Review: HTC Touch Cruise

09Apr08

HTC Touch Cruise - Flickrstream

HTC has had considerable success in Australia with its Touch line of products – the Touch PDA / smartphone and the Touch Dual slider. They’re about to introduce a new high-end Touch model – the Touch Cruise – which packs in most of the features that the other two Touch variants lack, whilst still maintaining a traditional ‘candybar’ PDA form factor with no numeric keypad.

Design

The Touch Cruise looks quite different overall from the other two Touch models; most of the front has a glassy finish to it, with only the directional pad and soft keys finished with a stronger substance.

In terms of physical features, the Touch Cruise packs more into the whole handset. On the face, you will find the send / end keys, a shortcut for GPS, a shortcut to Internet Explorer (or Opera, which is also included) and a very interesting and highly effective directional pad that as well as serves for left/right/up/down selections, also works as a rotary jog dial for quickly scrolling through menus. In the middle of this circle is a select button framed by a white light.

Above the display, which although only operates at 240×320, looks bright and clear, is a VGA self-portrait camera, and the earpiece with two multi-function notification lights built in.

The left side features a shortcut that could be customised to Windows Live Messenger; it features a graphic similar to an instant messenger speech bubble. Further down you will find a spring-loaded volume rocker.

The right side features a microSD card slot and a camera shortcut. The top of the device features a power button, whilst the bottom features HTC’s ExtUSB port (which is compliant with existing mini-USB cables and HTC’s own cables), a lanyard slot, and the stylus port – as this is a bottom loader. Personally this is a pet-hate of mine, but I quickly grew used to this.

The back of the device is very similar to the other Touch models in that it is finished in a deep grey soft-touch material; it is emblazoned with ‘HTC’ and ‘Touch Cruise’, and of course, features the 3.0 megapixel camera and self-portrait mirror.

Overall the device looks very professional. Although it follows the ‘smartphone-standard’ grey and silver mix, it wears it very well. The more vibrant silver running along the side profile of the device gives the impression that it is slimmer than it is, and, overall, it bears a nice weight in the hand. The footprint of the device is quite large, to accommodate the 2.8″ display, but it is certainly pocket-friendly and is comfortable to use.

Performance

During the time when we were reviewing HTC’s last Touch model, the Touch Dual, a claim arose from the HTC fan community that the manufacturer had not included proper, full-speed video drivers with some of the most important (and expensive) HTC models – such as the Kaiser (HTC TyTN II), and indeed, the Polaris (Touch Cruise). I did notice significant lag at some times – especially when switching between applications and changing the HTC Home menu. This was simply unacceptable for a phone that will cost more than $950 when available in stores.

Luckily, HTC has promised a software fix to the driver issue, so it shouldn’t be a problem for much longer. Apart from this lag time, actual performance within applications themselves was well above average. The Touch Cruise felt snappy and alert; the camera application was quick to start and media playback was fine.

We were disappointed, however, with the camera itself. Smartphones often don’t carry great cameras and they don’t aspire to. The Touch Cruise, however, packs a three megapixel shooter so I was hoping the quality of the shot would be at least acceptable so the bigger prints would come out well. This wasn’t the case – the snaps were grainy, overexposed and blurry.

Cold boot-up time was below average, as well, but switching on from standby was very quick.

Day-to-day use

HTC’s Touch Cruise does well in most everyday situations. Text messaging and emailing on the go, while walking, though, was quite difficult due to the smallish stylus, glossy screen and virtual keyboard. HTC has made some effort to increase mobile texting usability with larger on-screen keyboards, but you really need to stop to bash out a message accurately and quickly.

Despite input problems, the screen itself is beautiful. Although it’s only at 240×320 resolution, HTC has repeated its excellent work from the Touch and Touch Dual in creating a really good-looking display. In low or bright light, it maintains a good brightness level and generally, it worked well wherever we were.

Controlling most menus and programs was easy thanks to the jog-dial / D-pad below the display. A blaring omission by HTC in the shortcut key bank below the display (which includes GPS, Internet Explorer and send / end) is a Start menu key; if we needed to access an application in the Start menu, we either had to use a finger, or get out the stylus, which defeats the purpose of one-handed control with the jog wheel.

The Touch Cruise has all the network capabilities you could want at this point in time; it stocks 3G, HSDPA downloads, Bluetooth 2.0, GPS, and WiFi 802.11b/g. Browsing the internet over WiFi was quicker on the bundled Opera browser than on the standard Internet Explorer – it was a good move by HTC to include the option. Bluetooth connection to a computer and to various other phones was reliable and data transfers were fast to complete.

Our prerelease review model didn’t come bundled with any GPS navigation software, but expect the retail version to include a free CoPilot Live license. With Google Maps, however, the GPS was fairly accurate but it was slow to lock on to our position; sometimes taking up to five minutes.

Mobile internet is still a bit slow; broadband speeds are still not very realistic. Email on the go was fairly easy to setup, but it doesn’t match BlackBerry ease of use.

Conclusion

The HTC Touch Cruise offers all the features and connectivity you could want in a stylish, slim form factor – except a physical keyboard. Not everyone wants a slide-out keyboard, though – so if you can deal with having to stop and text, then the Touch Cruise could be the work- and play-orientated smartphone for you. Until HTC figures out its video drivers issues, though, it’s not for us.

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