HTC Touch (CDMA)

January 15th, 2008

With the exception some older data plans (which was discontinued a few years ago), I’ve always complained about the high cost of data in Canada. Unless you have a demo line or are lucky enough to have and kept the Fido plan, having a sweet phone means you can only access the coolest features when you’re near a WiFi hotspot.

Recently Bell has been offering their HTC Touch with an option for unlimited data for only 7 bucks extra. When I found out about this, I ran to the store and got myself a Touch and activated the unlimited data option. Clearly I was more interested in the plan than the Touch.

Still, I have a Touch now so here are my impressions of it.

Make sure you check out the gallery for some pictures.

Physical Impressions:

The Touch’s defining feature is that it’s really small and light. It has a very small face and is also thin.

HTC managed this by using a small 2.8″ display, using a small 1100mAh Lithium Ion battery and by eliminating a lot of the keys you usually find on a Pocket PC.

In fact, besides the nav pad and a send/end buttons the front of the Touch is devoid of buttons. You don’t even get the left and right softkeys. There’s a volume slider on the left and a camera button on the right.

In the past, the first thing I’d think of when you mention HTC is that they like to add as many buttons as possible to their devices. It’s a good thing they don’t make surf boards. HTC is great at adding keyboards and extra buttons to their designs so the Touch is a real step in the other direction.

If you text message or enter tons of text you probably won’t like the Touch… mind you, if you use your stylus to enter text then it’s not so bad.

HTC includes 6 different text entry methods. Block organizer (character recognition), a QWERTY keyboard, letter recognizer, Touch keyboard, Touch keypad, Transcriber. It gets a little confusing at times, it would be nice if you could hide some of the text entry methods in the settings.

Hands-free usage:

There is support for Bluetooth headsets, stereo Bluetooth headphones and mini USB headsets. The Touch has truly horrific battery life so make sure you have an extra charger if you plan on using Bluetooth.

Miscellaneous:

There’s a microSD card slot hidden behind a side panel on the right side of the phone.

Menus:

The Touch runs Pocket PC (now called Windows Mobile Professional). If you’re not familiar with it here’s a very quick run down. There are certain important elements to Pocket PC. The Start menu, Today screen and Menus.

The Start menu is brought up by tapping the top left corner of the screen. It contains shortcuts to certain programs and settings. The Today Screen is like a stand by display. In the case of the Touch HTC, they’ve customized it with some extra features (more on that in a second). The Menus (also called programs) contain shortcuts to all the programs on your device (that have a shortcut there).

Typically there are 3 areas at the bottom of the display. The right area is usually a context sensitive menu, the middle brings up different text entry methods and the left one varies. The top right area (where the ‘x’ is) puts the program you’re using in the background.

The today screen is customized so that there’s a bigger time display (it’s useful), you can also view the weather, there’s a launcher with a short cut to change the screen orientations and shortcuts to change the current profile.

The top right will bring up a list of currently running programs plus it gives you the option to exit them (normally it only puts them in the background). This sounds useful but from my experience it takes so long to bring up the list of programs its useless.

HTC includes their TouchFlo software. The main purpose of TouchFlo seems to be to make the Touch easier to use with one hand, to make it easier to use without having to pull out the stylus and to help you forget that there are hardly any buttons it. For example, you can bring up this sort of launcher by putting your finger on the carrier logo above the nav pad and then moving it up (if you’ve used a Palm before it’s sort of like the shortcut to bring up the graffiti help).

The launcher has 3 different views; one has a speed dial with shortcuts to the phone and related apps. The second lets you quickly launch Internet Explorer, Email, SMS, Tasks, Calendar and the Comm manager. The third contains more shortcuts this time to the music, photo and video apps. TouchFlo also adds some scrolling enhancements to some built-in apps like the messaging client and Internet Explorer. You can switch email accounts by taking your finger and sliding it sideways. You can scroll sideways/up and down in PIE in a similar manner. It’s similar to how the iPhone is but it doesn’t work as well.

The problem is that some of the gestures are similar to existing gestures that every Pocket PC has. For example, if you select some text and then tap and hold your stylus on it, a edit menu will pop up. However the gesture for scrolling is very similar.

In practice I found TouchFlo pretty useful. I found I used it regularly – it’s a lot easier to use than pressing the start button and then selecting the program you want without using a stylus.

Compared to the iPhone, TouchFlo isn’t terribly unintuitive to use but still, considering that the Touch is a Windows Mobile device I’m fairly impressed. I hope I don’t sound like a Windows Mobile apologist (cause really, I’m not that crazy about WinMo) but I’d rather have TouchFlo than not have it.

Phone Related Features:

Like I mentioned before you can quickly bring up a speed dial by bringing up the TouchFlo menu. It’s pretty useful. You can also quickly start an SMS this way too.

You can also bring up the phone app by pressing the green talk button which is on the bottom left of the Touch.

The phonebook is standard Windows Mobile. There’s support for Smartdial but it’s not used much since there’s no physical keyboard.

Connected Features:

The Email supports MS Direct Push Email, IMAP4, POP3 plus you get support for Hotmail (set it up in the MSN menu) plus you can also sync email from your desktop computer.

Browsing duties are handled by Pocket Internet Explorer. PIE works okay but it runs really slow when you’re viewing large webpages. Feature wise it hasn’t changed much in the past couple of years. It lacks the speed of other browsers and the ability to see the entire webpage at once. It also has problems with many SSL secured pages. If you like to surf the web a lot considering purchasing Opera or something similar.

As always you get MSN messenger built-in. If you’re going to use it a lot consider a Pocket PC with a built-in keyboard.

My HTC touch did not come with the Remote Desktop (Terminal Services) app.

Multimedia Features:

Music/Video duties are handled by Windows Media player. It can sort through your music collection by artist, album or genre.

There’s a useful mp3 trimmer which you can use to cut up your mp3′s and set them as ringtones.

There’s a 2 megapixel camera on the back. It’s nothing special and doesn’t take very good pictures.

You get a2dp support but I don’t advise you use it unless you have an extra charger or bigger battery since the Touch’s battery life is horrible.

Organizer Features:

You get the usual Pocket PC organizer features; Calendar, Tasks, Notes, MS Word, Excel, Power Point, Voice recorder. You also get a Voice Speed Dial feature which is important if you want to use the Touch in a car.

The Calendar, Notes and phonebook can sync with your computer. You can create Word, Excel, Power Point files on your device but they’re more for viewing attachments you might get in your email.

As always you get a File manager which is useful if you have a lot of stuff on your device.

You also get a zip file manager which is great if you download programs straight to your device.

Impressions:

I thought the Touch was okay. I tend to use my Pocket PC’s with just one hand anyways and tend to not enter too much text. I’m also lazy so I’d rather type on the screen keyboard with my thumb (which I’m somewhat proficient at) than whip out my other hand and pull out a keyboard.

Keeping these 2 facts in mind, I liked how I could scroll with my finger in Pocket IE (it’s easier than using the side scroll bars) and how I could use Touch Flo to start programs.

I’m disappointed that HTC didn’t include a better browser like Opera but you can always purchase them separately.

I also liked the size. Pocket PC’s tend to be really complicated devices – there’s something really geeky about them (that’s their appeal). Anyways the Touch is one of the least geeky Pocket PC’s out there.

The Touch is pretty responsive most of the time except when you’re viewing large webpages. When you do that it starts to chug.

So I enjoyed using the Touch but not all is well. For one the RF performance seems lacking. I found that the Touch had trouble maintaining an EVDO connection when the signal was weak. When the signal was weak it would keep switching to 1x which is really slow.

One problem I noticed was that occasionally the Touch would stay on when I put it in its holster. This would cause the Touch to heat up and drain the battery (even faster). I suspect I might have pressed the camera button before I put it away. Stability wise the Touch is okay. It does freeze up from time to time – such as when I was having a meeting with some people from HTC.

The other big problem is the battery life which was horrible. You’ll only get about 1 day of standby with moderate usage. If you get the Touch also get a second charger to leave at work.

Sound quality was so-so. While I was testing a CDMA Touch it sounded more like a GSM phone. Voices were pretty natural sounding but there was noticeable hiss. Maximum earpiece volume was average. While it’s not a quiet device it could stand to be a little louder.

RF performance was pretty horrible. The Touch’s signal meter seems to constantly have zero bars of reception. While I don’t normally pay much attention to signal meters in the case of the Touch it seems to be accurate. Calls would cut in and out in areas that are normally okay reception wise.

Conclusion:

Despite some serious flaws I enjoyed using the Touch. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve become so jaded/bored of Pocket PC’s but the Touch brings something new to the table. The Touch’s most serious flaws include poor RF performance, horrendous battery life, lack of buttons and lack of WiFi (the GSM version has WiFi). I guess it’s a case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.

Personally the lack of WiFi doesn’t bother me that much. The Touch isn’t really fast enough for you to notice the extra speed you get from a WiFi compared with a good EVDO one. The only area where it bothers me is that you’re not supposed to stream video which means I’m not supposed to use my Slingbox with the Touch.

Ratings (out of 5)
Build Quality 4
Battery Life 1.5
Phone Related Features 3.5
Ease of Use 3
RF Performance 2
Degree of Customizability 3.5
Overall (not an average) 3.5
*Please note these ratings are temporal and are really only valid for the date they were assigned. A phone which receives a rating of 5 a year ago will probably get a lower rating today.

Pros:

  • TouchFlo is useful
  • Small
  • Easy to use despite lack of buttons

Cons:

  • Battery life
  • RF performance
  • No WiFi
  • Lousy camera

Discuss this review at HowardForums.com | See the gallery here
Written by Howard Chui 01.15.2008
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

Entry Filed under: Phones

13 Comments Add your own

    Duker  |  January 20th, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    review seems a little harsh. I have had this device for about 2 months, and I really like it (came from a blackberry). Just had to download a new keyboard, as the ones that come with it are terrible. Only cost me $10.

    rip  |  January 21st, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    I agreed with everything but the RF.

    Rich  |  January 22nd, 2008 at 2:06 am

    I was interested in getting this phone. The $7 a month data plan is hard to resist. I would get Opera and the better keyboard. How terrible is the battery life? I have seen tech specs on the phone saying 5 hours of talk with is much better than the 3.5 on my Razr.

    Graham  |  January 25th, 2008 at 4:25 am

    WOEFUL battery life!

    Paul  |  February 4th, 2008 at 3:58 am

    I love my Touch (GSM, Enhanced) but I keep a charger in my backpack. ‘Can’t even get through a day on a charge if I really use it (e.g., talk some, listen to music, watch video, do some Web surfing).

    Rich  |  February 10th, 2008 at 12:27 am

    So I got the touch from Bell and all I can say is its an excellent device. I have Bell’s unlimited internet bundle which includes email etc. It’s fantastic. I notice the battery life is excellent and I easily get a full day’s use out of it. The main battery draw on it is talking on the phone. I recommend dropping the backlight setting down, dropping the backlight timer to lowest setting of one minute and close your programs fully when not in use. Also I use the power/sleep mode button on the top a lot all of these suggestions will give you considerably more battery life.

    Gary  |  February 19th, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    I just got my touch this wekend. I have to agree with the battery life commnent. I got the phone, charged it (after it died on the first day) fully….as instructed by the Bell store rep.

    I am not through 24 hours and I already down to a single bar of battery life…..the funny thing is I have not made a single call today. I did show the phone to people I work with, picture show, sample video, etc. Just running those features killed my battery. I also found that ‘closing’ the running app doesn’t actually close it. I find myself going to the task manager to stop all apps.

    However, I do like the interface and the unlimited browsing plan from bell makes this phone attractive. I am looking into getting a second battery soon

    Vince  |  February 20th, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    For the battery life, I turn off the beam and it helped.

    Sanjay  |  February 24th, 2008 at 3:19 am

    can u suggest some good good keyboard I can download as Duker

    Michael  |  March 3rd, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    I just got the Touch there have been a couple problems. Not sure if you’re seeing the same things:

    1. Signal Strength/Reception – you alluded to this in your commentary and I find i’m having the same problems. Problems with hearing people (cutting in and out) in places that traditionally (on my old phone) had perfect reception.

    2. DROPPED CALLS – this seems to happen quite a bit. Usually when it reached the 20-30 minutes range of the conversation. I have been reading a couple blogs about this but can’t seem to find out if Bell has a solution to this. I have checked the version of the hardware and have the latest offering (I just picked it up 2 days ago).

    3. Definitely get Opera Mobile – it’s worth the money and pages load better. period. The unlimited browsing for $7 works great.

    4. Battery Life has been mediocre at best. Set up with two email accounts (used IMAP) and checked for messages every 10 minutes. Killed the battery the first night (probably my fault for putting this setting) but I would recommend something like once/2hrs. Do you really need to know who’s emailing you in gmail?

    Also interested in the keyboard that DUKER mentioned.

    Heather  |  April 15th, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Hi there,
    I have the Bell touch flow with unlimited browsing….I love it! The only thing I can’t seem to do is access drop downs from web sites with dropdowns. Does anyone know if it is possible if I insatll opera or are there setting I can change? Is the phone run on wap or html? I phoned twice to Bell reps and got 2 different answers..one said just a setting and the other said nothing I can do the phone simply cannot access dropdowns because it runs on wap not html, he also said I ccould not install opera browswer. Please help

    Frank  |  July 23rd, 2008 at 6:46 am

    I’ve had the Touch with Sprint for a few months now. I purchased from Seido a long life battery. It’s great for use with my slingbox. Mine locks up about 1-2 times a day. Have to reset to restart. Agree camera is inadequate. Love the microSD slot. Wish there was a way to modify the touch flo items tho. BTW Sprints unlimited data plan is great!

    Mr. M  |  July 23rd, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Yes, I like mine as well. Battery life is bad. But rarely I’m to far of a hike from a charger land or in-car. It’s good to see that some blackberries have moved to it. I can see why.

    One question I have is how to change the link in the TouchFlo “Triangular Prism” for music to open audio manager instead of starting Java based music store from Bell/Aliant. (I already have my music and not buying it again.

    Mr M

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