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Selling the Sprint HTC Evo 4G

Evo 4GI wandered past my local Sprint store today and what’dya know, they have a new flagship smartphone on sale called the HTC Evo 4G. I’m saying that with tongue in cheek of course, since the Evo 4G has been much anticipated.

But walking into the Sprint store, that might not be immediately apparent to casual observers. There were two Evo 4Gs on display sitting alongside the rest of the Sprint range, with nothing particularly shouting their presence.

One was almost out of battery and the other was switched off because its battery was dead. A Sprint salesperson came along and plugged a charger into the dead one after I asked him to do so. I asked him about the battery life of the Evo 4G and he said that they were recommending customers to buy a spare battery together with the phone. Oh, I said. He suggested that the Evo 4G’s battery drained so quickly because the phone could do so many things. Funny, I thought, how frustrating it would be to own the ‘best’ car on the market if it only got 5 mpg. Best might not be the most appropriate word.

Both phones had the customary restraining alarm attached to the back cover, with a clasp across the phone. This attachment, which annoyingly cut across the middle of the screen, stopped the Evo 4G from switching to landscape. So nobody exploring these Evo 4Gs would be able to enjoy their crowning glory, the 4.3 inch landscape view. Consequently websites were stuck in portrait looking awful with minuscule text, photos were tiny and the narrow keyboard was the only one on offer.

A few people walked in during the time I was there and seemed unimpressed, and given the way the Evo 4Gs were setup it’s really not surprising. The Evo 4G is a flagship device with tremendous capabilities, but when a customer tips it on its side to view a web page and the image remains in portrait, it unfortunately presents the perception of a second rate device which doesn’t work properly.

I asked the Sprint salesperson about stock levels and he said I could walk out the store with one immediately. I wasn’t about to do that because I don’t feel like paying an inflated 4G data plan price when New York only has 3G available, especially when AT&T just announced a reduction in data costs for the majority of users. However I wasn’t too surprised that stock was available, given the demo experience I had witnessed.

Personally, apart from the battery issues which is a biggie, I really like the Evo 4G and would consider buying one when Sprint brings WiMAX to New York City. But I’m different to all those smartphone buyers who would just go shopping for a new phone, play with an iPhone and a few others and buy one.

Speaking of which, the world is talking about a likely new iPhone coming out shortly. While Apple should worry about phones like the Evo 4G stealing some of its thunder, it seems to me that retail experiences like this one may reduce the severity of that storm. With an ever growing number of people interested in smartphones, there’s really no excuse for that.

Neil Berman

Jun 5, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hands-on with a pre-release Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional ROM from XDA Developers

The success of the iPhone has focused smartphone developers’ attention upon touch.  The Blackberry Storm, Palm Pre, T-Mobile G1 (Googlephone) and HTC Touch HD all looked to compete with the iPhone with large screens and touch interfaces.

Under the hood of the Touch HD was Windows Mobile with HTC’s TouchFlo finger-friendly overlay.  Like historical versions of the Palm and Blackberry OSes, Windows Mobile has generally been aimed at stylus+button input which has made it fast for savvy users.  However in an iPhone age greater accessibility is required and Windows Mobile 6.5 aims to achieve this.

We’ll be looking at a pre-release XDA Developers build of WinMo 6.5 Professional on an HTC Touch Pro (Raphael model), so the actual features I describe may be different to the ones available in the full future release.  We will also concentrate on the significant changes from WinMo 6.1, as much of 6.5 is closely related to 6.1.

Honeycomb application launcher

Many early photos of WinMo 6.5 showed the now-famous honeycomb lattice application launcher, designed to create more space between icons and make the easier to target with a finger.  In the version I’m trying the lattice borders are not present but the formation is there.  The icons are far easier to target than in 6.1, I haven’t missed any yet.

Swiping and scrolling

The scrolling action to reveal further pages of applications has been hugely improved.  Finger swipes now scroll the screen with ease, locking at each page if the swipe is gentle or scrolling through multiple pages if stronger.  The top/bottom bouncing effect has been borrowed from the iPhone and it works well.

This also extends within applications, such as Windows Live where mailbox scolling and mail selection has been made far more finger friendly.  Track forward/back changes in Windows Media player are also a side-swipe away.

Pre-6.5 applications currently have variable scolling implementations however.  AvantGo, for example, still scrolls as well as it did before but the new bouncing effect is not present.

Battery life

I’ve noticed a colossal improvement in battery life on the Touch Pro compared to it’s original AT&T 6.1 build.  The Touch Pro will now easily last a full day with regular periods of data usage.

It’s difficult to know what has caused this uptick, possibly it’s due to more efficient CPU or memory calls or perhaps the lack of HTC’s graphics intensive TouchFlo overlay means the system is being taxed less.  It’s certainly a welcome change and makes the Touch Pro a usable phone for my usage pattern.  YMMV.

3G stability improvements

Whilst 6.1 is a pretty stable OS, the Touch Pro previously had sporadic 3G connection issues which required a reboot.  These issues have vanished on this 6.5 version, and data seems to download significantly faster.  Note that I did not change the radio firmware when I installed 6.5.

So far 6.5 has not crashed on me once, but I have rebooted twice over the last two weeks to refresh the system.  Rebooting is definitely faster than with 6.1, but I put that primarily down to not having to launch TouchFlo following the OS boot.

Finger-friendly menus

All of the 6.5 menus have grown to be more finger-friendly.  It’s now easy to hit the target with confidence.  Even though 6.1 on the Touch Pro had some big menus in places, my hit rate in 6.5 has greatly improved and there might be better coding under the hood making this happen.

Everything else

Much of the remaining experience is similar to using 6.1.  The apps I’ve tried to download, such as Google Maps and AvantGo have worked perfectly.

Is it a game changer?

Whether you like the underlying Windows Mobile platform is a matter of personal taste.  Whilst this version of 6.5 has been great to use on the Touch Pro it continues to be hampered by the relatively small screen of most Windows Mobile devices compared to the iPhone.  This means that making Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS or any other small screen device close-in on the iPhone in terms of finger-friendliness will always be a huge task.

The continued breadth of form factors also hampers efforts, although Microsoft is now starting to get more specific on hardware which should help to standardize the platform for developers writing for a more consistent user experience.  RIM had a similarly diffcult experience taking the Blackberry OS and porting it to the Storm, which was received with mixed opinions.

So all I need now is a Touch Pro with a full length screen, same keyboard and only 3-4 oz in weight.  That’s not the Touch Pro2, but perhaps it could be the Touch Pro3…

Neil Berman

Jun 28, 2009 Posted by | Microsoft, Mobile, Reviews, Software | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

HTC Snap / Dash II Hands-On

HTC Snap

I used to have an HTC S620 / Dash as my daily phone and found it to be a near perfect Blackberry-form-factor Windows Mobile smartphone.  It was light with a great keyboard and decent screen.  The main omissions were a lack of 3G and high resolution camera.

HTC is hoping to fix that in a snap, The Snap to be precise.  As a replacement for the S620 / Dash, the Snap is immediately recognizable as a member of the same family with a near identical form factor.  Here’s a quick hands-on of the Snap.

Snap curved thumbpadAddressing my wish list above, the Snap offers 7.2MB/sec HSDPA compared to the S620’s slow-ish EDGE.  WiFi b/g is carried over from the S620, but might not be enabled on all carriers; it was disabled on the Sprint example here.

The Snap also winds the onboard camera optics up to 2MP, which is no great shakes compared to the 5 or 8MP offerings of other smartphones available today.  Why is HTC so reluctant to implement leading edge cameras into its cellphones?

The keyboard follows the solid functionality of the S620 with an even better feel.  Keys are raised in the center and easy to press.  The revised layout placing keys similarly to a computer QWERTY rather than a vertical alignment works well.

A2DP and AVRCP Bluetooth profiles are also implemented, as on the S620, to give stereo bluetooth headsets control of calls and music playback.

On Sprint’s network data downloaded to Internet ExplorerSnap Internet Explorersignificantly faster than my S620 on AT&T’s EDGE connection.  The Snap’s 528MHz processor also made the Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard experience feel snappy compared to the S620’s 200MHz processor, which I admittedly throttle back to 160MHz to save battery power.

So why no Windows Mobile 6.5 on the Snap…?  This is certainly disappointing, especially given all the 6.5 online chatter currently.  Hopefully a 6.5 upgrade option will be available for the Snap in time.  My experience of an early 6.5 Pro touch-enabled build on the HTC Touch Pro has been extremely positive.

Is the Snap worth an upgrade for current S620 / Dash owners?  Definitely for high data users, maybe for others.  The S620 was already a gem of a device and the Snap offers even more of the same.  It just does it, well, a bit snappier.

Neil Berman

Jun 28, 2009 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AT&T Fuze / HTC Touch Pro P4600 review

Last year I wrote about the HTC TyTN, which was later superceded by the TyTN II (AT&T Tilt) as the daddy of all productivity smartphones.  Since then HTC has moved on with its Touch range which aim to turn up the style, which was a bit lacking in the TyTN series.

HTC Touch Pro KeyboardOf the three new Touch models (Diamond, Pro and HD) the Pro is the closest successor to the TyTN range with its slide out keyboard.   I will make comparisons along the way to the Samsung Epix, which does a similar job in a very different style.

Picking up the Fuze is an altogether different experience to the Tilt it replaced.  HTC has taken everything good about the TyTN range and made it sleeker.  The all glass look is smart and the back cover has the beautiful angled surface first seen on the Touch Diamond.

One backwards step compared to the Tilt is the reduced number of buttons on the front of the Fuze.  Whilst instant access application buttons are present on the keyboard like the Samsung Epix, the Fuze makes you either slide out the keyboard or use screen presses like the iPhone.  Whilst this is not a huge problem it does make the Epix feel like a quicker phone to navigate.

The other significant change from the Tilt is that the Fuze loses the tilting screen, which seemed like a fragile but useful feature on its predecessor.

TouchFlo 3D Music AppThe Fuze feels mightily more petite to hold than the Tilt, but still a tad chunky in its depth to accommodate the keyboard.  Overall it looks smaller than the Blackberry Bold or the Samsung Epix but the Fuze’s 6oz weight makes the 4.4oz Epix less bulky in a pocket.

The Fuze has a more useful keyboard than the TyTN series and most other smartphones.  There are now five rows of keys, which reduces combination presses to a minimum.  The keys also have a positive feel, which aids typing speed.

For those who like to work outdoors, the Fuze’s screen is far brighter than the Tilt’s.  I’m writing this outside in full-on New York bright winter sunshine.  You don’t get much color contrast, but at least you can see what you’re doing.

The Fuze’s big screen advance is its resolution which, at 640×480, is simply spectacular.  The only comparison worth making is to the Blackberry Bold, whose screen is of similar quality.

HTC Touch Pro BackThe TyTN series packed a powerful punch for its time and the Fuze hits even harder.  The Fuze has a whopping 0.5GB of ROM for Windows Mobile to play around with.  Pair that up with a 528MHz processor and you have a device which flies along.  At one point I had 15 applications open simultaneously and the Fuze just kept going.  Operating system navigation is very responsive and AT&T’s Cellular Video streams well, as long as you have good 3G coverage.

There is also a MicroSD card slot which can handle cards up to 32GB to satisfy your thirst for videos/music/photos/applications.  MicroSD cards are now pretty cheap, I saw an 8GB card recently for $18.  However the Fuze loses brownie points for hiding it’s card slot under the back cover, unlike the TyTN which had exposed access on the side of the phone like the Samsung Epix.

The Fuze comes with Opera Mobile as the default browser.  This does a good job and offers multiple tabs and good finger control, but still plays second fiddle to Safari on the iPhone.  This is partly due to the iPhone’s larger screen and also because Safari renders pages better overall in my opinion.

HTC has enhanced its TouchFlo interface to ‘3D’ status with the inclusion of some nice widgets which make navigation very finger-friendly.  The email and music screens look good and scrolling through text messages and photos is great as one item is swept away to make room for the next.

HTC Touch Pro Exposed BackBattery life on the Fuze is only average, with a charge required on a nightly basis following moderate usage.  Regular video streaming eats battery time, as does constant surfing although I did find that a full day of battery life is realistic with sensible usage.

The Fuze ships with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, which means you get Office Mobile, Windows Media Player and Windows Live.  In addition to Messenger the phones also have IM clients for AIM and Yahoo and you can install third party applications to give access to more services.  Google Maps, AvantGo and Skype were one-click installs.

Overall the Fuze is a great smartphone.  In day to day usage I can’t decide if I prefer the trick TouchFlo 3D interface, sleek looks and amazing screen of the Fuze over the faster front panel key and mouse navigation of the Samsung Epix.  There is a popular perception that touch is the way foward, but if reactions to the iPhone have told us anything it’s that people still want keyboards.

If you’re looking for a Windows Mobile smartphone then the Fuze does a great job, however if you prefer buttons to fingers it’s worth checking out the Samsung Epix too.

Neil Berman

Jan 4, 2009 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

HTC Excalibur S620 / T-Mobile Dash Review

Brushed aluminum finish looks smart

Brushed aluminum finish looks smart

HTC comes up with some great names for its cellphones. Diamond, Kaiser and Wizard have all figured in their recent line-up. The s620Excalibur looks a bit different from King Arthur’s mythical sword, but can it slay the competition in the same way?

What is the HTC s620?

The HTC s620 is sold in the US as the T-Mobile Dash.

Taking the HTC s620 out of the box it’s immediately obvious that this is one device which looks way better in real life than on the web. The Excalibur screams quality with a brushed aluminum and soft-feel black finish encasing a flush fitting screen. It’s light too at 130 grams. The battery cover hides the SIM and Micro SD card slots. Other specs include a 200MHz processor, WiFi b/g, EDGE (no HSPA unfortunately), Windows Mobile and of course the music loving stereo bluetooth.

Keypad has good tactile feedback

Keypad has good tactile feedback

The controls of the HTC s620

The s620’s Blackberry style keyboard has tightly packed raised keys which illuminate blue when the phone’s backlight is on. The keys on these devices are always a matter of taste, personally I find the key on the s620 are okay with plenty of tactile feedback but inferior to HTC’s own TyTN and Kaiser (AT&T Tilt) with their wider and larger keys. The s620 could also do with a couple more assignable keys. There are ones for email, internet and the camera but I’d also like ones to assign to Windows Media Player, the connections manager and the task manager for easy application switching.

Which leads me to the JOGGR slidy-thing on the right side of the screen is a curious surface, which offers up/down controls as well as two assignable buttons. Some carriers choose to disable this control surface, which to be honest I can understand. It’s a great idea but too easy to brush it accidentally which can be annoying. Once I got the hang of the JOGGR it did become useful, but might be too fiddly to win fans during a five minute in-store test drive. I would have preferred a hardware wheel and buttons.

The screen on the HTC s620

Powering up the s620 illuminates the stunning 2.4 inch screen, which is a joy to use indoors and out.

2.4 inch screen is bright and sharp

2.4 inch screen is bright and sharp

Whilst not readable in direct sunlight, it is possible to use this phone outdoors on a bright day. The flush fitting screen gives a paper flat image, but is also very exposed if the cellphone in jiggling about in a pocket next to some keys. There was a protective belt holster in my box, which is a useful screen preserving accessory.

Running apps on the HTC s620

The version I’m using has Ricky Wyatt’s Windows Mobile 6 ROM with a few added extras taking it to 6.1 spec, such as the newer Windows Live client which does a great job of pushing mails to the device for certain web-based non-POP3 email clients. Another sweet tool on the ROM is an over/underclocking tool for the the 200MHz processor, which allows manually forced power saving and power enhancement.  This is a great addition as most usage only needs 150MHz or so, which helps to extend battery life nicely.  Running the s620 at this speed I was able to listen to music over stereo bluetooth and read the newspapers on AvantGo.

Other tasty morsels in this ROM include Opera Mini which works great on the s620 and Resco Explorer which is a good replacement for File Explorer. I also added Google Maps, which renders extremely quickly on the Excalibur compared to my TyTN and scarily pinpointed my location to within one city block.

Excalibur is size zero thin

Excalibur is size zero thin

The HTC s620 as a stereo Bluetooth media player

The sound performance of the s620 is up to HTC’s usual high standards overall. Sound quality from the earpiece and microphone both seem fine, although the speaker was a bit tinny and unlikely to break any cellphone records for bass response. The stereo bluetooth paired to Logitech’s Freepulse easily and sound quality was exceptionally clear, so you can give those wired headphones back to the twentieth century where they belong.  The USB charging port doubles up as a headphone/hands-free port.  Whilst there are adaptors available to let you use wired 3.5mm phones, you’ll probably prefer to stick with the stereo Bluetooth to avoid dangling wires…after all with a micro sd slot to play with, the s620 could store your entire music collection so you might as well look the business while you’re listening.

Battery life of the HTC s620

Battery life was good, and as always was influenced by the amount of wireless connectivity and data usage. Forcing the screen to dim quickly after periods of inactivity also helped. With mixed usage including some WiFi and EDGE data action, voice calls and listening to music over stereo Bluetooth I got just over one day before the Excalibur asked to be returned to the lake for some juice.

Can the Excalibur slay the competition?

The s620 is certainly a strong Windows Mobile cellphone, nay very strong when paired with some useful added software. At 130 grams with EDGE connectivity it competes directly with RIM’s Blackberry Curve, which ends in a tie for me with RIM’s solid messaging experience battling the huge Windows Mobile application development community. If you do go for the Excalibur though, it’s a worthy sword to have in the armory.

Neil Berman

Ricky Wyatt’s Excalibur ROM is available at XDA Developers.  I do not recommend flashing a ROM onto your cellphone.  Flashing a ROM onto your cellphone is done entirely at your own risk, can brick your phone, will most likely invalidate your warranty and might lead to a total freak-out if it goes horribly wrong!!

Thanks to Joan & Alan for this one.

Sep 8, 2008 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Opera 9.5 Beta for Windows Mobile Review

The best mobile surfing experience out there?
Back in Feb Opera demo’d their latest Windows Mobile browser to oohs & ahhs from all corners championing it over the iPhone. Sporting a slick fullscreen mode, copy & paste, downloads and image saving, WM users couldn’t wait to get their mitts on it. It’s been a long wait but the beta recently went public. So is it really that much better than the iPhone? Let’s see…

After a straightforward installation and launch Opera 9.5 was happily loading pages over both WiFi and T-Mobile’s EDGE service. The browser fitted rendered pages to fill the whole screen perfectly and from there the finger pointing begins. Swipe up, down, left or right to scroll, double tap any area to zoom and again to zoom back out. The motion as the page moves is beautifully fluid and the zoom renders quickly.

Page loading was slower than my Nokia N810, which also runs Opera, but this is a pre-production version so it’s unfair to make a performance judgement just yet. As a guide over WiFi the NY Times website was half rendered in about 8 seconds and I was able to start swiping/zooming after 25 seconds while the pictures finished loading in the background. When I went to the site a second time, I could start swiping/zooming after about 15 seconds due to caching. Times were about twice as long with EDGE.

There are various display options, including full vs mobile view and screen font size. Images can be blocked to speed up page delivery.
Multiple tabs are also available, although your device’s capabilities will determine how many you can open before running low on memory. Opera 9.5 Mobile is a 8.9MB install which needs to go into main memory for this beta release. However the cache can be put onto a storage card, I allocated 50MB which speeds things up if you visit the same sites regularly.

So from this fully rendered CNet home page, you can zoom into something like this in a second or two…

…and then jump into a story…
…turn on text selection like this…
…and copy the text you want into an email or document just like a normal computer web browser. You can send it directly to someone via SMS as well as the page link, which is even better. You can also send links and images directly via MMS or email. Images and files can be downloaded to main memory or to the storage card for easy portability. Whole pages can be downloaded for offline viewing, for example when in the subway. Hmm, this is sounding like the daddy of convergent mobile internet…
Various other config optionsare included, including the ability to set a cache size. Here’s my 50MB cache in action, if you’re a heavy user you may want to go for more. I’m unaware of any cache limit, my TyTN has a 2GB memory card in it…that kind of cache size might be overkill but you get the idea!
Security options include proper password management.

With the current beta version there are a couple of missing bits, such as ActiveX and Flash so if you want these you might prefer to wait until the full production release. Also bear in mind that this is a beta version so if you do install it on your phone there may be compatibility issues or other freaky things happening – best to backup beforehand just in case!
Overall there’s no smartphone browser I’m aware of which offers such a sweet all round browsing experience. The initial impressions in February were right: where the iPhone’s Safari once led the pack, it’s now in second place. Can’t wait to try the production version…

Neil Berman

Aug 3, 2008 Posted by | Mobile, Reviews, Software | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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