Thursday, November 5, 2009

Buying Guide: HTC Touch Pro2

By Benedict Wee

When you've got the iPhone dominating the realms of popular culture, the BlackBerry being the top favorite of business professionals and Google's Android spreading like a zombie virus throughout phone manufacturers, it's hard for older -and admittedly, less user friendly- mobile operating systems such as Windows Mobile to maintain their niche in the smartphone market.

However, after spending about a week with the HTC Touch Pro2, I've come to the realization that although Apple and Google will soon be the mobile OS of choice by many in the next year or so, it is still too early to discount the current phone choices we have available to us in New Zealand. So here with go with a buying guide to Telecom's latest smartphone.

Why I like it

HTC's TouchFlo UI:
Let's start off with the best bit about the phone. Starting from Windows Mobile 6.1 and working backwards, Microsoft's mobile OS has been the bane on the existence of many users who've had to deal with the two-handed, stylus-only, only-accurate-when-standing-still interface hell.

HTC had the foresight to cover all that nastiness with their TouchFlo UI, which has gone through many incarnations since their implementation on early WinMo handsets, to the awesome software interface present in the Touch Pro2.

Aside from the initial five second lag when you turn on the phone and the two second one when you wake it from sleep mode, TouchFlo is fast and is very responsive to finger touches, swipes and long presses. From scrolling past programs to flicking through pictures to touching song selections, the UI works smoothly and I hardly encountered any misread errors when I wanted it to do a particular function or input words/numbers.

Speaking of input, the virtual keyboard works the same way as the ones found in Android mobiles and the iPhone so writing texts and emails, surfing the web and dialing numbers are done using fingers and even fat digits (such as mine) aren't a problem as the keys are adequately spaced out and there's always the good-old "predictive text" feature to help solve misspelt words.

Navigation through the basic features of the Touch Pro2 is done easily by sliding the bar located on the bottom of the screen horizontally to scroll from one program to the other. Everything you usually do on a daily basis is located on the bar: contacts, web browser, weather, text, emails, music, calendar, pictures etc. are all there and if you've got a specific program you plan on using repeatedly, there is always the Start button on the top left of the screen which sends you to the list of programs installed in the smartphone. The Start button mimics the one used in Windows Mobile 6.5 by using big icons on a scrollable list which is navigated by flicking the screen up or down.

Overall I'd say that HTC's TouchFlo UI is a good enough reason to buy this phone but then it wouldn't be very professional of me to not go though the rest of the other features.

Sound quality and microphone:
It's really good. Crystal clear voices coming thru the speakers and dual microphones ensure that calls are never misheard and I'd dare say they're quite on par with landline quality. Of course this is also dependent on the mobile connection you have. Telecom works perfectly on the West Coast and I didn't have a problem in talking or listening from my contacts.

HTC's Straight Talk:
Another well-implemented HTC feature, Straight Talk allows you to switch from email to single, multi-party or conference bridge calls. This feature is easy to use and is practical, considering the phone is designed for business purposes. Combine this with Windows Mobile and the great sound quality of the phone and you get what is essentially a full-on portable office.


Tilting Screen:
Although I thought it was a cool feature at first, later on I realized that I had no idea how I'd use the feature in my everyday life. Does it become an upright alarm clock next to my nightstand? Do I put it on the table and use it as a mini-notebook?

The mechanics of the phone work really well, the keyboard slides out smoothly and everything clicks into place when the screen is brought upwards, making it a solid piece of equipment but I feel the tilting screen is kind of gimmicky and does nothing helpful to the phone as a whole.

Physical Keyboard:
I guess business-types aren't comfortable with using virtual keyboards. I have nothing against physical ones however and the Touch Pro2's is nice and responsive but I found myself using the virtual one more. It could be also that the physical keyboard can only be used when the phone is in landscape mode and that the virtual one in portrait, and I did use Touch Pro2 in the latter more than I did the former.

If I had any gripe, it would be that the physical keyboard adds a significant thickness to the phone, essentially doubling its size.

Zoom Bar:
I didn't even notice it was there till under certain lighting conditions were met and the icon magically appeared. The zoom bar is located at the bottom of the screen (and in landscape mode, to the right) and it's supposed to help you zoom in or out when viewing images, web pages, maps or reading email.

I don't know if I was doing it correctly or if the response wasn't good but using the zoom bar felt clunky and at the end of the day I didn't find any reason to utilize the feature, choosing to use the options located in the program itself instead.

Why I do not like it

No headphone jack:
Really? In this day and age? Granted you wouldn't see your businessman pumping tunes into his ears with headphones while walking down the street and most likely the only time they'll be listening to music will be when they're in the car, but placing a 3.5mm jack into the pretty big smartphone shouldn't be a problem and you never know what market you'd open to if you had put in a simple feature such as that. Also, it would be nice not to disturb anyone should I want to watch a quick video on YouTube while I'm at work.

Ok this thing isn't exactly pocket-friendly. The Touch Pro2 possess a considerable size and frame which means you should expect to see an unsightly bulge if you decide to carry it in your pants. The smartphone seems more of a hold-in-your-hand or store-it-in-your-handbag kind of a gadget though its size does betray its weight so carrying it around wouldn't be an extra burden.

Other things to know

Camera: Average quality pictures and video. To be expected as it is only 3.2MP.

Screen: Great. Crystal clear and easily readable. Not grainy at all.

I like the phone. Yes its size may be a little too big for my tastes and I could do without the physical keyboard, but bearing in mind that the phone is designed for PMEBs and therefore business use, you can see that the Touch Pro2 does suit its intended clientele really well. With its big (and very clear) screen, a fantastic UI and possessing great quality sound clarity, I'd gladly take this phone over a BlackBerry any day. If you're a Telecom customer and are looking for a good business smartphone, I'd highly recommend this one.

The HTC Touch Pro2 is now available all Telecom NZ shops for NZ$1499 without contract.

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