As sexy as the idea of a keypadless, pebble-shaped device with a full-face touchscreen may be, for some, there's simply no replacement for the real thing. A real, physical keypad continues to be a necessity for some folks, and for as much popularity as devices like the Touch and iPhone have garnered, old-fashioned keys really aren't going anywhere any time soon. HTC recognized this pretty quickly and followed up the Touch with the Touch Dual, a phone that carries over most of the original device's high points while adding in 3G data and, perhaps even more notably, a keypad that tucks neatly away when it's not needed.
The casual observer might think that the Touch Dual is nothing more than a Touch with a slider on it, and in a way, it is, particularly for American buyers for whom the European 3G does little good -- but that only tells part of the story. Before we pulled out the original for a side-by-side comparo, we would've figured from a casual observation that the Dual's width and length were within a millimeter or two of the Touch's, but as you can see here, that's not even close accurate. It turns out that the Dual is both longer and narrower than the Touch, and while it's still totally pocketable, the narrower display makes an ever-so-slightly less compelling case for using the screen with a finger.
Naturally, the Dual is a bit thicker on account of the Touch, though that particular dimension change was to be expected. No big deal there -- the difference is pretty negligible.
Despite the addition of a slider -- and therefore, moving parts that tend to loosen and creak -- we were delighted to find that the Dual maintains the Touch's "monocoque" feel. That is to say, it's rock solid to the point that you can't even really notice that it's a slider if you just leave it in the closed position. No sloppiness in the mechanism, no unsightly gaps in the casing. Bust open the keypad, and the motion is fluid, smooth, and perfectly spring-assisted. Well done, HTC.
Our particular device was the 16-key variant. A 20-key is also available, and in fact, some carriers have signed up to offer one or the other. We're personally not huge fans of the SureType-esque concept brought to the table by the 20-key, so 12 good, old fashioned numeric keys with four navigation / editing keys tacked on suit us just fine. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
The display is reasonably bright, crisp, and vivid, and anyone familiar with the feel of the Touch's screen will feel right at home here: think very, very finger friendly. The user interface is another story once you get beyond TouchFLO's realm, but hey, such is life in the buttoned-up world of Windows Mobile 6. At least you still have a stylus tucked neatly around back for those times when not even a carefully-placed pinky fingernail will do the trick.
Speaking of Windows Mobile 6, the Touch Dual's software load is fairly typical of an HTC unit, with the same home screen found on most of the company's more recent devices (and you won't hear any complaints from us about that, it's not bad at all).
For consumers, one of Windows Mobile 6's greatest weaknesses is also among its greatest strengths: by and large, it's the same from handset to handset to handset, which really lets the hardware shine. You end up picking a phone not because it can read Word documents, but because it's exactly the form factor and specification you want. HTC has historically done an excellent job of embracing that ideology, and the Touch Dual is a clear-cut continuation of that -- let the purists have their Touch, sure, but for the traditionalists, the Dual's ready to play.
Bottom line? It's a great WinMo device tarnished only by its lack of North American 3G and WiFi. Data hogs, beware.