Despite its slim profile, the keyboard offered decent feedback on our tests. The keys are spaced far enough apart, so you can type with your index fingers or thumbs at a decent rate. You won't go nearly as fast as you would on a BlackBerry (if that's what you're accustomed to) or a standard full-sized keyboard, but the layout is fine for responding to e-mail, entering Web addresses, and performing light edits on Office Mobile docs. We like the shortcut buttons across the top for e-mail and screen brightness, as well as the dedicated call Send and End keys. Unfortunately, the Advantage didn't always recognize the keyboard, forcing us to either reattach it or restart whatever application we had open. We also wish the keyboard were backlit.
The overall design of the Advantage's top half is solid and streamlined, with a slightly recessed joystick to the left of the display for those who don't want to use the stylus or a finger. Three shortcut buttons are on the front of the device--one for the Start menu, the OK button for minimizing applications, and one for launching the browser. The left side houses the USB/charging jack, VGA-out jack (perfect for PowerPoints), a 3.5mm audio jack, and a sliding volume control. The right side is where you'll find a shutter button for the three-megapixel camera, the Communication Manager shortcut button (for toggling the wireless radios), and the Power button.
As an e-mail and productivity tool, the Advantage seems like overkill--until you start using it. Like all Windows Mobile 6 devices that run the Professional edition of the software, the Advantage lets you view and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint attachments, but the large screen eliminates squinting. And with mobile broadband built in, you can download new messages at scheduled intervals in the background (or have them pushed to you, if you're on Exchange), including messages with HTML formatting. We had no problems synchronizing our calendar, contacts, and tasks using ActiveSync, and HTC bundles a 60-day trial of Outlook 2007.
Although $899 is pretty steep for a handheld, HTC crams in a lot of features for your money. The Advantage includes a fast 624-MHz processor, 256MB of ROM, 128MB of RAM (to complement the 8GB micro drive), as well as three flavors of wireless: Wi-Fi, tri-band HSDPA, and stereo Bluetooth. Then there's HTC's VueFLO navigation, which lets you scroll Web pages by merely tilting the device. Although this feature worked well, we found it a little too sensitive in a moving vehicle.
Overall performance was good, especially when moving around menus, but we noticed some sluggishness with multiple programs open, an issue that plagues all WM6 devices. The average boot time was a respectable 35 seconds, compared with more than a minute for most UMPCs. Resuming from standby was instantaneous, and the convenience of this instant-on functionality is what separates the Advantage from handhelds running Vista. Not that the Advantage is immune to Windows-like issues; we experienced two freezes during our tests, which required that we remove the battery to reset the device. On one occasion, pressing and holding the Camera button strangely launched the screen-calibration utility. Another reset fixed the issue.
Surfing the Web using the included Opera 8.65 browser was mostly a pleasure. With an AT&T SIM card inserted, we could start reading the CNN.com homepage in only 7 seconds, though it took about 40 seconds for the images to fill in. (Over Wi-Fi it took 6 and 36 seconds, respectively.) We especially like the tabbed browsing. Just click on Windows/New Window and you'll be able to switch among Web pages with a tap of the stylus. You can always use Internet Explorer Mobile, but you don't get tabbed browsing, and we prefer the more desktop-like formatting of Opera. If you're looking for full Flash and Ajax support, you're better off with a full-fledged UMPC. We couldn't access Ajax-enabled sites like Yahoo Mail Beta, Meebo, and Netvibes, and we received an error message when we tried to play a YouTube video, despite having downloaded Flash Player 7 for Pocket PC.
Good GPS, Okay Phone
One of the best features of the Advantage is its built-in GPS. Assuming you're willing to fork over $10 per month for the service, TeleNav GPS Navigator really puts that five-inch display to good use while you're driving. Initial acquisition time was a bit slow, but after that the application calculated routes quickly and delivered easy-to-read 3D maps, complete with loudly spoken turn-by-turn directions. We tested the service on a ride from New Jersey to Manhattan, and we were impressed with how accurately TeleNav kept tabs on our exact location, as well as with how quickly it rerouted us when we didn't use the recommended directions. The welcome traffic data included a warning of slow-moving traffic around the Lincoln Tunnel.
TeleNav uses your GPS location to find the nearest gas stations, hotels, restaurants, ATMs, and more. We received better results in the suburbs than in Manhattan. In the city, the application took well over a minute to tell us that we needed a better view of the sky and to try again later. Service indoors was limited to searches based on the nearest airport, which is less than ideal.
You can use the Advantage as a phone, but this device wasn't designed to be held against your head for making calls. That's why HTC includes a wired stereo headset, which includes an in-line volume control. Call quality using this headset was clear and loud, but we noticed a persistent background hiss. We then paired the Advantage with a Motorola Bluetooth headset, and the results were decent over AT&T's network. One caller said we sounded too quiet but reception was quite good. You'll have to record voice-dialing tags manually; the Advantage doesn't recognize names automatically.
With three megapixels of resolution at its disposal, as well as a huge viewfinder and autofocus capability, the Advantage took detailed photos with accurate colors outdoors. A powerful short-range flash made indoor shots more palatable than what you get with other camera phones. Overall, still images were a bit soft but certainly good enough for attaching to e-mail. Just be patient; it took the device four seconds on average to save each shot. Videos captured with this device (352 x 288 pixels) looked nicely saturated but had too many jaggies, especially when we moved the camera.
Thanks to its 8GB drive and large screen, the Advantage is a good stand-in for a dedicated portable media player. The device automatically showed up in Windows Media Player, and synchronizing music and videos was a cinch. You can also stream video using solutions like the Slingbox or MobiTV. Video playback was pretty smooth on our tests, due in part to the Advantage's dedicated ATI graphics chip.
Audio quality was very good using the supplied earbuds, which plug into the 3.5mm jack; however, the in-line volume control makes these earphones a little heavy to wear for extended periods. Our Motorola stereo Bluetooth headset delivered much less volume, but we liked the ability to pause and change tracks, as well as adjust the volume, right from the headset. The Advantage's speaker was surprisingly loud but harsh-sounding.
With all of the Advantage's abilities and wireless radios, HTC's supergadget lasted a little less than 12 hours on our mixed-usage tests, which involved surfing, calling, and using GPS navigation. That's much longer than the four hours offered by devices like the OQO model 02 and other Vista-based UMPCs. However, the 8GB drive and large display use more juice than a traditional smart phone without these features, so power users will need to recharge daily, compared with once every other day (give or take) for a typical smart phone.
If you like the idea of leaving your notebook behind on short trips and don't want to blow $1,600 to $2,000 on a UMPC with mobile broadband, the HTC Advantage X7501 is a relative bargain for executives on the go. On the other hand, a smart phone like the HTC Mogul offers most of the Advantage's functionality for about a third of the cost. It all comes down to how much you value the larger display and extra storage capacity. The GPS navigation also helps justify its cost, since you'd spend at least $200 on a standalone GPS unit. We think the Advantage is worth the premium--but only for a very select group of road warriors.
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Lightweight, portable, and feature-packed, UMPCs offer enough power to let you stay productive (and have fun) while on the go.