HTC Touch Dual

  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • TouchFLO system and HTC Home screen
  • 3G/HSDPA support
  • Windows Mobile 6 Professional

Cons

  • Lacks Wi-Fi
  • Direct text entry in bulk is difficult
  • TouchFLO doesn’t work with the screen in landscape mode

The HTC Touch introduced the TouchFLO interface, which allows you to swipe the handheld's touch-screen to perform a range of operations. This system reappears in the new Touch Dual, a slightly slimmer device that adds some new features but drops a significant one from the original Touch.

Design
The Touch Dual looks remarkably like the original Touch, with rubbery and grip-friendly black casing that's curved at the edges and a screen that's flush with the surface of the device rather than slightly inset. Although the initial 'wow' factor of the Touch no longer applies, the Touch Dual still looks and feel distinctive.

At 107mm tall and 55mm wide, the Touch Dual is slightly taller and thinner than the original 99mm-by-58mm Touch, making it look a little elongated compared to other Pocket PC devices. This, plus its increased thickness (15.8mm as opposed to 13.9mm) and weight (120g as opposed to 112g), is down to the Touch Dual's slide-out keypad.

When you push the top and bottom sections apart, the Touch Dual grows to 140mm in height and reveals a phone-style 16-key keypad. This contains the customary 0-9 number keys plus star and hash keys, along with a pair of Windows Mobile Shortcut keys on each side. In stark contrast to the matte outer shell, the keypad has a reflective finish.

The shortcut keys provide access to the Windows Mobile Start menu, messaging, Internet Explorer and the back function. With the keypad hidden away, these functions are handled via the touch screen. Placing them inside the slider means that the front of the device is relatively devoid of buttons — just a large navigation key flanked by Call and End keys.

An alternative version of the Touch Dual offers a 20-key keyboard with a QWERTY layout, with two letters per key. If the keyboard style matters greatly to you, be sure to check carefully which version you are ordering.

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The slide mechanism itself is relatively smooth. HTC has built a shallow ridge into the fascia just below the screen surround. This is presumably designed to give you something to push against when opening and closing the phone, but we found it a little small to be used comfortably, particularly on the downward slide. The alternative is to thumb the screen, but of course this results in grease marks.

The Touch Dual's 2.6in. screen is slightly smaller than the original Touch's 2.8in. unit, but the difference is hardly noticeable. The resolution is Windows Mobile's standard 320 by 240 pixels in 65,536 colours, and the display is both sharp and bright.

A mini-USB connector is used for mains power, PC connection and attaching the provided headset. In the box, you get an AC adapter, a USB cable, a screen protector, a headset, a printed user manual, an ActiveSync CD and a soft drawstring pouch.

The original Touch was HTC's attempt to break away from the rather staid appearance of many Windows Mobile devices and attract more style-conscious users, including consumers. The Touch Dual is equally stylish and should have equally broad appeal.

Features
The outstanding feature of the Touch Dual is probably the TouchFLO interface, which made its debut in the original HTC Touch.

When you're on the Today screen, a single finger swipe from the bottom of the screen upwards causes one of three screens to appear. You can switch between these by swiping left to right, and as you do so the screen animates as if an extruded triangle were rotating. The three screens give access to, respectively, a page of contacts on a 3x3 grid; media (music, photos and videos); and six applications (email, SMS/MMS, Internet Explorer, Tasks, Calendar and Comm Manager). To exit, you simply swipe a finger down the screen.

Vertical swiping works for some other applications too, from scrolling through documents, your contacts list and web pages, to moving through the list of applications on the device. You just swipe a finger up or down to scroll in the approriate direction. However, as with the original Touch, the TouchFLO system doesn’t appear to work when you the screen switches from portrait to landscape mode.

HTC has also taken a scalpel to the Windows Mobile Today screen, as it did with the original Touch. About half of the HTC Home screen is taken up with a display that varies depending on which of four icons you tap. One provides a large display of the current time; a second accesses eight applications or settings; the third is a profile switcher; and the fourth shows a neat weather graphic — either today’s or the four upcoming days — retrieved over the air.

The Windows Mobile Start menu is still present, although even this has been tweaked to display larger text than usual, which may make it easier for some users to hit their chosen option accurately.

Also noteworthy on the software front is HTC’s replacement for the Windows Mobile ‘X’. This sits in the top right corner of the screen and is used by Windows Mobile to minimise applications. On the HTC Home screen it takes on a new function: tap it and a mini-menu bar lets you either close or minimise applications that are running. You can sort applications by name or by the amount of memory they are using. This might sound a little geeky, but it can unclog the Touch Dual's memory and help the device run smoother.

HTC has augmented the standard Windows Mobile on-screen keyboard with a couple of alternatives. The Touch Keypad uses a mobile-phone-style layout with T9 to speed up text entry, while the Touch Keyboard uses two letters per key in a QWERTY configuration. We didn't find either of these very fast to use, and would not recommend using the Touch Dual as your main device if mobile email or document editing is a key function.

As far as technical specifications are concerned, it's a shame that Wi-Fi has been omitted. Bluetooth 2.0 is present, but without Wi-Fi the Touch Dual feels a little under-specified.

The operating system is Windows Mobile 6 Professional, while the wide-area conenctivity is tri-band GSM with GPRS/EDGE and 3G/HSDPA support. There's a front-facing camera for making video calls, plus a 2-megapixel main camera at the back. The latter has a self-portrait mirror but no flash unit. A button on the right edge activates the main camera, whereupon the screen switches to landscape mode and you can adjust settings by tapping the screen. You take a photo by using the side button or the centre of the front-mounted navigation key.

A 400MHz Qualcomm MSM 7200 supplies the processing power: applications don’t start instantly, but we found the wait short acceptable. For memory, there's 256MB of ROM and 128MB of RAM; fresh out of the box, our review sample reported 112MB of free storage memory. A microSD card is in the bottom left corner is available if you need to add more storage capacity.

Performance & battery life
We occasionally found it a little difficult to be accurate when prodding at smaller on-screen icons or menu options. This could be due to the screen not being flush rather than inset slightly, as it is on most other Windows Mobile handhelds.

As for as battery life, HTC claims that the Touch Dual should last for 3 hours on 3G, 5 hours on GSM and 1.78 hours for video calling. Standby time is rated at 250 hours on 3G, 180 hours on GSM. We tested the battery by asking the device to play music non-stop with its screen forced to stay on. Under these conditions we got 6 hours and 9 minutes of music — not outstanding, but acceptable.

Conclusion
The slider format is unusual for a Windows Mobile 6 Professional handheld, and the Touch Dual certainly looks distinctive. The TouchFLO system is clever as far as it goes, and we like the HTC Home screen. However, it's all somewhat skin-deep, and you generally end up back in the regular Windows Mobile interface before long.

3G/HSPDA connectivity is welcome, but Wi-Fi is notable by its absence. Ideally we'd like to see both 3G/HSDPA and Wi-Fi in a future Touch device, along with TouchFLO working in landscape mode. We'd also prefer a better text input system — a larger one-letter-per-key touch keyboard should do the trick.

 

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