HTC Touch Diamond review

Hardware Design:

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first: this is a sleek, well balanced, attractive handset. It sits well in your hand and feels almost perfectly weighted. There are certainly smaller and thinner phones out there, but HTC has struck an impressive balance between usability and efficiency of design. The hardware button layout is a far cry from the “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” ethos of the Kaiser/Mogul/etc, with 4 hardware navigation buttons (Home, Back, Call Answer, Call End) complemented by a touch-sensitive scroll wheel that doubles as a 4-way D-Pad serving as the main navigation options. A power button on the top and volume keys on the left side of the phone round out the hardware keys. The back of the device reveals the 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera lens and, well, not much else. Our handset is the European version of the Diamond (more on that in a bit), and as such sports a secondary VGA camera for video calls next to the earpiece on the front of the phone. Sadly, this feature will most likely be omitted from any American iterations of the phone. All told, the physical design of the phone is by far one of the best selling points, with a effective compromise between small and usable. While this isn’t specific to the Touch Diamond, we really wish HTC would reconsider their all-in-one min-USB jack. It’s great for charging and file transfers, but especially considering the media-centric appeal of the Diamond, we would appreciate a 3.5 mm headphone jack, as the current configuration limits you to the HTC-supplied headphones unless you’re willing to deal with a cumbersome adapter.

Screen:

As this is a Touch-Screen only device without a physical numeric or QWERTY keypad, the quality of the screen, both in regards to resolution and touch response, is going to determine a lot about how well the handset will perform under day-to-day use. We’re pleased to report that the quality of the display is fantastic, with a bright 2.8″ TFT-LCD with full VGA resolution. Pictures, videos, and web content look beautiful on this thing with a level of clarity not present in your average Windows Mobile handset. Web content looked particularly impressive. Opera and VGA resolution is a killer combo. Unfortunately, the actual touch-screen interface leaves a bit to be desired. Screen presses take an un-nerving amount of pressure to register, often requiring you to tap an icon more than once to register a selection. This, unfortunately, makes the touchscreen QWERTY keypad a bear to use with your bare fingers, and we found ourselves pulling out the stylus on more than one occasion to complete a sentence. The device also feels like it’s moving about a half a second behind your input, which could be contributing to the feeling of unresponsiveness. We hate to make the obvious comparison, but HTC is obviously gunning for the iPhone market with this one and, sadly, the screen just can’t compete with the way that Apple’s finest seems to effortlessly respond to your every input.

Connectivity:

This is where things get a bit tough to call. The Touch Diamond is technically a 3.5G device, sporting 7.2 HSDPA. Unfortunately, our test device is a European spec dual-band 900/2100 MHz HSDPA handset with tri-band 900/1800/1900 MHz GSM/EDGE support. As such, our data tests were basically limited to whatever EDGE signal we could pull down off of the the 1900 MHz band. HSDPA was definitely a no-go, and at times we had trouble connecting getting an EDGE signal. We’ll give HTC a pass on this one, as any American carrier-supported device should be fleshed out with the appropriate radios, but it was a bit disappointing nonetheless. We’re happy to report, however, that Wi-Fi was dead simple to set up, and the Diamond seemed to hold its Wi-Fi signal pretty damn well. We had some trouble acquiring a GPS signal, though once we finally locked in Google Maps worked like a charm.

Sound and Call Quality:

Call quality is above average on the internal earpiece, and callers commented on the clarity of calls initiated from the Diamond. The speakerphone is decent in a quiet environment, but forget about making calls in that Aston convertible, as speaker volume leaves something to be desired. MP3’s sounded surprisingly good given the size of the speaker, but volume is definitely an issue.

TouchFLO 3D:

Here’s where things get interesting. HTC’s new Touch FLO 3D is, without question, the most aesthetically pleasing Windows Mobile skin we’ve ever seen. If you thought the HTC customizations on the original Touch and the Shadow were impressive, you’ll be blown away by the new version. The company has set a new standard for turning Windows Mobile’s corporate whitewash appearance into something you might actually call “attractive”. When we spoke with HTC in London last month, the company indicated that they would be rolling out Touch FLO 3D along much of their lineup, which should go a long way towards countering some of the “ugly” stigma attached to the Windows Mobile platform. Touch FLO 3D goes much deeper than the original iteration of the Touch interface, with just about every commonly accessed application receiving the 3D treatment. Contacts, weather, email, SMS, media, and more have all come under the 3D spell, and HTC’s meticulous attention to visual detail is abundantly apparent. While not technically a Touch FLO 3D application, the Opera browser with gesture support is particularly well implemented. It makes use of the touch sensitive scroll wheel, allowing you to zoom in and out with a simple swipe around the wheel. The browser also automatically reformats text columns to eliminate side to side scrolling while reading web content. It has some performance issues, but from a purely visual stand point we think Opera has developed a worthy competitor to mobile Safari, and we applaud HTC’s decision to circumvent the onboard Pocket Internet Explorer.

If HTC hopes to turn Touch FLO 3D into the next great mobile movement, however, they’re going to have to put some serious effort into improving performance. As we mentioned above, the touch screen interface often felt laggy and unresponsive. While some of this may be due to the actual screen design, we have a sneaking suspicion that the might be a more systemic issue in play here. The 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A processor should be more than sufficient, but for whatever reason it feels like the TouchFLO interface is just too much for the device to handle. Scanning through the home screen menu often takes more patience than we’d care to muster, and launching applications is frequently an exercise in frustration. Seriously folks, we really wanted to like Touch FLO 3D, but if this implementation is any indication we think HTC needs to perform some serious hardware tweaks before moving forward. It’s certainly pretty, but looks don’t mean much if the performance isn’t there to back it up. If pressed, we’d probably compare the Diamond to a Ferrari with a Chevy Cobalt engine. It’s that bad, folks.

Expandability:

The Diamond sports a healthy 4GB of internal memory, all of which is user accessible. This leaves plenty of space of music, movies, and pictures. Unfortunately, there isn’t any sort of expansion slot, so once you fill up the internal storage your out of luck. Hopefully 4 gigs is enough to cover day to day use.

Battery:

There were some initial concerns about the stamina of the 900mAh battery. While it’s not going to win any awards for usage time, the Diamond stood up well under several days of heavy use, easily making it through a full day before running out of juice. HTC indicated that they had made some serious tweaks to efficiently accommodate the small battery, and whatever the did worked admirably.

Conclusion:

As we said at the beginning of the review, this is one of the most visually attractive Windows Mobile handsets we’ve used. The physical design is impressive, and the Touch FLO 3D interface is a thing of aesthetic beauty. Unfortunately, the performance issues we encountered would make us hesitant to put this into our regular rotation. We also couldn’t stop comparing it to the iPhone and how many things HTC “borrowed”. There’s the slide-the-button menu to enable or disable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc., a lock button on the top of the device, an A-Z alphabet on the right side of the contacts application which works just like the iPhone’s, the double-tap in Opera to zoom in and out of pages, and others. We understand there are only so many ways to create a usable UI for a touch screen phone, but we still couldn’t help thinking of most of it as a fake iPhone. If HTC manages to clear up some of the performance issues with a future firmware update, we could possibly see the Diamond as a suitable contender, but as it stands, there are a number of other viable handsets that deserve a look if you’re in the market for a touchscreen device.

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