In case you hadn't noticed, touchscreen phones are the order of the day, and HTC is looking to capture a big chunk of the non-iPhone market with the Diamond. We got our hands on the unlocked European version of this striking Windows Mobile smart phone and tested it using an AT&T SIM card. With its improved user-friendly TouchFLO 3D interface, ultra high-resolution display, integrated GPS, robust Opera browser, and fairly intuitive virtual keyboard, regardless of what carrier picks it up, the Diamond will be a winner.
The Diamond measures a delightfully compact 4.0 x 2.0 x 0.4 inches. At 3.9 ounces, it feels light but not cheap. While the phone comes packaged in a very cool-looking trapezoidal box (think of a pyramid with the top cut off), we would have appreciated the inclusion of a wipe cloth, as the Diamond picks up fingerprints quickly. Likewise, the back of the device has a slick faceted design, but it too picks up fingerprints easily. The Diamond comes with an equally stylish charger, a USB cable, an extra stylus, and earbuds, which plug into the phone's mini-USB port.
Although the Diamond's display is a bit smaller than what you'll find on competing touchscreen phones, this 2.8-inch LCD packs in an amazing amount of pixels (640 x 480) for its size, resulting in a very crisp picture. That's more pixels than the iPhone and iPhone 3G (480 x 320), but we still prefer the screen on Apple's device for its size (3.5 inches) and its multi-touch-gesture support.
Below the Diamond's display are four buttons (Home, Back, Send, and End) that surround a 5-button d-pad, which also has touch functionality. A sturdy metal-and-plastic stylus slides into the bottom right edge of the device; a small magnet inside the phone secures the stylus in place.
HTC updated its TouchFLO user interface on the Diamond, and it's much more intuitive than on previous touchscreen devices. Along the bottom of the screen are icons for Home, Contacts, Messaging, E-mail, Web, Photos and Videos, Music, Weather, Settings, and Programs. All are set up for easy navigation: A simple flick of your thumb, for example, lets you scroll through your contacts in a virtual Rolodex; view thumbnails of the photos and videos stored on the phone; and read all of your text messages.
The Programs screen allows you to add your favorite applications. It's very easy to add or remove programs--simply press on an empty cell, and select the app you'd like to add--but we wonder why HTC put this screen at the very end, rather than more forward, where it would be easier to reach.
Since TouchFLO operates on top of Windows Mobile 6.1, it's understandably a little slow. After turning it on, the phone took about 25 seconds to launch the TouchFLO splash screen, and then another 20 seconds to get to its main screen. Using the d-pad to go from one app to another takes about two seconds; the icon at the bottom is highlighted, the phone pauses, and then the main screen loads. Actions feel more brisk when you place your thumb on the highlighted icon and slide it.
The touchscreen also takes some getting used to. In the Weather app, for example, we wanted to add New York to the cities listed. Selecting the Big Apple, though, meant scrolling through a list of just about every country in the world, listed alphabetically. You can either press the bottom of the circular d-pad about 204 times (we counted), or use your thumb to scroll through the list by swiping the screen. A number of times, we pressed a little too hard, accidentally selected the wrong country, and had to go back and start again. When we finally selected United States, we then had to scroll through a list of cities until we saw New York, N.Y. Why not let users select a city by typing in its name?
Decent Virtual Keyboard Options
The Diamond forgoes a physical keyboard in favor of four different kinds of on-screen keyboards: two full QWERTYs (one in portrait and one in landscape mode), a modified 20-key QWERTY ( 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 most thumb-friendly, as the keys of the full QWERTY were too small for anything but a stylus, and typing on the 12-key screen was as tedious as on a regular cell phone. The phone is slim enough that you can comfortably type with just one thumb, though it takes some practice.
The Diamond is equipped with an accelerometer, which is used to great effect with applications such as the browser and Photos and Videos. Simply rotate the phone on its side, and the screen reorients itself from portrait to landscape mode. This is most helpful when viewing wide Web pages. Another neat trick is something that the accelerometer makes the phone NOT do; the simple act of flipping the Diamond over on its face puts it immediately into silent mode. No more embarrassing rings during meetings.
Perhaps the greatest example of what this phone is capable of is revealed in a game called Teeter, in which you have to tilt the phone in various directions to move a ball through a maze, akin to the classic wooden Labyrinth game. It's here that you realize how sensitive the phone's accelerometer is; the slightest of movements causes the ball to careen around the screen. As the ball bounces off different edges of the screen, the phone's haptic technology causes the corresponding side of the phone to buzz accordingly. We showed this game to several of our friends and watched as they quickly got addicted.
E-mail and Messaging
We set up a Gmail account on the Diamond in just a few seconds but had one minor issue that crops up with other apps: Owing to the size of the screen, the virtual keyboard takes up the majority of the real estate. When the configuration screen appeared, we could see the box where we had to enter our e-mail account, but not the box where we had to input our password.
After populating the Diamond with your messages, a large icon of an open envelope appears on-screen with the sender's name, header, date, and the first few lines of the e-mail appearing on a piece of paper coming out of the envelope. Users can quickly scroll through their inbox by flicking downwards on the envelope (or by using the up and down arrow keys on the d-pad). Tapping on the e-mail opens a new window to let you view the message in its entirety. The preview icon is is a clever idea, but because it's angled and "retreats" into the background, text on the far side of the envelope is smaller and more difficult to read.
While our Diamond's 3G connection doesn't work in the U.S., an upcoming version of this phone will offer high-speed data stateside. Nevertheless, browsing the Web on the Diamond was fairly quick. Using the preinstalled Opera browser, CNN.com loaded in 15 seconds, and NYTimes.com loaded in 8 seconds; over Wi-Fi, NYTimes.com took the same amount of time, but CNN Mobile loaded in just 8 seconds.
The Diamond makes good use of its touchscreen capabilities when navigating Web pages. Although ESPN.com's homepage was larger than the screen, we were able to use our thumb on the touchscreen to center a part of the page on the display, and then, by making a circular motion on the the touch area around the d-pad, zoom in and out of that area. Alternatively, by double-tapping on a particular section of the touchscreen, the phone will zoom in to that section. However, we noticed a lag as the Diamond tried to render new sections of the Web page.
While we couldn't load Flash Web sites, the Diamond features a dedicated YouTube application in the Internet section, which worked very well. Over a Wi-Fi connection, a search for Euro 2008 returned more than 1,000 videos in 3 seconds. When we clicked to view one of them--in this case, a 2:51 highlight reel of the Portugal/Turkey game--it took just 7 seconds to start playing. Video played back smoothly, and was always synched with the audio.
Used in conjunction with Google Maps, the Diamond's GPS worked fairly well. The phone had no trouble picking up a signal, even inside our New York City office, and after pressing My Location, found our position reasonably well, putting us just one block south of our actual spot. Looking up directions, too, was equally fast: Using Navteq's software, the phone plotted a route with turn-by-turn directions from our office to Newark Liberty International Airport in less than 3 seconds. While spoken directions aren't provided on this version of the Diamond, a small text window appears at each turn, providing the correct course to take. Pressing on the window automatically updates the map and moves to the next turn.
The Photos and Videos screen lets you flick, Apple Cover Flow-like, through the photos and videos stored on the Diamond. Flicking your thumb up or down lets you scroll through previews, which flow down from the top of the screen. It's not as smooth as it could be; sometimes, images would pause for a split-second when they were about halfway down the page. This feature worked a lot more smoothly after we turned off the Wi-Fi radio.
Photos and videos taken with the 3.2-MP camera looked decent but took on a distinct yellow hue when shooting indoors--very similar to the HTC Touch Dual. Just be mindful of how much footage you take; the Diamond features 4GB of internal storage, but there's no SD Card slot. (While the Diamond features a front-facing camera for videoconferencing, no services are available that will let you take advantage of it, and we suspect that whatever version materializes of this phone in the U.S. will have this feature stripped out.)
The Diamond comes with an FM radio, which can only be used with the included headphones, the cord of which acts as an antenna. When you first turn on the radio, the phone automatically scans the entire spectrum and programs all the stations that are in range into the presets. It's a clever feature, but a few of the stations that the Diamond picked up were too faint. While the included headphones were a little uncomfortable, they produced loud and well-balanced sound. There was no muddiness in the iconic bass line of Roy Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman," and the high hat wasn't distorted, either.
We made several phone calls, and regardless of whether we were indoors or outdoors, callers said that our voice on the Diamond was a little fuzzy, although we had no problems hearing them. The phone was also fairly good at reducing background noise, although a car horn was clearly audible to a caller.
HTC says that the Diamond is rated for up to 4.5 hours of talk time; we fully charged the device, and over the course of the next few hours, made a few phone calls on it, listened to music, and surfed the Web both on Wi-Fi and on EDGE and drained about half of the battery. However, after turning Wi-Fi off, the phone lasted the rest of the day.
HTC Diamond Verdict
HTC is asking a premium for this unlocked phone--$779 is a lot of money given that you could buy nearly four iPhone 3Gs for the same price. However, in return, you're getting a unique and fairly versatile device that can be used the world over for business as well as personal use. The Diamond's small size and much improved TouchFLO 3D technology make it convenient to use with one hand, which will undoubtedly appeal to unrepentant multitaskers. Its design will attract those who want a good-looking touchscreen smart phone not made by Apple. If you can't afford the steep price tag, we say wait a few months until the Diamond gets picked up by a carrier.