As AT&T's premiere Windows Mobile 6 device and the only phone with a unique angle-up display, the Tilt has a lot to offer power users. The device supports BlackBerry Connect (a first for an AT&T phone), has built-in Wi-Fi and HSDPA connectivity, and features a sharp 3-MP camera. This do-it-all gadget also doubles as a GPS navigator, just like the BlackBerry 8820. The integration of AT&T's music and video services was a bit lacking on our tests, but overall the Tilt is one sweet smart phone.
Designed To Be Different
The redesign is more than just a novelty.The hefty sliding panel with a 2.8-inch touchscreen display can be used parallel to the QWERTY keypad or slanted upward to a maximum 40-degree angle. This orientation is welcome when surfing the Web and viewing documents, but we found ourselves angling the screen back down to make text messaging and composing e-mail easier. The keyboard layout is spacious and offered decent tactile feedback despite being flat. We also like that the number keys are highlighted in silver for easier dialing. Two poorly placed soft keys above the Tilt's keypad are hard to push because of their proximity to the screen.
HTC moved the phone's Send and End buttons to the top of the navigation pad beneath the screen on the sliding panel (they were on the bottom on the 8525 model). The company also introduced two small dedicated Internet Explorer and messaging keys into the mix. The perimeter of the phone is overloaded with the scroll wheel, the stylus holder, and buttons that turn the device on and off, enable the camera, activate PTT, and select onscreen icons.
Solid E-mail, Surfing, and GPS
Communication is the Tilt's strongest suit. It's the first Windows Mobile device in the U.S. to include BlackBerry Connect software (Version 4.0), enabling wireless calendar and e-mail synchronization, and it supports popular corporate systems such as IBM Lotus Domino and Novell GroupWise through the BlackBerry's Enterprise Server. You can access personal e-mail through the BlackBerry Internet Service or by using the Xpress Mail feature and receiving POP3 or IMAP e-mail. Instant messaging on the cellular network was speedy (AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo clients are on board), but we didn't like that we had to disable the Wi-Fi radio to IM in the office or at home, where the Tilt connected automatically.
Surfing speeds were generally quite good. We tested how long the Tilt took to open CNN.com, Google, and IMDB. Using Wi-Fi, even 50 feet away from the router, the sites opened in just a few seconds, and we moved through those sites swiftly and easily. HSDPA was a little slower depending on the number of bars of reception. With one or two bars, the Tilt took up to 20 seconds to load pages. But in areas of strong reception, pages loaded in five seconds or less.
The built-in TeleNav GPS system is unobtrusive in its design (a little black nub on the back of the phone is presumably where the receiver is) and is a thorough system to have on board when traveling for business. Mapping was accurate and quick, and the TeleNav offers a deep bench of features, including voice guidance and traffic alerts with rerouting. Its more management-focused attributes are base-tracking and travel timesheets. TeleNav GPS Navigator costs between $5.99 (for ten trips) and $9.99 (for unlimited trips), while the TeleNav Track service plans range from $12.99 to $21.99 per month.
Thanks to a reasonably fast 400-MHz dual-core processor and 68MB of program memory, overall application performance was pretty snappy most of the time. We experienced a bit of a lag when toggling among Word Mobile, the TeleNav GPS map, and the Instant Messaging app, and sometimes we'd tap on an icon and have to wait for a response for 10 seconds or more. This was annoying, but it only happened every once in a while.
Multimedia: A Mixed Bag
Admittedly, the Tilt's 240 x 320-pixel screen gave us very high hopes for the device's Cellular Video feature. We managed to get a few uninterrupted seconds of the hourly CNN news digest via RealPlayer, but it looked fuzzy and sounded even worse-as though it were playing underwater. We had better luck with MobiTV2 ($9.99 per month), which offers a full-screen mode. A stream of ESPN looked pretty smooth, and the audio was only slightly out of sync with the video.
AT&T Mobile Music is the device's integrated audio entertainment system and offers users a good selection of song downloads. Billboard sponsors a fee-based service with access to musicians' bios and discographies, but it's little more than a thinly veiled way to sell ringtones at an average $2.99 a pop. XM Radio Mobile, which comes preloaded on the device, is available for $8.99 per month and worked well running over both HSDPA and Wi-Fi.
We experienced lag when we surfed XM's many music channels while simultaneously composing an e-mail. Incoming calls, however, placed the music on hold smoothly and quickly resumed playing upon hangup. However, accessing the Push-To-Talk feature while listening to XM caused the Tilt's screen to stall and go blank for close to a minute. Once again, the Tilt's sound was lackluster, yet XM sounded marginally better than video did. Buyers interested in the device should treat the Tilt's music features as a bonus rather than a selling point.
The built-in three-megapixel camera has superior picture quality and a quick zoom, whereas the identically priced BlackBerry 8820 lacks a camera altogether. You'll also find white-balance settings for the Tilt's video camera and some tacky graphics that you can superimpose onto your photos before snapping them. For video, stationary filming worked far better than shooting while on the move, but the sound was poor and muffled in both cases.
Better than the Competition?
As a phone, the Tilt performed well. Call quality was clear, and calls placed during testing connected quickly and easily. Battery life is rated for 4.5 days of talk time or 8.3 days of standby. We left a fully charged Tilt on over a long weekend, and when we returned, the unit still had three out of four bars of battery life. We were then able to do a good deal of surfing, checking e-mail, and listening to music before having to power back up.
The AT&T Tilt and the new BlackBerry 8820 both have a lot going for them, but users deciding between the two should take a few things into consideration. The Tilt is for those who like their smart phones packed to the gills with multimedia bells and whistles and who need the ability to view and edit Office attachments out of the box. The 8820 is for those looking for a sleeker device that's easy to use, although it doesn't have 3G. Given that the Tilt has BlackBerry's push e-mail functionality, too, this device is a compelling option.