It's a great time to buy a smartphone, no matter what your budget. You can find functional and reliable handsets from about $197 to over $1,000.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
As well as being a leading maker of Android smartphones, HTC has supported Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 to the tune of four devices in the UK to date. We've already looked at the HTC HD7, HTC 7 Mozart, and HTC 7 Trophy; now we have the latest of the quartet, the HTC 7 Pro. Our review sample came from Clove Technology.
Unlike its stablemates, the HTC 7 Pro has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. That would once have made it the natural choice for professional users — but now that on-screen keyboards have improved, is that still the case?
The HTC 7 Pro's physical keyboard makes for a somewhat chunky and weighty smartphone. At 185g it weighs even more than the HD7, which sports a huge 4.3in. screen and comes in at 162g.
At 15.5mm thick, the keyboard makes its presence felt (the HD 7 is just 11.2mm thick), but the HTC 7 Pro's remaining measurements — 59mm wide by 117.5mm deep — are not unduly large.
We couldn't quite reach right across the 3.6in. screen for one-handed use — but our hands are on the small side, and many will make the stretch with no trouble.
The 3.6in. screen is smaller than those of the HTC 7 Mozart (3.7in.) and HTC 7 Trophy (3.8in.). The resolution is the same on all of HTC's Windows Phone 7 devices: 480 by 800 pixels. It's just about large enough for efficient web browsing and is at its best in landscape mode.
Beneath the screen are three buttons for launching the Start screen, and Back and Search functions respectively. These buttons are touch sensitive rather than physical.
On the left edge is a volume rocker and a Micro-USB connector. The bottom is clear, while the top houses the on/off switch and a 3.5mm audio jack. On the right is the Microsoft-specified camera button that can start the camera even when the handset is locked, making it relatively easy to take a quick snap.
The 3.6in. HTC 7 Pro is the company's first Windows Phone 7 handset with a physical QWERTY keyboard
HTC has come up with a clever slider system for the physical keyboard. You push the screen away from the keyboard in the usual way, and as it gets to the back a hinge kicks in, completing the process and pushing the screen up to an angle of about 45 degrees.
The device sits nicely on the desktop at this angle, being much easier to read than if the screen were flat in the hand. It's a good angle for tapping at the keyboard with two thumbs too.
This idea is not new: HTC's Touch Pro 2 was the last HTC device to sport this feature.
The HTC 7 Pro ships with an AC adapter, a PC connector cable, headphones, a printed getting-started guide and printed guide to Windows Phone.
Apart from its keyboard, the HTC 7 Pro's headline feature is Windows Phone 7. It's an impeccably connected device with HSPA (7.2Mbps down, 2Mbps up), Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) and GPS. Bing Maps is present rather than Google Maps, and we like the way Bing Maps automatically gives you a satellite view as you zoom in ever closer; the maps themselves lack the design panache of Google Maps.
The 1GHz processor is standard for Windows Phone 7 handsets. There's 8GB of internal storage alongside 512MB of ROM and 576MB of RAM. Some Windows Phone 7 handsets offer 16GB of built-in storage, but none accommodate external microSD cards. This is one of several Windows Phone 7 features that put it out of step with the smartphone competition.
Another decision Microsoft has taken is to support Windows Phone 7 calendar and contacts synchronisation over the air only. Exchange users will be accustomed to this, but those who are used to docking their smartphones to a local computer will find this an unfamiliar, and possibly unsatisfactory, solution.
To synchronise calendar and contacts information, you'll need either a Windows Live or a Google account. Microsoft's Zune software does allow you to synchronise music, video, pictures and podcasts with your desktop, which may merely double the frustration for desktop docking fans. Every other smartphone platform caters for desktop as well as cloud-based diary and contacts synchronisation.
The Windows Phone 7 user interface is locked down tightly, so the HTC 7 Pro experience is very similar to other Windows Phone 7 handsets. Arguably this makes it difficult for third parties to differentiate their handsets, although HTC does include its own hub, which provides access to weather, and some applications. The HTC hub is slow to load however, and is a far cry from HTC Sense on the company's Android handsets.
The Start screen comprises a vertically scrollable array of tiles that can contain data or links to applications or hubs — collections of similar apps or data in one place. The Office hub, for example, is where your OneNote, Excel, Word and PowerPoint documents reside, and where you access SharePoint 2010 services.
One frustrating aspect of hubs is the lack of ability to integrate third-party services. For example, HTC includes both an equaliser and SRS sound enhancement for tweaking the already good sound output. But you can't access either from within the Music and Videos hub. Instead, you have to use a separate Sound Enhancer app.
Microsoft has its own Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, but the number and range of available titles lags far behind both the Android and iPhone platforms. This may not matter too much in a locked-down business environment, but the lack of backwards compatibility with Windows Mobile 6 applications may be an issue.
The keyboard contains a separate number row and a miniature set of cursor keys. It's quite well made, and the keys fall nicely under the thumbs. There's a dedicated key for emoticons where we might have preferred an '@' symbol, but this is accessible if you hold down the '2' key.
You can type reasonably fast on the keyboard, but in practice we found it no faster than using the on-screen keyboard on the very responsive capacitive screen. What we did appreciate when using the physical keyboard was the space gained for viewing text. With the default text size there are only four lines visible with the on-screen keyboard, compared to eleven with the slide-out keyboard deployed. The latter is by far the better choice when you're working on Word documents or longer emails.
Screen rotation is only implemented where you can enter text — when creating text messages, emails and Word documents, for example. But if you revert to the Start screen with the keyboard out, you'll need to swivel the HTC 7 Pro back to portrait mode to see it properly.
Performance & battery life
We found the HTC 7 Pro responsive in use thanks to its 1GHz processor, and the battery held out well too: we actually got past the 24-hour mark that many smartphones fail to achieve.
However, we didn't make especially heavy use of mobile email, Exchange services or GPS during the trial period and it's likely that a daily battery charge will be required when the HTC 7 Pro is used even moderately heavily. For the record, HTC claims 7 hours 3G talk time and 420 hours on standby.
Windows Phone 7's locked-down nature makes the HTC 7 Pro similar in many respects to other Windows Phone handsets, although the slide-out keyboard is an obvious differentiator.
The key criticisms are those we have already levelled at Windows Phone 7: the lack of desktop synchronisation for Outlook; the lack of backwards compatibility with Windows Mobile 6.5; and the need to buy into the Microsoft ecosystem for full document sharing in a corporate environment. It remains to be seen whether this approach will prove beneficial for Microsoft.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel