This last week I’ve been traveling throughout Japan and switching between the HTC Advantage I normally carry and the new HTC Touch Diamond that recently was released in Europe and will soon come to the US. Overall I’m impressed with this phone, but have realized that for me a touchscreen phone that doesn’t have a keyboard for email is simply too painful to use whether it is this new HTC product or the ever-popular Apple iPhone.
But I also concluded that, for me, I actually prefer the HTC Touch Diamond over the iPhone for two simple reasons: It is vastly smaller and it is more exclusive than the iPhone currently is. I doubt, however, that many will toss their iPhone out for it, though I do expect it to sell to folks who don’t yet have an iPhone as an alternative. But it isn’t yet a phone I can live on.
So let’s talk about what makes this phone different and anticipate the coming of the new (and from my perspective better) HTC Touch Pro.
Living With the HTC Diamond
One thing you are struck with when you first get the Diamond is that HTC has done a great job with packaging and the physical appearance of this sleek device. It is much smaller than the iPhone and much smaller than the original HTC Touch. It is one of the first Windows Mobile 6.1 phones and is easier to set up to work with Exchange email as a result.
The most compelling feature wasn’t the built in weather monitoring or even the new, more advanced single touch interface, it was the built in marble game which provided physical feedback while the marbles were moving around the phone screen; it actually made it feel like you were balancing real marbles. The game uses the phone’s new motion sensing and orientation technology so that you basically balance the phone as if there were real marbles in it and guide them through ever more difficult maze of holes.
I killed hours just messing with this game and a critical feature of any phone-based game is the ability to play it mindlessly for long periods of time to avoid boredom and this phone game did that.
Image Courtesy of HTC
Mixed and Missed Features
This is a full 3G phone much like the new Apple iPhone will be and web and background sync is much faster. However, I did notice that battery life has decreased a lot since the earlier HTC Touch suggesting that having a spare battery would likely be a good idea with this phone.
Camera use was intuitive and easy, though I would have liked to have had some kind of flash or light source for low light conditions.
One accessory that would have really helped with this phone was my Redfly mobile companion as I often found myself wishing for a keyboard when using it (but unfortunately I didn’t bring it on this trip). The Redfly mobile companion is an accessory that looks like a small notebook and uses Bluetooth to wirelessly connect to a phone transferring the screen image from the phone and keyboard function to the Redfly. With this device you can take something like the HTC Diamond, which isn’t great at email, and turn it into an email machine.
While the phone came to me unlocked and auto configured for the T-Mobile network I used, there was no connection to a back-end service like iTunes and I think this phone would be much better if it was in some way better tied to a web service. I think Microsoft Live Mesh will help this phone and its siblings a lot when it goes gold.
Closing the Gap and Eventually Beating the iPhone
If you compare the improvements to the HTC Touch Diamond over the original HTC Touch you immediately see, with some continued shortcomings, a massive improvement. In looking at the new iPhone, while it too is much better, it doesn’t appear to have advanced as much, though I still think it sets the bar when it comes to this kind of phone.
To get ahead of the iPhone I think HTC and others will need a combination of a phone that has the multi-media and touch features the iPhone is famous for, the email capability that defined the RIM Blackberry, and a back-end service like Microsoft Live Mesh or Mobile Me that really turn the device into all that it could be.
I remain really impressed with new HTC phone game and also think that a richer gaming capability should be part of that service. In short, while not yet perfect, the HTC Touch Diamond is a showcase for how much progress HTC has made and they closed the gap with the iPhone significantly with this round. It is actually a good alternative and likely a better one for those who want a smaller phone. Based on my experiences so far however, and coupled with Microsoft Live Mesh, the HTC Touch Pro is the real contender and I can’t wait to try it in a few long weeks.