Take a peek inside the mind of a good many mobile power users and you'll find two diametrically opposed, seemingly contradictory voices locked in an eternal struggle: one demanding as much power, speed, and capability as possible, the other crying out for portability (and heck, maybe even fashion). HTC has a long, storied track record of trying its darndest to satisfy every possible smartphone market segment by designing and offering devices spanning the full range of size, appearance, and capability, meeting the needs of those two voices to various degrees. Now that we have that mental imagery set up, let us be clear from the outset -- the Advantage X7501 feeds heaping loads of happiness to the power voice while mercilessly beating the portability voice into submission.
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Hands-on with the HTC Advantage X7501
The Advantage's intimidating size makes itself known from the very moment you pop the thing out of its impressive packaging. We've got fairly large hands, but holding it is just... well, awkward. We found ourselves continually adjusting our hands, switching from one hand to two (then back to one), and generally fidgeting when we should've been concentrating on functionality.
Fortunately -- or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it -- figuring out how to span the device's impressive width with a single hand long enough to hold it to your head to engage in a conversation is a non-issue; it simply doesn't support that mode of operation. Bluetooth and wired headsets are obviously both warmly welcome, but we found the speakerphone to be absolutely marvelous. Voices weren't tinny in the least, we had volume to spare, and callers could hear us just fine. We wouldn't dare try it on a noisy street, but it gets the job done indoors and likely works in a pinch while driving.
It's pretty difficult to fault any aspect of the spec sheet here. Triband HSDPA? Check. 8GB microdrive? Check. 5 inch VGA touchscreen? Check. The display is predictably stunning head on, but we found that it tended to wash out at extreme viewing angles -- in other words, don't gather ten people 'round and fire up a movie. Data speeds over HSDPA were downright WiFi-like for typical web activities (though WiFi's there, too, if you find you need it). HTC chose to make Opera the default browser on the Advantage, which is all well and good -- Opera makes a great mobile browser -- but it looks a little screwy at VGA resolution on account of some stretched toolbar graphics that were clearly intended for QVGA displays. Hopefully we'll see an update down the road for the minor inconvenience, but otherwise, it renders beautifully and gets the job done better than we'd ever expect Pocket Internet Explorer to.
So how exactly does one go about protecting a 5 inch display, anyway? A magnetic cover with an integrated keyboard, of course! Though you almost certainly won't be attempting to carry the Advantage in a pant pocket (we've tried -- not totally impossible but very awkward and uncomfortable), it's gotta go somewhere, and that "somewhere" is liable to be rife with screen-scratching baddies. Powerful magnets hold the cover in place; a window at one edge allows enough of the screen to show through for a standby display with network, time, and battery details. As strongly as the magnets hold the cover attached, we'd still be a little wary over the long term of something jarring it loose, so the included leather pouch is a solid plan.
Pulling the cover off and flipping it around reveals a series of contacts -- attachment points to turn the whole deal into a functional keyboard. This mode of operation is, in our opinion, where the X7501 shines. If nothing else, the "am I holding it right?" fears melt away as the device transforms into a tiny laptop (albeit with a hobbled operating system). The keyboard suffers from one problem that'll likely bother some more than others: by virtue of its form factor, you can't thumb-type as you would with really small keyboards on other handhelds, but at the same time, it's a little too small and provides too little tactile feedback to properly touch type. Those with microscopic hands may disagree, but we found ourselves resorting to hunt-and-peck for the duration of our testing.
The X7501 comes preloaded with TeleNav to put its integrated GPS receiver to work. There are a couple problems with that plan, though. First, TeleNav costs dinero on an ongoing basis, and we really would've liked to see a $900 device come with usable navigation out of the box (what better way to put that 8GB drive to use than with maps?). Of course, in exchange for the monthly fee and the data connection, TeleNav offers some additional benefits like real-time traffic and continually updated maps, but that brings us to our second point: the software kills the deal. TeleNav's client spent ten seconds or so spinning its wheels for every second of actual user interaction we had with it, pulling down data and doing who-knows-what while our unit sat frozen without any indication to the user of what the heck's going on. Even over HSDPA, map updates were slow (think slower than Google Maps over an iPhone's EDGE connection) and traffic data kept appearing, disappearing, and reappearing every few seconds, making it so distracting that we had to disable it. The bottom line here is that TeleNav needs to be written off. The Advantage's GPS hardware is great, don't get us wrong -- but we'd recommend looking to other software to get the actual navigating done.
Otherwise, from a software perspective, the Advantage is exactly what you'd expect from a Windows Mobile 6 Professional device, and that ain't really a good thing. Windows Mobile visibly struggles to fill the X7501's giant shoes, not unlike trying to run, say, Windows 3.1 on a 2007 spec desktop PC. It really feels like the Embedded editions of Windows XP or Vista would be better suited to fully the device's tremendous capabilities. That being said, HTC clearly understands that this puppy isn't right for everyone -- so if you're pining after a device with a spec sheet whose size is dwarfed only by the device itself, the X7501 might just be your dream machine.