Hands-on video and first impressions of the HTC Touch

Earlier today HTC announced the HTC Touch device with their new TouchFLO technology. I was able to meet up with my press contact and get a device to evaluate a couple hours ago. I created a quick video to try to show readers how the new interface works and also have some first impressions and thoughts on the device. I also took several pictures of the device, including comparisons between it and the T-Mobile Dash (HTC Excalibur) that can be found in the image gallery. Check out the initial impressions to see how this might stack up with the Apple iPhone.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

Earlier today HTC announced the HTC Touch device with their new TouchFLO technology. I was able to meet up with my press contact and get a device to evaluate for a short time. I created the video shown below to try to show readers how the new interface works and also have some first impressions and thoughts below I want to share with you. I also took several pictures of the device, including comparisons between it and the T-Mobile Dash (HTC Excalibur) that can be found in the image gallery.

 Image Gallery: Check out several hardware and software photos of the HTC Touch.  
Image Gallery: HTC Touch
Image Gallery: HTC TouchFLO in action

I have to give HTC credit for some cool packaging as the HTC Touch is packaged very similarly to the ultra cool Samsung Q1 UMPC packaging. An extremely sturdy all black box is contained inside a logo sleev and then you open the top flap to reveal the Touch staring you in the face with the two earphones on either side. Very classy and cool stuff here guys. The first thing I noticed after opening up the box was how slim and great the device felt in my hand. I was a HUGE fan of the i-mate JAM and this device is much smaller than that with even more wireless functionality. Even if you don't care for the new TouchFLO interface, this is one super small Phone Edition device that you can take with you anywhere you go. It has that great T-Mobile Dash rubberized feel that makes you want to hold the device.

You will also notice how plain the device looks with a simple directional pad (large and easy to use) centered on the front below the display with the very small send and end green and red call buttons on either side. There is a phone speaker centered at the top of the display. Inside the phone speaker are the connection indicator lights. Along the left side you will find only the volume slider switch and on the right side you will find the stylus silo, microSD card slot (HTC includes a blank 1GB microSD card in the package), and camera button. The only way to access the microSD slot and the SIM card slot is to remove the back cover of the device and then perform some finger gymnastics to hold open the wimpy long plastic cover and insert the two cards. This is definitely not a device where you want to be swapping the SIM and microSD card very often. The stylus has a long very light metal barrel and plastic tips and is about 3 inches long. A spare is included in the packaging. The 2 megapixel camera is on the back next to the self-portrait mirror. The entire back comes off to reveal the battery and access the cards mentioned above. A 1100 mAh battery is included with the device. The bottom of the device is where you will find the reset button, mini USB port for syncing and charging, and the microphone opening. The power button is located at the top of the device. And that's it on the HTC Touch.

One new hardware feature is the bezel-free digitizer panel that is actually completely flat and flush with the casing. It is a bit strange to see the HTC logo under this plastic display cover and I have found that you have to solidly press the display for actions to be initiated, as you can see in the video when I had a bit of trouble launching the email application. I am getting better and more used to what it takes to activate the buttons so it just takes a bit of practice. The flat bezel-free display is a first for Windows Mobile devices and hopefully helps keep out dust that sometimes appears under displays after lots of pocketing.

I have only been using it for a couple of hours, but I haven't gotten used used to having no button to take me back to the Home screen. I can get there with a TouchFLO flick, but that requires an extra step or two. There are also no left and right soft keys and instead you tap the bottom of the display to activate them.

While the HTC Touch has a revolutionary touch screen interface, it does not support multi-touch like on the Apple iPhone and still has the Windows Mobile 6 interface under the new HTC shell. It also isn't the highest speced Windows Mobile device on the market as it is targeted to the general consumer like the Apple iPhone. Mobile enthusiasts and data consumers will note that the HTC Touch lacks 3G connectivity, has a processor more fit for a Standard (Smartphone) device, and is not loaded with lots of hardware buttons.

However, the consumer will appreciate the slick interface and ease-of-use, very small form factor (reminds me of the i-mate JAM that I loved a few years back), solid construction, and integrated wireless options.

With the sparse hardware buttons and touch screen interface (unlike the iPhone a stylus works too) people may be concerned about text entry, especially in regards to text messaging. Consumers, and even Windows Mobile veterans, may be unfamiliar with the fact that you can select a larger keyboard option in the text entry settings. However, even when using the larger keyboard the buttons are still not large enough to really be manipulated with your finger tip. One good option is to use the Spb Full Screen Keyboard program that is available for just under US$10. It would have been great if HTC included this by default though. Another awesome text entry method that I used for years on my Palm, Pocket PC, and Tablet PC is MessagEase and they have a large screen version that I plan to load up immediately so I can try to stay away from stylus usage.

The phone keypad buttons are nicely sized for finger presses and I think most of the types of functions you will perform work well with your fingers. Unless you use the Spb Full Screen Keyboard or another text entry application, you will most likely have to use the included stylus for text entry using the default on-screen keyboard, handwriting recognition, block recognizer (aka Palm Grafitti), or letter recognizer. While the HTC customizations are slick, you will notice that the same Windows Mobile interface exists in applications so it is a bit like bouncing back and forth between a cool device and your dad's work PC. It would have been great if HTC could have increased the size of the X button and made other GUI improvements for finger manipulation. I am sure that would have been almost like reinventing the OS though and quite difficult.

HTC did create their own Today screen application that is slick and takes advantage of the touch screen functionality. The Home icon displays a very large digital clock, SMS, email and call status, and upcoming appointments. The Weather applet shows the current weather and the forecast 4 days out. The temperature is in Celcius by default, but can be changed to Fahrenheit in the Weather options. The last icon takes you to a Launcher for quick access to ActiveSync, screen rotation, device locking, display brightness, and more. You can also customize what programs/utilities appear on this page.

It has only been a few hours so far, but I actually really like the super slim form factor. While the TouchFLO doesn't do as much as I was hoping, I understand that there is only so much HTC can do to customize the operating system. It will take a bit of getting used to the lack of hardware buttons, but new users may enjoy the eye candy and simple layout of the device.

UPDATE: OK, I have spent a few more hours with the device and after just about 10 more minutes after taking the video I figured out I was just barely touching the display and actually needed to put some slight pressure to activate the icons. I found that holding it in one hand worked best and now every time I touch the icon or display my intended action happens. I think I'll put together another video showing how cool and responsive the TouchFLO is. I also found out that HTC has expanded the touch sensitivity when you use your finger beyond what a stylus does. For example, you just have to touch around the X to close applications and do not have to nail the X directly like on other Pocket PC devices. I also discovered that you can quickly scroll and pan using TouchFLO and this has turned out to be a wonderful experience in the web browser. The thing is that goofed me up is that you are pushing or pulling with your finger so you push up to scroll down, rather than thinking like you would with a stylus and dragging the scroll bar down.

I just have to say again that the form factor is AWESOME! I can't believe how small of a full blown Windows Mobile Professional device this is and it feels superb in your hand. I have taken more calls with it now too and am finding call quality to be very good so far.

I also think people may have thought quite a bit differently about this device if the iPhone wasn't coming out soon. Apple had the ability to create a touch interface mobile OS from the ground up, while HTC is extending the functionality of an existing mobile operating system. I do like using Windows Mobile, but it seems like it started by taking the desktop experience and shrinking it down rather than starting with a mobile optimized system first. I am sure HTC has been working on TouchFLO for some time, and long before the January iPhone announcement.

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