HTC Touch review

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HTC has been on a roll lately. Not content with gathering plenty of praise for its rebranded smartphones, such as the Orange SPV E650 (web ID: 113172), it’s also released a steady stream of own-brand devices, such as the TyTN (web ID: 94166). But the Touch is its most ambitious model yet. All told, there are just seven physical buttons on the Touch, and all of your interaction is supposed to be via the 2.8in, 240 x 320 touchscreen.

HTC Touch review

Nothing unusual there, but the Touch is the first smartphone to include an extra layer of software that’s designed to interact more fully with the finger. HTC calls it TouchFLO, and it’s extremely effective. Swipe your finger from the bottom of the screen to the top to start the software and you’re presented with large icons, perfectly sized for prodding. The initial view provides you with icons to launch Media Player, but swipe left or right and the screen swivels around, offering further icons for communications and application launching, and a final view presents a wall of contacts: click a face and it gives you the option to call or send a text message. The interface is fast and smooth, and for a while we were completely sold on the Touch.

TouchFLO also includes music controls, and there’s a telephone app built in for dialling. But, select virtually any other option, including SMS or email, and the wow-factor is lost. Windows Mobile 6 heaves itself into view, and you’re left poking at a tiny onscreen keyboard and page furniture. The onscreen keyboard is surprisingly accurate, even with the pads of your thumbs, but entering a text message on the Touch is several times slower than on a normal keypad.

The impression you’re left with is one of a job half done. The areas of the Touch that TouchFLO extends to are little short of brilliant and a great advertisement for a future where all phones might have stylus-free touchscreens, but the Windows Mobile 6 aspects are a distinct disappointment. Yes, there’s a stylus, which slots into the back of the phone, but that’s a far less pleasant experience.

The hardware itself is a beautiful piece of design. The Touch weighs just 112g and is only 14mm thick, which means you’ll hardly notice it in a pocket. And the screen is excellent – the only time we had trouble was in direct sunlight. Flip it over and you’ll find a 2-megapixel camera – not the last word in resolution, but it captures colours accurately, and holding the Touch sideways means you have a lot of screen space available to accurately frame a shot. HTC also includes a 1GB microSD card, which is ample for a few short films or a mid-sized music collection.

Wireless options are reasonable without being a headline feature. GPRS and EDGE are practical for inbox synchronisation, although in the UK the latter is as much use as a steering wheel on a motorbike. But there’s no 3G. Not only does this mean online streaming video is out of the question, but it also means web pages that aren’t optimised for mobile phones take a very long time to load, and we noticed a distinct slowness compared to the 3G Nokia N95 (web ID: 113859). The inclusion of 802.11b/g wireless is useful, though, as it allows you to synchronise your email without needing to connect to a cellular network.

The Touch is tantalising proof that software and hardware designers are fast approaching the stage where all you’ll need to control your phone is a set of reliable fingers and a touchscreen. But it isn’t there yet. It’s no good being able to start a text message application with your fingers if you can’t write the text message itself. And the same goes for browsing the internet, replying to emails and even simply browsing files. While the Touch is the best piece of handheld, touch-sensitive design that’s available now, there are products on the horizon that look set to work even better – the iPhone chief among them.

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