Followers, fans, and casual observers of HTC alike all know that when the company launches a new landscape QWERTY model, it's a big deal. In fact, it's more than a big deal -- it's a Big Deal. Many describe it as the ultimate smartphone form factor, the perfect execution of everything a modern handset is capable of doing -- and realistically, no company has as much experience or know-how at making powerhouse landscape QWERTY sliders than HTC does.
That's why droves of subscribers on virtually every carrier are on the edge of their seats awaiting the Touch Pro2's release. Whether you love, hate, or feel nothing but pure, unadulterated ambivalence toward Windows Mobile, it's hard to argue that the Pro2 isn't a gorgeous smartphone at a distance, and T-Mobile USA's gently-tweaked version is no exception. Unless you're desperate for SLR-quality photography (which you're frankly not going to get regardless of what phone you buy), the spec sheet reads like a dream -- an expansive 3.6-inch WVGA display, full QWERTY, tilt-up display, all the 3G and WiFi you could ever want, and HTC's latest and greatest build of TouchFLO 3D constantly working to make sure that WinMo cleans up nice -- but is it true love or just lipstick on a pig? Let's have a look.
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T-Mobile Touch Pro2 review
It's unavoidable: your instinct is to call the Touch Pro2 huge. It's a natural thought considering the phone's capabilities and its mechanics -- the tilt-slide mechanism, for instance -- and your reaction might even still be "wow, this is chunky" when you hold it in your hand for the first time without any context. In reality, though, the phone really isn't much bigger than your average smartphone. Holding it up to a Snap seriously puts it all in perspective -- in your mind's eye, HTC's latest WinMo Standard set might be, say, three-quarters the size of the Touch Pro2, but it turns out that the height-by-width dimensions are virtually identical and the Pro2's additional girth isn't enough to throw a fit over. In fact, it's about a millimeter thinner (give or take) than your average Touch Pro of old, and it'll slip into a pocket just about as readily as an iPhone will. In that regard, the lack of soft-touch plastic on the battery cover is both a blessing and a curse -- a blessing because there's less friction, which makes it easier to stow and retrieve; a curse because... well, soft-touch plastic is pretty awesome.
That said, the Touch Pro2 is a substantial phone -- you won't quickly forget that you're carrying it. Though it does pack a 1500mAh battery from the factory, we were surprised to find that taking it out didn't make the phone much lighter; frequently, removing the battery from a phone (or even a laptop) will make the remaining husk of electronics feel like a featherweight, but with the Pro2, that's just not the case. We're not sure where that weight's going, exactly, but we're going to chalk it up to quality construction, because the thing feels like it's built to last. The slide mechanism -- while not the smoothest we've ever used -- has no play in it whatsoever, even after plenty of use and fiddling; likewise, the tilt hinge felt like it was wrought from surplus tank parts. The action on both mechanisms is a little on the heavy side, but we'd definitely rather they be too heavy than too light -- as with everything else, it contributes to the perception (and hopefully the reality) of quality construction.
Anyone concerned about the T-Mobile version's "mocha" coloration, simply shouldn't be. The brown tinge is subtle and subdued -- T-Mobile and HTC were clearly aware that this phone had boardroom aspirations from the minute it was born, and they weren't about to screw it up with some poorly-made industrial design decisions.
In fact, if anything, the phone's too businesslike. Comparing it to the unlocked GSM version, T-Mobile's variant loses the tasteful chrome ring around the face and squares off the edges more, which almost makes the phone look cheap from certain angles (and cheap is one thing the Touch Pro2 most certainly isn't). We also found that the stylus slid much easier on the unlocked Pro2, something we attribute to the totally different shape and style of the battery cover (with the T-Mobile model, the cover doesn't include the stylus hole; with the unlocked model, it does). On the plus side, the T-Mobile version gains external access to the microSD slot -- you've got to remove the battery cover if you're going unlocked. Then again, anyone frequently removing their microSD card needs to step back and take a long, hard look at why they're doing that -- but at the end of the day, we prefer the easy access.
The keyboard is stellar, and most users will be happy to hear that T-Mobile's version of the phone retains the dedicated numeric row, unlike some versions (ahem, AT&T) that appear to be going in the direction of a numeric pad-style layout. Tactile feel is superb, key separation is perfect, and we found that we weren't typing with any errors, making the built-in auto-correction not particularly necessary. In fact, we surprised ourselves with how fast we were belting out messages.
We don't want to jinx it, but we've got to say: unlike some phones in HTC's recent history, it looks like they're coming out of the gate with a great ROM here. It's not crashy, and maybe even more importantly, it's speedy. TouchFLO 3D isn't the lightest piece of coding in the world, but this particular Pro2 works it like a prizefighter. In fact, we can't even recall a single time when we noticed lagginess with TouchFLO proper -- there was some redraw lag while browsing from time to time, but we can't really fault the phone for that (Snapdragon would've helped there, possibly, but there's no use crying over spilled milk).
To know TouchFLO 3D is to know the Touch Pro2's software load, with a couple very important exceptions. First, the myFaves launcher is the default home screen, replacing TouchFLO's ubiquitous clock display; that's going to be a little upsetting to some, especially since we weren't able to find a way to get it back. Furthermore, you can't get rid of or even reorder that myFaves tab -- it's just permanently stuck there at the far left. To be fair, T-Mobile hasn't barfed its branding all over this ROM, but we would've liked a little more control here. (Update: turns out you can actually get to the classic TouchFLO home screen, but you need to go through myFaves settings, not TouchFLO settings -- a little unintuitive, but at least it's there. Thanks, Skyler L!)
As with other TouchFLO phones, HTC has done what it can to make the Pro2 finger-friendly. Inevitably, it's not possible to take that to its rightful conclusion with Windows Mobile 6.1, which is why you've still got that stylus in there -- but they've done a pretty incredible job. If you can stay within the TouchFLO ecosystem without wandering into stock WinMo -- which is easier to do than every before, we'd argue -- you might actually be able to pull it off. Sadly, the phone's still held back by a resistive display that has a little too much "give" to the touch; this is especially a problem with scrolling in lists and browsers, where the fingertip occasionally has a tendency to "bounce" across the display and inadvertently trigger a selection action. It happened frequently enough to us to be annoying, but we imagine you'd be able to spike the habit with practice.
We found it fascinating that HTC chose to launch Internet Explorer by default when selecting TouchFLO's Internet tab. Wrong choice. The ROM conveniently also includes Opera Mobile, which offers a better experience from beginning to end; in fact, we weren't even able to load the full version of engadget.com to completion with Internet Explorer, but Opera worked like a champ (as it usually does). The Touch Pro2's dedicated zoom bar beneath the display really shines here, seamlessly zooming in and out just as smoothly and effectively as an iPhone -- in fact, we even found that we preferred the bar to an iPhone-style pinch gesture in some situations because it makes browsing a more one-handed experience.
T-Mobile has taken a hands-off approach with the Touch Pro2's lauded "people-centric" add-ons, too. From a contact, you can see a unified view of emails, messages, and phone calls exchanged with that individual -- we dare you to try that with a stock WinMo device -- and it works exactly as advertised. Heavy business users will also appreciate the magnificent speakerphone, which HTC rightfully made a huge deal of back at its February announcement -- you just flip the phone over to engage it, and you've even got a dedicated mute button around back (see the video to see this in action -- it's seriously cool). It works and sounds great, and this is one of the few phones on the market that we could seriously endorse as a conference speakerphone fit for daily duty.
For T-Mobile customers in the WinMo ecosystem, the Touch Pro2 is a dream come true if for no other reason than the fact that it replaces the ancient Wing, a phone that heroically served the retail lineup well past its prime. Beyond that, though, the Touch Pro2 could very well represent the greatest Windows Mobile device available on an American carrier today -- even original Touch Pro and Fuze owners have good reason to cast an envious eye in the direction of this thing as it hits shelves today. Don't fret, though; carriers love this phone like they love a high ARPU, and regardless of whom you pledge your allegiance and your monthly payment to, odds are very high it's coming to a lineup near you within a few weeks' time.