With a chiseled black case and stunning 2.8-inch touchscreen, the HTC Touch diamond is one the sharpest smartphones we’ve laid eyes on recently, both literally and figuratively. Unfortunately, HTC’s glossy TouchFLO interface slapped over the tired old Windows Mobile 6.1 weighs on the phone like a ball and chain, and performance does not live up to the inviting exterior.
Features & Design
Though the HTC Touch Diamond looks fairly modest and conservative on the face, its namesake diamond design jumps out on the back, where a cut-gemstone pattern embossed in the plastic gives it quite a unique look. Chamfered edges and a satin metal triangle around the camera lens play into the effect, making the phone look far more textured and three dimensional than it really is (it lies flat on its back despite the mountainous-looking embossing). The screen and lower button panel have both been given a mirror-like sheen, lending one final bit of stylistic backing to the Diamond name. Overall, we found it to be an attractive and exceptionally pocketable phone. At only .44 inches deep, and weighing 110 grams, it felt right at home in any pair of Levi’s.
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 “edge” buttons 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 Diamond has a power button up top, volume rockers on the side, and a stylus squirreled away in the lower-right bottom.
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 Diamond 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 display 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 Diamond 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.
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 Diamond’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.
Thanks to its 3.2-megapixel sensor and autofocus, the camera in the Diamond stands out as one of the better ones we’ve seen built into recent smartphone offerings. 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.
Despite warm initial impressions of both the phone and its TouchFLO interface, extended use proved that the hardware inside wasn’t ready to handle such a graphically heavy system running on a dated architecture like Windows Mobile 6.1. Short of some awkward buttons and proprietary headphone connectors, we have very few complaints about the outside of the Diamond Touch, and wish the software inside could live up to its promise.
• Fashionable exterior
• Ultra-sharp display
• Quality camera
• Attractive interface
• Molasses-slow performance
• Dated menus under TouchFLO
• Interface requires stylus