CTIA really take away from the device. It's a decent device for those who want a basic messaging smartphone, but even so, we find the $149.99 price tag (with a two-year contract) a little high, especially in light of Verizon's announcement of the HTC Ozone, which will go for $49.99 and offers Wi-Fi and world roaming.
Sprint's version of the HTC Snap is bit different from the GSM model we saw at CTIA 2009, and we can't say we're particularly thrilled with the changes. While still fairly sleek and compact at 4.5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and 4.2 ounces, the smartphone has a slick, plasticky feel. We wouldn't go so far as to say that the phone is cheap; the handset still has a solid construction, but we much preferred the soft-touch finish of the unlocked GSM version as well the brushed metal plate around the navigation array.
The Snap features a 2.4-inch QVGA nontouch display that shows 65,000 colors at a 320x240-pixel resolution. It's bright and clear, though it's not as sharp as the upcoming RIM BlackBerry Tour. Also, the screen size is on the smaller side, requiring a bit of scrolling when reading longer e-mails or viewing Web pages, and unlike the Palm Treo Pro, you don't have the benefit of a touch screen. The smartphone features the same sliding panel user interface found on recent Windows Mobile devices, but you can also customize it with different layouts, color schemes, background images, and more.
Below the display, you have a standard set of navigation controls that include two soft keys, Talk and End/power buttons, a Home shortcut, a back button, and five-way directional keypad with a center select button. The layout of the controls is roomy but once again, we found ourselves pining for the Snap we saw at CTIA, which included keys that didn't feel so clicky and a trackball navigator.
One last aspect we missed about GSM HTC Snap is the QWERTY keyboard. Sprint's version includes smaller, squarish keys that have very little to no spacing between them, so users with larger thumbs will have difficulties, though it's easier to use than the cramped one found on the Palm Treo Pro. One other thing to note: the Shift/Caps key is located where the A button is normally found on most QWERTY keyboards, so we often found ourselves hitting the Shift key when we wanted to input an A--a minor annoyance. The number buttons are highlighted in blue on the left half of the keyboard and the bottom row includes shortcuts to the camera, messages, Web, and Inner Circle feature.
There's a volume rocker on the left side and on the bottom, you'll find a mini USB port that also acts as a power connector and headset jack (sigh). The camera is on the back of the device, while the microSD expansion slot is located behind the battery cover on the lower right side.
Sprint packages the HTC Snap with a travel charger, a USB cable, a stereo headset and audio adapter, a recycling envelope, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phones accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Messaging is obviously the biggest draw of the HTC Snap. As a Windows Mobile 6.1 device, it offers Microsoft Direct Push Technology for real-time e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. In addition, you can configure the smartphone to access POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts, which, in most cases, is a simple process of inputting your username and password. The Snap also comes with instant messaging clients and supports threaded text messaging.
HTC also added its own touch to the e-mail functionality with its Inner Circle feature. The idea behind it is to prioritize your e-mails based on your preferences. By pressing the dedicated Inner Circle button, the HTC Snap will bring e-mails from a preselected group of people to the top of your in-box so you can read and reply to them immediately. Setting up your Inner Circle of contacts is fairly easy. By pressing the dedicated Inner Circle button, and you'll be presented with a list of all your e-mail contacts where you can go through and check those you want to include in your Inner Circle. It can be a little overwhelming if you have a long list of contacts, but there is a search feature that can save you time. Once you've set your list, you can still go back later and add or remove contacts; there is no limit to how many people you can have in your Inner Circle.
We have to confess that we underestimated the value of Inner Circle at first. However, after using the Snap over the past few days, we've really come to love the feature. It's not something that's going to become a must-have feature on all smartphones but it does provide a simple and easy way to sort through messages. It was particularly helpful for filtering work e-mail where we get a lot of PR pitches and other miscellaneous messages, so it was nice to surface the most important e-mails with just a touch of a button.