HTC’s original Touch phone offered its intriguing TouchFLO interface on top of Windows Mobile 6 Professional. The quad-band Touch Dual adds a faster 400-MHz processor, HSDPA 3.5G connectivity, a slide-out alphanumeric keyboard, and the same interface but this time, on top of Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. The phone is available for $549 from Best Buy’s Web site, which makes it an attractive option for AT&T and T-Mobile customers looking for an unlocked 3G phone.
HTC Touch Dual Design and Interface
The matte black HTC Touch Dual looks very similar to the original Touch, but at 4.2 x 2.2 x 0.6 inches it’s slightly narrower and shorter. It’s just 0.1 inches thicker, adding a large 20-key slide-out alphanumeric keyboard. In our hands, the phone felt like we were holding a large, smooth stone. Its silver border and central directional button are classy accents to an already beautiful handset. On both sides of the central five-way button are Send and End call buttons. Volume controls are on the left side of the unit, and a power and camera quick-launch button are on the right side, just above the stylus slot.
The Touch Dual’s 2.6-inch display is 0.2 inches smaller than on the original Touch but still leaves plenty of room for comfortable navigation. The LED backlights brighten the display brilliantly at full power, but it’s just as easy to read with the screen dimmed to save battery life. The touchscreen is easy to use and responsive enough with either a stylus or your finger.
The slide-out keyboard is reminiscent of the BlackBerry Pearl, in that there are two letters per key. It slides out smoothly and steadily, and a gentle push snaps it back under the display. Users will find the 20-key hardware QWERTY to be just as convenient and easy to use as the keys on the BlackBerry Pearl; the keys have a soft bounce to them and are comfortable to use, but after using the phone for a few days, we missed having a full QWERTY.
We had the option of choosing among three different kinds of on-screen keyboards: a full QWERTY, a modified 20-key QWERTY (à la the BlackBerry Pearl), and a 12-key touch keypad (as on a traditional cell phone). The virtual 20-key QWERTY, with predictive text, proved to be the easiest to use with our thumb, as the keys of the full QWERTY were too small for anything but a stylus, and typing using the 12-key screen was more tedious than a regular cell phone.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the Touch Dual is its continued use of the TouchFLO interface that HTC puts on top of Windows Mobile 6.1. Even with a 400-MHz processor, twice that of the 201-MHz processor found in the original HTC Touch, the TouchFLO interface was super-smooth.
A finger swipe from the HTC logo at the bottom of the screen upward brings up the “cube” interface. Right-to-left finger swipes move the cube around in a circle, but surprisingly, this cube only has three sides: One for your contacts (you can add a picture for each and display them in a mosaic of sorts); one for quick access to applications such as IE, messaging, or e-mail; and one for accessing your photos, music, and videos.
The home screen gives you access to your e-mail, messages, missed calls, and other data such as weather. Each of these options sits below a large digital-style clock, and the whole display is black and white. Navigating around it can be slow, however, and we were disappointed with the wait times to access our e-mail or messages: you can watch the screen slowly return to the home screen after closing your message inbox. Sometimes the display froze altogether for seconds at a time, and we had to wait for the handset to catch up before we began using it again.
We appreciated that we could click the top right corner of the home screen to view and end current tasks. Closing unused programs helped the phone run better than with a number of apps running at once in the background.
E-mail and Messaging
You can set up your own personal e-mail account on the Touch Dual using either a Microsoft Exchange account or your own POP3 or IMAP account with the provided settings. Outlook is good at identifying such webmail services as Gmail, a feature that’s built into Windows Mobile 6.1. As part of Windows Mobile 6.1, SMS messages are threaded, so you can view your prior comments in a single conversation window without having to step backwards through menus to view sent and received messages.
The Touch Dual uses mobile Internet Explorer as its default Web browser, which loaded CNN.com in 12 seconds over a 3G connection. NYTimes.com loaded in 19 seconds. Neither speed is anything to write home about, because they’re both mobile Web sites and the browser’s performance is what we’ve come to expect from 3G Windows Mobile phones. Thankfully, Windows Mobile 6.1 adds options that allows you to zoom in and out of pages, and view them in either a column or desktop format.
We added our own MP3s to the device via a side-loading microSD slot and listened to John Mayer’s “Vultures” using the included headset. The music sounded great but lacked a lot of the bass we’ve enjoyed in the song with our iPod’s bundled headphones. Too bad you’re stuck using HTC’s headset, because it uses the mini-USB port at the bottom of the phone, not a 2.5mm or 3.5mm jack.
A preloaded video clip of a desert flyover looked clear, colorful, and bright, but we didn’t like that when we tried to adjust the volume, the picture would go out of landscape mode back to the default player window. This change would also get frustrating during music videos.
We were able to load and buffer a YouTube video in just 9 seconds, thanks to the streaming media software from HTC. Playback was clear and audio was acceptable. If you maximize the video to full screen, it automatically plays in landscape mode, which we appreciated. Unfortunately, the Streaming Media software took a while to close.
The Touch Dual’s 2-megapixel camera is sufficient for taking shots outside, but indoors it gave our pictures a distinct yellow hue. And while this smart phone’s camera has a decent autofocus, it didn’t always work well for close-ups. Worse, during one day of testing, a man climbed the New York Times’ building and we went outside to take a picture. The phone attempted to process our request and then froze before the camera launched. We had to pop out the battery to restart the handset, and by then, the man climbing the building had reached the top and we’d missed our shot. The second camera, on the front of the phone, is good for taking your own mug shots, and HTC claims it supports video chatting too, but that feature isn’t offered by U.S. wireless networks.
Call quality using the Touch Dual was stellar. When we called a landline phone from the streets of New York City, with buses whizzing by in the background, we were able to hear our caller as if we were comfortably inside a quiet home. On the other end, we were told that while background noises were noticeable and it was clear that we were standing in the street, our voice was clear as day and volume was adequate.
If you’re making a few phone calls a day and leaving the Touch Dual out on a desk most of the time, its battery life is spectacular; you can easily go a few days without seeing the battery drain a bar. When we used the phone frequently to make calls and listen to music, though, we could almost watch the battery drain in front of us over the span of three hours. Make sure you carry your charger with you if you’re planning on going away for more than a day. The rated talk time is a decent 5 hours.
HTC Touch Dual Verdict
If you’re a world traveler looking to avoid a contract, you’ll appreciate the HTC Touch’s voice quality. However, while the TouchFLO interface itself is smooth, overall this Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional phone is slower than we’d like. If you loved the HTC Touch, you’ll appreciate the Touch Dual and its added keyboard. But some may prefer to wait until the Touch Pro—basically the Touch Diamond with a full QWERTY keyboard—hits the market.