Editor's Note, April 22, 2008: Ratings have been adjusted with respect to newer devices that have entered the market.
Editor's note, November 5, 2007: This review has been updated since the original post with corrections to the Design and Performance sections. We apologize for the errors.
If you'll remember, we reviewed an unlocked version of the HTC Touch when it first debuted back in June, which made headlines for its all-touch-screen interface--pre-iPhone release. We thought the TouchFlo interface was cool but had some major problems with the poor text entry input methods (or lack thereof). Still, this didn't seem to bother too many CNET readers as it's garnered an average 8.5 user rating. So, many of you should be happy to hear that Sprint has picked up the HTC Touch, with availability starting on November 4 for $249.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates.
Sprint's version of the Touch includes some nice enhancements, including EV-DO support and compatibility with the Sprint Music Store and Sprint TV. It's also a better performer with faster response times, thanks to a faster processor and more memory. Unfortunately the speaker is still on the weaker side, and Wi-Fi capabilities have been stripped out of this version. And while there were improvements made to the onscreen keyboard, we still have issue with the less-than-ideal method of text entry. That said, if you just want a smartphone to help manage your personal and professional life (e.g., e-mail triage, organizing appointments, making calls, and so forth) the HTC Touch is certainly capable and cool to boot.
The HTC Touch is unlike any other smartphone the company has produced in a number of ways. Obviously, the TouchFlo interface is the biggest story, but the Touch also is the smallest touch-screen smartphone that we've seen in recent memory. The handset measures a petite 3.9 inches long by 2.8 inches wide by 0.5 inch tall and weighs just 4 ounces, fitting nicely in the palm of your hand and easily slipping into a bag or pants pocket. Compare that with the bulky Sprint Mogul (4.3 inches high by 2.3 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep; 6.5 ounces) and Palm Centro (4.2 inches high by 2.1 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep; 4.2 ounces). In addition, the device features a soft-touch finish (a la T-Mobile Dash), to give the device a nice, rubberlike texture that makes the phone easy to grip.
Moving on to the touch screen. First off, the screen itself measures 2.8 inches diagonally and displays 65,536 colors at a 240x320 pixel resolution. That's all pretty standard, but what sets the screen apart from other smartphones is the TouchFLO technology behind it. Basically, it allows you operate certain portions of the smartphone with a series of finger swipes or taps. To complement this functionality, HTC also made some interface and menu changes so you can more easily access your messages, applications, and other pertinent information.
Starting with the home screen, if you've used Windows Mobile devices before, you'll notice a new look and feel right away. On top of the shortcuts to your contacts and calendar, you now have one-touch access to your messages, call list, frequently used applications, and even weather. Frankly, it reminds us of the Spb menu interface we saw on the Pharos GPS Phone 600e, and whether it's a copycat or not, we appreciate the convenience of this new interface. From there, you then can dig deeper into the smartphone by dragging your thumb from the bottom of the screen (around the Sprint logo) to the top. That will take you to a new screen where you can cycle through a 3D interface of three menu choices: Applications, Contacts, and Sprint Power Vision content by swiping your finger left to right or vice versa. Launching a program only requires a tap on the appropriate icon. To get back to the home page, just sweep from the top to the bottom of the display.
The screen is also smart enough to know the difference between a tap and finger sweep, which comes in handy for scrolling through e-mails and Web pages. When checking out a Web site a quick flick up or down will tell the Touch to automatically scroll through the page. You can then stop the action by tapping the screen. You can do this with your Office documents, e-mails, and more--all very cool.
Overall, it only took us few minutes to get a good understanding of those commands, but we needed more time to learn how the touch screen works once you're in an application. For example, to exit out of a Word document our natural inclination was to swipe the screen downward, similar to what's needed to get back to the home page. But that's not the case. Rather, you press the X or OK box at the top right of the screen, or you can drag your finger upward to get back to the 3D menu. Oh, another thing we noticed: The TouchFLO technology doesn't seem to work when you switch from portrait to landscape mode--oops.
Our biggest beef with the unlocked version of the HTC Touch was having to use the tiny virtual keyboard to compose messages and notes. You were pretty much reduced to pecking at the letters with the stylus, which was neither fun nor efficient. Fortunately, the Sprint version includes improvements to the keyboard that makes text entry easier. You now have the option of a 20-button QWERTY keyboard that mimics the SureType keyboards found on some BlackBerry devices. The virtual keys are larger so you can actually use your fingers to tap the letters. The full QWERTY keyboard features bigger buttons as well. Though not as roomy as the modified keyboard, it's certainly an improved experience to the GSM HTC Touch. As with other Windows Mobile devices, you also have the option of using one of three handwriting-recognition systems--Block Recognizer, Letter Recognizer, or Transcriber--but again, it's not the easiest or most ideal way to enter text. On the bright side, the virtual dialpad for making phone calls is spacious and usable. And while this may only spark jealousy, HTC recently announced the HTC Touch Dual for the European markets, which features a slide-out alphanumeric keypad. One can only hope this model eventually makes its way to the States since having those tactile buttons will be a huge benefit.