Like its smaller brother the HTC Touch Diamond, the Touch Pro adopts a decidedly angular case and HTC’s own TouchFLO 3D interface, but adds on a slide-out QWERTY keyboard in an attempt to pitch the phone to more serious business users. While the sturdy keyboard certainly helps speed up data input, the phone’s interface still chugs along at an unbelievably sleepy pace, which will prevent professionals from working at the speed they need to.
Features & Design
For those who are already familiar with the slim HTC Touch Diamond, the design of the Touch Pro will look strikingly similar. It’s really the same phone, with an extra quarter inch of depth tacked on to make room for the keyboard within. That brings it up to a rather hefty .71 inches deep, which is reasonable, but combined with the phone’s weight of 165 grams, makes it feel rather brickish.
Though there’s no “diamond” in the name, the Pro borrows all the same jewel-inspired styling cues as its little brother, including the cut-gemstone pattern embossed in the plastic on its back shell, chamfered edges, and a satin metal triangle around the camera lens (though this version has an extra hole for the LED flash). The screen and lower button panel have also both been given a mirror-like sheen.
Like the other phones in HTC’s Touch line, almost all interaction occurs through its 2.8-inch touch screen or the handful of buttons scattered around the rest of the outside shell. These include a home and back button on the face, along with start/end call buttons, and a discrete directional pad in the center. We liked how the lack of raised edges on this pad contributed to a clutter-free look, but functionally it also makes the pad much more difficult to use. On its edges, the Pro has a power button up top, volume rockers on the side, and a stylus squirreled away in the lower-right bottom. The QWERTY keyboard appears by sliding the screen away to the right.
Other features include a fairly generous 4GB of internal storage (but with no room for expansion), a 3.2-megapixel camera, a built-in FM radio, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and media player.
Besides the phone itself, HTC’s retail Touch Pro package includes a fairly standard bundle of accessories. This includes an HTC ExtUSB cable for charging and connecting to a PC, a pair of headphones with the same jack, and a wall charger that terminates in a female USB jack for use with the cable.
The Touch Pro’s defining feature – its full QWERTY keyboard – is one of the best examples we’ve seen built into a handset to date. For starters, the sliding action to reveal it feels exceptionally firm, and we have no qualms about opening it and closing it all day without breakage, or even, in a moment of clumsiness, dropping it that way. HTC has also done an outstanding job opening up space for the keyboard, since the shelf revealed by sliding the keyboard away is over an inch and a half wide, with the keys occupying most of it. They keys have also been lightly bubbled out to make them easier to distinguish from one another, and each has a defined “clicky” feedback that lets you know you’ve pressed it. These are keys not nubs or little eraserheads. Overall, the typing experience felt extremely comfortable, and we’re confident that professionals will have no problem typing out e-mails and SMS messages all day long after a short adjustment period, as with any new phone.
The display on the Pro (identical to that on the Diamond) is among the finest we’ve ever seen on a mobile handset. HTC has managed to squeeze a full 640 x 480 VGA display into a space just 2.8 inches across, giving it an extremely fine dot pitch (a measure of how close together the pixels are spaced) that makes text and images extraordinarily smooth looking – as if printed on the page of a magazine. Add in a powerful backlight, vibrant colors, and you’re looking at one of the best screens in the business, though it is somewhat prone to fingerprints like all large touch screens.
Image Courtesy of HTC
Besides the stunning quality of its display, one of the first things you’ll notice upon powering up the phone is that it isn’t running the same Windows Mobile 6.1 you know and love (or more likely, hate). HTC has worked the Microsoft’s archaic and poorly aging operating system over with a fresh interface known as TouchFLO, which stands in for most of the dull Windows screens you’re used to. The main page, for instance, highlights a 3D clock that changes numbers with an animated flip, and most of the phone’s major functions have been arranged in a strip of icons that run along the bottom.
Compared to the typical Windows Mobile suite, HTC’s version feels like a massive improvement. Important functions like call history, contacts, and calendar can all be accessed from the main screen, and other icons can be arranged to lie anywhere in the strip you choose, making the screen easy to customize. However, the small nature of the buttons doesn’t lend itself much to finger presses – we found the only tolerable way to navigate the screen was with the included stylus.
Though extraordinarily pretty, HTC’s TouchFLO has one major downside: it’s slow. Dreadfully slow. As soon as you start to rake through different features at the pace of someone who might actually be in a hurry to get things done, the Pro is left woefully in the dust, lagging behind on everything from button presses to scrolling, and even routine data entry. Try using any of the media-intensive features like YouTube, and it’s a century behind. After spending some face time with the Diamond, we were quick to realize that nearly half the time using it was spent waiting – and extremely aggravating and unproductive trait that we can’t quite forgive the phone for.
Even the seductive face of TouchFLO is only skin deep. Navigating more deeply into many options turns up the same field of boxes you’ll find on any other Windows Mobile Device, and opening the Start menu in the upper left-hand corner is like opening a time warp to five years ago. You can put an awfully pretty paint job on a barn, but it’s still a barn.
The Touch Pro feels nearly identical to the Touch Diamond on the software level, with only small quirks to differentiate the two. The Touch Pro, for instance, comes with the full Microsoft Office Mobile suite, as well as extras like an RSS reader and a business card reader preinstalled.
Much like Cover Flow on Apple’s iPhone, from which HTC’s TouchFLO interface seems to have drawn its name, the Diamond uses a graphical media player that prominently displays artwork. Unfortunately, that’s about where the similarities end. Unlike Apples’ implementation, the tiny icons on HTC’s media player make it difficult to navigate with fingers, and controls are not laid out in nearly as intuitive a way. The familiar sliding motion that makes Cover Flow so appealing is also missing. While it’s better than some of the clunkiest media players we’ve seen, it’s on par with Apple in looks alone. The lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack also drags down the Pro’s usability as an MP3 player, since USB-style headphone remain rare.
If there’s one redeeming value to all this, the inclusion of Opera might be it. Compared to Internet Explorer, the typical option Windows Mobile proffers for crawling through the Web, Opera is a vast improvement. It will auto format HTML content into a readable column or let you read it in its unaltered state, open multiple tabs easily, and shrink its menus down to nothing for easy browsing. We do wish it had different levels of zoom, though, since changing font size to make different pages readable can be tiring.
Though quite similar to the 3.2-megapixel sensor camera in the Diamond, the Pro adds an LED flash. Despite the thought that went into including it, for the most part we found it too weak to light up much of anything, and the settings for it also made it difficult to use. Unlike a standard point-and-shoot that offers automatic flash mode, the Pro’s flash must be either on all the time or off all the time. Even worse, when it’s on, it goes into flashlight mode, staying on a low setting during normal shooting and brightening when you snap photos. This can not only be quite distracting, it wastes battery.
Besides these issues, the camera performed right on par with the Diamond camera, which we were actually quite fond of. It captures images in sharp detail, performs acceptably in low light, and focuses accurately in almost all scenarios. Like a point-and-shoot cam, pushing the phone’s round center button down halfway focuses the camera and allows it to meter whether there is enough light for proper photography. Pressing all the way captures a photo. It does, however, show up after a very lengthy delay and black screen. Though the results were generally good, the thumb action for taking pictures with the camera held horizontally felt clumsy and imprecise, and accessing the mode took far too many menu presses. A side button solely for photos would have fixed both issues.
Image Courtesy of HTC
Nearly everything about the Touch Pro, from its sleek case to its superior keyboard, is likeable. Unfortunately, the phone just doesn’t have quite enough grunt to tow the graphical user interface HTC has attached to it, and in the end it ranked very low on usability, even compared to phones with much fewer features, but that performed at a respectable speed. If HTC were able to drop some hotrod hardware into the same form factor, or trim down the fat on the operating system respectably, the Touch Pro would easily be one of our favorite iPhone competitors.
• Fashionable exterior
• Ultra-sharp display
• Quality camera
• Attractive interface
• Large, well-engineered keyboard
• Molasses-slow performance
• Dated menus under TouchFLO
• Interface requires stylus