byChris Ziegler||December 7th 2009 at 10:00amDecember 7th 2009 10:00 am
As you take a 30-second tour of your local AT&T store this month, the iPAQ Glisten from HP isn't likely to catch your eye; it's just another QWERTY smartphone without much curb appeal, after all. If you take a step back, though, this unassuming piece of gadgetry is actually quite interesting on a number of levels: it's just the third device to launch on AT&T with Windows Mobile 6.5 out of the box (though the Jack has been upgraded since it hit the market), it's got an AMOLED display, it features the exceedingly rare portrait-QWERTY-plus-touchscreen form factor, and -- this is a big one -- it apparently once again proves that HP hasn't abandoned the handset market altogether. Sound like a winning formula to you? Read on for our quick take on the Glisten's ups, downs, and... sideways-es.
Taking the phone out of the package, you'll notice that AT&T has switched to what appears to be an earth-friendly unbleached paper package insert made of at least some recycled material; it's a small step in the right direction away from the plastic inserts of old, but it's a step nonetheless. And yeah, that's actually the most interesting thing about the box contents, because you're just getting the basics with this one -- the phone, battery, micro-USB cable, and one of the smallest USB wall chargers we've ever seen. The lack of pack-in earbuds is a testament to the fact that this isn't a media phone, but it's just as well -- you've still got a 3.5mm jack on the phone, and seriously, when's the last time you heard a decent pair of free 'buds?
Perhaps our biggest disappointment with the Glisten is that it doesn't really feel like a premium phone, even though it's got a premium price and a business-savvy target demo that's going to be expecting quality. The soft touch rear is a welcome element, but put simply, the thing is ridiculously light, even with the battery installed. There's nothing wrong with light, per se -- a light phone can be just as high-quality of a product as a heavy one -- but it's a very real perception issue, and we suspect that a few customers will be lost on this oversight alone. If nothing else, it seems that HP could've stuffed a higher-capacity battery in there to help counter the effect. Like the Pure, the Glisten also suffers from an excessive use of glossy plastic -- these products could both take a lesson from the Imagio on how to make a WinMo device look like a million bucks.
If you think that the Glisten's keyboard looks like a portrait QWERTY lover's dream... well, by and large, you'd be right -- it's not bad at all. We wish that HP hadn't bothered with the dedicated GPS key in the bottom row to give the spacebar a little more breathing room, but otherwise, it's as good as it looks with meaty clicks, good key width, and substantial feel. We've got no quarrel with the send / end keys, the Windows key, or the OK key; they're all plenty big, and the d-pad's just barely large enough to get the job done comfortably.
Where the hardware starts to break down a bit, though, is when it meets head-to-head with the software. As we'd mentioned, the Glisten features a touchscreen, meaning it runs WinMo Professional instead of the stripped-down Standard build that you'd normally see on a device of this form factor (like the Jack, for instance). AT&T's own Samsung Epix and countless Treos have proven that this works alright, but the smallish 2.5-inch display on the Glisten makes hitting the soft commands at the lower left and right -- a task you've got to accomplish fairly regularly -- a tricky endeavor. HP could've totally eliminated the problem by including a pair of soft keys mapped to those commands (just as it had done with the OK button), but instead, you're stuck working 'em with a fingernail, pulling out the stylus, or pressing your luck by fat-fingering and praying that you don't accidentally hit something else instead.
The screen uses AMOLED technology, which really makes colors pop -- it looks nice -- but the Glisten clocks in at QVGA resolution, and it's noticeable. Basically, WinMo 6.5 Professional was clearly never designed to operate on a tiny QVGA display, let alone a landscape-oriented one. This led us straight into minor usability issues throughout the device, from 6.5's infamous "honeycomb" menu (which looks more ridiculous on this display than on any other we've seen) to the home screen, which doesn't have the spit and polish at QVGA that it does at VGA or WVGA. The main menu here was designed to be flicked through with a finger, but try scrolling it on a finicky resistive display that's just over an inch and a half tall. We dare you. Fortunately, you've got the d-pad -- HP doesn't intend you to navigate screens with touch -- but the point is that this UI paradigm shouldn't exist on this phone at all.
In brief, the Glisten looks and feels like a Motorola Q9 successor -- which, when you think about it, is perfect timing since Moto's looking to wind down the majority of its WinMo business. It's not going to capture the public's imagination, but as far as we can tell, it's not designed to -- it's just a serviceable portrait QWERTY smartphone running an aging operating system that has become a refuge for business types unable or unwilling to invest the time and effort to migrate to another platform. For committed Q9 owners whose handsets have seen better days, that might be more than enough of a value proposition for AT&T to get another $180 out of you -- and hey, you get a touchscreen and an upgraded WinMo build out of the deal.