We’ve all seen the iPhone now in some form of another. It was everywhere when it was announced, everywhere when it was released, and now, it’s still everywhere as people attempt to make it work outside the US where it was released. Australia is yet to see the so-called revolutionary touch screen device, but HTC has jumped the gun and released one of its own. The HTC P3450 Touch is a rather unassuming looking PDA, but underneath the casing is HTC’s TouchFLO technology, which makes handset navigation a little bit more intuitive.
It’s also quite well featured, with a two megapixel camera, large 2.8 inch screen and the latest iteration of Windows Mobile, version 6.0. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microSD card slot (1GB card included) and the Office Mobile software suite round out the feature set. Sadly, 3G is absent from the Touch, with users having to make do with EDGE data instead (which is only supported by Telstra).
The Touch also marks a milestone for HTC, with it being the first device in Australia to retail under HTC’s own brand. The company is retiring the Dopod brand in Australia, with all HTC devices to be sold under its own name in the future.
The HTC Touch’s claim to fame is obviously the special touch recognition technology HTC has developed, which it calls TouchFLO. This technology allows you to navigate the important sections of the phone by swiping your thumb across the screen in a certain way. As TouchFLO forms a major part of the user interface in this device I mention it in more detail in the user interface section. However it doesn’t cover the entire phone, and there are some sections where you will find yourself digging for the stylus to operate the phone more efficiently. This is disappointing because a PDA without a keyboard and few buttons makes complex tasks such as typing text a painful experience. TouchFLO doesn’t help in this regard.
The Touch is your typical PDA – a rectangular block with a large screen and single nav-pad at the bottom. There’s no moving parts such as a slide-out keyboard; text input is performed on screen. The antenna is internal (located at the top of the phone) while the phone is only available in a black colour with chrome lining. It’s encased in that rubbery plastic that is very resistant to scratches. Measurements are 99.9 x 58 x 13.9 millimetres, while weight is 112 grams with the battery equipped. It’s quite thin at first sight and feels comfortable in the palm of one’s hand.
The 2.8 inch screen dominates most of the face of the Touch, with the only buttons being a five-way nav-pad and send/end keys. It’s also a simple affair on the other surfaces of the phone. The left side features a volume rocker switch, while the right holds a camera shutter button. A power button lies on the top, while the microphone, soft-reset button and HTC’s proprietary ExtUSB connector sit on the bottom. The ExtUSB connector is effectively your typical miniUSB plug that’s been reshaped slightly to take proprietary HTC peripherals (such as the stereo handsfree) in addition to regular miniUSB data cables and chargers.
The back of the phone features the camera and polyphonic speaker. Removing the back cover (the entire back surface) of the phone reveals the battery and an antenna extension port, while removing the battery reveals… nothing! In fact the SIM card slot is hidden in the right-hand side of the phone behind a chrome cover, which is removable one you open the back cover of the phone. Both the SIM card and microSD card are stored in spring-loaded slots here.
User interface & display
The Touch makes use of a large 2.8 inch touch-screen LCD. In true Windows Mobile fashion it only displays 65,536 colours, although its resolution is the current standard of 240x320 pixels. The screen’s brightness is adjustable through four different levels, with the brightest setting allowing the screen to be easily read under direct sunlight. Much lower settings can be used indoors, saving on battery life. Backlight timeout can also be specified.
Unlike most touch-screens which are covered by a flexible sheet of plastic (used so the screen can sense touch input), this one comes with a hard plastic surface which usually protects non-touch-screen phones. I’m not sure why this material has been used because it makes touch-screen input more difficult – you need to push hard on the screen for the phone to detect your touch, whether with fingers or a stylus. Perhaps it was to make it more scratch resistant, but during my testing session it somehow became scratched in a pocket that had nothing else in it. This cover also distorted backlight colours, creating a grainy look that was absolutely horrible when the screen displayed a white background. It’s the type of grainy look you usually get when the screen is covered in heavy fingerprints, but no amount of cleaning was able to get rid of it in the Touch’s case.
Windows Mobile 6 Professional replaces Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Phone Edition, and at first glance you’ll be hard pressed to find any difference between the two versions. Apart from a slight visual makeover there aren’t many differences at all. In a nutshell, the email system has been updated with several minor changes, with the major one being HTML email support. Internet connection sharing to other devices is greatly improved, while the Windows Live networking service (Messenger, Spaces etc.) is now built into the OS. Windows Update makes a handheld appearance in the form of ‘Windows Mobile Update’, and finally, Office Mobile has received a major upgrade allowing document files to now be created on a PDA, in addition to being viewed/edited. There are also several other minor changes, which you can learn about at Wikipedia.
HTC has created its own standby screen for the Touch, called HTC Home. It consists of three main tabbed displays: Home, Weather and Launcher. The Home tab displays a large clock, with counters for missed calls, SMS/MMS and email. The Weather tab shows current and forecast weather conditions in a city of your choice. The Launcher tab contains shortcuts for up to nine frequently used programs, which you can set yourself. Underneath the three tabs is a list of upcoming calendar appointments.
The usual Start menu is accessible from any screen, where you can access regular menus such as messaging and calendar, as well as all programs and settings. You can also use the Touch Cube menu system, which is part of TouchFLO. You slide your thumb upwards from the bottom of the screen to bring up a rotating cube menu. There are three different sides to it (yes, I know this technically makes it a 3D triangle and not a cube, but HTC begs to differ). One side holds shortcuts to the device’s music, photos and videos, while another is a visual speed dial menu – nine icons that can dial specific people. The last menu has links to Email, SMS/MMS, Internet Explorer, Tasks, the Calendar and the centralised Comm Manager connections interface. The Touch Cube is closed by sliding your thumb downwards off the edge of the screen.
TouchFLO is also visible in scrolling menus. You can swipe your thumb up or down to send a large list scrolling in a single direction for several seconds. You can also pan your thumb up or down to scroll a menu or webpage a short distance. If you drag your thumb to the edge of the screen and hold it there, the display will keep panning until you remove it. TouchFLO is limited to these operations, for other more complex tasks such as writing text or selecting tiny menu options, the included stylus helps you get it done a lot quicker.
The Touch’s TI OMAP 850 is somewhat slow for a modern PDA. Running at only 201MHz, it’s definitely noticed when you open an application for the first time – the PDA takes several seconds to open it. I also noticed that scrolling the TouchFLO way could cause a lot of stutter, resulting in blocky scrolling that took nearly half a minute to stop. A faster processor would have been a great idea.
The Graphite only supports US English, although different locales can be set to change preferences such as currency signs and date display.
Making and receiving calls
The Touch is rather limited in long-range network connectivity. It can only connect to GSM networks running on the 900/1800/1900 bands, meaning it can be used throughout Europe and Asia, as well as certain parts of the USA and Canada. The Touch was tested on Vodafone’s GSM network and scored well on reception, picking up signal on par with other phones I’ve tested in the past.
Calls can be held the regular way (with built in speaker and microphone), using the built-in loudspeaker, with the stereo earphones or with a Bluetooth headset. The Touch did a good job using any of the methods above. Audio quality is high with clear sound, while volume can be adjusted through a large range with the loudest setting audible in noisy environments like shopping centres. The loudspeaker was even louder, but still did a good job of picking up my voice amongst other noise in the area.
Using the wired stereo headset, sound quality is very clear and volume is adequate. My test Motorola HS801 Bluetooth headset also worked fine with the Touch, with clear audio transmitted through both speaker and microphone.
Owing to the nature of the Windows operating system, contact list capacity is as large as available memory, meaning thousands of contacts can be stored. Each contact allows several data fields to be attached, matching those available in Outlook and Outlook Express. They include address, work address, multiple phone numbers and email addresses, birthday and job title.
Windows Mobile 6’s ringtone system has been reorganised, with certain pre-set tones now only selectable for certain tasks. There are dedicated ring and alert tones which can only be used with message alerts and incoming calls respectively. There are 17 dedicated ring tones as well as three alert tones, while my test handset had several other various types of songs and tunes. There was a large variety, although some tones played with very soft volume, even at maximum setting. Incoming calls can also be adjusted so that a ringtone plays on its own, with vibration, or you can set it to vibrate then ring as well.
As with other Windows Mobile Pocket PC versions, there’s no profile system here. You can adjust ring volume to silent or vibrate settings by clicking on the speaker icon in the top status bar and selecting ‘Off’ or ‘Vibrate’ respectively.
The Touch supports all of today’s messaging standards – SMS, MMS and email (POP3/IMAP4 with push support).
Windows Mobile 6’s messaging system is slightly reorganised. SMS and MMS are now combined into one section, with email comprising the other. SMS composition hasn’t changed, with support for long SMS included. MMS is input using the interface created by ArcSoft, which has been found in several PDAs so far. There are three preset templates you can start with, or you can create your own MMS using pictures, sound and/or video. Extra slides can be created to make a slideshow or simply attach extra files of the same type. Maximum message size is 100 kilobytes.
For email the Touch uses Outlook Mobile. There’s support for both POP3 and IMAP4 email types and the phone will attempt to download configuration settings depending on your email address’ ISP. Direct push email from an IMAP4 Exchange mail server is also supported. Files can be attached to email, with no file size limit applied.
Text entry is limited to on-screen methods, including handwriting and virtual keyboard. There are three different handwriting recognition systems in the Touch and I found the third party ‘Transcriber’ system to be the most accurate. You can write entire sentences across the screen before it attempts to convert them to text, and it does a near perfect job of it, even with running writing. If you use the virtual keyboard a word prediction system will attempt to finish off the word you’re trying to type.
The Touch is limited in its long-range connectivity options. It only has a GSM radio that can tune the 900, 1800 and 1900 bands. It uses GPRS and EDGE packet data access for internet connectivity. EDGE has a maximum connection speed of between 150-250 kilobits per second, while GPRS manages at up to only 48 Kbps.
For local connectivity USB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless are available. Wi-Fi wireless allows access to the internet at speeds of up to 54 Mbps in a wireless hotspot. This is handy if you have a wireless broadband router at home or if your local café has a hotspot set up. USB cables allow you to connect the Touch to a PC to synchronise data and recharge the battery, while Bluetooth supports connections between PCs and other handheld devices. The Touch is well equipped with Bluetooth profiles, including A2DP for music streaming, headset/handsfree for wireless voice calls and object push for data transfer.
The Touch comes packaged with a Microsoft ActiveSync CD for data synchronisation between it and a PC. Nothing’s changed with the transition to Windows Mobile 6 in this department. Once you put the CD in your computer, you just follow the on-screen instructions to install the software, wait for it to install, connect the Touch and you’re all done. The whole process is very smooth and painless.
JBenchmark 1.0 performance was quite impressive, while JBenchmark 2.0 results were above average. Remember JB 1.0 represents MIDP 1.0 applications, while JB 2.0 represents MIDP 2.0. Sadly, no Java applications are preinstalled, so you’ll need to find a source to install your own games. However, the two standard Windows Mobile games, Solitaire and Bubble Breaker are included.
The Touch comes with Microsoft’s Windows Media 10 Player Mobile. Media Player supports a number of music formats including MP3, AAC and WMA files. There’s also support for MIDI files with 40 tone polyphonics. You can search for music when the program is first run and create your own playlists. Functions such as repeat and random play are supported. Video files can also be played as long they have the 3GP or WMV extensions.
If Media Player isn’t your software of choice, HTC includes another option – its own proprietary music playback software called Audio Manager. Audio Manager is a bit limited in its functionality, but it does allow you to set the currently playing file directly as a ringtone. The Audio Manager is linked to the Music shortcut on the Touch Cube menu.
The Touch can handle applications coded in Java or for Windows Mobile directly. In the case of Java it can only handle 2D applications because the 3D extension isn’t supported by the Java virtual machine software. Nonetheless, benchmark results are amazing:
Being a PDA, there are plenty of useful organiser applications to be found. The well known calendar allows you to set appointments on different days and includes a reminder function to alert you in case you forget about one. The tasks list is a simplified version of this, letting you set a list of tasks to perform and reminders for each one. There’s also a simple calculator for basic arithmetic, while the SIM toolkit allows access to certain operator services. As mentioned earlier, the Office Mobile application lets you edit Word and Excel files, while PowerPoint files can only be viewed. Adobe Viewer LE 2.0 is also on hand to handle PDF files. The Voice Commander voice recognition program allows you to load up programs and perform other operations using only your voice, and it’s quite accurate without needing any training.
Remember, you can always add install your own software if you find the handset’s feature set lacking.
Considering that with a regular PDA there’s no moving parts, it was very hard to find fault with the Touch’s build quality. It doesn’t feel flimsy and it certainly isn’t. The battery cover is firmly locked in, to the point that it’s actually slightly difficult to remove.
The Touch’s battery has a large 1100 mAh capacity. Official talk and standby times are up to five hours and 200 hours respectively. In practice, the Touch’s battery survival time was phenomenal. It was tested on Vodafone’s GSM network using my everyday battery test. The Touch was fully charged and left on continuously until it ran out of power, including throughout the night. During this time I used the phone like I would my own, running exactly 30 minutes of calls through the phone each day to simulate moderate call usage. I used a combination of regular and speakerphone call methods to do this. I also sent a moderate amount of SMS messages and used Solitaire and internet access to kill time whenever I needed to. In practice I did this for approximately 10 minutes each day.
The Touch lasted a staggering four and a half days under the test. Nearly all phones I’ve tested in the last year or so are barely able to last more than two days, so for the Touch to last four and a half is quite a feat. I’m sure the slow processor (lower CPU clock = lower power consumption) and lack of 3G connectivity (3G consumes more power than GSM) has helped the situation.