So I’ve been happily using an old Samsung Blackjack (the original) for at least 2 years now (maybe more). Turns out there was a recall, and AT&T sent me a new one for free about a year ago, so I had a new phone again. Recently, HTC offered a trade in program with $100 credit for my Blackjack if I upgraded to an HTC phone. (This offer has been extended through April) Given my upgrade cost for the Tilt 2 was $150 with a $50 rebate from AT&T, free smart phone #2 was a no-brainer.
I was able to upgrade the old Blackjack to WM 6.1 (which provided support for the on-board GPS), hence most my needs were being met by the following apps:
- TCPMP for streaming RadioParadise and KQED (NPR)
- BeyondPod which downloads podcasts directly to the phone
- Built-in Outlook for work email
- Google Maps (with GPS)
- Tethered Internet connection
The Blackjack even supported Bluetooth Stereo A2DP. In short, 3 years ago, I was doing everything with WM 6.0 and the Blackjack that the IPhone couldn’t. Lately, they finally relented on the streaming media, added support for A2DP and I hear Outlook support is improved (assuming you fork out the $ for the apps that support them), but you still have to doc your IPhone to update your podcasts and we know Apple will never pay Adobe a penny for Flash, though I imagine they will give up the ghost on tethering soon.
Of course, Safari on the IPhone is still the most usable hand-held browser out there (even sans-Flash), and Pocket IE on WM 6.1 is nothing for anyone to be proud of. Skyfire is an interesting solution, but the experience still leaves much to be desired over a 3G link. But I still find putting WMIE in mobile mode, and setting the home page to nytimes.com, makes a fast and simple news reader.
So I was basically looking for three things in my next phone: a bigger screen, a better web browser and Wifi support. I also knew I had to have a full keyboard. When the Motorola Droid was released, I seriously started considering a purchase, until I was offered the Tilt 2 free.
So the Tilt 2 is AT&T’s branding for the HTC Touch Pro 2. Even though this phone is almost 1 year old, it still has an impressive feature set with a 3.6″ 480×800 touchscreen, full QWERTY keyboard, GPS, WiFI, BT and a 3.2MP camera. Some features I’m quite happy with:
- The keyboard: The buttons on the keyboard are very big, which is perfect for someone with large thumbs like mine. I have a very hard time typing on my wife’s IPhone on-screen keyboard and also hate the fact that screen rel-estate is lost.
Note, while the letters are in standard QWERTY positions, they replaced the numbers in the top row with commonly used punctuations. So the : / and @ characters are easily typed without a shift function. The downside is that all numbers require a FN shift, but a simple double press on the FN key acts as a numlock, so the trade-off feels like the right one.
- Standard mini-usb connector! It means I find an extra data and charging cable at the local dollar store for $1.29 (no shipping) and I can charge using the same USB/Car Converter used by my wife’s IPhone.
- Seamless Bluetooth connectivity. The new phone coincided with the purchase of a 2010 Mazda CX-9 (welcome to family life). Once I paired the phone, it switches to the car speakers seemlessly and downloaded my phone book to the car’s system. Through newer BT protocols, the touchscreen GPS/control system on the car can select and play music and podcasts from the phone.
- Swapable battery. I was easy enough to find an extra battery for $12.99 at the CellPhoneShop along with a standalone battery charger, which includes a USB port as a bonus. Throw in a $1.29 mini USB cable, and you have an extra phone charger as well.
- Active Sync vs Disk Drive vs Tether: Each time you plug into a PC, it gives you three choices, and I often switch between all three modes. It’s the little things that count.
- 16GB HDSD card support. I’m still using the 4GB card I had in the Samsung, which made moving my data over trivial. Waiting for the price to get under $20 for the 16GB versions.
- Touchscreen (sometimes). Below, I don’t have many nice things to say about the touchscreen interface, but there are a couple apps where it seems to work well: Outlook, GoogleMaps and BeyondPod. When using the web browsers, it turns out to be a bit of a wash.
- ROM Development Community. It seems HTC is quite open with their specs, allowing the Mobile hacking community to create all sorts of customizations. I probably won’t try this unless I need the phone unlocked for Europe. There’s also a dual-sim adaptor available! This seems to be a common hack in the Far East.
So as with any device (and especially Windows Mobile 6.1 as pointed out by Ballmer) there are a number of disappointments in store as the technology is just beginning to catch up with what we really want.
- No standard headset connection. I told a small fib when I said the phone had a standard mini USB connector. They actually added a few more pins to support the headset connection. Any mini cable still works for data and charging, but you have to use the same connector for the headset. If you want to use a standard headset, they make this screwy connector which also allows you to charge the phone while the headset is plugged in. This is a passable solution for the other car which doesn’t support bluetooth, but it’s just another accessory you are forced to buy (they give you one with the phone) rather than using standard headset or even just ear phones for listening. It does provide another mini-port, so you can use the HTC headset and charge at the same time.
- Windows Mobile 6.5 IE. Much to my suprise, OOTB, the phone is configured with Opera 9.5 as the default browser. I decided to try IE with the touchscreen “Zoom bar” (more on that later). IE was configured in desktop mode, but it basically crashed the first time a tried it, and pretty much everytime after that. I finally switched IE to mobile mode, and it was much happier. As mentioned above, I only use it to read nytimes.com now.
- Opera 9.5: As I was writing this, I went to the Opera web site and just downloaded the 10.3 Beta. Although it doesn’t crash, I was disappointed at the performance. Also, it seems very reluctant to use the WiFi interface (I haven’t put a sniffer on my network to prove this), but I notice no difference when I hook up to WiFi in the Opera browser performance, while BeyondPod and Skyfire scream on the WiFi connection.
- Touchscreen Performance: Best I can tell, the key problem with the phone (and WM 6.1) is the response time to touch actions. Sure, the WM UI isn’t designed for a touch screen, and things generally work better when using the stylus, but there’s a terrible delay when using a browser between when you slide your finger across the “Zoom bar” and when the action actually takes place. There are a number of hacks you can make to the phone to improve performance. I guess I don’t understand why these aren’t done OOTB.
- FM Radio. Why waste the electronics space when every FM station in the western world also has an Internet stream? Also there’s no way to enter a radio station address, you can only search? Create more space for heat dissipation, and turn up the processor clock.
Overall, I’m quite happy with the upgrade from the Samsung Blackjack, especially given the cost (OK, it was actually $38 in sales tax). Two of my three goals were hit head on: bigger screen & WiFI support. Bonus value was a better keyboard and better BT connectivity. I haven’t given up hope on the web browser just yet. I now have Opera 10.3 to play with and WM 7 is around the corner and looking compelling. And if for some reason they don’t make the upgrade available, then I can always reprogram the ROM and install Android…