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Review: HTC Touch smartphone


HTC Touch goldReviews on a website should be definitive. Apparently, it’s a sign of weakness to show dissent between reviewers. And yet, people’s opinions differ about things all the time. This is the reason you see so many three star reviews for films – when one reviewer wants to give it four stars and another reckons it’s only worth two, they tend to meet safely in the middle. With two of the Absolute Gadget team having played with the HTC Touch, we thought perhaps it would be best if you heard both sides of the story for once…

Bad cop: Rene Millman
What we should learn, first and foremost, is that anything billed as an iPhone killer probably isn’t and is never likely to be. The HTC Touch is no different. It will not give Steve Jobs sleepless nights, it is unlikely to win design awards and it will not make you more attractive to members of the opposite sex.

In fact I don’t really think other smartphones have too much to worry about. There are some bits of kit you realise you really don’t want to send back as the test draws to a close, but having spent a lot of time with the HTC Touch I can’t say that I’ll be sorry to let it go.

There’s a time and a place for styli (normally when playing a Stylophone), but just about everything on this device needs the little plastic stick to function. Now, to be fair, this could be because I have fat fingers. However, the Sony Ericsson P1i we previously reviewed had no such touch-screen problems.

Being left-handed meant that scrolling down a page in Internet Explorer obscured the screen with our hand. That wasn’t the only problem. IE on mobiles still hasn’t quite grasped the concept of resizing web pages for a mobile device in the same way the iPhone has. If you want a better web experience you’d have to pay up and download an alternative called Opera, which can do this.

Of course, it being primarily a phone, you’d expect making a simple phone call to be easy. As the keypad is accessed through the screen, you have to press the green button under the screen and then dial the number and then press the green button to make the call. It also appears to predict the number you are going to dial but there doesn’t appear to be anyway of choosing the predicted number on the screen, if you press the green button halfway through keying in the number, that’s what it dials, half the phone number. I get the feeling this phone doesn’t like me.

Texting also appears to require the use of the stylus. I couldn’t figure out how to use the onscreen keypad to text with, which would have been a useful feature. Although with my newly discovered fat fingers, no doubt I’d have trouble performing this function.

One of the few things I did like was the ease at which you could turn the phone into a modem and use it to connect to the internet with a laptop. That way at least you don’t have the usability issues with a normal web browser. However, this does mean turning on Bluetooth as well as the GPRS, which is a good way to run your batteries down quickly. 

Overall, I wasn’t overly impressed with the HTC Touch, bring on the iPhone!

Rating: 4/10


Good cop: Matt Chapman
Before we begin, I want to make it clear that I’ve gone through a lot of phones on my way to HTC Touch. As a journalist my contacts are important to me and since they’re locked away in Microsoft Outlook I need something that’s going to open that lock and let me carry them with me. Unfortunately, I have a complicated way of entering them that includes the company name and contact’s name in the same line – it makes finding people so much easier.

How hard can it be to take that data and present it in the same way on a mobile device? Well, in my search to sync my stuff I’ve tried Sony Ericssons (terrible), Palm devices (surprisingly bad for a PDA), LGs (poor), Nokias (passable but still not great)… the list goes on. In the end, only Windows Mobile software takes my contacts and bungs them onto a device in the exact way I wrote them out. Which makes finding the HTC Touch like a dream come true…

Because, lets face it, most Windows Mobile devices are built for business, often with an ugly-but-necessary keyboard stuck on for bad measure. But the HTC Touch has an element that these are missing – when I’ve taken it out of my pocket to enter some details people have said, “Oooh, what’s that?” A first for me with Windows Mobile products.

But before we get carried away with the fact that this handset doesn’t point you out as a major geek, does it do everything you’re going to need a Windows Mobile phone to do? Unlike Rene, I had no trouble using the phone to make calls as I routinely go through the contacts menu to find people. Either that or they’re one of the nine people I call so often I added them to the favourites page. This can be brought up with a single stroke straight up the touch screen and allowed me to dial people one-handed by the time I’d got used to it.

As for the touch screen keyboard, OK it is tiny. But just a couple of weeks into using the HTC Touch I was able to text using the tip of my thumbnail while walking down the street. Messages are aided by the fact that it remembers what you’ve typed before and offers this up as a single-touch option so you don’t have to type it out again. So when you type “meet you at” it might offer up “the pub”, “the coffee shop” or “work”, depending on what you followed that sentence with in previous conversations. Sure, using the stylus is always going to be the quickest option with such a small keyboard, but there’s not that much in it once you’ve had a bit of practice.

Power and PC connection comes through a standard miniUSB port, making it easy to charge or sync if you already carry another product around with one of those. Our review model was missing the pouch and the microSD card that comes as standard, but these will obviously be a bonus for retail versions.

Naturally, the most impressive feature is the screen. What the onscreen keyboard does is take away the need for buttons and give that space back to viewing photos or videos. The single-stroke TouchFlo gesture that brings up the quick keys (such as Music, Videos, Photos) lets you get into these functions quickly. Flicking right or left using the Touch Cube then accesses other options, such as Email, Internet Explorer, etc. Another single stroke back down the page closes this function.

Our other favourite feature was the addition of Wi-Fi access. Again, having used Wi-Fi capable devices before you’d expect this feature to add quite a few grammes to the device. But the simple access afforded by Windows Mobile 6.0 meant we’d often wake up and surf the news on our phone before we even popped a toe out of bed and flicked our computer on. Our only advice would be not to forget and leave it seeking Wi-Fi points if you don’t want the battery to go bye bye.

Where our love-in with the Touch ends is with the camera. A 2-megapixel image grabber could be just what we needed to leave our regular snapper at home and travel that little bit lighter. But the ‘speed’ at which the pictures were taken meant that any action had already passed, faces were frequently blurred and irreplaceable moments were lost forever. The HTC Touch is the reason one of my Facebook photo albums is called “My smartphone thinks the Sugababes are animated colours”. Throw in the fact that it’s missing a GPS receiver and we’re done bitching.

Overall, once you’ve given the interface the respect it deserves, this is the Windows Mobile device you’ve been looking for.

Rating: 8/10