Clash of the QWERTY sliders: HTC Touch Pro2 and Nokia N97

Summary:I ended my Clash of the Touch Titans series at the end of April and may be looking at forward facing QWERTY phones soon. However, there is another form factor that is popular with Windows Mobile that Nokia just added and that is the slider QWERTY device. HTC is rolling out the Touch Pro2 while the Nokia N97 is being launched worldwide as well. I currently have both of these devices in hand and wanted to offer up some thoughts on how they compare since they have so many similarities. Check out the image gallery for some comparisons and the videos of each device that go along with my thoughts below.

I ended my Clash of the Touch Titans series at the end of April and may be looking at forward facing QWERTY phones soon. However, there is another form factor that is popular with Windows Mobile that Nokia just added and that is the slider QWERTY device. HTC is rolling out the Touch Pro2 while the Nokia N97 is being launched worldwide as well. I currently have both of these devices in hand and wanted to offer up some thoughts on how they compare since they have so many similarities, yet really serve two different kinds of people. Check out the image gallery for some comparisons and the videos of each device that go along with my thoughts below.


Image Gallery:The Nokia N97 and HTC Touch Pro2 go head-to-head in this image gallery.
Image Gallery: Touch Pro2 and N97
Image Gallery: Open keyboards

Windows Mobile and S60 (you can add RIM BlackBerry here too) are both getting a bit long in the tooth compared to the new iPhone, Android, and Palm WebOS operating systems, but these grandfathers of the mobile market are still attractive to many because they are familiar and still extremely powerful. Neither has what you would call a super user experience though and that seems to be the real differentiation today as consumers start buying smartphones in larger numbers. Both HTC and Nokia attempted to improve the UI, to some extent, with the Touch Pro2 and N97 so let's take a look at these two new devices. Both of these devices are also rather large, but when a larger keyboard is desired small size isn't really much of a factor. I also want to make clear that the HTC Touch Pro2 is very business focused while the N97 is still highly focused on media creation and consumption with a keyboard added to improve messaging, yet it still really is not focused on the enterprise like the Eseries devices.

Out-of-the box

The HTC Touch Pro2 takes the successful Touch Pro and adds some sleek curves and a more minimalist front. The back is also rounded and the device feels great in your hand. It has some heft, but not too much given the size of the device. Turning on the display is an awesome experience with the 3.6 inch 800x480 pixel resolution screen staring right back at you in vivid colors. Then when you slide open the display you find one of the best QWERTY keyboards I have ever seen on a mobile device with a full 5 rows of keyboard goodness that we'll look at a bit more later.

The Nokia N97 is packaged in a slim black box with the N97 embossed on the front. Similar to the Touch Pro2 it is a device with very few front buttons, dominated by a touch screen display. The N97 resolution is 360x640 pixels in a 3.5 inch diagonal form and fonts are crisp and clear on the display. The N97 is not as wide as the Touch Pro2 and feels more like a phone in your hand. I really like the matte finish plastic material on the back of the N97 that attracts no fingerprints and appears like it will never scratch. The slider mechanism is very impressive and the hinge seems rock solid, while the particular Touch Pro2 I have is defective with a wobbly hinge (doesn't stay in position and flaps). The keyboard is more limited on the N97 than what you find on the Touch Pro2, but the buttons are well spaced and there is a directional pad for easier navigation.

Let's check out the Hardware »

Hardware

The HTC Touch Pro2 has the latest and greatest Windows Mobile hardware with a 528MHz Qualcomm processor, 512MB ROM, 288MB RAM, GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi, accelerometer, 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera, and 3.5G support (not yet currently in the US). The Nokia N97 has a 434 MHz processor, 128MB RAM, about 40MB available flash ROM, GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi, accelerometer, digital compass, FM radio, stereo speakers, FM transmitter, 5 megapixel autofocus camera with dual LED flash and Carl Zeiss optics, and 3.5G support. While both have a microSD expansion card slot, the Nokia N97 also has a whopping 32GB integrated flash drive. So specifications wise, you can see the N97 has more to offer than the Touch Pro2 (high resolution camera, compass, FM radio, FM transmitter, stereo speakers), except for the display resolution and size.

The keyboard of the Touch Pro2 is absolutely fantastic with large metal feel keys that are well spaced and arranged just like a laptop with offest Q, A, Z, etc. There could be a few more useful shortcuts (OK, Start, etc.), but these particular pieces will differ by US wireless carrier when they roll out so some may have slightly better keyboards than the rest. You get some great feedback when you press a key on the Touch Pro2 and it really is a tough keyboard to beat.

The N97 keyboard has well spaced keys, but it is only 3 rows high so you have to press a FN key to enter a number and every punctuation/symbol except for the period. I want to be able to enter a period, comma, and @ symbol directly. Actually, the keyboard on the Euro TP2 I have requires the function key for the @ symbol too. (BTW, the Palm Pre and Nokia E71/E71z have all three of these as single press keys.) There is a shift key on the left (like the TP2) and a function key on the right. One rather unique aspect of the N97 keyboard is the placement of the small shift button on the right side, but as I discussed here this may actually make more sense than placing the space bar in the center of a thumb keyboard. The keyboard hinge mechansim is awesome on the N97 and I find myself opening and closing it from time-to-time just to experience the motion.

The Touch Pro2 high resolution looks amazing and it easily beats everything on the market today. The Sidekick LX 2009 has a slightly high resolution, but is on a smaller display that does very little to take advantage of such an awesome display. The Nokia N97 display is also higher than the iPhone resolution and looks crisp and clear. It doesn't seem to jump off and grab you like the Touch Pro2, but if you add high res images to it for wallpager and for viewing you will see it is quite good. These resistive touch screen displays do not look that good in full sunlight, but they can be better than the capacitive ones in some cases. Both of these devices have resistive displays, but both HTC and Nokia have improved the sensitivity and targets so that you can use your finger to do just about everything and the Nokia N97 does not even come with an integrated stylus.

I took three sample photos from each device that can be viewed at the end of my image gallery for comparison reasons. Both devices had their camera settings on the default highest resolution 3.2 megapixel for the TP2 and 5 megapixel for the Nokia N97. As you can see the Nokia N97 photos look better in almost every case, which isn't a big surprise given that Windows Mobile phones are rarely good at photo capturing.

Both devices have a minimal number of buttons and rely on the touch screen for most interaction with the device. The Nokia N97 has some nice added pieces of hardware, including a FM transmitter to help listen to podcasts and your other music over your car stereo and a compass for better directional support.

The N97 has a 3.5mm headset jack while HTC uses their miniUSB port for syncing, charging, and headset connections. The Nokia N97 also has stereo speakers so music, videos, and speakerphone calls sound very good. On the back of the HTC Touch Pro2 you will see a large grill that gives you the appearance that there is a large speaker underneath, but there is actually a small speaker up towards the top. It is a decent speakerphone and there are also dual mics for higher quality conference calls.

Both devices have some new things in the software too »

Software

: The HTC Touch Pro 2 currently runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional with a custom HTC TouchFLO 3D user interface. It will be upgradeable to Windows Mobile 6.5 later this year when it rolls out. TouchFLO 3D has been greatly improved over previous versions and performs fluidly when sliding your finger across the Today screen. HTC also lets you customize the order of the tabs and whether or not they appear on your Today screen. They have also given you a cool slide to answer capability and some easy and powerful conference calling utilities.

All of the useful Windows Mobile apps and utilities are included on the Touch Pro2, including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel Mobile, YouTube, Google Maps, Windows Live Messenger, OneNote Mobile, Opera Mobile 8.5, and WorldCard Mobile. HTC includes their new People utility that gives you a central interface for viewing and interacting with selected people. Instead of jumping into separate applications, you can now go to People and see your contact details, text message history, email history, Facebook updates, and call history. This is pretty slick and makes it much easier to stay connected to family, friends, and business associates.

HTC tries to help Touch Pro2 owners stay out of the older WM interface, but from time to time you will end up using these UI elements to get things done.

The Nokia N97 runs S60 5th Edition and is the second device, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic device was the first, to run this touch user interface version of the Symbian operating system. Nokia improved the touch sensitivity and I am having no problem at all navigating and controlling the N97 with my finger.

The most interesting new piece of S60 software found and focused on with the Nokia N97 is the homescreen widget capability where you can select which five widgets will fill your standby screen. At first I didn't think there would be a ton of usefulness with these widgets, but now that I have email, weather, shortcuts, favorites (speed dial), and AP news running on my standby screen I am finding it to be very helpful. I do wish the N97 has the Nokia 5800 Media Bar dropdown so I could quickly get to my media content, seeing as how I have a whopping 48GB of memory (32GB integrated and 16GB microSD card) available for media content and creation I want a fast way to get to that content.

The rest of the software is your standard Nokia fare and I did my traditional 15 minute setup and created custom folders and filled them with my favorite applications. My all time favorite application is the Twitter client called Gravity that shows you just how far you can take S60. I wish more applications performed like this too.

Application stores, pricing, and final thoughts »

Application Stores

This is a short section for the HTC Touch Pro2 since there is no Windows Mobile Marketplace yet available for mobile applications. You will have to rely in developers or other third party software retailers.

The Ovi Store just opened up about 3 weeks ago and comes preloaded on the Nokia N97 (the first phone to have it preloaded). As soon as you launch it you will be prompted to update the client on the phone. The Ovi Store is still pretty basic and a bit slow, even on a fast connection. The area where it is failing me right now is in redownloading applications I purchased. I performed a hard reset to clear out a device and found that I was UNABLE to download and reinstall applications I purchased even though the apps appear in my account and Nokia knows exactly what I purchased. I have had to send emails to the customer service people to try to get these issues resolved, but Nokia needs to allow PC downloads (and archiving) or at least on-device downloads. The My Stuff area is basic and has very little functionality.

Overall experiences

I spent 3-4 days with the Touch Pro2 so far and just 2-1/2 days with the Nokia N97. They are both very capable and functional devices with some improvements made in the UI to try to help out the end user. Neither UI is as elegant as the iPhone, Google Android, or Palm WebOS devices, but it isn't always about just the UI and there are lots of people that want to multitask, customize, and tweak their devices to optimize them for their usage patterns.

I bought my white Nokia N97 and will be keeping it to test out further with my eye on the future updates that Nokia promised. I may also pick up the T-Mobile branded Touch Pro2 because that keyboard is so dang good. HTC devices have never really been that great at supporting video playback or image capture, which are two areas where the Nokia N97 shines. The devices may have similar form factors, but the people who use them and need them to perform their tasks have different needs.

Pricing and carriers

The HTC Touch Pro2 is rolling out in a few countries and imported unlocked models are running about $710. I imagine that eventually all major US wireless carriers will launch with a version of this phone at highly subsidized prices. I would bet this will appear in the $299 range at most stores.

The Nokia N97 has a retail price of a whopping $699 at the Nokia USA store. This is a SIM-unlocked model that has no carrier agreements or contracts while also supporting the 3.5G network on AT&T. It seems the best deal you can find for the N97 is $604 at Amazon. I doubt this will ever be picked up by a US wireless carrier so if you want the N97 you are going to have to buy it somewhere online or at one of the Nokia Flagship stores.

Go back to the beginning »

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, HTC, Mobility, Nokia, Software, Wi-Fi

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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