One week with the HTC Touch Diamond; panoramic photos, VGA, and more experiences

I let you all know that HTC sent me an HTC Touch Diamond last Saturday and posted some ">unboxing and first thoughts on it later that day. I also showed you the Teeter game and sensor/vibration technolgy, followed by more thoughts, photos, and video on the FM radio, YouTube, and text input methods. Since last Saturday I have spent every day using the device as my primary device and have more experiences to tell you and show you in regards to performance, battery life, camera functionality, and more. I also show you a cool little Easter egg in the video so check that out.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

I let you all know that HTC sent me an HTC Touch Diamond last Saturday and posted some unboxing and first thoughts on it later that day. I also showed you the Teeter game and sensor/vibration technolgy, followed by more thoughts, photos, and video on the FM radio, YouTube, and text input methods. Since last Saturday I have spent every day using the device as my primary device and have more experiences to tell you and show you in regards to performance, battery life, camera functionality, and more. I also show you a cool little Easter egg in the video so check that out.

One of the first things I did since I used the device all week as my main device was test out the battery life to see if it could get me through a typical day. I didn't run any of the benchmark type tests, but actual real-life trials because I think those mean more to your average user.

The following are my experiences for the first day this past week:

I had my T-Mobile USA SIM card in the device and surfed with Opera Mobile 9.5 for 1 hour during my morning commute. I enabled ActiveSync for always on connectivity during the entire day and received about 85 emails that day. I made 30 minutes of phone calls, since data and text messaging is my main usage of my devices. I also noticed after the battery life was down to 50% that I had inadvertently left the display on full brightness instead of having the sensor enabled. I then turned on the light sensor to reduce brightness. I surfed again for about 20 minutes on the evening commute. The low battery alarm went off and then about 15 minutes later the device died. The total time that the battery lasted was 11 hours and 15 minutes.

I found I was able to get another hour or so the rest of this week after I made sure to have the brightness sensor turned on. I have experienced longer battery life with some S60 devices, but I found this to be acceptable for my usage patterns and was actually a bit surprised that the 900 mAh battery lasted this long with the 640x480 display.

Usage and experiences: Incoming and outgoing phone calls sounded good on the Touch Diamond, but like I have said before I don't make that many calls so data is more important to me than phone calls. When you dial a phone number the phone starts dialing and then when the call is connected the phone vibrates just a bit to let you know the call is ready. This allows you to hold the Diamond in your hand and make a call without holding it up to your head right away. The device display will turn off after a couple seconds during a call so that you do not accidentally activate anything on the touch screen with your cheek or ear. HTC was unable to use a proximity sensor like the iPhone since that is patented and this seems to be the next best solution. If you pull the stylus out during a call, then a note is launched so you can enter in notes related directly to a phone call. You can also simply tap the Home button, back button, center action button, or power button to turn the display back on and interact with the display.

The HTC Touch Diamond model I have to evaluate has ROM version 1.35.401.3 WWE, which I think is the latest that is available. I am sure we'll see further ROM updates before the U.S. version is released later this year and there are always hacks on the XDA Developers site where there are already coming up with ways to improve this version of the HTC Touch Diamond.

The directional pad is interesting because the entire bottom area of the device is a solid panel, except for the center touch-sensitive action button, and pressing in on areas of this panel performs different functions. To move up, down, left, and right you press on the area of this panel around the directional pad. I am not sure this will work too well for fast action games, but for navigational purposes it works fine.

I noticed that the device does not have screen rotation functionality in the settings and it will rotate only in certain applications, like Opera Mobile, photos and videos, and camera where it does it automatically. I would like to have the option to manually control this too in case I wanted to view something like Google Maps in landscape mode.

I have also had the device completely shut off in my pocket about 5 times over the last week (pretty much each morning this past week) pressing the reset button would not bring it back. I had to remove the battery and restart it to get back up and running. With about 20 third party applications loaded, it may be related to that since I haven't seen anyone else mention this issue. I'll have to check this out more without any 3rd party apps to see if it is related to one of these apps because I did not see this the first couple days of usage.

The HTC Touch Diamond also has me thinking twice about my perceived desire to always have a QWERTY-enabled device. The extremely small size lets me keep the Diamond in my shirt or pants pocket and not even know I have a mobile phone with me. I am getting very fast with the Compact QWERTY (SureType copy) keyboard and find I only enter text message and short emails on my devices anyways. For more extensive work I use a Bluetooth keyboard so I may not need a hardware QWERTY keyboard anymore.

I did load up the latest REDFLY driver software on the HTC Touch Diamond and my REDFLY works via both USB and Bluetooth. The TouchFLO 3D is slow and really needs to be turned off first before using the REDFLY with the Diamond, but the display looks great and works well with Word Mobile and Excel Mobile. I actually just start Word or Excel Mobile first and then connect the REDFLY to enter lots of text. A device like the HTC Touch Diamond combined with the REDFLY is a great solution because the Diamond is so compact you can take it anywhere and then pack along the REDFLY when you want to get some serious work done.

Major likes: I have been very impressed with the camera on this device and think it may be the best Windows Mobile one released so far. One functionality that has blown me away is the panoramic functionality that I tried to show in the video I posted. After launching the camera you select the panorama option and then you will see a small 1/3 in the bottom right corner. You take one photo and then you will see about a third of the right side of that photo in opaque view on the left side of the display. You then overlay this "ghost" image over itself as you move to the right and capture the second photo. You perform the same action for the third photo. You don't have to worry about being exact either as the HTC Touch Diamond will then auto-stitch the three images together to produce a very cool panoramic shot that covers about 180 degrees in front of you. Check out the couple of photos I took in panoramic mode here, here, here. Click on the photos on these pages to see a larger view of the image and see how well the Diamond does with stitching them together.

The magnetic stylus works well to keep the stylus secure in the bottom silo while also providing the cool note-taking-in call functionality. Add just a bit more heft to the stylus and I'll be very happy.

The VGA display is fantastic and it is tough to stop turning on the device and checking it out because it is so crisp and clear. You can't really see much of the display in full sunlight, but I rarely use my device in this kind of condition. The iPhone is really the only touch screen device I have seen that is highly visible in full sunlight. There are other Windows Mobile non-touch screen devices that look great in sunlight, but it is rare to see a touch screen that looks good.

The TouchFLO 3D implementation is very good for the most part. It switches between the tabs quickly and the tabs actually have very good information that has some great looks (such as the email preview, text message preview, bookmark access, settings, and program launcher). The weather tab is lots of fun and this is my favorite tab of all. The device wakes up and the display goes off quickly and the only time I have noticed a major resource issue with TouchFLO 3D is when you power it up from a completely turned off or reset condition where it can take up to a minute for the device to fully come up to speed.

The version of disk drive mode implemented on the HTC Touch Diamond lets me access the 4GB flash drive with my MacBook Pro where this same option on the HTC Advantage does not work. I love being able to access the flash drive and place .CAB files on the Diamond without needing a syncing solution on my MBP. I also use a hosted Exchange service so have no real need for syncing software.

The integrated GPS receiver seems to work very well. I am seeing a GPS fix with Google Maps in about 10-15 seconds regularly and Google Maps looks incredible on the high resolution display.

I am still in awe about the size of the device given that it is a full Windows Mobile touch screen device with integrated GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, and 4GB flash drive.

Areas for improvement: I think the HTC Touch Diamond is an amazing Windows Mobile device, but I do have some recommendations on areas/features/functions that could be improved and present this list for consideration:

  • Allow users to reorder contacts in the People list.
  • Allow users to tap and hold to delete messages right from the Mail tab.
  • Provide a model in the U.S. with a soft touch back.
  • Provide a better way to select a location in weather. Right now you have to scroll manually through the entire list of countries with your finger and this can take a while. I also want to see support for more cities.
  • Go back to the traditional notifications method. I'm sorry, but I don't like having to tap the notifications icon and then see a list of notifications/status icons and then tap again to access the notification. I just want it to pop up like it does on other Windows Mobile devices.
  • The lower back gets warm when I charge it and when I use it extensively. It isn't warm enough that you can't handle the device, like my MacBook Pro, but it does get warm.

3rd party application experiences: TCPMP installs fine, but fails and quits as soon as you try to launch the application. I tried Spb Backup 2.0 to see if I could get a backup solution working and it failed the first three times. I then read online that you need to uncheck the box to stop background processes and after I did that it backed up the device just fine. I then did a full hard reset and it installed perfectly. Other 3rd party applications that I installed that work just fine are Agenda One, Evernote3, iFitOne, Mobipocket, PocketBible 4.0, Ilium Software Screen Capture, Skype, SMS-Chat, SplashMoney, Yahoo! Go 3, and several games (Astraware Boardgames, Casino, Solitaire, Sudoku, Bejeweled 2, Bubble Babble, GTS World Racing, Ultimate Bowling Fighter, and Zuma).

Conclusion: The HTC Touch Diamond is not perfect and there are a few issues that need to be updated soon to provide for a solid experience, yet I think these can be addressed with a firmware update. I will be buying one of these as soon as the U.S. model that works with AT&T or T-Mobile's 3G network is released.

I also recommend you check out other reviews and if you are in the U.S. I recommend you wait to see the HTC Touch Diamond coming from your local carrier later this year since you will then get 3G data functionality. I particularly enjoyed the reviews and thoughts from Phone Arena, Michael Gartenberg, CoolSmartphone (Great 7 days of videos, including a 37 minutes video.), and Geek.com.

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