HTC Touch: the iPhone spoiler?

HTC has launched a new Windows Mobile 6 smartphone with an iPhone-like touch-driven add-on user interface. But will it steal Apple's thunder? Check out our launch-day preview.

Depending on your level of cynicism, HTC's new Touch smartphone, which received its global launch in London's Leicester Square this morning, either marks a 'revolutionary inflection point between button-centric and touch-centric devices', or it's a moderately-featured Windows Mobile 6 device with a bit of touch-screen eye candy bolted on top.

Our initial impressions are of a neat and compact PDA-style smartphone, but scratch the iPhone-like surface and the gloss soon wears off the new TouchFLO interface, leaving you with a device that, crucially for business users, lacks both a slide-out keyboard and 3G/HSDPA connectivity. That makes us pretty cynical, we suppose.

The launch was fronted by HTC's CEO and President Peter Chou, endorsed by senior representatives from Orange and T-Mobile (both operators will be carrying the Touch in the UK) and featured a typically forthright prerecorded video appearance by Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer. This well-attended event marked another stage in the emergence of HTC as a highly visible brand in its own right, rather than an OEM whose kit is rebadged by all and sundry: the Touch is the first HTC product that Orange will not slap its SPV (Sound Pictures Video) moniker on. T-Mobile, meanwhile, will continue to use its MDA brand for its customised version of the Touch.

HTC Touch: a neat and compact Windows Mobile 6 touch-screen smartphone with added TouchFLO user interface. It will be available on contract from Orange and T-Mobile in the UK, and SIM-free for around 449 euros (~£305).

As far as specifications are concerned, the HTC Touch measures 58mm wide by 99.9mm deep by 13.9mm high and weighs 112g with its battery. The 16-bit TFT touch-screen measures 2.8in. across the diagonal and has a standard native resolution of 320 by 240 pixels. The device is powered by a Texas Instruments OMAP 850 processor running at 201MHz, with 128MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM. Our device reported 32.6MB of free storage space for programs and data over and above the preloaded complement; a 1GB microSD card is also provided in the box. The operating system, as noted above, is Windows Mobile 6 — specifically, the Professional edition with Direct Push Email and HTML email support. There's a 2Mpixel camera on the back with a self-portrait mirror but no flash unit.

Connectivity comes in the shape of tri-band GSM with GPRS and EDGE support, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0. Battery life is rated at 5 hours talk and 200h standby. As noted above, 3G/HSDPA connectivity and a slide-out keyboard are noticeable by their absence from this device. At the launch, HTC wouldn't be drawn on the likelihood of these features appearing in future models, but we wouldn't bet against it.

So what of HTC's add-on user interface, TouchFLO? You get a nice customised Home screen, with a big digital clock, and icons leading to Weather and Lancher applets. The bottom half of the screen lists your upcoming appointments. You sweep your finger up the screen to open what HTC calls the Touch Cube, the first side of which shows a 3x3 grid of your main contacts, with icons beneath for initiating a call, viewing your call history, opening Contacts and deleting a favourite contact. Slide your finger from right to left and the second Touch Cube screen shows large icons for opening email, SMS/EMS, Internet Explorer, Tasks, Comm Manager and Calendar applications. Another right-to-left gesture brings up even bigger icons for accessing your music, photos and videos. You rotate the cube the other way with a left-to right sweep of the finger, while a top-to-bottom sweep takes you back to where you were when you launched the Touch Cube. If you want to see TouchFLO in action, take a look on HTC's web site.

HTC may well steal a little of Apple's iPhone thunder with the Touch, but we're still keen to get our hands on the former so we can compare the two head to head. Given that the HTC Touch is, at heart, a Windows Mobile device — albeit a customised one — we suspect that the iPhone will give it a run for its money.  

HTC's CEO and President Peter Chou launching the HTC Touch in London on 5 June.


The HTC Touch runs Windows Mobile 6, hence the (prerecorded) video appearance by Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer.


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