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HTC Declares War on iPhone

HTC, with their Touch, was really the first vendor to have a phone based on the iPhone in the market. The LG Prada, which came much earlier, actually preceded the iPhone, and some suggest Apple likely copied it and/or the early Neonode. China is rolling iPhone clones out almost weekly and the latest may actually be better than the original.

Quick funny story: years ago, three of my top executives were in a room comparing Rolex watches. The CEO had one that was $10K and the CFO had one that was $8K, but they both agreed the VP of Sales had the best-looking Rolex. He explained that he’d bought his in China for $50, had picked up several, and if he ever breaks or loses one, he just tosses it out. The reason it looked better was it had a thinner (read: not too waterproof) crystal which made the dial easier to see.

But, building a copy of anything is just ceding the market to whoever built the original. A better path is to come up with something that addresses what the target phone doesn’t do.

IPhone Shortcomings

The iPhone is both too small and too big for many people. Too big if you really want a small phone you can hold up to your head without looking like a dork, and too small if you really want to do laptop-like work on it (e.g. author documents and do e-mail). The Neonode, which kind of preceded the iPhone and is vastly smaller, I spoke about earlier. The New HTC Advantage X7501 goes the other direction, and this puppy is targeted at serious work.

The iPhone has a built-in battery (which still looks like a design defect to me); is tied to AT&T, who is the source for the vast majority of iPhone (if not cell phone in general), complaints; isn’t particularly good for e-mail or documents, thanks to its screen-based keyboard; and it isn’t supported (at least right now) by most employers, which means the individual has to pay the relatively costly fees for the data service.

Don’t get me wrong — the people I know who have the iPhone rave about it and probably wouldn’t like the X7501 — but for those who don’t like the iPhone and want something that is a bit more work-focused, this could actually be the phone for them. Also, there were a lot of women who really liked the HP clamshell PDAs that were abandoned by HP and everyone else years ago; this thing would likely be perfect for them as well.

HTC X7501 Advantages

This is not a phone you’ll even want to think about holding next to your head. You’d probably knock yourself out if you did it too quickly. It’s substantially thicker and wider than the iPhone, but it has a magnetic removable keyboard and a comparatively huge glass touch screen (and no, you don’t want to drop this thing either). You’ll either use a headset (it comes with a stereo wired headset, but I would recommend a wireless headset) or the very nice built-in speakerphone (there is something to be said for big speakers). 

This has full 3G (HSDPA/UMTS) wireless support (though finding 3G in the U.S. remains difficult), and if you can get a fast data connection, the browsing experience is in line with the iPhone on Wi-Fi. The X7501 supports WiFi and Bluetooth as well and comes with an 8GB micro drive and a miniSD slot (for an additional 2GB storage). Screen resolution is in line with the iPhone, but the screen is 5 inches and is clearly larger than the iPhone’s 3.5 inches.

It has a removable battery and a unique technology for web browsing (the browser is a somewhat unique blend of Opera and IE) called VueFLO. You navigate the page by tipping the phone, kind of like one of those old handheld games with the balls and holes. It takes a little getting used to and will probably lend itself to future games.

At $875, the HTC is more expensive, but it comes unlocked so you can pick the carrier you want (the iPhone carries about a $200 AT&T subsidy). The SIM card is relatively easy to change out, so you can swap phones out if you want to carry something smaller. 

This is a full Microsoft Mobile 6 phone, which means it is supported by most companies, and you should be able to get it approved in firms currently running Goodlink or Exchange native connections for your cell phone.

The magnetic keyboard is really cool, and using this thing draws a little crowd of folks who have now mostly seen the iPhone. You still won’t be touch typing, and thumb typing is generally out as well (I can’t see anyone even trying to type on this while driving — probably a good thing), but if you are doing something lengthy, it really isn’t bad once you get used to the size.

It even has a VGA dongle (which you will probably lose), which allows this phone to be used for presentations; however, a remote for changing slides would be nice.

It has built in GPS, but lacks a window mount, making it a little hard to use in a car; it’s fine if you are walking, though. Still, if you are lost, having a big screen and GPS is better than not having it. It has an LED backlit display — one of the few phones with this — so it is both bright and comparatively low power. Few laptops have this technology today.

The massive storage capacity is handy for movies, and the big speaker is great with music (it works with the Microsoft compliant music services). I think Apple still has the ease-of-use advantage in regard to entertainment.

It has a 3-megapixel camera and built-in light (which, for once, is relatively easy to turn on in case you want to use it as a mini-flashlight). 

Wrapping Up

All in all, this is the closest thing to a phone you could carry instead of a laptop currently on the market. It pushes the envelope with size, and that makes for a much more productivity-focused solution. I think it needs a better carrying solution, though. It comes with a leather case, which would be fine for a large pocket or purse, but nothing with a belt loop, so I had to use an old iPaq case with a belt loop (which wasn’t ideal). I think the case should also have a place to put your wireless headset, so you don’t have to wear it all the time.

A natural accessory would be a window mount for the car, so you can use the navigation while driving. A spare battery would be a good buy as well if you are going to use this to watch movies, as it will run down on power after about two movies.

I missed the feature in the HTC Touch that let you turn music into ring tones, and I really missed the unique Touch graphical screen (similar to the iPhone’s). However, in this large size, the Microsoft Mobile 6 default interface actually worked fine with a touchscreen, and after awhile, I didn’t miss it that much.

HTC has really become the company to watch in this space. Largely unknown until a few months ago, they continue to impress with out-of-the box thinking, very rapid time to market, and some of the most interesting devices this market has to offer. Granted, they don’t have Steve Jobs, but then, Apple doesn’t yet have a phone line either (one phone does not a line make, but more are coming).

If you ever wanted to have a phone that goes farther than a Blackberry so you can leave your laptop at home, check this little puppy out. I think you’ll be impressed. This device is a precursor to the UMPC products in the same class that will start showing up in 12 to 18 months.

In phones, big is beautiful, baby; better start getting used to it.

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