Mobile

HTC Touch Pro2 Review: Wait, How Much?

The gadget: The HTC Touch Pro2, on T-Mobile

AU: The HTC Pro2 is available on NextG here in Oz, so even though the hardware is the same, the software will be slightly different to what’s mentioned here. But it will set you back $1499, so the whole price thing sort of rings true… -NB

The price: $US349 with a two-year contract

The conclusion: A respectable swan song for Windows Mobile 6.1, the Touch Pro2 would be a safe recommendation for diehard Windows Mobile fans, and a cautious “consider it” for business-oriented smartphone shoppers, assuming it was priced at $US200 or less. It costs nearly twice that much.

The previous Touch Pro was an impressive piece of kit, but something wasn’t quite right about it. It could’ve been the screen—2.8 lame inches, when the emerging smartphone standard was closer to 3, or 3.2. It could’ve been the battery, which didn’t last much more than a day, and in some situations, not even that. But it was almost definitely the fact that it was literally a brick. It was fat and squat, and felt like a clenched fist in your pocket.

The Pro2 has inherited the excellent 3.6-inch WVGA screen from the HTC Touch HD, meaning that it’s a much broader device than its predecessor, but somehow, it’s actually thinner. Battery life is much improved, stretching to nearly two days with fairly frequent use. And despite being a larger, heavier handset, it feels more like a phone, and less like a chunk of building material.

With the larger footprint comes a revamped keyboard, which is obviously more spacious, but also totally redesigned: instead of the contiguous, plasticky low-profile keys on the Pro, the Pro2′s got rubberised chiclet keys. The original Pro’s keyboard was good; this one is one of the best I’ve ever used. Once you get used to the odd placement of the Delete key (it’s where you’d expect Enter to be), it’s a dream, which is fortunate, since typing on the Pro2′s somewhat squishy capacitive screen isn’t a very gratifying experience, with or without the stylus.

The display half of the device is revamped too, with a less prominent chin—chalk that up to the replacement of the circular d-pad/zoom ring with a left/right zoom strip—and different sliding mechanism, which allows the display to be flipped up as well as slid to the side, for easy reading on a table or, had T-Mobile not stripped out the front-facing camera, hands-free videocalling.

I’d miss the zoom/scroll circle a bit more on the keyboardless Diamond2, since the strip doesn’t conceal the noticeable input zoom lag as well, and more to the point, you lose the 4-way clicking ability; here, though, it’s fine. So far, so good.

Your first impression of the Pro2 is that it’s an impressive, heavy, well-though-out chunk of handset, but HTC hasn’t done everything right. Like, hey, there’s no 3.5mm jack! Instead we get a giant multifunction Mini-USB adaptor that somehow manages to be more cumbersome that the old wire dealy—a fact made doubly annoying by photos of other carriers’ Pro2s with 3.5mm jacks built in. Internal storage is still measurable in megabytes, expandable by means of a MicroSD slot.

In addition, the camera’s the same underwhelming 3.2-megapixel unit as HTC’s been using for years, and the core hardware—processor and RAM included—are essentially unchanged (though software tweaks make the whole handset feel faster anyway—more on that later). Lastly, the backplate doesn’t feel all that sturdy or well-secured—more than once I flicked it off by accident, though it never fell off in my pocket. Given enough time though, I’m pretty comfortable that it would, which is disconcerting, and feels out of place on such a pricey piece of hardware. (This seems to be a problem across carriers. The stock Euro HTC Touch Pro2 has a different backplate, as you can see in the gallery, but it was even more prone to flying off at the slightest push.)

The software package is actually a pleasant surprise, for what it is. HTC has done a fantastic job gussying up Windows Mobile over the years, and their newest version of TouchFlo 3D is, given WinMo 6.1 almost-over lifecycle, the best this OS will ever look or feel. HTC has reached down as far as they can, so you rarely see 6.1′s embarrassing, Windows 3.1-like guts. Even when you do, they’ve been given modernising treatments: the tiny, finger-dodging contextual menus have been replaced with larger, HTC-skinned ones, and everything from emails to text messages to system folders has been given proper inertial scrolling, like in Windows Mobile 6.5. HTC has even gotten a little assertive this time around, adding a Sense-like contacts system to the mix, which lets you flip between contacts’ call lists, text messages, and Facebook updates in a single screen.

The whole TouchFlo system has been heavily optimised over the years, such that the Pro2 feels like it’s been stuffed full of much more powerful hardware, even if it hasn’t. And one last thing: there’s finally a full landscape mode, instead of that cop-out icon grid. T-Mobile’s yanked out two features that were standard on the Pro2—a panel-based Start Menu replacement and HTC’s iconic flip-clock homescreen—though you won’t miss either too much. Sat side by side with Windows Mobile 6.5—which this handset could eventually be upgraded to for free, if T-Mobile so chooses—HTC’s take on 6.1 shows they’ve done nearly as much to keep this OS relevant as Microsoft has. For HTC, that’s admirable. For Microsoft? More sad than anything else.

In so many ways, this feels like a tribute to a class of luxury handset that is getting less relevant by the day. Remember the original Sony Xperia? It too had a huge screen, pretty hardware, a fantastic keyboard, a deeply-modified version of Windows Mobile 6.1, and an astronomical pricetag. Now think: have you ever actually seen one in the wild? Smartphones have changed a lot in the last two years, to put it lightly; not only have they gotten smarter, but they’ve gotten cheaper. The Pro2 is standing alone at the end of a path laid out years ago, that smartphone manufacturers—including HTC, with their Android handsets—have been trying to split off from, and with good reason.

If you really want this handset, you’ve probably known so since it was announced, and you shouldn’t be deterred by anything except this ridiculous price. It’s fine. But just know this: for $US349, you can have virtually anything else on the market today. Putting the Pro2 at this price point means that every prospective buyer will have to compare it to the Pres, the iPhones, the MyTouch 3Gs, the Heroes (soon), and the BlackBerry Bolds of the world, all of which will cost less, and in most usage scenarios, off more, and ask themselves: This? Really?

Screen is huge

Keyboard is wonderful, even for giant banana thumbs

TouchFlo 3D does an admirable job sprucing up Windows Mobile 6.1

Dude, Windows Mobile 6.1, in August of 2009

The backplate feels like it’s going to fly off half the time

No headphone jack, and a stupid adaptor

THREE-HUNDRED AND FIFTY US DOLLARS