Once upon a time, touch-based smart phones were technology avoided like the plague by many users due to their unfriendly user interfaces and let’s face it: the fact that it just wasn’t a physical keypad. Fast-forward to today, where the market contains an abundance of touch-based handsets and the technology is being embraced instead of beaten away.
Mass marketed devices like the iPhone have certainly helped this “conversion,” but the better technology and constantly dropping prices are also major factors.
The Touch 3G is the next offering from HTC, providing users will a fully touch-driven mobile phone experience. The 3G builds on the success of other devices in the line and includes a bunch of our favourite features: a large 2.8” TFT LCD, wide network and local connectivity options, fast CPU with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional OS, and a 3.2mpx digital camera.
Let’s jump straight into it and see how this petite little Touch goes!
In the Touch product line, the Touch 3G sits somewhere before the Touch Diamond but after the Touch Viva and Touch Dual. When compared to the Dual, the Touch 3G has had a boost in all the right area. The CPU has been upgraded and now clocks in at 528MHz, along with the Windows Mobile operating system, which has been upgraded to version 6.1 Professional, one of the latest releases.
To accompany the upgrade of the CPU and the operating system is an upgrade of the ROM and RAM (now 256MB and 192MB respectively). microSD memory cards are still supported, and the port is fully compliant with the SD 2.0 standard.
Although still fixed-focus, the camera module can now capture still images at up to 3.2mpx resolution.
HTC have added support for the WCDMA/HSDPA 900MHz network band as well as keeping support for 2100MHz. The handset is quad-band GSM compatible and supports GPRS and EDGE data protocols. WLAN 802.11b/g support has also been added.
The Touch 3G is pleasantly sized and fits perfect in hand. The large LCD occupies most of the front of the handset, with a small area at the top housing the earphone, and below the display the 5-way navigational pad and two soft keys, which also act as the pick-up and hang-up keys. The handset is finished with a soft-touch black rubber in most areas.
Thankfully the LCD’s cover does not have a glossy finish, which means it will not attract fingerprints like some touch-screen devices.
Measuring 102 x 53.6 x 14.5mm and weighing 96 grams, the Touch 3G is a solid little handset. The only removable section is the back cover, which completely comes off to reveal the battery, SIM, and memory card slots.
At the top of the handset is a tiny on/off button, which also acts as the display lock/unlock as many who have previous experience with Windows Mobile devices will know. The left hand side has a large and thin button that controls ringer volume when the handset is in standby and earpiece volume when in a call.
At the top right of the Touch 3G you will find the stylus for when more precise screen taps are needed. The standard HTC miniUSB port used for charging and connecting wired accessories is positioned at the bottom of the device.
User interface & display
Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional comes pre-installed on this handset, with HTC’s proprietary TouchFLO 2D system. The handset has 256MB of ROM at its disposal and 192MB of RAM. The touch sensitive display is 2.8” and supports a 320 x 240 pixel resolution with up to 65,536 colours.
TouchFLO 3D has been included in several Touch handsets from HTC, including the Touch Diamond and Touch Pro. TouchFLO 2D operates in the same manner as the 3D version but does not include the 3D transition effects. TouchFLO is a proprietary system from HTC and transforms the Today screen from the usual Windows Mobile plainness to a much easier to use sliding window with all the necessary features.
Holding your finger on the bottom left corner of the Today screen will start TouchFLO 2D. From here, slide left or right to browse along tabs and when you’re done, release your finger and the tab will open. Tabs, from left to right, are: Home, People, Messages, Mail, Internet, Photos and Vidoes, Music, Weather, Maps Search, Settings and Programs. Most tabs have the ability to manipulate their content, for example the People tab can store 12 different contacts with images for easy access.
If at any time you don’t wish to use the TouchFLO interface it can be disabled through the settings menu and the standard Today window brought back.
My main issue with the Touch 3G’s user interface is that while some of the UI is very easy to use without the stylus (such TouchFLO, the Programs and other icon-based menus), some items simply will not respond if they are not pressed by the stylus, or something unwanted will happen. The best example of this is the ‘x’ in the top right of most applications, which closes the active window. Trying to hit this with a thumb is practically impossible – instead, the System Status window will pop up.
The 320 x 240 pixel display looks huge when compared to the overall size of the handset but it standard for smart phones these days and offers adequate room for the OS to operate within. It does only support 65,536 colours – I would have expected 262,144 – but it’s not going to cause any major problems and sometimes I’m just picky!
The HTC Touch 3G is certainly one of the fastest Windows Mobile 6 smart phones I’ve ever used. So often I find myself stuck with laggy Windows Mobile devices that make it difficult to complete even the simplest of tasks. One note of caution though: closing Windows Mobile applications is not as easy as hitting the ‘x’ button in the top right – keep track of them in the Task Managed and close any unwanted ones as it is easy to rack up a huge list of background applications hogging memory.
Making and receiving calls
Phone calls are managed by a dedicated application, conveniently named “Phone”. It’s simple yet effective – a standard 12-key numerical pad is displayed on screen, with a 2-line list of recent calls at the top for easy access. Entering digits will narrow down contacts with that sequence of digits in any of their stored numbers, displaying the list at the top of the screen – handy if you know part of a number but not quite all of it.
If you can’t remember any of the number, tapping the “contacts” button in the bottom left hand side of the screen will bring up the entire contact book. Contacts stored on the Touch 3G’s internal memory can contain multiple phone numbers, addresses, notes, e-mail addresses, photos, and other information. If you use Microsoft Outlook or another compatible application, Contacts can be synchronised between your computer and the Touch 3G.
The Touch 3G doesn’t support video calling, only standard audio calls. Calls can be made using the built-in earphone, speakerphone, or using a wired or wireless (Bluetooth) accessory.
Sound quality using the earpiece and speakerphone is fine, although speakerphone volume could have been a touch higher – I had to have it on maximum whenever I needed to use it.
The Windows Mobile messaging application on the Touch 3G supports SMS, EMS, MMS, and e-mail formats. As you would expect from a Windows Mobile device, support for Microsoft Exchange push e-mail solutions is built into the handset and ready to use right from the get go.
Seven different text input methods are available on the Touch 3G. The first three are HTC’s own creations. First off is the Phone Keypad option, which displays a standard numerical keyboard on-screen, and includes support for T9 predictive text as well as multi-tap.
The Compact QWERTY keypad places two letters from a standard QWERTY keyboard onto the one button – for example, Q and W are on the same button, as are E and R. I find this method extremely unfriendly to use, and instead opted to use the Full QWERTY option. When this is selected a miniature QWERTY keyboard is displayed on screen, including some punctuation. Extra and non-standard characters are accessed by tapping the “.,123” button.
The only issue with the Full QWERTY option is that it is not possible to use your fingers to tap messages, as the keys become too small. You can get away with using fingers in the Phone Keypad and Compact QWERTY mode, however with the latter you will need to teach yourself how to use the two-per button layout!
The other four methods (Block Recogniser, Keyboard, Letter Recogniser and Transcriber) are the standard Windows Mobile input methods found on all other Windows Mobile devices.
The Touch 3G offers a wizard interface for setting up e-mail accounts, which will attempt to automatically configure supported e-mail accounts (such as Gmail, Hotmail, etc) – most of the time you will only need to enter your username and password. Other accounts, such as work and personal e-mail accounts, will need manual entry of details such as server addresses and any non-standard ports. If you use a compatible application (such as Microsoft Outlook) you can configure the Touch 3G to synchronise all e-mail accounts without having to manually enter any details.
Like all other applications, Messaging can utilise a 2G/3G data connection to download e-mails, or if you have an active WiFi connection it will switch to using that, saving on expensive data download costs.
A wide range of connectivity options are offered by the Touch 3G, allowing you to stay connected while out on the road as well as in the office or at home. Local connectivity support comes in the form of WLAN, Bluetooth, and USB, with 3G and 2G network connectivity for mobile connectivity.
The WCDMA and HSDPA protocols are supported when connected to a 900/2100MHz 3G network. HSDPA up to 7.2Mbit/s will make easy work of streaming video or downloading large e-mail messages. Quad-band 2G support on the Touch 3G includes GPRS and EDGE data protocol support.
The WLAN chip in the Touch 3G supports the popular 802.11b/g protocols with a range of security protocols implemented for seamless connectivity with a secure network. Applications that require a data connection will automatically switch to an active WLAN connection when possible, saving on your data costs. The downside of having WLAN constantly activated is that it will decrease battery life slightly.
Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR provides short-range connectivity with a range of peripheral devices including headsets and even other mobile devices. The full list of supported profiles is: A2DP, HSP, HFP, PAN, HID, OPP, BPP, FTP, SAP, AVRCP, DUN, PBAP, SPP, and SDAP. Excuse the acronyms!
When transferring files from my iMac (built in Bluetooth 2.0) the transfer speed would range between 50-100KB/s, bursting up to 120KB/s. This is fairly standard and should suffice for most uses when USB is not available.
HTC have also incorporated the USB standard for file transfers, making it extremely simple and not to mention fast to move files back and forth from the Touch 3G. The sales package comes with a miniUSB cable. When plugged in a prompt will ask to select between Windows Media Player connectivity or connectivity compatible with ActiveSync – the application used to synchronize with Windows-based computers.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I would have liked USB Mass Storage Device profile support on the Touch 3G. Unfortunately this is uncommon with Windows Mobile devices, which instead opt for the Windows-created ActiveSync protocol.
As a whole the connectivity management side of things in Windows Mobile devices is slightly convoluted, with several different options available to complete the same task. HTC have slightly tweaked the connection manager, which does make it easy to quickly check what is on and what is off and make any changes if necessary. Once network settings (such as WLAN security and any Bluetooth pairing) are initially setup things do become slightly less hectic.
One element of connectivity that deviates from this is the operator settings configuration wizard. The application, found under the Connections tab in the Settings window will configure operator settings such as mobile Internet access and MMS messaging. Select your country and select your operator – done!
From the results we can see Java 1.0 application performance is fairly high, as is Java 2.0 application performance. JBlend was not able to run the JBenchmark 3D application and although an error message was not produced this generally indicates no support for 3D Java applications.
The main port of call for multimedia on this handset is the Windows Media Player Mobile application. This mini version of the full-fledged Windows version supports a range of audio and video file formats for local playback as well as streaming protocols, going hand in hand with the high-speed 3G and WLAN connectivity the Touch 3G supports.
If you are a Windows Media Player user on your personal computer you will find it extremely easy to sync music and video between the device and your PC over a USB connection. This is just one of the perks of using a Windows Mobile-based smart phone with your Windows computer.
The internal memory is somewhat limited on the Touch 3G (256MB), and as there is no microSD card in the sales package I would recommend purchasing one if you wish to turn the handset into a portable music player. Prices have been crashing in recent years and you will easily be able to pick one up with lots of storage without breaking the bank.
For Java applications the HTC Touch 3G uses the JBlend java environment (v3.3.5, 20081015.1.1). Java applications can be installed by transferring the appropriate .jar files to the handset’s memory, or by downloading them direct to the handset using the built-in web browser. The JBlend application handles the rest.
Using the JBenchmark suite of testing applications, the HTC Touch 3G achieved the following results. For testing, all other applications were closed.
||Touch Dual (unbranded)
The Windows Mobile games Bubble Breaker and Solitaire are pre-installed, as always.
While there is the standard Pictures & Vidoes application for browsing through such content, HTC have also included their own Album application. This provides a much nicer (and landscape-oriented) way to view images and even connects directly with the camera application to capture new shots. The UI is similar to TouchFLO and allows you to quickly jump between images and view images full screen in one tap.
Other multimedia applications include a dedicated YouTube application which allows you to view mobile versions of the clips hosted on the website. It also tracks your history for quick reference later on, and allows you to search based on keyword, popular clips, play lists, and more. The application is a much nicer way of browsing videos on your phone, as opposed to their general mobile version of the website which must be accessed from a browser.
Additional applications that came with the HTC Touch 3G I received included a Adobe Reader LE, a calculator, note taker, Opera web browser, a mobile version of Window’s Remote Desktop Connection application, an RSS reader, local storage search application, a voice recorder and an unzipping application.
Google Maps is offered – but can only be used when a GPS accessory is connected to the handset. There are several Bluetooth-based GPS solutions available on the market that could be used in conjunction with Google’s application. QuickGPS is also installed, which can automatically download a small data file from the Internet, which speeds up the GPS “lock-in” process.
As previously mentioned, the HTC Touch 3G does support add-on Java applications but also supports a range of compatible Windows Mobile applications which can be installed directly through the phone, or by transferring them to a compatible PC and installing when the handset is connected via USB.
The HTC Touch 3G is a solidly built handset, thanks in part to it’s slim-line design. The device does have some weight to it however, preventing it from feeling fragile when in hand.
The thin covering over the screen offers some protection against scratches and thankfully doesn’t attract fingerprints. The soft-touch rubber on the rest of the handset is comfortable to hold in hand and up against your ear when making calls.
Powered by a rechargeable 1100mAh lithium-ion battery, HTC say the Touch 3G’s battery should last for up to 400/360 minutes (2G/3G) of talk time, or up to 365/450 hours (2G/3G) of standby time.
In real life however I found the battery to last around 4 days with what I would call light usage. When I ramped up using the handset I could squeeze about 3 days out of it without the need for a charge.