The good folks at HTC left this little gem (pun totally intended) on our doorstep today, but as cool as it sounds to have one of the world's great Windows Mobile torchbearers just drop off its hottest new handset to us like it's an extra large pepperoni and mushroom, it's a bittersweet gift at best. Why? The Touch Diamond lacks both HSDPA 850 / 1900 and GSM 850 in its current incarnation, leaving it to cling to what 1900MHz EDGE towers it can find. That makes it an untouchable product for all but the hardest-core North Americans who are willing to throw both high-speed data and maximum signal coverage out of the window just to be able to put the pinnacle of WinMo 6.1 engineering in their pocket.
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HTC Touch Diamond hands-on, up close and personal this time
The box is... well, interesting. You've got to give them that, anyway. The outer cardboard trapezoid peels away to reveal a glossy black inner one, foretelling the polished sheen of the device itself. We recommend you stay pretty at all times when using this phone, because you'll see yourself constantly reflected at virtually every angle. Haircuts, teeth whitening procedures, clean shaves for the men, you know the drill.
Firing up the phone for the first time takes you through the typical customization procedure that owners of most Windows Mobile handsets will be well-acquainted with; it's an annoying but seemingly necessary procedure that just delays your impatient soul from exploring your purchase for yet a couple additional minutes while HTC sprinkles some flavor on the default Windows Mobile shell.
Once you get that taken care of and restart, you're presented with TouchFLO 3D for the first time. Actually, not quite -- the phone prompts you to tap on the screen to fire it up for some reason, instead of taking you into it immediately -- but after you make it through that tap, you get to the now-famous home screen featuring the card-flip clock display.
It's right here, just one screen into exploring the fancy, graphics-heavy TouchFLO 3D interface, that you're left in awe of the display. The crispness of this thing is just not possible to convey without seeing it in person, thanks largely to a pretty ridiculous dot pitch achieved when squeezing 640 x 480 onto a screen just 2.8-inches in size.
We were struck by how deep TouchFLO 3D goes. Realistically, the average user could go weeks without ever coming across an old-fashioned Windows Mobile user interface, particularly if they're limiting their use to calling, messaging, media, and web browsing. With the exception of the browser, all of those WinMo elements have been replaced with TouchFLO-beautified ones, and the browser is sourced from Opera; as many WinMo owners already know, Opera's light years ahead of Internet Explorer Mobile in its current incarnation, and it looks simply stunning on the VGA display.
Talking about user input for a moment, we were bothered with just a hint of lag throughout the system, which made tapping on things and entering text vaguely frustrating. It's possible that HTC could fine-tune this with a future firmware release, but we're guessing that TouchFLO 3D combined with the high resolution are pushing that 528MHz Qualcomm core to its hairy edge. Another annoyance we found was the texture of the display. HTC has done a better job than some other vendors of making the majority of the shell finger-friendly, and swipe gestures are pervasive throughout the apps for scrolling menus, looking at pictures, changing albums of music, and the like. Problem is, the screen is sticky -- at least, it was for us. Even minor pressure made it difficult to swipe our fingertip over the screen, and on several occasions, we found our finger bouncing across the surface in such a way that we were accidentally actuating menu items that we didn't mean to.
Of course, gestures are just a part of the equation. If you're using this thing as your office away from the office, the keyboards are going to play a huge role in your productivity, and we think the Touch Diamond's set of them are going to really polarize users. We personally can't stand the two-letter concept introduced by SureType, and that's the Touch Diamond's default. There are a couple QWERTYs in there as well -- one HTC's, one Microsoft's -- but the screen is too narrow for our fat fingers to get the job done on those. Naturally, your mileage may vary, and we know all sorts of folks that have no problem with SureType whatsoever.
Our hearts actually skipped a beat when we noticed that the Touch Diamond's phone settings offer the hope of reconfiguring the radio for UMTS 850 / 1900 and UMTS 1700 modes, despite the spec sheet assuring us that 900 / 2100 is how it rolls. Naivete and boundless hope kicked in, though, and we had a go at it. Bottom line: no dice. It lets you change the setting, but it ends up hooking up with EDGE anyway. Way to toy with us, guys.
So would we be queuing up for a version of this with the right 3G bands? HTC's done a tremendous job of hiding Windows Mobile 6.1's antiquated user interface, so we can put that little concern aside; what's more, it's hard to argue with the massive library of third-party software available for the platform, and for those worried about keeping their IT department happy, it's about as enterprise-friendly as they come. Physically, it's beautiful, liable to turn as many heads as any smartphone on the market today. Tell you what, HTC, we'll make you a deal: throw in 3G for both AT&T and T-Mobile, tweak the feel of the screen, and you have yourself a customer.
Either that, or we may just avoid the virtual keyboard controversy altogether and hold out for the Touch Pro. Decisions!