So, you use a Windows Mobile phone. That is great. They are just chock full of features and information. Of course, in order to access any of that information, you will need either tiny fingers or the very slim, hand cramping stylus that came with your device. Until now!
One of the most talked about developments in the mobile community this summer was the iPhone and its finger friendly interface. This interface is marked by large buttons which easily allow you to interact with your device while ditching the impossible to hold stylus. Before the iPhone had even been released, however, the Windows Mobile developers, in the form of HTC, fired back with their own finger-friendly device, the aptly named HTC Touch.
The HTC Touch recently made the transition to CDMA, in the form of the Sprint Touch. Read past the jump for my complete look at this first finger-friendly Windows Mobile device to be distributed by Sprint.
What’s In the Box: Before we look at what is inside the box, let’s take a quick look at the box itself. Like most cellphone and PDA manufacturers, HTC has packaged the Touch to showoff the device as much as possible, while hiding all of the other "junk" that comes with it. I think they did an exceptional job of this with the Touch.
The box displays a picture of the Touch, surrounded by graphical representations of all it can do.
Lift this picture up to reveal the device itself inside. At the risk of making a terrible pun, I thought this was a really nice touch.
In addition to the device, the package also includes:
- The Getting Started Packet
- Software CD
- LCD Screen Protector
- Carrying Pouch
- Micro SD card (512 MB)
- Two Mini USB Adaptor
- 2.5 mm Headset/Headphone Adaptor
- USB Sync Cable
- 2.5 mm Stereo Headset
- AC Phone Charger
Overview and Controls: The first thing I noticed about the Touch was how skinny it is. By far, it is the skinniest Windows Mobile device I have ever used (you can see a size comparison between the Dell Axim x50v (bottom), Palm Treo 700wx, Sprint Mogul, and Sprint Touch (top)); yet it fits easily in your hand, without feeling as though it will slip right out. This is due, in part to the rubberized material which comprises much of the Touch’s body. This aided the feel of the device in my hand, providing a more consistent and secure grip.
The Touch is designed to be controlled via the touchscreen, and it clearly shows in the design. Unlike most HTC designed phones, there are almost no hardware buttons on the Touch (that is the Touch on the right).
Starting on the top of the device, we find the power button. That’s all. Nothing more to see here.
On the left hand side, there is a volume slider. I am always happy to find a hardware volume slider. Frequently, the on-screen volume control will be covered while you are working or playing games. As such, it is helpful to have a volume control available at any time. Nonetheless, I was disappointed, to find that the volume slider could not control anything else, such as scrolling. I really missed the scroll wheel on this device, which is one of the most useful controls I have found on Windows Mobile devices.
On the right hand side, we find a button to access the 2 megapixel camera. Above that is a slot for the micro SD memory card. This slot, however, is covered by a door which is ridiculously difficult to open. In order to access the card, you must remove the battery cover from the back of the device, snap open one end, and then pull the door open from the top. Additionally, this door is about twice as big as it needed to be. The micro SD slot on my Sprint Mogul does not have a cover or door, and I have never had a problem with it. I understand that in the HTC version of the Sprint, the SIM card was stored behind this door, however, Sprint does not utilize SIM cards. As such, the purpose of this design was really lost on this device. I would have preferred a more open access to the SIM card, like that in the Mogul.
On the top of the right hand side is a stylus. This struck me as odd, because the Touch is supposed to be designed in a manner which should not require a stylus at all. After using the Touch for a short time, however, I realized why the stylus was necessary. Although many of the features are initially designed to be finger friendly, once you reach beneath the facade, you will find many of the stylus-required Windows Mobile screens which you are used to. In this respect, the Touch reminded me a lot of the initial release of Windows 95. Although it touted a revolutionary new interface, it was the same old architecture underneath. So, although you will not need the stylus on the surface, once you get into using the Touch, you will be happy it is there.
Turning to the stylus itself, we find nothing special. It is a little bit smaller than some of the styli I have used, but I was happy to see that HTC did not incorporate the collapsing stylus model that they used for the Mogul.
Above you can see a comparison between the included styli from (from left) the Dell Axim x50v, Palm Treo 700wx, Sprint Mogul, and Sprint Touch. In case you lose the stylus, or just need a spare for any reason, there is an extra in the box.
Consistent with the design of most HTC devices, the bottom of the Touch includes a lanyard/wrist strap holder. Interestingly, however, there is no lanyard or wrist strap included in the box. Additionally, there is a microphone, soft reset button, and the standard HTC 11-pin sync/charge/headphone jack.
Moving on to the back of the device, we find a speaker, primarily for the speakerphone.
Additionally, there is a 2 megapixel camera. One interesting addition here is the self-portrait mirror, which allows you to line up a picture of yourself to take with the included camera. I don’t really know how useful this will be, but it is pretty cool.
As you can see, this seemed to work reasonably well.
Of course, the entire back cover slides off to reveal the 1100 mAh battery. I was disappointed that the battery was not more powerful. This is essentially the same size battery which came with my Dell Axim four years ago.
Now for the part of the tour you have all been waiting for: the front. Of course, the majority of the device consists of the touch screen. The screen seemed to be constructed from a somewhat heavier plastic than most touch screens I have used. I felt this affected the sensitivity just a little. Although this was not a significant issue, it was enough that sometimes I would need to press more than once, or a little harder than usual in order for a screen tap to register. Unlike many devices, this screen extends all the way to the edge of the device. Since the screen overlays the frame, that actually becomes part of the touch screen, which took a little getting used to, but is necessary for the TouchFlo controls. On top of the screen is the earpiece, which also contains the notification LED.
Beneath the screen are the standard green talk key and red end key. The end key can also be used as a back or close button. In the middle is the navigation pad, which also includes an enter button.
One notable absence on the Touch is the lack of a hardware keyboard. Although it is designed for you to input information via the onscreen keyboard (and we will get to that later), I have never been able to get used to using a soft keyboard or SIP. One of the reasons I love my Mogul is the slide-out keyboard, and I would have loved to see a similar keyboard on the Touch. Many of you will probably comment here that a slide-out keyboard would defeat the purpose of the Touch. And you might be right about that. My personal preference, however, is to use a keyboard rather than an onscreen SIP, and I have found it extremely difficult to perform tasks like email, instant messaging, and document editing without a keyboard.
TouchFlo: The main attraction of the Sprint Touch is the interface, which HTC has aptly named TouchFlo. To access the TouchFlo interface, simply swish your finger from the bottom of the screen to the top. This will release a three-dimensional "cube" on your screen (I put cube in quotes because it is actually a three-sided figure, known as a trihedron, whereas a cube obviously has four sides, not including the top and bottom). Swipe your finger from side-to-side to send this "cube" spinning. Try it. Really. The images simply do not show how much fun this can be.
On the Sprint Touch, the first side of the TouchFlo cube contains your picture contacts. I love the fact that I can use the TouchFlo cube to access my contacts from just about anywhere on the device. There is space here for nine picture contacts, as well as buttons which allow you to access your phone and complete contacts list. By far, this was the most useful information available on the TouchFlo cube.
The second side contains your Sprint services. From here, you can access the Sprint Music Store, Sprint TV, and On Demand. Although these programs may have served a worthwhile purpose on the device (we will look closer at them in a bit), I absolutely did not feel that any of them were critical enough warrant the instant access provided by putting them on the TouchFlo cube. Particularly given the fact that most of these resources were also available elsewhere on the Touch, at times even in more convenient locations. As such, including them in the TouchFlo served no significant purpose for me.
The final side of the cube is your Internet hub. From here, you can access the Internet, email, text messaging, IM, communications manager, and even the Sprint Store. I found this to be relatively useful for quickly accessing the Internet and email.
Like I said, I could sit here and spin the TouchFlo cube around the screen all day. The problem was, I had very little use for it otherwise, The photo contacts the most useful part of the cube. The other two sides contained some useful programs, and a lot of things I rarely use. This is not to say that you will never use TouchFlo, or that you will not find these programs to be useful. The point here is that the phone should be able to conform to my needs, I should not have to change my use to match its capabilities. The Touch did not accomplish this with the TouchFlo interface. In order for it to become more than a simple (although entertaining) gimmick, the TouchFlo cube must be customizable. I should be able to configure it to match my needs and launch the programs I access the most, not just those which Sprint and HTC feel I should launch. Until it can accomplish that, I do not see the TouchFlo interface becoming anything more than a complex gimick.
The second aspect of TouchFlo is the Touch Scrolling in Internet Explorer. With this feature in place, you can simply tap the screen while viewing a web page in order to scroll a page down (or up or across) the screen. I liked this and found it to be useful, but not as useful as Spb Software House’s recently released Pocket Plus 4, which includes Smart Scrolling. As much as I liked the Touch Scrolling, I think Spb’s Smart Scrolling was much more effective and useful.
I really had high hopes for TouchFlo. The demonstrations I had seen made it look exciting. And, to be fair, it was exciting and entertaining…but not terribly useful. And that, more than anything was my major disappointment with this phone.
Phone: As I mentioned when Judie and I reviewed the Mogul (although she disagreed with me at the time), these Windows Mobile Professional devices must be able to operate as a phone first and a handheld computer second. Fortunately, this is one area in which I felt the Touch really excelled.
We can start with the new dialing interface (above). As you can see, it has changed significantly from the Mogul (right). The buttons are now much more finger friendly, without sacrificing any of the necessary information. I loved this sleek new dialing interface. I always found the Mogul difficult to dial without a stylus and, really, who wants to dial with a stylus. Of course, you can also dial from the photo contacts screen in the TouchFlo interface, or utilize the updated Windows Mobile Contacts screen. I was fairly impressed by this new interface, which allows you to search your contacts by tapping the letters in the column on the left. Unfortunately, I did find that this was hardly a finger friendly option, and required you to use the stylus in order to select a letter.
Once you have dialed, I found the call clarity to be exceptional. Both the speaker and the microphone were extremely clear. I did, however, notice a few problems with the radio. Specifically, in some areas where my Mogul received several bars of service, the Touch could not locate any signal at all. One other problem I had when making voice calls was that my cheek would rub against the top of the screen. Often, I would end a call only to find that I had inadvertently launched some program. Of course, this is easily overcome by simply utilizing a Bluetooth headset to make and receive calls.
Data : Of course, the second most important function of a Windows Mobile phone is the ability to access the Internet. The Touch utilizes Sprint’s EVDO network which is relatively fast. Unfortunately, however, the Touch is not compatible with Sprint’s even faster EVDO-Rev A network. The Sprint Mogul is compatible with this network (and a firmware upgrade is expected soon) and the Palm Treo 800w is expected to ship with EVDO Rev-A access included. This means that the Touch is well behind the curve before it has even come out of the box.
Once online, however, you can use the TouchFlo interface to access the Internet, check your email, or send an SMS message. I found the Touch to be about as good as any Windows Mobile device for accessing websites.
Of course, as we all know, Pocket Internet Explorer is simply not a great solution for browsing the web. This is no fault of the Touch, however, as the same Pocket Internet Explorer has been giving mobile professionals fits for over a decade. My suggestion is that you look into one of the many third party web browsers.
What can be attributed to the Touch, however, is the near impossibility of using this device for email or text messaging. Frankly, these are programs which require a keyboard. I attempted to use the on-screen keyboards included with the Touch, and found them all to have their own faults which made text entry an incredibly difficult chore.
As such, if you plan to view websites and read your email messages, then this may be a good phone for you. If you think you will want to send messages or text messages, however, I suggest looking into a phone with a built in keyboard.
Other Connectivity: In addition to the traditional means of creating a data connection, many Pocket PC’s can also utilize Wi-Fi to connect to a local network. This is a fantastic method for connecting to the Internet without using your data minutes, or for those who do not even have a data plan. Additionally, in some areas, Wi-Fi can even be faster than the data connection. So, I was disappointed to find that the Touch completely lacked a Wi-Fi radio. Although there have long been options to add a Wi-Fi radio via a memory card, I see two problems here. First, there is only a single memory card slot (despite having plenty of room for a second), so you stand to lose up to 4 GB of storage space by adding a Wi-Fi card. Second, and more importantly, the Touch utilizes Micro SD cards. I am not aware of any Micro SD Wi-Fi adaptors (though I could be wrong).
Thankfully, the Touch did fare much better with Bluetooth connections. Like the Mogul, however, the Bluetooth control was buried in the Comm Manager. To access the Comm Manager, you must go the the Touch Flo, spin it around to the connection screen and then select Comm Manager. It would have been nice if there was a direct link to the Comm Manager or even just a Bluetooth Toggle on the desktop (note that there are numerous third party programs which can accomplish this.
Getting back to the Bluetooth, I paired by Motorola HT 820 stereo headphones with the Touch. I selected these headphones because they could handle both music and voice calls. They paired easily enough (once I remembered how to put the headphones in pairing mode). Once paired, I set off for Windows Media 11 and some easy listening (with my friends Jimmy Page and Robert Plant). The music sounded fantastic. There was no skipping or jumping that I noticed. The Touch utilized A2DP to broadcast music in stereo, and was even able to access the AVRCP controls. This meant I could pause the music or fast forward from the headphones.
In the middle of listening to a song, I decided to check voicemail. This worked flawlessly. The phone connection immediately paused the music and switched over to voice mode. I then checked my voicemail without interruption. As soon as I hung up, Windows Media automatically activated itself and began playing the music again. Given the myriad of problems the Mogul has had with its Bluetooth radio, I was pleased to find that Bluetooth on the Touch worked flawlessly.
Text Entry: As I have mentioned on several occasions already, the Touch does not include a keyboard. This was a real problem for me. I have an awfully hard time inputting text or data without a keyboard attached to my device, and who wants to carry around a Bluetooth keyboard all the time.
In lieu of a keyboard, the Touch features two new on-screen keyboards (in addition the the standard Windows Mobile soft input panels (SIPs). First is the Touch Keyboard. This keyboard has two letters on each key, making a 20 key keyboard (including non-lettered keys such as space, enter, shift, etc…). Typing on this keyboard consists of pressing the two letter keys while the computer tries to guess what word you are spelling, using context clues to determine which letter on each key you intended to push. I could not determine a way to tell the keyboard which letter you wanted. Thus, if you push the "j/k" key, and the computer selects "j", there is not a good option for telling it to go back to "k" This may work well for you, but it did not even come close for me.
The second option is the Touch Keypad, which is laid out like a standard T9 telephone keypad. Like a standard T9 keypad, you select letters by repeatedly tapping the appropriate key until the letter you need is displayed. The reason I purchased a Windows Mobile phone in the first place was to get away from text messaging in this manner, it baffles me to return to it now.
Of course, there are dozens of third-party SIPS, which include various keyboards, text recognition panels, and a myriad of creative text entry options. As well made as some of these may have been, in my opinion, none compare to the ease and convenience of a built-in hardware keyboard. The absence of a keyboard was simply too much for me to overcome.
Camera: It is almost impossible these days to find a device which does not include a camera. The Touch is no exception, featuring essentially the same two megapixel camera included with the Mogul. Two megapixels is fairly low quality for a standalone digital camera. For a camera which is included as part of a phone and pocket computer, however, two megapixels is not terrible (that being said, Judie just informed me that her new Nokia N95 features a whopping five megapixel camera. Needless to say, I was stunned!) I am not really sure why, but the cameras on devices like the Touch and other phones always seem to have lagged significantly behind acceptable resolution standards for a standalone camera. This always struck me as odd, particularly since I know now that the N95 proves that the technology to utilize higher resolution cameras is readily available.
Nonetheless, as you can see on the right, the image quality from this camera was good enough for emergencies, or situations where a separate camera would be impractical. It was not as good as my old Nikon two megapixel camera (and obviously not as good as my Canon five megapixel), however, it is considerably better than many cameras included on mobile devices and phones.
I was also impressed by the myriad of modes the camera offers, including:
- still pictures
- contacts pictures: assigns a picture directly to a contact
- picture themes: captures an image in various fun frames
- panorama: captures a sequence of related images and stitches them together into a single panoramic image.
- sports: captures a short sequence of images in quick succession
- burst: captures a sequence of still images as long as the camera button is pressed (up to 30).
It is rare to find a camera included on a device which does more than the first two options, let alone five additional modes. Like any good camera, you can also control the resolution, brightness of the shot, white balance, light metering, or use the self timer to include yourself in the picture. Most impressive, however, were the controls, which have been significantly modified since the Mogul, in order to create a much more finger-friendly design.
Heck, you can even control where the images are stored. And speaking of storage, you can also access your photo storage directly from the main camera screen and view the images in your photo album. This is convenient for reviewing the shots you just took, without shutting off the camera.
Multimedia: I love the multimedia features of the Pocket PC. I have long used both my Axim and Mogul for music and video (mostly music). It will be extremely important to me to be able to do this with my next device as well, whether that is a Touch or something else entirely.
I started with music. As I have mentioned in the past, I ride the train to work every day and listen to music for much of my commute. I do not always carry multiple devices, so it was extremely important to me that the Mogul be able to handle my music. I loaded five complete CD’s onto the 512 Mb memory card. The results were exceptional. The sound quality was crisp and I noticed few, if any, jumps, skips, or other problems when listening. Of course, if you prefer digital downloads to ripping your CD collection, the Touch does include the Sprint Music Store, which we will talk about more in a bit.
When I listened to music on my Axim, I also found that the program memory was insufficient to play music and multitask with a game, document or pictures at the same time. Thanks to the vast memory configuration of the Touch and Windows Mobile 6, however, I was regularly able to play a game or view documents and photos while listening to music. This is fantastic for me because it means that I do not have to turn off my music anymore while I am evaluating a game or program for review.
Unlike music, video playback is very much a novelty to me which does not get used frequently on my mobile. I tested the Touch with several videos, including one I shot with the included camera, and found that the quality was much better than I had originally feared. The screen is exceptional for watching video…if you like watching video that is the size of the palm of your hand. Personally, I prefer to watch video that is the size of my wall, but that is my choice. Another nice feature, which I will also discuss later, is the included Sprint TV which allows you to watch live TV feeds directly from the Touch.
This brings us to the headphone jack. Even though I am now used to this configuration from using the Mogul for the past six months or so, I am still completely confounded by it. To begin, there is no headphone jack on the main body of the phone. This decision has always seemed completely nonsensical to me as a headphone jack requires little space and would not have significantly added to the size of the device.
Instead of a headphone jack on the device, the Mogul comes with a headphone adaptor. This plugs into the mini USB port on one end and splits into a “Y” with a mini USB on one end and a 2.5 mm headphone jack on the other end.
I discussed my problems with this jack at length in my review of the Mogul. Rather than rehash it here, I will just tell you now what I said then:
I had two problems with this adaptor. First, it is huge, weighing in at over four inches, it was longer than the device itself. It is also unnecessarily stiff, meaning that it is difficult to fold or roll into a smaller size. This completely destroys the portability aspect of the device when listening to music.
Additionally, the headphone jack on the adaptor is a 2.5 mm plug instead of the more standard 3.5 mm. Lately, I have noticed a small trend toward 2.5 mm plugs on mobile devices. While I understand that this can save some valuable space, it is extremely frustrating to me because almost all high quality headphones use a 3.5 mm plug. Sure, there are adaptors which you can purchase to convert the 2.5 mm jack into a 3.5 mm jack for these high quality headphones, however, as I chronicled in the Frankenphones post, these adaptors frequently do not work properly, often connecting only with one band of sound, creating a mono instead of a stereo signal.
Finally, there was absolutely no need to use a 2.5 mm jack instead of a traditional 3.5 mm jack. As I mentioned, devices which use the 2.5 mm jack typically do so in order to save valuable space on the device. Obviously, this is not a concern here as the headphone jack is part of the separate adaptor. Since the adaptor is already extremely large, it would not seem to significantly affect your enjoyment of the device to have included a 3.5 mm adaptor instead of a 2.5 mm jack. My inability to use any of my high quality headphones with this device is a significant shortcoming and probably the worst design decision I found on the Mogul.
Fortunately, several third party manufacturers have devised solutions for this problem which significantly expand upon the adaptor offered by HTC. Boxwave offers a 3.5 mm plug which worked exceptionally well. PocketPC Techs took this to another level, devising a plug which offers a split mini USB and 3.5mm earphone jack, as well as a microphone which allows you to use your earphones to make and receive phone calls as well. All of this is wrapped into a convenient and compact design. While it is nice to see these third party manufacturers develop such useful adaptors, it is frustrating that these options are not included with the phone to begin with.
Memory: One of my biggest complaints about the Mogul has been the included memory. Particularly the Program Memory, which is woefully inadequate. The Touch did a much better job in the department.
As advertised, it has 256 MB of storage memory and 128 MB of program memory. After a hard reset, 151.96 MB of storage is available to you. Of this, 24.97 MB is in use by the various preinstalled programs. That is not terrible, and leaves you with 127 MB of on board storage space.
The program memory, however, is where the Touch really shines. After a hard reset, you will start with 105.20 MB of memory (the balance is used in the extended memory by the operating system). The preloaded programs use only 33.59 MB of memory, leaving you with a whopping 71.61 MB of program memory. Compare this with the Mogul which, after a hard rest had only 24 MB of program memory, and you should never have a problem loading programs on the Touch. In fact, one of the biggest complaints I heard about the HTC Touch was its lack of usable program memory. It is nice to see that HTC went overboard when redesigning this phone for Sprint. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to claim that the Sprint Touch has more available program memory than any other Windows Mobile phone.
In addition to this onboard memory, the Touch can also accept a Micro SD card. A 512 MB card is included (which is very nice), however, the Touch can utilize up to a 4 GB card, giving you plenty of storage space for programs, photographs, music, and more. My only problem here was that the Micro SD slot is hidden behind a difficult to open door. While this helped add to the sleek look of the device, it really made it difficult to access the memory card. Add to that the fact that the memory card itself is recessed under a lip in the phone. As such, the lip acts as a barrier when trying to slide the memory out of the device. I would have much preferred them to leave this slot open and accessible, as they did on the Mogul. Fortunately, once the memory card has been inserted, I rarely swapped cards or otherwise had a need to remove the card from the device.
Battery and Charging: The battery on the Touch is a pretty standard 1100 mAh battery, which is advertised for four hours of talk time. Of course, this is misleading, because you will likely be doing much more than talking with this device. Overall, I found I could get away with charging it once per day without coming close to losing the charge, but this, of course, will depend upon your individual use.
Like all HTC devices, the battery charges through an 11 pin mini USB connection. There is an AC adaptor and a USB plug sync/charge plug included in the box. So many devices these days are not including a separate AC adaptor, I really did appreciate its inclusion. I also love the fact that the 11 pin mini USB is a universal connector, meaning I can use any standard cable to sync or charge my device. This makes a huge difference when I am traveling and need to carry multiple devices, but not multiple chargers.
Protecting Your Device: So, now you have that fancy new Touch. I know you want to hold it up, swing it about, let everyone see what you have. Like a young lady who just got engaged, you want everyone to see that sparkle. Of course, you do realize that this is an incredibly fragile instrument, susceptible to dings, scrapes, scratches, and general wear and tear. I mean come on, you don’t just drop a device like this in your coat pocket (well, I do, but you shouldn’t).
The first thing you will need is a good case. The Touch includes a pouch style case which holds the phone and clips onto your belt. After the Mogul, which I felt included a very usable case, I was disappointed by the case which was included with the Touch. It felt flimsy to me, like the case would fall open and spill my device to the floor at any moment. This will be the first accessory you want to buy for your Touch. There are plenty of very nice cases available, and I suggest you look into one of them immediately.
Your Touch also includes a screen protector. If you have never used a mobile device before, you will find that the screen is the most important part of your device, and that is especially true on the Touch. Unfortunately, it is also the most susceptible to damage. The screen will be scratched, smudged, and even fingerprinted before long. As such, you will want to employ the help of a good screen protector. A screen protector is a thin plastic film which adheres to your screen, protecting it from fingerprints, smudges, scratches, and other dangers. Of course, because they are so important, most screen protectors are also impossibly hard to apply. The Touch includes a screen protector, which is a good start. Before long, however, you will want to invest the money it will take to purchase a better one.
The final problem to which I am susceptible is accidentally pushing buttons while I am carrying my phone. This was one of my biggest pet peeves with the Motorola Q. If I bent the wrong way, then the phone would start dialing without me. I was, therefore, extremely impressed by the key lock feature of the Touch.
This will disable all of the buttons except the power button when the device is in sleep mode. Simply push the power button to reactivate your device. This seems like a small feature, but I never found myself dialing Aunt Marge in Argentina without realizing it the way I did with my Motorola Q.
I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about the included software here. I provided many of my opinions about Windows Mobile 6 and the included software when Judie and I reviewed the Sprint Mogul. So, if you want more about Windows Mobile 6 and a lot of the software which is packaged with it, then check out that review and come back. I do want to mention, however, that with the Sprint Touch, Windows Mobile 6 now includes an enhanced Task Manager. This new Task Manager offers several solutions for resolving the biggest complaint about Windows Mobile, the "X" button which does not actually end running programs.
For the first time, the Windows Mobile Task Manager allows you to directly control the behavior of the "X" button by giving you the option of allowing it to end a running program.
Additionally, the Task Manager also includes a new quick menu which appears on the today screen. From this quick menu (which appears in the upper right hand corner), you can easily close any running programs (or all programs) with the touch of a single button, access your memory settings, or access the Windows Mobile Task Manager settings. I wish these new task management features had been included with the Mogul. The new Task Manager was effective and a fantastic addition to Windows Mobile 6.
Additionally, Sprint and HTC added a few programs to help make navigating the Touch a little easier. We’ll take a quick look at some of the main attractions.
HTC Home Today Plug-in: There are several today screen plug-ins which come pre-loaded with the Touch. The first is HTC Home. This is a fairly large tabbed interface (in portrait mode, it requires about half of the screen). The plug-in consists of four tabs:
- The Home Tab will display a large digital clock, along with your emails, text messages and voicemails.
- The Weather Tab will connect to the Internet and display the current weather.
- The Launcher Tab allows you to load nine programs into the quick launch spaces.
- The Ringer Tab allows you to set your ringtone and ringer sound.
The HTC plug-in worked well and provided many of the features which I felt were missing from the TouchFlo interface. Nonetheless, it did not do so nearly as well as similar third party applications, such as Spb’s Mobile Shell.
HTC Home Sprint Today Plug-in: The Sprint Today Plug-in is a small, five icon plug-in, which allows you to immediately access the phone, Sprint Music Store, photo album, Windows Live Search, and Sprint TV. While this was nice, I really did not find it to be particularly useful. Three of the five icons featured here are also featured on the TouchFlo "cube". I really did not feel they needed to be repeated here since the TouchFlo cube can be accessed from almost any screen on the device. The other two, the photo album and Windows Live Search were nice to access, however, if I wanted to access them that badly, I can always add them to the Launcher tab in the HTC Home Screen. As such, while I felt the Home Sprint plug-in would have been nice on its own, I simply did not see the need to take up valuable real estate on the Today Screen with this redundant and underpowered program launcher.
On Demand: This is the first of three Sprint services included with the Touch. Essentially, it is their version of a news and information feeder. From the main screen (which is extremely nice to look at and easy to navigate), you can view news feeds, weather sports scores), and a host of additional information (such as maps, entertainment news, and movie and tv times). There is no real indication of any source for the information provided. More importantly, however, you cannot add your own customized feeds to the list.
Without a customization option, this program felt like many of the women I dated in college…vapid…a pretty face with no substance. In other words, nice to look at, but a good RSS reader, such as Ilium’s Newsbreak or Google Reader, is infinitely more useful. Additionally, while some of the On Demand options are free, most require a $4.95 subscription fee. Thanks, but no thanks.
Sprint TV: I remember back in the day when a portable TV was essentially a radio with a screen. You hung it around you neck and frantically jiggled the rabbit ears. The people in the picture on the box were always gathered around some football game with a crystal clear screen, but in reality, you were stuck staring at a whole lot of snow and what might have been an old episode of Cheers.
Back then, who would have imagined that Sprint would allow you to watch crystal clear images of almost any channel. Sprint TV offers a number of free channels, as well as numerous premium channels, for which you will have to pay a price to subscribe. I do wish the main screen would provide a guide of current shows, rather than only displaying the channel information. Nonetheless, even though I know Sprint TV was killing my battery, if you have an unlimited data plan, it is an awful lot of fun to watch.
Sprint Music Store: The Sprint Music Store allows you to download digital music directly to your Touch. I was fairly impressed by the selection of music available. It really had something for everyone. For the most part, the prices also seemed extremely competitive with other online stores, such as Amazon.com and Wal-Mart. The Sprint Music store offers an easy alternative for downloading that last song you need to complete your collection. Because it downloads directly to your Touch, you do not need to worry about syncing with your computer or whether the DRM will be correct.
Camera Album: This is another feature which is really part of Windows Mobile 6, however, it has ben significantly enhanced, and I thought it was worth a mention. Tap any picture in the main picture wall to see a larger image. You can even start a slideshow of all of your images from the main screen.
Tap the image and you will access the options which allow you to email the picture, add it to a contact and more.
My favorite feature, however, are the finger gestures. Really, the finger gestures are what sets the Touch apart as a unique device, and I wish they had been used more throughout the device. You can use finger gestures to rotate, zoom, and pan your picture to display it exactly as you wish. This simply fantastic.
Live Search: The last program I wanted to mention is Live Search from Microsoft. The reason I mention it here is that this is the one program I wish had been included with the Mogul, but was not (nonetheless, I quickly obtained it via a free download). Windows Live Search allows you to find nearby businesses and resources, view maps, and even obtain driving directions directly from your device. It is one of the most useful additions to the Windows Mobile Operating System, and I was happy to see it included with the Touch.
Conclusion: I thought for a long time about what I wanted to say here, and I think it all amounts to one simple thought. I was disappointed by the Sprint Touch. This is not to say that it is a bad device, that it did not work well, or that it is not right for some people. What I mean is only that it simply did not live up to my expectations. Of course, this conclusion led me to a lot of introspection as to what exactly was it that disappointed me. I mean, if I just come out and say, well, I couldn’t figure the thing out so it must suck, that wouldn’t be helpful to anyone. After spending several weeks with this device, I think it amounts this: the Touch is the student who sat in the back row in school, the one with the genius IQ, who got straight C’s. In other words, it has a ton of potential. In fact, I think the Touch had the potential to be one of the best Windows Mobile devices around. It simply did not use that potential. The best example I can give you is the TouchFlo "cube". Rather than making this a useful interface for accessing your data and launching programs, it essentially turned into a giant billboard advertisement for Sprint services (Sprint music store, Sprint TV, and On Demand).
Of course, as I mentioned, I do think there is a clear niche audience for the Touch. I think this is a great device for traditional cell phone users looking for a little more. For example, a traditional cell phone user who wants to be access his calendar or quickly sort contacts on the road. Heck, maybe even a little bit of web surfing. I see those people as the primary audience who will really like the Touch. The lack of a hardware keyboard, however, makes this a difficult device to recommend if you are at all interested in entering data, editing documents, sending emails/text messages, or trying to accomplish any kind of web searches.
So, for now, I think I will stick with my Sprint Mogul and its hardware keyboard. Of course, HTC has already begun releasing the Touch Duo with a slide out T9 keyboard. This is a good start, however, If they really want to make this into useful Windows Mobile 6 device, they must find a way to add a full QWERTY keyboard and make the TouchFlo interface completely customizable as a program launcher. Until that happens, well, let’s just say that I was disappointed and leave it at that.
Name: Sprint Touch by HTC
Operating System: Windows Mobile 6
Price: $249 with a two year contract
Where to buy: SprintPCS