Review: HTC Touch Dual

09Apr08

HTC Touch Dual - Flickrstream

HTC has come a long way since its extended operation as an original equipment designer over the past few years. Since buying out Dopod, and severing ties with O2 Asia, i-mate and other manufacturers who previously sourced devices from HTC, the company has succeeded in creating a somewhat-known brand that takes and increases on the quality of the devices that it made for other brands.

The original HTC Touch P3450 debuted in June last year, and although it offered users a dramatically simplified Windows Mobile experience called TouchFLO(if they wanted), it was seen to be less than it could be, as it did not have any form of text input other than on the virtual keyboard.

However, in October 2007, HTC announced another product for their now expanding Touch line – the HTC Touch Dual P5500. This took the excellent features of the existing Touch and built upon them, namely with the slider form factor featuring either a numeric pad (T9) or a dual-key QWERTY keyboard under the slider, depending on region.

Here in Australia, we get the 16-key T9 numeric keypad, with built-in Start, Messaging, Back and Internet shortcuts. Inputting text and numbers on the Touch Dual still isn’t as good as on a smartphone with a full slide-out QWERTY keypad (as featured on other HTC devices such as the S730 and the TyTN II), but it is dramatically easier than on the original Touch model.

Design

The Touch Dual, when closed, features a design quite similar to the original Touch. The Touch Dual is only available in dark grey with silver accents, for now.

On the front of the device, we see the reasonably-sized 2.6″ TFT display at 240×320 resolution. When turned on this looks clear and bright. Below the screen, there are send and end keys, and a five-way directional pad. Unfortunately, and annoyingly, there are no soft keys for selecting the two options on the bottom of the screen, unlike many other Windows Mobile 5 and 6 devices.

Above the screen is the speaker, and a VGA front-facing camera, which is an addition over the Touch. The Touch Dual is a little taller than the Touch, and feels a bit more spacious.

On the top there is a power button; on the left hand side, a microSD card slot and the HTC ExtUSB proprietary port, for sync + charge + headphones; on the right, we have a camera shortcut and the stylus at the top. The bottom is devoid of any features.

On the back, there is a two megapixel camera, without a flash but with a self-portrait mirror.

Around the sides of the device, there is a silver chrome strip – this is a classy feature which adds to the grey/silver theme, but also makes the device seem a little slimmer.

Performance

The Touch Dual runs Windows Mobile 6 Professional, with a few specialised HTC plug-ins that really assist the user in getting around what can be quite a complicated operating system faster, and with ease.

On the home screen, which is, by default, grey to suit the device, you see HTC Home, an add-on which allows quick access to the time, weather, ring/vibrate settings and the phone features of the device. This is a very nice feature, but I found it to be a little slow and for some of the buttons to take a second press. It didn’t like my fingertips too much, either, which was a real niggle as the stylus was sometimes difficult to get out, and was also too small.

Otherwise, Windows Mobile 6 was fast enough on this device, but general speed and performance could have been better. Although the Touch Dual features a 400 MHz Qualcomm chipset, the operating system was sometimes slow, and it wasn’t as snappy as I would have liked.

Some features, however, were pleasing. The camera was very quick to start, and pictures were easy to take and processing didn’t take long. Picture quality was also fine, but nothing special.

Day-to-day use

The Touch Dual is very easy to live with. Its rubberised finish makes it easy to hold in the hand, and reduces slip when in fast-moving conditions. Access to key features when time mattered was generally fine, and the device consistently performed above average in all areas.

Call quality was a standout – the Touch Dual maintained a strong signal at almost all times on Vodafone Australia’s 3G network around Sydney, and callers were able to hear us fine on the Touch Dual, just as we found the party on the line to be strong and clear.

Bashing out text messages varied in speed depending on the input method – I found it best to type on the T9 keypad with predictive text turned off. The on-screen virtual touch keyboard and keypad were helpful sometimes, but they ended up being slow and irritating.

Interestingly, the screen is flush with the surface of the phone. This is something relatively rare in a stylus-based PDA, and I found it to be an annoyance. It certainly looked better than a screen that sits lower than the surface, but the stylus sometimes ‘didn’t like’ the glossy display and I felt like pressing too hard might break it. Finger tapping was far more satisfying than using the stylus, and that became my preferred way of using the device.

I didn’t choose to use HTC’s TouchFLO interface much. TouchFLO lets you use Windows Mobile 6 in a very iPhone-like way – scrolling around HTC-designed menus with finger flicks. I found it was much faster to access the features normally through the standard software.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to test out data use on the Touch Dual, but I’m sure it would perform very well on any HSDPA network.

Conclusion

The HTC Touch Dual is a very enjoyable smartphone. It maintains a reasonable balance between form and function, with good looks combined with easy-to-use features and a good keypad. I found the Dual a huge improvement over the original Touch, and that’s a good thing. HTC has taken a big step in the right direction with the Touch Dual, and I would easily recommend it to anyone seeking a smartphone with looks and brains.

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