An improvement over the first Touch but still short of rivals. (August 24th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: HTC (Telus as carrier)
Price: $150 (3 yr. contract)
- Exceptional 640x480 screen; more responsive than the original Touch.
- Much better media player and overall TouchFLO interface.
- Opera Mobile a clear edge over other Windows Mobile phones.
- Above average battery and call quality in its category.
- EVDO Rev A and Wi-Fi support.
- Better 3.2MP camera; 4GB of built-in storage.
- Still a "confused" UI: requires switches between d-pad, finger, and stylus input.
- Removable storage dropped from previous design.
- Just one expansion port with no 3.5mm earphone jack.
- Camera is just a resolution upgrade, still has mediocre image quality.
When the original HTC Touch launched, critics charged that it had conflicting personalities: it wanted to be a home user's device, with a simple touchscreen interface, but was really too attached to its business-like Windows Mobile side to truly work. The Touch Diamond not only reflects lessons learned from those year-old quirks but is also HTC's first real chance at developing a product (almost) from the ground up to fight the iPhone. We take a look at the Diamond not only to see how well it fares against its US-designed counterpart but whether HTC was focused on interface or specsmanship.
design and the ultra-sharp screen
Ergonomically, the Diamond is an admission that the original Touch's shape was slightly awkward; gone is the squat, rounded shape in favor of a longer bar shape. It's more comfortable to hold and has more hardware control than the original Touch had, at least in practice. One appreciated function is the magnetic grip on the stylus; while it would preferable never to have to rely on the stylus, putting it back is faster now that a less-than-precise move is needed to put the pen back in its slot.
HTC has thankfully resisted the urge to enlarge the 2.8-inch screen of the first Touch simply for the sake of one-upping the iPhone or other devices stretching out to 3.5 inches; because of this, the Diamond has a much smaller surface area than its rival, and seems suited to smaller pockets on the whole. That said, this isn't as ideal a video playback device as the iPhone. Movies and TV shows are better-suited to increases in sheer screen size, and the difference is unmistakable.
It also comes at the expense of thickness. To reach the smaller shape, the Diamond bulks up slightly to 0.55 inches thick versus the iPhone's 0.48. On paper, this should matter little, but the tapered edges of the Apple handset certainly make it feel more substantial. The Diamond may not be as thick as the N95 8GB, but it's just thick enough that a tight pocket might feel more strain than it would with the iPhone, which still stands as one of the thinnest smartphones to date.
Where HTC wins an unambiguous victory is in screen resolution. The 640x480 display is one of the very first for Windows Mobile to push past 320x240 and is simply gorgeous to view. The pixel density is so high that fonts are crisp and at times print-like. Many of HTC's custom visual effects come alive, photos are vivid and even standard TV-grade video loses none of its crispness on the smaller display. It's especially handy for web browsing, where the resolution is just high enough that it's easier to read text without zooming too far into the page. Virtually the only flaw is its glossy nature, which shows smudges much more than with some other touchscreen phones.
Importantly, it's also easier to use. The screen is much more responsive to touch input than the original and so works more effectively without having to apply the large amount of pressure that was all too often necessary with the original. It's now possible to register quick swipes instead of slow, deliberate movements. Even so, HTC ought to jump from resistive touchscreens to a more sensitive capacitive display like that of the iPhone; while patents likely stop HTC from using multi-touch, it's still too difficult to use flicking motions or other more intuitive gestures.
The praise given to the body can't be given to the directional pad. In an attempt to embrace minimalism, HTC has done away with the raised borders that served as the original touch's arrow keys and instead tucked the buttons underneath the outside edge of the circular center button. It's more pleasing to the eye, but it also makes non-touch navigation a pain. There's now a certain amount of guesswork involved in remembering where to push, and more than a few times a press on the appropriate spot wouldn't immediately trigger the right action. Form has actually trumped function here in a questionable design move; Apple may not have as many physical buttons, but it's better to have strong touch-only input than lukewarm physical controls.