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(Pocket-lint) - HTC's Diamond, or Touch Diamond depending on who you talk to, is the latest iPhone challenger, but can it compete against a new 3G model or the plethora of other new smartphone handsets out there? We've been playing with the new handset for the last couple of weeks ahead of the UK launch to find out.

Looking at the tech sheet virtually everything is better than the competition. Compared to the iPhone it is smaller, it has got a 3-megapixel camera over 2 megapixel one, offers a faster HSDPA connection speed, promises a VGA quality screen, better keyboard options and Bluetooth A2DP so you can wirelessly connect stereo headphones to listen to your tunes.

The only real downsides against the iPhone 3G are that the on-board memory is smaller, 4GB compared to 8GB or 16GB, you don't get multi-touch or the App Store, which even HTC admit is a pretty good idea for creating a simple way to allow consumers to customise there phone.

So what's it actually like to use?

Compact (102 x 51 x 11.33mm) the new handset, which is considerably smaller than the iPhone, sports a gloss black retro design. The screen is a 2.8-inch VGA touchscreen (compared to 3.5-inches on the iPhone) but you do get a series of hard keys under the screen to help you out. A home button, d-pad, back button and answer and hang-up are responsive and HTC has added an extra light notification element that flashes when you've got a new message or when the handset is charging. Additionally, tucked out of the way to the side, is a stylus. Aside from slogans like "htc innovation" and "4GB internal storage" there are just two buttons for the volume. The back sports a 3.2 megapixel camera although there is no flash.

Inside and you get HSDPA 7.2 as well as HSUPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and 4GB of storage to store music and images on although no external storage option via microSD or 3.5mm jack.

The Diamond runs Windows Mobile 6.1 although from the customisation HTC has done to the operating system you wouldn't know it.

Sitting on top of Windows Mobile is HTC's 3D TouchFlo software, which is incredibly graphical. Using your finger you can quickly scroll through the available applications via a carousel at the bottom of the screen, although not available at all times when it is on screen you can access virtually all the phone's main features like the picture viewer, music player, contacts book or browser.

Email is easy to set up, although not as easy as the new Nokia E71, and you can have the email automatically send and receive every 5 minutes to give you near BlackBerry-like email.

Ditching Internet Explorer for the Opera Mobile browser the browsing experience on both Wi-Fi and HSDPA is, to put it plainly, beautiful. It is the first device we've seen that gets anywhere close to Apple's iPhone browsing experience and the increased speed capabilities if you are in coverage make surfing very quick.

Web pages are loaded and resized to fit the screen automatically, but still retain their design and ratio. A double tap allows you to zoom in and out, while a move of your finger across the screen shifts the web page around. There is of course support for multiple pages like tabs and overall the experience is a pleasant one.

When it comes to viewing text, HTC has somehow magically made it possible for the text to re-position itself to display on the screen to save you scrolling, regardless of the CSS or style on the original site.

A quick rotate sideways and thanks to the inbuilt accelerometer you can view images and web pages in landscape mode with the on-screen keyboard also benefiting from the extra space. Images also get a zoom feature although rather than using a pinch movement you swirl your finger in or out. It means you can do it one handed if you like and use your other hand for eating a beef burger or drinking.

Addressing the problems experienced on the iPhone and hoping to appeal to users who actually want to type on the device, HTC seems to have gone out of its way to help you get text into the unit. The on-screen keyboard can be displayed in full QWERTY which, unless you are a 5-year-old with tiny fingers, is a bit tough to type with. Getting around this, the device also offers 20 key or even 12 key configurations with the 20 key emulating a two letters per key offering as found on the company's Touch Dual model. It's something that is likely to appeal to the BlackBerry Pearl users ready to switch, and on the whole a good experience (it's the keyboard we found ourselves using most) with the software learning your most often used words to help try and double guess you.

Elsewhere the graphical interface doesn't stop. Weather, a popular feature on the company's Touch device, is back once again this time in glorious Technicolor. Everything from contacts that offer photos as if it was in a Rolodex to the image browser that sees photos cascading down the screen like the photo screensaver on the PS3 gives this phone a very, very, consumer focus.

In our longer test it's clear that we were using an early prototype in our First Look. The response times and worrying lag has gone completely with a unit that is very zippy replacing it. The start-up time is slow, but if you don't turn your phone off then this shouldn't be a problem.

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As for battery life it's not great and the more you use the features the more you use up that juice. On a full charge using the phone to play games (the marble game that uses the accelerometer is very addictive - we're on level 32), surf the web, collect email, check the weather and make phone calls the phone didn't last the weekend without charge. It will be a charge every day handset.

To recap

HTC has created a device that is the best iPhone challenger we've seen to date

Writing by Stuart Miles.