With the coming of the HTC Touch2 we have not only a new device, but a new version of the Windows Mobile operating system. Will this rush in a new wave of love for the Windows Phone?
The Touch2 follows HTC's trend of updating handset models without having to stretch to a new and exciting name. The HTC Touch was, as the name suggested, a full touch Windows Mobile model with HTC's TouchFLO running over the top. Two-years later, and here we have the Touch2, a Windows Mobile model with HTC's TouchFLO running over the top...
The handset takes on a slim and compact profile, measuring 104 x 55 x 12.9mm and weighing 110g. The compact dimensions are partly due to the 2.8-inch QVGA (240 x 320) resistive touchscreen display. It is small for a modern touchscreen phone and the resolution isn't the highest out there. This is shown up especially by Windows Mobile, which hasn't quite embraced the slick user interface you'll find elsewhere.
The Touch2 sits reasonably well in the hand, with soft curved back edges. Although it is constructed entirely from plastic, it seems to pull it off, feeling of solid construction.
The top sees a 3.5mm jack and around the back is the 3.2-megapixel camera, but no flash. A stylus can be found lurking in the bottom right-hand corner and a microSD card slot on the left. It's that bizarre sort of slot that wants you to take the back cover off to access it, but still has an external flap.
Ranging across the bottom of the screen is the zoom bar, allowing you to zoom in and out of web pages, maps and pictures so long as you are using the right application to view them, with multi-touch still not supported by Windows Mobile. Beneath these range a line of hard controls, flanked by the two regular calling buttons.
You might have heard that Microsoft suggested that Windows Phones (or those running Windows Mobile 6.5) should all have a Windows button and a back button, which you'll find here. The Windows button sits next to the Home button, giving the HTC Touch2 a wicked split personality.
Press the Home button and you spring into HTC's wonderful Dr Jekyll TouchFLO skin. Press the Windows button and Mr Hyde crawls out in the form of Windows Mobile 6.5. We are being facetious perhaps, but only because of the disappointment that comes with this latest iteration of Windows Mobile.
HTC's TouchFLO skin is something we like. We've seen it before on a number of devices and it is perfectly useable. It doesn’t have the wow factor that you get with their latest Android device the HTC Hero, but is makes Windows Mobile much more accessible. We only wish it integrated further into Windows Mobile.
Through TouchFLO you get access to contacts, messaging, mail, the Opera browser, photo and video viewer, music, weather, Google Map search and program launcher. These can be edited to suit your requirements, so you can add your contacts and programs of choice to give quick access.
In some cases you get a bespoke application (like the Opera browser over Internet Explorer) and sometimes it just takes you into the application behind. Browsing the Internet is a little awkward through both browsers. One of the new features in Internet Explorer is being able to force a "desktop" or "mobile" mode, but you have to route through several layers of menu to get there, and the lower resolution display doesn't do the small view any justice.
Pressing the Windows button (or tapping the Start logo in the top left corner) launches you into Windows Mobile 6.5 proper. Windows Mobile 6.5 isn't a major departure from 6.1 (hence the same 6.x designation). Microsoft have been talking about these changes since February 2009, aiming to improve the experience for touch users, over the somewhat cumbersome system that needed a stylus for almost everything.
In that vein you now have the honeycomb Zune-alike Start menu full of icons, so you can scroll and tap what you want. Thereafter the experience is very mixed: some applications respond well to touch, some are terrible. All too often you are faced with the same old drop down menu style, for example to select a file location, which is nigh on impossible to do with a finger.
Addressing the changing needs of smartphone users, Windows now has its own Marketplace so you can quickly find applications for your phone. It works very much as the Android Market or App Store does, offering searching, including a "free" filter, so you don't have to browse the paid-for apps.
Windows Mobile 6.5 ushers in a collection of cloud support too, offering backup and sharing options, although it is surprising to find that photo and video sharing, i.e., to YouTube or Facebook, isn't supported at OS level by default. You have to enable MyPhone before these options appear, presumably because Microsoft sends the images from the online space rather than from the device itself. You also get remote options to find you phone and wipe the data, as offered on the iPhone and more recently phones like the Motorola DEXT.
HTC has done it's best to improve the keyboard. You get three options, 12-key, 21-key and full QWERTY which you can select as you wish. The response from a finger isn't great, it doesn't compete with the iPhone or the HTC Hero, but you get used to it. Predictive text entry tried to second guess you and will speed things up somewhat. However, the stylus does make for very quick entry – especially if you are practiced. Much as we dislike using a stylus, at times you get the feeling you need it here.
In terms of hardware specs, the HTC Touch2 is very much a phone of the moment. You'll find HSDPA, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. There is an FM radio too, not something you always find on smartphones. You also get GPS (with a 14-day trial of Copilot).
The 3.2-megapixel camera ia average, but the lack of flash limits its use indoors or in low light. The results aren't great and don't compete with those phones designed for taking photos. Video capture comes in at a maximum resolution of 352 x 288 pixels, again, which could be easily bettered.
The battery life isn't the best. Using it throughout testing, we found it needed charging overnight, which is pretty much average for this type of device.
With the HTC Touch2 you get a compact device that will appeal to those who need to have a Windows Mobile device to support their office activities or business on the move. Whilst you can find this in other devices, there is no doubt that syncing with Windows 7 was an absolute breeze. Document support, Exchange email and PDF readers are all to be found here. The 3.5mm jack and radio will also make it appealing to commuters.
The HTC TouchFLO interface sweetens the deal somewhat, making this a Windows Mobile phone that is more pleasurable to use than a raw Windows device. But that said, if it is just a touchscreen device that you are after, with an interest in browsing and sharing your media on the move, then there are more compelling offerings elsewhere.