HTC, the company behind many of today's most popular Windows Mobile smart phones, is known for offering a broad range of devices. It has done petite, thin, and powerful, and it's even gone above and beyond traditional smart phones, as we saw at CTIA 2007 with the introduction of the HTC Shift and HTC Advantage. And now, the company has once again pushed the limits of design with its latest project: the HTC Touch.
Under the hood, the Touch isn't that different from its HTC and Windows Mobile 6 sibling, the T-Mobile Wing. Yet the HTC Touch makes its mark by offering TouchFLO, a brand-new user interface that allows you to operate the smart phone just by swiping your finger on the device's touch screen. It's innovative and cool, but it's also flawed. Our main concern is the lack of a sizable keyboard, which is a huge drawback for messaging fanatics, and it even slows down simple tasks such as entering new contacts.
HTC is hoping to capture a broader consumer audience with the Touch--someone who is thinking of making the leap from a cell phone to a smart phone--and it's certainly a step in the right direction. It's fun to use, so we didn't feel like we were using a corporate-geared device. We also absolutely welcome the innovation in technology and design, as it opens up the doors to smarter and cooler phones. That said, we're not sure the HTC Touch is quite ready for mass consumption yet. There are some niggling design quirks, and performance can sometimes be sluggish. But mostly, if the company can find a better solution for text input (perhaps by the time it's finally released in the States?), then the HTC Touch could certainly catch on. Bottom line: it's a good first effort, but we'd hold off for now.
Finally, we'd be remiss not to mention the Apple iPhone here. With its touch screen capability, there's a natural inclination to compare the two. In fact, the Touch has already solicited a few, "Oh, so it's like the iPhone?" responses from casual observers. Will it rival the iPhone? We'll know in just a couple of weeks.
The HTC Touch is on sale now in the United Kingdom and will ship in the rest of Europe and Asia later this month. U.S. availability is expected during the second half of the year. No official word on pricing or carrier, but we'll keep you updated with any news and will re-evaluate the device once the we get the U.S. version of the HTC Touch.
The HTC Touch is unlike any other smart phone 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 smart phone 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 3.98 ounces, fitting nicely in the palm of your hand and easily slipping into a bag or pants pocket. Compare that to the bulky Palm Treo 755p (4 inches by 2.3 inches by 0.8 inch; 5.6 ounces) or Cingular 8525 (4.4 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.8 inch; 6.2 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 smart phones is the TouchFLO technology behind it. Basically, it allows you to operate certain portions of the smart phone 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 smart phone by dragging your thumb from the bottom of the screen (around the HTC 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 Media 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 a 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.
However, our biggest beef with the HTC is that there's no easy way to enter text. Given the compact design, a full QWERTY keyboard is clearly out, but you're reduced to using a tiny virtual keyboard that absolutely requires the use of a stylus. I have pretty small hands and couldn't accurately type messages with my fingertips. Having nails may help, but the stylus is your best bet. It's true that the HTC Touch isn't meant to be a messaging machine for the power business user, but pecking out notes with the little stylus and onscreen keyboard just doesn't sound appealing or efficient. We really hope this is something HTC will reconsider or tweak in the future--perhaps before the device arrives in the States. On the bright side, the virtual dialpad for making phone calls is spacious and usable.